Guest Charles Fergus #giveaway

News Flash: Liz Milliron is the lucky winner of Charles’s book!

Edith here, delighted to welcome a new favorite historical mystery author to the blog.

I met Charles Fergus at the last in-person New England Crime Bake. Last year he wrote, wondering if I would offer an endorsement of Nighthawk’s Wing, his second Gideon Stoltz mystery. I’d said I’d take a look, and am so glad I did! One lucky commenter here will win a copy.

Here’s my honest assessment:

Fergus intrigues and entertains in this atmospheric page-turner of a historical mystery. He paints the landscape and the hardships of 1830s rural Pennsylvania with a detailed brush. Readers are right at Sheriff Gideon Stolz’s side as he tries to overcome memory loss from a concussion and solve a woman’s murder, or with his wife True on her own journey of recovery from loss and rediscovering herself. I was borne away by Nighthawk’s Wing, and you will be too.

Take it away, Charles.

Thanks, Edith, for inviting me to write a guest post for The Wickeds blog.

Nighthawk’s Wing is my twentieth book, my third novel, and the second in my Gideon Stoltz historical mystery series, published by Arcade CrimeWise.

Sixteen of my books have been nonfiction works about nature, wildlife, and the outdoors. I spend a lot of time hiking, birding, botanizing, and riding horses. (My wife, the writer Nancy Marie Brown, and I have four Icelandic horses.)

Things I’ve learned about nature over the years find their way into my mysteries. Although I live in northern Vermont now, I was born and raised in the rugged uplands of central Pennsylvania – where my main character, a young “accidental” sheriff, solves crimes in the 1830s. Readers tell me that my knowledge of nature brings a vivid sense of place to my descriptions of Gideon’s neck of the woods.

Photo of Alan Seeger Natural Area in central Pennsylvania, by Charles Fergus

I’ve studied – and written about – oaks and hickories and pines and hemlocks, bears and beavers and foxes and owls (nighthawks, too), salamanders and katydids, rattleweed and skullcap (plants good for healing) and cowbane (a deadly plant employed for nefarious purposes in Nighthawk’s Wing).

The Pennsylvania uplands today are different from what they were like when Gideon Stoltz was patrolling on his mare Maude. There were farms carved out of the woods; fast-growing towns like my fictional Adamant; and a burgeoning charcoal-fired iron industry drawing on abundant wood, iron ore, limestone, and water power resources. I’ve done a lot of research into central Pennsylvania in the early nineteenth century, and I’ve also visited untouched natural places where the old forest still remains, places that probably don’t look much different today than they did during Gideon’s era.

When I write, I hearken back to things I’ve experienced in nature. Like the time I stepped over a fallen log and almost landed on a timber rattlesnake coiled on the other side. (A rattler’s warning buzz sounds like a lump of fat suddenly thrown into a red-hot skillet. Your body instantly knows that it’s dangerous.) Watching nighthawks side-slipping through the dusk on their long narrow wings, seining the air for insect prey. Hanging out with thousands of katydids sounding their nocturnal chorus from the trees: Katy-did, she didn’t, she did.

Cooper’s Hawk photo by Tom Berriman, used with permission

In Nighthawk’s Wing, Gideon and his wife True listen to a story told by True’s gram (that’s what folks call a grandmother in central Pennsylvania) while sitting around a fire at night listening to that ratcheting chorus: “They say the katydids tell a story,” Gram Burns said. “Two sisters fell in love with the same man, and Katy was the one who didn’t win his heart. Later, the man and the other sister died – they were poisoned. The insects in the trees kept saying ‘Katy-did!’ because Katy was the one who murdered them.”

Sights. Sounds. Smells. I use vivid details and impressions that let the reader feel they’re firmly connected with Gideon Stoltz’s time and place.

Readers: What favorite writer of yours has used nature effectively to create a mood or a sense of place in their fiction? One lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Nighthawk’s Wing (U.S. residents only).

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As well as authoring his Gideon Stoltz historical mysteries, Charles rode a horse 204 times in 2020. (Yes, he keeps count. No, he didn’t fall off!). He lives on a hill farm in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom with his wife, the writer Nancy Marie Brown, who rides horses with him and is, he reports, “the best editor I know.” His first Gideon Stoltz mystery, A Stranger Here Below (2019), just came out in paperback. Its sequel, Nighthawk’s Wing (2021), received a starred Publishers Weekly review. Learn more at his web site.

