About the Book
Title: The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles
Series: Finding Billy Battles, Book 2
Author: Ronald E. Yates
Published: June 2016
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical Fiction
Billy Battles is definitely not in Kansas anymore.
As Book 2 of the Finding Billy Battles trilogy opens Billy is far from his Kansas roots—and his improbable journeys are just beginning. He is aboard an ocean liner sailing to the Mysterious East (Hong Kong, French Indochina, and the Philippines), among other places.
The year is 1894 and aboard the S S China Billy meets a mysterious, dazzling, and possibly dangerous German Baroness, locked horns with malevolent agents of the German government, and battled ferocious Chinese and Malay pirates in the South China Sea. Later, he is inadvertently embroiled in the bloody anti-French insurgency in Indochina–which quite possibly makes him the first American combatant in a country that eventually will become Vietnam.
Later, in the Philippines, he is thrust into the Spanish-American War and the anti-American insurgency that follows. But Billy’s troubles are just beginning. As the 19th century ends and the 20th century begins, he finds himself entangled with political opportunists, spies, revolutionaries and an assortment of malevolent and dubious characters of both sexes. How will Billy handle those people and the challenges they present?
Book Trailer Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Njxdwc2ngww
About the Author
Ronald E. Yates is a former award-winning foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the University of Illinois where he was also the Dean of the College of Media.
He is the author of the Finding Billy Battles trilogy the first in a series of novels. The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles, published in May 2016, is the second book in the series. He is also the author of The Kikkoman Chronicles: A Global Company with A Japanese Soul, published by McGraw-Hill.
Other books include Aboard The Tokyo Express: A Foreign Correspondent’s Journey Through Japan, a collection of columns translated into Japanese, as well as three journalism textbooks: The Journalist’s Handbook, International Reporting and Foreign Correspondents, and Business and Financial Reporting in a Global Economy.
Yates lived and worked as a foreign correspondent in Japan, China, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America where he covered several major stories including the fall of South Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, the 1989 Tiananmen Square tragedy in Beijing, and revolutions in Nicaragua, El Salvador an Guatemala.
His work as a foreign correspondent resulted in three Pulitzer Prize nominations and several other awards, including the Peter Lisagor Award from the Society of Professional Journalists; The Inter-American Press Association Award for coverage of South America; and three Edward Scott Beck Awards for international reporting.
Yates is a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. He lives in Murrieta, California.
1) Describe your relationship with a good book.
My relationship with any book begins with character development. Almost anybody can write action scenes, spill lots of blood, describe car chases, gun battles, and explosions, etc. But developing a character that readers care about, empathize with, like or even hate requires a lot of insight and practice. Too many people today (including some experienced editors) demand that a book begin with heart-stopping action. They believe that today’s reading audiences have very short attention spans and therefore require a constant dose of high-octane conflict along with clichéd cardboard characters. I disagree. Tension is not created just by the external forces a character must deal with. It comes from inside us. I want to see and feel how a character reacts (or fails to react) to events. Having said that, the first two books in my Finding Billy Battles trilogy contact significant action and conflict, but NOT at the expense of character development.
2) When did you first start writing and what was the first thing that you wrote that you were proud of?
I began writing when I was in the sixth grade. By the time I was in the seventh grade I was writing short stories that I hasten to add were imminently forgettable. However, that was the kind of practice I needed. Later, I worked for my high school newspaper and learned how to write concisely and to describe things accurately. So I would say the first thing I wrote that I was proud of was a column in that high school newspaper. Later, after graduating college and going directly to the Chicago Tribune (unheard of today—and even then it was highly unusual), I was immensely proud of writing the main story for the front page of the paper after I was at the paper just a couple of months.
3) Please describe your work ethic as an author.
As a journalist I am used to meeting deadlines. I met them unfailingly for the 25 years that I worked as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. Now that I am essentially writing for myself, I still set deadlines. My goal is to turn out 3,000 to 5,000 words on the days that I write—which is about five days a week. I usually reach that goal unless I get hung up doing research, which the first two books in the Finding Billy Battles trilogy required and which book 3 is also necessitating. I consider research VERY IMPORTANT, especially for those who write historical fiction. I pride myself on making sure my characters use no modern vernacular and act in ways that are out of place in the era my books are set. I also set deadlines for when I want to complete a book. For example, I am currently working on Book 3 in the trilogy and my goal is to finish that last book in April-May 2017. Check back with me to see if I meet that deadline!
4) How do you balance your work as an author with the other aspects of your life?
When I was a working journalist for the Chicago Tribune and then a Dean and Professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, I could never find large enough blocks of time to write consistently. Writing requires HUGE amounts of time and long periods of seclusion–things most of us don’t have. Therefore, time to write was always my greatest challenge. Now that I am no longer administering a college, teaching or working full-time as a journalist I am blessed to have a lot more time to write than I ever thought I would have. Having said that, writing is an intensely solitary pursuit. I takes you away from family and friends and can turn you into a recluse if you are not careful. Take breaks often and get out and smell the flowers.
5) Why did you write this 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.
6) What experiences from your past do you find yourself drawing upon repeatedly for inspiration in your work?
I draw a lot from my experiences covering war, revolution and mayhem during my career as a foreign correspondent. I witnessed horrendous suffering up close and I saw what war can do to people—especially the innocents such as children. There is nothing pleasant about violence and the suffering and death it often brings. I guess what I learned is that no matter where you are, no matter what people you are observing and writing about, there is a tangible human connection when it comes to violence and war. I have seen both the crass depravity of the human soul and its decency and kindness. I am convinced that humans were never meant to hate one another and yet, that emotion remains a powerful force in the world.
