Denny garners prestigious honor prior to release of 7th book
By Kyle Mooty
Lockhart’s Butch Denny was named as a finalist for the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award, an honor some believe is just a step below the Pulitzer Prize.
Denny, whose sixth book, The Wonder Stone: And Other Stories About an Early African Settlement in Central Texas March 1845-November 1864, was published in March 2022, received recognition as a Traditional Novel for the fictional book.
Among past Spur Award winners have been the likes of Larry McMurtry and Louis L’Amour.
“We were out on the patio at the time, and I got this phone call that told me I was one of the finalists,” Denny said. “I couldn’t stop grinning.”
The 2023 Spur Award winners were announced at the recent Tuscon Festival of Books.
This week, Denny will be releasing is seventh book, Fortitude, an anthology that is a collection of 14 short stories.
Among Denny’s past books are his best seller, Savage Winter, Mice in the Walls, The Goddess of War, and Slippery Jack.
An adult educator for 45 years, Denny has taught at the Air Force Academy, the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio, and most recently at Austin Community College. His specialty was English as a Second Language.
“I felt almost at home with immigrants and refugees, both legal and illegal, teaching them English, and teaching them life skills,” Denny said. “During my time I’ve probably had around 315,000 students in 45 years. I’ve had a big chance to meet people… and I enjoy people.”
Writing is in his blood, although he’s the only one in his immediate family to do so, but Denny is the great-grand-nephew of Mark Twain.
He once visited a newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada which had Twain’s old desk was displayed behind a roped-off area. Denny crossed the ropes and sat in the chair, where he said he felt “right at home.”
Denny sat down with the Post-Register during an interview at the Dr. Eugene Clark Library, where he said he had “probably read as many as there are in here.”
Now living in Lockhart, Denny has been married to his wife, Mary Lee, for 10 years.
In The Wonder Stone, Denny discusses sensitive subjects such as slavery during the Civil War era in Texas.
“The Wonder Stone is actually about Caldwell County and has a lot to do with Lockhart,” Denny said. “Although, it is a book of fiction. I limited my time period to a few months before Texas was a state and a few months before the end of the Civil War and Emancipation. The reason I did that was everyone wants to talk about how horrible slavery was. Actually, if you listen to a lot of their narratives, it’s about sharecropping. It’s not about slavery. In sharecropping, you had the owner who was taking half of everything. He was brutal and you were living in poverty. But in slavery, the slave owners had to cooperate. There was a lot more cooperation than what people believe today.
“The difficulties in Texas made people get along. They had to work together. This was a very difficult time in Texas history anyway. You had the drought of 1856. You have the Civil War coming on. Also, this area of Texas doesn’t have the constant rain of east Texas. If you went out and slapped one of your slaves, you would get a pitchfork in the back or a knife in the dark while you slept, or someone would put rat poison in your soup that they served you.”
Denny said Central Texas still had slave owners, but slaves were treated far better than those in the southeast and even East Texas.
“After the end of the Civil War and Black people were freed, cotton production soared,” Denny said. “It almost tripled within five years. People worked much harder. What that tells you is that they were not worked to their maximum under slavery. It may not be very popular, but the white owners here never had sex with any of his slaves, not in this part of Texas. In Louisiana, there were black slave owners who bought only women in order to sell children. But it was a business. I talk about children in my book. Especially in the late 1860s in the Civil War, slave children were worthless. Often, they were just given away because everybody knew the end (of slavery) was coming and children really didn’t have any value anymore. They wouldn’t grow up to be fieldhands.
“It’s sad what happened to the children after Emancipation. I’m sure a lot of them starved to death because they were just abandoned. They were not wanted.”
Denny said farms were indeed called farms in Central Texas, not plantations.
Slave owners had to take care of their slaves, to a point, because without them there was no one to farm the land.
“A lot of people don’t imagine that if you had 86 families living on your property, how much meat would you have to produce each year; how much corn you had to produce, how many shoes you had to provide, how many clothes you had to buy,” Denny said. “I get a lot into the business of slavery. I’ll tell you this, Juneteenth means something different in Texas than it does nationally.”
Denny’s latest book, Fortitude is based in southern Colorado, an area he says was very important in old west history.
Denny also has a special place in his heart for Iran, where he once lived and later penned the book, Mice in the Walls.
“That book was cathartic for me because I lived in Iran for 3 1/2 years,” he said. “Thinking about all these problems with women in Iran that they’ve had recently; they just released 22,000 women from prison,” he said.
Denny has also designed many of the covers for his books.