Bestselling Author

Category: Historical Fiction

E.E. Burke: On The Journey

The New Adventures novels feature original paintings by Missouri artist Gary R. Lucy (you can find his work at https://garylucy.com)

From an early age, I’ve been afflicted with a fondness for two precocious Missouri-bred boys introduced to me by Mark Twain. As I read (and reread) Tom and Huck’s adventures, I hated to bid them farewell at a point where their stories were just taking off. I wanted to know what happened to them when they grew up. Did they find new adventures? Did they embark on the greatest adventure of all—falling in love? No one (not even the author of their stories) provided sufficient answers to my questions.

In fact, Mark Twain wrote at the end of Tom Sawyer:  Some day it may seem worthwhile to take up the story of the younger ones again and see what sort of men and women they turned out to be… The great author never did revisit his characters as adults. But I could not be satisfied until I had explored what might have been.

Mark Twain in front of the house where he grew up in Hannibal, MO

Tom Sawyer Returns picks up more than a decade after we left him as a carefree lad in a sleepy town on the Mississippi River. It made sense that Tom would eventually leave to seek adventures. History provided a desperate event that would bring him home, determined to be a hero.

This story is set in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, which was the setting in Twain’s original story (a thinly veiled fictional rendering of Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain spent much of his boyhood).

Numerous incidents in this book are based on historic reports, one of which alludes to a shadowy conspiracy by Confederate sympathizers to seize control of Mississippi River. Put Tom in the middle of a deadly scheme, having to solve a mystery without crucial memories, and you have an exciting plot. But a love story requires more.

Becky ignites Tom’s jealousy with Alfred Temple

In Twain’s book, the character of Becky Thatcher fits the traditional stereotype of the Victorian female: beautiful, helpless,  idealized–quite frankly, boring. I wondered what a girl like that might do when faced with adversity if she were made of more than fluff? The Becky Thatcher who sprang to life on these pages surprised me with her cleverness, compassion, courage and sense of adventure. She’d shown something of her spunk in choosing Tom in the first place. Seeing her develop into a multi-faceted, independent woman, was pure delight.

You’ll meet other characters featured in Twain’s original story, such as Tom’s obsessively rule-bound half-brother Sid, Becky’s elusive cousin Jeff, a beleaguered Judge Thatcher, Tom’s secretive former girlfriend Amy Lawrence, and Alfred Temple, who has risen to great heights and is still competing with Tom for Becky’s affections. They all had bit parts in Twain’s original tale. I thoroughly enjoyed expanding on these secondary characters, delving into backstories, and exploring their relationships with Tom and Becky.

Here is a book trailer I put together as a teaser. I wonder if you can guess who the shadowy character at the end represents?

After you finish Tom Sawyer Returns, be sure to pick up Taming Huck Finn.

Where Tom’s story is an action-adventure, Huck’s story is a journey. Throw in one young orphan who idolizes his famous uncle and a spinster who is determined to civilize them, and you have a recipe for Huck’s greatest challenge.

I humbly offer these historical tales with profound gratitude to the man who inspired it. Perhaps more than any other author, Mark Twain influenced my love of the written word and my belief in the power of a well-told story.

Enjoy my New Adventures!
E.E. Burke

Of the two–Tom and Huck–do you have a favorite? Which one and why? Leave a comment and enter my raffle for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

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10th Anniversary Celebration: Passion and Photography

Steam train image by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

One of the greatest challenges and pleasures in self-publishing is partnering with other artists to conceive the book cover. It’s the physical representation of your story, and so it has to be right. For the Steam! Romance and Rails series, I didn’t just want pictures of trains, I wanted images that would capture the passion and drama of a long-ago time and bring it alive.

When I came across a website featuring the photographic art of Matthew Malkiewicz, I knew I’d found perfect fit. His photography visibly defines the era and captures the mood I want to evoke. His trains are featured on eight of my books, and his iconic images are also featured in the banner of my website and on my newsletter.

