Q&A with author Arthur Glowka

One of my favorite people in the world is Arthur Glowka. He was my Arthurian Lit and History of the English Language professor in college. I interned with him for a quarter putting together a Georgia College publication, and especially when I worked at the Macon Telegraph I interviewed him a number of times for stories.

Over the past year Dr. Glowka has published three books, all available through Amazon.com.

Recently I asked him some questions and he answered them:

Q. Let’s talk about “The Texiad.” What prompted you to want to write an epic poem about the Texas Revolution?

I had two motives for working on such an ambitious project. One, I have been wanting to write an epic poem for some forty years, and I have kept up the practice of writing metrical poetry and doing weird things like talking to myself in blank verse while I drive. My previous book was a verse translation of a 12th-century Old French chronicle poem (“The French Book of Brutus: A Verse Translation of Wace’s ‘Roman de Brut’”), and in the ten years I worked on getting that book published, I imagined that I was in training for my next work, an epic poem.

Two, I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and have been fascinated with the Alamo and the Texas Revolution since early childhood. About 8 years ago, I got very homesick, took a trip to San Antonio, revisited the Alamo, bought a pile of books on the revolution, and then began writing one Sunday morning as I sat in my car, waiting for my children to get out of Sunday school.

glowkaQ. I know your research was extensive. What was the most interesting thing you learned in doing your research that you did not already know?

I learned that the story about William Barrett Travis and the line drawn in the sand was probably fiction and not fact. I also learned that the Mexican gun powder was so bad that a man could get hit in the forehead with a musket ball and live—since it might just bounce off. The main injury in that case was the jokes made by comrades about the victim’s hard headedness.

Q. You mention in your acknowledgements that there are areas where you go astray of the historical record and I know you go into some disputed history with Zuber’s account of Louie Rose. And epics, historically, tend to exaggerate anyway. So in writing an epic poem about the Texas Revolution, how important was it to you that the history be accurate and how willing were you to stray from that?

I started off trying to be historically accurate, but the story did not take form or get much traction until I hit on the idea of having William P. Zuber as the narrator. That decision freed me to tell the story from the perspective of the man responsible for the account of Travis’s line in the sand. I could then elaborate on my own about Santa Anna’s love affair, throw in a talking, prophetic devil, and invent the details of a conversation between Santa Anna and Andrew Jackson. Epic creates and enshrines legendary history. The legends become myths that explain who we are and what we value in a form more exciting than that in an analytical historical account.

Q. I absolutely love that the narration in “The Texiad” comes from William Zuber. Honestly, I didn’t know all that much about him prior to reading “The Texiad,” but now I’m completely enthralled with the image of the last surviving veteran of the Texas Revolution wandering around lecturing kids about his war. Tell me about the idea to use Zuber in such a fashion – where did it come from?

Zuber’s account of the last days of the Alamo as told to his mother by family friend Louis Rose was controversial in his lifetime. In fact, he spent a great deal of energy defending the veracity of his account in print. When he was a very old man, he got a job as a tour guide at the Texas state capitol, and I could not imagine that this man with his passion for the Texas Revolution would not tell Rose’s story and others like it to visitors whenever he could. With him as a vehicle, I was not limited to documentary evidence, and I became free to invent details and scenes that inquiring minds simply want to know about.

Q. Writing in verse, to me, is about the most painful thing that I can imagine. I can’t imagine how hard it is to write an epic poem. Will you write another epic poem, and if so what topic?

I have practiced writing rhymed metrical verse for almost 50 years, but the use of the rhyme royal stanza slowed me down considerably. Sometimes I would spend up to an hour trying to place a rhyme word in a sentence without disturbing either the sense or the meter of what I was writing. If I write another epic, I will use blank verse. I have toyed with the idea of an epic about Jesus, King David, or Revelation.

Q. In addition to “The Texiad,” you’ve also written “The Seduction of Sir Gawain,” and you’ll soon have a Lancelot book published. Having taken your Arthurian Legend course and your History of the English Language course at Georgia College, in my mind I always associated you more with Le Morte d’Arthur than I did Le Morte de Travis. Is Arthurian legend more comfortable ground for you?

