A story of justice and civil rights | Mt. Airy News

Michael Almond

Sometimes a novelist struggling to finish a book needs a gentle push, or a bit of encouragement, from a close person to complete his work.

That was the case with Pilot Mountain native Michael Almond.

Well, sort of.

Almond, an international business attorney whose debut novel, “The Tannery,” is a legal thriller set in Wilkes County in the early days of the 20th century, said the not-so-gentle nudge came from his wife in spring of 2020.

“I began thinking about ‘The Tannery’ and bascially outlining what the story would look like back in 2004,” he said. “Lawyers are lineal thinkers. For 16 years, on an off again, on again basis, I fooled with this thing, did the research.”

Then, one day in April 2020, while facing months at home with COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home restrictions, he thought that maybe, finally, he had it solved.

“Helen Ruth, here it is,” he recalls telling his wife. “I think I’ve worked out all the kinks, I think I’ve work out all the problems.”

Her reply?

“Listen Almond, you need to understand something, all of your friends and I are sick and tired of hearing about your research, hearing about your outlines. You’re in the middle of a pandemic now, you’ve got no excuse any more. Go upstairs to your man cave and write the damn thing or shut up about it.”

So Michael Almond followed his wife’s advice, retired to his man cave, and five months later had a complete 125,000-word finished story in his hands, though his approach to writing might have been a little unconventional.

“I did this in one draft, because I would go upstairs to my man cave every morning and start writing about 8:30, then come down about 2:30.”

He would give his writing for that day to his wife and to a group of advance readers, who would go over the work, marking any questions or inconsistencies or other problems they might see.

“Each day, I would incorporate the changes and then write more.”

He also hired a developmental editor, who helped him whittle the finished project down to about 115,000 words.

The novel follows fictional attorney Ben Waterman as he battles the Ku Klux Klan and “a relentless, ambitious prosecutor,” to prove that Virgil Wade did not kill Rachel Schumann.

Wade is a poor, mixed-race teenage boy accused of stabbing to death Schuman, a prominent young Jewish woman, at the beginning of the Jim Crow era in North Carolina.

“It is a murder mystery and legal thriller, but it’s also a book about justice, about what justice means in Wilkes County around the turn of the (20th) century,” Almond said. “I chose the time period very carefully, because 1900 was a pivotal year throughout North Carolina and the South. The dawn of the 20th century sort of marks the transition from the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Post-reconstruction, into a descent into darkness.”

That darkness, he explains, was the rise of the KKK, voter suppression efforts aimed at limiting Black votes, and other violence against minorities, all in the shadow of the Wilington Massacare of 1898. While the primary characters in “The Tannery” are fictional, many of the state and region’s historical figures are present in the work.

Published by Koehler Books of Virginia Beach, the book was released in hardback, soft cover and as an ebook on Oct. 19. Almond said reception to his novel have been pleasantly surprising.

“It’s gone gangbusters since then. I was in Pages Books in Mount Airy two weeks ago, we sold out all of the books she had on hand and I had to go to my car and get some more.”

That stop was part of a 40-event book tour Almond is doing which began Oct. 15 throughout the South. Sales on Amazon have done well, with the book ranking #5 in Black and African-American History fiction new releases, #12 in Southern History fiction, and #17 in the Historical Thriller fiction category.

He has an appearance planned Tuesday at Politics and Pros Bookstore in Washington, D.C., where he will be part of an hour-long program online, moderated by novelist and Emmy-winning television producer Jeffrey Blount. To view the program, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pp-live-michael-a-almond-the-tannery-with-jeffrey-blount-tickets-207357581107?aff=erelexpmlt

The book is even up for a nomination for the NAACP Annual Image Awards in the category of Debut Authors.

Because his stop in Mount Airy was so popular, Pages Books has asked him for a second appearance, scheduled for Dec. 11 from 9 a.m. until noon, when he will be meeting fans and signing copies of his novel.

For more information on “The Tannery,” Almond, or his scheduled appearances, visit https://www.michaelalmondbooks.com/

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