Fairly often I get some variation of the question: Where did Jackson Speed come from?
The “Jackson Speed Origins” is a story I enjoy telling.
Ol’ Speedy was born in May of 2012.
At the time, I was reading two books. I had recently decided to re-read the Flashman series (it was going to be the third or fourth time I’d read most of the books) and was just starting on the first book in that series. I was also about 100 pages into Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative.
This particular morning I was waiting for my wife to finish getting ready for work (we work together so we typically commute together) and I was reading Foote’s book. In it, Lincoln had just been elected president and was on his train tour from Springfield to Washington D.C. for his first inauguration.
Foote wrote a couple of paragraphs on the Baltimore Plot to kill Lincoln, foiled by Pinkerton and a what Foote described as “a female detective.”
And bam! just like that Jackson Speed had arrived to take his place in history.
It was, perhaps, the only true epiphany I’ve ever had in my life.
I saw the whole of Jackson Speed’s life in front of me: The Mexican-American War, the California Gold Rush, the American Civil War, the Congressional Medal of Honor at Gettysburg, Texas Rangers and Indians and outlaws and cattle wars in the Old West, the Hatfields and McCoys, Teddy Roosevelt looking on Ol’ Speed as a hero …
I even saw the mill at Scull Shoals burning.
I suppose I could have fashioned Speed after Horatio Hornblower or one of these other countless heroes who not only wrestle with the bad guys but also battle temptations that seek to turn them from their own ethical and moral codes. Though I like the Hornblower novels, and Robert Parker’s Spenser and Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe (and Starbuck, if we’re talking about characters in the Civil War), those are not the characters who really spark my interest.
Han Solo (not Luke Skywalker) was my first favorite fictional character. I was a fan of the womanizing James Bond. Byron’s Don Juan, Fielding’s Tom Jones (at least in the beginning), and, the greatest of them all, George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman: – These are the characters who have always seemed like the most fun to me, and from them came Jackson Speed.
From the start, Jackson Speed was always going to be a scoundrel. I mean, the very first scene in El Teneria – the burning of the mill at Scull Shoals – and the entire premise of his journey to war in Mexico necessitate his two primary characteristics.
Speed’s only motivations in life are his own survival and his insatiable lust. It is much easier to write about a character who has no moral code to live up to.
I also like the conceit of these novels being Speed’s discovered memoirs – the reminiscences of a man whose years are running low. Because the series is held out to be Speed’s memoirs, written late in a long life, it gives him an omniscience that I think is necessary for the character. I also like that he is attempting to correct the record (complaining that Fitz Hugh Lee failed to mention him in Lee’s own recollections of Chancellorsville).
I have an image of Ol’ Speedy – the old man writing his memoirs – sitting in his study and thinking on the near escapes, the maniacs who constantly tried to get him “in at the death,” as he likes to say, and the women who frequently led him to danger. Especially the women. I love the notion of the randy old bastard remembering the women who loved him by the color of their nipples.
I wonder, too, as I write the novels, if Speed is being completely honest with us. Was he really so much a rascal as he paints himself to be? Was he really as awful? If you notice, he’s never bedded a woman who didn’t fall ass over head in love with him, and I have to wonder at that, too. If Jenny Rakestraw or Kate Cherry or Marcilina de la Garza had left their own memoirs for us to read, would they confess to being as fond of Speed as he claims they were?
I wanted Speed to walk a narrow line of loveable rogue – not the rogue part, but whether or not he was loveable. There are scenes when I’m writing that I think to myself, “Careful … you don’t want Speed to redeem himself here.” And that’s when I try to find something really nasty for him to do.
Regardless, though, I’ve really come to like the old guy.
A reader review posted at Amazon.com for El Teneria says, “The history is true and the fiction is fun.”
That’s what I was going for.
So if you’re interested in history and you think the bad guys have more fun, I hope you’ll give Jackson Speed a read. And if you do, please send me a note to let me know what you think!