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Writers Inspiring Change feature book review: The Apprenticeship of Nigel Blackthorn

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

The Apprenticeship of Nigel Blackthorn by Frank Kelso. Five stars! My favorite western author has always been Louis L'Amour - but I think, in reading The Apprenticeship of Nigel Blackthorn, that author Frank Kelso has just ranked up with him. In this narrative, Kelso manages to tell a simple tale about Nigel Blackthorn, a young boy whose missionary family is slaughtered on their way to a new life in the West, and who is plucked up from destitution by a French trader, Pascal, who roams the west with caravans of goods. Pascal, the wiley yet street-smart trader, sees something in Nigel, and takes him under his wing and starts him on a rigorous regimen to learn about survival, life, being a man, as well as educating him on the arts. The dialogue is real, sincere, compelling and, in the vein of L'Amour's books, Kelso also teaches the reader about survival in the rugged west. How to find food, how to find water, how to avoid dangers, how to exist in a beautiful yet brutal land where death is just a snake-bite away. The characters are wonderfully developed, each with their foibles and quirks. The story line, though simple and sometimes appearing uneventful, parallels life as it must have been while trying to traverse and tame a land as big as the American west. The final chapter of Nigel's apprenticeship is unique and beautifully rendered - capturing a piece of the native culture of the Redmen (not Indians as the author correctly points out) in a way that makes one yearn that simplicity, that pure unadulterated existence before the invasion of the white man debased an entire culture.

Review by International Writers Inspiring Change

About Frank Kelso

I grew up around Kansas City, Missouri, the origin of the Santa Fe Trail. Historic sites, monuments, and statues abound, highlighting the journey west, including the Wagons West, Pioneer Women, and the Indian Scout located on the bluffs overlooking the wide Missouri. Writing western themed books fit with my upbringing. My parents considered storytelling a family tradition, and the taller the tale, the better, when sharing around the supper table. A biomedical research scientist in my day job, I write short stories and novels to keep the family traditions alive.

What prompted you to write? I operated in a “publish or perish” academic world, writing grants to fund my biomedical research. I raised millions for the medical center and university; I found success in addressing and taking peer reviewer’s comments to heart in order to improve my grant applications. On one groundbreaking application, the reviewer commented, “This application reads more like science fiction than science.” My research colleagues challenged me to write fiction. Creating my own worlds where my characters were free to explore their limits became an enjoyable pastime, which morphed into a new career.

What do readers like about your writing? Readers and reviewers often comment on my strong voice and crisp dialogue. Many enjoy my supporting cast of colorful characters.

Is there a message in your writing – something you want to inspire? I abhor “social justice” messages. In many of my stories, the protagonist dies in the end. My critique group teases, “nobody gets out alive in Frank’s stories.” The protagonists in my stories accept responsibility for their own action, even when it costs them their life. Individual freedom assumes the responsibilities for their action.

Tell us about The Posse… A group of authors I know complained about not having a market for their short stories. I said “Let’s quit complaining and publish an anthology of our short stories.” We did.

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