Celebrating a milestone!


It’s been a pretty good month for Jackson Speed and his editor (me).

Last month I published the third book in the Jackson Speed series and (for the first time) I spent some time creating a spread sheet with all of my Amazon.com sales (to include paperbacks and Kindle downloads, paid and free).

As May came to a close and June started, I realized that I was just eight books away from hitting my first big milestone. I had already distributed 992 books (that’s a combination of all four of my books) through Amazon.

I posted it on Facebook and a few of my friends were kind enough to drop $3 (or in a couple of cases, $12 plus shipping) to push me over the edge.

I’ve now distributed 1,000 books through Amazon.

These people are not celebrating the World Cup being in Brazil, they are celebrating 1000 copies of Jackson Speed novels going out through Amazon.

These people are not celebrating the World Cup being in Brazil, they are celebrating 1000 copies of Jackson Speed novels going out through Amazon.

I know what you’re thinking: “Wow! A thousand books! This dude must be a millionaire!”

That’s what I was thinking, too!

But I’ve run the math with a calculator (twice) and I’m not a millionaire. If 1000 book sales were going to make me a millionaire, I’d have to be selling my books for $1000 a piece.

Besides, most of those 1000 books that I’ve distributed through Amazon were on free Kindle days where people were able to download the book for free. So I haven’t sold 1000 books through Amazon, but I’ve distributed 1000 books through Amazon.

Anyway … it’s a milestone all the same.

The hope is that the people who download the book for free will enjoy it and maybe come back for more. The truth is, most of the people who download the book for free haven’t read it and never will. When people see free books that interest them, they’ll frequently download the book but never come back to it (I’ve done it myself).

However … I have heard from a handful of readers who did download a book for free and enjoyed it, and that’s the neatest thing to me – being able to connect with people who like my books and are literally all over the world.

At some point, I gave up on marketing my books. I decided the more important thing for me was to write more. Book marketing becomes a full time job if you let it, and I have a full time job. I had to either market my one book or write more books. So I decided to write.

The extent of my marketing scheme now is that I post on Facebook sometimes, tweet links to my blog or books on Twitter once in a while, and I update my blog periodically.

The fact that I’ve had 1000 people get copies of my books with little marketing from me is a true blessing.

I’m still writing and still not marketing (though at some point I do plan to really start pushing the marketing), so 2000 books through Amazon may still be a year or two away. But that’s okay. I’m loving writing, I’m enjoying connecting with readers, and I’m having a great time making spread sheets that show that in one month there were 46 people who downloaded El Teneria for free and in the following two months 14 people bought Blood Tubs, the sequel to El Teneria.

Anyway … if you can count yourself among the 1,000 people who have gotten my book through Amazon, I honestly, truly, sincerely am grateful to you.

And if you’re one of the people who has sent me an email or a message on Facebook or a comment through my blog or if you’ve come to a book signing or posted a reader review on Amazon or in any way expressed to me that you enjoyed my book – again, thank you so much. I don’t have the words to tell you how much it means to me.

When you write and publish books, you take a huge part of yourself and put it on display for other people to see. When you read a book, you get a glimpse into the mind of the author – his thoughts and imagination are on display.

It’s a terrifying and embarrassing thing to expose yourself like that.

But … if you’re among those 1000, I appreciate what you’ve done to help make it a little less terrifying and embarrassing. I guess the real joy isn’t whether or not I’m making millions of dollars with my writing (although I am considering pricing Jackson Speed at the High Tide at $1000 when it comes out), but the real joy is having people respond favorably to the things I’ve written. Thank you so much for making these last couple of years writing about Jackson Speed a real joy!

* I should note that I’ve sold or given away many, many paperbacks, too (I don’t have good numbers on that, but somewhere approaching or maybe just over 200). So if you’re a Jackson Speed fan but you’ve never bought a novel through Amazon, I’m also grateful to you!

Jackson Speed Origins

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.

Seriously ... this guy? A rogue? A rascal? A scoundrel? Make of him what you will, but the ladies all found him loveable (so he says).

Seriously … this guy? A rogue? A rascal? A scoundrel? Make of him what you will, but the ladies all found him loveable (so he says).

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!


Escaping Flashman: Still happy with Orange Turnpike

Orange Turnpike CoverI’m less than a week from the release of the third Jackson Speed book, and I’m still very excited about “Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike.”

