Talking with Historian and Mystery Writer Sam Thomas about Sleuthing in the 1600s

Hi, Sam! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! So happy to have you join us as you don’t have to travel far to converse with this fellow Northeast Ohioan! Hope you’ve settled into Ohio as well as you have into being a well-received author!

I loved reading A Midwife’s Tale and I’ve been excited about A Harlot’s Tale publishing this month. I know you have a lot of physical book signings coming up at stores and libraries. Did you have a nice winter break and holiday to rest up?

Sam: Thanks so much! We love it here in Cleveland – so much so that my wife and I (without any planning gave each other the same Christmas present – “Cleve-land that I love” t-shirts!

Erin: Oh my goodness, that really is cute! You should both put those on and post a picture! I’ve lived in Ashland, which is just down I-71 about 45  minutes and we’ve spent a lot of time in Cleveland. It really does have a great vibe and lots of things to do. Why don’t we hang out and talk about your book series and your life as a writer for a bit. Grab a hot coffee, or your drink of choice, and we’ll get started.

The Harlot's Tale

Q:   You are a historian and teacher first and foremost, so was it a natural progression to write novels, even if they are fiction? What gave you the idea to write historical mysteries?

A: Actually, it was part of a much larger life change. I was making the jump from teaching at a public university in the south to a private school in Cleveland, and the one thing that held me back was that I LOVED midwives. I had been studying them for nearly ten years, and hated the idea of just walking away from them.

Since I knew that teaching at a high school would mean giving up long trips to England to dig through archives, I decided to take a shot at fiction. Miraculously, it came together pretty quickly, and The Midwife’s Tale came out about a year after I started my new job.

Erin: It seems like you made a great choice taking it in this direction!

Q:  A Midwife’s Tale introduces us to midwife Bridget Hodgson, who in the middle 1600s in England hears all the news—good or bad. She was a great choice as a protagonist who might scour the city solving crimes. There are so many reasons why, would you mind sharing to our readers?

A: Contrary to the popular image of midwives as poor, marginal, figures who were often executed as witches, midwives were key to the enforcing the law. They investigated crimes ranging from rape and infanticide to witchcraft itself. So at a most basic level, they are part of the law-enforcement system of the time.

Even better, they cross all kinds of social boundaries. A wealthy midwife served rich and poor alike, and knew everybody’s  secrets. What more would you want in a sleuth?

Q:  How does Bridget and her supporting characters progress through the series? Do you have a set number of books planned?

A: At the start of the series, Bridget at Martha are more or less alone in the world. Martha has no family to speak of, and Bridget is still reeling from the death of her husband and both her children. The first two books are about their efforts to create a family out of the wreckage of their lives. 

The third book – not to give away too much – asks the question of both women: How far will you go to protect the family that you have created?

Q:  How many midwives were available in various places in historic England? Were there only so many to an area? How did they become trained?

A: That’s actually a difficult question to answer, simply because it’s hard to define the term “midwife”. It’s not like modern doctors, who have been to medical school, taken an exam, and received a license. A midwife was someone who delivered children, but since most women played a role in childbirth it was not always clear what distinguished a midwife from someone who was very helpful.

Some women went through formal training, serving as a deputy midwife for a number of years until they became official midwives. This is Martha’s position in the first few books. She is learning the art and mystery of midwifery, but is not yet a midwife herself.

Q:  What does the title of your second book, A Harlot’s Tale, refer to? The Midwife’s Tale is more forthcoming, of course, as the protagonist is a midwife.

A: The book focuses on a series of murders that take place in York, and (for reasons that are not entirely clear) the murderer is targeting York’s prostitutes. There’s another layer to the title, but I can’t explain that without giving away a bit too much!

Q:  I think I saw you’ve written a few short stories, or at least one and in the process of more, that take place in between your novels? What are they and why did you do so?

A: The short stories started as a way for me to answer a question I had about Bridget’s nemesis, Rebecca Hooke. She is a truly evil woman, and I wondered how she came to be that way. The short story was a way for me to answer that question.

Down the road, I want to write more stories like this, each with the focus on one of the supporting characters from the novels. The next one will be about Samuel Short, the jailor from the first two books.

Q:  Do you have a title for the third in the series? What will that one be about?

A: The third one is going to be called The Witch-Hunter’s Tale. It too is set in York, and focuses on the outbreak of witch accusations in the city.

Erin: I can’t WAIT to read this one as well!

