Ed Protzel

Scintillating Fiction—Touching Hearts, Sparking Imagination

Woman’s Name Appears on Declaration of Independence!

Blog resumes with post-Independence Day focus on activist pioneer Mary Katherine Goddard


After an admittedly long hiatus to complete book 2 of my Civil War-era DarkHorse Trilogy, Honor Among Outcasts (planned for release this fall), I’m resuming my weekly blog with an emphasis on history, my special interest, which I use liberally in all my writing. So on this post-Independence Day, I thought I’d share a fascinating, little-known fact about America's history as the perfect way to re-launch my blog.

It seems that, according to a July 3 article in The Washington Post, a woman’s name was added to the signatures on the Declaration of Independence.


Yes. Women may not have had the vote in 1776, but that apparently didn’t stop Mary Katherine Goddard from adding her “Jane Hancock” at the bottom of printed copies of the Declaration, an act considered treason against the powerful British Empire. Not only did Goddard risk being charged with treason, according to the Post, she also received death threats. Remember, a large percentage of the original thirteen colonies’ inhabitants, perhaps about half, were Tories, meaning they remained loyal to Britain!

History, it seems, is never as clear-cut as imagined in popular mythology.

So what’s the story behind the story?

Columnist Petula Dvorak writes that Goddard, a newspaper editor (and publisher), was hired by the Founding Fathers to print copies of the Declaration for distribution to the public.

As a fighter for the rights of women to pursue a career, Goddard, who must have had a great deal of chutzpah, wrote and published “scoops” on the early battles in the Revolution, including Bunker Hill. When she printed those copies of the Declaration on her presses, the gutsy Goddard added her name, along with the founders—potentially a hanging offense against the powers that be.

How’s that for speaking truth to power?

Also cited in the article was the fact that taking arms against the Empire showed that “Americans would rather die than live slaves.” Goddard must have been one tough-minded lady. Later, she ran a newspaper in Baltimore under the name M. K. Goddard, and became the first female postmaster of Baltimore.

History recognizes the “Big Names” who help bring change and new ideas to society. But sometimes the real power behind change are the great mass of people who throw real passion into fights for justice and equality. The real heroes and heroines, while often unheralded, are pervasive, and deserve our praise for their efforts.

Stay Connected with Ed:

Playing with Story Structure to Delight the Reader

Last Saturday, I participated in the St. Louis Writers Guild’s annual Writers in the Park event, where area writers could attend workshops, network and sell their books to the public. One of the sessions I attended was David Lucas’ (president of the SLWG) presentation, which outlined several types of novel structure. Listening to him made me think about the ways in which I use these techniques to structure my novels.

Telling the Story
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on Honor Among Outcasts, the follow-up to The Lies That Bind (book 1 of my DarkHorse Trilogy). My novels are so imaginative, one could assume I develop them by “seat-of-the-pants” method. I confess, I do like to let the stories go where they will, to create interesting characters and to let their natures build the action, to let them surprise the reader and me. As a writer and a reader, I like the little surprises that show up in a story as much as anyone.

However, there is much more method to my madness than that.

The Structure
David covered the four-part structure, which I often rely on to give the story a spine, to make it easy for the reader to follow.  For example, the first two sections might encompass these elements:

·      The Set-up. To establish The Lies That Bind, I put all the major characters in a troubling situation in the first quarter of the book. For instance, Durksen Hurst, my “hero” (or anti-hero),  and his partners, a group of slaves, devise a scheme to build their own plantation called DarkHorse. By the end of that section, they’ve acquired the land and are in a pretty precarious position, having to build a plantation and not get exposed, with death and danger lurking around every corner.

·      The Development. The second section begins with Antoinette, whom Durk loves, ready to abandon him on her own secret mission. Antoinette, too, has her set up and development. You will find Cassandra-like, mysterious Antoinette a very complex woman, certainly not a typical “heroine.” Additionally, in this section, Durk and his partners clash with the wealthy and powerful Frenches (Devereau French and his mother, Missus Marie Brussard French), who are trying to do them in.

