Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

A Nerd Meets the Man

While working on my novel manuscript, I used a number of sources to help me keep straight a complicated list of timelines, locations, and people. Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War by T. J. Stiles, figured prominently in my efforts. The book is a well-researched, scholarly work published in 2002.  It won the Ambassador Book Award and the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship.

This book has more miles on it than a Boeing 747.

This book has more miles on it than a Boeing 747.

As you can plainly see, my copy is worn, bent, and filled with place markers. If I opened it, you’d notice ink lines drawn under passages and notes in the margins. It may appear I’m nothing more than a book abuser, but I believe such signs of wear only confirm how valuable the contents are.

Any book in pristine condition obviously hasn’t had much use, so this one can only be described as a winner.

In 2010, it delighted (but did not surprise me) to discover that Mr. Stiles’ second book, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, won the 2009 National Book Award for nonfiction, and the Pulitzer Prize for biography.

Impressive? You haven’t heard anything yet.

In 2015, Mr. Stiles published Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. This book won the Western Writers of America Golden Spur Award, the William H. Seward Award for Excellence in Civil War Biography, and the Pulitzer Prize for history. The book was also a finalist for many other awards in 2016.

You can only imagine how much my admiration for such a talented author and historian grew. When I saw him posting about appearances he’d be making across the United States, I asked him if he’d be coming to the St. Louis area.

As a matter of fact, he would. On November 30, he planned to be in town to speak at the Civil War Round Table of St. Louis. I scrambled to find out where and when the group met, as I knew nothing about them, and a few short weeks later, writing critique partner and friend, Donna Volkenannt, and I set out to see T.J. Stiles (hereafter referred to as The Man). Like a couple of intrepid explorers, we fought our way through heavy rush hour traffic to reach Mehlville, Missouri, which is near Jefferson Barracks for those who know St. Louis.

We arrived at the Royale Orleans Banquet Center and were warmly welcomed by the members. Then on to a round of Civil War trivia, a scrumptious banquet, a raffle of Civil War books (Donna won two!), followed by The Man, who speaks as eloquently as he writes. And all without benefit of notes or a Powerpoint.

Are you a history lover? Then I’d highly recommend checking out the schedule for the Civil War Round Table of St. Louis.  The meetings are fascinating and the attendees aren’t slouches either. They really know their stuff.

The Man in action.

The Man in action.

To find out more about The Man, his credentials, and his books, take a look at his website . I think you’ll be impressed as I am.

Speaking of books, some attendees brought copies for The Man to sign. Alas, I felt too embarrassed to bring my beat up copy of Jesse, and although I’m now reading Custer’s Trials, I didn’t think to haul it along with me. No matter. Mainly I wanted to introduce myself to The Man, shake his hand, and express my thanks. At our meeting, I admit to becoming totally nerdy and asked him, “Do you mind if we’re in a picture together?” He laughed and graciously agreed to pose.

I’m the blushing groupie on The Man’s right.

The Man and The Nerd

The Man and The Nerd (Photo courtesy of Donna Volkenannt)






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  1. Hi Pat,
    Love this post!
    You captured the essence of the evening perfectly . Getting to listen to T. J. Stiles talk about Jesse James and the Civil War in Missouri was a wonderful adventure–in spite of the rush-hour traffic. I was amazed at the depth of his knowledge. He must have an encyclopedic memory. But what really impressed me was his passion about his subject — oh and his friendliness and graciousness!
    Thanks for letting this fellow history nerd tag along with you. Next time I’ll drive!

    • Pat Wahler

      December 2, 2016 at 4:19 pm

      Hi Donna!

      What a fun evening. I’m definitely ready to go again. Wasn’t the next topic love letters from the Civil War? That’ll make a fascinating presentation.

  2. Linda O'Connell

    December 2, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    I live nearby. Wish I’d known. Sounds like a fun event. One day folks will be lined up to have you sign your book.

    • Pat Wahler

      December 3, 2016 at 7:31 am

      Hi Linda!

      I think you’d have enjoyed the evening. Donna and I will likely attend again as we had a blast. If you’re free you could join us.

  3. Glad you enjoyed your research and evening so much. I felt the same way when I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.
    Lynne x

  4. What a thrill to meet someone whose work you so admire! I still think you have an opening there. When your book is pulled into the shape you want, you should send him a copy and ask for a blurb.

  5. Impressive. We used to have a night with an author organized by a local newspaper where the author and interviewer sat in two armchairs and had a conversation. Clive Cussler was one that stood out. Sadly they have discontinued this.

    • Pat Wahler

      December 4, 2016 at 7:26 am

      Hi Ann!

      It’s always fun to pick the brain of an accomplished writer. Especially one that you admire.

  6. Pat–I’ve gone ga-ga over a few authors I’ve met. I’m glad you got to be a groupie for an evening.

  7. Hi Pat! I’m so sorry I missed it, sounds like it was a great evening. Just like he inspired you, you inspired me with the post. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thank you for the introduction to Mr. Stiles. And I wouldn’t call your book worn. I would call it loved. 🙂

  9. I’m not much of a history buff, but that roundtable does sound like it would be a great opportunity for those who are!

    • Pat Wahler

      December 11, 2016 at 1:59 pm

      Hi Stephanie!

      It absolutely is. And the scrumptious buffet dinner is an incredibly delectable addition.

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