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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Excerpt from High Tide: Early passes through Gettysburg

A view of the town of Gettysburg from Cemetery Hill.

A view of the town of Gettysburg from Cemetery Hill.

As long as I can remember, one of the many things about the War Between the States that fascinates me is the story of the civilians who lived through the battles.

Imagine sitting safe at home one day and the next day two armies with a combined 100,000 men descend upon your town of 3,000. And then they commence to killing each other, and when they leave, all your homes and public buildings are hospitals and there are more dead people on the hills around your town than there are townsfolk.

As I said, as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with this aspect of the American Civil War.

So as I prepared to write Jackson Speed at the High Tide, I knew that I wanted to place Speed in Gettysburg prior to the battle.

If you’ve read the book, you know that Speed arrives in Gettysburg in June, 1863, just a few weeks before the two armies.

What you may not know is that both the Confederate and Union army had large units pass through Gettysburg prior to the battle. In both instances, the citizens of Gettysburg interacted with the passing soldiers.

One of my favorite scenes from the book takes place as the Confederates are passing through Gettysburg prior to the battle. Jackson Speed is playing the role of a wounded Union officer on leave to recuperate from his wounds.

As unlikely as it seems, I believe the scene is consistent with actual events in terms of the friendly banter that took place between the Confederate invaders and the townspeople. The scene takes place on June 26, 1863 when Confederate General Jubal Early’s division passed through Gettysburg on its way to York, Pennsylvania. This is about five days prior to the battle. As Lee advanced north into Pennsylvania, very strict orders were in place to prevent looting and thievery and other bad behavior toward the citizens. In lieu of looting, Confederate soldiers sometimes took what they wanted and paid for it with Confederate cash which, of course, was worthless in Gettysburg (and pretty well worthless everywhere). So, maybe it’s splitting hairs to say they didn’t loot and steal.

The following is an excerpt from High Tide in which Jackson Speed, a spy for the Confederacy, encounters Jubal Early’s division of the Army of Northern Virginia in Gettysburg on June 26, 1863.

 

I won’t say that here and there they didn’t do some rotten things – vandalism and theft was the worst of it – but on the whole I thought Bobby Lee’s army behaved themselves very well. Those who might have been inclined to do worse to the women had fellow Confederates keeping a pretty sharp eye on them.

Mostly the soldiers walked through the town. I think they were intent on putting up a good show for the citizenry – as the cavalry had done – because soon enough Jube Early would be riding into town making demands for cash. In groups or sometimes in ones and twos, the Rebels engaged the women and men who were now almost universally coming out of their homes. Some shopped in stores. Many stopped by one of the city’s hotels or restaurants for a drink or two or three of whiskey. I saw for myself a small group of Southern privates bust into a sweets shop, roust out the owner and then pay him in Confederate bills for all they took.

I witnessed one rebel private who had clearly got hold of some liquor stumble into a yard where another private was sitting on the front steps. The boy on the steps had asked for food, and the woman of the house had gone inside to get him some. Having seen the woman moments ago, before she’d turned to go back into the house, the drunken private said something pretty rough about what he intended to do to the “Yankee bitch.”

The private on the steps had a pretty calm air about him. As I recall, he was picking at his fingernails with a knife, or maybe he was whittling a stick. Either way, he didn’t look up from his business. But he said pretty clear and loudly, “You do it, and I’ll report you.”

Whatever warnings were issued among the men to behave themselves must have carried with them the promise of swift and merciless punishment, for the threat of being reported was all it took for the drunken private. He did an about-face and fell back in with the rest of the marchers, muttering to himself but making no real objection.

I was at my ease walking among them in civilian clothes, and not a one of them paid me any mind. Nevertheless, with an invading army in the streets and whiskey available on every block, I decided I didn’t need to linger too long in the streets, so I returned to Jenny’s house where I found her on the front porch giving bread and butter to a group of soldiers.

“Cavorting with the enemy now?” I asked her as they wandered off.