46 Thoughts

  1. One of Craig Johnson’s later books in the Longmire series was set in the freezing cold snowy winter in Wyoming. The snow and cold were like characters and companions of Walt Longmire as he trekked through the forest to solve a murder. Slept with an extra blanket reading that book!

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    1. I like the Longmire series. You’re right, Craig Johnson does a great job setting the scene. As an aside, I had an aunt and uncle who homesteaded in Wyoming right after World War II (the last homesteading that took place in the lower 48, I believe). I used to love visiting them when I was a kid. My parents would pack me and my brother in the back of our station wagon and head west from PA. There was so much to do on that ranch . . . though you had to watch out for rattlesnakes.

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    2. I like the Longmire series. You’re right, Craig Johnson does a great job setting the scene. As an aside, I had an aunt and uncle who homesteaded in Wyoming right after World War II (the last homesteading that took place in the lower 48, I believe). I used to love visiting them when I was a kid. My parents would pack me and my brother in the back of our station wagon and head west from PA. There was so much to do on that ranch . . . though you had to watch out for rattlesnakes.

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  2. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne books are fabulous. I still shiver thinking about their escape from the house on the lake.

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    1. Sounds like a series that I’d like. I’ll check her books out. Thanks for the tip.

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  3. Thank you Edith for introducing me to a new author!

    “Nighthawk’s Wing” sounds absolutely fabulous! It’s now on my TBR list just from reading the author’s post. As a lover of critters myself, I love the detail and personal research done for his story.

    We live in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Since moving here 4 years ago, my love of critters has greatly increased. We are fortunate enough to have many daily visitors and live within a short distance of being able to see and photograph in the wild critters like black bear and bald eagles. My love of both photography and critters has me always researching to find more information about critters and exploring to find them in their natural settings to see those characteristics myself. I think anyone that photographs them will tell you that the chances of seeing them and taking better photographs is to understand their habits, traits and natural activities. That means research and observation. I admire anyone that follows that path. It’s evident that Charles has done both for preparation in writing this wonderful book.

    As for an author who uses nature to create a mood or a sense of place in their stories, there are many that describe places and things to make you know where you are, but sadly I don’t know of any off the top of my head that stand out as WOW. I guess that’s why when I read your post which emits your love of nature and how it was before man messed it up, it made me excited about the prospect of getting to read this book. Hoping for that to be sooner than later.

    Thank you for the chance! Shared and hoping to be the very fortunate one selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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  4. Thanks for your comments, Kay. I agree, there’s not a lot more exciting in life than watching wildlife in its natural setting. I’ve been fortunate to live all my life in places where that is possible. My parents encouraged my interest in the outdoors back in the sixties, and I built my first house on the side of a mountain in PA, with abundant wildlife all around. Now my wife and I live in what’s called the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. This is a harsher place for wildlife, with less diversity of plant life and fewer food resources, so the diversity of animals isn’t as great as it is in Pennsylvania. But it’s still quite a wonderful natural place. We frequently see bears, hawks, ravens, fishers, songbirds, and many more kinds of animals; last spring a pair of foxes raised a litter of kits in an old woodchuck den on a hillock behind our barn. We had a front-row seat to the young ones’ antics.

    I really hope you enjoy the Gideon Stoltz mysteries, Kay. I’ll suggest another author whose stories wonderfully present a setting and a place: Tony Hillerman, with his novels set in Navajo country in the Southwest.

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  5. Welcome to the blog! Your vast knowledge of nature is amazing and reminds me of hikes as a child in Iowa and Missouri. William Kent Krueger does a great job of capturing Minnesota in his books.

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  6. Hi Sherry, Thanks for the welcome and for your comment. I agree — William Kent Krueger really lets the reader see and feel northern Minnesota in his mysteries. My favorite book of his is actually outside of his Cork O’Connor series: “Ordinary Grace” is superb and justly deserves the Edgar it received back in 2014.

