Batavia man writes novel based on William Morgan's disappearance
Tom Talbot loves local history.
And he loves to write.
And he loves fiction.
Over a 30-year period, he worked hard to bring these interests together in a project that would ultimately become the historical fiction novel, "The Craft: Freemasons, Secret Agents, and William Morgan."
Originally from Elba, Talbot has lived in Batavia for more than 40 years. While some people may say that Batavia is a boring place to live, he has always been fascinated by the stories it has to tell.
"We live in an area with a rich history," he said.
His book, which was published in August, is set in 1826 and follows two government agents who are assigned by President John Quincy Adams to investigate the disappearance of William Morgan.
Morgan, as area history buffs know, was a Batavia resident famous for having mysteriously vanished after threatening to write a book exposing the secrets of Freemasonry.
"[The Morgan incident] put Batavia on the map for a while," Talbot said. "In a bad way, but still..."
The book's plot goes beyond William Morgan, placing his disappearance in the context of a larger web of intrigue that involves "rogue British Masons" (as the back cover synopsis puts it) and a presidential assassination plot.
"I didn't want the book to be just about Morgan himself," Talbot said. "That's been done by a lot of people. I wanted to include him, but also have a broader scope."
Agents Matthew Prescott and Zeb Cardwell are the story's protagonists. In Talbot's fast-paced thriller, they travel all over the Eastern Seaboard searching for the truth behind Morgan's disappearance, going from Washington, D.C., to New York City, Albany, Canada, Rochester and, you guessed it, Batavia.
Locals may recognize certain locations mentioned in the Batavia segment, including the Holland Land Office Museum, the Eagle Tavern, and the Mix Mansion (which is over on Mix Place).
Research into what life was like in 18th Century New York State -- including the difficulties of travelling in the pre-railroad days, bedbug infestations at inns, and the dangerous malfunctions of primitive steamboats -- helped Talbot craft some very interesting dramatic situations for his characters.
"A lot of it you have to imagine (as an author), but you do need some basis (in period details)."
"The Craft" is Talbot's first novel and second book. His first book, "Illustrated Black History," was a curriculum guide for social studies teachers (he himself taught history at Batavia Middle School for three years). It is available as a reference text in the Richmond Memorial Library's local history section.
He started working on "The Craft" while attending graduate school at SUNY Brockport and raising a family in Batavia. The busyness of his life required him to set the book aside for long periods of time; but over the years, his wife, Vicki, kept pestering him to finish it.
He credits the completion and publication of the novel to her persistence.
Looking back on this 30-year endeavor, Talbot likes to joke about how he started writing the book on yellow legal pads before graduating to the use of a typewriter, then transferring it onto his Apple computer, eventually putting it on his IBM computer, and, finally, finishing it on his laptop.
Writing is something in which he "dabbled" quite a bit before starting on "The Craft."
"Writing was always one of my major interests," he said. "I played around with poetry and short stories in college. I also did curricular writing for the Batavia City School District and for the Buffalo schools."
Since retiring from his position as an administrator at GCC in 2000, he has worked part-time as a grant writer and data evaluator for the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (GCASA).
"I like to kid people by saying that I've written a lot of grants, but that's not all I do -- I've also written a book."
His jobs in the Buffalo schools, GCC and GCASA have involved extensive research and data evaluation as well as writing. Between this and a history degree from Georgetown University, his credentials for a research-intensive project like "The Craft" aren't too shabby.
As for whether other Tom Talbot novels are on the horizon, he definitely hopes that "The Craft" is "not a one-shot deal."
"I have some ideas for other books, including a sequel to 'The Craft.' Possibly something in a different genre, too."
Talbot himself is an avid reader and enjoys authors as diverse as John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Daniel Silva, J.R.R. Tolkien and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He has a blog, Tom's Book Pages, where he writes book reviews.
As for "The Craft," you can purchase it locally at Present Tense or at the Holland Land Office Museum; you can also order it online.
For more information or to order a copy, visit www.thecraftthebook.com. Talbot says he encourages people to comment on the book on the site as well.
"I would appreciate any feedback," he said.
Photo courtesy of Jen Zambito