If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.














September Interviews
9/4 Liz Milliron, Heaven Has No Rage
9/11 Marilyn Levinson/Allison Brook, Buried In The Stacks
9/18 Ellen Byron, Fatal Cajun Festival
9/25 Maggie Toussaint, Dreamed It

Saturday Guest Bloggers: 9/14 Debbie De Louise

WWK Bloggers: 9/7 Valerie Burns, 9/28 Kait Carson

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Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:


Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!

Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.


KM Rockwood's "Frozen Daiquiris" appears in The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk. The anthology will be released on June 18th.

Congratulations to Margaret S. Hamilton for being a finalist in the Daphne Du Maurier contest. Margaret competes in the Unpublished/Mainstream mystery/suspense category.

Congratulations to Shari Randall for WINNING the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Her book, Curses, Boiled Again was published by St. Martin's last year. Read the interview about the book here. Yay, Shari!

Fishy Business anthology authors include KM Rockwood, Debra Goldstein, and James M. Jackson. This volume was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Please read Margaret S. Hamilton and Debra Goldstein's short stories (don't ask about their modus operandi) in a new anthology, Cooked To Death Vol. IV: Cold Cut Files

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30.

James M. Jackson extends the Seamus McCree series with the May 25th publication of #6, False Bottom.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Amazon, Authors, and Asymmetric Information


By James M. Jackson

Asymmetric information occurs any time two parties to a transaction have different levels of knowledge about a situation.

Sometimes that’s a very good thing: When I go to the doctor with bothersome symptoms, I expect her to know a lot more than I do about diagnosing the problem and how to treat the underlying issue.

Sometimes it is not a good thing: for example, when you buy a used car from a stranger, the seller knows much more about the car than the buyer does. The seller knows whether the car had all its routine maintenance, whether the son red-lined the engine drag racing with friends, whether it sat for a week in a flooded garage. Unless you are a mechanic, or hire one to inspect the car, you will suffer from asymmetric information.

Let’s Focus on a self-published author’s relationship with Amazon when using KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).

What does Amazon provide to self-published authors who use KDP (Amazon’s publishing platform)?

You know your royalty rate depending on choices you make about pricing your book and what markets you want Amazon to sell into. There are no hidden costs.

They provide information about your sales—it’s not always 100% accurate, but it’s reliable, and it’s current (at least reasonably so) to within a day.

If you enroll your books in Kindle Unlimited, you can determine the number of pages members read, again daily, with good accuracy.

Amazon provides these data sooner than what an author receives from traditional publishers.

Where does Amazon use its Asymmetric Information to its advantage?

Book Rankings: No one knows exactly how Amazon determines book rank. Sales have something to do with it: we’re sure of that. But sales over what period? What effect does sales momentum have? Sales memory (past sales)? Pages read by members enrolled in Kindle Unlimited also count toward a book’s ranking, but we don’t know how. Does your book share a level playing field with big publishers? How about with Amazon’s own imprints? (i.e. How level is the playing field level?)

One example of a non-level playing field is this: If you give your book away, Amazon assigns a separate ranking for free books. However, free downloads of Amazon Imprint books included in their “First Reads” promotion count the same as sales and are not segregated into a separate class, meaning these books can (and do) obtain the coveted #1 status in their categories.

Search Results: When you search for a book on Amazon, how does Amazon determine which books to show? Do they favor Amazon imprints? To what extent do they favor those who advertise? Do they look to maximize possible Amazon profit on a book sale?

For example, does Amazon use an algorithm that calculates their revenue for a book purchase, multiplied times the probability someone will purchase the book after seeing an ad + the profit earned from the ad itself?

Amazon does “manipulate” results to reflect its interests: recently some authors have entered their book’s name in Amazon’s search box and discovered the first page of results did not include any of their books. Most people don’t click past the first page, which means when that happens the affected author’s books become nearly invisible, even to people who specifically searched for the author.

