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.

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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!

Making the Jackson Speed run down the Oconee River

Our boats on Rose Creek just before we broke camp to make the Jackson Speed Run down the Oconee.

Our boats on Rose Creek just before we broke camp to make the Jackson Speed Run down the Oconee.

Friday night I camped out on Rose Creek and then paddled the Oconee River from Rose Creek to a boat ramp at a place called Dyar’s Pasture.

If you have a familiarity with the area and know my Jackson Speed novels, you’ll understand why – even though the current of the Oconee is slow to nothing along this stretch – I’m calling this the “Speed Run.”

Rose Creek enters the Oconee River just above an abandoned old mill town called Scull Shoals. Scull Shoals, of course, is the place where Jackson Speed was brought up and first began his gallivanting ways. It was along this stretch of the Oconee River where Jackson Speed made his very first flight from an enraged and cuckolded husband – Uriah Franks (El Teneria).

In Speed’s day, the river would have moved a bit swifter than it did on Saturday when my buddy Rodney Carr and I paddled the river.

Dyar’s Pasture is at the north end of Lake Oconee, one of two man-made lakes between Scull Shoals and Milledgeville, where Speed disembarked from the river. The lakes slow the current. My suspicion is that in 1845, when Speed made his run down the Oconee, the river flowed similarly to the current on the North Oconee up around Athens, Georgia.

It was a fun experience to paddle the river there and camp across the river from Scull Shoals. We actually drove down to Scull Shoals and put in there, paddling around the rock piling that once supported the toll bridge controlled by the blacksmith (who in the Speed universe was Speed’s uncle).

The spot we found to camp on Rose Creek was a perfect little ledge just the right size for a campsite, and I could easily imagine Speed swimming across the Oconee (or, in summers with little rain, walking across the Oconee) to camp out on Rose Creek.

One of the things I love about paddling around north Georgia is the history I get to see. On the North and Middle Oconee rivers, there are old dams – now broken down – that helped to run mills. On the Apalachee, another river we frequently paddle when the water is high enough, there is a sandbar where we can always find Native American pottery shards and sometimes arrowheads.

Rodney had recently read about Frenchmen who in the 1600s used the Oconee River to transport gold from the North Georgia mountains.

If you’re like me and you have a love of history, I would strongly encourage you to get a canoe and put it in a river. Rivers used to be our highways, and the history around them is fascinating.

So, if you’re a Jackson Speed fan, don’t be surprised if the next Speed novel includes a scene with Speed camping on a ledge on Rose Creek.

Latest Jackson Speed story now available

I am working to get Volume III of The Jackson Speed Memoirs in a publishable state, and hope to have it done before August is out.

Volume III will contain a relatively short novel which features Jackson Speed in the Battle of Chancellorsville and leads directly into Volume IV in which our hero is at Gettysburg.

But there is an episode in Ol’ Speedy’s life that is worth knowing before you read about his exploits in Gettysburg. It’s just a short episode, a “short story” if you will, and I’ll also be including that in Volume III.

But, because I know that you, like so many women in the 19th Century, can’t get enough of Jackson Speed, I have decided to go ahead and publish the short story here on my blog. I’ll probably be taking it down when I actually publish Volume III, but for now it is available and free to read. Print it (it’s about 28 pages printed, I think), read it on your computer, whatever you like.

It can be found under the “Short Fiction” tab at the top of this page, or by clicking here.

If this story serves as your introduction to Jackson Speed and you like what you see, I’d be delighted if you would check out Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria and Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs.

Historical smut

One star review: "I'm glad I didn't pay for it."

One star review: “I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.”

While trying to convince people who have read my books to leave reviews at Amazon.com, a couple of times I have said something along the lines of: If you do not like my book you have a moral obligation to leave a critical review and warn others away.

I said this jokingly and in no way intended for someone to take me up on the offer, but woe is me, I received my first one star review.

I suppose being so harshly judged might have bothered me more, but as my friends know, the review happened to be posted on the same day that I learned that my pal James Guthrie had died, and so one-star reviews had little impact on my already rattled emotions.