I think most people who write for a living will tell you that as time goes by they become less enthralled with works they might have initially been very excited about. Whether it’s news stories or humor columns or political editorials or novels, any time I look back at my work I inevitably cringe.

“I can’t believe I wrote that,” I’ll think.

“I could have done so much better,” I’ll mutter to myself.

“Oh, Lord,” I’ll say out loud, “that was terrible.”

Lately I’ve given some serious consideration to completely rewriting the first Jackson Speed book. I probably won’t. But I might.

When you’re a journalist and you make your living writing stories on a daily or weekly basis, you don’t have time to cringe every time you write something, and you certainly don’t have the opportunity to go back and rewrite. You learn quickly to accept that it’s never as good as you wanted it to be and you just keep moving forward.

With the first Jackson Speed book, I was like a man possessed.

I loved the idea of the character, and I didn’t want Jackson Speed to go the way every other attempt at fiction writing had gone for me: Start and never finish. I’ve had other ideas before. I’ve worked for days and weeks on other novels, but eventually I grew bored with the story and quit.

But when I first had the idea for Ol’ Speedy, I really wanted to write and finish the Jackson Speed series. So I was frantic about it. I wrote almost non-stop for 28 days to finish the novel. I skipped meals, wrote at work and stayed up all hours.

And when I finished it, I sent it to my editor, India Powell and Lighswitch Communications, and I was done with it.

The second and third books did not go at quite the same pace. I slowed down, took my time and, I think, produced a better product.

I’ve made no secret about the fact that some of the inspiration for Jackson Speed comes from George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman. I also don’t claim that Jackson Speed is the next Harry Flashman. George MacDonald Fraser was a master, and I’m just having fun writing.

But there are similarities between the two that can’t be avoided: Flashman and Speed are both cowards masquerading as heroes; they’re both womanizers; they’re both brutally selfish; they’re both bullies.

At the same time, when I wrote the first Jackson Speed novel I wanted to make sure I was not writing about Harry Flashman – which is a hard thing to do because Flashman is such an overwhelming character if he’s in your mind – so I was deliberate in trying to make the characters different. I may have even been too focused on Flashman and not focused enough on Speed.

But somewhere early in the second book, Harry Flashman left my mind. As I wrote, Jackson Speed began to develop his own voice. Instead of thinking about Speed as a character, I really started to hear his voice in my mind. It started to become more natural to write Jackson Speed.

While retaining all of those qualities borrowed from Flashman that make Speed a character I enjoy writing about, I finally felt in the second book that I had broken free of forcing Speed to not be Flashman – Speed’s voice was clear in my mind. He’d truly become his own character.

I told India that I felt like I hit my stride, especially in the last chapter of Blood Tubs, and I kept with it through all of the Orange Turnpike.

As a writer with 20 years of experience, I know it won’t be long before I start thinking about specific passages or chapters in this third book and start thinking that I should have written something differently. It won’t be long, I suspect, before I’m standing in front of a crowd reading from the book and I cringe at a phrase or a word choice or maybe an entire paragraph.

But for now, I am very happy with Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike, and I’m excited for Speedy’s fans to read the book!

Free ebook through Story Cartel

With the third Jackson Speed book set to come out in just a matter of weeks, I’ve decided to try Story Cartel to generate new interest in the first book of the series.

Click the cover to buy the book!

Click the cover to buy the book from Amazon!

For the next 20 days you can download Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria free through Story Cartel. Part of the deal is that they ask you to write a review of the book, and I hope those who download El Teneria for free will leave a review.

Reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble (but especially Amazon) help unknown writers like me sell books. The more reviews (positive, preferably) the better the odds more people will be interested in reading my book.

So, if you have not yet read El Teneria, now is a great opportunity to snag it on the cheap and help me out. And if you have read it and have not yet left a review, please give a thought to reviewing El Teneria. Blood Tubs, too. And 4 Things, too. I have lots of books needing reviewing from kindhearted and generous critics full of happy adjectives.

Those who download the book through Story Cartel and leave a review will be entered to win one of five paperback books.

And if you’re intimidated at the thought of “reviewing” a book, just post a short blurb that says something like: “Wow! What a book! Loved that scene with the battle of the boat.”

