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Benjamin Whitmer, Ward Churchill's onetime online champion, chooses books over flame wars

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The Colorado Court of Appeals recently rejected ex-CU professor Ward Churchill's bid to get his old job back. Benjamin Whitmer, whose Try-Works blog rallied pro-Churchill forces when the controversy over his firing was at its hottest, thinks that's wrong. But he's moved on from what he calls the Internet "flame wars" with an acclaimed novel and a forthcoming book about country music legend Charlie Louvin.

Not that Whitmer has given up on blogging entirely. Surfers who type in the address to the old Try-Works site will find themselves at BenjaminWhitmer.com, where he continues to take on topics of interest. Today, for instance, he comments on a Westword post about Denver ranking first in the nation in excessive force complaints against police. But he's no longer devoting most of his time to battling Churchill haters.

"We just acted like a bunch of kids -- me and the guys on the other side, too," he believes. "I don't think we did anybody any good. There were valid points I wanted to address, and I don't regret defending Ward and trying to bring out stuff that wasn't being said. But it was pretty silly -- name-calling with a bunch of fifty-year olds. I'm happy to be done with that."

He's finished with CU as well. He served as an instructor in the American studies department during the period "when Ward and his wife weren't teaching," he notes. "I was there at the right time to pick up other classes. But once they decided to hire people permanently, there was no chance they would hire me to continue, and no chance I wanted to continue. It wasn't my cup of tea."

So Whitmer landed a day job as a technical writer -- and during his free time, he wrote Pike, a novel published late last year by PM Press. He categorizes the book, whose main characters include a drug dealer, a wannabe tough-man contestant and a Vietnam vet "driven half insane by his own pacemaker," as country noir. Jedidiah Ayres, writing for Ransom Notes, Barnes & Noble's mystery blog, called it "the most exciting debut of the year."

Now, Whitmer's been hired by Igniter Books, the HarperCollins imprint overseen by music journalists Neil Strauss and Anthony Bozza, to help aforementioned C&W legend Charlie Louvin tell his story.

It's a fascinating tale, as I know from personal experience: Read my 2007 piece "The Lost Charlie Louvin Interview" here. And because Louvin is currently battling pancreatic cancer, he's running out of time to tell it. Hence, Whitmer's been pouring loads of energy into the project. "I went down and spent a week with him at the end of August, and up until a couple of weeks ago, I've been talking every day on the phone with him for an hour or two," Whitmer says.

With the first draft of the Louvin book due next month, Whitmer's got his hands full. No time for flame wars anymore.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Ward Churchill case: CU firing should be nixed in name of academic freedom, says David Lane."

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