What does a guy do when his best friend starts doing things that are completely out of character? In the case of Luke McAllister, you can’t do anything – until you figure out exactly what it is that is different.
The fact that his best friend is a girl complicates matters a heap. Nothing makes sense when RaeNell Stephens, the girl that has “the best curve ball he’s ever seen”, starts blushing and acting like a durned female. All of this at the beginning of the ‘summer to end all summers’ too. This is the summer that Luke, RaeNell, and their friend Farley Midkiff set out to locate, and cash in on a rogue Civil War soldier’s stolen one million dollar Union payroll.
Undaunted by thousands of scholars and fortune seekers having looked unsuccessfully for the treasure for a hundred years, the three twelve-year-old friends search diligently for themselves. What they find is an adventure that leads them on a spiraling path of discovery.
They discover newness in themselves, their families, and the closeness of a small southern community in the process. Luke wrestles with his morality, ethics, and his slowly emerging awareness of the difference between boys and girls. He also discovers that his late father left him an incredibly large legacy of duty, fidelity and caring for those around him.
The telling of the story takes place in imaginary New Caledonia County, NC in 1966. The deep rural traditions, vernacular, and ways of life of the region and community are portrayed in great detail as the story unfolds.
This is an adventure story, but it is also a story about making good decisions whether you want to or not… It is also a story of relationships. Family and community are underscored, but there is an underlying theme of male/female relationships. It’s really okay for boys and girls to be buddies without always having to be boyfriends and girlfriends. It is also a story about innocence. NOT innocence lost, but innocence maintained.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Mike. Can you tell us what your latest book, The Mysterious Treasure of Jerry Lee Thorton, is all about?
A: The Mysterious Treasure of Jerry Lee Thorton is about three twelve-year-old friends that bond together in the summer of 1966 to attempt to find a rogue Civil War soldier’s missing one million dollar treasure. Undaunted by thousands of scholars and fortune seekers having looked unsuccessfully for the treasure for a hundred years, the trio search diligently for themselves. What they find is an adventure that leads them on a spiraling path of discovery.
They discover newness in themselves, their families, and the closeness of a small southern community in the process.
It’s a young adult novel written for nine to fifteen year olds, but is getting great reviews and praise from adults as well.
This is an adventure story, but it is also a story about making good decisions whether you want to or not. It is also a story of relationships. Family and community are underscored, but there is an underlying theme of male/female relationships. It’s really okay for boys and girls to be buddies without always having to be boyfriends and girlfriends. It is also a story about innocence. NOT innocence lost, but innocence maintained.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
A: Luke McAllister is a twelve-year-old boy that is on the cusp of growing up. His father was killed in an accident the year before, and his mother is still in grief mode. His grandfather is Luke’s strength, and his granny is his stabilizing force. His buddies are his escape. The search for Jerry Lee Thorton’s treasure is a grand adventure. It is also an opportunity to learn a few of life’s lessons.
Luke’s buddies are RaeNell Stephens and Farley Midkiff. The three refer to each other as “The Gang”. RaeNell, who has taught Luke a bunch of guy stuff, chooses to use this summer to discover that she is a girl. Luke notices too, and isn’t real sure he likes what this new dynamic brings to the treasure hunt. Farley has been Luke’s life-long friend forever. They think alike on most everything. Theirs’ is an easy, uncomplicated friendship that is rediscovered during the hunt.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
A: I’m not real sure that anyone can create a character that isn’t based on some sort of experience. Sure, my characters are “from scratch” but the people in New Caledonia County, North Carolina are real. They are composites of the warm, friendly, compassionate characters I grew up with. No one could make up these personalities as well as real life presented them.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A: In discussions with other authors, I have concluded that very few stories go where they were originally intended. Frequently, my planned story takes off on a tangent where lefts become rights, outlined men become women, reactions flip-flop without warning, and whole cities and venues change without prior consent.
Stories go where stories want to go. All an author does is put it on paper.
Q: Your book is set in Caledonia, North Carolina. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?
A: Caledonia, North Carolina is again a composite of a lot of little towns you will find scattered all across the southeastern United States.
Caledonia is in imaginary New Caledonia County on the banks of the imaginary Caledonia River. The truth is that I grew up in Yadkinville, North Carolina, in Yadkin County, on the banks of the Yadkin River. I was surely surprised at the coincidence!
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
A: The saying by Aristotle that “we are a sum of our parts” is used in the story. Luke, RaeNell, and Farley are classic examples of that.
Their families, their community, their school, the river, and all of their surroundings contribute to who and what they are. The setting of Caledonia, NC is as integral to the story as the plot is.
There is no way this story could be told in a setting such as Brooklyn, NY. The whole plot would disintegrate somewhere around paragraph three.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
A: Page 69 is the end of one of Luke’s most confusing moments. He and his buddy RaeNell just had an argument and she storms out.
He is still pretty disgusted with her when he finds her sitting on a bench in the town square sobbing. He is about to resume the argument when he stops short.
He suddenly becomes acutely aware of the sun shining off her hair, and for some reason, it makes him think of the honeysuckle and lemons she usually smells like. One minute he wants to kill her, and the next he is feeling all mushy inside when he looks at her.
It’s enough to give a body the fantods.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
A: Luke and RaeNell go back to the enormous county library looking for evidence of Jerry Lee Thorton’s gravesite… Luke is the narrative voice…
… I didn’t know what was on her mind, but didn’t have the gumption to argue with her about it. She didn’t let on what it was all about until we were up on the third floor of one of the library’s more modern annexes. This was where the county stored old voting records, land purchases, graveyard records, and the like.
“What do you figure on finding here?” I asked.
“You reckon they buried Jerry Lee here?” she replied.
“I doubt it very seriously. He would of stunk up the whole library I suspect. Besides, this part of the building wasn’t built yet when he died.”
“Ha ha, Mr. Smarty Britches. Ain’t you cute? You know what I meant. Reckon he was buried in New Caledonia County or was shipped upriver back home to Surry County?”
“I don’t rightly know. I suspect that they buried him where he lay. They didn’t spend a bunch of time shipping folks around near the end of the war, and the folks that killed him probably didn’t care enough to bury him at all. I suspect they just let him lay.”
She shuddered, “That’s creepy to kill somebody, but to leave him lay and walk away is pure sick.”
“Those were different times and different people back then. I suspect they did a lot of things you and I wouldn’t like.”
“You’re probably right, but somebody probably buried him eventually. There were a bunch of folks living around here then, and most would of given him a decent Christian burial if they had found him.”
“We don’t know if he was a Christian or not. He might have been an Episcopalian.”…
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Mike. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you! I have been pleased with the reception of The Mysterious Treasure of Jerry Lee Thorton so far. Though it was written for nine to fifteen year olds, a large number of adults have said the story allows them to relive their childhood… regardless of where they grew up. I find that immensely gratifying.
There is a whole lot of other information on the story, and its creation, on my website. http://www.mikethomas-writer.com
ABOUT MIKE THOMAS
Mike Thomas is a southern writer. He grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina where he learned a lot about family, traditions, and the genteel lifestyle most southerners enjoy. The richly eccentric folks of his youth have become his characters in today’s books and stories.
Mike began as a newswriter, editor, columnist, reporter, and speechwriter before switching to the role of Critical Care Registered Nurse. He traveled nearly every corner of the world as a vagabond contract nurse before resettling in North Carolina a few years ago.
He lives with Bobby, his desktop computer, and Rachel his laptop, in Halifax County, NC.
“That’s all I need,” He says, “Just my computers and a bit of focus. Then we can make up worlds we could only have dreamed of last week.”
You can visit him at www.mikethomas-writer.com