Gay Utah native pens supernatural thriller ‘The Last Handful of Clover’
Michael Aaron | Q Salt Lake
Reprinted with permission from Q Salt Lake Magazine
Three days after he was murdered, Richard began to feel much better …”
Park City-born Wess Mongo Jolley spent the last five years writing his most ambitious project — a sprawling three-book supernatural thriller, set in Salt Lake City, titled The Last Handful of Clover. Saying it is the most challenging thing he’s written, Jolley describes it as an “epic meditation on aging, loss, and regret.”
The story centers on a University of Utah professor named Richard Pratt who is killed three days before the book begins in a seemingly random act of violence. As Pratt is propelled into the netherworld called the Hereafter, he is forced to witness the loss and suffering of the husband he left behind as Salt Lake City tumbles rapidly toward fiery demise. As other denizens of his ghostly realm begin to enact a brutal revenge on the world of the living, only Pratt can save the man he loves.
With the help of a barefoot 15-year-old boy from the Old West and an ancient Goshute wise woman, Pratt sets out to save his husband, Salt Lake City and his own wounded soul. Together they must face a ferocious enemy with his fingers deep in Richard’s shameful past.
Jolley calls his story “a sweeping supernatural thriller about love, loss, regret, and redemption. … a novel of terror, in which one man is called upon to face the sins of his past in order to save the future for the man he loves and a city of over a million innocent souls.” The Last Handful of Clover takes the reader from the remote Montana wilderness of 1810 to a secret chemical weapons laboratory under the Utah desert — and beyond.
Jolley said he made his main character gay because he thinks that writers “need to write what they know.”
He explained, “I’m a gay man from Utah, so it felt like a good place to start. But the more thoughtful answer is that I believe representation is important. I wanted to write a story where the lead characters were gay, yet the story was also about truly universal experiences. The fact that the lead character is gay is crucial to the story, and it would not be the same story if the characters were straight. And yet, there is much in [Pratt’s husband] Keith and Richard’s experience that everyone can relate to, no matter their orientation.
“I think Richard and Keith’s relationship is one that gay men, especially bear-identified gay men of my generation, will recognize and find familiar,” he added.
It took Jolley nearly five years to finish his novel; in fact, he noted, it was released on the five-year anniversary of the day he wrote down his first notes on the story, including “the line that I still use when talking about the book: ‘Three days after he was murdered, Richard Pratt began to feel much better,’” he said. “That line didn’t make it into the book, but it captured the spirit — no pun intended — of what I wanted to write.”
Jolley said that Utah, where he grew up, “is an amazing place, and it’s always captivated my heart. Even though, as a young gay man, I felt a need to flee from the rigid culture of the state, I still think of it as my home. And Salt Lake City is an especially interesting town.
“Besides the conservative Mormon culture, Salt Lake boasts an artistic and bohemian underground that is fueled by the otherwise conservative world around it. The contrast makes for a vibrant, interesting, and diverse environment.”
And the story, he said, is set in Salt Lake City because, “Right from the start, this story tied in heavily with a lot of Mormon history and culture.
“You’ll read references in the novel to several crucial incidents from Utah history. The massacre of the Goshute Tribe in the novel is based on a real historical incident, and the Fancher Train that passes through the state in 1847 is the actual wagon train that was later massacred in Southern Utah at Mountain Meadows,” he explained.
“I suppose this novel embodies my mixed feelings about Salt Lake City,” he continued. “It’s my chance to pen a love letter to the place where I grew up and where I came out and where I learned to love myself and other men. But it also gives me a chance to vent my frustration at the place by burning a lot of it to the ground — metaphorically, of course.”
Jolley has chosen to release the book through membership platform Patreon, and he hopes people will choose to become a patron there. “For the cost of a cup of coffee each month, you’ll get two chapters a week. And for just a few dollars more, you can listen to me narrate each of those chapters as well,” he said. “I’ll be releasing the audiobook chapters on Patreon simultaneously with the text chapters.
“My dream is that we’ll build a community around the book on Patreon. I’d like it to feel like a book club, where we can all chat about the chapters as I release them,” Jolley said. “The feedback will help me immensely as I move it toward publication, and anybody that sticks with me for this entire journey will get a print copy of the book, if and when it is published.”
For those who may not have the resources to purchase a Patreon membership, Jolley will be releasing the book later on the Wattpad platform and through his podcast. And he hopes that The Last Handful of Clover will be the first in a series. In fact, he said, “I’ve already begun planning the sequel, in which many of the same characters appear. The next book will follow the survivors from Salt Lake City as they move on to rebuild their lives, and we’ll follow the Fancher Train in 1847, as they move inexorably toward their fate in Mountain Meadows. The connection between the two will be shocking to readers.”
Jolley acknowledged that “a half-million-word supernatural thriller with a gay protagonist won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.” But, he said, he believes that fans of Stephen King’s The Stand will surely enjoy The Last Handful of Clover, as well as those who like movies such as The Others and The Sixth Sense that are “ghost stories told largely from the perspective of the ghosts.”
He continued, “I think it will appeal to a lot of readers. It’s a gay story, but it’s also a universal book about aging, loss, regret and redemption. And who among us hasn’t struggled with those existential questions and experiences?”
Information on The Last Handful of Clover can be found at wessmongojolley.com/fiction. The Patreon link is patreon.com/wessmongojolley.