WHOEVER STEALS A MAN
Exodus 21:16 "Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death."
It's 1850 and the recently enacted Fugitive Slave Act is terrorizing America. Deep in the Adirondack Mountains, escaped slave Jelly Pinchbeck takes advantage of her master's murder and tries to escape to Canada but falls ill in the middle of the wilderness.
Garland Fain, a mixed race Indian and white professional bird hunter, finds her sleeping in one of his lean-to shelters and nurses her back to health with medicinal herbs. He sees an opportunity and is tempted to score a nice bounty with her return to the South but something unexpected happens. They fall in love.
Their mutual yearnings for connection and family bring them together as they try to right a grievous wrong. Garland and his friends from Duck Hole risk their lives to liberate a wrongly captured free Black farmer. They organize a gang and race to a slave pen near Albany, a gunfight ensues and a dead cedar waxwing is found at the scene. A thrilling chase ensues as the gang flees North to Duck Hole. Newspapers jump on the story sensationally creating "The Waxwing Gang" into a legendary abolitionist force.
Sometimes violent and always unpredictable, American history is driven by good people colliding with evil and desperate opportunists. "Whoever Steals A Man" is a love story, an adventure story, a survival story, an American story.
Bob Englehart is an editorial cartoonist and writer living in Connecticut. He is the author of "Trackrat: Memoir Of A Fan" and a member of www.patreon.com/Englehart.
How Waxwing Became Whoever Steals A Man
Commentary from the author
My novel was born in 1999 on the front porch of a small rented cabin on the banks of the Hudson River deep in the Adirondacks. My wife and I had booked seven days and it had been raining every day. I'd been staring at the woods across the river until I was ready to scream. Out of sheer desperation and boredom, I put some words on paper. The words became paragraphs and the paragraphs became a very rough outline. I'd been toying with the idea of writing a novel for years, but my cartoonist's short attention span and newspaperman's need for instant gratification stopped me every time. But this week was different.
I started thinking about contrasts: young, old, black, white, rich, poor, wilderness, civilization, survival, violence, peace. The year 1850 came to me out of the ether. I knew nothing about that year and when I researched it, it set the platform for my story and inspired my imagination. When I started writing I didn't know how it would end. I wanted to keep it that way. It would end when it would end.
It took four years of writing and re-writing until I had a story and a polished manuscript. I started the tedious process filled with rejection of sending it to literary agents. Twenty-five rejected it but number twenty-six called me one morning very excited. He said the story was just what he was looking for and invited me to his office in New York City. Then he said, "Don't be shocked at how young I am." I told him, "Don't be shocked at how old I am."
Paul Cirone, 30-ish, was starting out as a new agent. He was an assistant to Molly Friedrich who was Frank McCourt's (Angela’s Ashes) agent. She was an assistant to the owner of the agency, Aaron M. Priest, who was David Baldacci's (best-selling author of thrillers made into movies) agent. I thought I had struck gold.
Cirone's desk was in the hallway. Friedrich introduced herself and said good luck, that she just didn't have the energy for novels. Cirone enthusiastically laid out his marketing plans. I could see the bidding war for movie rights, the money flowing in, the fame, appearances on late-night TV, and the New York Times Best Seller list. Then, after a few weeks, reality reared its ugly head.
My agent told me he sent my manuscript to twenty-five publishing houses that rejected it saying comments like, "We like the writing. We just don't think it's right for a first novel." Then, another curve ball beaned me. A writer had a new novel coming out called Waxwings and it's getting rave reviews. My agent dropped me like a hot rock.
Dejected, I put the manuscript on a shelf in my studio where it has set for twenty years until last summer when I decide to finish unfinished business and self-publish it. I had successfully self-published a memoir in 2014 at Amazon CreateSpace called Trackrat: Memoir Of A Fan so I'd had some experience.
Things had changed at CreateSpace. They changed the name to Kindle Direct Publishing, KDP, and were no longer offering the services they once did. They spun those services off to a new company called Elite Authors. I hired them to do technical help and editing. Here it is today, the name changed to Whoever Steals A Man, a quote from the Bible. It's a new name, but I still have the same old dream.