Ed Protzel

Genre-stretching novelist — Author of darkly ironic fiction

Filtering by Tag: slavery

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

Introducing Big Josh: the Undervalued African-American

Each semester I have the privilege of teaching a writing course for college juniors and seniors at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. This past semester’s was an evening class attended by so-called “non-traditional students,” meaning I had more students who were a bit older, worked full time, and had full family responsibilities, including wives or husbands, children, and even grandchildren to support. And although school is quite a drag on their limited time and energies, they push ahead to get their degrees.

A good percentage of the students were African-American, and their personal sacrifices and drive to excel would open the eyes of any citizen whose perception of them was formed basically through the lens of local newscasts, sensationalized headlines or talk radio, and little to no actual interaction with them as individuals (more in future blogs). On top of their other responsibilities, the adults in my class devote much time to their churches and charities, to helping others when some of them could use a helping hand themselves. Is it any wonder I so greatly admire their work ethic and perseverance in their efforts to better themselves and their families?

"Uncle Jim" Lawson

Big Josh: Giving Credit Where Due
One of the major characters in my novel, The Lies That Bind (to be published this year by TouchPoint Press), is Big Josh, a man of great heart and intelligence in his fifties who has lived his entire life as a slave. In one of the novel’s major plot streams, Big Josh and his group of enslaved men, hopelessly stranded in the Mississippi wilds, take great risks to form a secret partnership with the visionary charlatan Durksen Hurst to build an egalitarian plantation they will call Dark Horse. White and black share the work—and the deprivation—of building Dark Horse. However, there are limits to well-meaning equality in a society structured to be inherently unequal.

Having run the plantation back home, Big Josh is the real strength and brains behind the success of the farming side of their plantation scheme. He is a deep thinker and peacemaker within the ill-fitting partnership, a man with a tragic past (how many slaves who survived didn't have tragic pasts?). But with Durk serving as figurehead "white master," the town's admiration, and fear, are bestowed solely on Durk—whose only farming experience was busting up clods for his drunk-of-a-daddy. Big Josh and the other partners are virtually invisible. Ironically, Durk, whose incompetence is matched only by his naivete and blind ambition, is the one who puts their endeavor at greatest peril.

This dichotomy exposes one of the deeper meanings of the novel, and one of the currents in our society today. The antebellum South’s wealth was based on agriculture, but the wealthiest elite made their fortunes on the backs of slave labor. And slavery was not a benevolent institution. Don’t the bonded laborers deserve some credit—much less some remuneration—for the South’s extraordinary successes? But whose statues and portraits grace the region?

In one of the greatest American novels, William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Thomas Sutpen builds Sutpen’s Hundred on the backs of slave labor; yet Sutpen becomes the legend. Isn’t this skewed slant symbolic of the antebellum South? Why shouldn’t Big Josh—or so many like him—get at least a public mention? As in my novel, slaves would have been satisfied to simply not be slaves, allowed to eat what they grew, to be warm when they could earn enough to buy a blanket, to live in a house they built for themselves—and to not live in constant fear.

But 700,000 men, white and black, would have to die before slaves could even come close to achieving that minimum condition. And even today, a skewed view of the African-American community by too many continues to hold them back.

Next Up: A campaign to require a disclaimer on hate speech.

To be announced soon: Publication date of Ed Protzel’s novel, The Lies That Bind, a darkly ironic antebellum mystery/drama set in Turkle, Mississippi, 1859-61, (TouchPoint Press, 2015).

Ed Protzel’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone. Blog copyrighted by Ed Protzel © 2015.

© Copyright 2017 Ed Protzel