Thomas Fox Averill


When Thomas Fox Averill first heard Jimmy Driftwood's ballad “Tennessee Stud,” he found the song hauntingly compelling. As he began to imagine the story behind the lyrics, he set out to research the song’s history—a tale from “along about eighteen and twenty-five” of the legendary exploits of the greatest horse that ever lived, the “Tennessee Stud,” and his owner.

Traveling the same route the song chronicles, from Tennessee into Arkansas, through Texas and into Mexico, Averill visited racetracks, Spanish missions, historical museums, a living history farm and national parks, inventing characters of his own along the way. His novel captures the spirit of the ballad, while telling the story of Robert Johnson, a man who holds love in his heart though adventure rules his time. Pursued by a bounty hunter, Indians, and his conscience, Johnson and his horse are tested, strengthened, and made resolute.



Praise for rode:

“Both an odyssey and a great love story, rode is made compelling by its thoughtful hero and the surprising woman he longs for. Precise language and authentic detail render a vivid sense of another time, and Averill’s Southern landscape, so beautifully drawn, is peopled with unforgettable men and women.”
—Laura Moriarty, author of The Center of Everything.

“No one drives a narrative better than Thomas Fox Averill, and this novel version of a grand American tale shows Tom Averill’s skills at their best.  rode performs not only through action but the perfect articulation of 19th Century Arkansas and Tennessee.  Averill knows the lingo, blunt, uncompromising, and accurate, from saddle trees to foals, and even to a dauncy mare, a wonderful allusion to the author’s Scottish heritage and ours.  This is complicated evocation of character, yes, in Robert Johnson, Jo Benson, and others; but even more, Thomas Averill’s narrative rides evocative language like a great stud horse.”
—Robert Stewart, author of Outside Language: Essays, editor, New Letters magazine.

"The French say that the first duty of a wine is to be red.  And I say the first duty of a novel is to tell a good story.  Thomas Fox Averill’s rode passes the test with ease and speed:  His is an historical tale of romance, villains, heroes, youth, horses, horse thieves, murder, mules, revenge, redemption … and more.  And all concocted from the words of a sad country song.  The characters drink corn whiskey, but I raise my Bordeaux glass in Tom’s honor."
—Robert Day, author of The Last Cattle Drive and Speaking French in Kansas.

“Thomas Fox Averill’s rode is a rollicking ride through the American West, 1825. Averill’s narrative is a bountiful mix of popular song, Western mythos, episodic adventure, travelogue, folk-tale, and good old-fashioned storytelling. And like the best work of John Steinbeck, Averill’s narrative entertains and informs. His is a multi-cultural vision, full of wonder. At the novel’s center is Robert Johnson, a thoughtful young man, falsely accused of murder, forced from the garden to wander in the wilderness, but he never lapses into angst and despair. Instead, he maintains his youthful idealism and enthusiasm in the face of very trying circumstances. Johnson not only endures, he triumphs. And so does Averill. This is one heartfelt, authentic, and honest portrayal of love and life and the dreams that sustain us. A must read.”
—Grant Tracey, editor, North American Review.

“Sequels seldom match the appeal of the original, while after-the-fact back stories are even less successful.  But Thomas Fox Averill's rode, which fleshes out fully the plot line of Jimmie Driftwood's "Tennessee Stud," is a rare, welcome, and masterful exception.  In this carefully crafted novel, Averill has produced a compelling chronicle of the adventures of the heroes (man and horse) on their journey from Tennessee to Arkansas to Texas to Mexico and back.  The well chosen title implies ‘road’ as well as the hard riding Robert Johnson does.  Along the way we meet characters whose lives could provide grist for novels of their own.” 
—Jim Hoy, author of Flint Hills Cowboys, editor of Cowboy’s Lament, A Life on the Open Range, by Frank Maynard.



Thomas Fox Averill presenting at
Rainy Day Books, Kansas City: