‘A Spent Bullet’ Discussion Group: Chapter 1

Author’s note:  we’re inviting book clubs, Louisiana History classes, homeschool groups, and English/Language Arts groups to join us as we walk through my new novel, A Spent Bullet.


Curt Iles


Sayings:  What does ‘a dollar waiting on a dime’ mean?

It’s an old country saying used when you’re waiting on somebody as in “I’m the dollar and I’m waiting on you– the dime.”  It is used in jest and never meant to be demeaning.  What are some other similar saws?*

One of my father-in-law’s favorites is,  “If I could buy him for what he’s worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth, I’d be rich.”

* Do you understand what a ‘saw’ is?

                                                      Today’s quote:

“If you wait to do everything until you’re sure it’s right, you’ll probably never do much of anything.”  -Win Borden


Listed below are discussion questions for chapter 1 of A Spent Bullet.  They’re compiled by my lifetime friend, Don Brewer.  I appreciate Don’s awesome talent in writing and insight.   Chapter 1 in its entirety is listed below.  Read it and answer the questions.  Feel free to forward more questions.

These discussion questions will be used by book clubs and school groups.  We’re inviting our friends and readers to submit questions for other chapters.  Enjoy!

Chapter 1 – Discussion Questions:

1.   What emotional state for Elizabeth, is the author trying to convey?

  • Taking into account the railroad tracks, trains, and passing trucks, how do you envision of the area of town where this chapter takes place?
  • What is the general mood of the soldiers, and what does this tell you about their age and maturity level?
  • What does the saying “a dollar waiting on a dime” mean?
  • What are the deeper connotations of the use of a “bullet” to deliver a message?
  • Do you sense that the local people like or dislike this influx of soldiers, and if so why?
  • What do think the soldiers are thinking as they filter into these small Southern towns?
  • Is it normal for Elizabeth to judge all soldiers harshly based on a previous relationship with one?
  • Compare and contrast Ben’s character with the 10 year olds you are acquainted with today.

Author notes in red 

Part I

The Battle for the Bullet

“I want the mistakes made down in Louisiana, not over in Europe.

 If it doesn’t work, find out what we need to make it work.”

– General George C. Marshall

Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

Spring 1941

 George C. Marshall is considered the aritecht of America’s preparation for war.  After World War II, he served  as U.S Secretary of Defense and later Secretary of State.  A truly great American. 

“Monday I go to Louisiana . . . The old-timers say we are going to a God-awful spot complete with mud, malaria, mosquitoes, and misery.”

– Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower

August 5, 1941

Eisenhower, a future president, was sent as part of the Third Army which was the Blue Army.  He distinguished himself as a great leader in Louisiana and received his first general’s star and within two years was leading the entire Allied armies in Europe. 



Chapter 1

The Bullet

 “How unhappy is he who cannot forgive himself.” – Publilius Syrus

This is the hidden theme of the book.




Wednesday, August 13, 1941      One of the fun parts of historical writing is researching the days of the week, sunrise time, moon phase, etc.

DeRidder, Louisiana   I envisioned this scene at the SW corner of Washington and First Street in DeRidder.  It was once the home of City Savings Bank and is now Dance Stop. 


Elizabeth Reed had only met one soldier she liked, and he had wounded her deeply. So when the blond G.I. tossed the bullet, she didn’t flinch even as it landed at her feet.

The soldier leaned out of a crowded Army truck. “You’re beautiful. Write me.” He pointed at her feet. “The bullet—write me.” The empty cartridge had a note folded inside. The bullet-tossing practice was called “yoo-hooing” and was an attempt to get the attention—and addresses—of local girls.

A loud wolf whistle from the truck grated on her like fingernails across the slate board in her classroom. The same soldier called out, “I’d love a kiss from a pretty Southern girl like you.”

Elizabeth coolly nodded at a large matronly woman near her. “Are you talking to me or her?” The troop truck exploded in laughter. She fanned away the dust. “Soldiers. They’re all the same.” Traffic began moving and the smoking truck rattled across the railroad tracks. Her ten-year-old brother Ben, behind her, had missed the tossed bullet. He spied it just as Elizabeth drew her foot back to kick it. “What’s that?”