Contrary to what some might say, authors can’t launch and sustain careers without great partners, such as critique buddies, editors, illustrators, and designers, photographers, to name a few.  In this post, I wanted to extend a special thanks to someone who has been a valued partner and friend on the journey, Matthew Malkiewicz.

I’ll let him tell his story in his own words:

How did you get started “shooting” trains?

Photo by Matthew Malkiewicz

It was more an awakening than an idea, it all started at the age of 4 months. I have a photo of myself watching a toy train run around the Christmas tree as a baby, it must have hooked me well. As a kid I had a model train layout on a piece of plywood in the basement, and in my teens I received my first camera, which I aimed at every train I saw. After a long period in my life without cameras or trains a job assignment in Colorado (a train mecca) during 2005 rekindled both hobbies, driving me to buy my first digital camera. At the same time I discovered the power of Photoshop, soon after I created my website to showcase my rapidly growing collection of photographs. It’s been a snowball effect ever since.

What are some of your favorite locations or settings?

I concentrate on vintage steam locomotives from all across the United States. Now they have second lives as tourist operations, the fortunate trains that survived the scrapping after the fleet was retired in the middle of the last century. Modern day railroading, both passenger and freight revenue, are pulled by either diesel or electric engines. My passion gravitates to the machines of yesteryear, fire-breathing monsters that seem to be alive whether you have your hand against the polished steel or you are two bluffs away looking across acres of prairie grass. I envision how it must have been back in the day and try to create photographs as timeless as possible to depict what I consider a vibrantly better and sadly vanished time.

What drew you to photographing old steam engines?

Photo by Matthew Malkiewicz

The allure of capturing images that stimulate one’s senses is what drew me to photograph steam-powered locomotives. I wanted to bring to life the smells of the coal fueling the engine, the sound of the steam hissing, and the earth rattling as these magnificent machines sit idling or are in motion. These machines of steam are alive. Each is unique, its own personality, which changes from day to day. At a state of rest the locomotive is groaning, sweating, simmering, creaking, spitting. At speed it’s controlled madness – the ground shakes, sound deafening.

What’s the coolest train you’ve ever photographed and why?

Halloween weekend 2011 at the East Broad Top Railroad in Pennsylvania. Nothing, and I mean nothing; can keep me away from capturing that awe-inspiring shot of a majestic steam locomotive.  However, the Halloween nor’easter would certainly test my fortitude. The storm produced unusually early season snowfall across the northeastern United States, breaking records for total accumulations. As the morning passed on, the snow intensified. By the time the train made its way out of town for its first run of the day, we had experienced near whiteout conditions and things got real quiet. With a typical steam train, you would expect to hear wheels clacking against the rails and steam puffing from the stack. But to my surprise, the snow seemed to envelop and muffle the familiar sound of the locomotive. As the train bellowed down the snowy rails, it was visible that the pine trees struggled to support the weight of the fresh snow, and the cornfields became covered in a white blanket. The autumn-colored leaves indicated that perhaps the trees were also caught off-guard by the storm. An image from the day, aptly named “Train on a Snow Day”, placed second in the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s 2014 Awards Program.

Photo by Matthew Malkiewicz

Do you enjoy seeing your work interpreted on book covers? Is it how you might have imagined, or completely different?

Yes I do. We all interpret a scene differently, it’s what makes us individuals. I enjoy seeing how others, such as the graphic artist of a book cover, takes my photograph and add their own style, flair, and techniques to enhance. The final results have been beyond my expectations; very pleasantly surprised every time.

Here are some of Matthew’s images on book covers designed by the very talented Erin Dameron-Hill.

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

What dreams have been realized as a result of your photography?