In the interest of sparing you the time and trouble of visiting Amazon.com to find the review for yourself, I will quote it verbatim and in full here in this post. However, I find my delicate sensibilities are offended by the vulgarity of the review, and I would encourage parents to use caution in exposing their children to this review.

The review is titled: Not a Historical novel

“I borrowed this for my free Amazon Prime monthly download. I’m glad I didn’t pay for it. I didn’t finish reading the book. Sorry, I’m not interested in hearing about how many times a 15 year old boy gets laid.”

I can’t, and wouldn’t, argue any of the points in her review. She didn’t pay for my book and does appear to be glad that she didn’t. Obviously, she did not finish reading my book or she’d have left a much better review. And, I suspect, she is truthful when she says that she is not interested in reading of the sexual exploits of Jackson Speed who, at the beginning of “El Teneria,” is in fact 15 years old.

I’m flabbergasted, however, by her chosen title. “Not a Historical novel.”

Indisputably, “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria” is a historical novel.

The novel is set during the 1840s. The book takes up Jackson Speed’s early residence in Scull Shoals, Georgia. Sculls Shoals, now abandoned, was a thriving mill village on the banks of the Oconee River in the 1840s. In 1845, the mill burned to the ground. The owner, Dr. Thomas Poullain, went to considerable personal expense to have the mill rebuilt and paid his employees while the mill was being rebuilt. That’s historical. The “novel” part comes along when the fictional Jackson Speed explains why the mill burned.

As those who have read the book understand, Speed finds himself headed west to Mexico with the Jasper Greens volunteer militia from Savannah. Again, the Jasper Greens are historical, the scene in Macon is historical and even the outrageous Battle of the Boat is historical. In fact, I have the muster rolls of the Jasper Greens and some personal information about some of them, and that’s all historical. Speed’s presence among them and his activities with them is “novel.”

The Battle of Monterrey scenes are historically accurate. Wherever possible, I quoted Jefferson Davis and others accurately. I went to great lengths to follow Jefferson Davis’s movements through the city during the 3-day battle. A.S. Johnston’s appearance in the cornfield and what he did there is historical. Speed’s presence with Davis and the Mississippians is “novel.”

Speed links up with the Texas Rangers, during these chapters I at times describe the tactics the Texas Rangers used while riding the road from the army in Monterrey to its staging base in Camargo. These tactics are historically accurate. Speed’s employment of these tactics – that’s “novel.”

So I take exception to the notion that Jackson Speed doesn’t qualify as a historical novel, and I wish the reviewer would have been accurate in her review title. Perhaps she might have identified it as “historical smut” or “historical porn” or “a distasteful historical novel” or something along those lines, rather than attempting to negate the hours of research and the effort that went in to making certain I got the history correct.

On that note, an actual historian read the book and recently wrote me a letter. He was extraordinarily kind in the letter, but he did note that his opinion was that the Milledgeville general store referred to in some of the opening chapters was “located a little outside the mainstream of commerce.”

In describing Milledgeville in the book I relied on a variety of sources, including my own recollections of living there, some writing I’d done (primarily about the Governor’s Mansion and Old Capitol Building) and some other sources. Among the other sources was an 1845 map of Milledgeville. After receiving this letter from this historian, I’ve gone back to that map, and I agree that the location of the general store was too far from the center of town. So, rather than identifying the location of the general store as historical, we’ll call that “novel” also.

That’s one of the nice things about writing historical fiction: If I get the history wrong, then I can simply say that I exercised my prerogative as a novelist and altered the historical record in order to move along the plot.

So really, other than the title of my first negative review, there’s not much I can argue with. Novels, like anything else, generally fall to personal tastes, and I can certainly understand if some people find Jackson Speed and my novels distasteful. He was intended, after all, to be an unsavory character and I’ve been very frank and straight-forward about that.

I suspect I’ll receive many more negative reviews. The book was only ever going to appeal to a certain sort of person anyway, but I do hope in the future the reviewers will avoid the coarse and unpleasant language adopted by this particular reviewer.

In the meantime, I am hoping that the lure of some 1840s sex will help to sell more books.

I threw a book signing and nobody came

The Oconee County Library was kind enough to invite me to come and sign books and give an author talk. If you missed it, you were not alone.

