I hope you remember me. I am Cissy Jordan, the owner of Lagniappe in Ocean Springs where you used to frequent. That was many days, weeks and years ago but I hope you have fond memories of it as I do of seeing you there.
Today I began the day before daylight reading your book…By Accident of Birth…and am so overwhelmed at the great writing, the in-depth research and the many facts woven within the story that I am reading it in spurts so as to not waste it all in one gulp! It’s that good…and I, as a former journalist, appreciate your talents with a great deal of envy too.
It was the previous book about the Brown Condor I had intended to buy and to read but life so often gets in the way and good intentions are lost in the myriad of useless acts of daily living. Maybe after I finish this book I will go back and read it. Or will the intrigue of the sequel to this one lead me to your latest writing?
Many thanks for providing such vivid depiction of life around and after the siege of Vicksburg. Having parents and Grandparents who were immigrants AND being born and raised on the Coast, there was never any family lore or close friends who would recall their family’s history of the Civil War. And too, I grieved over reading and learning in school of the pure waste and agony of the War that it became something to avoid instead of a war to which I ever had any ties. It was easier for me to see and smell the ovens at Dachau in 1962 before it was “cleaned up” and to hear the tales of the War my German landlady told me daily in our shared home outside Augsburg, Germany than to delve into the epoch events on my own homeland.
I moved back to our Farm in 1974 to care for my aging Mother after my Father died. With the Farm, our property in Biloxi that, since Katrina, is nothing but vacant land but nevertheless requires both maintenance and searches for the highest and best use; all this along with constant upkeep and repair of farm equipment, tools and issues….well, I am kept very busy but like the primitive means of fattening up the holiday goose, I seem to always have one foot nailed to the floor.
Or in other words, I am busy but not productive from a satisfying point of view. The book I have been writing on for the past five years is still not finished and just recently I have been urged to write a light, comical accounting of the many unbelievable things that occurred during my five years at Lagniappe. Truly it would write itself if I just put in the hours.
Thanks, Tom for sharing your talents and for spending so much time to get it all right and in the process, very readable and truly enjoyable too.
- Cissy Jordan
Tommy, I just finished the book. What a read! You did a great job, and I loved travelling all over the Atlantic region with Bethany! Obviously you did a great deal of research…I had read recently Jeff Shaara’s A Chain of Thunder, so Vicksburg was a great jumping off place for me. I loved the characters and the premise, and I especially enjoyed your having solved the mystery of the sinking of the Maine! Can’t wait for the sequel!!
Good on you,
BY ACCIDENT OF BIRTH
A Novel by Thomas E. Simmons – Published by TouchPoint Press
By JAN GRIFFEY
The Vicksburg Post
For aficionados of Vicksburg and Civil War history, a book by Gulfport native Thomas E. Simmons may pique your interest.
By Accident of Birth was published in December 2015 and details the life of the fictional Quinn family from the Civil War’s Siege of Vicksburg through World War I.
It begins with a prologue set in 1915, near the beginning of World War I, when Bethany Quinn is contacted by a representative of the British Crown inquiring about a stash of weapons warehoused in a sugar mill she owns in Cuba.
The call causes Quinn to think back over her tortured life and she re-reads after many years the diaries of her mother, Annielise Quinn, and that of a close family friend who helped raise her, Dr. Theodore Perkins.
Quinn, whose birth and life are nothing short of an extraordinary tale — maybe too extraordinary for some readers to take seriously — is the product of the horrors of the Siege of Vicksburg.
Vicksburg residents who study Civil War history will be interested in reading Simmons’ portrayal of times during the siege. The story interweaves its fictional characters with historic events of the time. Simmons takes great pains to accurately portray life of the times and includes a bibliography of source materials with the book.
Simmons’ attention to detail, like his descriptions of life for Confederate troops in the trenches dug in the bluffs above the Mississippi River and life for the city’s former elite who were forced from their homes into caves dug around the city in an effort to stay safe during the almost constant shelling by Union soldiers from gunboats on the Mississippi, is heart wrenching.
The Quinn family chose to remain in their Vicksburg townhouse as the siege began, rather than return to their plantation, Shamrock, located south of Vicksburg on the road leading to Natchez.
The Quinn women — matriarch Nannie and her daughter Annielise, along with newly-freed Arabella, who has served the family as its house slave and helped raise Annielise — make their way back to Shamrock after the siege, only to find it burned to the ground. Through sheer grit and determination, the ladies, along with the only remaining former slave left on the plantation, the elderly Nicodemus, start anew.
Soon after the ladies return to Shamrock, they discover Annielise is with child, thus the strange circumstance of the birth of Bethany.
Bethany would later make her way to Cuba, where she was the charge of an uncle, Jonathon Quinn, a gunrunner, Cuba.
Quinn lives her life with constant guilt because of the circumstances of her mother’s pregnancy with her and because of the consistent role war has played in her life.
While reading the novel can at times seem cumbersome because of Simmons’ effort to stay true to the language of the time by using words like ‘lugubrious,’ ‘pestiferous’ and ‘connubial,’ the story is captivating and will keep readers up well past their typical bedtime.
By Accident of Birth is Simmons’ fourth book. Publication of a sequel, The Last Quinn Standing, is expected later this year.