7) What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years, both as an author and in your outside life?
I want to finish book #3 in the trilogy. Then I want to move on to my memoirs focusing on my quarter century career as a foreign correspondent. My plan is to write a book that looks at the “stories behind the story.”
8) Since you are a storyteller, please tell one good lie about yourself.
Hmmm. I always liked a line from the journalist A. J. Liebling: “I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.”
I guess that’s about as good a lie as I can tell.
William F. R. Battles
Kansas City, Missouri, 1949
I spent most of my life as a newspaper scribbler, what they call a journalist today. So I appreciate how important it is to seize your readers early on so they will keep reading. However, there are some things that I need to explain before I get to this next, very turbulent time in my life.
As I am writing this it is early 1949 and even though I consider myself blessed to have so far avoided my second childhood, the filaments of my ripe old brain sometimes get about as limp as worn out fiddle strings when I exercise them too much. Nevertheless, I have recorded to the best of my memory and ability the incidents that transpired as I made my way to French Indochina aboard the S. S. China in 1894.
Readers may conclude that my reasons for leaving the United States for the Orient were self-centered and vague. If you read the initial installment of my tale then you know the first thirty-three years of my life were fraught with tragedy of one kind or another–some of it of my own making, but much of it the result of what others did. As I said in that first book, I need to acknowledge the corn about some pretty terrible things I did during my life.
I have killed people. And people have tried to kill me. I never wanted such a life, but it was thrust on me and I had to make the best of it.
Even though most of those violent altercations occurred early in my life, their repercussions were relentless and unwelcome companions as I grew older. They still are, even now at my advanced age. I wanted to let you know all of that so you can make up your mind right now if you want to read further.
I had my share of tragedy and misfortune too. If you read the first part of my story then you know I lost my wife to a cruel disease after only eight years of marriage. You will also recall that my response to that tragedy was to fog it out of the country. In doing so, I left everybody I loved behind. Those included my five-year-old daughter Anna Marie, my mother Hannelore Battles, my in-laws Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius McNab, my cousin Charlie Higgins and a lot of other people who I considered good friends.
Some folks may think my flight to the Orient a craven act–one that any man worth his salt would never contemplate, let alone carry out. I cannot disagree with that condemnation. I felt that way often as the S S China made its way to the Far East. Even later on, after I had settled in places like Manila and Saigon, I would reproach myself for what I had done.
Had I been indicted and put on trial for my actions and were I the judge and jury, I certainly would have found myself guilty of appalling judgment, capriciousness, and even child abandonment. As it was, there was no trial and no conviction, but I was a guilty prisoner of my impropriety nevertheless. Never a day went by when I didn’t regret leaving my little daughter behind in Denver for others to rear. As my mother pointed out to me more than once when she attempted to dissuade me from my journey to the Orient, I was raised without a father. Now my daughter was about to suffer the same fate. It was a brutally compelling argument, but I was not to be deterred.
And so, here I was aboard the S. S. China en route from San Francisco to our first port of call, Honolulu, the Republic of Hawaii. Back then, Hawaii was an independent republic, not the annexed territory it is today. As I would learn Americans in 1894 were considered unwelcome interlopers by many native Hawaiians. They were seen as greedy exploiters who were interested only in manipulating and profiting from the sugar and pineapple industries.
The first day aboard the S S China had been eventful, to say the least. I had been questioned by a surly Pinkerton detective who was trying to locate Nate Bledsoe–the man I had killed five years earlier in a gun fight at Battles Gap, my family’s homestead in Western Kansas.
Ten years before that I had killed Nate Bledsoe’s mother, a malevolent woman who had imprisoned Horace Hawes, the owner of the Dodge City Union, Ben Minot, a printer and me in a barn at the same place. Her death was an accident. Her sons, Nate and Matthew, began shooting at me and my two companions as we were escaping. As I returned fire with my Winchester rifle, a single bullet hit Mrs. Bledsoe in the throat just as she stepped out of the house and onto the porch where her sons were shooting at us. She died instantly.
Later in this scrap, Matthew Bledsoe was killed by Ben Minot, a friend and co-worker of the Dodge City Union. The Bledsoe clan was influential in Kansas in those days and had considerable pull in Topeka, the state capital. They were not about to let the shooting deaths of two of their kin go unpunished even if this particular branch was known to live outside the law. For the next several years, they hunted me down and on two occasions, came damned close to killing me.
Now, five years after I and several members of a wildcat U.S. Marshal’s posse had shot it out with Bledsoe and eight of his companions at Battles Gap, I was under investigation by the Pinkerton Detective Agency. It had been hired to determine if Nate Bledsoe was dead or alive and if the former was the case, where his bones were buried. Of course, I knew exactly where Nate Bledsoe was–or what remained of him and I sensed that the Pinkerton man knew that I knew. But I would be damned if I were going to admit it. Let’s just say I was “economical with the truth,” as my cousin Charley Higgins used to say.
My ongoing trouble with the Bledsoe clan could have been another reason for my voyage to the Orient had I wished to rationalize it that way. But, of course, I was not running away from the Bledsoe clan or the ghosts of the two Bledsoe’s I had eradicated or even the Pinkerton Detective Agency.
I was running away from myself though at the time I didn’t know it. Nor did I realize what I was moving toward and how my travels and trials would transform me in ways I could not have imagined. Of course, those thoughts were furthest from my mind that first evening aboard the S S China. I had, after all, been invited to have dinner at the Captain’s table in the First Class Dining Saloon with a few other passengers, among them, the mysterious and stunning widow Schreiber.