Ed Protzel

Genre-stretching novelist — Author of darkly ironic fiction


I thought it was time I checked in to brief you on my goings-on.

In October — I’ll be giving away an autographed print copy of The Antiquities Dealer. The contest is being sponsored by The Suspense Zone website. It will run throughout October and the winner will be drawn after that. To enter, just visit http://www.thesuspensezone.com/contests any time between Oct. 1 and 31. Of course, the book can always be ordered (print, Kindle or audiobook) at: http://bit.ly/TheAntiquitiesDealer

Plus, my interview will be posted on the site on Oct. 14. That link will be: http://www.thesuspensezone.com/ed-protzel-interview-3 /

In November — copies of my novels will be available at the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival bookstore: The Antiquities Dealer, The Lies That Bind and Honor Among Outcasts. Try to stop by the J Nov. 3-15.

In late-2019 or early 2020 — I expect the release of Something in Madness (DarkHorse Trilogy, Book 3). I confess it was a rough one to research and write, given that it takes place in Mississippi during Reconstruction when freedmen faced black codes, violence and intimidation at every turn. I think you’ll be satisfied about the way the DarkHorse journey wraps up. I’ll announce the release date asap!


Each Friday in March offers a chance to test your knowledge and win a paperback copy of THE ANTIQUITIES DEALER, my new thriller packed with references meant to inform and amuse as you follow David Greenberg on his quest to decode a mysterious clue and locate a missing artifact.


Each Friday will pose questions in a different category:

• March 1: Name the Mythology
• March 8: Translate the Yiddish
• March 15: Translate the Hebrew
• March 22: Decode the Clue
• March 29: Name that Tune/Line

Instructions will be posted each Friday in March on The Antiquities Dealer Facebook page. The person who submits the most correct answers will win a paperback copy direct from the publisher. In case of a tie, the winner will be drawn by the publisher and announced the following Monday of each week.

If you haven’t already done so, you can “Like” the page now by clicking here.

Good luck!

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A couple of quick announcements

This Wed, Dec. 12, I’ll be participating in two forums in which I discuss my writing:

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At 11:10 (CT), I’ll be joining the Historical for the Holidays Book Tour on Facebook for a 20-minute discussion of my DarkHorse Trilogy. I’ll be one of over 40 historical fiction authors taking part throughout the day (until 7 pm CT). If you’re a historical fiction fan, I guarantee you’ll discover some great books for yourself or to give as gifts. There will be comments and giveaways.

Find the event at: http://www.edprotzel.com/new-events-1/2018/12/12/passages-to-the-past-historical-for-the-holidays-book-tour

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Then from 4:30 to 4:50 pm (CT), I’ll be interviewed live on Authors on the Air. For info, visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/2192500537447008/

If you miss it, you can catch the podcast at any time thereafter at: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/authorsontheair


And finally…

I just learned from my publisher that The Antiquities Dealer will be available as an audio book this spring on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes! I’ll let everyone know when it’s out.

Take care and enjoy this holiday season!


History comes alive in HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS — released in conjunction with Black History Month

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I’m proud to announce the release today of HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS, the second book in my Civil War-era DarkHorse Trilogy centering on the unorthodox friendship between a Southern abolitionist and a group of escaped slaves.

Set amid the bloody Missouri-Kansas guerrilla war of 1863, HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS takes you on a pulse-pounding journey of desperate men and women caught up in the merciless forces of hatred and fear that tear worlds apart—and affirms the healing power of friendship and love to bring them together.

If you enjoy journeying to the past through fiction, stories depicting actual events, and inspirational tales that will touch your heart, you’ll relish the adventure that awaits in HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS — a great read as a stand-alone novel or as part of the DarkHorse Trilogy.

Order HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS now on Amazon — print or Kindle. Other outlets to be posted soon.

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What brought this unusual group to Missouri in the first place? Read THE LIES THAT BIND, Book 1 of the DarkHorse Trilogy, and find out. A Readers' Favorite!

And stay tuned for SOMETHING IN MADNESS, the final book in the trilogy, set in Mississippi during Reconstruction.

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And late this year, something completely different...

THE ANTIQUITIES DEALER, a futuristic thriller about antiquities dealer David Greenberg, who is drawn into a conspiracy by an ancient Israeli society to clone the great minds of history — beginning with Jesus Christ think Hitchcock meets Dan Brown, with a dash of Michael Creighton!

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.

© Copyright 2017 Ed Protzel