I gave this book five stars, because even though it’s not the type of book I usually read, I just couldn’t put it down. I usually read more than one book at a time, but I hardly read my other books. It is well written with good character development for a modern action adventure novel. It has war and romance. I had to find out what happened to Bethany. Also, the plot had all kinds of twists and turns. Since it is also a historical fiction novel, some general predictions can be made, if you know history, but that’s it. The author uses the history to transport the reader to that place and time. It also shows how important heritage and culture are to people from the South. It also shows another side of the Civil War, a history that is not usually taught. It gives the Southern side a human face. As a result, the reader is pulled into the story. In addition, there is a bibliography at the end so that the reading doesn’t have to end. In fact, it has motivated me to read more Spanish history and to refresh my memory of French history and culture. I don’t want to get too specific, because I don’t want to spoil any of the book for anyone else. That is a real danger in writing reviews for novels. I recommend this book to everyone who wants to be pulled into a story, but also who enjoys being given more to read which leads to even more reading. Read it!
All her life a beauty in the eyes of others, Bethany Quinn considers herself a “freak” because of the circumstances of her birth and “fortune’s whore” because of the war-shadowed path she is compelled to follow. Conceived through violence, she continues life along an often bloody path that carries her from childhood into womanhood, from rural postwar Reconstruction Mississippi to the Caribbean, from war-scarred Paris to civil war in Cuba. There are two loves in her life, one lost to the Orient, the other, a wounded prisoner of the Spanish. At one point she sinks to the edge of madness from the part she plays in an unintended disaster. With help, she finds the will and strength to recover only to be swept up in yet another war. All aspects of the work are controlled in a flowing and creative style that plays within the confines of historical events and geographical settings, a sweeping tale full of drama, passion and adventure spanning the less traveled period from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of World War I (1863-1915). By Accident of Birth suffuses well-researched, factual incidents with fiction in a seamless manner that gives the reader historic realism during a memorable and exciting journey.
By Avid Reader
Historical fiction is my favorite read but I want to be thoroughly entertained while learning some solid history. This book does just that; an astonishing blend of fictional and real characters woven into historical events in a highly readable saga that sweeps from the U.S. Civil War through the Spanish American war to the cusp of WW I. Following the very human and complex protagonist, Beverly Bethany Quinn, we live through the Siege of Vicksburg, post-war hardships, travel Europe, board sailing vessels and battleships and live in Cuba while the events and deceptions leading to “Remember the Maine” are intricately told; we understand how war’s horrors in one time and place spread far to affect other countries and haunt future generations. It is impossible to tell where the line lies between truth and fiction as the fictitious characters and famous historic figures interact yet the author’s extensive research and factual detailed descriptions assure the reader of authenticity. As the tag line from a beloved 1950’s Walter Cronkite TV series said, “all things are as they were then and you are there.”
This is a book that could climb to the top opf the best seller list. The author artfully tells the story of one family beginning with the siege of\Vicksburg and ending during World War I. The plot includes the actions of real, historic personages such as Generral Fitzhugh Lee (Robert E. Lee’s nephew),
artists like Manet and Renoir, the captain of the Lusitania, and many others. Settings vary from Vicksburg to Paris to Havana, and elsewhere.
Without reservation, I recommend the book to readers as first class fiction. It is a good read!.
- George Thatcher
I have enjoyed your novel thoroughly and think that it could become a bestseller. How neatly you have woven real people into your story—Fitzhugh Lee, Manet, and all the others, even populating Renoir’s “Boating Party.” All well done! And best of all, concluding with the Lusitania’s sinking. Bravo to you, Thomas! Thank you!
I just finished the book and in the next few days will write a review for Amazon but meanwhile I have to send fan mail. That is absolutely one of the most astonishing blends of fascinating characters with historical events and real people into a sweeping saga I have ever read! The amount of research is staggering and that combined with your ability to write war scenes, love scenes, descriptions of scenery, etc. and bring it all together makes me a devoted and admiring fan! Thank you for that book.
BY ACCIDENT OF BIRTH, a novel, is an epic that traces the tumultuous life of Bethany Quinn. All her life a beauty in the eyes of others, Bethany Quinn considers herself a “freak” because of the circumstances of her birth and “fortune’s whore” because of the war-shadowed path she is compelled to follow. Conceived through violence, she continues life along an often bloody path that carries her from childhood into womanhood, from rural postwar Reconstruction Mississippi to the Caribbean, from war-scarred Paris to civil war in Cuba. There are two loves in her life, one lost to the Orient, the other, a wounded prisoner of the Spanish. At one point she sinks to the edge of madness from the part she plays in an unintended disaster. With help, she finds the will and strength to recover only to be swept up in yet another war. All aspects of the work are controlled in a flowing and creative style that plays within the confines of historical events and geographical settings, a sweeping tale full of drama, passion and adventure spanning the less traveled period from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of World War I (1863-1915). By Accident of Birth suffuses well- researched, factual incidents with fiction in a seamless manner that gives the reader historic realism during a memorable and exciting journey. By Accident of Birth is the sixth book by Simmons.
- Martha H Sullivan, retired Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Tulane University.
From page one, I was drawn into the life of BB Quinn. Immediately, there was the vision of a montage of Scout, Scarlet O’Hara and Elizabeth Swann; a spunky, gorgeous, raven-haired, green-eyed Tom-boy who never had ‘can’t’ in her vocabulary. Raised by Negro nannies and men of stature (a doctor and a gun-runner), she learned her manners as well as how to handle guns and men; both of which she would never really trust. You could not help but cheer her on and keep turning pages. I craved more at the end, but I won’t have to wait long. The sequel, The Last Quinn Standing, will be out soon. This is a book I will purchase and give as gifts for years to come. Bravo!
- CJ Loiacono