Hustle Henry and the Cue Ball Kid- Jack Strandburg

Clarence Flannery was luckier than most men his age to discover his life’s ambition, particularly in the unpredictable years just following the Civil War. Born with an unmatched skill to play pool, he left his home in Kansas when he turned twenty-six and traveled throughout the Southwestern United States to make his mark as a legendary pool hustler, with every intention of amassing a fortune in the process.

Clarence needed help for both support and protection, and recruited James Skinner as his partner, along with nine other highly-skilled pool players to assist him in his quest.

Wanting to be included in the same sentence as Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great, Clarence changed his name to Hustle Henry, Skinner became the Cue-Ball Kid, and the eleven men would go down in history as The Hole-in-the-Table-Bunch, known far and wide for hustling wannabe pool sharks out of their life savings.

All goes to plan and life has a rosy and profitable outlook, but Henry and his men want more than what pool halls and saloons offer, so they decide to challenge the more affluent clientele on a riverboat.

Initially, the venture proves profitable, but the millionaire tycoon and owner of the fleet of riverboats, takes exception, and intends to bring down the Bunch and thrust Henry and The Kid into a life of destitution.

Taking along the Kid’s girlfriend, Penelope Henderson, the Kid and Henry flee to South America – where there will be a final showdown.

Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid is a fiction work of Western humor with an interesting and amusing cast of characters.

Jack Strandburg stopped by the site today with a man’s man-kind of book! A Western with a load of laughs and fun- saddle up partner! Read on for a sneak peek into the book!

What is the most challenging part of writing?

I find the most challenging part of writing is making decisions on how the plot unfolds. There is so much work done in character profiling and their history from the time they were born until the time the story takes place, so many events in their life, so many people they met, the paths taken and the actions and reactions to characters and events are virtually limitless. Deciding on which one will work best is no easy task.

In a more general sense, the greatest challenge is constantly learning how to write better which sometimes causes me to look back on previous projects as falling far short of being the best they can be.

 What is the most enjoyable part of writing?

Easily the most enjoyable part of writing is the revision stage, and that could be anywhere from two to ten major revisions. After I decide the first draft is complete, all issues have been resolved, all characters know their role, revision allows me to see the improvement to the story and many times will provide ideas on how to make the story better.

 Do you outline or free write, or some combination?

I find outline is necessary for how my brain thinks. I have tried other methods which eventually fizzle out and cause me to sometimes start over and cause major delays in writing the first draft. I spend a lot of time on outlining in order to answer all the questions, detail any research required, in the hopes I have a minimum number of false starts or diversions from the plot and characters.

 What are your current projects?

Currently I am working on rewriting my first mystery, originally written in the mid 1990’s. I have learned so much over the years in what makes for a good story and I felt a total rewrite was necessary to maximize the potential of the story.

Do you see writing as a career?

I consider writing a career although after a very rude awakening of “less than expected results” from my first published novel, career might now be defined as simply “being published.”

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

No, although seeing other interesting places would be a big plus to writing. Since I don’t have the time or the resources, I try to mold my story and characters so not only travel but research will be minimal.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid is set in the Old West and covers the latter part of the 1800’s into early 1900’s. The research required to make clothing, dialect, conversation, technology, and housing was extensive although a much better story, particularly a rewritten ending far better than the original (in my opinion of course) was a direct benefit.

 Do you ever experience writer’s block?

If we agree writer’s block is defined as having absolutely nothing to write, I never experienced it nor do I even acknowledge its existence. There is always something to write, even if it doesn’t apply to the current project. There is a ton of sources on ideas to spark writing and if all else fails, write your personal journal for the day or even why you can’t think of anything to write. One never knows when you might produce a story.

Do you consider your book character-driven or plot-driven?

My books will likely always be plot-driven but I believe even if you profile the most interesting characters in the world, unless something happens (an event) causing them to react, all you have are very interesting characters standing around doing nothing. A more significant, perhaps even life-changing event will allow the writer to bring the characters to life and make them memorable.


The people in the lobby at the Grandy Hotel were stuffed tighter than a boa constrictor following an all-you-can-eat meal of mice. Sheriff Winchester and the old woman in the blue bonnet were the last to arrive. Every table, chair, and object not nailed down was thrown out into the street to make room for the pool table scheduled to arrive from the saloon.

The town, with the exception of Nate, his workers, and a few shopkeepers, swarmed like bees from a continent absent of honey to witness the epic pool match between one of its most respected yet feared citizens and one of the best pool players ever to visit Gunshot Junction. One could hardly blame them for their fever pitch enthusiasm. The town’s last memorable event was the resident drunk stumbling into the saloon wearing nothing but a dirty pair of mismatched socks. The musical group notwithstanding, Gunshot Junction’s standards for entertainment were pretty low.

