About robpeecher

Rob Peecher is a journalist, a husband and a father and a sometimes author. His first novel, "Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria" is the beginning of a story about a 19th Century reluctant hero who, after his memoirs are discovered, turns out to be a coward and an adulterer. Told in the tradition of the picaresque tale, the Jackson Speed Memoirs promise to be great fun for the reader.

First reading of Jackson Speed in the Rush gets a couple of tears

Not only is she my first reader, but Jean will also sometimes model books for me when first editions show up.

I am feverishly working on the final edits for the next Jackson Speed novel with the hope that it can be done and published in time for my friend Chris to read it on his vacation the first part of June.

If there has ever been any question about whether or not I love my readers, let this put all rumors to the contrary to rest. I am staying up until midnight night after night after night to be sure that Chris’s vacation has some Jackson Speed in it.

The “final edits” process looks like this: I read over every word and try to catch any last type-o’s, any continuity issues that were missed in previous edits, or anything that just sits funny with me (there are two scenes in El Teneria that still make me cringe when I wonder why I didn’t edit those out).

During “final edits,” I simultaneously give the book to my wife and ask her to read through it.

If you follow this blog, you know that Jean is my first reader, and I put tremendous value in her opinion of my books.

So this is what was going on in our house last night. I was final editing, and Jean was first reading.

If you’re a fan of Jackson Speed, you know these are not weighty books. I try to keep them historically accurate, full of action and satire, and entertaining to read. But periodically I’ll throw in some really terrible stuff because we are, after all, talking about a rough period of American history. My books are full of characters who die. I think of the final chapter of Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs, where Speed is on the battlefield at Fredericksburg and is standing over a dying Yankee soldier. It’s a poignant moment. And while the books are not weighty, there are certainly scenes that get heavier than others.

So last night Jean read through one of those heavier scenes.

And it made her cry.

She wasn’t bawling. She didn’t have snot coming out of her nose. But she had a couple of little tears she was willing to shed over a scene in the book.

That’s what I’m looking for. That’s why I put the book in Jean’s hand and watch her while she reads. If she cries when I want her to cry and laughs when I want her to laugh or shakes her head in disgust as Jackson Speed crawls into yet another woman’s bed, then it’s all a good gauge to me that I’m doing my job as a storyteller.

I don’t expect everyone to tear up while reading this book. It’s a fact about Jean that she’ll cry while watching Hallmark or Folger’s commercials. But for the average reader, there might be a scene or two that make you wonder if the room has suddenly gotten a little dusty.

So Chris need not worry that Ol’ Speedy is going to ruin his vacation with a lot of tear-jerking, but if my first reader’s reactions are a fair representation of the book, then I think I’ve done my job.

This one tops 100,000 words, so it’s a bigger book than all the other (except High Tide) and really it should feel like two stories for the price of one.

I’m excited for you to read it!

Now … back to editing before Chris gets his suitcases packed!

Sherman jokes are indeed too soon

Cump Sherman

With the fire and collapse of a section of bridge on I-85 yesterday, there’s been a lot of posting about William Tecumseh Sherman in the last 24 hours.

Sherman makes an appearance in the soon-to-be-released “Jackson Speed in the Rush.” Sherman biographers will know that the Yankee general made famous for burning Atlanta on his March to the Sea will know that in 1848-49 the young Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman was in California and played a small role in the California Gold Rush.

I learned some interesting things about Sherman during my research, not least of which is that his friends all called him “Cump,” a shortened version of his middle name.

I’ve seen lots of jokes floating around Facebook about Sherman and the burning of Atlanta. My favorite is the photo of Sherman with the caption: “Police have released this photograph of a suspect in the I-85 fire.” Invariably, someone will post: “Too soon.”

But I think it’s important to remember that for many people, these jokes are “too soon.” My personal authority on the Old South has many times reminded me that when Sherman and those damn Yankees marched through Georgia they devastated lives and property, and generations later some have not forgotten. In fact, my personal authority on the Old South has told me how he used to hear stories from the old-timers (who got it from older-timers) of how the Yankee soldiers entertained themselves.

It was common back in the old days that peacocks roamed the streets in some small Southern towns. Some people kept them as pets and allowed them to roam at will. In fact, I used to live down the road from someone who had a couple of peacocks as pets, and they were constantly coming into the yard, honking and aggravating my dog.

My friend and Old South authority said that when Sherman came through, the Yankee soldiers entertained themselves by shooting these peacocks for sport.

“They shot the peafowl,” he says, and the generational sorrow is thick in his voice.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t be able to have their fun on Facebook or that there’s not some humor to the joke that Cump Sherman set the fire that shut down I-85, but don’t dismiss those who say it is “too soon” as idle jokers. Some wounds take hundreds of years to heal, and Sherman’s gash across the face of Georgia is still a raw scar.