Amazon tells authors to choose seven useful keywords to categorize their books to help readers find them when they search. Yet only Amazon knows how they use this information and what they combine it with when they deliver search results.

Amazon usually shows “Also Boughts” relative to each book. How are these determined? Is it a level playing field (i.e. do Amazon imprints get included more often as also boughts that other books?) Do books with ads automatically get different treatment?

When authors advertise on Amazon, the asymmetry becomes worse.

Only Amazon knows how it determines how much to charge for a click.

Only Amazon knows how it determines which ads it presents and where.

Amazon knows exactly who clicked on your book’s link—you don’t.

Similarly, Amazon knows which book everyone bought—you have no idea who buys your books.

What’s an author to do?

Knowledge and boycott are the primary tactics to counter asymmetric information. If you choose to self-publish, Amazon is too big a marketplace to boycott, leaving knowledge as your only choice. Knowledge takes two forms: First one should understand where asymmetric information exits (and hopefully this blog helped). Then, to the extent possible, learn strategies to counterbalance Amazon’s advantages.

It’s not just authors . . . readers, too!

Amazon’s asymmetric information advantage also affects us as readers. It knows what we read (if we use a Kindle or Kindle App, it even knows when we read). It knows what books you’ve searched for, what ads you click on, and which ad placements attract your attention.

Not that I want you to become paranoid about asymmetric information, but based on your purchases, Amazon might even know if you are naughty or nice–oh wait, that’s Santa Claus—and besides, you already know that about yourself.

Chainsaw Jim signing off
And now it's time to say goodbye to all our family . . .

No, not the Mickey Mouse club . . . This is my final post for Writers Who Kill for the foreseeable future. I've loved being here, but focusing my writing efforts on new projects means I must give something up. However, my alternate Sunday slot will be more than ably filled by Kaye George who I have been friends with for more than a decade. I'm sure you'll be well served.

If you want to stay in touch and see what I'm up to, you can sign up for my newsletter and/or find more information about me and my books at https://jamesmjackson.com/index.html.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

A How-To Guide for Author Interviews by E. B. Davis

For the past nine years, I’ve conducted weekly interviews with authors on WWK. My main goal in interviewing authors about their books is to give readers a taste of novels that will help them decide if they want to buy books. In doing so, I try to cover: who, what, why, where, and when—basic information without spoiling the plot.

The vast majority of authors I’ve interviewed have answered my questions with poise and aplomb. It can be a delightful exchange. But there have been those authors who don’t seem to understand the process. Let me explain how it works on WWK, which may not be the same as on other sites.

Grace Topping and I read books, and then we decide if we will interview authors. If we can’t get a copy from the publisher for free, we may ask you for a copy, which shows our interest but doesn’t necessarily mean we will request an interview. Why? I realized a long time ago that every interview is an endorsement. If I read a book and haven’t enjoyed it, not only do I not want to endorse it, but I also find my interview questions gravitate to critical and pointed. Perhaps I’m too honest. I don’t get paid to do this so I have no incentive to waste additional time writing an interview for a book I haven’t enjoyed. My time is precious, and, more than likely, if I haven’t enjoyed the first few chapters, I discard it.

Please don’t assume you are doing me a favor by granting me an interview. Providing an interview is like a contract with equal partners. Yes, you are filling my Wednesday blog space, but I read constantly and can choose which authors I promote. I’m not saying that to be nasty. When I ask for an interview, I am promoting your book and have already read your book, which can consume from six to eight hours of my time. Interviews take approximately two hours to write, plus another hour to receive, get peer reviewed, institute markups on the interview and post it—in short, I give you a minimum of eight to twelve hours of my time promoting you and your writing.

