Skip to main content

19th Century Namesake Inspires Author’s First Novel

Frank Thurmond
Frank Thurmond

When Frank Thurmond found out there was a 19th century outlaw with his name, he decided to do what any self-respecting writer would do – write a book about it.

While researching, Thurmond, a faculty member in the Department of English at UA Little Rock, discovered that the most interesting thing about his namesake was actually his wife and decided to focus his novel on her instead.

“I had been told by friends that my name Frank Thurmond came up as a 19th century outlaw, and a friend said you should write a novel about this namesake,” Thurmond said. “I started researching that person, and the only thing he did worthwhile was having married this famous woman, Lottie Deno. I realized the real story was her story, and that led to me researching her story and finding out about the incredible story of Lottie Deno.”

The result is Thurmond’s first novel, “Lottie Deno: A Novel of the Civil War and the American Southwest,” a 240-page historical fiction novel published by Parkhurst Brothers Publishers following the adventures of the notorious gambler through Reconstruction-era Texas.

“Her original name was Carlotta Tompkins, a Southern Belle living on a plantation before the Civil War,” Thurmond said. “Her family lost their fortune during the Civil War, so she went off and became a legendary gambler. A Mexican gambler said she ought to call herself Lotta Dinero. She came up with her famous handle ‘Lottie Deno’ from that.”

Thurmond has seen a lot of travel while promoting his book. He’s already done multiple signings in Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi. This summer he’ll head out on a road trip for events in New Mexico and California. He’ll next appear at Blytheville Book Company at 10:30 a.m. on May 4 and Weber’s Book House in his hometown of Paragould at 1:30 p.m. on May 4.

Thurmond has been able to use his writing to inspire his students and vice versa.

“I was teaching a screenwriting class two years ago while I was finishing the novel,” Thurmond explained. “My students said that they wanted to see a screenplay for the novel and encouraged me to write it that semester. That was a wonderful opportunity where my students equally inspired me and encouraged me to get that work done. Thanks to my students’ encouragement and prodding, I finished it at the end of the semester and had a table reading. My students were the first to experience the screenplay format of my novel. It was a great way to test out the story, and I benefited greatly from having a group of enthusiastic students who inspired me. Many of my students are creative writers, and it’s nice to practice what I preach and preach what I practice.”

Thurmond said there has already been interest in producing his novel as a miniseries or a film.

“The Western has become popular again in recent years, and mine is rare because it has a female protagonist set in the Old West,” he said. “I’ve had filmmakers interested in the potential of having such a unique, real-life Western. I’m working with some potential film investors to get this going. It’s always a long shot. I am a filmmaker, and I’ve made some short films screened at film festivals. This would be my first shot at developing a longer film project. I’m just excited about having my first novel published.”

The novel started out as a pandemic project, along with a collection of poetry that was published as a poetry chapbook last year. Much of the novel is set in Fort Griffin, Texas, a frontier town that “makes Tombstone look tame.” Readers will see appearances from some famous Old West names in the novel, including John Henry “Doc” Holliday and Wyatt Earp.

Thurmond completed extensive research for his novel, even traveling to New Mexico, the final resting place of Lottie Deno, then going by the name of Charlotte Thurmond, and her husband, Thurmond’s namesake.

“I’m currently writing a memoir/travelog, including some travel I did to research this book, which led to some interesting adventures in itself,” Thurmond said. “The heart of the story is set in frontier era Texas, where there was a string of military forts right after the Civil War. Most are preserved as state parks, and I was able to visit the old ghost town of Fort Griffin, where most of my story is set. It’s privately owned by a Texas rancher, and he invited me to view this place. I completed my research out of New Mexico, where the characters are buried in a cemetery in Deming, New Mexico. It turns out that my 19th century namesake who inspired the initial idea for my novel is an actual real-life ancestor of my Thurmond family. They even have artifacts associated with my character in the local museum.”