The Widow’s Son and Thomas Shavner

Interview with author Thomas Shavner

Why I chose this particular topic to write about?BibleCorrected

A few years ago an attorney came into my bookshop to see if I was interested in purchasing a first edition Mormon bible with an inscription dated 1844 (the year of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom) from Sidney Rigdon, an early and controversial elder of the Church.

 It was the Palmyra edition printed by E.B. Grandin “for the author” and therefore extremely rare.  The latter phrase was important in identifying it as a true first, because later editions attributed the author to be Mormon himself, not Joseph Smith, Jr.  According to Smith biographer, Fawn M. Brodie, one of the original founders pledged to revenge the prophet’s death by killing Thomas Ford, the then Governor of Illinois and his descendents “to the fourth generation.” I expanded the curse to include the sixth generation in order to bring it to the present.

Mormonism has enough interesting and quirky tenets to fill a myriad novels beginning with A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle.  I live in Jackson County, Missouri, declared by Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., to be the original Garden of Eden.   It’s also where he was jailed for his beliefs and forced to flee.  About 70 miles north of Kansas City is a river valley where he claimed Adam and Eve fled after their fall from grace. The place is called Adam-ondi-Ahman and it’s where Smith decreed that the righteous would gather to greet the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Lots of interesting material and settings.

Modern Mormons tend to shy away from the old unusual prophesies, focusing on core doctrines and what is common between their interpretation of faith and modern Christianity—they think of Zion more metaphorically, as a state of spiritual being.  That’s not to say they discount the old Mormon sites.  Places in western Missouri such as Independence, Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman carry great significance as reminders of the suffering and fortitude of that first generation of Saints.  Nonetheless, there are still those who follow the old tenets and even some who believe in ‘blood atonement’—where some sins are so heinous that they can only be atoned by having the perpetrator’s blood spilled upon the ground as a sacrifice. 

How long do you think about a topic before writing about it?  Do you have a set of notes where you write down topics before making a decision?

Not long.  For the Michael Bevan series I simply wrote about something I knew a lot about after fifteen years in the used and rare book trade.  I’d just closed the business and had time on my hands.  There was no outline, no real idea of a plot.  I just started writing to entertain and surprise myself.  This is not to say I hadn’t spent years honing my writing skills, going to writers conferences, and submitting old manuscripts to agents.

I generally don’t consciously try to come up with a topic.  When I was recently asked by my editor what I wanted to do next in a series, what I came up with wasn’t very good.  I was straining to please her and not myself.  I decided to let it rest for a while and spent the spring revising an old manuscript in a different genre that I’d worked on years earlier.  Then one day an idea for a new mystery series materialized when I met a police officer in my neighborhood who spoke with a French accent.  He came over from Marseilles to help his brother start a restaurant in a little river town and eventually became a cop. Instead of donuts, he eats croissants.

As for notes, I jot down ideas and catchy overheard phrases in a three-ring binder.  I have a topics folder stuffed with lots of newspaper and magazine articles that strike me as possible leads—if only I could remember where I put it.  

How long does it take to research a topic before your write?  And for this book?

I spend about 25 % of my time on research.  And that’s probably too much. Research, at least for me, is the easiest part (after editing).  I have a tendency when the creative well is dry to start looking up things.  It activates my left brain while putting the right (creative half) to sleep.  I find lots of interesting tidbits, most of which I don’t use, and it takes a day or two to get back to the hard work of telling a story. 

What resources do you use?  In general and for the last book that you wrote?

I consult rare book catalogues and classics on book selling and collectors likeThe Book Hunter by John Hill Burton, The Anatomy of Bibliomania by Holbrook Jackson, Fine Books Magazine and anything by Nicholas Basbanes, but rely mainly on what I’ve learned over the years in my shop and at book fairs around the country and the United Kingdom. 

For The Widow’s Son, I referred to passages from The Book of Mormon, the great biography of Joseph Smith, Jr., titled No Man Knows My Name by Fawn Brodie, One Nation Under Gods by Richard Abanes, Prophet of Death by Pete Earls, Far West Records, and a number of other books on Smith, and old Mormon sites in western Missouri.   And then there’s Google…

How helpful do you find authority figures such as the police when writing about them?  Is there a good way to approach them?