Please take that into consideration when answering my questions, and please don’t treat me as if I’m an idiot. For example, one author quoted lines from her book with the page number, as if I were a poor student who hadn’t done my homework. There are times when I include “dumb” questions. It’s not that I don’t know the answer, but I’m providing you an opportunity to explain a point in your book, give insight into one of your characters, or explain what I felt was an interesting situation that readers would like to hear about. Engaging in battle with me is a boring waste of both our times and will turn off readers. Persuading readers to buy your book is what it is all about. You can do this in the following ways:

·      Write answers to interview questions as if they are part of your manuscript. Make sure your writing is up to your own standards. Interviews showcase your writing, which we all know is the definitive test.
·      Write answers in the same tone as your book. For example, if it’s humorous, I try to write playful questions for you to volley back to me and humor blog readers. I was shocked when a well-known writer of humorous mysteries answered every question like a straight-man. The interview defeated its purpose.
·      Give readers your insight. Perhaps you did extensive research and out of necessity couldn’t include it all, but it related to the subject. Let readers know about your knowledge. Perhaps there is a personal backstory that accompanies your writing. Readers want to know more about you and how that reflects in your work.
·      I will never ask you to reveal the plot. Some authors feel that anything they give away about the book is a spoiler. If you don’t want to talk about your book, please don’t accept the interview. Think of an interview as an extended book jacket. You have to give readers some information and that information, whether an unusual method of murder, an off-beat character, or a romantic situation, may intrigue to readers. By talking about your book, readers may relate to it, find it tickles their fancy, and decide to buy it. Most books are complex enough that answering interview questions will not spoil a reader’s experience. What you might think is a pivotal moment, out of the context of the book won’t give it away to interview readers.

If you really don’t want to answer a question—be evasive or coy—touch on the question to intrigue readers even more. In other words, show your prowess as an author, be creative, engage readers, and make your interview shine. If you’re not sure why I’m asking a question or have concerns, email me. I am here to assist you. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Grammar Lessons by Warren Bull


Grammar Lessons by Warren Bull



Image by Michael Prewett

Is it "complete", "finished" or "Completely Finished”?
No English dictionary has been able to adequately explain the difference between these two words - "Complete" and "Finished”.  In a recent linguistic competition held in London and attended by, supposedly, the best in the world, Samdar Balgobin, a Guyanese man, was the clear winner with a standing ovation, which lasted over 5 minutes.
The final question was:  “How do you explain the difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED in a way that is easy to understand?  Some people say there is no difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED.”
Here is his astute answer:  "When you marry the right woman, you are COMPLETE.  When you marry the wrong woman, you are FINISHED.  And, when the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are COMPLETELY FINISHED!"
He won a trip around the world and a case of 25-year old Scotch!
Note: This was reported by Roger Pabst in one of those email lists you can never find the original source for. Unfortunately, that was all I could find about it.
More Grammar observations:

There are three things that I love: the Oxford comma, irony, and missed opportunities.
This is important because I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty suggests the highly unusual parentage of the writer and I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty does not.

What’s the difference between a cat and a comma? One has claws at the end of its paws and the other is a pause at the end of a clause.

A noun and a verb were dating but they broke up. The verb was too possessive.

In elementary school my sixth grade English teacher asked me to name two pronouns. 
I answered, “Who? Me?”

It’s hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they always take things literally.

 A woman went into labor and began to say “Couldn’t! Wouldn’t! Shouldn’t! Didn’t! Can’t!”

She was having contractions. 

What word should you invite to a tea party?
A proper noun. 

What happened when the verb asked the noun to conjugate? The noun declined.

I just invented a brand new word – plagiarism.

I’m so old that when I was a child there were only 25 letters in the alphabet.
 Nobody knew why.

As writers, we understand that it takes two writers to screw a light bulb into a socket.
The first one screws it in almost all the way in. The second one gives it a surprising twist at the end.

It was an emotional wedding. Even the cake was in tiers.


