Historical Novelist and Wargame Designer

Thomas Sundell is the designer of the games Hell Hath No Fury, Condottieri, and Hegemon, which is a game on Philip's campaign against Athens and Thebes. He has written a number of articles on military history. He was born in 1946 and grew up in western New York State and central Indiana. He now lives in a suburb of Chicago with his wife and his daughters.

Works in Progress

Scratch (working title)
This novel is currently on hold. It's a contemporary crime story, set in 2007-2008 as well as in the 1960's as the protagonist must confront the results of actions taken as a young man. The setting is the old First Ward in Buffalo, NY, an Irish-American enclave.

I've tried Scratch in first person and I've tried him in third. So far he's not cutting it. One commentator I trust, who reads my work in draft form, said it was my weakest effort yet. He thinks it's because I've let the back story overpower the action story. Maybe so. In any event, I'm letting Scratch rest a while, though I was thinking I might try it from a different character's viewpoint.

Crossing Georgian Bay
This is piece is recently drafted. I say piece because it is not the size to make a novel, though larger than a short story. A novella, then, for youg adults. I've gone back to the Geat Lakes shipping, though set 40 years earlier than the S.S. Penetang. Based on an actual event, the wreck of the Asia, the story centers on the two survivors and the immediate impact of the event on their lives.

The story also includes a postscript of several small sections detailing more about the actual event, such as the later fate of the protagonists, Christy Anne Morrison and Duncan Tinkis.

Line of Descent
This sequel continues where A Bloodline of Kings left off to follow the life of Philippos (Philip of Macedon). This novel is stalled. I find that I enjoyed telling of Philip's life from boyhood to securing the throne. but I have less interest in telling what he achieved while on the throne.

Recently, though, I've begun re-reading the partial draft and the outline of events of the period. My wife/publisher is urging me to take it up again and complete the sequel.

Other Works I'd Like to Write

I began research for a novel set in Warlord China. I intend to bring one of the characters from Battle Hymn and S.S. Penetang forward into and set him in Shanghai, China, in the twenties and thirties, just as the Nate Barnard of Texas Fever was a fellow soldier of Jacob Gartener's Company H, 56th Indiana Volunteers. Still being planned are strories set in:

Completed But Unpublished Novels

Battle Hymn
Completed and awaiting publication, this novel is set in August 1919. The protagonist is 75-year old Jacob Gartener, a widower living in an Evanston boarding house. On the first of August he is traveling down to Chicago to collect rent from tenants at three houses he owns in the Black Belt. August 1, 1919 is the sixth day of a race riot.

The story reveals the life of Jacob Gartener from Indiana farm boy to Civil War sergeant to railroad scab to struggling businessman. Central to his life are his loves - his first wife a Basque beauty whose murder he avenged and his second wife the progressive sensitive Cecilia. Overshadowing all is the three years of his Civil War service and the violence he learned then.

Jacob Gartener is drawn from mourning Cecilia through involvement in the lives of his fellow boarders, the mystery of a missing fortune and a dead girl, an act of murderous retribution, and the reappearance of love.

Texas Fever
Completed and awaiting publication, this story is set primarily in Kansas in the years 1868 and '69. Through a simple act of gun repair, Nate Barnard and his family are ensnared in an escalating round of savage gunplay with a crew of Texan drovers. The story unfolds through the lives of the frontier townspeople, cattle driving cowboys, and the jonah of the story, a feckless gambler.

Voyage of the Screw Steamer Penetang
Completed and awaiting publication, this story tells of an incident in the life of Jacob Gartener, when he and his family board the Canadian Pacific's S.S. Penetang bound from Port McNicholl, Ontario, via Lakes Huron and Superior to Thunder Bay. The story offers tales and vignettes of the passengers and crew, as well as the convergence of events that propel this adventure: bootleggers, a traveling circus, an Indian motorcycle racing team, and the working of a fine Great Lakes passenger vessel.

Recently submitted this work to the Amazon.com/Penguin Publishing novel contest. I don't expect it to win but thought the effort of preparing it, including some re-writing, worthwhile.

A Mother's Ambition
Completed and awaiting publication is a story set in Roman Britain in 148 AD. The protagonist is the 13-year old Valeria, daughter of a prominent Roman provincial and a princess of the Dobunni tribe. Her mother's ambitions for the girl places in the midst of tribal factions and in opposition to the Roman administration. Written at the request of my two youngest daughters.

Thoughts on Writing

I've been writing stories and poems since a young age. Most of these, I fear, were barely worth reading. Still it gave me experience. Also, I have taken several writing courses through the years. The two most valuable were a correspondence course with the University of California and a course in innovative writing taken at the University of Chicago.

My main problem, though, when it came to novels was persistence. I had to teach myself the ability to take the long view and to enjoy the writing day to day. Like most zen things, the less I worried about coming to an end the more I completed.

The lesson came not from writing but from the games I've designed. During an especially long spell of unemployment, I managed to design and find a publisher for a game based on Boudicca's revolt against the Romans in ancient Britain. I had the time then to stick to the effort.

Nowadays I write mostly on the weekends for one or two hours each Saturday and Sunday morning, subject to the needs of my family for events like visitors, mother's day, or other more important activities. No story has a deadline so I get to craft as I will.

I like character-rich novels because that's how life strikes me, that we are in the midst of social networks built through families, friendships, acquaintances, and contacts. I also like novels in which the characters grow, learn, and gain insights into themselves and in others.

As for me, I am a family man and a working man. Most of the vicissitudes of my life I've brought down on myself and on others. Most of the joys, I've received. I like to write or, maybe, I'm compelled to write. I hope my writing is gaining skill. Like most writers, I hope I have something worthwhile to say, but never at the expense of the story and the lives of my characters who become as real to me as people I know in the "real world."

updated March 2009

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