Jenny shrugged. “They looked hungry,” she said, “and they’re causing no harm. It’s not as if they’re stealing or burning or killing. Most of them are just boys, anyway.”

Well, those who were boys were not much younger than Jenny herself, but her work as a spy had turned her into an old soul. Of course, these boys in the infantry had souls old enough, too.

It should say something of how Johnny Reb behaved that as Early’s army passed through Gettysburg, some searching houses and others demanding bread and butter, that I felt at ease enough to lounge on Jenny’s front porch with her, rocking in a chair. Lee’s army was in high spirits, and the worst I saw from any of them was gentle teasing.

“How come you ain’t fighting fer the Yankees?” one of them asked me, stopping at the white fence in front of Jenny’s house while Jenny and I watched the soldiers pass from her rocking chairs. He was a young man, probably around twenty years old, and he wore a hat with no crown, a pair of pants with a hole in one knee and a white shirt so grimy with road dirt you’d have thought it was butternut brown. A couple of his buddies – one of them wearing a hat with no brim, a thing I will not forget for between them they had one good hat for two heads – stopped with him, grinning like buffoons as he questioned me.

“Wounded at Antietam,” I told him.

“Antietam, eh?” he called back, thoughtful like. “I was at Antietam. May be I’m the one that did it?”

I grinned back at him. “Could be,” I said, adopting his thoughtful attitude. “I was wounded when a jack ass kicked me and broke my leg. You look very much like the fellow.”

His buffoon friends guffawed all the louder now, slapping my inquisitor on the back. “Haha! You do look like a jack ass, Mose,” one of them said.

Young Moses, without a quick enough wit to find retort, accepted his besting pretty well and laughed along with his friends. He stood at the fence for a moment longer, searching for some sort of response. In the end, he grinned widely, shook his head and said, “Well don’t ye get behind me or I’ll kick ye again.” And with that Moses and his friends continued on their way.

Those boys were in high spirits. I do not think that any of them even realized it was possible that they would not have Philadelphia or Washington D.C. within the week. I think they all just accepted as fact that wherever Bobby Lee wanted them to go they would win another victory.

Jackson Speed: Not really like other historical novels

Billy Oates, Alabama governor, Confederate colonel who led his men up Little Round Top on the second day of Gettysburg. Some of the humor of the Jackson Speed novels comes from putting a character like Ol' Speedy next to a man like Billy Oates.

Billy Oates, Alabama governor, Confederate colonel who led his men up Little Round Top on the second day of Gettysburg. Some of the humor of the Jackson Speed novels comes from putting a character like Ol’ Speedy next to a man like Billy Oates.

A few years ago, when I wrote the first Jackson Speed novel, I was talking to a buddy of mine and trying to describe the book to him.

It’s easy if someone is familiar with George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman Papers, because then I can just say, “Well, Jackson Speed is similar to an American Flashman.”

But my friend wasn’t familiar with Flashman.

“Is it like Shaara’s books?” he asked.

“Um,” I hesitated. “Not really.”

Of course, Jackson Speed is almost nothing like the historical fiction of Jeff and Michael Shaara.

The father and son writers do a magnificent job of interpreting history through their stories, and if you have an interest in the Civil War and that time period, I highly recommend them. I’ve also enjoyed reading Bernard Cornwell’s Starbuck series (although I like his Sharpe series better).

Jackson Speed also isn’t much like Horatio Hornblower or Jack Aubrey.

These are all great historical novels well worth reading.

The history in them ranges from precisely accurate to complete fiction, but they are all wonderful novels that tell really entertaining tales and, for the most part, offer readers mini-lessons in history.

I hope that Jackson Speed also entertains, and I know that there are history lessons hidden within the fiction. But with the exception of Fraser’s Flashman, all of these books take a pretty stoic view of history. Their heroes are heroic. Even when these authors allow their protagonists to be flawed, the flaws are overcome and the heroes find redemption.