A word here: In defiance of typical structure, The Lies That Bind has a second hero (or “anti-hero”) in Durk’s antithesis, Devereau French. Devereau, who is struggling for his own freedom from his manipulative mother, is not your typical villain. Rather, Devereau has his own set of problems, which will delight and amaze. Readers will see how Durk’s and Devereau’s problems are different—and yet the same.

Sections three and four have their own characteristics, but that’s for another blog.

It may seem that I’m constantly defying structure; yet I am really just playing with standard structure. My goal is to produce constant surprises for the reader and, I confess, to amuse myself!

Mythology as Structure
In his presentation, David also tied storytelling to Joseph Campbell’s writings on myth. Campbell studied all the world’s myths and found common elements among them, elements that are found in the most successful fiction. Theoretically, every story we read is, in essence, a new myth. One can argue this stuff all works based on our basic human wiring. Right?

Campbell writes that all myths, symbolically, feature a hero on a journey. The hero leaves the ordinary world and is called to an adventure. In The Lies That Bind, Durk plunges into the swamp/forest; he and his partners scheme to build an egalitarian plantation in a slave society.

According to Campbell, at some point the hero is tested and discovers who his allies and his enemies are. Clearly, Durk’s partners are his allies: their lives all depend on trusting each other. And the Frenches are his enemies. Right? Not so fast!

Devereau (my other “hero”) is being driven by his mother to destroy Durk and his partners. However, Devereau resists—he doesn’t want to do it. Now Devereau, as a second hero, is defying the mythological structure. Is he a friend or enemy of Durk’s? Why won’t he accept the role of enemy?

Finally, there is resurrection in the hero’s story, where the hero’s final problem is solved. Here, too, I give it all a twist so that the reader is surprised and left nearly breathless. Does Durk solve his problems (many of which he created himself)? Does Devereau gain freedom from his mother? Does Devereau defeat Durk or vice versa? Or do they both experience something a bit more ambiguous?

Of course, there are more stages to a myth than the ones I’ve provided. To learn more, see Campbell’s ground-breaking work, The Power of Myth. (See Bill Moyers PRB series.)

As you can see, from beginning to end, The Lies That Bind toys with traditional structures. I hope I’ve played well on readers’ expectations and delighted them with the book’s many shockers.

News Flash! The Lies That Bind received two new flattering reviews this summer:

·      Historical Novel Society: “The action and drama are compelling from the first page to the exciting conclusion. The animosity between the French plantation and Hurst builds to an exciting and surprising climax. Antoinette is so mysterious, one doesn’t know of her mission until the end. Highly recommended, and I am anxious to read the next installment.”


·      Midwest Book Review: “The debut novel of author Ed Protzel's 'Dark Horse Trilogy' series, ‘The Lies That Bind’ is a deftly crafted and consistently compelling read from beginning to end. While strongly recommended for community library Historical Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that ‘The Lies That Bind’ is also available in a Kindle edition ($4.99).”


Arrange a Visit
I love speaking to book clubs, organizations, bookstores or libraries about writing, history, or (of course) The Lies That Bind and my DarkHorse Trilogy.

To request a visit, just send me an email at: ed.protzel@att.net.

Speaking at Left Bank Books, St. Louis

Speaking at Left Bank Books, St. Louis

Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Me

Back after a much-needed break and ready to blog — this time about my favorite author and novel, William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, and its influence on my own novel, The Lies That Bind.

I had the chance to talk about Faulkner at a videotaped interview prior to my most recent reading at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, where I was asked: What are you reading now?”

Knowing I would be asked the question allowed me to think about my answer in advance. The exercise gave me quite a few insights about myself — and about the nature of literature.

As I say in the interview, I am re-reading Absalom, Absalom! for the umpteenth time. Published in 1939, Absalom, Absalom! is considered one of—if not the—greatest novels of all time, voted the best Southern novel of the 20th century by Oxford American. My copy (above) is well-annotated and -worn (as you can see).

