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Monday, April 30, 2018

Lords of St. Thomas by Jackson Ellis - Book Review, Interview & Giveaway

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Review by Suze

It's the beginning of the 1930s and St. Thomas is a thriving small town. This changes when the government starts planning to build the Boulder Dam and buys out everyone who's interested in selling. Many of the inhabitants are leaving their homes and businesses behind. The Lord family is an exception though. Henry's grandfather doesn't want to take the government's money and thinks the water won't flood his house. He doesn't believe it will ever reach that far. He wants to stay where he is, because it's the home he's always known and is refusing to leave, accepting the consequences of his decision.

Henry's father would like to get out of St. Thomas, he does believe the water will eventually reach their house and there aren't many opportunities for young people in a town that's slowly becoming abandoned. Henry is growing up under the constant influence and threat of the water, what is the effect on his life? Who is right, his father or his grandfather, and what is the price the family will have to pay because of this new dam?

Lords of St. Thomas is a beautiful impressive story. Henry is used to living with family disagreements. The dam is a frequent topic of discussion in their home. Henry's grandfather doesn't want to move out of St. Thomas. Even though almost everyone moves away, he's determined to stay and won't leave his house. I found his stubbornness admirable and naive at the same time, which is a fabulous combination. Henry is a sweet boy, he loves his parents very much and would do anything for them. He's also wise and observant, which makes the story incredibly interesting. While the water is rising it takes away a lot and my heart ached for the small boy who has to deal with so much heartbreak. I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough to find out what would happen to Henry and his family and read his story in one sitting.

Jackson Ellis has a fantastic descriptive writing style. He makes his story come to life in an amazing vivid way. I was fascinated by the history of the dam, the vast implications of this project and the effect on everyone living near it. I could easily picture the emotional turmoil of the Lord family and I was captivated by the gripping storyline. I liked the multiple layers, the versatility and the inevitability of this book. Lords of St. Thomas is a gorgeous story. I fell in love with it straight from the beginning and highly recommend it.

Advice

If you love historical coming of age stories you shouldn't miss Lords of St. Thomas.

About Jackson Ellis


Jackson Ellis is a writer and editor from Vermont who has also spent time living in Nevada and Montana. His short fiction has appeared in The Vermont Literary Review, Sheepshead Review, Broken Pencil, The Birmingham Arts Journal, East Coast Literary Review, Midwest Literary Magazine, and The Journal of Microliterature. He is the co-publisher of VerbicideMagazine.com, which he founded as a print periodical in 1999. Lords of St. Thomas​ is his first novel.

Links

Website // Twitter // Instagram // Amazon

Interview

1) Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

Sure. I'm Jackson, and I live in Vermont, which is where I was born and raised. I've also spent time living in numerous other states, including all-too-brief periods in Nevada (while my wife attended graduate school) and Montana (where I worked two summers as a ranger at Glacier National Park). In a way, my book is a love letter to those former homes, as the book is set in Nevada and the main character lives most of his life in Montana.

2) Can you describe the main characters of Lords of St. Thomas in seven words each?

Henry Lord: Stubborn but loving grandfather and auto mechanic.

"Little" Henry Lord: The narrator; studious, athletic, well-read, and adventurous.

Ellen Lord: Henry's mother; devoted but unlucky in life.

3) Lords of St. Thomas is a story about family, how did you get the idea to write about the Lord family?

The Lord family is fictional, but it is based on a real man. But a little back story first…

St. Thomas, Nevada, is a real place -- it was a town that existed from January 1865 until June 1938, when it was flooded by the water of Lake Mead, which was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam. The town site sat underwater for more than 60 years, until an ongoing drought exposed the ruins in 2002 (it remains exposed to this day).

When I visited the site for the first time in 2012, I was especially intrigued by the foundation of the Fenton Whitney home -- all that remains is an elevated concrete floor and a crawlspace, which you can enter.

An idea struck me: what would it have been like for someone who left St. Thomas as a child to return more than 60 years later? What would it be like to poke your head into this foundation if it were the sole remnant of your childhood home? Furthermore, what if you left something there as a child, only to retrieve it as an elderly person? What would that item be? That was what I set out to discover when I began writing this book.

I only intended it to be a short story, however, until I read about a real-life character named Hugh Lord, a lifelong, childless bachelor who ran the St. Thomas auto garage. Lord adamantly refused to believe that Lake Mead's waters would reach his home, and he refused all the buyout money offered to him by the federal government for his property.

Eventually, he was the last person living in St. Thomas, and in June of 1938, the water finally entered his home. In defiance, he set fire to his house and rowed away on a small boat.

Once I learned about Lord, I thought, Here is the perfect person to frame my story around. Only in my story, he becomes Henry Lord, and he has a son, daughter-in-law, and a grandson, "Little" Henry Lord, who is the narrator.

4) A dam is the reason St. Thomas slowly disappears, where did you get the inspiration to write about the constant threat of the water?