Jackson Speed is without redemption, and his flaws run deep, but the thing that drives me when I write these stories is a desire to not take any of it too seriously. I write about horrible times and terrible events, but what I like about Speed is that so long as he escapes it, none of it matters much to him.

When he sees a man shot in the gut in battle and the guy is dying a slow death with his intestines leaking out on the battlefield, Speed is just thankful it wasn’t him who was shot.

When he is forced to give a thought to the institution of slavery, he’s ambivalent because he ain’t in chains.

Of course he’s also horrified by all of it, and scared to death. Part of what makes Jackson Speed so awful as a person is his willingness to succumb to his fear. While the brave men he meets (typically real people from history) charge into battle or do the duty, Speed is crouched behind a tree trunk praying for safety. I love the juxtaposition of Jackson Speed and, for instance, William Oates of the Fifteenth Alabama on the side of Little Round Top on the second day at Gettysburg.

Oates – both the Oates in Jackson Speed at the High Tide and the real Oates of history – was a tough and fearless man, and the men of the Fifteenth Alabama only left that hill when they were nearly out of ammunition and exhausted from terrible fighting, a 20-mile march and climbing up the side of Round Top. And then there’s Jackson Speed, and you’ll know how he escaped that ferocious battle in the woods on the side of that famous hill.

And then, because we see all of this action through Jackson Speed’s memory, these stalwart men of history are viewed as maniacs and imbeciles. And that just amuses me to no end.

So if you’re looking for historical fiction that casts these characters in a stoic and properly respectful attitude, there are some great books out there that I highly recommend.

But if you think you’d like a little humor in your historical fiction, a little coward in your hero, some pinched nipples and slapped butt cheeks, then you might want to give Ol’ Speedy a read.

Is it farcical? Yes.

Is it absurd? Sometimes.

Is it interesting and informative? Absolutely.

Is it like most other historial novels? Um. Not really.

No NANWRIMO for me this year

I'm not doing NANWRIMO this year, but I won it last year and finished out Jackson Speed at the High Tide.

I’m not doing NANWRIMO this year, but I won it last year and finished out Jackson Speed at the High Tide.

A couple of people have asked me if I was going to do NANOWRIMO this year. For those unfamiliar with it, NANOWRIMO stands for National Novel Writing Month and the idea is that you write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. NANOWRIMO is an online (and in person) community of writers who encourage writers.

It’s a cool deal, and I did it last year (writing the last 50,000 words of Jackson Speed at the High Tide last November). I really enjoyed NANOWRIMO, and it probably forced me to finish the fourth Jackson Speed novel about two months earlier than I would have.

NANOWRIMO works really well for me for a couple of reasons. First, I’m accustomed to working on deadlines having spent 20 years or so in the newspaper business. Second, Jackson Speed’s life has already played itself out pretty thoroughly in my head. There may be details yet to be written, but I have a fairly thorough understanding of where he’s going and what he’s going to do. So the only thing that stands between me and the conclusion of the next novel is research and time. I don’t have to dream up a lot of ideas. I just have to do the research and make the time to write.

But when it comes to NANOWRIMO this just isn’t the year for me.

In May I closed the newspaper I owned. In August I sold that newspaper to the Athens Banner-Herald and they hired me on a part-time, freelance basis to do some work for the paper. Also in August, I started a new business with one of my former college roommates, Ken Sawyer. The work to start a new business is significant, and right now it means that I’m spending a lot more time writing for work than I was a year ago when my duties ran more along the lines of editing and managing the newspaper. For MoonCalf Press – the business Ken and I started – I’m also doing a fair amount of writing.

None of that is to say that I’m not also writing Jackson Speed. A few weeks ago I started the fifth book and I’m a significant way into it. It’s possible (though not likely) that I will this month write 50,000 words of the next Jackson Speed book anyway, but I don’t want to commit to NANOWRIMO if I’m already thinking that it’s unlikely that I’m going to be able to finish it out.