They shot the peafowl.

The Battle of the Boat video

When writing the Jackson Speed novels, I try very hard to find interesting, unique, and often forgotten episodes from history to slip into my plots. When I was writing the first of the Jackson Speed novels, I stumbled upon the story of the Battle of the Boat, and I knew immediately it was the exact sort of disaster in which Jackson Speed should take part.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of sources about the event, but there were enough that I was able to piece together a pretty thorough approximation of what happened.

In the video above, I discuss the Battle of the Boat and what took place on the Rio Grande to make General Taylor decide that he was not taking any of the Georgia militia units into battle with him during the Mexican-American War.

If you enjoy reading historical fiction and like your heroes to be on the scoundrel side, please check out the Jackson Speed Memoirs. And if you enjoy the novels, leave a review on Amazon!

Also, go and “like” the Jackson Speed page on Facebook where I am regularly posting short videos in which I discuss my research and the novels.

Follow me on Facebook for video updates

I have shot a few videos in the past where I talk about Jackson Speed (such as the one posted above), and I expect I’ll continue to do some longer ones like that in the future. However, I decided recently to start doing some short (2-3 minute) videos on a somewhat regular basis, and I’m going to post directly to the Jackson Speed Facebook page.

Mostly in these videos I’ll talk about the Jackson Speed books or the research I’m doing for the current novel. If you find the history contained in the novels interesting, I’d really encourage you to follow the Jackson Speed page on Facebook to see these videos.

As I research the Jackson Speed Memoirs, I end up learning so much information that never gets into the books. But I love being able to share that information with other people. So Facebook seems like a good place to do that.

I don’t intend to post all of these videos on Youtube or on my website, so the Facebook page is going to be the best place to find them.

If you’re wondering why I’m not going to post them anywhere other than Facebook, the reason is simple enough: We live just far enough out in the country that my internet is pretty poor. It’s not dial-up poor, but uploading video is a time consuming challenge. I start hogging all the internet bandwidth, and suddenly my sons are complaining to me that they can’t watch the latest Ozzy Man video, and my wife is yelling at me because she’s trying to watch videos of dogs doing tricks.

So if you want to keep up with where I am writing the next novel or you want to pick up some interesting tidbits of history, click the link here and like the page. And, of course, please feel free to share it with your friends.

Researching travel in the 1800s

Toll house and toll road from the 1800s.

Toll house and toll road from the 1800s.

As I research and write the Jackson Speed Memoirs, one of the things that really fascinates me is the transportation of the era.

Anyone familiar with the books will know that typically the books unravel along a physical journey, and Speed rarely finishes a book in the same place he started it. So I end up spending a lot of time figuring out how a 19th Century scoundrel would get from here to there.

Transportation in the 19th Century was a crazy slow mixture of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination.

For instance, in the earliest days of train travel, it was not uncommon to have a bolt in the floor of the train car come loose from the vibrations and shoot into the air. Train passengers were sometimes injured by these flying bolts. And those early trains did not have cushioned seats, so passengers bumped and jerked over rails while sitting on flat wood benches or chairs. I imagine train depots probably presented a comical sight of stiff-backed travelers trying to stretch out the kinks.

The very first trains, going back to the early 1800s, consisted of nothing more than stagecoaches hooked to an engine.

Water, of course, was hugely important to travel. The rivers truly were our first highways.

I once came across some information about a river that I frequently travel in my canoe. The Oconee River, which runs from north of Athens, Ga., to South Georgia where it helps form the Altamaha River and goes out to the Atlantic, is a narrow river full of shoals and sandbars, and once or twice a month I can be found in my canoe paddling the Oconee around Athens.

In the early 1800s, the Oconee had significant boat traffic from the sea up to Dublin, Georgia. Above Dublin, the Oconee passes through Milledgeville (which was the antebellum state capital).

For more than a decade, every spring, tens of thousands of dollars and countless man hours were wasted trying to clear the Oconee of obstacles from Dublin to Milledgeville so that boat traffic could move up to the state capital. Typically in a season they would only be able to float a small handful of ships up river. The river north of Dublin was just too shallow for boats. They would dredge the sand and clear deadfall and even blast rocks, but the work would only clear the river long enough to allow a few boats to get to Milledgeville.

In Indiana there was an even bigger boondoggle in the making.

In the mid-1830s the Indiana general assembly passed a bill allocating $3.5 million to the construction of the Indiana Central Canal. Intended to run 296 miles from the Wabash and Erie Canal to the Ohio River, only 9 miles were ever completed (near Indianapolis) and another two dozen miles were dug. The project nearly bankrupted the state.