What is it that makes this book so great, you may ask? and how has it influenced my novel?

Absalom, Absalom! breaks many of the rules of novel-writing. Yet, these supposed “violations” of accepted literary norms are a real strength of Faulkner’s narrative, making the novel unique — and very powerful. Power, yes. Like any Faulkner work, but even more so in Absalom, Absalom!, you have to work a bit to get through it. But as I said in the interview, when you are done, you are satisfied, in a profound way, emotionally and intellectually.

See video, “Ed Protzel Talks Faulkner.”

Two Distinct Norms
Two unique ways that Faulkner defies norms in Absalom, Absalom! First, instead of an economy of words, he deluges the reader with the most diverse and incisive language I’ve ever read. Matchless. Second, and as importantly, Faulkner doesn’t present the story in linear fashion. Rather, each chapter tells the story repeatedly, often by different narrators, relating events over and over, and in each new telling he reveals new insights. In Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner found a whole new way to tell a story, to write a novel. It takes getting used to, but it’s worth it.

Absalom, Absalom! was a major inspiration for The Lies That Bind — but sometimes I reversed his concepts. As far as language goes, no one can duplicate Faulkner, and shouldn’t even try. Rather, operating on my own literary theories and style, I try to be as economical as possible, using impressionistic descriptions to set the scene and the mood.

Take this example from The Lies That Bind:

Dusk rapidly closed in, the sun’s retracting tendrils leaving bloody claw-marks upon the clouded sky. The final residue of daylight drained quickly behind the western hills, drawing with it what little warmth remained of the day.

Like Faulkner’s tale, in Lies, as the plot moves forward chronologically, revelations about the characters’ pasts move back in time, revealing the novel’s themes. You can see the Faulkner influence there.

But there is one major difference at the heart of my novel that is entirely contrary to Faulkner’s tale: I give credit and identity to the slaves. He did not.

That always troubled me about Faulkner’s great work. The central character in Faulkner’s novel is Thomas Sutpen, who built a great plantation out of a swamp, called Sutpen’s Hundred, a man who is emblematic of the antebellum South and its slave society, its rise to power, and its fall. While the narrators boast of Sutpen’s success, they barely mention his slaves. Had they nothing to do with the creation of Sutpen’s Hundred?

Thus, one of my motivations for writing The Lies That Bind, my whole concept for the novel, was to correct that racial omission. In fact, in The Lies That Bind, the townsfolk (in antebellum Mississippi) give the protaganist, Durksen Hurst (a free, mixed-blood white-Seminole charlatan), credit for the success of his DarkHorse plantation. But the reader knows the truth: that it’s Durk’s secret partners, former slaves, who conteribute the agricultural expertise to their mutually owned plantation. In fact, one of the slaves, Big Josh, who had once run the plantation for his former dissolute master, was the real brains of the operation, something that actually happened historically.

No, no writer can match William Faulkner or compare his writing to the great man. Lies is a much faster, easier read than Absalom, Absalom!, and I use very different techniques to tell a very different story, with more modern themes. But seeing how I play off Faulkner’s novel is a lot of fun—and, I hope, enlightening, as well.


Infusing History Into Fiction: Manumission, Freeing Slaves

I am thrilled by the number of readers who’ve told me they love love love the minor character of young abolitionist Ellen in my novel, The Lies That Bind.  I love Ellen, too, of course, and I suspect you did—or will—as well. On my recent appearance on LA Talk Radio’s The Writers Block, the show’s terrific hosts, Jim Christina and Bobbi Bell, were especially enthusiastic about Ellen, and we had a lot of laughs discussing her (listen to the interview here).

Freeing the Slaves
In the novel, Ellen earns a few dollars by keeping the town of Turkle, Mississippi’s minor records, including deeds, wills, agreements—and manumission documents. Historically, manumission is defined as the act of a master freeing his/her slave(s), which required legal papers (to “manumit” the slave). Most often, a master would manumit a favored slave in his/her will or in a deed, or manumit an older slave whose productivity was in severe decline. However, the chance of a field slave or laborer being freed in this or any other way was almost nil.