For whatever reason, I tend to publish most of my books in the spring, and I suspect the next Jackson Speed book will again publish in the spring, maybe mid-May.

So, for those writers who are participating in NANOWRIMO, I wish you luck! You have all my sympathy as I reflect back on last November when I stayed up until the wee morning hours trying to knock out another 5,000 or 10,000 words. It really is an experience, and if you win NANOWRIMO (or even if you just give it a good try), I think you’ll be glad for the effort you put into it. I know in my case it will last with me for years as one of my favorite writing events, and I hope next November I’ll be better positioned to give it another go.

Officially launched: “Jackson Speed at the High Tide”

conf sharpshooter at gburg

“The home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg” photograph by Timothy O’Sullivan, Civil War battlefield photographer.

When I was a small child I used to look through my father’s books about the War Between the States, in particular those that bore lots of photographs and maps. I would guess they were probably Time-Life books that I dragged out of the bookcase and sat on the floor and looked through. I remember the first time I saw the photo “The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter,” a photo by battlefield photographer Timothy O’Sullivan.

I vividly remember the way that photograph captured my imagination. Maybe I was 5-years-old. Maybe six.

In the photo is a dead Confederate soldier in among the boulders of the Devil’s Den. His musket is propped against some stacked rocks – rocks that presumably the soldier put there to protect him and failed in their task. The lifeless body never seemed real to me.

Some years later, when I was a teenager, I visited Gettysburg with my parents. It was a stunning thing to me to be walking in among the rocks at Devil’s Den and find myself staring at the exact spot where the photo was taken.

I had spent so long when I was little staring at that picture of death that could clearly see the body on the ground, the gun propped against the stacked rocks. The stacked rocks, to this day, remain in place.

This is Gettysburg – a place that haunts the American conscious. It is remembered as the “Bloodiest Battle” of the War Between the States. When old veterans of the war held reunions, those reunions at Gettysburg were the most prominent. Presidents attended reunions at Gettysburg.

Gettysburg marked the time and place that the Confederacy was at its highest point – it’s High Tide – and it was the moment that the fortunes of war began to turn in favor of the Union.

Argonne in World War I, and Battle of the Bulge and Okinawa in World War II were worse than Gettysburg in terms of total American deaths, but the 3-day battle at Gettysburg saw 51,000 casualties and some 8,000 Americans killed. It was the “bloodiest” battle of the Civil War, though Sharpsburg (Antietam if you’re reading this from north of the Mason-Dixon Line) was the bloodiest single day battle.

But Gettysburg, for some reason that I don’t know I can even articulate, holds a place of prominence above all those in the hearts and minds of the American people. Perhaps the only battle that stirs our collective soul more than Gettysburg is Normandy.

When I sat down to write about Jackson Speed at Gettysburg, I knew I was heading into rough waters. If you want a fictional character to tear down your most revered places, Jackson Speed is the character to do it. And, truthfully, I doubt there are many people who revere Gettysburg more than I do.

So I went into the writing of “High Tide” with an internal conflict.

Also, you know I am a fan of George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman and you know that Flashman was a huge inspiration for Jackson Speed. In the Flashman books, Fraser often implied that there would be a “Flashman at Gettysburg” novel, but he did not live to write that tale. (Interestingly, I read an interview where Fraser said he really wasn’t interested in writing about Flashman in the American Civil War because the subject bored him!)

I’m certainly not suggesting that “Jackson Speed at the High Tide” is the Flashman book Fraser never wrote, but I will say that in writing “High Tide” I did feel I owed a certain respect to Fraser.

So I went into the writing of “High Tide” more than a little intimidated.

I’ll leave it to readers to decide if I managed to tell a story that entertains while respecting the revered status of Gettysburg and honoring the memory of Fraser and the character he created.

But I will say I’m pleased with the thing.