Click here to go to Story Cartel if you want to get a free copy of El Teneria.

Are there layers to Jackson Speed?

I have this image in my mind of Jackson Speed, the old man, sitting at his desk in his home in Madison, Georgia. Hair and whiskers have gone white, the old wounds from battle ache. He doesn’t get around as well as he used to, but he’s outlived nearly all of his enemies.

He sits over his papers, furiously writing, as he recalls the events of his life: The battles he fought in, the people he knew, the women he got belly-to-belly with. Especially the women. They are his favorite part to reminisce about.

I think for Speed, the battles, the generals, the presidents – they are all just a backdrop against which he fondly recalls the women of his life.

Marcilina de la Garza dancing at the fandango in Cervallo.

Eliza Brooks in a California stream, “Jack Speed, we’re covered in gold!”

Kate Cherry disguised as a Yankee soldier, kissing him outside McClellan’s tent.

Jenny Rakestraw, “It’s an awful world Jack. I despise it, every bit of it. I am broken hearted and downtrodden. I have abused my body and cast aside my morals for a cause I don’t know that I continue to believe in. And so now I just want to go home. And it’s a fact, Jack, if I found you at home with me, I wouldn’t be too disappointed.”

And, of course, Ashley Franks tempting our young hero with her peach cobbler.

They’re old memories, but I think they keep him going.

I never know if Ol’ Speedy is being completely honest with us. I have to wonder if he ran quite as fast as he claims to have run or if the women were ever quite as willing as they are in his memory.

He’s been accused, by a history professor who has read some of his memoirs, of exaggerating his own cowardice. I suppose that’s possible. I suspect, for those who grew up with the Jackie Speed legend and imagined him as a brave and daring adventurer – a war hero, an Indian fighter, a gunslinger, a Pinkerton – it’s hard to read his confessions of cowardice and accept them as fact.

When I read his memoirs, I assume that he’s telling us the truth when he says he ran or hid, but I’ve always wondered if the old man didn’t concoct at least some of his dalliances.

Many of the people who have read the Jackson Speed memoirs have used words like “rascal” or “scoundrel” to describe him, but I wonder if maybe even in his memoirs he’s not playing us a bit. Is Jackson Speed as awful as he tells us he is, or do there exist layers worth exploring?

Another Gettysburg 150 book give away

Today (July 1) begins the 3-day sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg, and I’m still giving away Jackson Speed books in recognition of the anniversary.

I have two more questions and the first person to answer one or both correctly wins a book.

Question 1:

At 10:15 a.m. on July 1, 1863 – 150 years ago right now as I post this – the commanding Union general on the field in these first hours of the battle was shot through the back of his head as he turned in his horse looking to direct reinforcements coming up from the Emmistburg Road. He was at the edge of McPherson’s Woods when he was shot. Historians debate if it was a sharpshooter, a volley or even friendly fire that brought him down, and some place the time of his death a little later than 10:15. General Meade, who commanded the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, said of this general that he was his “noblest and bravest.” This general also turned down command of the Army of the Potomac because he feared he would not have the ability to command the army has he saw fit due to interference from Washington D.C. Who was he?

Question 2:

Around 1:30 p.m. on the afternoon of the opening day of the Battle of Gettysburg a Confederate brigadier serving under Division Commander Robert Rodes ordered his men on Oak Hill to attack at the base of the hill in a wheat field just south of the Mummasburg Road. His 1,500 North Carolinians advanced (while their brigadier remained behind), unable to see that there were superior numbers of Federals hiding behind a stone wall. The Confederates were completely exposed. When they were at nearly point-blank range, the Union soldiers – who vastly outnumbered the North Carolinians – stood from behind their stone wall and fired into the mass of butternut. In a flash, 500 men were killed and fell dead in almost a straight line. Some of the men accused their brigadier general of drunkenness or cowardice or both. The “pits” where the North Carolinians were buried in common graves were forever named for this brigadier who so poorly led his men. Who was he?

Use the form below to send me your best guesses. And, as always, if you are too lazy to Bing the answer, you can always just go to amazon.com and buy the books.


Gettysburg 150 book give away

In recognition of the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg, I’ve decided to give away some signed Jackson Speed books.

The rules are pretty simple: be the first to answer some Gettysburg trivia questions and win a book.

