Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Unpredictable Muse of William S. Shepard

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My guest is William S. Shepard, author of the Robbie Cutler diplomatic mysteries.
To prove just how unpredictable my muse is, I would like to talk with you about my two latest E-Book releases. The first is a work of fiction, a collection of short stories that take placed in a diplomatic setting, in far away Singapore. The second, however, is a work of nonfiction, surveying little remembered American wars from the seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century, and what they have to teach us today.
“Southeast Asian Quartet: Robbie Cutler Stories”
     Four young diplomats assigned to the island state of Singapore are having dinner. They are more interested in the exotic atmosphere of Southeast Asia than they are by their official duties, which at the junior level tend to be routine. They are American, British, French and Russian, and at the suggestion of the American, Robbie Cutler, each tells a story.
     That is the premise of “Southeast Asian Quartet: Robbie Cutler Stories.” Readers know Robbie Cutler as the American diplomat who solves crimes – murder and blackmail in “Vintage Murder,” and murder in “Murder On The Danube.” These two diplomatic mysteries take place in Bordeaux, and then in Budapest. But before those two diplomatic assignments, Cutler was assigned to the American Embassy in Singapore. This collection of short stories gives the reader something of the atmosphere of Southeast Asia.
     The four friends realize that they represent the great short story telling traditions of their countries – with O. Henry (for the United States), Somerset Maugham (for Great Britain), Guy de Maupassant (for France), and Anton Chekhov (for Russia). Their challenge will be to tell stories that reflect that wonderful storytelling tradition.
     Robbie Cutler goes first. In “Under the Durian Trees,” the setting is the residence of the American Ambassador. A murder took place there, and the ghosts that follow that event haunt those who can still see them. His British colleague follows at their next meeting with “Disappearance from Moonlight Cottage,” the story of an actual event – the disappearance of Jim Thompson, the “Thai Silk King,” from Moonlight Cottage in the Cameron Highlands of central Malaya in 1967. Thompson, a former OSS and CIA agent, was perhaps the most famous American in Thailand, and his disappearance remains unsolved to this day. Four solutions are put forth – you choose which is the most likely.
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     In “Man Of The Forest,” the Russian diplomat takes us to the island of Borneo, and the highest mountain of Southeast Asia, near Kota Kinabalu, on the South China Sea. The climb is described step by step, as the climber ascends from the tropics to a more temperate climate, and a total change, from rain forest to vegetation that would be normal for Switzerland. And this is the home for the Orang Utan, whose survival remains uncertain. The final story, “Isabelle,” takes us to French Indochina and the era of the desperate struggle at the French fortress of Dien Bien Phu. Is it really possible that this the true story of a previously unknown survivor?
America’s Unknown Wars”
     I also find the history of our own nation to be fascinating. In “Maryland In The Civil War,” I traced the heroic story of a little known Maryland Governor who kept Maryland in the Union. It is a story of great and rather rare political courage, a parallel to the courage that others showed on the battlefield, on both sides.
     My latest Kindle E-Book, “America’s Unknown Wars,” traces five wars which are not well known in our own country. The first, King Philip’s War, is a seventeenth century conflict between settlers in Massachusetts and the Wampanoag Indians, who nearly wiped them out. It is said to have furnished the greatest percentage of casualties of any conflict on our history. Settlement simply ended in the Connecticut Valley, as the Wampanoags captured settlement after settlement, coming close to Boston itself.
     The second conflict is the French and Indian War, whose highpoint may have been the struggle for Quebec, in which both opposing generals, Wolfe and Montcalm, died during the battle for the Plains of Abraham. However, the war itself began with armed skirmishes begun by a very young provincial militia lieutenant colonel, George Washington, whose military career nearly ended as it was beginning!
     The War of 1812 furnished the United States with a number of proud moments in retrospect, including the National Anthem, and the victory of Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, famously after the peace treaty had been signed. But the same event caused the dissolution of the Federalist Party, and marked the last time when the United States nearly was unable to meet its national debt.
     The Mexican War deserves to be better known, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that this conflict came after the Texas Revolution, and the annexation battle to join the United States, which became the major issue in a presidential election! The heroism of the Alamo is justly famous, but that came a full ten years before the Mexican War. And why did General Ulysses S. Grant, who with other famous offices on both sides of the Civil War won his spurs in Mexico, believe that war to have been unjust?
     We conclude with Teddy Roosevelt and the Spanish-American War. But was his charge really up San Juan Hill? And how did that conflict result in the United States becoming a great power, after a presidential election that concentrated on the issue of imperialism?
     Each of these wars contains lessons that are absolutely topical today. How do we pay for a war? Do we really understand the underlying causes? How do we treat the local people? It is important that we understand what happened them, I think, to better understand how we arrived at our present position in the world, and gain some insight into what our own past has to teach us.
     And so the reach of nonfiction can be very long indeed. History should have been this interesting at school!


William S. Shepard said...

Thanks for the space. It is a well-planned blog!

William S. Shepard said...

I greatly enjoyed posting - what a well-edited blog!

Ellis Vidler said...

William, I'm so glad to have you here this week. Your knowledge of history provides so many fascinating details, and I've learned so much from your stories. Very interesting!

William S. Shepard said...

It was most enjoyable, many thanks.

William S. Shepard said...

This is a wonderful blog, colorful and interesting. Many thanks for having me as your guest.