In the novel, Ellen has never had the opportunity to fill out a manumission document freeing any slaves, and that bothers her greatly. Ellen and her grandfather, a church Senior Deacon (and religious fundamentalist), constitute the town’s only abolitionists, an unforgivable sin in the antebellum South. The anomalous pair is tolerated, however, because they are such idealists, so religious, and so impoverished and powerless, that people consider them harmless.

Historically, manumissions increased in the late-eighteenth century, after the American Revolution, and the percentage of freedmen went from 1 percent of the black population to 10 percent (7 percent in Virginia, for example). However, after the invention of the cotton gin (1793) opened extensive lands to labor-intensive cotton cultivation, manumissions declined almost to zero. In parallel, there were abolitionist preachers in the South who convinced some planters to free their slaves. However, after the 1840s, these idealistic preachers were driven to flee north or were even killed outright. So the religious establishment became solidly pro-slavery until the Civil War.

Interestingly, in a revised edition of The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, John W. Blassingame relates his discovery of a brilliant, black pro-slavery theologian called Bentley’s Old George, who served as preacher to a church of wealthy planters. The congregation, which paid the preacher $700 a year, offered to buy the man from the estate that owned him, and Old George refused to be bought by them!

Likewise, in the second novel in my DarkHorse Trilogy, Honor Among Outcasts, the main characters encounter such a pro-slavery black preacher—under circumstances that are both moving and tragic. (I just couldn’t pass up the dramatic irony.)

Revolting Against Bondage Halts Manumissions
It seems slaves just weren’t satisfied with their condition! After the Haitian slave revolt of 1791-1804, in which all the French masters were killed, and the rebellion led by American slave Nat Turner, planters in the South lived in fear of their unwilling bondsmen rising up against them. The South’s false portrayal of the “happy slave”—which I wrote The Lies That Bind in part to debunk—was used as propaganda to counter Northern abolitionists’ criticism of the South’s “peculiar institution.” As a result of this fear, the South passed laws that made manumission quite difficult, if not impossible; after which few slaves were freed until the Thirteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution ended slavery.

In Lies, Ellen’s life is changed when Durk Hurst asks her to draw up manumission papers to free his (secret) partners, a group of (former) slaves, fulfilling her lifelong dream. Of course, as in the rest of the novel, the irony seldom lets up. Durk does not really own his partners, so his signature does not really manumit them. In fact, under the circumstances, his partners must still pretend to be his slaves, which they never were, and they must keep their fake manumission as secret as their partnership with Durk. A twisted situation, indeed!

Reading Ellen Scenes
I plan to include a few scenes involving Ellen at my upcoming reading at Left Bank Books in St. Louis on Thurs., June 23. It will give fans a sense of the ironic situation Ellen (and Durk) find themselves in, and why she is so endearing to readers. Stop by the reading if you’re in town. See details.

Next blog post: I’ll continue my discussion of Ellen and the literary function she serves in The Lies That Bind.

This Writer’s Challenge: Finding Humanity in a Violent Setting

Working on Honor Among Outcasts, Book 2 in my DarkHorse Trilogy (to be published in 2017) has been challenging emotionally and creatively. The atmosphere in Honor is far different from the first book in the trilogy, The Lies That Bind. Whereas the backdrop for Lies was a staid, rigid (read: caste, slave) antebellum South society, and the accompanying tension a product of the characters’ subterfuges, Civil War Missouri, where Book 2 takes place, was quite another matter.

James W. Erwin’s Guerrilla Hunters in Civil War Missouri

James W. Erwin’s Guerrilla Hunters in Civil War Missouri

Missouri’s western counties during the war were near absolute chaos. The brutal war in Missouri pit neighbor against neighbor, community against community, with both sides robbing, burning homes and crops, and slaughtering husbands and sons indiscriminately — even on their own sides. Guerrillas and Union soldiers even took scalps — that’s how horrific the war was.