A sign in a shopping center for a bathroom  that was never used:
This toilet reserved. Only available for
                        Disabled
                        Elderly
                        Pregnant
                        Children

On a door in a bar: This door is alarmed.
On sticky notes attached to the door: The window is startled
And the floor is somewhat taken aback!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Confessions of an Ex-Punctuation Nazi

by Connie Berry

A period, a comma, and an exclamation point walk into a bar…


I wasn't always a punctuation Nazi. In my carefree youth, I used punctuation willy-nilly. I knew the basics—periods after complete, declaratory sentences and commas before conjunctions joining independent clauses—but further rules were fuzzy. Generally speaking, I tossed in commas whenever I felt a brief pause was needed. Then my world changed. I attended Katharine Gibbs' Executive Secretarial Course for College Women in New York City. 


Having graduated from DePauw University with a degree in pure English Literature (I say pure because my degree was untainted by anything useful, like teaching credentials), and since the job market for refined ladies reading great literature was small and terribly overstocked, my father insisted I learn skills that might one day earn me a living. As it happened, a friend from high school was on her way to Katharine Gibbs and asked me to join her. What could it hurt? With my fiancĂ© a year away from graduation and a stint in the Air Force facing us after that, at least I'd have a year in the Big Apple. 


Katie Gibbs occupied a high floor in what is now the MetLife building above Grand Central Station. The strategy (strongly implied, never stated) was to enter the corporate world as a secretary, rising rapidly through the glass ceiling through a combination of intelligence, hard work, determination, and proximity. How often that actually happened, I don't know. I do know that during those nine months I discovered five important truths:


1) I was never cut out to be a secretary.

2) Taking dictation is incredibly stressful.

3) My fingers were born for lightning-fast typing.

4) New York City is an exciting place to visit.

5) Punctuation has rules. Lots of them. 

Students at Katie Gibbs were given a style sheet that included an extensive list of punctuation rules. Not only were we asked to apply those rules, we were also expected to memorize the rule numbers. A frequent exercise required us to punctuate a business document before reading it aloud, stating the appropriate punctuation mark and the applicable rule number. It went something like this (I swear I'm not making this up):

Dear Mr. Hoving (comma, 8b),

Mr. Edward Jones (comma 8a), Esq (period 4a and comma 8a)., of Jones (comma 11a),
Fanshaw (comma 11a), and Hendricks (comma 12c), Attorneys At Law (comma 12c), will see you promptly at four o'clock on Tuesday (comma 11b) May 4 (comma 11b), 1988 (comma 11b) in his office on Park Avenue (period 1a). Should you be unable to make this meeting (comma 29a), please telephone the number listed below (comma 6a), and I will try to accommodate your schedule (period 1a).

Best regards (comma 8b),
Connie Berry (Executive Assistant)

In the interest of full disclosure, Rule 29a is the only number I actually remember, but the point is, I loved it. Not only did the punctuation rules feed my mild OCD disorder, they also gave me a sense of purpose. I would die on the hill of the Oxford comma. I would show the world how to use semi-colons. Later, I laughed my way through the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, secure in the knowledge that I was in the know.  

Then came the change in the two-space typing rule. Yikes. 

Rules, I learned, can evolve. They can even *gasp* be broken. Think Marcel Proust's 601-word sentence in the first volume of A Search for Lost Time. "Lost time isn’t the only thing searched for," remarked one scholar. "So is a full stop." The work killed him. Literally. He died while still working on the final volume. 

Anyway, once the chains were broken, I was free to comprehend the obvious: punctuation isn't an end to be served; rather it is a means to facilitate comprehension. Facilitating comprehension is something writers care about—or should. That's why the rules exist. One of my goals in editing is to rewrite any sentence that causes a reader to stop and reread. I ask my beta readers to place a check mark in the margin every time they stop reading to clarify. 

Raising questions in a mystery is good. Creating confusion is bad. 