People who live in the desert always feel threatened by water in one way or another: either by a lack of it, or by flooding. Sometimes, months and months pass by without rain, and that scarcity really makes you appreciate water -- especially given that you need to consume so much of it to stay hydrated in such a blistering hot, dry climate. But when it does rain, it often comes down fiercely. The hardest rainstorms I've ever witnessed were in Las Vegas, which is thankfully crisscrossed by flood channels. Flash floods in the desert can be fatal, and they can sneak up on you.

I've always found the relationship between humans and water in the desert to be fascinating, and given that the flooding of St. Thomas was a real event, it was a place that captured my imagination. Plus, I've always been interested in ghost towns -- and the site of St. Thomas is both a ghost town and a "ghost lake."

5) Lords of St. Thomas has won the Howard Frank Mosher First Book Prize, how was that?

Howard Frank Mosher was one of my all-time favorite authors, and incidentally, a fellow Vermonter.

Back in September 2014, I wrote to a handful of writers I admired to see if anyone would be interested in reading my book and perhaps providing a blurb, criticism, etc. Howard was the only person who said he would read it. I had never met him or spoken to him previously, but within days of first contacting him he read my entire book, wrote a blurb, and provided enthusiastic feedback and encouragement. It meant the world to me to hear such nice things from an author I loved so much.

Howard also provided lots of encouragement and advice to Dede Cummings, who owns Green Writers Press, the publisher of my book. When Howard announced he had terminal cancer in January 2017, Dede told Howard that she would be awarding an annual "First Book Prize" named in his honor. Howard requested for me to be the first recipient, and he passed away about a week later, on January 29th.

6) How did your writing journey start?

In school, even from a young (elementary school) age, I was a decent essayist. In high school I began to keep a journal and write poems, and I delved into short story writing in my spare time in college -- though I was well past graduation by the time I finally wrote a short story I actually liked.

7) You wrote a lot of short stories before you started this novel, what’s the reason you’ve chosen to work on a longer project and do you still write short stories?

I originally intended for Lords of St. Thomas to be a short story -- it just got away from me! I didn't set out with any rough word count in mind; rather, I just typed until the story was done, and it wasn't done until I hit about 40,000 words. It was as simple as that.

I finished the first draft of Lords of St .Thomas in September of 2014. I wrote a piece of flash fiction the following spring, and I began to work on my second book, Sugar Shack, in September 2015. I finished that one on January 8, 2016 -- the same day my daughter, Sophie, was born.

Now I am a full-time dad. In the two-plus years since her birth I have only written half of a short story (about 4,000 words). Someday I will write again. But at the moment I just don't have the time or energy or space.

8) Where does your love for books come from?

Largely from my mom. She read to me a lot as a child and taught me to read when I was only three, and I've loved books ever since.

9) Can you tell us about Verbicide Magazine? How did it start and what kind of articles do you publish?

Verbicide was a print magazine I published from 1999 to 2009. It started as a cut-and-paste zine, and moved to newsprint by issue three (summer 2001). At its peak, probably around 2007, it was a full-color magazine with a glossy cover and a press run of 30,000 copies. But when print periodicals (and bookstores) started to die, Verbicide went out with a whimper after 25 issues.

We moved online in late 2009, and have been there ever since, though to be honest, we just don't update it very much anymore. It used to be a full-time hobby and serious endeavor; now it's just a part-time thing we update whenever we feel like ("we" meaning me, features and photography editor Heather Schofner, and co-publisher and website designer Nate Pollard -- who also created the cover art for "Lords").

Regarding content, we used to publish interviews with musicians, actors, and artists; music, movies, and book reviews; and comics and short fiction. Now we mostly sporadically publish photo galleries of live music and an occasional interview.

10) What are your plans for the future?

If you mean in general, in life, I hardly know what I'll be doing tomorrow. Professionally, though, I hope I can publish the second novel I have waiting in the wings, and I hope I can start writing again someday.

Giveaway

One very lucky reader of With Love for Books will receive a digital copy of Lords of St. Thomas by Jackson Ellis.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.

11 comments:

  1. Lords of St. Thomas sounds like a heartwarming read that couples a historic event with a classic coming of age story and offers a glimpse into the past and a glimmer of hope for the future.

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  2. I've always been fascinated by flooded towns ever since I was a schoolboy and we took a field trip to an abandoned town that was due to be flooded by a new dam.

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    1. Interesting, which town was that, just out of curiosity?

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  3. I do love this kind of adventure novel, would love to read it!

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    1. Thanks Ruth, I hope you can check it out!

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    1. Great, thank you Judy! Glad you enjoyed the interview, and I hope you like the book too.

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  5. I love that you started writing it and couldn't stop! Can't wait to read it

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  6. Be interesting to read what happens when/if the town gets flooded and how people cope with it. It's also a coming of age book, which I haven't read a lot of.

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  7. They will a lot to learn reading this book. Lovely review

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  8. I remember it being mentioned on the news when the ruins became exposed. My Mum's from Wales and remembers valleys there being flooded when the British Government started building dams in the 1950s to create reservoirs to supply English cities with water. The nearest one to her home contains a village and, it is said that the Church bell still rings to warn of impending doom ...!

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