Throughout life, we all seek our own way in the pursuit of happiness, to find something that’s going to set us apart from the pack, mold our life into something special, and discover the sense in it all.  We test different things to determine what will help us in our quest, push us beyond our own limits, and achieve our dreams. My galleries capture my travels and experiences across our countryside.  Some near home, others far away and remote, all uniquely memorable.  It’s a passion that has taken me to where I am in life today.  My hope is that someday my portfolio will be an inspiration to others interested in this hobby I truly love.  I’m confident that one day I will capture my most spectacular image.  Until then, each photo tells the story of lost time, remembered.

While Matthew continues to pursue his dream of capturing soul-stirring images of an era long past, I continue to pursue my dream to write stories that will transport readers to the past and connect them to the hopes and dreams of others and themselves.

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to share them with you, dear reader.

Enjoy a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

With fondness and gratitude,

E.E. Burke

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Take a journey with Huck Finn

“When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. We had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained.” ~ Mark Twain

Embark on a new adventure with an old friend

TAMING HUCK FINN, inspired by Mark Twain’s iconic adventurer, begins in the summer of 1870 in Atchison, Kansas, which served as a bustling port along the Missouri River.

In those days, steamboats transported goods to settlements and army forts up and down the river, as well as hauling miners traveling to and from the Montana gold fields. Freedom-loving Huck Finn works as a part-time steamboat pilot when he’s not off searching for gold.

The sprawling, unpredictable Missouri River provides the perfect landscape for my story about a restless man whose goal is to stay one step ahead of civilization.

In those days, it took nerves of steel to pilot a steamboat on the wild, untamed Missouri River. A few of the things steamboat pilots encountered: elusive, ill-defined and ever-changing channels, getting stranded in low water, innumerable and often invisible snags, whirlpools, Indian attacks–to name but a few.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, close to 300 steamboats went down in the river between 1830 and 1902.  Historians estimate almost half of all the boats that plied the Missouri were lost to various accidents, with snags taking most of them to their watery grave. The “Muddy Mo” had a voracious appetite for steamboats!

Near Kansas City, a construction company dug up a steamboat from the 1850s out of a farm field (the river had long since changed course). While there were no human casualties, the boat went down with its entire load of supplies. The Steamboat Arabia exhibit at the Kansas City riverfront is filled with some of the most well preserved displays of 19th century goods you’ll find anywhere.

Far West pilothouse replica
 courtesy Dave Thomson Gallery

The type of boat Huck pilots is a “mountain boat.” These sternwheelers were smaller and lighter, equipped with spars, which were a bit like stilts to help the boat “walk” over obstacles. One of the best-known mountain boats was the Far West, piloted by Captain Grant Marsh.

A replica of the Far West pilothouse shows a pair of antelope antlers mounted in front to indicate it was a “fast boat” — Grant made a record-breaking run down the Missouri River in 1876 after he picked up the wounded from the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Packet steamboating on the Missouri River lasted from the 1820s to the 1880s, with the greatest period of activity between 1840 and 1860. The railroads contributed primarily to the demise of steamboat business by siphoning off long-haul passenger and freight business. In 1867, there were 71 steamers regularly plying the Missouri River. Three years later there were only 9. (Wild River, Wooden Boats, Michael Gillespie, Heritage Press).

Some of the landing points mentioned in Taming Huck Finn were busy ports in the 1870s: Weston, Missouri, Sioux City, Iowa, Fort Sully in the Dakota Territory, Kansas City, and eventually St. Louis, where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers converge.

His greatest adventure is about to catch up with him.

Steamboat pilot Huck Finn lives life on his own terms and steers clear of messy entanglements that might tie him down—until he takes charge of an orphaned boy that needs rescuing.

Starched and proper, Miss Hallie MacBride is determined to atone for past sins by raising her estranged sister’s son. She doesn’t expect footloose Mr. Finn to challenge her, much less up and run off with her nephew.

On a wild journey fraught with danger, a freedom-loving adventurer and an avowed spinster battle over the destiny of a young boy, who is doing his level best to convince them they belong together.

Excerpt:

June 2, 1870, Atchison, Kansas

“What you layin’ in there for, mister?”

