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June 2019

The Strange Case of Monsieur Bertin

I subscribe to writers’ newsletters to see how they do it, to incorporate aspects I like into my own. One of my favorites is Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Pendergast File. It’s informative, concise, and infrequent. Each issue also contains an extra something for the reader.

In June, current subscribers receive a short story that delves into the past of one of Preston and Child’s most loved characters: A. X. L. Pendergast, FBI Special Agent and main character of the Pendergast novels. “The Strange Case of Monsieur Bertin,” which Douglas Preston describes as “not so ‘short’ at all,” goes out to The Pendergast File subscribers in June.

If you enjoy a good thriller and haven’t yet encountered Agent Pendergast, this is an opportunity to meet him. And if you like him, as I do, a growing series of page-turning novels is in your future.

To get the story, subscribe to The Pendergast File before June 1.

Relic - Preston and Child
Cover of Relic, the first novel in which Pendergast appears.


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There were parades in that glorious spring of 1919. In New York and Washington, D.C., in small towns and state capitals, ranks of soldiers, formed in companies and led by the army band, marched down Main Streets across the United States. In Topeka, the officers and men of the 137th Infantry “All-Kansas” Regiment stepped with heads high, through cheering crowds, flags waving.

But Private Potts was not among his comrades of Company M. After disembarking the Manchuria at Hoboken, April 23, the Thirty-Fifth Division entrained to Camp Upton, New York. In the last week of April, all replacement soldiers, of which B. F. Potts was one, were detached from the division.

Continue reading "Homecoming" »

Soldier Entitled to Travel Pay

While transcribing B. F. Potts’s discharge paper, I was curious about the dollar amount noted in pencil on the back: “89.05.” Potts got remaining pay and a $60 bonus, plus train fare for home. The army paid five cents a mile.

A private earned $30 per month. Prorated for the first twelve days of the month (discharged May 12), his pay was $12. Less that and the bonus leaves $17.05 in travel pay—or 341 miles.

But driving distance from Chattanooga (near Fort Oglethorpe) to Erin is only 200 miles. Either he didn’t get paid from the 1st of the month, or the rail distance to home was much farther.

I found a Louisville & Nashville Railroad map in the 1920 edition of Poor’s Manual of Railroads. The map also shows the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway, which by then was a L&N dependency.

While you might not get a passenger train today, you could take the highway from Chattanooga through Stevenson, AL, and Nashville, TN, to McKenzie (on the NC&St.L) and from McKenzie to Erin (on the L&N). The trip would take almost seven hours to drive the 337 miles.

Which is close enough for curiosity’s sake.

Poor 1920 L-N map facing 82“Map of the Louisville & Nashville R. R. and Dependencies”
Henry V. Poor, Poor’s Manual of Railroads: Fifty-Third Annual Number, New York: Poor’s, 1920, facing 82.


A Very Muddy Place
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A Very Muddy Place

An intimate account of a soldier’s experience in World War I, A Very Muddy Place takes us on a journey from a young man’s rural American hometown onto one of the great battlefields of France. We follow Private B. F. Potts with the 137th US Infantry Regiment through the first days of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. We discover a personal story—touching, emotional, unforgettable.

In 1918, twenty-three-year-old Bennie Potts was drafted into the US Army to fight in the World War. He served with the American Expeditionary Force in France. At home after the war, he married and raised a family, and the war for his children and grandchildren became the anecdotes he told them.

A century later, a great grandson brings together his ancestor’s war stories and the historical record to follow Private Benjamin Franklin Potts from Tennessee to the Great War in France and back home again.

Available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

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Farnese Hercules

Heracles is resting. He leans on a club. The end of which is adorned by a lion’s head, hooked by its jaws. The beast’s hide drapes the shoulders. Behind the back, an over-large hand holds two apples. The other hand and the penis are broken off. Even at rest, the hero’s muscles ripple with the strength to lift Heaven from Earth.

The statue was carved in marble by Italian artist Giovanni Comino in the years 1670-1672. It’s a copy of a copy. The original work, long lost, is attributed to the Greek bronze sculptor Lysippos, who worked in the fourth century BC. We know of its existence from the numerous copies made of it. One copy from the third century AD is signed by Glykon of Athens.

Glykon’s reproduction was lost for a time as well. Uncovered in 1546 at the Roman Baths of Caracalla, the statue of Hercules (the hero’s Latin name) was acquired by Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), who assembled one of the great sculpture collections of the Renaissance. The hero’s resting pose then became known as the Farnese Hercules.

Born to the mortal woman Alcmene, which means “wrathful,” fathered by Zeus wearing her husband’s guise, Heracles was given to fits of rage. In one such fit, he slaughtered his wife and children. In remorse, he sought penance and gave himself into the servitude of Eurystheus, who assigned him a series of labors.

The first labor was to slay the Nemean Lion, which terrorized the countryside. Its teeth could cut armor, and its hide could not be pierced. Heracles whacked it with his club, and skinned the beast with one of its own fangs.

More labors followed, twelve in all. The eleventh was to steal the apples of the Hesperides. Growing from a tree in the goddess Hera’s garden, these apples were of pure gold, tended by the nymph daughters of Atlas, and guarded by a hundred-headed dragon.

Heracles went to the end of the earth, where Atlas, a titan, held the world on his shoulders. Heracles asked where his daughters kept the apples. Atlas agreed to tell him only if Heracles would take his burden for a spell, so he could catch his breath. Heracles sensed a trick, so he lifted the sky, thus giving Atlas some respite without accepting the object of the titan’s condemnation. Information gained, the hero hurried on to the garden, slew the dragon, and purloined the apples.

Glykon’s Farnese Hercules was moved, with much of the Farnese collection, in 1787 to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples. Comino’s rendition was installed in the gardens at the Chateaux de Sceaux, south of Paris, in 1686. It was moved in 1793 to the Tuileries Garden, where it lived its still life for over two hundred years. In 2010, the statue returned to Sceaux, protected from weather in the Orangerie. Two more copies were made, both from a mold of Glykon’s work. One occupies the place at Tuileries; the other the flower garden outside the Orangerie at Sceaux.

Farnese Hercules  Comino 1670-1672

Heracles pauses to contemplate his twelfth and final labor: to capture Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the gates of Hades. A task Eurystheus believes impossible…

Cairos, Forgotten God of Favorable Opportunity

There is a moment, that instant when you must choose to do or not to do. Instinct makes you aware of its importance: Act now, and everything hereafter is different. Act not, and things remain the same.

In her History of Ancient Sculpture (1883), Lucy M. Mitchell describes a Greek deity, long out of fashion, represented in sculpture by Lysippos, who worked in fourth-century-BC Peloponnese:

“Cairos was to the people of Lysippos’ day … an actual god, believed to influence men at critical moments, when sudden decision was required, and leading them to the proper improvement of every fleeting opportunity” (511).