Hub City Press to Publish McConnell’s “The Wooden King”

January 5, 2018 at 2:16 pm

Thomas McConnell, Ph.D.

USC Upstate professor Thomas McConnell’s upcoming novel “The Wooden King” tells the story of one man’s attempt to avoid war’s devastating effects, even as the battle comes to his doorstep.

The novel, published by Hub City Press, will be released on May 18, 2018.

“The Wooden King” is the story of Viktor Trn, a father and husband in Czechoslovakia during World War II. As the occupation begins, Viktor is first concerned with keeping his head down and his family safe. As the war drags on, he begins to find himself pushed to take a more active role.

McConnell, a Fulbright Scholar, spent time teaching in the Czech Republic from 2005-2006. He began to hear stories about the war from his landlady, who was the daughter of people who lived through the war.

“Her father was born in 1928,” McConnell said. “He was well into his teens when the war ended.”

He who wrote “The Wooden King” based on their conversations and interviewed others in the area who had lived through the war.

McConnell returned from Europe with no plans to draw on the stories he’d been told for his own work.

“After being gone for a year, I wanted to read about America, I wanted to write about America,” he said. “I wasn’t too interested in doing something that relied on my experience abroad.”

But he soon changed his mind.

“I just couldn’t get these stories out of my head,” McConnell said. “They were very vivid. The way they were told they were very poignant.”

He began writing in 2006, a short story that eventually grew into the novel.

“I’m not sure exactly where Viktor came from,” McConnell said. “I had all these wonderful stories. I started to sketch a little bit. I said what I need is a family to live through these stories.”

In the novel, Viktor Trn seeks to protect his family, particularly Aleks, his young son, from the effects of the war. At first, Trn seems an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances but his upbeat nature conceals complexities.

“He has a double life,” McConnell said. “He has a private face and a public face. He presents one face to his wife, another to the rest of the world.”

The Trn family, like the rest of their city and country, is increasing cut off from the rest of the world. Behavior and appearance are scrutinized by the authorities. News becomes sanitized – being caught listening to a BBC radio broadcast could cost the listener their life. How Trn deals with that increasing isolation, what it leads him to do, is one the novel’s primary concerns.

“The Wooden King” is heavily researched. “I stopped counting at 39 books,” McConnell said. “I read articles, I looked at a lot of archival materials. I went back to the Czech Republic three more times and did more research. A lot of extra work went into it.”

“The Wooden King” was a finalist in Hub City’s First Novel contest.

What’s the next project for McConnell?

He’s been working on another book, set on the ancient Silk Road in what is now Western China. That book came out of a tour of a portion of Western academics that McConnell took part in in 2008.

“It was quite amazing,” McConnell said. “The Taklamakan desert is the second largest desert in the world after the Sahara. Landscapes have always interested me.”

The book follows a camel caravan on its journey.

“I thought ‘Can I have a group of characters to move through this landscape?’” McConnell said.

To learn more about “The Wooden King” visit hubcity.org.