'Fire in the Water'

Thom’s latest historical novel
spotlights the Civil War era

He is scheduled to read and launch book
in Madison, Ind.

(October 2015) – “A whole lot of things came together to make a really good story,” said author James Alexander Thom about his latest work of historical fiction, “Fire in the Water.” Through his novels, Thom brings the past to life, this time with a tale set at the end of the Civil War.
“It’s a remarkable true story, and I love to tell a remarkable true story,” said Thom, 82, of Bloomington, Ind.

James Alexander Thom

Thom is scheduled to appear from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, at Village Lights Bookstore, 110 E. Main St. in Madison, Ind. He will be signing copies of his latest historical novel, “Fire in the Water.” This will be the national launch of “Fire in the Water.”
Thom’s latest story centers around the protagonist, Irishman Paddy Quinn, a war correspondent for Harper’s Weekly. He is traveling aboard the steamboat Sultana on his way to Springfield, Ill., to cover Abraham Lincoln’s burial and write his elegy.
While on this fateful trip, Quinn meets Priv. Robbie Macombie, a deathly sick prisoner of war who has just been released from Andersonville Prison in Georgia. What they experience together makes for edge-of-your-seat reading.
“My great-grandfather was in the Civil War and a prisoner at Andersonville,” Thom said. “Most of the people who died in the steamboat were from Andersonville.”

Photo provided

Bloomington author James Alexander Thom reads from one of his books during a previous visit to Village Lights Bookstore.

He felt well prepared to pen “Fire in the Water” due to his understanding of steamboats. “My wife and I used to give historical lectures on the Delta Queen,” he said. Thom is married to Dark Rain, a Shawnee Indian.
The character, Paddy Quinn, had actually been created years earlier for a previous novel of Thom’s. In “Fire in the Water,” Quinn is “all grown up. I liked him so much I put him in this book. All things sort of fit together.”
The Sultana was considered one of the worst maritime disasters in history, having been overloaded with people. It was Quinn’s chance to have an exclusive talk with the ex-prisoners, said Thom.
“I did as much research as I could. There’s a great deal of research to be done on Andersonville.”
Thom, who was born in Gosport, Ind., said he knew it would “be hard to write about this terrible tragedy. For all of these prisoners, their only hope was in going home.”
Although he never intended to be an historical novelist, Thom made his mark on the genera with his first release about General George Rogers Clark, “Long Knife”, released in 1994. “I discovered other stories through my research.”
Thom said he chose Village Lights Bookstore for his book launch because it is “one of the best bookstores in the country as far as I’m concerned.” Another perk is that his book ends in Madison, an historical steamboat town. 
The final scene takes place in the Saluda graveyard, where Thom’s ancestors are buried, said Nathan Montoya, co-owner of Village Lights Bookstore. “He’s such a wonderful wordsmith and storyteller.”
Thom will speak about his book as well as sign copies. “He’s very popular throughout the whole region,” Montoya said. “He’s a beautiful speaker. The audience is always rapt by him. He has a lot to say, and he says it so well.”
Although the book describes the horrors of war and loss of a great president, it also introduces several figures that were actually from the Saluda area, said Montoya. Thom has appeared several times at Village Lights Bookstore.
After graduating from Butler University in 1961, Thom began his career as a reporter and columnist for the Indianapolis Star. On his website he writes, “Even then I knew that my heart and mind were in the things I wanted to say in books.”
He is noted for the research he puts into every novel. He is a firm believer that to speak or writer about something accurately you have to experience it.
While writing “From Sea to Shinning Sea,” Thom traveled the entire route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He mastered the use of 18th century tools and weapons and waded the icy waters of the Wabash River to experience the life of frontier soldiers in “Long Knife.”
When writing the story of Mary Ingles and her 1,000-mile escape from the Shawnee Indians, he traveled the Ohio, Kanawha and New Rivers and lived off of the land in an attempt to recreate history accurately.
The last novel, “Follow the River,” is in its 37th printing and still sells 30,000 to 40,000 annually. Altogether, his seven novels have sold more than 2 million copies.
Two of his novels have been made into television movies by Hallmark and Ted Turner. He is also an inductee of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Korean Conflict.
“James Alexander Thom, author of such classics as ‘Panther in the Sky’ and ‘The Red Heart,’ is one of our finest and most entertaining historical novelists,” said Dan Wakefield, author of “Under the Apple Tree: A World War II Home Front Novel” and editor of “Kurt Vonnegut: Letters.”
“His new ‘Fire in the Water’ is a powerful recreation of the days after death of Lincoln, and the two men’s commitment to go through fire and water to honor their fallen hero.” Thom is currently working on an American Indian novel. “I’ve written a number of American Indian books. I want to get back to them. There’s a story I really want to tell.”

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

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