Dr. Steven Trout, chair of the department of English at the University of South Alabama, and Carolyn Haines, assistant professor of creative writing, will be honored at a joint book launch reception on Tuesday, July 10.
Both Trout and Haines will discuss their books and sign copies during the 4 p.m. reception, which will be held at the Faculty Club on USA’s main campus.
Trout’s latest publication is “Scarlet Fields – The Combat Memoir of a World War I Medal of Honor Hero,” the updated story of Missouri Medal of Honor winner John Lewis Barkley’s account of World War I, written from the perspective of a brave and decorated battlefield sniper. Haines’s new book is “Bonefire of the Vanities, the twelfth book in her popular Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series. Her protagonist, a comely private investigator from the Mississippi Delta, uses her talent for sleuthing to pay for the upkeep on her ancestral home, a former plantation complete with its own resident “haint,” or family ghost.
Originally published in 1930 as “No Hard Feelings,” by Cosmopolitan Book Corp. of New York, “Scarlet Fields” focuses on what some call the “forgotten war,” even though the bloody conflict forged a new American era. Trout shepherded the book back into print with a new and informative introduction, edited the entire text into a first-person narrative, and created more than 60 annotations to clarify military terms, 1918-vintage army slang and geography.
In his introduction, Trout provides valuable insight into the man and soldier Barkley became as well as his dreams and ambitions for the book. The original publication of the Missouri sharpshooter’s book never attained the popularity of other books about World War I such as “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Barkley’s account, ghostwritten by an old friend and then a team of editors, read more as a “blood and thunder” tale, a fact that hurt him with critics. The consummate soldier, Barkley did what was necessary without cringing or complaining. His job was to kill the enemy, and he used all the resources of a self-reliant skilled Missouri sharpshooter to get the job done. While he didn’t glorify the war, he also didn’t shrink from feelings of victory when the enemy was vanquished.
Barkley, among the most decorated of WWI soldiers, was awarded six medals for bravery, each conferred by a different nation. On the French battlefield of Cunel, Barkley picked up an enemy machine gun and ammo and made for the cover of a crippled light tank. From that vantage point, with uncountable German bullets striking the tank, Barkley held off the enemy forces until American troops could get into position.
Trout first learned of Barkley’s heroism and his book from a staff member of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. The book had long been out of print, but Trout tracked down a copy, read it and determined it deserved a second life. He worked with Barkley’s daughter, Joan Barkley Wells, to bring out this edition, which is published by the University Press of Kansas, the most prestigious publisher of military history in the United States.
When questioned about his interest in war, Trout said: “War displays basic human behaviors and emotions in their rawest form. Love, hate, brutality, compassion, exhilaration, despair – these are all parts of war.
“World War I, in particular, interests me for all kinds of reasons. For Europe, the conflict was a disaster that called into question the entire notion of progress. America, on the other hand, became a superpower, albeit a reluctant one, as a result of the war. The so-called American Century really begins with World War I.”
Trout’s previous book, “On the Battlefield of Memory: The First World War and American Rememberance, 1919-1941, published by the University of Alabama Press, examines paintings, works of literature, public memorials, and veterans’ organizations in an effort to understand what the war meant to Americans in the 1920s and the 1930s.
In Haines’ latest mystery, published by Minotaur Books of New York, the case is one of her most sinister yet, involving a walled spa and spiritualist retreat, known as “Heart’s Desire,” where wealthy clients supposedly commune with dead loved ones and receive stock market tips from the spirit world. When Sarah and her co-investigator Tinkie come to suspect that a vulnerable and very wealthy widow is being preyed upon by the owners of “Heart’s Desire,” they arrive disguised as maids, and rich story, humorous and chilling by turns, unfolds.
“Bonefire of the Vanities” exemplies the qualities that mystery readers across America have come to expect in the series – vivid characters, abundant humor, well-drawn Southern settings, a fast-moving plot, and supernatural touches.
Asked about her use of the supernatural in this novel, Haines said: “I have a big interest in the world of the sixth sense, in intuition, in what lies beyond. Is Jitty (the ‘haint’ who dwells in the protagonist’s home) a ghost, or is she Sarah Booth’s subconscious? I’ve worked hard to write her so that she can be read either way.”
Haines also explained how she keeps her characters so fresh and engaging throughout a series that now consists of a dozen books with more on the way: “The characters, like my ‘real’ friends, grow and change. They learn about themselves as I learn about them. I trust my characters, even when they go against the plot I’ve outlined in my head. I think most great stories are character driven.”
This latest novel reinforces Haines’ reputation as one of the top mystery writers of the American South. A recipient of the Harper Lee Distinguished Writing Award and the Richard Wright Award for Excellence, she is also known for her works of literary fiction, which include such acclaimed novels as “Penumbra” and “Fever Moon.”
“`Bonefire of the Vanities’ is a true page turner and very funny to boot,” said Trout. We are exceedingly fortunate to have its talented author among our faculty at USA.”
The joint reception for Trout and Haines is open to anyone age 21 or older.