Q:  How did you learn to write suspenseful fiction (plotting point to make it suspenseful, mysterious, and thrilling) or did it just “come to you?” How have you honed your craft and what advice do you have for other historical suspense writers?

A: I just made it up as I went along! I’ve always been a big reader, so I think it is something I picked up as I read, without really realizing it.

Erin: That comment of “making it up as you went along” is going to make some writers jealous!!! Your loose ends and mystery points always tie up nicely for writing that way!

Q:  Outside of this series, do you have any other books you might think about writing?

A: I’m actually working on a stand-alone novel right now, but it’s super top secret!

Q:  Who are your all-time favorite sleuths (books or shows)? And why?

A: At the risk of sounding trendy, I’m a huge fan of the new BBC version of Sherlock. I find the blend of suspense and humor to be really great. And the actor who plays Moriarity is a wonder!

Q:  Who are some of the favorite authors that you are reading, when you have time to read?

A: I’m all over the place. I think Joyce Carol Oates is deeply creepy, and for that I love her. I’m also a fan of Joe Hill. For mysteries, I have an author crush on Tana French. When I read her books I feel like quitting the business because I know I can’t possibly write characters as well as she does.

Erin: I LOVE Joyce Carol Oates. If you didn’t read her 2013 novel, The Accursed, I highly recommend! Also, Joe Hill is fabulous, as is his dad.

Q:  Favorite place to eat anywhere in Cleveland area, let’s see if we agree!!

A: With two little ones, we don’t get out too much. When we do, it’s usually pretty cheap. Yours Truly for breakfast, Tommy’s over in Coventry, and the Tremont Taproom closer to downtown.

Erin: haha!! That goes for us too, on the don’t get out much and go for cheaper…we have three kids aged 14, 10, and 6. But we do enjoy good eatery and there are so many great things in Tremont. I also recommend MELT if you haven’t been to one!

Q:  Where can readers and fans connect with you?

A: I’m all over the place:

I’m also on the web:

 Q:  Where can readers purchase your books?

A: Anywhere fine publications are sold! If you’re an online person, I’ve collected some options here:

Erin:  Sam, thank you so very much for letting me interview you today. I hope you’ll come back many more times as I truly enjoy your novels! I’m going to try to get out to one of your appearances and introduce myself! Best of luck with your series!

Sam: Thanks so much! I love personalized interviews, so this was a lot of fun.

The Harlot’s Tale, Synopsis~

The Harlot's TalePublication Date: January 7, 2014
Minotaur Books
Hardcover; 320p1250010780
ISBN-10: 1250010780

It is August, 1645, one year since York fell into Puritan hands. As the city suffers through a brutal summer heat, Bridget Hodgson and Martha Hawkins are drawn into a murder investigation more frightening than their last. In order to appease God’s wrath—and end the heat-wave—the city’s overlords have launched a brutal campaign to whip the city’s sinners into godliness. But for someone in York, whipping is not enough. First a prostitute and her client are found stabbed to death, then a pair of adulterers are beaten and strangled. York’s sinners have been targeted for execution.

Bridget and Martha—assisted once again by Will, Bridget’s good-hearted nephew—race to find the killer even as he adds more bodies to his tally. The list of suspects is long: Hezekiah Ward, a fire and brimstone preacher new to York; Ward’s son, Praise-God, whose intensity mirrors his father’s; John Stubb, one of Ward’s fanatic followers, whose taste for blood may not have been sated by his time in Parliament’s armies. Or could the killer be closer to home? Will’s brother Joseph is no stranger to death, and he shares the Wards’ dreams of driving sin from the city.

To find the killer, Bridget, Martha, and Will must uncover the city’s most secret sins, and hope against hope that the killer does not turn his attention in their direction.

Sam Thomas, Biography~

Sam ThomasSam Thomas has a PhD in history with a focus on Reformation England and in 2013 leaped from the tenure track into a teaching position at a secondary school near Cleveland, Ohio.  He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, and the British Academy.

He has published articles on topics ranging from early modern Britain to colonial Africa. The Harlot’s Tale is the second book in his series, in which The Midwife’s Tale is the first.

Thomas lives in Ohio with his wife and two children.

For more information, please visit Sam Thomas’ website and blog.  You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag:  #HarlotsTaleTour

The Harlot's Tale_Tour Banner_FINAL

1 Comment

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One response to “Talking with Historian and Mystery Writer Sam Thomas about Sleuthing in the 1600s

  1. Pingback: Weekly Roundup of History, Archaeology and Writing Wisdom January 18-24 – Judith Starkston

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