My character, Michael Bevan, knows the law, rare books, and how to handle himself in a fight.  He’s not a policeman and doesn’t try to be.  Josie Majansik was an FBI undercover agent, however.  I know an undercover policeman, as well as a beat cop, and a retired FBI agent.  Two of them I know from playing on the same rugby team. All three were willing to share some insights, but I haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity. I will for the next series that has a cop as protagonist.  Most cities have opportunities for citizens to ride on patrols.

How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted?

Over the years, probably over 500 rejections for five different novel manuscripts; and that includes having had two fine New York agents pushing my work at one time or another.  I’d stopped submitting for a few years until I closed the bookstore and finished the manuscript of The Dirty Book Murder. Then, rather than do the email submission/rejection dance, I attended the annual ThrillerFest Conference in New York and pitched to twenty or more agents in the course of one pressure packed afternoon.  Fourteen asked to see the full manuscript and one ultimately agreed to represent me.  A year later my agent informed me that I had a three-book series deal with Penguin Random House.

Did you need to self-publish on e-books before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted?

I had published a short story on Smashwords, but never submitted a novel. After all those rejections, I needed the assurance of professionals that I had something of real value to offer. 

Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher?  If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for an aspiring novelist?

No.  Obviously, there are rare success stories.  However, I think most publishers still look down upon self-publishing efforts.  If you are going to do it, however, you need to approach it in a truly professional manner.  And that means spending money to have your finished manuscript professionally vetted and edited for grammar, style and plot.  That goes for cover art, too. Otherwise, you’re fooling yourself.   

Does writing provide sufficient income to live on?  And how long does it take for this to happen?

The writing trade is like any creative endeavor.  I’m sure there is bell curve out there showing winners and losers and those in the middle surviving on peanut butter. Writers write.  Keep your day job while proudly proclaiming you are an author.  Consider any money gained in the trade to be a bonus, even if it takes forty years. 

What is the funniest thing that happened to you on a book tour?

Due to a brain freeze I couldn’t remember the name of my main antagonist and how the book ended.  But that pales to what happened to an author I know who lectured a crowd for an hour unaware that his fly was open.


Share This:

The Widow’s son: More to know and reveal

The sins of the father will be/should be cast upon their descendants until the nth generation – or until no more shall live. This is the motto of the characters bent on revenge or vengeance for the killing of their cult’s founders. So the hero’s job is to stop the latest killings – by whatever means  he can. On the whole this is a traditional cowboys and bad guys story, with a goodly dash of old Testament fervour.

Of course this book is part of the Rare Books series and so the bookseller hero and rare books are involved, as well as some rather special skills that most rare book sellers don’t usually have. I found this better than the first book in the series that I have also read.

Title: The Widow’s Son

Author: Thomas Shawver

Genre: Mystery / Thriller

Thomas Shawver, author of The Dirty Book Murder and Left Turn at Paradise, returns to the surprisingly lethal world of rare books with a third enthralling novel featuring a most unlikely hero — antiquarian bookseller Michael Bevan.

A furious man from nearby Independence, Kansas demands that Michael Bevan return a rare first edition of the Book of Mormon, claiming that it was mistakenly sold by a disgruntled descendant of A.J. Stout. Contained on the frontispiece are a list of Ford names dating from 1845 to the present. Beside each name, save the last two, is a check mark – but what could the checks signify? With this discovery, Michael Bevan stumbles onto a trail of hatred and murder stretching back to 1844.

The Widow's Son_Shawver

Author Bio

Thomas Shawver is a former marine officer, lawyer, and journalist with American City Business Journals. An avid rugby player and international traveler, Shawver owned Bloomsday Books, an antiquarian bookstore in Kansas Cit



Goodreads: Goodreads


Penguin Random House: Penguin Random House

Amazon: Amazon

Barnes and Noble: B&N

iBooks: iBooks

Google play: Google Play

Books a Million: Books a Million

Kobo: Kobo


 “The Widows Son”: Excerpt

“Who was the deceased?” the investigator from the coroner’s office asked as the Fire Department EMTs packed up their respirator. “And why is he dressed in that getup?”