Think of the confusion caused by the addition of two commas in the Second Amendment. In its present form, the amendment reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bears Arms, shall not be infringed." Upon arrival home from assignment in France, Thomas Jefferson was so shocked by the poor grammar in the sentence that he removed the first and third commas. Too late. The amendment had already been ratified and couldn't be changed (Bodenner, C. "The Most Consequential Comma in U.S History?" The Atlantic, January 25, 2016). Trust me, I make no political points here. Both sides in the controversy have cited the comma confusion to bolster their arguments.  

So let's get real. We all know the importance of a comma in the sentence, "Let's eat Grandma."

Bottom line, punctuation is no joke. Lives are at stake. 

Seriously, though, what is your attitude toward punctuation rules? 
Do poorly punctuated novels drive you crazy? 
Do you read Facebook posts with an imaginary red pencil? 
Have your thoughts changed over the years? 
Oh—and if anyone can think of a punch line for the joke I began with, do tell.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

An Interview With Author Barbara Ross by E. B. Davis


Jane left her on the couch in an eighty-four percent butterfat haze. That afternoon
she’d seen three stages of grief—anger, denial, and ice cream.
Barbara Ross, Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody, Kindle Loc. 1435

Jane Darrowfield is a year into her retirement, and she’s already traveled and planted a garden. She’s organized her photos, her recipes, and her spices. The statistics suggest she has at least a few more decades ahead of her, so she better find something to do . . .
Available for pre-order in mass market paperback
After Jane helps a friend with a sticky personal problem, word starts to spread around her bridge club—and then around all of West Cambridge, Massachusetts—that she’s the go-to person for situations that need discreet fixing. Soon she has her first paid assignment—the director of a 55-and-over condo community needs her to de-escalate hostilities among the residents. As Jane discovers after moving in for her undercover assignment, the mature set can be as immature as any high schoolers, and war is breaking out between cliques.
It seems she might make some progress—until one of the aging “popular kids” is bludgeoned to death with a golf club. And though the automatic sprinklers have washed away much of the evidence, Jane’s on course to find out whodunit . . .

Barbara Ross has had such success with her Maine Clambake mystery series, I didn’t see this one coming. Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody, is the first book of her new series. Although I liked the book, I’m unsure of the label of professional busybody. To me, a busybody is a negative sort of person who intrudes on everyone’s lives and has no respect for others by gossiping and leading others to believe the worst of people. That’s not Jane Darrowfield.

Jane’s had a hard time in life. She worked for the telephone company before retiring, was abandoned by her husband when their son was young, divorced, and became a problem-solver of sorts due to retirement boredom. You can tell she was a valuable employee solving company issues behind the scenes. She’s developed friendships with her card playing ladies, who help each other when they can.

Jane is a professional. She asks the right questions to discover the community issue she’s been hired to ferret out and make recommendations to the director. But, of course, a dead body changes the course of her assignment. Whether or not she’s a busybody, she’s exactly what she needs to be to solve the murder.

Please welcome Barbara Ross back to WWK.                                                                       E. B. Davis

Let’s address the elephant sitting on the book, first. Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody is only available as a paperback and only through Barnes & Noble. Why? How did the deal come about? What enticed you?

The exclusive with Barnes & Noble is only for a year. After that the book will be out in all formats from all retailers. What enticed me is this—remember when Barnes & Noble used to be the big, bad? Now, like all bricks and mortar retailers, they are struggling. And, they are the only chain of any size left in the US. I supported this deal because without B&N’s large order, I fear my publisher might find it uneconomic to print my books at all. I want to keep my books in print just as I want to keep them in ebook, audiobook, and large print formats. I wouldn’t have agreed to a print exclusive forever, because that would make my books inaccessible to many people. And I wouldn’t have agreed to it for my Maine Clambake Mysteries, because it wouldn’t be fair to ask fans of an existing series to wait a year. But it did seem like the right thing for Jane Darrowfield. I’m a little nervous about it. We’ll find out…

Are busybodies a good or bad thing?

Like so many things in life, it depends on whether you are busybodying for good or for ill.

When Jane is asked by the director to help him with a community problem, she asks what she considers to be an outrageous price for her services. Doesn’t she want the job?

