Who is Billy Battles and why are so many people trying to find him? As our story begins we notice nothing especially unique about Billy–just another boy growing up in 19th Century Kansas brimming with the prevailing dreams and ambitions of the era.
Then, at 19 Billy’s life careens into one calamity after another. While defending himself and some companions, he accidentally shoots and kills the malevolent matriarch of a clan of Kansas cutthroats and thieves. That fateful encounter sets Billy Battles on a precarious and sometimes violent course that eventually carries him far from his Kansas roots to the colonial Far East, Latin America, and eventually to the capitals of Europe.
Luckily for us, Billy Battles is an obsessive diarist. For the bulk of his 100-year life between 1860 and 1960 he religiously and meticulously records in 13 confidential journals his adventures and misadventures; loves found and loves lost; his brief moments of joy and his longer moments of tragedy.
The journals meticulously describe Billy’s interaction with a wide assortment of men and women – some legendary, a few iniquitous, and many lost to history. They also recount his participation in such cataclysmic events as the Spanish-American War, turmoil in French Indochina, and violent revolutions in Mexico and South America.
Of course, those richly detailed experiences would have been lost forever to the past had Billy’s great-grandson not inherited those secret journals as well as two trunks filled with the detritus of his great-grandfather’s life. And what a life it was. It would have been easy for Billy to excuse his transgressions as the result of fate or just plain bad luck.
But to paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli: “while circumstances were beyond his control, his conduct was within his own power.”
Targeted Age Group:: All
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I grew up in Kansas and I was always fascinated by what life was like there in the 19th Century when the state was still quite wild. At the same time, I spent a lot of time in the Far East as a foreign correspondent and I was equally intrigued by what life must have been like in the 19th Century colonial period in places like French Indochina, The Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. Then one day I got the idea to blend the two using a character from 19th Century Kansas who goes to the Far East in search of himself. That was the inspiration for my Finding Billy Battles trilogy.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
During my travels of my 25year career as a foreign journalist for The Chicago Tribune, I was fortunate to meet the great, great grandson of a man I now use as my character Billy Battles. I actually got to go through those journals ….
From my book:
When a great-grandson inherits two aging trunks and a stack of meticulously detailed journals penned by his great-grandfather, he sets out to fulfill his great-grandfather’s last request: to tell the story of an incredible life replete with adventure, violence, and tragedy. The great-grandfather’s name is Billy Battles–a man often trapped and overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his control.
For much of his 100-year-long life Billy is a man missing and largely unknown to his descendants. His great-grandson is about to change that. As he works his way through the aging journals and the other possessions he finds in the battered trunks he uncovers the truth about his mysterious great-grandfather–a man whose deeds and misdeeds propelled him on an extraordinary and perilous journey from the untamed American West to the inscrutable Far East, Latin America and Europe.
As he flips through the pages of the handwritten journals penned by his great-grandfather, he learns of Billy’s surprising connections to the Spanish-American War, French Indochina, and revolutions in Mexico and other Latin American countries. But most of all he learns that in finding Billy Battles he has also found a long lost and astonishing link to the past.
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