Self-Published Saturday: The Heart of the Run #Review #Q&A

Self-Published Saturday is my effort to help Independent/Self-Published authors promote their books. Self-Published authors have to do it all, from editing to cover design to marketing, and if I can help even a little bit with the marketing side of things I’m happy to do it. I also ask you all to help out too by sharing these posts on social media. Today I am sharing a review that I did for Historical Novels Review, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. The book is called The Heart of the Run by Craig Pennington. Craig also graciously agreed to do a Q&A, which is below. Be sure and check out his bio, too. He’s led an exciting life!


This is the fictionalized history of the Muirhead family (later Moorhead), in Scotland and Ireland from 1648 to 1764. The novel begins with Alexander Moorhead, who is on a ship with his mother, crossing the sea from Ireland to the Americas in 1764. During the voyage, Alexander tells stories of his ancestors to his new friend Peter, a young ship’s officer. Through Alexander, we learn of John James Muirhead, who fought in the Scottish Civil War and then later became Captain of the Guard for the Marquess of Argyll. Then we meet John and Donald Muirhead, and through them experience the horrific Massacre of Glencoe. Alexander’s stories of other relatives also describe important periods of history. As Alexander tells his friends the story of his family, the story of three countries is also told, and it is often a bloody tale.

I enjoyed this meticulously researched novel. The characters are well-written, and I connected with them right away. Through the stories of this family, we are transported to important events in Scottish, English, and Irish history. We learn of the Jacobite rebellion, the Smallpox Epidemic of 1720, and the Irish famine, as well as many other events in history. We are also steeped along the way in the knowledge of whisky making, printing, horticulture, and sailing. We learn of language and literature as well. The amount of history and knowledge contained in this book is impressive.

While we are learning so much, we are also experiencing a well-written novel full of suspense, heartache, romance, and intrigue. Readers will be swept away to other times and places by these stories within a story. Those interested in European history will enjoy this captivating novel.

I received a free copy of this book via Historical Novels Review Magazine, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.


Craig Pennington

Craig Pennington met his wife, Claudia, in Key West while working for a salvage company looking for Spanish shipwrecks. Together they continued their nautical lives in Montserrat and Dominica. After getting married, Craig managed offshore construction projects for the Navy, while Claudia became the director of major maritime museums in Washington DC, Newport News VA, and Key West. Craig always had an extra job as ‘museum husband.’ Today they enjoy retirement, book collecting, and horses in Sarasota, FL.


Let’s go beyond the bio. Tell us something we might not know about you from reading your bio.

I still find it hard to think of myself as a writer. I wasn’t in the school newspaper club, I didn’t write in college, I have never submitted a manuscript for publication. Yet, I now find myself at the computer for hours every day, researching, writing, and re-writing. I love it, and I have become addicted to it. When I settle down at night and pick up the novel I am reading, my mind starts going back to what I am working on. Suddenly, another idea pops into my head, and I reach for the notepad. My bio talks about my past; writing is my present. I think friends from school or my earlier life are surprised to see what I am doing now.

Speaking of your bio, it says you used to work in Key West searching for Spanish shipwrecks, which sounds like a fascinating job. Can you share with us some of things you found? What was most rewarding about that job and what do you consider your greatest discovery?

I graduated from college in 1977 and moved to Key West with the dream of working for Mel Fisher, who was searching for the Atocha, a Spanish galleon that sank in a hurricane in 1622. At the time, Mel had a new salvage master who was a retired Navy captain. I started working for him as a deckhand and diver and eventually became captain of one of the salvage boats. From this man, I learned how to drive a boat, execute search grids, and, most importantly, lead a crew of young men and women. It sounds romantic, but it is hard work. We uncovered bronze cannon, gold bars, silver coins, and amazing artifacts. I only treasure hunted for about 5 years, but it was one of the most exciting and rewarding times of my life.

Your books span important periods in Irish, Scottish, and American history and are obviously well researched. Do you enjoy the research aspect of writing? Could you take us through your research process? 

Thank goodness for the Internet and Google Earth! With the help of those platforms, I ‘visited’ places Covid kept me from going to in person. I traveled the roads, viewed the towns, and made wonderful contacts in Ballymena, Inveraray Castle, and Campbeltown. The historical society in Campbeltown directed me to Angus Martin, the local historian. He has published dozens of books on the region, and we became penpals. One day soon, my wife and I plan to visit Scotland and take Angus and his wife out to lunch.

I use Wikipedia, but I don’t rely on it. It is a tool I find helpful to launch my research. Still, it is amazing what you can find. Many archival texts are now fully scanned and available, and you can search within them for specifics. I collect important websites in my Favorites folder. Once the storyline is established, I go back to them repeatedly for choice details. In The Heart of the Run, the challenge was deciding what historical tidbit to include and what to abandon.

You also say in your bio that your wife has had a career in museums. Was that helpful when you were writing/researching your book?