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  7. Charles, your book sounds fascinating with its use of your extensive knowledge of nature to evoke life in rural Pennsylvania in the 1830s. Setting is all-important to me, especially in my Berkshire Hilltown series. My role models for the series are two writers who also use nature to great effect. One is Edith Wharton, for her two Berkshire novels, SUMMER and ETHAN FROME, and Sharyn McCrumb for her vivid rendering of the fictional Appalachian community of Dark Hollow. A couple of things in your post I twigged on are: your experience with a timber rattlesnake. Timber rattlesnakes figure prominently in my first Berkshire Hilltown mystery, which is titled RATTLESNAKE HILL; and your mention of Icelandic horses, as I had the opportunity to ride on one when I visited Iceland several years ago–what a strange and beautiful place! Good luck with your new book! I’m looking forward to reading it.

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    1. Thanks, Leslie. I never thought of Edith Wharton as a writer who vividly conveyed a sense of place. I may give those Berkshire novels a try. Rattlesnakes do add a certain frisson of excitement to outings in places where they can be found. I rather miss them. They don’t live in northern Vermont.

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  8. We’re vacationing in Hawaii and I just received my copy of Nighthawk’s Wing. I am looking forward to reading it. I grew up in the Pennsylvania uplands and was struck by Chuck’s vivid capturing of nature in his first Gideon Stolz book, A Stranger Here Below.

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    1. Hi, Earl. Great to hear from you in this forum! I can attest that Earl’s home territory, a mountain-locked valley in central Pennsylvania to the east of the seat of Centre County, has a lot of interesting terrain, natural features, and intriguing residents. Earl, when you’ve finished reading “Nighthawk’s Wing,” please let me know if it reminds you of anyplace special, OK?

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      1. I will. Certainly “A Stranger Here Below” rang true to me and reminded me of the area of my childhood.

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  9. This book takes place near my home town of Titusville, PA, where the oil industry was started in what was called Pithole. The woods across the street from where I lived was our playground. We found relics what had been a large city scattered along the road that went to Pleasantville.

    I ran into my first timber rattler at age 10. It was slithering across the road toward the river. I didn’t know what it was, but watched it simply because I loved the pretty colors. Whether I win the book or not, I’ll be reading it because that era fascinates me and I love my home state and all the beauty there. I’ll admit to missing my green forests and low mountains and all the wildlife. The desert has a lot of pluses, but PA will always be my home.

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    1. I miss Pennsylvania, too, Bobbie. I try to get back home at least once a year (it’s a 10-hour drive from northern Vermont), though I missed out in 2020 because of the pandemic. Maybe later this year. Rattlesnakes are beautiful and fascinating animals. “America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake,” a nonfiction book by nature writer Ted Levin, is full of great information and cool stories. Rattlesnakes are badly threatened by many factors, especially roads fragmenting their habitat. At least people are slowly becoming aware of their difficulties, and laws in some states (including PA) have begun to ease some of the damage we’re doing to them. I’d like to see another one someday. Thanks for commenting and for supporting my writing.

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  10. I always think Craig Johnson is spot on with his descriptions for the Longmire books. I’ve never been out there, but I think if I did go, I’d be right at home.

    The book sounds fabulous, Charles. I live outside Pittsburgh, PA and I had family in central PA, so I’m sure a lot of your descriptions will make me feel right at home.

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    1. Thanks, Liz. You might also want to try James Lee Burke’s Hackberry Holland stories set in the West. Where did your family live in central PA? I grew up in State College, then lived in the Bald Eagle Valley west of State College in a house on 30 wooded acres. I read your earlier guest post, about your paternal grandparents, and enjoyed it.

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  11. I read a lot of non-fiction about life in the early years of our country. Right now I am reading Coast Calendar: A Saga in Salty Prose of One Year of Life on a Maine Saltwater Farm by Robert P. Tristram Coffin and Once Upon a Time The Way America Was by Eric Sloane. I do appreciate fiction authors who create a setting that helps me feel like I am right there along with the characters, as all the Wicked authors here do so well. Your book sounds intriguing and I would like to read it.

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    1. Hi Judy, Thanks for bringing up the Eric Sloane nonfiction books. I have 10 of them! I use them all the time in researching rural life during the early 1800s. His detailed pen-and-ink drawings let me visualize real things, whether barns or smokehouses or tools or construction methods. You might enjoy his “Diary of an Early American Boy,” which beautifully illustrates the story of a year’s happenings told in an 1805 diary kept by a 15-year-old New England lad. It almost reads like an illustrated novel and is one of my favorites.

