History Books

Nationally acclaimed author
to speak at Village Lights

Thom to share research
and writing techniques

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(May 2010) – James Alexander Thom has always been keenly aware of the importance of history. After 30 years of experience in writing many historical works of fiction, he has penned a non-fiction work detailing his advice on research and writing techniques.
“Good fiction can perceive and convey historical truth as well as nonfiction,” said Thom, who lives in Bloomington, Ind. Thom is a regional and national New York Times best-selling author of such historically based novels as “Follow the River,” “Long Knife,” “From Sea to Shining Sea,” “Panther in the Sky” and “The Red Heart.”

Saint Patrick's Battalion book cover

Saint Patrick's
Battalion book cover

His recent book is titled “The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction.” “I hope the book might help a little to raise the quality of historical novels,” he said.
Thom will present “Once Upon a Time, It Was Now” at 1 p.m. on May 22 at Village Light Bookstore, 110 E. Main St., in Madison, Ind. He will share details on the differences and similarities between research and writing techniques of academic historians and historical novelists. He will also speak about his book, “Saint Patrick’s Battalion,” his current book in progress, and will be signing books.
“Becoming a historical novelist requires imagination, an understanding of the causes and consequences of historical events, the stamina to research and write hard and long, and love of language,” said Thom.
When writing, he uses any and all factual historical information he can find, just as a historian would. “I feel a responsibility to be historically accurate, even if fictional characters and subplots are at work in the novel.”
He bases this responsibility on the fact that many of his novels are assigned as supplemental reading for high school and college courses. “I respect historians highly, and I’m happy when I earn their respect in return.”
“My wife (Anne Vestuto) and I have been fans of his for a long time,” said Nathan Montoya, owner of Village Lights Bookstore. “When we opened our bookstore, the first thing that came to mind was that we wanted to have him come here for a book signing.”
Montoya and Vestuto opened their bookstore last November. The couple has had many local and well-known writers and poets hold programs in their bookstore. “It’s a great honor and privilege to have all these people come in,” said Montoya, a retired academic.
He believes a bookstore should host such author events as this one. His goal is to turn Village Lights Bookstore into a “cultural hub where people can experience a broader culture.”
Montoya provides musical programs as well, having a Steinway full grand piano in the store in addition to an art gallery. He and Vestuto, who have previously lived in Europe, strive to “maintain a high quality bookstore” that will become a vehicle for culture, he said.
Montoya said Thom is the perfect writer to visit Madison because he often writes about the Ohio River Valley. “This sort of event is very important,” he said. “We support and promote literacy and a love of reading and books.”
History is not necessarily all that palatable to the average reader, Montoya said. Thom presents history as an engaging story and “develops characters beautifully that are faithful to the history they portray.”
Thom said that most characters in his books have been real people, so he doesn’t necessarily have to invent them, but choose whom he will study and portray in a novel. In his last three novels, the story has been related through the eyes of fictional characters who can “add to the scope and understanding of the true characters and events without altering the factual history.”
One of these novels, “Saint Patrick’s Battalion,” tells the story of Paddy Quinn, a boy who kept a diary throughout the Mexican War. In Thom’s latest work-in-progress, he continues Quinn’s story as the character is now an adult reporter for Harper’s at the end of the Civil War. Thom hopes for a 2010 publishing date for this new novel.
Thom will be accompanied at Village Lights Bookstore by his wife, Dark Rain, who has two current projects in the works. A revision of her Shawnee tribal history book, “Kohkumthena’s Grandchildren,” is due out in a new edition next year.
Dark Rain is also working on a novel based on the life of one of her ancestors, which takes the reader on a journey from the late 1800s into the World War II era. Reading about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl will give the reader a different understanding of their country and their family’s part in the sacrifices it took to establish it as a nation.
“James Alexander Thom and Dark Rain are “in the tier of authors we’d like to have come in often,” said Montoya.

• For more information, contact the Village Lights Bookstore at (812) 265-1800.

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