(To learn more about it,  I recommend James W. Erwin’s Guerrilla Hunters in Civil War Missouri.)

A Far Darker Place
There is a fine line between a drama and a thriller, and I try to keep a balance of both in all my writing. Unlike in Lies, where the tension is atmospheric, the tension in Honor Among Outcasts is very much event- and plot-driven. My job is to see that the story’s characters develop their own motivations, not merely to portray them as victims trying to escape the mayhem of war. I, therefore, have no choice but to incorporate violence into the story’s historical milieu.

At times, I have to take a break because the violence and situations are so unsettling.

Nearly all of the main characters in Lies are reprised in Honor Among Outcasts. You’ll again meet Durk, Big Josh, Antoinette, Isaac, Devereau, and Wounded Wolf. Readers will be pleased to know that even young Ellen, whom readers adore, has a role to play in the coming dramatic events. Given the environment and events depicted in Book 2, the emotional state of many of the characters has devolved to, shall we say, a far darker place. Far darker.

I hope I don’t shake up fans of The Lies That Bind too much!

Upcoming Events
April 28:
Reading at Subterranean Books in St. Louis' U. City Loop
June 23: Reading at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End
Sept. 25: Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans
Oct. 29: St. Louis Central Library's 2016 Author Shout Out!

Buy/order The Lies That Bind.

Fun Reading Stimulates Insightful Q&A

Click to begin slideshow

Lots of fun last week with a well-attended reading and book signing of my novel, The Lies That Bind, at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where I teach adjunct. The Q&A discussion afterwards was lively and far-ranging, with many historical and other insights from the audience, few of whom had yet read the book. The myths surrounding slavery (which my novel attempts to debunk), gender in the antebellum South, the Civil War — so many great discussion threads were followed. I was even invited to speak to the English department's Civil War literature class. I loved every minute of it.  The conversation could have gone on for hours.

The reading was sponsored by the gender studies department and coordinated by the English department. As a nod to gender studies, I began the reading with excerpts from Chapter 2, where we first encounter the reclusive Missus Marie Brussard French, and her strange son, Devereau. A volatile scene, indeed!

Special thanks to Lynn Staley of English, who initiated the reading and worked so hard to put everything together — even cake! Kudos, too, to the folks at the UMSL bookstore. The student “womaning” the sales got so involved in the discussion that she bought a copy of the book for herself!

An educator I spoke with recently thought The Lies That Bind should be taught in schools. Frankly, I always believed that myself. It would be an innovative way for twenty-first century students to get a sense of what it might have been like to live in a nineteenth-century slave society (or any society based on lies). The book also could serve to illustrate how no one can escape the tsunami of war, but rather how we are sometimes swept by folly into doomed blunders. Vietnam, Iraq II are very strong parallels.

Honor Among Outcasts Discussion
I also touched a bit on the second novel in the DarkHorse Trilogy, Honor Among Outcasts, which I am working on now. Most of the main characters from The Lies That Bind appear prominently in Honor, plus some minor characters rise to the top and become very important. I can’t wait to see readers’ reactions to the surprises, although the book can be read independently. For research, I’ve found Guerrillas in Civil War Missouri, by James W. Erwin, enlightening.

Again, thanks for all the kind words and interesting feedback.

Click BUY/CONTACTS page to order your copy of The Lies That Bind!

Next Reading: I can’t wait until my next scheduled reading on April 28 in St. Louis at Subterranean Books. Try to come if you're in St Louis.

Check the EVENTS page for all upcoming events.

Request a Visit: To request that Ed talk about The Lies That Bind at your organization, school, book club, or bookstore — in person, via phone or Skype —  email ed.protzel@att.net.

Black History Month; Good Time to Research The Lies That Bind Sequel

Right now, I’m working on Honor Among Outcasts, Book 2 of my DarkHorse Trilogy and the sequel to Book 1, The Lies That Bind. I'm not just working on developing the story, but preparing the research, too. Black History Month couldn’t come at a better time to stimulate my thoughts and feelings, and to offer fresh insights into the Black Experience in America, which has been nothing short of epic on the world stage.