The job sounds a little hinky to her, so she names a sum at which she would be willing to do it. Surprisingly, the director doesn’t hesitate to accept her price. Too many people, especially women, hesitate to ask for what they’re worth, so I’m making a point here.

A friend signs up for an online dating service, but asks Jane to screen the men for her in a coffee shop. Why does Jane accept?

Jane is extremely loyal to the three women who have been her friends for over thirty years. Besides, the last time Phyllis found a man on her own the result was a disaster.

When Jane finds an acceptable man, she decides to date him instead of passing him over to her friend. As loyal as she is, why did she make that decision?

Jane has been divorced for decades when the story begins and she hasn’t had the slightest interest in any man. She responds to Harry Welch like a teenager—palms sweating and weak in the knees. I think she is so gobsmacked by this she has to follow her heart to see what happens. She feels terribly guilty about it.

The retirement community seems to have split up into cliques, much like high school. What has caused the immaturity and what labels does Jane assign to each group?

The idea came from a story a friend told me about her mother who had moved into a senior community. Her mom’s assessment? “It’s just like high school.” So I thought back to high school and created senior incarnations of the greasers, the artists, the athletes, and the popular kids. And the lonely people eating by themselves. It takes Jane a little while, but once she’s observed the environment a wave of familiarity washes over her.

The history of the community’s grounds is a lovely story. Tell our readers about its history. Was it based on the history of a similar, real community?

Yes and no. The Walden Spring Community for Active Adults 55+ is entirely fictional. In the book, it is built on the grounds of an old estate that included a nine-hole private golf course. The estate and the marble swimming pool that went with it are nothing but holes in the ground, the marble from the pool scavenged for years by neighbors who have used it in their landscaping projects. The setting, including the bamboo forest, is based on my childhood in Wallingford, PA where there were ruins of such an estate in the woods where we played as children. The golf course came from the park my kids used to play in by our house in Newton, MA, which had been an old estate with a nine-hole course. Eventually the estate and the golf course were gone.

Have your parents or close relations lived in step-care facilities? Have you eaten there?

My parents moved to a 55+ community when they downsized, but theirs didn’t have a central dining room or the kind of amenities Walden Spring has. My mother’s mother moved into assisted living when she was in her late eighties. It was then that we realized she had never eaten institutional food in her life. It didn’t go well.

The manager has not kept the pretense of Jane trying out the community to see if it fits her needs. Everyone seems to know why she’s there. Why didn’t the manager keep up the pretense?

The rumor mill works incredibly quickly and efficiently at Walden Spring. The director knows that if he starts the rumor Jane is there to help with the community problems she’ll have more credibility than if he makes an official announcement, which will only be met with skepticism.

Some of the community have secrets they keep. But other unknowns aren’t so much secret as locked behind Alzheimer’s Disease. Why is Jane so intent on helping Mary?

Mary is alone in the world. Though Jane has good friends, she is estranged from her son. She fears she may end up like Mary and will need someone to help her one day.

Why does Jane feel like a failure as a mother? Why does it bother her?

Jane’s failure as a parent is incredibly painful to her. It is the thing she cared most about succeeding at in her adult life. She and her son haven’t spoken in years and she’s not even exactly sure where he is. It breaks her heart a little bit everyday.

Although Jane is labeled a “busybody,” it turns out her friends have orchestrated her new career and another aspect of her new life. How does Jane react? Does it take one to know one?

Jane’s attitude is one of gratitude to her friends. But I wonder how she would have felt if it all hadn’t turned out so well?

Will the series have various settings?

I don’t know. Jane is my homage to Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple, so I hope as the series moves forward sometimes my Jane will be at home in Cambridge, MA and sometimes she’ll be enjoying herself and practicing her skills in other locales.

What’s next for Jane Darrowfield?

I’ve just signed a contract for book 2! It will be released November 2020 and will also be a B&N exclusive. No official title yet, but I’ll let everyone know.