A childish voice disturbed Huck’s sleep. He screwed his eyes tightly shut, willing his mind to return to dreams of pleasanter things than inquisitive children.

Something struck the bottom of his boot. He jerked awake, his head connecting with a crack against the inside of the hogshead barrel. “Ow! Blame it.”

Gingerly, he touched a rising lump and grimaced at the painful reminder of where he’d ended up. After celebrating into the wee hours, it appeared a convenient place to await the next packet chugging up the Missouri River. Sobriety declared it a bad idea. Only halfwits and drunks slept in discarded barrels. Not men who commanded steamboats.

Curling around, he squinted at the opening where his legs were exposed. Daylight outlined the figure of a child. Hopeful it was just a dream Huck shut his eyes. When he opened them again, the boy had bent to peer inside the barrel.

Gap-toothed smile, snub nose, merry eyes that held the promise of mischief… “Tom?” Huck rasped.

The boy giggled.

No, he couldn’t possibly be. Tom had been nearly full-grown fifteen years ago.

Huck rubbed his stinging eyes. He must’ve gotten ahold of some bad brew like the Fire Rod his old man used to swig by the jug full; that stuff made Pap see crazier things than a boy that wasn’t there.

The spitting image of Tom laughed again. “Uncle Huck?”

Uncle? Huck shook his head to clear it. By God, he’d swear off whiskey forever if it brought on these strange imaginings, and it had to be his imagination. Huck Finn weren’t nobody’s uncle.

Pick up your copy of Taming Huck Finn at the following retailers:

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His greatest adventure is about to catch up with him

TAMING HUCK FINN by E.E. Burke

Steamboat pilot Huck Finn lives life on his own terms, steering clear of the kind of messy entanglements that would tie a man down–until he takes charge of an orphan and defies the “old maid” determined to raise him.

What follows is a wild journey filled with humor, high jinx and heart-pounding danger, as a freedom-loving adventurer and an avowed spinster battle over the destiny of a young boy who is doing his level best to convince them they belong together.

Embark on an unforgettable adventure from award-winning author E.E. Burke in a novel inspired by one of America’s most beloved characters.

Read an excerpt

Order your copy today:

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E.E. answers your questions:

Where did you get the idea for this story?

I’m a big fan of Mark Twain’s original story and always had a soft spot for Huck. I wondered what kind of man he would grow up to be. This is the story Huck gave me when I asked him what happened to him after he “set out for the Territory.”

How did you decide what occupation Huck would have as an adult?

It didn’t seem a far stretch to imagine Huck growing up to be a steamboat pilot. He was a child of the river, and I couldn’t see him straying far. Plus, he had the intelligence and temperament to pilot steamboats, which requires a unique combination of skills, instinct, excellent reflexes, and steely nerve.

Of course, I couldn’t write a book about Huck being a steamboat pilot without referring to Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi, which is largely based on Samuel Clemens own apprenticeship as a riverboat pilot. Reading the diaries of Missouri River pilots helped me place Huck on a different river, one that I think it fits his personality.

Why put the story on the Missouri River rather than the Mississippi – the original setting?

In Taming Huck Finn, as in Twain’s original book, the river itself is a character.
The Missouri River of today is nothing like what it was at the time of Huck’s story (1870). Before being dredged and tamed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the early 20th century, the “Big Muddy” was sprawling and unpredictable. I have a map that shows where steamboats sank along the old path of the river, and it is littered with wrecks. Taking a steamboat on the Missouri River was a dangerous undertaking, especially into the north part of the river where it was shallower and rocky and prone to flooding. Just the kind of challenge Huck Finn would relish.

During this same time, the era of the steamboat was giving way to the steady advancement of the railroads. Huck sees himself, the old boats and even the river, as relics of a past that is quickly fading. He’s struggling to figure out how he fits into a new world rapidly catching up with him. Does he keep running? Or does he risk his freedom for the one thing that’s eluded him all these years?

You’ll have to read the book to find out.

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