In the 1900s, the completed portion of the canal at Indianapolis was used to provide drinking water for the city, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

In researching the Jackson Speed novels, I dig pretty deep into the history of transportation, and I am constantly amazed by what I learn. Mostly, I am amazed at the ingenuity of the human race.

In Jackson Speed and the Fugitive Slaves, Speed flees slave hunters aboard a flat boat.

Big rivers – the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, and others – were littered with these flat boats. They were large barges built almost like house boats, and farmers would pack these boats with livestock and produce and float them down the rivers (Abraham Lincoln once floated a flat boat down the Mississippi).

Typically when they arrived where they were going, these farmers would sell their boats and walk home. Sometimes the boats would be dismantled and the lumber used to construct homes or barns. Sometimes people would live on the boats on the river. Sometimes they would hitch the boats to steamships and carry them back upstream.

Especially in the novels set prior to the Civil War, my ability to get Speed from one place to another is very limited. I have several period maps I use that show the rail lines in the 1840s and 1850s, and the railroads of the day were a bizarre mishmash of ties and rails. Particularly as a line was being constructed, it was possible to arrive halfway along your journey only to discover that to complete your trip you would have to find some other mode of travel because the tracks had not yet been laid all the way to your destination. Speed encountered this particular dilemma when he arrived in Chattanooga in Fugitive Slaves.

But of course there was always some other way. A canal, a steamship, a stagecoach, or a horse would get you where you needed to go.

Another aspect of travel at the time that interests me is that most of the roads of the early- to mid-1800s were toll roads that were privately owned. While toll bridges proved to be successful private ventures – because evading the toll was quite a challenge when crossing a river – toll roads were less successful as private ventures. Toll jumpers, known as “shunpikers,” were common, and the roads were often chartered by the government with lots of regulations. People who lived within a mile of the tollhouse were not to be charged; people on normal family business were not to be charged; people going to and from church were not to be charged.

Between the no-charges and the shunpikers, private toll roads struggled to make money.

By the early 1900s, local and state governments were taking over roadways and the private toll roads were soon to be a thing of the past.

The history of travel in the United States is fascinating to me, and it’s easy for me to get lost in the research as I try to move Jackson Speed from one place to another without benefit of interstates, cars driving 75 mph or airplanes.

In some of the novels, such as Jackson Speed and the Fugitive Slaves, the physical journey the characters make is as important as to the story as anything, but in other novels, the travel is merely a necessary part of the story. In Fugitive Slaves, I spent hours and hours researching roadways, river and train travel of 1853.

In the novel I’m currently writing, Jackson Speed in the Rush, Speed makes one of the biggest journeys in the history of our nation – the Overland trip to California. I spent a massive amount of time researching the trip, but the novel is not about that journey and it only takes up a chapter of the book.

I think my fascination with early travel stems from a family story I heard many years ago. There is a letter that survived from when my Peecher ancestors moved from Virginia to the Midwest in the early 1800s (before the war). In the letter, one of the women making the journey wrote of traveling over the Appalachian Mountains, and she noted that one evening as they camped they were able to see across the valley to the spot where they had camped the previous night. It was a long, slow process to travel any distance.

And while I certainly don’t lament the advances and improved efficiency of travel from those days in the 1800s when Jackson Speed was traipsing about, I do find a certain nostalgia in the slower, simpler modes of travel of 150 years ago.

Reading is a manly pursuit

A man's man: Ben McCulloch counted camp fires at Encarnacion.

A man’s man: Ben McCulloch counted camp fires at Encarnacion.

I recently started following The Order of Man on Facebook at the suggestion of one of my sons.

While I don’t need some dude who is a decade younger than me to tell me how to be a man, I enjoy a fair amount of the stuff they post and discuss. I don’t think they’re offering bad advice about manliness, but I haven’t dipped too deep into their content to necessarily offer a heartfelt recommendation for Order of Man.

I’ll say this: If you want to learn how to conduct yourself as a man and you don’t already have in your life some good role models, probably the internet is not the best place to figure that out. I would recommend you find some other men and a river or a path in the woods and let that be your starting point. But maybe the Order of Man podcast can be what you listen to on your drive to the wilderness.

Today one of the Order of Man’s posts came up in my newsfeed on Facebook, and I realized that one of the things they are encouraging men to do is to spend some time every day reading.

I am a lifelong reader. I started reading heavily when I was in middle school. Spy fiction is what I loved best of all back in the day, and then the Spencer series by Robert B. Parker. I devoured those Spencer novels.

In college I took enough English lit courses that I nearly majored in English. In my adult life, I largely switched from novels to historical non-fiction, but I still read fiction quite a bit. Currently I’m reading a Carl Hiaasen novel.