Rob Peecher and Melissa Bowden at Library book signing.

Rob Peecher and Melissa Bowden at Library book signing.

My first book signing and author talk was fabulous! Standing room only. People (my dad and son) lined up out the door because there wasn’t enough room for them. A couple I’ve never met showed up with copies of the book they’d already bought. One of my former reporters, Rebecca Rose, came from Atlanta for the book signing. It was really a great deal.

My second author talk was to a history class at Reinhardt University. College students don’t buy a lot of books, but they fill a room when they’re required to be there. My third talk was at Reinhardt’s library. Not a lot of people showed up voluntarily, but my friend Arthur Wayne Glowka rounded up a creative writing class, and the seats were filled.

Wednesday at the library – not so much.

Two women who are members of the Friends of the Library group were there to help sell books. They provided refreshments. My wife was there along with one of our sons, and my parents came. At 7 p.m. we were standing around waiting for someone else to come in. At 7:05 and 7:10 we were still waiting around. Melissa Bowden, one of the Library Friends (who bakes good brownies, by the way) fetched her husband John out of the library, and then Wesley Snipes (yes, THE Wesley Snipes who plays soccer with me!) came in. Wesley wore a tie, so I immediately felt under-dressed.

So yes, the people in the room with the last name Peecher outnumbered those in the room with other last names, but as anyone who has been around me since August will tell you, I’ll talk to everyone I can about the Jackson Speed novels.

And truthfully, I thought it went pretty well. Everyone asked questions when I was done, and the poor women with the Library Friends bought multiple books (I think they felt sorry for me) and Wesley bought one, too, so as far as sales go it was my most successful talk/signing to date (college students don’t buy books that aren’t on a syllabus somewhere, and most everyone who came to the first signing/talk already had a book).

I understand this is something that happens commonly to lesser known authors. Honestly, Wednesday night I was very disappointed with the lack of turnout. There are, I’m sure, lots of reasons for it (I was competing with the annual airing of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, and it’s nearly impossible to compete with Peanuts) but after a couple of days I’ve become a little more circumspect about it.

I realize this is part of it. As an indie author desperately trying to promote a book, you jump at every chance you get to be in front of people with copies of your book. You have to do that. And sometimes there’s a Charlie Brown Special on the television, and no one is going to be there.

I remember many, many years ago when there were still book stores in the mall, I walked past a guy who had a table set up outside of Waldenbooks. He was selling signed copies of his book about the Civil War. I felt awful for him because he looked so lonely. I bought a book and gave it to my dad as a Christmas gift. The memory of that guy is why I drag Jean or at least one of the boys to all of my book signings. I may not sign books, but I won’t sit at a table by myself.

I did learn some lessons.

I didn’t do much to promote the book signing myself, thinking the library does these all the time and probably could promote it as well or better than I could. I won’t make that mistake again. Self-promotion absolutely must be the rallying cry of every indie author. If nothing else, you force a couple of your friends to go and ask them to bring someone.

I picked a time and date that was convenient for me during a busy time of the year, but I should have picked a time and date that might have inconvenienced me but been more convenient for people who might be willing to show up to an author talk and book signing if it wasn’t at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday.

If you want to guarantee a crowd, though, the best thing to do is get yourself invited to come talk to a college class.

Would I do a book signing at the Library again? Even though the turnout wasn’t spectacular, as an indie author you take any opportunity you can get. When “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” comes out (January, I hope), I’d be thrilled to go back to the library.

Meanwhile, I found this video that made me feel a little better, and even if you’ve never experienced the disappointment of holding a book signing and author talk where nobody showed up, I expect you’ll enjoy it.

Author talk and book signing

I’m wearing a different shirt this time.

When I posted some photos from my first two book signings on Facebook, I realized (seeing the photos side-by-side) that I wore the same shirt to both signings. Tonight, for my third book signing, I’m changing shirts.

I may even take a shower this time.

So if you’re anywhere around Watkinsville or Athens tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 28) please swing by the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville where I will give a little author talk and sign books. Starts at 7 p.m., and I’m told there will be a table for refreshments (I do not know if there will be actual refreshments).