Heavily footnoted (there are 78 footnotes), I dug into my research pretty heavily. I cite Glenn Tucker and Shelby Foote in the acknowledgements, but I can’t imagine the numbers of books and articles I referred to in the writing of this book. One of the real joys for me was going to original sources. I read tons of material from people who lived in the town of Gettysburg – civilians during the battle. How fascinating that was! I went directly to Longstreet, Pickett, Doubleday, Oates, Chamberlain and many others to get their first-hand accounts of the battle.

Without intending to, I built a case that Ewell could have won the battle of Gettysburg for the South if he had pressed his advantage on the first day of the battle – at least, that was Speed’s opinion. Speed also spends a fair portion of the book defending Longstreet, and – as is his way – puts all the blame of Confederacy’s loss on Robert E. Lee for engaging the Federals at all.

Maybe the most fun I had was writing about the day Early’s troops came through Gettysburg a couple of days before the battle. They rode through town making a nuisance of themselves, and you’ll read where Speed has a conversation with a couple of Early’s men. It still makes me laugh and I’ve read it a dozen times to anyone who will listen (mostly my wife and children because they can’t escape me).

The promise I’ve always made to my readers is that the Jackson Speed novels will be historically accurate, and with the exception of the presence of Speed, I think you’ll find “Jackson Speed at the High Tide” is more accurate than your average textbook.

Can you learn something from reading this book? I promise you can. Even if you think you know Gettysburg, I can almost guarantee there is some historical fact in here that you’ll not have already known.

Can you find some entertainment from reading this book? I certainly hope so. If you have no sense of humor or you don’t care for a cowardly scoundrel, then this book probably isn’t for you. But if you enjoy novels that don’t take themselves too seriously, if you’re even slightly interested in history, and you can enjoy the tale of a rascal whose only interests are pretty women and not getting shot, then I think you’ll find that reading “Jackson Speed at the High Tide” is a worthwhile use of your time.

Also … in formatting the ebook, I learned how to create links for my footnotes. This was a huge discovery for me, because the footnotes add so much to the story (you should read the footnotes). Because something more than 90 percent of my sales are ebooks, I really wanted to figure this out for those readers. So moving between the footnotes and the body of the novel is a simple thing now. Though it’s time consuming, I may at some point try to do this for the previous books, but I will definitely do it with all future books.

At The High Tide FinalAs always, I hope you enjoy the book! If you do, please leave a review at Amazon.com. Reviews help me sell books. And if you want to get in touch with me, please do that, too. I ABSOLUTELY love to hear from the people who enjoy my stories. Every time I get an email from a reader who enjoyed one of my novels, it makes my day.

So, without further ado, I’m officially smashing the bottle of champagne against the bow of the ship “Jackson Speed at the High Tide.”

Whether its paperback or Kindle ebook, go and get you one of these and learn a little bit and have a laugh and enjoy getting lost in the world that plays out in my head!

Coming Soon: Jackson Speed at the High Tide

At The High Tide FinalOne hundred and one thousand, six hundred and thirty one words is the final word count on Jackson Speed at the High Tide (less footnotes and introduction). It tops out at a good 30,000 words more than any of the other Speed books.

I’ve finished the final edits this afternoon, and it is no lack of modesty that forces me to say it is a brilliant piece of fiction.

Fans of Jackson Speed have waited an interminable amount of time for this book, and you have my deepest sympathies. It has been an unbelievable challenge for me to get this book written and I have been as expectant as you. But, it is finally done and dusted!

And truthfully, I think you’ll find that Volume IV of the Jackson Speed memoirs was well worth the wait.

In the coming days I’ll have more information about the release date. I have to finish out some of the footnotes (there are 78 footnotes!) and the maps – which are a huge job – and then I have to do the formatting. So there is still work to be done, but the writing, edits and rewriting are complete.

My hope is to have the book published by July 1, which is the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and seems a fitting time to release the book.

Above you can see the cover for the book. I’ve written about it before, but the cover was designed by Alex McArdell who is an amazing and gifted illustrator. I encourage you to check out his other work. Alex did an amazing job with the cover and I’m beyond thrilled with the way it turned out.