I’m a champion of reading. It broadens horizons. It makes you more knowledgeable, gives you clearer insight, challenges your assumptions, allows you to grow mentally, reveals human truths and understanding, and reading makes you a better man.

When I first started writing the Jackson Speed novels, my assumption was that my readership would consist almost entirely of men. The novels are about guns and horses and armies and war and beautiful women. I just figured that was the stuff that would appeal to men.

James “Old Peter” Longstreet is a recurring character in my books. Nobody at the Order of Man has a better beard than Old Peter had.

Ben McCulloch is a character in the first novel. This is historical fact: Ben McCulloch and a handful of Texas Rangers rode hell for leather through Santa Anna’s camp at Encarnacion in the middle of the night. With Mexican soldiers going bat shit crazy and shooting every musket and swinging every sword they could find at McCulloch and the Rangers, McCulloch COUNTED CAMP FIRES. He wanted to know the size of his enemy, and he was able to guesstimate the enemy’s size by the number of campfires they had.

There are not many men in the history of the world who can lay claim to the sort of manliness Ben McCulloch exhibited, and that was just one evening in a lifetime of machismo.

Anyway, I don’t want to go too far astray of my point.

The other thing I saw over the weekend is that some traditional publishers are hiring “sensitivity readers” to flag offensive content in manuscripts. I find this confusing and stupid. But it suggests to me something that I’ve believed for a long time: Men who have a traditional sense of manhood do not read books.

Having watched trends in publishing for a long time, it seems to me that the vast majority of books are intended for women. Women are the marketplace for publishers, and not a lot of books are being published for men.

I could be wrong, but when I try to find books that I enjoy, I don’t find them among the new releases.

Sure, James Patterson has two new books being published every week, and Lee Child always has a new release. I suppose Grisham and Clancy novels are intended for a male audience, but it just seems to me that most of the new books by new authors are targeted to women.

I don’t fault authors or publishers. You write and publish what sells. I fault the untruths that we told boys for a couple of generations. Somewhere along the line I believe we failed to disabuse boys of the notion that reading was a “girly” pursuit. I think we raised up a generation or two of boys who thought that time spent in a book was time in a feminine activity.

So, I found it refreshing when I read on Order of Man that they are encouraging men to read. I don’t know if they have a reading list or if it’s every man for himself. But I like the idea that there are men out there who are holding out reading as a manly pursuit.

When I was a kid I was enthralled with my dad’s knowledge. I remember, even in my early 20s, thinking that I would never know as much about the Civil War as my dad did. And then it occurred to me that when I was young my dad frequently had a book in his hand. And the books he had were nonfiction Civil War histories. So I started reading nonfiction Civil War histories to try to catch up with my dad. I’m not saying that I have an equal amount of knowledge (he has a 30-year jump on me, after all), but I will say that there was footnoted material in Jackson Speed at the High Tide that when he finished reading the novel my dad said, “You uncovered somethings even I didn’t know.” Now that’s book review worth having!

Maybe I’m all wrong and men are reading books and books are being written, published, and marketed to men, and I just don’t realize it. None of what I’ve written here is statistical and researched, it’s all anecdotal observation.

Nevertheless, I find it encouraging that somewhere out there men are telling other men that they should read books.

And if Order of Man has a recommended reading list, maybe I can convince them some day to put Jackson Speed on their list as a sort of “how not to behave like a man” guidebook.

What happens when you call an Irishman a mule? Author Robert Peecher discusses the ‘battle of the boat’ in The Hero of El Teneria

Rob Peecher and Melissa Bowden at Library book signing.

Rob Peecher (left) signing books at an author talk.

I periodically do author talks, and they are usually a lot of fun for me.

I enjoy being able to talk to a group of people about Jackson Speed and the research that goes into writing historical fiction.

What I most enjoy about them is the audience interaction and being able to answer questions and have a conversation with the audience about the books.

Unfortunately, most of the talks I do are in front of people who have never read any of the Jackson Speed books. Most of the folks who read Jackson Speed are in far off places like Alaska and the United Kingdom, and I don’t have any publishing house send me on worldwide speaking tours.

So until someone decides to pony up the cash for a worldwide speaking tour, I thought it might be worthwhile to stand in front of a video camera and get some footage of me talking about Jackson Speed, and that might be a way for people who have enjoyed the books to have the opportunity to “attend” an author talk.

Obviously, we lose the interaction, but if anyone posts in the comments here or at Youtube or on Facebook, I’ll be glad to try to answer their questions.

The first talk addresses the question that I still get from readers more than anything else: Was the battle of the boat scene in the Hero of El Teneria based on an actual event?

Let me know what you think – and if you have questions, feel free to post them on the blog or at any of my social media accounts and I’ll try to get you an answer!