The new novel will take place in Missouri—gasp!—to where the DarkHorse partners have fled from Mississippi. Beginning in 1863, Durk, Big Josh, Isaac, and the other former slaves will finally get their chance to put on the Union uniform, to fight for the liberation of all Southern slaves.

But things are not as simple as they anticipate.

Of course, visionary charlatan Durk Hurst, continuing his role from The Lies That Bind as the “white front man” for the DarkHorse partnership, has worked alongside the others all along, sharing their joys and their hardships.

In the new book, Durk gets the group through these rough times by characterizing his partners as “contraband” laborers, supposedly “liberated” by himself. Sometimes he calls them his own “manumission-freed former slaves,” depending on what story he is spinning and to whom on any given day, to serve whatever ends Durk’s instincts dictate. Of course, sometimes Hurst’s golden tongue does get them out of trouble—and sometimes it gets them deeper into trouble. Oh, well. Durk may be part-Seminole, but he’s the only white face his partners have to depend on.

Brutal, War-Torn Missouri
Prior to 1863, when the story begins, General Samuel Curtis had defeated the Confederate army at Pea Ridge, and chased it to Arkansas. Was that the end of fighting in Missouri? No, the worst was just beginning. During the war, Missouri had more battles and clashes than any other state besides Virginia. But they weren’t set-piece battles.

After Pea Ridge, Missouri became neighbor against neighbor, terrible stuff. The state quickly devolved into hit-and-run guerrilla attacks: civilians were victims of atrocities, and generally, few prisoners from either side lived to tell the tale. Civil war is the nastiest kind, and guerrilla war the worst of all. Look at Syria today. Civil war, guerrillas, atrocities, refugees, devastation. Well, Missouri had all that—and more!

Bushwhacker Brutality
Missouri’s pro-slavery guerrillas, called “bushwhackers”—yes, you’ve heard that reviled term—raided Lawrence, Kansas, and killed hundreds of civilians before returning home. In desperation, the Union military authority issued Order No. 11, which emptied out more than three counties in western Missouri, where many guerrillas lived. I mean cleaned them out, including pro-Union civilians, everybody. Women with husbands at war and children to raise, widows, the elderly. Many destitute, without means to carry a few goods to sustain them, were forced onto the road. And it wasn’t done in a kindly way, as you might well guess. Union soldiers, like their bushwhacker counterparts, robbed and burned. That was Missouri.

The African-American War Effort
Since twelve of the thirteen DarkHorse partners are black, naturally I’m busy researching and learning about that experience during the war. Two books I’m excited to have found are A Grand Army of Black Men, edited by Edwin S. Redkey (Cambridge University Press); and African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album, by Ronald S. Coddington (The Johns Hopkins University Press/Baltimore). See Library of Congress  webcast discussion of the Coddington book.

I’m also very happy to be studying Guerrillas in Civil War Missouri, by James W. Erwin (The History Press); and A Rough Business: Fighting the Civil War in Missouri, edited by William Garrett Piston (The State Historical Society of Missouri).

Real history must never be forgotten, least we repeat our errors. And as I delve more deeply into our country’s history, the clearer it becomes that history itself is truly stranger than fiction.

Enjoy reading The Lies That Bind, and I’ll keep working on Honor Among Outcasts.

Coming up:
Book Launch for The Lies That Bind, Feb. 18, University of Missouri-St. Louis
LA Talk Radio's
The Writer's Block

Check out my online interviews:
Hangin With
,” G.W. Pomichter’s video show (30 min.)
David Clarke’s “Different Strokes for Different Folks” (58 min.)

The Meaning of DarkHorse — and Democracy

 “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
- Winston Churchill

Since I’ve been asked, and since The Lies That Bind is the first novel in my planned DarkHorse Trilogy, I’ll explain the two basic interpretations of the name, DarkHorse, the literal meaning and the mythological meaning.