Rolls of flab stuck out between the corpse’s deerskin shirt and breeches. The long scarlet wig had slipped off the bald pate; a cheap replica of a torque hung just under the double chin. On a nearby chair, someone had set a pair of leather dancing pumps and a plastic shield. A long spear, its rubber tip bent at a forty-five-degree angle, leaned against the makeshift stage.

Neither I nor anyone in the small crowd of mostly mothers and their preteen daughters responded to the question. They were still recovering from the shock of witnessing a fifty-year-old man, who, half an hour earlier, had—with left leg extended horizontally before him, right foot tucked neatly under his bum, and back straight as the letter L—elevated twenty inches above the deck before crashing to earth in a lifeless heap.

The kids had thought it was part of the act and laughed. Now they whimpered in the arms of their horrified parents. Each of the girls but one was dressed in a sequined dance costume costing upward of a thousand dollars. The outfits had nothing Irish about them except for elaborately embroidered Celtic designs.

The fashion exception was an adolescent girl. She wore soft-toed shoes like the other dancers, but the plaid skirt and light blue blouse were her Catholic school uniform. Perfectly straight hair, pale as an August moon, hung below her shoulders. Colorless, too, was her skin, so much so that I might have mistaken her for an albino had it not been for the orange-brown eyes that gazed straight ahead as if in a trance. She clutched a small comb in her right hand.

“This is no time for shyness,” urged the investigator, whose name was Buford Higgins. “Who’s the unfortunate fella?”

Natalie Phelan, she of the fiery gait and flashing temper who ran the Kansas City Celtic Heritage Center, piped up with equal bits sorrow and wonder as if the body belonged to the Savior himself. “That’s Liam O’Halloran, Mr. Higgins. How could you not know?”

“Eh? Not the O’Halloran of Bog Swirl fame?”

“The very same. A few years past his prime, of course.”

“More like an eternity.”

Pushing aside the EMTs who had rolled a stretcher next to the stage, Higgins knelt beside the corpse to better study the face.

When he spoke again his voice was reverent.

“So it is, Mrs. Phelan. Sure, and he’s a long way from Carnegie Hall.”

During O’Halloran’s salad days he and the supporting cast of Bog Swirl had indeed performed the Cattle Raid of Cooley in that prestigious New York City venue. The Raid was O’Halloran’s signature epic, played hundreds of times before thousands of enraptured fans wherever in the world the Irish Diaspora planted its tricolor flag. Millions more became acquainted through his performances on Public Television so that almost overnight three quarters of the English-speaking world claimed to have a touch of the green in their genes.

O’Halloran, whose real name was Augustus “Augie” Tatem of Ottumwa, Iowa, rode the wave for nearly a decade, culminating in command performances for the Taoiseach in Dublin and the Prince of Wales at Royal Albert Hall. Tens of thousands of people who wouldn’t be caught dead attending a ballet had been thrilled to watch the long-haired dancer, shillelagh in one hand and pagan maiden in the other, kick, leap, and prance across an enormous stage to the sounds of thundering drums and trilling  pipes.

But it couldn’t last. The end of Bog Swirl came when O’Halloran broke his leg doing one too many signature backflips at a national Knights of Columbus convention in Allentown, Pennsylvania. After the last of the pipers was lured away by the siren call of a Carnival Cruise gig, O’Halloran fell to drink and dissipation.

It was Natalie’s plan to bring him out of retirement in Omaha to reminisce for a few minutes about the good old days then take a seat to watch the youngsters from the Doolan Academy perform.

Liam O’Halloran’s name still carried sufficient star power to entice women of a certain age who remembered his vulpine looks and the scandalous way he winked at the audience before leaping to save sacrificial Druid virgins. And, despite their initial shock at seeing what the years and drink had done, most felt his mere presence justified the fifteen-dollar entrance fee.