Barbara Ross is the author of seven Maine Clambake Mysteries. The eighth, Sealed Off, will be released in December 2019. Barbara’s novellas are included along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in Eggnog Murder and Yule Log Murder. A third anthology, Haunted House Murder, will be released in August 2019. 

Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busbody, first in a new mystery series, was released in June 2019. Barbara lives with her husband in Portland, Maine. You can visit her website at https://maineclambakemysteries.com/



Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Not Even Past


by Tina Whittle

Driving to the Chickamauga Battlefield National Park feels like a return as much as it does a pilgrimage. My great-great-grandfather on my daddy's side wore the Confederate gray here. Eventually, he chased General Sherman's troops all the way to Savannah before he took an artillery ball in the leg, got captured, and was released at the war's conclusion to walk home from North Carolina back to middle Georgia.

I wish I knew why he took up arms, what motivated him to fight for the Confederacy. I have read enough letters from Civil War soldiers to know that their motives were various and often complicated, but I have no such letters from him. His military record shows him reporting for duty days after his eighteenth birthday. Was he an eager volunteer? Or was he conscripted, forced by the Home Guard to fight under penalty of death? Was he a true believer in this doomed terrible cause? Or was he a poor farmer caught up in a rich man's war?

Monument to Wilder's Brigade
I have no idea. And I have no way of asking him, not even at Chickamauga, a place that carried the dust of his feet one hundred and fifty-six years ago. Our family records are equally unhelpful on the subject. This green land near Chickamauga Creek surely knows the truth of him. But it's not telling either.

The National Park Service sums up the battle thusly: "The Battle of Chickamauga [left in its wake] a broken Union army and 35,000 men killed, wounded, missing, or captured. The victorious Confederates controlled the field, and soon followed the Union Army to Chattanooga and prepared to lay siege….The Union army may have lost the Battle of Chickamauga, but they won control of Chattanooga and threw open the gateway…. As one Confederate soldier ominously wrote after the fighting, 'This...is the death-knell of the Confederacy.'"

After learning how the battle progressed at Chickamauga, I could look at the grass and forest and farmland with a martial eye. High ground and low ground, one good for defense and hunkering down, the other good for the long view, for the calculated offensive. But it takes effort on my part. I have the historical play by play, so I know how the fighting progressed—here the back-and-forth skirmishing in the woods, there the drive through an unguarded hole in the middle of the ranks.

But on this most recent June day, sunny and mild, it was a picnic spot.

Years ago I visited Antietam, the site of the bloodiest single day of fighting between North and South. It was summer then too, and I was struck by the contrast between the rich, natural beauty of the present riddled with reminders of its brutal and bloody past. I wrote of that feeling:
"Half-gone. We are all half gone. It aches to see that, so clear and unavoidable, the promise of eventual extinction burning as bright as the rippling sunlight on the water. And what came of this crucible I'm standing in, this battlefield, this bloody beautiful cauldron? The United States, of course. The Battle of Antietam ended in a draw, but the war marched on to its conclusion. We stand now on that conclusion. It is living land, and changes beneath our feet, but a hundred and fifty years later, it's still supporting us, for better or worse."
View at 85 feet, from the top of Wilder's Brigade monument
I have toured many battlefields since then. And I always think of the metaphysical idea that time is a human construct, and that as such, everything that has ever happened is happening right now, still happening. I think memorials and monuments are our clumsy way of reminding ourselves of this. Former battlefields bring us back to the center of the thing. And then we go from there, as fallible in our understanding as ever, constructing an idea from grass and pictures and words carved in granite.

Historian Shelby Foote says that before this war, the United States was plural, as in, "The United States are." Afterward, it became singular. The Civil War, he says, made an is of us.

May our singular us-ness continue to prevail. 

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Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver mysteries. The sixth book in this Atlanta-based series—Necessary Ends—is available now. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and has served as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories: www.tinawhittle.com.