CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., July 1, 2014 – “Annamanda,” published this month by Southeast Missouri State University Press, is a story of determination, on two levels.
“Annamanda,” a novel by Jo Houser Haring, tells of the determination and courage of a young woman married to a fundamentalist preacher as she and her family cope with the rigors and dangers of settling new territory about the time of the great New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812.
But “Annamanda” also is a tale of the determination of Jo Haring’s family to see that the book got published, 21 years after her death. It is her second published novel—”The Founding Father” was published in 1984, and thousands of copies were sold internationally. A collection of her humorous writings, “Notes on the Refrigerator Door,” was published shortly after her death in 1993
“Annamanda” follows a young wife and her husband as they raise their family and survive encounters with wild animals, river ruffians and natural disturbances, especially the massive quakes which tumbled buildings and for a time caused the Mississippi River to run backward. The novel also describes the early frontier’s many differences over religious views.
The book has lots of action but also moments of humor and strong, fascinating characters. Among these is Eremus Lodi, an educated and wealthy early settler whose companion is a freed black man and healer named O’Reilly. And a mysterious, terrifying Beast haunts the settlers.
The book deals with the constant struggle between good and evil, as men like Annamanda’s husband, Cyrus, confront frontier malcontents and evildoers, while Annamanda struggles with her own beliefs and inner demons. In Eremus Lodi, one can find this good/evil struggle embodied in one person.
Jo Haring began writing humorous pieces for The Associated Press. That led to her newspaper column, Pocketful of Wry, and, after she relocated to Tulsa in 1975, to novels. She completed “Annamanda” while coping with leukemia. But after her death from that disease, her agent and potential publishers lost interest. To get it published was a struggle for Jo’s husband, Bob, and son, Robert.
Robert salvaged a manuscript from his mother’s effects after he returned from living for a dozen years in Tennessee. He distributed a few copies to family members and friends. Everybody who read it commented, “This book needs to be published.”
But conventional publishers refuse manuscripts from deceased authors. So the book languished until Bob heard about a university press that had published a posthumous work by a woman. He found Southeast Missouri State University, a logical location since “Annamanda” takes place in that region. Publisher Susan Swartwout read it and pronounced: “I can’t let this manuscript go.”
Because budgeting is a major concern, she asked if she could hold the manuscript for a while, but she feels “‘Annamanda’ is a great story that needed to be in print. It fits an adult or young-adult audience, has thrilling action and historical veracity, and the characters are so well written you can hear them and you care what happens to them. There are some books that a publisher must take despite a risk, because the world needs the strength in them.”
“Annamanda” was printed in 2014 with an official publication date of June 30.
Frances Powell, an educator in Jacksonville, Fla., pronounced “Annamanda” an “exceptional historical novel” and said Haring did “a wonderful job of researching what life was like in frontier Missouri in the early 1800s, of the basis for all the fiery religious arguments of the time, and of the nation’s greatest earthquake.”
Beth Clary, a writer in Tulsa, Okla., said, “Jo Houser Haring’s ‘Annamanda’ is one brave young woman’s exciting adventure filled with rich historical details about America’s westward expansion. Yet it is much more than that. It is also a story about how our human nature, in the face of the unknown, has always struggled, whether on the American frontier of the 1800s or today, with questions of right and wrong, and good and evil.” She said “‘Annamanda’ presents a complex consideration of good versus evil at many levels” and “brings the terrifying and destructive months-long New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812 off the pages.”
Amanda Meyer, a St. Louis writer and editor, states, “This book has life, love, loss, danger, and mystery. Haring has crafted a wonderful cast of characters–some who are easy to love and others you can’t help but dislike. I have many favorite books, but I have fallen in love with only a few, and ‘Annamanda’ is one of them. It will always hold a place on my shelf and in my heart.”