Secrets of Ash is a riveting, fast-paced, and suspenseful novel of fraternal love and dark memories, told from the alternating points of view of two brothers who cross a lifetime, and a rugged mountain, to come to terms with themselves and each other. Peter and Orlando discuss the characters, the struggles, and a surprising ending with Georgia Author of the Year nominee Josh Green. 

Secrets of Ash: A Novel of War, Brotherhood, and Going Home Again
Credit: The Sager Group


Peter Biello: Coming up in this episode.

Orlando Montoya: About brotherly bonds. The scars of war. And it touches on the rural urban divide in Georgia, has a vivid sense of place.

Josh Green: I wanted to create a character that pays homage to all those veterans that I've talked to and taken notes from over the years.

Peter Biello: Okay, so how did you handle all of this masculinity in this book?

Orlando Montoya: Are you asking if it triggers me? This podcast from Georgia Public Broadcasting highlights books with Georgia Connections hosted by two of your favorite public radio book nerds, who also happen to be your hosts of All Things Considered on GPB radio. I'm Orlando Montoya.

Peter Biello: And I'm Peter Biello. Thanks for joining us as we introduce you to authors, their writings, and the insights behind the stories mixed with our own thoughts and ideas on just what gives these works the Narrative Edge. Hey, Orlando, we are back.

Orlando Montoya: We're back. And we got another book.

Peter Biello: What book is it today?

Orlando Montoya: Today we are talking about Secrets of Ash by Atlanta writer Josh Green. This is his debut novel, and he's written some short stories before. But Josh Green, he is editor of Urbanize Atlanta, that's an online publication that talks about real estate, urban planning, retail, residential, commercial developments, that kind of thing. But he has written this harrowing rescue drama about brotherly bonds, the scars of war, and it touches on the rural urban divide in Georgia and has a vivid sense of place. The story is set in Atlanta, specifically Buckhead and in North Georgia mountains. And I found myself racing through it to see how it ends, especially the last half.

Peter Biello: I love a good Buckhead Rescue drama. So who's being rescued here?

Orlando Montoya: So the rescue is sort of set up from the very beginning. We have two brothers, Jack and Chase. They're very different, but they have similarities. They have different lifestyles, but they are similarly troubled. One of them gets into trouble. And let me tell you about the two personalities first. Okay? Jack, he's a radio personality, sports jock, one of these big, flamboyant personalities on air. He drives flashy cars. He lives in a flashy Buckhead condominium. Alcoholic. Okay. Womanizer. Playboy. He's got a secret child that he's, not talking about. He's just mean and rude to people.

Peter Biello: You said troubled. You weren't kidding.

Orlando Montoya: Yeah, well, you know, he's at risk of losing his job because he's basically a jerk.

Josh Green: Then the older brother, is directly inspired by, Wild Man Radio sports radio personality Mike Bell in Atlanta. I think people have told him that, but I used to have a long commute home. I used to work in Gwinnett County, and I always lived in the city and come back home to the city. And, just his antics online. I know he's a controversial figure, but, I really found it entertaining. I think the guy's really talented.

Peter Biello: Do you know Mike Bell?

Orlando Montoya: I don't know Mike Bell to be quite, I bet I should say I only moved here three years ago. You only moved here two years ago.

Peter Biello: So Atlanta people must know Mike Bell, if you. Especially if you listen to commercial radio, which I don't. I'm public radio. Right or die.

Orlando Montoya: We will assume that Mike Bell is a fantastic, personality on air. Okay. So it's it's, fashioned after him. Now, the younger brother is Chase. He's in Afghanistan. War vet. And this guy, you know, he's, you know, he experienced all the horrors of that war. He saw guys getting killed. He killed guys himself. He's haunted by the war, haunted by his childhood trauma as well. And after the war, he moved to Atlanta. Couldn't make it in the city, though, so he couldn't hold down a job. And so he takes his disability checks, and he moves to a small North Georgia fictional town called Cherokee and the fictional County of ash. And we can call them fictional towns, but we can kind of maybe.

Peter Biello: Kind of figure out the real life counterparts.

Orlando Montoya: You know, maybe it's Clayton, maybe it's young Harris, you know, it's up there somewhere, and Chase goes up there to sort of live quietly. But he gets he's got alcohol problems as well. He also has problems with women. He gets in fights. He's a hell raiser. He gets in trouble with the law. But, the sheriff up there kind of gives him a pass because the sheriff also is a war vet. I think he might have been Vietnam, but Chase, also kind of a jerk.