* * * *

The Cue-Ball Kid, known to the town only as J.T., circled the pool table and studied the arrangement of billiard balls, feeling the searing heat of a thousand and one eyes upon him. Someone reported Dead-Eye Joe was in town. As the Kid looked at the faces of the crowd mottled with anticipation, his spine tingled as though an army of ants decided to take up residence on his back. He stopped pacing, picked up a mug from the table and raised it in a mock toast, then threw his head back and guzzled the beer. Handing the mug to a nearby spectator, he again paced from one end of the table to the other, scratching his chin while considering the next shot, his concentration akin to a saber-toothed tiger stalking its prey.

The Kid glanced over at the stack of crisp green bills resting on the table then looked his opponent in the eye and smiled. Twirling his cue stick like a baton, he lowered it slowly to the table, placed it behind the cue-ball, then just as slowly drew it back to make what was likely the final shot of the match. The Kid stared down the thirteen-ball which would give him sixty-one points, exactly what he required to win a match of fifteen-ball. The crowd fell as silent as if attending the funeral service of a loved one.

“Hold it right there,” said the ominous and threatening voice of Teddy Dowd, the Kid’s opponent, stopping the Kid the moment before his stick came forward to strike the cue-ball.

The hush of the crowd rose to a murmur.

The Kid raised his head, then straightened, wondering what prompted the interruption. Could it be because Dowd was about to lose his life savings?

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“You’re pretty damn good for someone who never played this game before,” Dowd said with a smile not quite warming the cockles of the Kid’s heart. “That is what you said, correct?”

The Kid swallowed hard and nodded.

“Yeah, that’s what I said, first time.” Okay, so I lied, but this is the twentieth century and it’s not like I attend religious services on a regular basis, the Kid thought.

“I’ve been watching you for over an hour,” Dowd said, his eyes narrowing to slits. “You’re one hell of a pool player, maybe the best I’ve ever seen. If this is your first time, how do you explain your success? If you say beginner’s luck, you’ll need to remove a pool cue from your ass before you squat to take your next shit.”

The Kid didn’t respond, primarily because Dowd eliminated his answer. He looked at the spectators, hoping to buy some time while thinking of an appropriate reply to satisfy the man. Their expressions indicated they anxiously awaited an answer to the question. His Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat like an over-inflated rubber ball, he looked back at Dowd, who returned the Kid’s gaze with threatening eyes receding so far back into his skull they looked like they might drop out the back of his head.

The Kid had cause to be scared. Dowd stood six feet three inches and weighed two-hundred twenty pounds. His face was weathered, his beard coarse. Some said he shaved with a Bowie knife. For what the Kid assumed was for intimidation, Dowd removed his shirt before the match started and his biceps were throbbing like an oxygen-deprived heart of a man following three hours of long-distance running. Offending Dowd was the last thing on the Kid’s mind, knowing the man could squash him with no more effort than he would an annoying mosquito.

“Uh, I guess it’s just a lot of wishin’ and hopin’, Teddy,” the Kid said. The lump in his throat threatened to cut off his air supply and the words emerged like those of a newborn baby crying for the first suck of its mother’s teat.

Dowd laughed and addressed the crowd. “You hear that, boys? Just wishin’ and hopin’.”

The crowd laughed along in perfect unison but it sounded forced, and for good reason. Everyone in town insisted they were Dowd’s best friend but it wasn’t a relationship borne from a legitimate heartfelt attraction. It stemmed from rumors Dowd killed more than a dozen men for reasons as trivial as insulting his boot size. There were also allegations he’d recently gunned down an unarmed saloon owner in Coyote Creek. While most men shook in their boots just from his imposing size, the Kid was about to shit into his.

Dowd glared back at the Kid with eyes blazing hellfire. “You know what I think, you puny little

shit? I think you’re a ringer, yeah, that’s right, a hustler.”

Author Bio:

Jack Strandburg was born and raised in Cleveland Ohio.  He is a degreed professional with a background in Accounting and Information Technology and recently retired after more than 33 years working for a Fortune 500 company.  He has been writing since his teenage years. 

His first published novel through Solstice Publishing is Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid, a parody of the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

He is currently rewriting his first mystery novel, A Head in the Game, writing journals for an inspirational non-fiction book, and has completed 70% of the first draft for a second mystery novel titled War Zone.

In addition he is writing short stories and working hard to establish a blog presence.

Jack currently lives with his wife and two grown children in Sugar Land, Texas. He has two grandchildren.