How the storied past of Kansas and Oklahoma shaped the life of Fort Hays’ Alumni Rock Neelly

By Hailey Chapman HaysDailyNews

Former Hays Daily News employee and Fort Hays State Alumni Rock Neelly, in partnership with Hydra Publications, has announced the release of his book The Salt Fork Stations exploring the lives of his ancestors and town histories throughout Kansas and Oklahoma.

As he ventured through his publication, Neelly sought to answer a set of questions: How did our past, ancestors, predecessors impact our lives? Are we on our own path or are we merely affected by fate?

Navigating through the rough and rowdy settling of Oklahoma’s Cherokee Strip all the way to the historical past of Lawrence, Kansas during the 1960’s, Neelly seeks to find out if you can’t pick your family, can you pick your fate?

Down his bloodline, two eons of family from 1893 to 1993, a family is forced to confront their past through an unpredictable yet inevitable chain of events. The book is set for release in March.

A native of Hutchinson, Neelly spent his childhood on family farms in both Oklahoma and Kansas. Shooting basketballs and hunting pheasants were the centerpieces of Neelly’s weekends.

Neelly graduated from Fort Hays State with a degree in English while also working as a sports reporter for the Hays Daily News, having several stories picked by the Associated Press.

After working for Robert Beattie, author of The Hunt for BTK, Nelly was given the opportunity to publish his first book.

Since then, Neelly has written four novels, one collection of short stories and one novella. Currently, Neelly resides near Lebanon, Ohio, and teaches literature and film in Northern Kentucky near Cincinnati.

After attending college in Denver, he began a career writing for newspapers, magazines and various other publications.

The Salt Fork Stations will be Neelly’s first publication in three years. Neelly attributes this to the research required to completely encapsulate two generations of a single family.

“It follows it from 1893 and the running of the Oklahoma land run to the civil unrest at the University of Kansas in 1970 and just beyond. Lots of interesting things took place in the region during that time. I tried to be accurate and complete the due diligence, although it is a novel,” Neelly shared.

This novel strays from his normal avenue of publications, accustomed to detective novels and thrillers including River of Tears and The Purple Heart Detective Agency.

Branching out came as a result of the 2019-2020 lockdown due to the pandemic. Neelly saw this as the perfect opportunity to create new content that explored his past from him. In doing so, he was able to learn more about his history from him, along with the history of the midwest. “It seemed perfect

“It seemed a perfect time to take on a big novel with big ideas. My family hails from the Cimarron Strip of Oklahoma. Woods County, just south of Kiowa, Kansas. That is the setting for the novel, although the folks who populate the book are not strictly family,” Neelly added. “There was great material to be mined, so I used the lockdown to write about the territory and the history.”

Though not his traditional route, Neelly still incorporates what he calls “a knock-your-hat-in-the-creek moment” into his latest work.

“I don’t think you’ll see it coming in Salt Fork. One of my readers said he was thunderstruck. I like to do that to a reader,” Neelly shared. Themes of Salt Fork

Themes of Salt Fork follow eternal love, family, displaced people finding a forever home. The story follows history as Southerners lose their land in Reconstruction, as Cherokee navigate along the Trail of Tears, as Jews begin to populate Galveston after the Great Hurricane.

“All of these people are homeless and come to the Oklahoma Territory to plant new roots,” Neelly stated.

The story follows a braided format, taking two separate stories and weaving them together as each story unfolds. While Neelly attributes other authors for his inspiration on the format, he shared that Forks’ will take a different approach by weaving different eras of time.

After the release of Salt Fork, Neelly plans to navigate back to two recent works, creating sequels for both aforementioned thrillers. Neelly also has plans

Neelly also has plans to publish a sequel to Salt Forks’, taking place throughout New Mexico and Colorado.

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