The Protagonist
First is the name of the main character: Durksen Hurst. Durksen is Hurst’s given name, but he goes by Durk. Now, Durk was raised by the Chickasaws from the age of ten, but due to their limited familiarity with English and the similarity to the words Durk Hurst, the Chickasaws called him “Dark Horse,” a name that stuck.

The Plantation
Second is the name of the plantation, DarkHorse (an egalitarian partnership between a visionary charlatan and a group of slaves). Durk’s need to prove himself to the town of Turkle is expressed by naming the plantation after his Native name, DarkHorse. Why spell it as one word? Because that’s how he writes it on the deed. While Durk is a reader, he is self-educated, and his written skills are limited. In rural antebellum Mississippi, few were highly literate. In The Lies That Bind, only the Devereau French and Antoinette DuVallier characters are well-read in the classics.

The Real Significance
Then there is the real meaning behind the name DarkHorse. These thirteen men, near starvation and with little to lose, try to carve out their own farming enterprise from the surrounding Chickasaw swampforest (with Durk having swindled the rights to a patch of land from the local tribe). And wasn’t—or isn’t—that America (including robbing the Native Americans)? Didn’t our ancestors, and don’t immigrants today, find themselves on these shores looking to build new lives, and a new civilization, unbound by the strictures of the past — bound only by rules they conceive themselves, rules far different from those they left behind in the Old World? And it doesn’t matter whether they came across the ocean in steerage or first class, in the hull of slave ships, or by modern-day airplane, they all had common aspirations.

The Old World had a rigid class system: kings, aristocracies, all manner of tribal tyrannies. Except for Athens and a sprinkle of states, that’s the way the human race organized itself. In fact, that’s the way most of the world still is today. Even mercantile, parliamentary England had an aristocracy until the twentieth century. Unless you earned a title by pulling an arrow out of the king’s butt at the battle of Widdle-upon-Piddle five centuries ago, you had a rough road ahead.

And DarkHorse? A handshake between themselves and Durk was all the partners had to go on. Those men had to learn to trust and rely on each other. Their creation was a democracy of sorts, making up the rules as they went along, with everyone participating on his own terms, the decisions being made by consensus, through debate — or rather, under their tense circumstances, outright argument.

Of course, the society surrounding them was a slave society, about as rigid a structure as you can get. Run by the powerful French family, little Turkle, Mississippi, was slave vs. free, aristocrat vs. sodbuster. Impoverished whites clung to the belief they were better than slaves. House slaves believed they were better than field slaves. Field slaves believed they were better than house slaves. In the novel, former house servant Old Moses dismisses his partners with the term “field hands,” and he doesn’t mean that as a compliment; while his partners make fun of his house servant ways.

DarkHorse has no rigid structure. Its members are recognized by what they can accomplish, not by preconceived notions or birth status. Big Josh, with his deep knowledge running his former dissolute master’s plantation, with his wisdom, with his strength and his peacemaking skills, is actually the partnership’s unacknowledged leader.

Durk, the figurehead white man, is the front for DarkHorse out of necessity, and the townsfolk give him all the credit for its success. But Durk’s real talents are mostly fast-talking and, to a minor degree, building fires. And his fast-talking may sometimes prove more a drawback than a boon to the partnership, creating “fires” he hadn’t intended. (Such as when Durk signs manumission documents freeing his partners, whom he never owned, in essence invalidating those very papers!)

Naturally, the DarkHorse partners argue, even come to blows, trying to dig themselves out of their desperate situation and build some kind of security for themselves. But democracy is rough and tumble, and solutions come the hard way. To paraphrase Churchill, “Americans always do the right thing — as a last resort.” In spite of our repeated failures, through all kinds of hardships, we usually seem to find a way to do things a little bit better in the future. It may be trial and error at times, but at least we have mechanisms for change.

Meantime, in 1861, outside the partners’ insulated world, the country itself is coming to blows: the Civil War, a conflict necessary to break down the rigid structure of the slave system, in which 700,000 Americans would die. Democracy is not always pretty.