Clothed in his Hound of Ulster costume, he’d talked for over an hour in a soft lilt that none of the actual immigrant Irish in the audience could quite place—Dan Regan, the Kerryman, thought it was from Connaught; the Dubliner Bannon guessed Mayo; and Mrs. Hurley, always the cynic, suggested somewhere south of Pittsburgh—but his stirring rendition of The Hunt of Sliabh Truim proved that, no matter his origins, O’Halloran was a great Gael.

Many hundreds were in pursuit of the deer

Around us on the southern hill,

The battalions were on the watch for them—

Fierce was the onset!

The only boy in the Doolan Dance Academy stood off to the side of the stage. A ginger-haired kid, he was dressed in a canary yellow suit that made him look like a cross between Elton John and a doorman at the Hilton.

“It was Claire’s fault,” he said to Higgins, pointing a finger that nearly brushed the girl’s cheek.

“Here now, Rory,” his mother scolded. “There will be none of that.”

“But it started with her, like it did with Gramma.”

True or not, something strange certainly had occurred at the Center. Beautiful in one sense, horrific in hindsight. O’Halloran had finished his talk and started to climb off the low stage to polite applause when suddenly the pale girl began to sing, locking her eyes with his in a mystical embrace.

Her velvety voice was shimmering and clear and she sang in a language that might have been Gaelic, but possibly something else; something that came before that ancient tongue. Neither child nor adult moved as the mesmerizing notes wove sinuously through the room.

Then, in mid-voice, she abruptly stopped, returned to her chair, and slowly ran the comb through her hair as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.


Share This:

Rivers and Gods: Good and Evil?

The Waterborn


Greg Keyes

A Net Galley review

This was a very different conception of a world and very imaginative. I was fascinated by the River and all the Gods and Goddesses both small and large – a very pagan view of the world and animalistic. The issue of the power given by the River was a new take on how gods choose who is to rule and the control that was part of the power that the water had to manage its own traffic and who could or could not perform activities on it.river

Somehow I found it also a bit creepy. And rather in the line of horror stories where people transform into …. other creatures anyway like zombies but here creatures related to the river such with octopus arms.  So there was a price to pay by the Emperor’s descendents for the power he had received and the river took that price as the child reached puberty.

The River here also could take a physical form – or at least the streams cold and could mate with humans, which is reminiscent, in some ways, of the Greek stories of gods and goddesses and how some are good and some are not and some demand a heavy price for what they offer. See Midas and gold for instance. So this story has these echoes.

We do have a hero and a heroine, who come from very different cultures and tribes, and who have a very different relationship with the River and its tributaries as a result. And it is their trials and tribulations that this book starts the saga with.

I am still divided in my mind whether I liked the book or found the River too creepy and thus didn’t. Either way it is a well devised story and well told. Note – I am not a Stephen King fan and I suspect that this book would appeal to them more than me..

Share This:

July becomes August: and Summer becomes Autumn

I always like to look and see what people have been saying about this time of year.

The flush of Spring has gone and the green has settled into a rich colour turning golden where it has been dry and sunny. The grasses have begun to flower and the peak of the garden flowering period has all but finished. So here is one quote which -almost-tells the story of our roses – except that the roses I am thinking of last slightly more than one day and are lilac and red not pink – our pink rose will carry on flowering into November or even December if there are few frosts!

“The serene philosophy of the pink rose is steadying.  Its fragrant, delicate petals open fully and are ready to fall, without regret or disillusion, after only a day in the sun.  It is so every summer.  One can almost hear their pink, fragrant murmur as they settle down upon the grass: ‘Summer, summer, it will always be summer.'”
–  Rachel Peden20150620_123407 20150620_123430

“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.”
–  Ada Louise Huxtable

And have you shed your clothes yet? It took me a long time this year but my winter jumpers have finally made it into the spare wardrobe and the summer t-shirts and swirly skirts have come out. Even sun-tan cream has appeared in our bathroom.

“Answer July—
Where is the Bee—
Where is the Blush—
Where is the Hay?