I am very much at home in Arthurian romance. I find the stories patently humorous, even when they are not intended to be humorous. The fall of Arthur’s kingdom, of course, is not humorous at all, but the individual romances strung together by Malory are very charming and leave much unsaid. I see great potential in developing the unsaid parts of the romances.

Q. Why prose for your Gawain book and not epic poem? Too many Arthurian epic poems already, or were you just simply unwilling to go toe-to-toe with Edmund Spenser for sales?

“The Seduction of Sir Gawain” is a retelling of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” an anonymous romance of the late 14th century. This romance is told in alliterative verse in a very difficult dialect. The verse translations of the poem I have read with students are not much easier to read than the original. So I thought that I would retell the story within the conventions of modern prose narrative and allow myself room to add to the story and change details to suit my own ends. So the story ends very differently: Sir Gawain wins a bride he doesn’t want (a detail from another story about Sir Gawain), and we get to hear his hilarious confession — after he gives into a temptation he resists in the original. The confession is my favorite part. I tried to impart some of the flavor of a Harlequin Blaze romance I read in preparation for writing the book.

Q. Which do you prefer to write, prose or verse?

I like both, but after spending some 18 years writing long works in verse, I thought it would be fun and liberating to try prose. I have at least two other prose works in planning. But I am still obsessed with the idea of writing some kind of Biblical epic.

Q. I don’t know if you know this, but when you published the Texiad that was sort of my inspiration to self publish. I remember you posted on Facebook that you felt like Caxton (William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England). I read all the time about big publishing houses having trouble. I read recently that there are something like 700,000 self-published authors now thanks to Smashwords and CreateSpace and similar publishing platforms. Do you think we’re in the beginning stages of something that will have as big an impact on the world as Caxton’s printing press did?

For well over a hundred years after Caxton opened up shop in England, poets still thought printing was beneath them and passed their poems around in manuscript. Friends published them, often without permission. Manuscript copying also continued for a long time, and early books were attempts to make printed text look like handwritten text. The contemporary publishing house with an editorial staff devoted to choosing and developing texts that it thinks will bring a financial return on the massive expenses of printing and distributing paper books will continue for a while, but I imagine that the traditional publishing house and the mass market bookstore may soon go the way of the medieval scriptorium and the late-20th-century video store.

This week Dr. Glowka published his second Arthurian tale – The Humiliation of Sir Lancelot. It is currently (May 17) available for free to download on Kindle, as is The Texiad.

Dave Ramsey and my teenager

Recently my oldest son Harrison had an opportunity to disappoint me in a fairly big way. As a 17-year-old, Harrison has these opportunities once every four or five times he takes a breath. Most of the time when these opportunities come along he makes good decisions. Sometimes he does not.

Let me be clear on this: I poke a lot of fun in my columns about my children and their mishaps. But exaggeration is part of the humor. My children are never quite as awful as I make them out to be in my columns. Mostly, they are very, very good kids who make me proud. As I said, teenagers have a thousand opportunities a day to make poor decisions, and most often Harrison rejects these opportunities.

And when my sons are really, truly awful, I don’t write about that. That’s not funny stuff. That’s when I sit them down in my bedroom and yell at them for 45 minutes about how they are morons, and those are terrible, painful moments and nobody’s laughing or poking fun or writing humor columns about those moments.

But Jean and I recently had one of those 45-minute conversations in our bedroom with Harrison. He had made a very foolish decision, and Jean and I during that conversation expressed our disappointment.

“You’re not the only teenager who was doing exactly what you did this weekend,” I told him. “In fact, I would guess a very high percentage of teenagers were being just as moronic as you were in exactly the same way.”

Harrison, looking at his feet, mumbled that I was probably right.

“Do you know what that makes you, Harrison?” I asked him.

“A moron,” he dutifully answered, mumbling to his feet.