Try as they might to ignore what’s happening elsewhere, in the second book of the DarkHorse Trilogy, Honor Among Outcasts, the DarkHorse partners will find themselves engulfed in this not-so-fraternal American conflict. Woe to them.

Buy The Lies That Bind

Online Interviews:
Hangin With” G.W. Pomichter

David Clarke’s “Different Strokes for Different Folks”

Book Launch for The Lies That Bind, University of Missouri- St. Louis

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Lies That Bind’s Big Josh

Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word—voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.
- President Barak Obama's State of the Union Address, 2016

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., federal holiday. When you visit Washington, D. C., be sure to visit the Dr. King memorial on the national mall. Yes, Dr. King’s visage in granite is moving. You immediately discover tears forming in your eyes, a lump in your throat, your pulse racing, and a heaviness in your heart. But what is more moving than any sculpture are his words carved in stone all around you, expressing the eternal ideas those words capture so concisely, so sublimely, so profoundly.

Also, when in Memphis, be sure to visit the the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was assassinated. When we last visited Memphis, the museum itself was in its early stages. Even then, when the project was merely the motel and the rudimentary foundations of the museum across the street, it was exceptionally moving. We hope to go back soon.

Dr. King’s Influence on Big Josh
When I wrote the screenplay The Lies That Bind is based on, Barak Obama was not yet a national figure. At that time, black men were not portrayed in film and fiction as leaders as they are now. I created the character Big Josh in my book as the leader figure, part of a new American mythology depicting a racially harmonious America where people are equally recognized for their virtues.

A slave, simple-looking, speaking with a stutter, people in the antebellum South would have looked right through Big Josh, not seeing the man himself. Yet in the egalitarian DarkHorse partnership, where Durk Hurst and twelve uprooted slaves agree by a simple handshake to carve their own plantation out of the wilderness, it is Big Josh who is their true leader. Hurst, the white man, is merely the front man to whom the town, naturally, gives all the credit for their accomplishment. But, in truth, it took all thirteen men to make DarkHorse a success. As Hurst acknowledges, Big Josh is the heart and brains of their plantation—without whom DarkHorse would surely fail.

In essence, as I see it, Big Josh is the literary, mythological precursor to Barak Obama, the leader of America as a whole.

Symbolically, these thirteen men are rootless, finding themselves stranded in the American wilderness (Mississippi/Chickasaw swamp), and from there they must learn to work together to achieve security and prosperity for all. Isn’t that the challenge America has always represented and that we’re faced with today? Hurst had no family, no friends, no place to call home. But Hurst’s slave partners, and America’s slave population in general, could never return to Africa thousands of miles away either. Talk about being stranded. Perhaps that is why Hurst, being an outsider himself, was able to see Big Josh as a man like other men, black and white.

In his past, Big Josh ran the plantation for his drunken master and, thus, has the skills and knowledge for DarkHorse to succeed. That was pure invention on my part. However, in my recent research, I found there were, indeed, slaves who ran plantations for dissolute masters [see: The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South by John W. Blassingame].

So there were men like Big Josh in real life!

A great soul, like Dr. King, in the worst of circumstances—a slave society—Big Josh is the peacemaker in the DarkHorse partnership, always keeping headstrong partners Durk Hurst and angry Isaac from coming to blows. The novel shows in very practical, down-to-Earth terms why Dr. King’s own inspiration claimed that peacemakers—men bearing only unarmed truth and unconditional love—are blessed. Big Josh exemplifies that spirit.

Celebrate Dr. King’s life today, sure. But keep in mind his eternal ideas every day. After all, I seem to remember that Dr. King told us that he had a dream, didn’t he? And while we’re closer to that dream than we once were, we haven’t achieved that dream just yet.

See DelawareBlack.com:  "New historical novel, The Lies That Bind, debunks slave stereotypes"

Related blog posts:
Seeking a New American Mythology
Big Josh and Angry Isaac—Minus Stereotypes and the Chains of Slavery

© Copyright 2017 Ed Protzel