Here are the next two questions. Answer either of them correctly and you can win your choice of “Jackson Speed The Hero of El Teneria” or “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs.”

1. On June 29, 1863, Federal cavalry rode into Gettysburg and occupied the town. These Union troopers were the first to fight the Confederates in a holding action until Union infantry could get up. Who was the commander of the Union cavalry that occupied Gettysburg and held McPherson’s Ridge on the morning of July 1 while waiting for Reynolds to get forward?

2. The Confederates went into Gettysburg looking for shoes. They first tried to get to the town on June 30. Who North Carolinian general led the brigade that marched toward Gettysburg on June 30 but turned back after encountering two brigades of Federal cavalry?

Use the form below to shoot me an answer to either of the above questions if you think you’ve got the answer. I’ll let you know if you win and put a signed book in the mail to you!

As always, if you don’t know the answer and your fingers are too tired to Bing the answer, feel free to visit amazon.com and just buy a book!

Giving away books for Gettysburg Sesquicentennial

I’m working on Volumes III and IV of the Jackson Speed books.

From Little Round Top at Gettysburg, overlooking the wheat field and peach orchard.

From Little Round Top at Gettysburg, overlooking the wheat field and peach orchard.

Volume III, which sees Ol’ Speedy through the Battle of Chancellorsville, is very nearly done. My editor, the lovely and brilliant India Powell, is finishing editing the last chapter or two this week.

Volume IV takes up Speedy’s fascinating role in the Battle of Gettysburg. Speed enthusiasts are likely aware that he won the Congressional Medal of Honor during this battle, a startling fact considering that he is the 19th Century America’s biggest chicken-hearted rascal.

I still have a ways to go in writing Volume IV, but it should be out before Christmas.

As I write about the Gettysburg Campaign, it is not lost on me that we are rapidly approaching the 150th Anniversary of that famous battle.

In recognition of that, I thought I might give away a few signed books during the Sesquicentennial of Gettysburg. The first opportunities to win a signed book come today.

Two big events happened 150 years ago this week in the Gettysburg Campaign. 150 years ago yesterday (June 26), the first of the Confederate troops marched through Gettysburg, spending a little time in the town but they weren’t there long because they were bound for York, Pennsylvania. While there, they happened to hear a rumor that there was a large quantity of shoes in the town, something their army desperately needed.

Be the first to tell me who commanded the Confederate force that moved through Gettysburg on June 26, 1863, and I’ll send you a signed copy of either El Teneria or Blood Tubs.

150 years ago tomorrow (June 28) another big event happened. General Hooker was replaced as the commander of the Army of the Potomac (the order was issued 150 years ago today and Hooker received the order on June 27, but the man who replaced him received word of his promotion on June 28).

Be the first to tell me the name of the Yankee general who replaced Hooker and was the commanding Union general at Gettysburg, and I’ll send you a signed copy of either El Teneria or Blood Tubs.

Or if you don’t know Gettysburg trivia and just want to get the Jackson Speed books without all the hassle of answering a question, you can still get them through Amazon.com by clicking this link.

Use the contact form below to send me your answers and I’ll let you know if you’ve won a book!

Beach book

What book are you taking to the beach this summer?

Dan Brown’s new book is the current top seller at Amazon.com, and The Great Gatsby is in the Top 10, presumably because of the recent release of a movie based on the book.

I loved Gatsby when I was in high school. The summer I was 15-years-old I went on a cruise through the Baltic Sea, and I took Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye with me. It would be difficult to say which of those books I liked better that summer. The Gatsby cover was torn and cracked and bent by the time I went to college, but the cover for Catcher in the Rye was completely gone when I graduated high school.

I will warn you, if you are 15 years old and you want to spend the summer with your peers having a lot of fun, don’t go on a cruise through the Baltic Sea. It was an amazing experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but the average age of the passengers was probably around 62. There weren’t a lot of other teenagers on that cruise for me to hang out with.

I got to be friendly with one of the performers, Keith Cox, and spent a fair amount of time hanging out with him, but when he was working I mostly drank Cokes and read books in one of the lounges aboard the ship. I liked that lounge in particular because the woman working behind the bar looked exactly like Samantha Fox. So I read the Great Gatsby and flirted with a Samantha Fox look-a-like in an otherwise empty lounge on a ship full of retirees.

