Staying in with Jackson Ellis

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In the four months since I began this Staying in with… feature on Linda’s Book Bag I have been delighted to find a whole range of newly published or new to me authors. Today I’m delighted to welcome another of those writers, Jackson Ellis.

If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.

Staying in with Jackson Ellis

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Jackson. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Thank you for asking!

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

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I’ve brought my debut novel, Lords of St. Thomas, which was awarded the Howard Frank Mosher First Novel Prize, and will be published on April 10, 2018 by New England-based Green Writers Press.

(Oh! That’s today. Happy publication day and congratulations on your award too. I love that cover. It reminds me of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.)

What can we expect from an evening in with Lords of St. Thomas?

Well, hopefully you will find it to be an engaging read — who knows, you may even be able to finish it in one evening!

Lords of St. Thomas is based on a real place, and one of the main characters was inspired by a real person. Allow me to explain…

(Oh, please do!)

From 2011 to 2013, I lived in Las Vegas. During this time, I visited the ghost town of St. Thomas, Nevada, on several occasions. It is a fascinating place, and the story as to why it was abandoned is really interesting as well.

During the 1930s, during construction of the Hoover Dam, the federal government bought out the residents of St. Thomas, as the town sat 70 miles northeast of the dam. It was foreseen that, within a few years of completion of the dam, the newly created Lake Mead would flood St. Thomas. Almost every resident of St. Thomas accepted the money and moved to higher ground.

One man, however, did not. His name was Hugh Lord, and he was the local auto mechanic (and also a lifelong bachelor). He remained in his home until the day the waters of Lake Mead flooded his living room. He paddled away from his porch in a rowboat, setting his house on fire in a final act of defiance.

Eventually St. Thomas was covered by as much as 70 feet of water. But finally, by 2002, the ongoing drought in the Southwest caused Lake Mead to recede, and the ruins of St. Thomas have been exposed ever since.

(What a fascinating story. I live not far from Rutland Water in the UK and all that is left of the village that was flooded for the reservoir is Normanton Church.)

It is so strange to walk through the town (now part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, administered by the National Park Service) and see old home foundations and roads, as well as sun-bleached mussel shells and rusted boat anchors scattered all around.

(I’d love to see that. I can feel one of our trips coming on…)

My novel features a character named Henry Lord, based on the real-life Hugh Lord. Only in my story, Henry Lord has a family, and a grandson, “Little” Henry, who narrates the book. “Little” Henry, narrating as an old man, details his life — and his family’s terrifying (and, of course, highly fictionalized) escape from the flood waters.

It also shows him returning to St. Thomas more than 60 years after he left to retrieve something he left behind.

(This sounds right up my street. I might just have to find a place for Lords of St Thomas amongst the other 900+ books on my TBR.)

 What else have you brought along and why?

A cup of water. After living in the desert for a couple of years, I’ll never take water for granted again.

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I grew up in New England, where water is plentiful and precipitation is common, and it rarely falls violently enough to make you feel threatened by it. In Nevada, it rains only a few inches a year — but when it comes, it storms hard, and it was viewing these insane desert storms and flash floods from my apartment balcony that inspired the escape scene in my book.

Most of the year though? It often tops ninety or a hundred degrees, and rain scarcely falls.

(Sounds like my kind of place. I love the heat. Though even I might find the continuous heat too much.)

Hiking in the desert means you have to be well prepared with a huge amount of water, and you have to listen to your body — drink when you need it (never hesitate!), and turn back as soon as you start to feel fatigued. I did solo hikes in places like Death Valley and Valley of Fire where if I’d pushed myself too hard or accidentally spilled my water, I don’t think I’d have made it out alive.

Brilliant! I think so many of us in the Western world take water too much for granted.

Thanks so much for staying in with me Jackson, to introduce Lords of St Thomas to us. I’ve found it a fascinating story.

Lords of St Thomas

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Winner of the 2017 Howard Frank Mosher First Novel Prize

Shortlisted for the 2016 Plaza Literary Prize

In the Mojave Desert, at the southern end of the isolated Moapa Valley, sat the town of St. Thomas, Nevada. A small community that thrived despite scorching temperatures and scarce water, St. Thomas was home to hardy railroad workers, farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, and a lone auto mechanic named Henry Lord.
Born and raised in St. Thomas, Lord lived in a small home beside his garage with his son, Thomas, his daughter-in-law, Ellen, and his grandson, “Little” Henry. All lived happily until the stroke of a pen by President Coolidge authorizing the construction of the Boulder (Hoover) Dam. Within a decade, more than 250 square miles of desert floor would become flooded by the waters of the Colorado River, and St. Thomas would be no more.
In the early 1930s, the federal government began buying out the residents of St. Thomas, yet the hardheaded Henry Lord, believing the water would never reach his home, refused to sell. It was a mistake that would cost him―and his family―dearly.Lords of St. Thomas details the tragedies and conflicts endured by a family fighting an unwinnable battle, and their hectic and terrifying escape from the flood waters that finally surge across the threshold of their front door. Surprisingly, it also shows that, sometimes, you can go home again, as Little Henry returns to St. Thomas 60 years later, after Lake Mead recedes, to retrieve a treasure he left behind―and to fulfill a promise he made as a child.

Lords of St. Thomas is available for purchase through the links here.

About Jackson Ellis

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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 ReviewSheepshead ReviewBroken PencilThe Birmingham Arts JournalEast Coast Literary ReviewMidwest Literary Magazine, and The Journal of Microliterature. He is the co-publisher of VerbicideMagazine.com, which he founded as a print periodical in 1999.

You can follow Jackson on Twitter @jackson_ellis and visit his website.

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