Ah, said July—
Where is the Seed—
Where is the Bud—
Where is the May—
Answer Thee—Me—”
–  Emily Dickinson, Answer July 

“August rushes by like desert rainfall,
A flood of frenzied upheaval,
But still catching me unprepared.
Like a matchflame
Bursting on the scene,
Heat and haze of crimson sunsets.
Like a dream
Of moon and dark barely recalled,
A moment,
Shadows caught in a blink.
Like a quick kiss;
One wishes for more
But it suddenly turns to leave,
Dragging summer away.”
–  Elizabeth Maua Taylor

“In August, the large masses of berries, which, when in flower, had attracted many wild bees, gradually  complement their weight again bent down and broke their tender limbs.”
–  Henry David Thoreau

One of my favourite quotes is the following:

“A weed is but an unloved flower.”

Why? Because our garden is full of weeds – to other people that is  – we grow the wild flowers of the countryside and yes, we don’t ‘weed’ our beds completely and leave the flowers to range across the garden as they will. We love all the flowers in our garden but, and this is a big but, we don’t love ivy in our soil. Ivy is great on the garden fence but nowhere else. And we don’t love bind weed – it strangles plants – but we do love the ornamental version of it as it is not vigorous and we can train it where we like it. Not that I have got it to grow successfully in our garden yet.20150421_155314 20150620_123509 20150620_123535

And I totally agree with the following:

“All gardening is landscape painting,’ said Alexander Pope.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

I can’t paint with my hands any more due to arthritis and the ‘shakes’ but I can plan my garden like a painting and put this plant with that to make a pleasing whole both colour and form. That is why our garden is a riot of blooms. It is untidy in appearance until you look at the microcosm, where the plants blend harmoniously into each other and complement and enhance. The flowers of one bloom through the leaves of another – the clematis take their own route through the world – or do they? Sometime yes and sometimes no. Do we corrall plants into a space – sometimes but rarely – we allow them to spread their wings and achieve fulfilment in shape and flowers and bring the wildlife that we love to enjoy our garden with us. The hum of many bees. The flutter of many butterflies. The hop skip and jump of frogs and toads and stealthy swim of newts. The flashing bright colours of the dragonflies and damselflies as they hover over the ponds enchant with their jewels and the birds cheep and twitter and call in the hedges and the fledglings flutter off from their nest – 3 great tits this year survived (from 4 originally hatched).

For information about the Great Tit see :


Share This:

Organic Vegetables are best

Green Beans and Summer Dreams


Catherine Ferguson

Review for Netgalley

A light and feel good book where all ends well and happily but there are many trials and tribulations to go through first.

Here we have someone whose life and romances do not go well and being unemployed but owning a large garden thinks she can set up a business selling hervegetable-heart.jpg vegetables, just as she did when a child outside by the road. But she does not set up a road-side stall or even go to a market to sell her goods, rather decides that a box scheme whereby she delivers the vegetables to a customer would be the way to go.

Certainly boxes of vegetables are regularly being delivered all round the UK and I, myself, have a box of (certified) organic vegetables delivered to me on a regular basis.

In the UK you need to be certified as organic to sell your goods as being organic and this our heroine did not realise until told. So, although she grows her vegetables in an organic manner she is not certified and thus cannot sell her vegetables as organic. This is a serious flaw in her scheme until she finds an alternative supplier and so her delivery scheme grows despite a number of set-backs all of which are detailed in an amusing fashion here. She is a far from cynical or world-wise young women let alone having any business savvy, and thus many disasters befall her on her way to success.

What surprised me was that a: she did not set up stall also in a Farmer’s Market; b: she did not use her glut of crops to make her soups and jams and even chutneys, despite being told how delicious they were; and c: she did link up with her neighbour to sell her cakes and biscuits as additional items for her customers. I know that soups, jams and chutneys sell well in Farmer’s Markets from my own experience of buying them, and I don’t fret if they are not organic so long as they are local.

So chick lit at its best with a happy ending – which I had predicted from ye very first meeting of the two characters…



Share This: