Just in time for summer readingtwo authors in Volusia and Flagler counties are celebrating the release of new books.
For fans of historical westerns, writer Derek Catron has returned with “Avenging Angel” ($25.95, Five Star, 319 pages). It’s the conclusion of a trilogy that follows the adventures of Josey Angel, a taciturn gunslinger in the aftermath of the Civil War, famous for his speedy draw with a rifle or pistol.
For author Cal Massey, meanwhile, the contemporary setting for his debut novel, “Own Little Worlds” ($17, JEF Books/Depth Charge, 228 pages), is a fast-paced ride through post-Trump America with characters caught in a swirl of false truth and a democracy crumbling under its own hate.
Josey Angel rides again
For Catron, a former managing editor at The Daytona Beach News-Journal who now works as an investigative team editor at USA Today, the new “Avenging Angel” continues the evolving story of the marquee character, Josey Angel, his resourceful, independent-minded wife, Annabelle, and a cast of historically based characters that includes the legendary Indian warrior Crazy Horse.
Those characters powered the plots of Catron’s 2016 debut, “Trail Angel,” and its follow-up, “Angel Falls,” a little over a year later. After enduring the treacherous Bozeman Trail and bloody attacks in the early days of the Plains Indian War in the first two books, Josey and Annabelle now aim to leave the war behind, but they find themselves drawn into danger again.
This time, Josey and Annabelle face challenges that include a gunfighter out for revenge and a strange scientist pursuing a disturbing view of human origin with the help of an army of mercenaries.
In “Avenging Angel,” Catron’s writing evolved as the characters did, he said. Like the first two books, “Avenging Angel” is built on a foundation of historical research and multiple visits to sites in Montana, Wyoming and other destinations portrayed in the story.
“While I’m still proud of my first two books, they were simpler books,” said Catron, 55, of New Smyrna Beach. “The first book is about falling in love and falling in love is a lot easier than being in love, as anyone who is married can tell you. So, Josey and Annabelle’s relationship needed to evolve and get more complicated. I also like to think it reflects some maturation on my part, getting more comfortable with fiction writing.”
The publication of the new book also was complicated by the business shutdowns at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, which unfolded after Catron had submitted the manuscript shortly.
“The next thing I heard, they shut down the business because of COVID in March or April of 2020,” he said. “For the next year, I was just hoping that they would still want to publish it. For the past two years, I’ve just been waiting, just hoping it would get out to the world and I’m thrilled that it is.”
Looking ahead, Catron is interested in writing a more modern story as his next project, but he expects to one day return to historical fiction.
“When I was growing up I had this dream of time travel,” he said. “The experience of writing a historical novel is the closest thing to time travel I’ll ever experience. By putting it on the page, you’ve invited your readers to join you there. I know I will return to historical fiction at one point because I love it so much. I’m hooked on the time travel now.”
‘Own Little Worlds’ populated by colorful characters
While the fiction in “Avenging Angel” is steeped in historical accuracy, the colorfully drawn characters in first-time novelist Cal Massey’s freewheeling debut, “Own Little Worlds,” reflecting the contemporary state of politics and media in post-Trump America from a fun -house mirror perspective.
Based in the Sunshine State, the tale revolves around a bomb that explodes on a Japanese cargo ship in the Port of Jacksonville four days before a presidential election, incinerating four American workers.
Unexplained murders follow, as a retired newspaper editor, Trammell, trails the story. With help from a laid-off reporter, he searches for a fugitive computer programmer falsely accused of planting the bomb.
Along the way, the plot thickens thanks to the presence of the nation’s Democratic president, an Oscar winner, her GOP challenger, a professional wrestler, and a dirty political operative trickster.
Massey, a retired deputy managing editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, describes the novel’s style “as a cross between Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Ludlum after a sleepover at William S. Burroughs’ house.”
“The book is offbeat and angry but there’s a pretty good political thriller plot in there, too, with the lost art of legitimate journalism in pursuit,” said Massey, 66.
The world within the pages is “filled with hate, misinformation and disinformation,” he said, alluding to the title that’s a nod to the isolation of information silos of the social media age. “The only truth that matters is the truth in your own little world, whether it’s you and your cat alone on the sofa or you on the internet with millions of others.”
The book’s manuscript won the national Kenneth Patchen Award for Innovative Novel from The Journal of Experimental Fiction in Chicago in 2020. That earned Massey a publication deal and a $1,000 prize.
“It doesn’t really seem experimental to me,” Massey said. “It just felt honest and true to me. There’s a little stream of conscious about it. It’s not everyone’s style.”
A Flagler Beach resident for more than four decades, Massey unspooled his fast-paced story against an assortment of familiar backdrops for those in Volusia and Flagler counties.
“It was based pretty much on things I know,” he said. “This is the town where I’ve lived since 1980, and that’s where Trammell lives. It’s easy for me to visualize. There’s a scene at the Starbucks in St. Augustine; I’ve been there. The Jacksonville port I’ve seen and I’m familiar with.”
As the story tumbles toward its conclusion, “Own Little Worlds” also offers a nod to the value of old-fashioned journalism, Massey said.
“There’s all kinds of mistrust, misinformation and accusations on social media and other elements of the American divide going after each other,” he said. “And women have to figure out what’s going on.”