Friday, February 6, 2015

History and HELL BILLY: A Guest Blog Post by author Steven L. Shrewsbury


I love history. S’true. Maybe some find it boring or stuffy, but the images are first rate that historical books evoke in my brainpan. The American Civil War, or the Great Unpleasantness, War for States Rights or, aptly named, the War Against the States, always has fascinated me. Since I grew up in a house with a father who’d fought the Japanese in WWII, had a grandfather in WW1, and ancestors among the Missouri raiders, perhaps the allure for these times came naturally.

In 1976, I was eight years old and the country went bonkers for the bicentennial. Patriotism went hand in hand with all things in my house, but as I grew up I came to understand the grim reality of not just life, but war in general.

It wasn't glamorous, nor had anyone in my family tried to polish it up as such. “War isn't Hell,” my dad said, cussing Sherman’s quote on the matter. “There aren't any innocent bystanders in Hell.”

We are a warlike folk, meaning humanity, not just Americans. We fight over territory, religion, and if the tales are true, hot gals named Helen. I think the tales of war enthrall us on a gut level, probably something in our DNA that is animalistic still or tainted by sin, whatever your belief system. The 300 movie rocked, even if it was a living cartoon, really. Sometimes, the entertainment value doesn't have to be particularly smart if laid out properly. 


War brings out the best in people, I hear tell, causing them to reach to the heights of bravery, courage and endurance. However, it also evokes the worst in humanity, genocide and cowardice on a scale that storytellers still try to get a grip on. Men behaving badly? Sometimes really badly. These tales of flawed folks, men who aren’t Joe Whitebread, but manage to surprise themselves in the heat of battle are great stories.     

That brings me to my novel HELL BILLY from Bad Moon Books. It takes place in 1868, just three years from the end of hostilities at a time where the Union army still occupied southern states. In Memphis, family members of the occupying Commandant are being killed in a rather unusual manner original to a soldier who rode with General Nathan Bedford Forrest. When Forrest, a local businessman then, is brought in, he tells the Commandant that William Hells died in the war…but Billy shows up again, and kills. He’s caught and hanged. And returns the next day.

I didn't set out to write a historical murder mystery-horror story, but HELL BILLY turned into just that. It’s as authentic as I could make it after years of research, reading up on all facets of these times, and visiting many of the locations. Someone flinched that I used Forrest as a main character in the book, seeing as he had a notorious history (to say the least). He’s a mesmerizing study and it’s just a fiction tale folks. I don’t glorify anyone, nor do I paint the war or the horrors of reconstruction in shiny dress. However, the culture, times and people of the day, present a great canvas to paint on, and often the ink is red.

HELL BILLY deals with many such grim issues. I was honored to have a writer I admire, Ronald Kelly, write the intro for the work. Please give this novel a peek and let me know what you think. It’s a wild ride, full of action, dark humor, and more wild folks than a Coen Brothers film. History is never boring to me. It’s alive, breathing and at times, it bleeds. A lot.   

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2 comments:

Peter Welmerink said...

This, fine sir, was an awesome writing. As a friend, and as fan of your work, there is always some truth of Humanity in your work, Often grim, rough and tumble, there is truth in your fictional writings about us all, which most often leaves me hitting the end of your works of literary genius, shaking my head, thinking on the characters in your stories, and saying, "Man, I'm glad I ain't that guy/gal." How does that come about? Because I can see myself from time to time in your great characters because THEY ARE HUMAN--good, bad and ugly--just like us.

Peter Welmerink said...

Oh, and I apologize for any funky writing above. I am still in the throes of my first cup of coffee when I had written it. :)

Still, great great article.