Fans of Jackson Speed will know that Volume IV consists of Speedy’s adventures at the Battle of Gettysburg, and they will know, too, that our cowardly hero switched sides multiple times at that battle. Alex did a masterful job of capturing the spirit of the book – the Union coat pulled back to reveal a Confederate coat; Speed’s beloved slouch hat; the tempting Jenny Rakestraw clutching at the chest of a heroic Jackson Speed. He even managed to work in the cupola of the Seminary in the background. Oh! It is brilliant!

I am so excited to get this book into the hands of readers who have come to love Speedy the way I do. In High Tide, readers can join with Jackson Speed as he flees his way from one end of the three-day battle to the next, always looking to save his own skin and, wherever possible, get belly-to-belly with whatever beautiful young woman is available. Speed takes readers from the Seminary cupola on the first day through the streets of Gettysburg as the Army of the Potomac runs for the safety of the hills south of town; he takes them up Little Round Top where he comes face-to-face with the famed 20th Maine; and on the third day of the battle, Speed takes readers across the mile-long wheat field in Pickett’s Charge to the famous Angle where the Confederacy reaches its “High Water Mark.”

And throughout, readers are treated to the humor of Speed’s unique perspective and single-minded purpose of saving his own neck. This “picaresque romp through America’s bloodiest battle” truly is magnificent.

In the meantime, if you have not yet read Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike, you should. High Tide will pick up immediately where Orange Turnpike leaves off, and Orange Turnpike is where I introduce the character of the lovely Jenny Rakestraw – the woman for whom Jackson Speed deserts his way into America’s bloodiest battle.

Update on Jackson Speed at the High Tide

The trauma of NaNoWriMo has left me speechless. I’ve not written a blog post in two months.

For you fans of Jackson Speed, here’s where things stand: The fourth book is written but I am still editing/rewriting.

Taking Jackson Speed at the High Tide as a continuation of Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike and considering them one complete work as they were initially intended, I’ve got to say Volumes III and IV of the Jackson Speed memoirs are my personal favorites so far. I’m really proud of these two books, and I cannot wait for Jackson Speed fans to see Volume IV!

Speaking of Jackson Speed fans, I’ve occasionally written about my sales here, and I’ll say a word about sales today, too. December was awful. I’d been riding a pretty good wave of sales from May through November, but December my sales fell off the wagon.

Thankfully, January picked up steam and February (so far) has been very good. Interestingly, I’m selling books in the United States again. Back in June my sales in the United Kingdom began to increase dramatically, and through the second half of 2014 almost all of my sales came out of Britain. But my U.S. sales outpaced foreign sales in January. I think that’s a good thing, because my novels offer a chance for more people to learn about U.S. history as seen by Jackson Speed – and what better way to learn than with Ol’ Speedy as your teacher?

When I say that I am grateful beyond words to you people who buy my books, I hope you understand that I am being completely genuine. It’s not the $1.34 I get from the sales in England or the $2.05 I get from the sales in the United States … it’s the fact that people are enjoying my work enough to come back and read the next book. That’s really so amazing to me.

When I started writing the Jackson Speed novels, I was writing stories that would entertain me. I created this character who I found amusing and put him in historical situations that I found interesting. I didn’t know if I would ever sell a single book or if anyone who read the stories would even enjoy them. Basically, Jackson Speed was just a pleasant diversion for me.

But when I go to look at my sales chart and see that I’ve sold a copy of Blood Tubs or Orange Turnpike – that people enjoyed El Teneria enough to want more – it truly is the most gratifying experience.

While I work on edits of High Tide, I’ve also got some other projects that I’m working on – many of which are in some latter stages of completion – and I hope to soon be able to share some details about some of those projects.

My target date for publishing Jackson Speed at the High Tide is late March (though it could be mid-May), and when the time gets a little closer I’ll release the cover image that Alex McArdell created for High Tide. It’s spectacular!