Gatsby and Holden Caufield seemed like the perfect company aboard that ship.

But they are not the sort of guys you’d want to take on vacation to the beach, are they?

Beach reading, it seems to me, should be light and fun. Why ruin a good time with a dark and brooding book?

So I’m curious, what book are you taking to the beach with you this summer? Post a comment and let me know.

Harry Flashman and Jackson Speed

Most everything I read for pleasure is historical non-fiction. It really has to be the right sort of book for me to read a novel. I suppose that’s not the right thing for a novelist to say, but it is what it is. The novels I enjoy are those by Bernard Cornwell and C.S. Forester and similar novels.

But my favorite novels, by far, are those by George MacDonald Fraser. I am a massive fan of the Flashman novels. When Fraser died it was like a punch to the gut to realize there would not be anymore Flashman books.

In some respects, Jackson Speed owes a great deal to Harry Flashman. Like Flashman, I set my character up as a coward whose actions are often misinterpreted as heroic. Like Flashman, Speedy is a great philanderer. These are common enough anti-hero themes, and I’ve enjoyed numerous other books in the same vein, but it was Flashman I had in mind when I started writing about Speed.

I also employed the device of holding my novels out as the memoirs of Jackson Speed in the same way that Fraser’s novels were the “discovered papers” of Harry Flashman. Again, Fraser didn’t invent the technique – it goes back to Defoe’s Moll Flanders and was a common narrative technique in 18th Century English novels, but it was Flashman I had in mind when I started writing about Speed.

I’ve often wondered if Flashman wasn’t a little better than he made himself out to be in his papers, but I think at the end of the day you must take Flashman at his word. There are a few cues, I think, that show that Flashman’s papers accurately portray him as a complete scoundrel.

When I started writing about Speed, I wanted to leave the question a little more open to critical examination than that. Fraser, I think, employed the “discovered papers” technique as a way for the supposed hero to confess how truly awful he was. I’m consciously allowing that maybe Jackson Speed wasn’t as big a coward as he remembered himself being. It’s possible that the women didn’t love him quite as much as the old man writing the memoirs thought.

Part of the character of Jackson Speed has to be the man writing the memoirs, not just the man the memoirs are about.

Truthfully, I’m undecided if the old man writing the memoirs is accurate in his depiction of himself and the events of his life or if it is possible that the old man’s recollections are colored by cynicism. I suppose he might have even been more of a coward than he lets on, for that matter. But there are moments when I’m writing and I’m carefully trying to construct an opportunity for a reader to say, “No, Jackson Speed was never that big a scoundrel.”

The Jackson Speed books are intended to be fun, light reading. There’s a good bit of action, and the books are bursting with historical information. I threw in some lewd sex scenes to appeal to the college kids (because when I was in college that was all we were interested in). I hope readers find the books amusing because the Speed books are intended to be more than a little comical.

But they are not the Flashman novels and even on my most optimistic of days I never once considered that they were comparable. Flashman is unique and superb, and I would be appalled if I thought people were judging my work alongside George MacDonald Fraser’s. Fraser was a genius. I’m just a guy who writes books in his spare time.

I doubt seriously if a hardcore Fraser fan would find my books very appealing. I suspect, instead, that the things that make Jackson Speed not Harry Flashman would be enough to disappoint them. More to the point, the things that make Robert Peecher not George MacDonald Fraser would certainly disappoint them.

That said, if you like the sort of humor you find in the Speed novels and you enjoy your historical fiction with a bit of womanizing, some cowardice and some humor and you’re looking for a good novel to entertain you while you wait for the next Speed book to come out, let me strongly urge you to give Flashman a try. You’ll thank me for it.

If you have not read about either Jackson Speed or Harry Flashman, click this link, buy this book, and read it first so you won’t be tempted to compare my books to Fraser’s.

If you have read the Jackson Speed books and your are going nuts waiting to find out what happens to him on the Orange Turnpike, then click this link and buy this book and read it, but remember, even though George MacDonald Fraser is a better writer than I am, you’re still a Jackson Speed fan and you still want to find out what happens to him on the Orange Turnpike!

If you’re not interested in history and you don’t much care for novels but you like funny columns about raising boys, click on this link and buy this book.