Frank Kelso - A Coming of Age Novel Set in 1853 Texas

Frank Kelso - A Coming of Age Novel Set in 1853 Texas

Frank Kelso was born in Kansas City, MO, the trailhead for the Santa Fe Trail and Oregon Trail. He spent his teen years in Liberty, MO, which is Jesse James’ hometown. Writing westerns came naturally. Frank received the Will Rogers Silver Medallion Award for “Tibby’s Hideout” in The Posse book. He also was a Finalist for the Western Fictioneers Award for the same short story. As our Author of the Day, he tells us about his book, The Apprenticeship of Nigel Blackthorn.

Please give us a short introduction to what The Apprenticeship of Nigel Blackthorn is about.

The Apprenticeship of Nigel Blackthorn is a Coming-of-Age story about a 13-year-old whose missionary parents from Wales are killed on the U.S. prairie in 1853. Plump, lazy, and spoiled, Nigel enters an unwelcome new world – work or starve. A passing mule train spots the smoke of burning wagons and finds Nigel. At the next settlement, the muleteer offers Nigel a choice: an orphanage or an apprenticeship on the mule train. Nigel accepts the apprenticeship because it offers shelter and food. Years later, he wonders if the orphanage would have been easier.

Was there anything in particular, an incident or something you read, that made you want to tackle this?

I read about the American Board of Missions, who in 1850, offered stipends to Methodist ministers to come to the U.S. and proselytize to the western Native Americans.

Why did you pick 1853 Texas as the backdrop for your book?

This period followed the Mexican-American war, which claimed the entire SW region for the U.S. It ended Mexico’s required Catholicism as the Mexican required State Religion. Many religions, including the Mormons, saw this as a time to find converts and moved west.

Tell us more about Nigel Blackthorn. What makes him tick?

Nigel grew up in a peaceful, pastoral Wales with a poor Methodist minister who jumped at the offer to move to the colonies to receive a stipend and his own land. John Blackthorn gave his family no choice but to move with him. Nigel’s mother spoiled him, much to the consternation of his father and older sisters. After his family is slaughtered by the first Native Americans they meet, Nigel is found by a muleteer, Pascal, and his mute partner, LaFleur. Taken in by defrocked Jesuits, Nigel struggles with his bias against Papists. Pascal is a teacher, in addition to a strict disciplinarian. Nigel learns French and Spanish. English is used only to trade with the yanquis. As Nigel grows to a teen, he becomes an accomplished frontiersman. He longs for his lost mother and believes himself a coward because (at 13) he did not fight and die to protect his mother. (Oedipus complex.) The wandering trade routes limits his social interaction, particularly with the opposite sex. His naivete leads to amusing encounters when he lives with the Cheyenne for 6 months and learns the traditional way of The People (as Cheyenne call themselves.)

How much research did it require from you to make the history part of this western feel real?

I travelled though the western area before I began to write and incorporated first-hand impressions of the prairie and mountains. I spent the most time on researching the traditional ways of the Southern Cheyenne before being overrun by pioneers moving west.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

In my day job, I have held clinical and academic appointments at major universities and served of the director of a large hospital-based biomedical R&D center. I honed my writing skills by writing research applications to fund the R&D center. As a result, my R&D Center received over $8 million in peer-reviewed grant funds.

Readers have compared your writing to that of L'Amour's books. Are you a fan?

Yes, I’m a big fan of L’Amour’s books. In the days before Amazon, the big 8 publishing houses, and the internet, L’Amour sold over 42 million books and short stories. He blazed a trail for those who write the western genre today.

For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?

As I life-long print book reader, it took me several years to adapt to e-books. I like the ease of having materials to read without carrying a book satchel, which I used to do when traveling.

Why Westerns? What drew you to the genre?

I grew up in Kansas City, MO, the home of the Santa Fe and Oregon overland trails. I spent my teen years in and around Liberty, MO, Jesse James hometown. Liberty is where Jesse invented ride-through banking, but the banks and the sheriff took a dim view of his ideas.

What's an aspect of being a writer that you didn't know about going in?

The amount of marketing to make a book successful. I spend 4-hours/day writing and 4-hours marketing and promoting my books.

Among the wealth of characters in this book, who was the most difficult to create?

LaFleur had his tongue cut-out in a misadventure with Pascal while in Europe years before coming to the Americas. He is the jokester to Pascal’s stern discipline. He can make sounds and whistle but cannot produce recognizable speech or words. He’s like Harpo in the Marx brothers.

Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

I spend the afternoons writing. If the muse is active, I may write into the early evening, breaking at 6 or 7 PM.

What are you working on right now?

The next book is the continuation of the Apprentice, book 3, South in the Fall. I have been a pantser, but then I had to do major rewrite to fill plot/character gaps. Of late, I’ve been working at creating an outline to address the major plot-points and do fewer rewrites.

Where can readers get a copy of The Apprenticeship of Nigel Blackthorn or interact with you?

My WEB page has links to buy The Apprenticeship of Nigel Blackthorn as well as my other books. There is a link for contacting the author. Visitors are offered a FREE book of short stories, The Posse, if they join my blog/newsletter. The Posse includes my Will Rogers Silver Medallion Award-winning short story, “Tibby’s Hideout.” Tibby also reached the shortlist as a finalist for the Western Fictioneer Peacemaker Award.