Thom, James Alexander 1933-
Thom, James Alexander 1933-
Born May 28, 1933, in Gosport, IN; son of Jay Webb (a physician) and Julia (a physician) Thom; married Cody Sweet (an international platform lecturer), May 16, 1975; married second wife, Mari Silveus (a writer), May 28, 1984; married third wife, Dark Rain (a writer), 1990. Education: Butler University, B.A., 1960. Hobbies and other interests: Sculpture, outdoor activities.
Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, IN, business editor, 1961-67; Saturday Evening Post, Indianapolis, senior editor, 1967-94; communications director for state trade association, 1971-73; freelance writer, 1973—. Lecturer at Indiana University, 1977-81. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1953-56; served in Korea; became sergeant.
Golden Spur Award, Western Writers of America, 1989.
Let the Sun Shine In (inspirational essays), C.R. Gibson (Norwalk, CT), 1976.
Spectator Sport, Avon (New York, NY), 1978.
The Spirit of the Place: Indiana Hill Country, photographs by Darryl L. Jones, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1995.
Indiana II, Graphic Arts Center (Portland, OR), 1996.
Long Knife, Avon (New York, NY), 1979.
Follow the River, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1981.
From Sea to Shining Sea, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1984.
Panther in the Sky, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1989.
The Children of First Man, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1994.
The Red Heart, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1997.
Sign-Talker: The Adventure of George Drouillard on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2001.
(With Dark Rain Thom) Warrior Woman: A Novel: Based on the Life of Nonhelema, Shawnee Woman Chief, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Saint Patrick's Battalion, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including Reader's Digest, National Geographic, and Country Gentleman. Editor and contributing writer, Nuggets magazine, 1967—.
James Alexander Thom has published a number of novels set in the early days of American history. Among his most popular books are The Childrenof First Man, The Red Heart, and Sign-Talker: The Adventure of George Drouillard on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In The Children of First Man, Thom spins a story based on an old Welsh legend of Madoc, a twelfth-century king who sailed to the west with a band of followers and never returned. In Thom's version, the Welsh adventurers land in America and intermarry with Indians, creating the Mandan tribe, who survived until the arrival of European colonists centuries later. The Mandans were said to possess such European characteristics as blonde hair. Joe Collins, writing in Booklist thought that "Thom's use of the language is masterful" and concluded that The Children of First Man is "a terrifically entertaining novel."
In The Red Heart Thom draws on historical fact for his story. In 1778, five-year-old Frances Slocum was kidnapped from her Pennsylvania Quaker family by Delaware Indians. The girl was raised among Indians, who named her Maconakwa, Little Bear Woman. She eventually became a mother and raised a family of her own. In Thom's story, when Maconakwa's tribe is ordered to move west after losing a battle with the Americans, she must make a choice as to which people she will join. A critic for Publishers Weekly called The Red Heart "an ambitious, epic novel" and concluded that "the scope of [Thom's] tale will draw in readers undaunted by his natural expansiveness."
Thom chronicles the famous voyage of Lewis and Clark across the unexplored West in his novel Sign-Talker. George Drouillard, hired as translator by the exploration party, is the narrator of the story. Through his comments on the internal frictions between party members, the attempts to make friends with the Indian tribes encountered, and their efforts to overcome rough weather and harsh terrain, Drouillard "emerges as genuine and credible," as a critic for Publishers Weekly noted. In addition, the critic believed that "Thom's research, mechanics and execution are impeccable in almost every regard."
With Warrior Woman: A Novel: Based on the Life of Nonhelema, Shawnee Woman Chief, Thom revisits old territory, providing readers with a sequel to his earlier work, Panther in the Sky. He cowrote the novel with his wife, Dark Rain, a Shawnee and Algonquin elder. The book tells the story of a relatively obscure Shawnee Indian chief, Nonhelema, who attempted to convince her tribe, with the help of her brother, to make peace with the Virginians in the late eighteenth century. The tribe's violent refusal and several other events lead Nonhelema to convert to Christianity and to separate from her own people and work primarily as a translator for the Americans. Deborah Donovan, writing for Booklist, remarked that "the Thoms have vibrantly enriched the chief's story, keeping alive a remarkable figure from a painful period in American history."
Saint Patrick's Battalion looks at another difficult period of history, this time telling the story of Irish-born soldier John Riley who convinced many American soldiers to side with Mexico in the Mexican-American War due to the poor treatment the Irish Catholics received from the other American soldiers during the engagement. Likening the situation to the present-day war with Iraq, Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson remarked: "With its eerie parallels to modern-day warfare, this fine novel makes for gripping reading." Kliatt contributor John E. Boyd called the book "an exciting historical novel about an unwarranted war."
Thom once told CA: "No book or article is begun until some concept has asserted itself irresistibly in my mind. The idea is always the primary motivation, but the idea must be conveyed by clear imagery and strong narrative. I learned early that the reading public wants storytelling, not philosophizing. As my historical novels are about heroes and heroines who really lived, I slave over my research. From Sea to Shining Sea, for example, required research and field trips in forty states, and I've become proficient in the use of many eighteenth-century tools and weapons."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1994, Joe Collins, review of The Children of First Man, p. 1485; July, 2000, Margaret Flanagan, review of Sign-Talker: The Adventure of George Drouillard on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, p. 2010; November 15, 2003, Deborah Donovan, review of Warrior Woman: A Novel: Based on the Life of Nonhelema, Shawnee Woman Chief, p. 582; June 1, 2006, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Saint Patrick's Battalion, p. 40.
Kliatt, July, 2007, John E. Boyd, review of Saint Patrick's Battalion, p. 55.
Library Journal, March 1, 1989, Andrea Lee Shuey, review of Panther in the Sky, p. 90; June 1, 1994, Scott H. Silverman, review of The Children of First Man, p. 164; July, 2000, review of Sign-Talker, p. 143.
New York Times Book Review, October 7, 1984, D.G. Myers, review of From Sea to Shining Sea, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, June 26, 1981, Sally A. Lodge, review of Follow the River, p. 58; November 4, 1983, Michael Barson, "The Frontiers of Western Fiction: Territory Still to Be Won," p. 43; February 10, 1989, Sybil Steinberg, review of Panther in the Sky, p. 53; September 8, 1997, review of The Red Heart, p. 60; June 5, 2000, review of Sign-Talker, p. 74.
Writer's Digest, March, 1998, Sherita Campbell, "The Research Time Machine," p. 29.