“A soldier threw it. It’s a note stuck in an empty cartridge.” As he knelt, she pulled him away. “Leave it alone. It might blow up.”

“Lizzie, you’re playing with me.” He bounced on his toes at the three-o’clock train’s whistle. “They’re here.”

Yelling from the convoy’s last truck replaced the whistle. Elizabeth clamped her hands over Ben’s ears. “Sometimes what they say isn’t for fresh ears.”

He twisted loose. “My ears ain’t fresh.”

“Benjamin Franklin Reed, you’re impossible. It’s aren’t—not ain’t.”

“Well, either way, my ears ain’t fresh.”

A soldier yelled from the truck, “Is this Detroit?”

“Nope, this is DeRidder, Louisianer.” Ben had always been allergic to silence.

Elizabeth bent down. “We live in Louisiana, not Louisianer.”

“Ain’t that what I said?” His face was pinched. “Is this how you’ll be treating me in your classroom?”

Grabbing him in a playful headlock, she goosed him until he said, “Uncle.” Elizabeth looked up at a tall grinning soldier. “I’ll wrassle you next if you’re through with him,” he said in a rich west-Texas drawl.

She felt her face flushing. “I believe I could whip you too.” She grabbed Ben’s hand. “Come on. Our train’s here.”

“Where are y’all going?” Texas said.

She cringed when Ben said, “We’re here to pick up some chicks.”

The soldier laughed. “Well, count me in.”

Elizabeth pulled on Ben’s shirtsleeve. “Let’s go before the train leaves.”

He knelt on the sidewalk. “But what about the bullet?”

“Leave it.” He was slowly rolling the cuff of his overalls. “Come on Ben. A dollar’s waiting on a dime.”

Do you understand this “rural saw”?   What are your favorite retorts?

He scampered forward. “Poppa says that there are three things a soldier likes best: dogs, kids, and pretty girls.”

“In that order?”

“Probably not.”

“Well Ben, which one are you?”

“I’m not a dog or a pretty girl, so I guess I fit in as a ‘kid.’” He squeezed her hand. “And if I eyed those soldiers right, you definitely fit the ‘pretty girl’ part.”

“You think so?” She hurried on ahead.

Ben stepped in front of her. “Lizzie, are you mad at me?”

She froze. “Why would I be mad at you? I love you like a son.” She licked her fingers, trying to tame the unruly cowlick in his dark hair.

“But I’m your brother, not your son.”

“You’re ten years younger than me, so I guess you’re kind of both.”

“You seem mad at someone. Is it those soldiers?”

She drew in a long breath. “I’m not mad at them . . . just tired of them.”

“Is it ’cause they’re men?”

“Who’s been talking to you?”

“Well, Peg said . . . some soldier hurt you.”

“Is that so?”

“She claimed being your twin lets her see into your heart—says you got wounded by a soldier—said you were eligible for a Purple Heart.”

Her jaw tightened. “Maybe a broken heart, but not a purple one.” She looked around. “Peg said she’d meet us here before the train arrived.”

As they neared the depot, she rubbed Ben’s ear. “Watch for those army trucks.” He was digging in his pocket, so she repeated, “Watch for those trucks.”

“I will.”

Her twin sister Peg’s words hung like the dust in the air. Hurt by a soldier. Wounded. Elizabeth heard her own voice bouncing in her soul. It’s your own fault. You don’t have anyone to blame but yourself.

She bit her lip. It would not happen again.

Feel free to review the discussion questions above.  I’d love to hear from you.

Curt Iles


  1. Let us hear from you. We love comments and suggestions from our readers! -Curt and the Creekbank Family.

  2. My husband, whom I buy the books for, was raised in Pitkin and has so enjoyed each book you’ve written. I think there is one we’re missing but was waiting for it to come in to the Hemphill Antique Store in Hemphill, TX. My husband, Lonnie, said that he notices you use your poetic license geographically with the location of the towns around there but he said it didn’t matter with the story. He’s shared the books with a distant cousin of yours, Mildred Iles Jordan in Hemphill. She really enjoys reading them also. Please keep these wonderful books coming.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *