Monmouth Author Mark Leslie

Mark Alan Leslie just can’t stop writing. Whether it’s historical fiction with a touch of action or true stories of the golf legends he used to hang out with, the Monmouth native has been telling stories for nearly 50 years.

A former editor for the Lewiston Sun, Leslie founded a magazine focused on the golf industry and has published more than 10 books, including four historical novels. His latest, “A Cause Most Splendid: The Battle for the Bible,” was released earlier this month. It tells the fictionalized story of actual colonist Robert Aitken, a Philadelphia printer who risked his life, in defiance of the British monarchy, to publish “The Aitken Bible of 1782,” the first English-language Bible printed in the United States.

How did you make the transition from newspaper man to published author? Seamlessly, really. Writing is writing. Although journalism today often amounts to facts laced with opinion, while my generation was trained to give readers the who-what-when-where-why in the lead paragraph. No matter the volatile times, with feelings running rampant, whether it be Vietnam or Nixon or nuclear power, it was imperative at that time for reporters to keep their sentiments at bay.

Regardless, in both instances — journalism and novels — you want to grab the readers by their collar right at the start, with such a grip they’ll continue to read to the end. Novels just happen to be a lot longer than newspaper and magazine articles, so it’s more challenging to keep readers’ attention and tell your story.

My novels have all involved an overarching focus that excites me: the Underground Railroad, the Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the 1920s, searching for King David’s music to the Psalms or the Prophet Jeremiah’s property deed proving Jewish ownership of land in Israel. In both the plots and subplots, I try to drive home a lot of facts mixed with a good measure of intrigue, action, interesting characters, moral values and, sometimes, mystery.

You’ve written books on several different topics – golf, action and adventure, and now Christian history. What drew you to each of these subjects? I “lived” golf for 12 years as founding editor of a golf publication and another 15 years in public relations in the industry of designing, building and maintaining golf courses. So, meeting and developing friendships with some of the most notable people — from Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead to Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw and Pete Dye — was a remarkable time for me, and obviously one to write about. So, I loaded two books with the most profound and funny quotes and stories they told me, some of which had never seen print.

My historical novels have revolved around fascinating people who lived in extraordinary seasons like the American Awakening, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the rise of the KKK and the time when it was illegal to print Bibles in America without the king’s permission. The results: “Midnight Rider for the Morning Star,” “A Cause Most Splendid: The Battle for the Bible,” “True North: Tice’s Story” and “The Crossing.”

My contemporary books have all been action/adventures, with a mix of romance and intrigue, involving plots that sometimes have startled me, coming out of the blue. I was reading the Psalms one day and noticed a number of them noted they were to be sung to certain tunes. Well, where are those tunes? If you were to hunt for them who would try to stop you? How dangerous could it be? And where would such a search take you? The result: “Chasing the Music,” a globe-trotting adventure that became the first of a trilogy involving two of my favorite characters, a female archaeologist and a black-ops veteran.

Another day, when the United Nations voted that Jews had no historical connection to Israel I screamed, “Well, that’s stupid!” So, I got to wondering what tangible proof would verify the Jews’ link to the land? The result: “Operation Jeremiah’s Jar.”

And when the United Nations ganged up on Israel and the American president abandoned them, along came “The Last Aliyah” — the flight of Jews to their homeland from a hostile America.

What are your favorite stories to tell, and why? I speak a lot to historical societies and at libraries and churches about the Underground Railroad in Maine and the surprising story of the Ku Klux Klan in our state in the 1920s.

Growing up in Maine, I never heard about either of these incredible periods of our history. Though I can understand textbook writers avoiding the apparently “unmentionable” idea of some of our ancestors supporting the Klan, why not teach the kids about the Underground Railroad, the Mainers who put their lives and fortunes at risk to help escaping slaves?

So that’s my favorite story to tell: the one about the heroes from Kittery to Fort Fairfield, including Lewiston, who housed, fed and helped slaves escape to Canada.

Over the last 18 months the COVID scare has put a serious crimp in my travels, which included cancelations of presentations at the Androscoggin Historical Society and as a bicentennial speaker at the Maine State Library. But we’ve started to schedule these talks again and I love it.

A lot of research goes into your books, like “True North: Tice’s Story,” about Maine’s role in the Underground Railroad. How do you find these stories and what’s your research process look like? How do I find the stories? Ha!

Without my wife, Loy’s, inquiring mind none of the historical books would have happened. She simply plants an idea, waters it and before I know what’s hit me, I’m writing the third scene. Loy flabbergasts me, including her newest “find”: a transplanted German who in 1777 left his home in Philadelphia to spy . . . well, I shouldn’t reveal any more of that one since I’m only on chapter two.

Libraries, old newspaper and magazine articles, internet search engines like — they all are helpful. There are places like the Freedom Trail Network in Portland and even an Underground Railroad museum in the little town of Ripley, Ohio, where the slave in my novel began his escape.

I’ve needed equestrian advice, which I got in spades from Monmouth historian and retired veterinarian Larry Buggia; flying expertise, which I got from Vietnam War pilot Billy Fielding of Scarborough; hydro-power advice, which I got from Don Pauley of South China; and various other instances where I’ve reached out and people helped educate me.

You’ve spent a lot of time delving into Maine’s history, particularly central Maine. What’s the most interesting – or surprising – tidbit you’ve picked up along the way?

I was city editor of the Lewiston Sun from 1976-86, yet never heard this story, which I relate when talking about the attitude toward Catholics that allowed the Ku Klux Klan to gain such a foothold in Maine a hundred years ago.

On Dec. 8, 1855, Catholics of Lewiston, having been denied a permanent church by the Franklin Company that ran the city, were worshiping in a chapel normally used by another denomination. The building on Lincoln Street was set ablaze and 500 to 600 people stood across the street reportedly “hooting and yelling and jeering.” The fire engine had come to the scene, but someone had cut the fire hose. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising at the time, but is shocking today, but the KKK’s klavern in Lewiston-Auburn had 2,000 members.

I’ve created two maps of Maine that when overlapped are startling. One shows the communities where safe houses protected slaves. The other, taken from information 60 years later, shows all the communities with Ku Klux Klan klaverns. Many towns are on both maps. Both.

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