By Nicole Hennessy
Just after the first of the year, Shaker Heights author Sam Thomas released the second book, “The Harlot’s Tale,” part of a four-novel series called “The Midwife’s Mystery.”
After stumbling upon the will of a 17th-century midwife in York, England, Thomas began imagining what her life must have been like, fictionalizing portions of his novels while accurately portraying the times and researching the life of his main character, Bridget Hodgson.
Last Wednesday he headed to Lakewood Public Library to speak about “The Harlot’s Tale.”
Another snowstorm blowing the trees sideways outside, only two people made it to the reading, but he began his talk anyway, moving from the podium in the front of the room to a chair he faced toward the readers interested in his new book.
Much like his last talk, he explained why he became interested in Hodgson’s life in the first place; how her designation as “midwife” in her will rather than her marital status made her stand out to him, that fact conveying that she was a unique woman who does not support stereotypes about female roles in Puritan England.
While writing a dissertation in York, he’d reward himself by learning as much as he could about her in the afternoons, burying himself in archives and visiting places she may have frequented.
The fictionalized version of Hodgson, introduced in his previous novel, “The Midwife’s Tale,” took on the persona of a sleuth, investigating murders and fighting to find balance between her conscience and the duties her appointment as a midwife required of her.
“The Harlot’s Tale” picks up one year after York fell under Puritan control (1644).
Investigating the murders of adulterers and a prostitute, the result of harsh Puritan standards, Thomas’ characters expose life in the wealthiest and poorest areas of the city, investigating additional murders as the story develops.
Thomas wakes up at 5 a.m. each day to write and research.
Explaining this, he tells one reader interested in his writing process and logistics behind finding an agent and publisher that it is this daily schedule that’s allowed him to complete the drafts of all four Hodgson books in less than five years.
Of finding a publisher and agent, he chalks this up to “dumb luck.”
In several other areas in his life as a fiction writer, he attributes his successes to luck as well – finding Hodgson’s will and historic record of a lawsuit that was brought against her.
Adjusting his glasses and crossing his left leg over his right, Thomas paused, looking back and forth to the two people seated in front of him, hoping one of them might have more questions.
“Jane! Listen to me, Jane! Can you hear me?” his second novel begins, as Hodgson tries to revive a woman.
Beginning a novel with a murder and ending a novel with a murder, Thomas says, is one of his favorite parts of writing mysteries. The story can pick up and go from any point and end at any point, as this particular story is part of a series.
Going back over the series, the rest of which will be released over the next few years, Thomas said he noticed a thread he didn’t intentionally include in his story, and that is the importance of family.
“The first three books, at least, are about family in a way I hadn’t intended them to be,” he said, telling his readers he hadn’t noticed how hard his childless, widowed main character, Hodgson, had tried to put together a family of sorts, made up of those closest to her.
Though this version of Hodgson is fictional, he talks about her in the same manner in which he talks about the real Hodgson.
“It just happened” that way, he continued, giving in to the story in the same way he’s given into the whole situation involving him creating these characters and easily finding a home for them, rather than self-publishing the novels.
SIDE BAR: Copies of “The Harlot’s Tale” and “The Midwife’s Tale” can be purchased at Amazon.com.