Josh Green: Chase the younger brother. I've been a professional journalist by day for, going on 20 years. And some of the first serious stories that I covered were, War on terror vets coming back home stateside, and some of the stuff that they were dealing with. This was long before PTSD was a, household, word acronym. And I always find them. I found it fascinating. I found it terrifying. I found it troubling, but also really inspiring. And I wanted to create a character that pays homage to all those veterans that I've. I've talked to and taken notes from over the years.

Orlando Montoya: So you ask me the question, who ends up being rescued or who ends up in need of rescue? And I'll ask you, based on the two characters I've presented so.

Peter Biello: Far, I mean, it seems like you're setting up. Something like a like a military rescue mission, right? Like, does that the military veteran goes save his civilian troublemaker brother?

Orlando Montoya: The opposite.

Peter Biello: The opposite. Okay, well that's good, right? You want that in the book? You want it to sort of defy your expectations and go the opposite of the easy route.

Orlando Montoya: Yeah so Jack, the older brother, ends up having to rescue Chase. The younger brother. Chase goes off into the mountains with a gun, and his goal is to end himself. Military suicides. It's a real thing. The statistics are pretty sobering. In 2022, 492 service members died by suicide, according to the Department of Defense. And in 2021, more than 6000 servicemember veterans died by suicide, according to the Veterans Administration. And we should say right now that help is available. Call 988, press one or chat online at If you're having, suicidal thoughts. But Chase goes off into the mountains. He's unreachable. He's off the grid, he's missing. He left a suicide note and the search is on for him. But it sets up a problem because Jack is a city Playboy. He's an Atlanta big shot. He knows nothing about the mountains. He knows nothing about compasses and fires and wilderness. So this is where we get introduced to a cast of local characters that he meets, the sheriff, the sheriff's deputy, a bartender, a minister, a guy named Pronto. And they sort of either help or hinder this search.

Peter Biello: Okay? And I've seen narratives like this before. Stranger comes to town. How do locals react to this out of towner?

Orlando Montoya: Yeah, this was something like you r book a few weeks ago with, what was it called? Godfall.

Peter Biello: Yeah, yeah. People coming from out of town to, to a rural place and making it not so rural anymore, but. Yeah.

Orlando Montoya: Yeah. So these locals, some of them are warm to Jack. The bartender in particular, sort of becomes his girlfriend. And then some of them don't. The sheriff definitely, definitely doesn't like, Chase or Jack, and some of them are kind of just morbidly curious about this big fat, you know, Atlanta, big shot, the deputy, woman named McLaren in particular. She's one of the more interesting characters. She's kind of ambivalent. She could, you know, these people could die or not die. She doesn't, you know, particularly care. But, you know, all these characters have secrets. Every single one of them. Even the minor characters. No one sort of escapes this book without some sort of moral question hanging over their head by the end of it. And I found that kind of refreshing. No real black or white characters kind of had you guessing, you know who's going to do what? And all of that is sort of propelled by a very, urgent sense of danger. Chase could die. And the whole story is very fast. It takes place over a matter of days.

Peter Biello: Well, let me ask you this, because trying to prevent someone from dying by suicide, that sounds like a delicate act, not just a, you know, removing him from the means.

Orlando Montoya: Well they have to find him.

Peter Biello: Yeah, they have to find him.

Orlando Montoya: He's lost in the woods. He's written this note, and he's somewhere out there in the wilderness. So that's what it's like. It's like the search is on for for Chase.

Peter Biello: And what indication do they have that they're not too late.

Orlando Montoya: Because it just happened like it. Oh the the note was left and it's a couple days later so. Okay. They're they think they can find him.

Peter Biello: They're optimistic as I guess any you know person would be about their loved one when they go missing. Okay. So it sounds like Josh green has written a book that leans heavily on character and plot. You talked about a few key characters. So what are some of the key moments in the plot?

Orlando Montoya: Well, Chase is alone in the woods. Like I said, with a gun, he wants to kill himself, but there are obstacles. He gets tied up, literally, by some backwoods marijuana growers. There are bears and rocks and snakes in the wilderness type things, and Jack is trying to rescue him, but he has obstacles as well. Any number of places where this novel could have taken a different turn and sort of I, you know, reading the book, asking myself, you know, why didn't Josh green make this turn or that turn? And so for those places, I will leave you, to read the book to figure out. But, I think the key moment for this entire story, though, is the father, the father, the father. Because over the course of these chapters, we learn their backstories. And the father strict, stern, disappointed in his sons, especially with Chase, little love or affection. And so that's what I'm left wondering. You know, if the father had been different, would Chase have gone into the military? Would Jack have ended up this womanizing alcoholic, this sort of manchild radio personality. And that kind of brings up, you know, what I kind of also see as a main topic here, and that's masculinity. I asked Josh Green if he wanted this book to say something about masculinity, and he said absolutely.

