Ed Protzel

Genre-stretching novelist — Author of darkly ironic fiction

Filtering by Tag: historical fiction

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!

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

The Book Title: Doorway to the Story

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Saw the Steven Spielberg film “Bridge of Spies,” this weekend, which vividly reproduced the paranoia of the post-WWII/Cold War era. The Soviets were hardliners, no doubt;, but we had many of our own hard cases, too. Both the U. S. and the Soviets had a long slug to victory over the Nazis. And, naturally, hardliners in both camps were in the ascendancy after VE Day. That’s the way it works.

As a writer, reflecting on “Bridge” got me thinking of the importance of titles, both of movies and books. That, of course, led me to thinking about the title of my own forthcoming novel, The Lies That Bind (TouchPoint Press, November 2015): a dark, ironic, and twisted tale of intrigue in the antebellum South.

I’ve been asked by other writers how I came up with the title, and I can honestly say it was a major headache–until it appeared in a flash of light. The challenge was how to encapsulate the story’s many elements, overall mood, themes, and time and place. Do you try to elicit mood or do you get specific?

That’s a lot to pack into a few words, and still try to entice a reader to wonder about its meaning and to pick the book off the shelf.

I haven’t yet read Strangers on a Train (the book by James B. Donovan the movie was based on), but I’m guessing the “Bridge” in the movie title relates not only to the physical Glienicke Bridge between East and West Berlin, but to the connection bridged between the mutually hostile East and West that brought about the story’s humanitarian Powers/Able/student prisoner exchange. On a human level, “Bridge” also alludes to the respect that developed between Able, the Soviet spy, and Donovan, the lawyer reluctantly representing him, as men of principle, without painting either as evil or enemies in the Cold War.

A good title focuses on a book’s central theme.
Hanks (as Donovan) argued artfully and logically not to put Abel to death so that he might be used a future pawn if an American were captured. Donovan was an insurance wheeler-dealer, a regular guy, not a political hardliner, and diplomacy won out over vengeance and death. Hey, we’re still trying to learn that lesson today, right?

My book title, The Lies That Bind, focuses the reader on the story’s central themes, too. But unlike the phrase “the ties that bind,” which has a positive connotation, Lies shows the dark side of life in Southern slave society, with people held together through deceit, bound by falsehoods: injustice, subterfuge, and outright intimidation. See synopsis.

 Yet, though the novel’s characters must live lies and live with lies, oppression can never be omnipotent. The opposite is true, in fact. This story shows that the only way we can fulfill our highest aspirations is to find the truth deep in our own hearts. It’s a battle we never stop fighting within ourselves.

In a macro sense, too, The Lies That Bind shows that a society built on falsehood and injustice is fated for an upheaval that will bring it crashing down. If you doubt that,  just look at the former Soviet Union and its puppet, East Germany, which “Bridge of Spies” presents so well. And, historically, regarding The Lies That Bind, what was the result of the slavery system? I think my novel dramatizes it pretty clearly.

See you next week. Good reading!

Introducing Durksen Hurst, main protagonist in Ed Protzel’s novel, The Lies that Bind

Welcome to my blog. Over time, I’ll be introducing you to the world inhabited by the characters of my upcoming historical novel, The Lies that Bind, a darkly ironic antebellum mystery/drama set in Turkle, Mississippi, 1859-61, where no one is who they pretend to be and more than anyone can imagine. The novel has been acquired by TouchPoint Press and is due to be published this year. I can’t wait! 

The story revolves around a cast of outsiders trying to find their humanity during a dark time in our nation’s history, just before the Civil War. It deals with issues of class, race, and gender, with people enslaved and seemingly free—all seeking love and respect. 

As the story’s tangled webs of deceit unravel, each startling plot twist and cathartic revelation shines a fresh light on what it means to be a man, a woman, free or enslaved—indeed, what it means to be human. My website tells you more about it. 

But first, let me introduce you to Durksen Hurst, aka “Dark Horse,” the primary protagonist in The Lies that Bind. (I say “primary” because one of the novel’s unique features is two competing, but sympathetic, main characters.) It’s 1859 when we first meet Durk Hurst who is being pursued on his roan horse through a Mississippi swamp—and not for the first time—his fancy Memphis-bought suit mud-splattered and torn, his body and mind past exhaustion. 

Naturally, he is despondent. This visionary hustler believed his most recent scheme would have helped dirt-poor farmers throughout the South—and, of course, made him rich in the process. But here he is at forty, at a dead end, having “fallen into the pit where all his sky-high dreams and clever plans, his fine-figuring and fast-talking inevitably left him broke, desperate, and alone.” 

In the swamp, Durk encounters a dozen slaves, stranded, whose safest course may be to sink his body into the bayou. But, alas, Durk has a plan for all of them; one based on an “imaginary” plantation, a potentially fatal partnership made possible by his private disgust with slavery. Naturally, his future “partners” are skeptical. When they accuse him of being a charlatan, he replies that, yes, he’s “had to play the charlatan, though always an honest one,” one who’s “never told a lie I didn’t believe in myself.”  

Now which of us wouldn’t trust this man with our life? Well, they were so desperate, they had no choice. Incredibly, a number of Durk’s magnificent scams turn that plantation idea into a real employee-owned enterprise. 

Durk Hurst never has fit in anywhere; doesn’t even look like other people. He’s half Seminole. Nor do his attitudes toward society fit in either. And his imagination, well, his imagination could be his undoing.  

Unfortunately, the ambitious scamp is never satisfied. His uncontrollable dreams lead to further wild schemes that put the partners’ lives in jeopardy. And their peril only increases dramatically when the advent of the Civil War throws a monkey wrench into their biggest scam yet. Still a lonely visionary with a mind of his own, Durk has the temerity to oppose the town’s rabid rush to war, which gets him branded a traitor.  

Whoa, can he get himself out of this one? 

Come along with Durk in The Lies that Bind as he and his partners pull off one glorious gambit after another in the hamlet of Turkle, Mississippi, more a microcosm of our own world than we’d care to admit. See this interloper take on the wealthy and powerful French family, some of the strangest protagonists in literature, who are concealing their own fatal charades. Experience the drama, irony, humor, and terror as the facades of both sides unravel—one a clue at a time. 

Publication date to be announced soon!
Next Up: Meet Durk’s nemesis, Devereau French 


Watch for publication of Ed’s novel, The Lies that Bind (TouchPoint Press, 2015), a darkly ironic antebellum mystery/drama set in Turkle, Mississippi, 1859-61. Ed Protzel’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone. Blog copyrighted by Ed Protzel © 2015.

© Copyright 2017 Ed Protzel