I met my wife, Claudia, while working for Mel Fisher in Key West. She was an Art Historian working as an underwater archaeologist. We have been married for 40 years, during which time I essentially followed her career. Maritime history was always part of our lives. We returned to Key West after 20 years when she became director of the Art and Historical Society. Together, we wrote very successful state and federal grants. Claudia always said that she provided the ‘steak’ and I added the ‘sizzle’ – she came up with amazing ideas for exhibits and programs, and I put it into words. When a dinner party guest asks if I ever found any treasure, I always smile and point to her.

To continue with the topic of research, The Heart of the Run is set during a shipboard voyage. Obviously, you have had a lot of experience on the ocean, but what was the best way for you to research conditions that would exist on a ship at that time?

I could almost say that I didn’t have to do any research other than looking up specific details. While treasure hunting, the Hornblower stories were essential reading. I loved them and could identify with the young officer while I was learning to be a captain myself. Since then, I have read hundreds of seafaring novels and non-fiction accounts of life at sea. My library has several shelves devoted to the subject. So, between my own experience working at sea, whether searching for shipwrecks or managing ocean construction projects for the Navy, and reading about the Age of Sail, I absorbed the feel of shipboard life. My first novel, Dead Reckoning, primarily takes place on a small cargo ship in the Caribbean. It fictionalizes many events I am happy to say I survived.

The Moorheads series was inspired by family history that was originally published in 1901 by your great-great grandfather. What was the name of that publication, and was it widely available at that time or just available for the family?

It is a small book called History of the Moorhead Family from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Time, independently published by Alexander Thompson Moorhead. Like his father and grandfather, he was a newspaper publisher in Indiana, PA. I believe he sent copies to all the Moorheads in the book, but I doubt it reached much of an audience beyond that. The book is just over 80 pages long and available on Amazon with a few missing pages. Both Heart of the Run and my new story are based on the first few pages of his history.

The first book in this series, called West of The Alleghenies, was published in 2020, has sold over 900 copies, and has 67 reviews on Amazon. This is not easy to do for a self-published book. Since marketing is the most daunting task for any self-published/indie author, do you have any marketing tips to share with other authors here?

I finished West of the Alleghenies as the Covid epidemic struck. Plans to do book signings and travel ended abruptly. Additionally, all historical societies, my primary marketing target, closed. I had to do everything from home.

First, I contacted the editor of my hometown newspaper (the hero, Fergus Moorhead, is famous there), and they did a front-page article on the Sunday edition. I could not have asked for a better launch. Then, I created a colorful announcement with links to my Amazon page and sent it to every historical and genealogical society in Western Pennsylvania and New York I could find. Although closed to visitors, some responded and added a link in their newsletters.

I contacted Muzzleloader Magazine, whose readership I thought would enjoy the story, and they gave me a very favorable review. I added my book to Bernard Cornwell’s Booklist, sent announcements to every person I knew, and put it on Facebook. With the encouragement of a friend, I submitted my novel to the Florida Writer’s Association Royal Palm Literary Awards contest. The book was awarded the Silver Medal for Best Published Historical Fiction in 2021! That significantly boosted my confidence as a writer.

Finally, the importance of my novels being selected for review by the Historical Novel Society cannot be understated. Two great reviews will help introduce new audiences to the struggles our ancestors had to overcome to live in this country.

You have mentioned that there will be a third book in this series. If you can, would you tell us the title and a little bit about it? When do you expect it to come out?

In The Heart of the Run, we watch love grow between young Alexander and Mary Morrow. Their son, James Moorhead, becomes a newspaper publisher in Indiana, PA. In 1843, he established the first antislavery newspaper in that part of the country.

My new story, tentatively called Murder in the Promised Land, is a historical thriller set in 1826 when James investigates the brutal murder of two runaway slaves. This story dovetails with the saga of a young boy forever changed by the Philadelphia Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793. Are the murders an effort to discourage the fledgling Underground Railroad, a twisted plot involving Freemasons, or are they linked to an act of insane vengeance reaching back more than thirty years?

I hope the story will show the moral growth of this man from a staunch Scots-Irish, law-abiding newspaperman to one of the most outspoken abolitionists of the day.

What advice can you give to new writers who are just starting their writing and publishing journey?

Write. It has been said by many experienced authors before, and I can tell you it is true. Just write. If you are stuck and nothing is flowing from your head, write a sentence. As someone who was never a ‘writer,’ I am often amazed at how a scene can write itself. Sometimes I outline the basics I want to address and then let my fingers fly. One of the most enjoyable things about writing is to be pleasantly surprised when your character takes you in a direction you did not anticipate.

Thanks so much, Craig, for your great answers. I look forward to your next book.








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15 thoughts on “Self-Published Saturday: The Heart of the Run #Review #Q&A”

  1. I read this review and the following interview with a great deal of interest. My maternal grandmother’s family was Scots-Irish. The family patriarch, William James Moore, emigrated from Scotland to the US in the 1760s.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Terrific review, Bonnie. I like the way the author uses a conversation on the ship’s passage to teach us about history. It sounds like a great way to learn about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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