Josh Green: Yeah. I suppose just to kind of shine a light on on how ridiculous it can be when it goes over the top, and how corrosive and how poisonous it can be. You know, in the case of their father. But also when you I guess on that same note, when Jack puts all of his, you know, his macho bravado aside and, and says, you know, I am I am trying to save my brother in a foreign place. And the mountains, this this rugged, rough, deadly wilderness that I don't understand at all. And I don't know what I'm doing at all. There is no there is no man ego here. You know I cannot conquer this. I am not macho anymore. I am not the dominant male. I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm willing to risk everything just to try to save my kid brother. So I guess in a way, that's that's a character overcoming that. And then the father character never really does.

Peter Biello: Well, okay. So how did you handle all of this masculinity in this book?

Orlando Montoya: Are you asking if it triggers me?

Peter Biello: It would trigger me I think.

Orlando Montoya: Did it excite or offend me.

Peter Biello: It would. I mean, because I'm always looking for, you know, male characters in books that are that are well-rounded enough and are thoughtful enough to to ask for help when they need it as a bare minimum, you know, or is that.

Orlando Montoya: These are great characters.

Peter Biello: So they are in that it seems like they're struggling with it. Right? Struggling with the idea of, okay, how much vulnerability do I allow?

Orlando Montoya: Definitely. It just, you know, it's masculinity in the world. You know, one funny story is that when I was I don't know where I found this out. Maybe Josh Green sent me a message or I was googling for it on, on online somewhere. But I found that Amazon had characterized this book, in the category of men's adventure fiction.

Peter Biello: Well, I guess you gotta put it somewhere.

Orlando Montoya: What the heck is that? You know, not a category I would have, like, sought out, but I loved the book. It moves fast. It's got danger twists. Characters that are that are it's got great characters, empathy. And it provokes. It talks about serious problems, weighty issues. And the end is a surprise. Not what I was expecting. It just kept me turning the pages all the time.

Peter Biello: All right. So what gives it the narrative edge in your opinion?

Orlando Montoya: Well, all those things that I just mentioned. But also Josh Green himself, I gotta say, I picked up the book for two reasons. Number one, it had this radio personality, and I kind of wanted to see what that was all about. And it was Josh Green and, he, as I mentioned at it's, Urbanized Atlanta, he's a city geek. My boyfriend is a city geek. I'm sure we all watch the same urbanist YouTube videos, about zoning and rapid transit.

Peter Biello: We all do. We all do. I will say I read a lot more of urbanized ATL, before the paywall went up.

Orlando Montoya: Okay, well. Reminder, we have no paywall here at GPB, but I love Josh's work. And we didn't get to talk about city stuff, but I wanted to help spread the word about his fabulous book, his first, novel. A true milestone for any writer.

Josh Green: The marketability aspect of it. You know, people, have kind of rolled their eyes, you know, like, what was this real estate writer? You know, people generally associate me as doing with for a career. What is he doing? Putting together this, this strange, dark story. But you know this. I've been trying to do this since I was a kid. I've kind of naturally been drawn to fiction, and, yeah, it's been a long, tough slog, but it's it's really. It's really starting to get, rewarding, you know, in, in, in ways like this, just talking about it, you know, and here we are. And this is, this is great. This has been on my laptop as a as a word document through two literary agents, through, you know, 100 rejections from the big New York publishing houses who didn't, they gave a lot of compliments, but they said, you know, where does this where does this fit in the publishing world? How can we market this?

Orlando Montoya: How can you market it? Men's adventure fiction.

Peter Biello: Men do read. We do read. Well, Orlando, thanks for telling me all about Secrets of Ash by Josh Green. Really do appreciate it.

Orlando Montoya: Oh, it's been a pleasure. Thank you. Thanks for listening to Narrative Edge. We'll be back in two weeks with a brand-new episode. This podcast is a production of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Find us online at

Peter Biello: You can also catch us on the daily GPB News podcast Georgia Today for a concise update on the latest news in Georgia. For more on that and all of our podcasts, go to