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      1. Thank you for the book recommendation. Eric Sloane’s illustrations are favorites of mine. My father enjoyed his books and I kept all of the ones from Dad’s library when he died. Reading them reminds me of my father and his interest in all handcrafts simply made and early American life.

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  12. Welcome to the Wickeds, Charles. The Ross side of my family were in Venango County Pennsylvania for generations, certainly back to the 1830s, so I am most interested in reading your book.

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    1. Ross is a great Scots-Irish Pennsylvania name. So is Fergus, by the way. Like so many Lowland Scots, people on the Fergus side of my family came in to Pennsylvania through Philadelphia in the mid-1700s and moved west. Maybe your distant kin did, too. Thanks for the welcome, and I hope you enjoy “A Stranger Here Below” and/or “Nighthawk’s Wing.”

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  13. I love reading early American. Yours looks fascinating! As for my favorite author that sets the scene perfectly would be Laura Kemp. Her descriptions make me feel like I’m walking in her book with the characters. She is a fabulous writer!

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  14. I love it when an author brings nature to life. I’m drawing a blank right now on authors who do it well, but I definitely notice when that happens.

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    1. Hi Peggy. I love the photo of you in the yellow boat. You must enjoy being out in nature, as well as reading about it when it’s part of a piece of fiction.

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  15. Three Pines is wonderfully described by Louise Penney in her Inspector Gamache series! I feel like I am there in many of her descriptions of the woods and village especially during snowfall. She has a true gift of words

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    1. I think Inspector Gamache is a totally delightful main character. Though I wonder how Three Pines and vicinity can sustain so much violent crime!

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  16. One of my favorite writers of the natural world is Edward Abbey, but that’s non fiction. In fiction, I love Louise Penny’s use of nature to create atmosphere.

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    1. Abbey’s “Monkey Wrench Gang” is fiction. I think it came out in the seventies. Might be fun to go back and read.

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  17. Hi, your books sound interesting. I’ll definitely have to check them out.
    To answer your question, the author that immediately comes to mind is Christina Dodd. In her Virture Falls series with Kateri Kwinault the ocean and forest are as much a part of the books as the other characters. With her connection to the natural world, they are inescapable.

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    1. I just checked out Christina Dodd’s website, and she looks like a writer whose mysteries are worth checking out further — and yes, the Alaskan wilderness would offer incredible opportunities to incorporate nature into fiction. I just thought of another writer nobody has mentioned who weaves nature into his mysteries very effectively: Paul Doiron with his Mike Bowditch novels. Thanks, Catherine, for your comment.

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  18. Hi, one of my very favorite books is The Clan of The Cave Bear Series, and they really describe the scenery, and it actually feels like you are right there. I also loved reading Sisters of the Undertow by Johnnie Bernhard, she really describes the scenery very well. Your book sounds like a Very good read, I love listening to the different sounds, birds , insects and different animals in the forest or just even on our walks. Have a Great week. It is very nice to meet you.

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    1. Hi Alicia, Nice to meet you, too. I liked “Clan of the Cave Bear.” Have you read “Reindeer Moon” by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas? It’s also set in the Pleistocene. Terrific novel.

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  19. Mary Alice Monroe uses nature in her Beach House series. She goes into details about the sea turtles and dolphins. It is a wonderful series.

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  20. I’m also one who enjoys reading Mary Alice Monroe Beach House series. Enjoy reading about the sea turtles and dolphins in her series. Thank you for the giveaway! Hope I’m not too late!

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  21. Hi Everyone,

    I would like to thank all of you for welcoming me to Wicked Authors and for making me aware of so many authors and titles I hadn’t known about. Sad but true, one never can read all of the good books that are alive out there, including in the natural world. It’s great to think about diving in to such titles when scenes of CCTV and forensic science grow too old and ordinary. Frankly, I like it that my 19th-century main character Gideon Stoltz doesn’t get to rely on modern science or computers or email to work at solving crimes.

    So, I’m faced with the very difficult task of picking one person to receive a copy of “Nighthawk’s Wing.” I’d love to put a book in everybody’s hands, but I’d better limit myself to just one commenter: That will be Liz Milliron. At least in part because she’s a fellow Pennsylvanian.

    Thanks again to all. Stay well, and keep on reading and writing!

    Charles

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