The Herald Bulletin

January 22, 2014

Revisiting history with Hoosier author

Hoosier novelist James Alexander Thom coming to Pendleton

By Cathy Shouse
For The Herald Bulletin

PENDLETON, Ind. — The Pendleton Community Library has channeled a famous line from the movie "Field of Dreams," only with a twist: Read it and they will come.

Saturday, James Alexander Thom, a Hoosier historical novelist, is coming to town to talk about his books. According to reference librarian Christine Bellessis and Arlene Shannon, who manages adult programming, patrons were reading Thom’s books and never dreamed they would have the opportunity to meet him.

“Our book club has read his novels so we were just thrilled that he could come,” Bellessis said. “He lives in Brown County, Ind., and yet he is world renowned. Arlene found out about him and then a friend gave her his home phone number. He’s not been here before.”

The library has one of the largest book clubs in the state with 27 members in the Starry Night group and eight in the Afternoon Delight group.

Historical novels are currently on of the more popular genres. Only 1.6 percent of readers in a 2013 study conducted by M.K. Tod and endorsed by the the Historical Novel Society reported that they almost never read historical fiction. According to the survey at www.awriter of, on average, 49 percent of women read historical fiction more than 50 percent of the time, versus 42 percent of men. Readers enjoy historical fiction because, in order of importance, 1) it brings the past to life, 2) it’s a great story and 3) to understand and learn without reading nonfiction.

Once Thom was on board at the library, the Pendleton Historical Museum decided to get into the act, according to Shannon. Before speaking at the library he is scheduled to speak at a luncheon at the community building, which seats about 100 people.

“This is the first time the museum has hosted a lunch for such an event,” said board president Nancy Noel. “In keeping with the time period of the presentation the menu will consist of beef stew, bread, relish tray, pie and drink. The lunch begins at 11:30 and the presentation will begin after everyone has been served.

“Many of the board members have read and enjoyed the writings of Mr. Thom, part of the interest in his writings is knowing that in his research Mr. Thom traveled the trip his characters might have taken. He will speak on his upcoming (Civil War) book 'Fire in the Water.' ”

After lunch, Thom will head to the library to speak at 2 p.m. to discuss his story of Mary Ingles’ 1000-mile journey called "Follow the River."

Originally from Gosport, Ind., Thom, 80, said he is looking forward to talking about his book on the Civil War which he is still working on. His talk at the library will focus on another of his many books, most of which are published by Random House.

In its 46th printing "Follow the River" came out in 1981, has sold one- and-a half- million copies and still sells well. “It’s popular with book clubs and One Book community reads,” Thom said.

Known for his extensive research, of clothing, scenery, and weaponry, Thom was a “newspaper man” who worked for the Indianapolis Star and other newspapers across the country as well as teaching journalism at Indiana University. He quit it all to follow his passion, which developed later, after not enjoying history very much in school.

“I began to think, What were these people like? What were they trying to do? What were their dreams?” he said. “Students can learn a lot more if they get involved in the story. It can be much more vivid if they get caught up in the story.”

His readers demand accuracy in his writing and he doesn’t disappoint. Once someone wrote his publisher about his “mistake” in the number of stripes he had described in an historic American flag. He was able to prove that his book was correct.

Married for 23 years to his wife, Dark Rain, a Shawnee Indian, she will accompany him on his Pendleton visit. They are co-authors of "Warrior Woman: The Exceptional Life Story of Nonhelema, Shawnee Indian Woman Chief" ; Dark Rain also penned "The Shawnee: Kokhumthena's Grandchildren" with illustrations by Thom.

He is respected in the professional writing community as well, said Anderson resident Holly Miller, a contributing editor at "The Saturday Evening Post" and a committee member for the annual Midwest Writers’ Workshop in Muncie.

“Jim Thom has been a favorite speaker at Midwest Writers Workshop for years. What always impressed me about Jim is the incredible amount of research that goes into his books. The plots may be fictional but they're grounded in fact,” Miller said.

Thom’s books are finding new readers since all remain in print and are out in Ebook format. He prefers reading the traditional way: in print.

“At this age I can be old-fashioned. I’m old enough to know some of my history because I was there,” he said with a laugh.


If You Go:

What: Meet Author James Alexander Thom

When: 11:30 a.m. Saturday Where: Pendleton Parks Community Building, 299 Falls Park Drive, luncheon and Civil War talk. Pendleton Public Library, 595 E. Water St., 2 p.m., historical book talk, book sale and signing.

Note: $7 luncheon tickets must be purchased by noon Thursday at the library. No sales will be made at the door.

Library event is free but reservations are required. Come early to the library and hear Native American drummers from 1 to 2 p.m.