On June 12, in a flurry of social media publicity and book signings in Greenfield resident Kurt Vetters’ home state of Alabama, “Confederate Winter,” launched and became available for purchase online. Just five days later, the shootings at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina occurred, and things changed.
Vetters began getting emails from potential customers who tried to buy his book from Amazon but were unable to complete their orders. In the wake of the Charleston shootings, Amazon had pulled — across the board — anything that might feature a confederate flag for review. Included in the sweep was Vetters’ book, the newly published “Confederate Winter.”
“Eventually somebody looked at it and decided it was OK,” Vetters said.
The experience was aggravating but perhaps also illustrated the timeliness of Vetters’ work. Now, Vetters’ goal is to make the book available so it might help educate young learners. He has donated the book to school libraries in Birmingham, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; and Franklin, Tennessee, the locations of some of the action in “Confederate Winter.” Vetters has also created a study guide for classroom use for teachers.
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Vetters’ inspiration to write the book began with his dissatisfaction with the books his children were being given to read in school about the Civil War. Vetters felt that books that were written in 1895, 1957 and 1965 were not impacting today’s kids.
“They were landmark books,” Vetters said, “but the language was not relevant.” Vetters set about to write what he called “a life lesson generating action (and) adventure.”
The book is based on the life of a real person, William Sweeney, Vetters’ great-great-great grandfather.
“All we know about him is that he was conscripted into the Confederate Army near the end of the war, and three months later, he came home in rags,” Vetters said.
The book is garnering some good online reviews from readers. One that especially pleases Vetters reads: “I felt as thought I was right there with him through the winter of 1864.”
Vetters has sold around 300 copies of his book so far, and he plans to donate the proceeds to the Franklin Battlefield Trust in Franklin, Tennessee.
“They’re making progress on reclaiming the battlefield,” Vetters said. “In fact, they just tore down the pizza place that was the site of where an Indiana regiment fought and died in the battle of Franklin.”
Overall, Vetters feels as if he’s had a positive experience in writing and publishing through CreateSpace, the publishing arm of Amazon, but he remembers when he shared his idea with a Birminghan, Alabama, book store owner.
“The advice I got about the manuscript was to ‘burn it and eat the ashes,’” Vetters said.
He took the criticism in stride: “Eat the Ashes” will be the title of his next book, about the reconstruction of the south.
“I’m not trying to be Mark Twain,” Vetters said. “I just want to tell a story about time and history.”
Vetters feels like his book is one that a lot of today’s young people can relate to. He writes about an absent father and how young William Sweeney deals with that. It’s a book about divisiveness and reconciliation and how people cope.
Reference librarian and book selector for the Hancock County Public Library, Joy Summers, read the book before placing on the shelves there.
Summers appreciates the local connection, that the book tells the story of someone who experienced the war.
“It’s a real person’s family life,” she said. “I think it makes a difference when young people are reading a book about history.”
“Confederate Winter” can also be found for purchase online at Amazon.com or at the Red Banana, 14 N. State St., where Vetters will hold a book signing from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. August 14 as part of the downtown “Second Friday” events.