“No,” I said. “It makes you average.”

Now he looked up from his feet. I think that stung. I think that got his attention.

“I want you to think for a minute about all of the time your mother and I spent talking to you when you were little. Think about the conversations you and I had about history and economics and science. Think about the time we spent reading to you.”

I paused to give him time to remember.

“Do you think we spent all that time with you because we were raising you to be average?” I asked. Still looking at me, Harrison shook his head. “We raised you to be exceptional,” I told him. “We raised you to be better than average. And that’s what I expect from you. I expect you to be exceptional.”

I think that registered with him. I think he left my bedroom feeling like he had let himself down. And that’s how I wanted him to feel. I want it to sting when I tell him he’s being average, because I want him to want to be exceptional.

I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey. In my columns I’ve joked about having a “Dave Ramsey Budget” at home, but I really did go through his Financial Peace University and it really did change my life and I really do have a Dave Ramsey Budget at home. I did go to his one-day EntreLeadership seminar in Atlanta a year ago and it really did improve how I run my business.

I’ve said this before: There is no one in this country today who is doing more good for more people than Dave Ramsey.

I see people criticize Dave Ramsey and claim that he is trying to get broke people to spend money on his programs, but if you really want to take a measure of the value of the man, look at the people who – like me – will tell you that his program changed their lives. I think it cost about $100 for my wife and me to take the class. Wouldn’t you spend $100 to dramatically improve the condition of your financial life?

On Twitter, Ramsey often tweets out Bible verses (which is probably the true reason he draws such ire from some corners), and he also tweets out motivational tweets. Recently he tweeted: “Normal is broke. Normal is a Victim Mentality. Normal sucks. Go be diligent and excellent today. BE WEIRD.”

When I read that tweet, I realized it was Dave Ramsey who was seeping into my subconscious and Dave Ramsey who I was channeling in my conversation with Harrison.

Ramsey’s tweets and his messages are very positive. His EntreLeadership program, summed up in a couple of words is: Be exceptional at what you do.

He offers a step-by-step plan in Financial Peace University and in EntreLeadership for how you can be exceptional, but the advice is not as important as the message: Don’t be average, anyone can be average and most people are, but you should strive for excellence every day and rise above normal.

I cannot tell you how soon it will be that Harrison and Jean and I have another 45-minute conversation in my bedroom. Probably sooner than any of us want. But I can tell you that it’s been a week and a half since that last 45-minute conversation, and I’ve seen a real change in Harrison’s attitude and his behavior. It’s a subtle change, because he was never that bad to begin with, but it is definitely there. I believe he is striving to be exceptional because Dave Ramsey and I got to him the other day.

He came home from school bragging the other day, “I got a 97 on my test and it was the highest grade in the class!”

He’s been diligently studying for his end of course exams and his AP tests for a week.

His high school soccer team is in the Final Four of the state playoffs, and Harrison has been playing harder and better than ever.

He is even being nice to his little brothers!

Of course, Harrison didn’t just get a 45-minute Dave Ramsey lecture; he also got grounded indefinitely. So I suppose it’s possible he’s not so much striving for exceptionalism as he is being extra special good so I’ll let him hang out with his friends this weekend.

Rob Peecher is editor of The Oconee Leader and he is forever and always proud of his exceptional children, even when they’re just average.

If you enjoyed this column and are interested in reading more like it, click here for the Kindle version of my book “Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings.” It is $3 on Kindle, which is less than a pack of cigarettes and most likely will not give you cancer. Or if you’re old school, you can click here for the paperback version of “Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings.” The paperback is $15, and that’s less than three packs of cigarettes and still won’t give you cancer! You’ll enjoy the book. Seriously. Just look at the cover. It’s great fun!

One thing your wife will love for Mother’s Day

If you’re looking for a different sort of gift for your mom or your wife this Mother’s Day, give a thought to buying her “Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings.”

This collection of some of the humor columns I’ve written over the years will keep her laughing and, if nothing else, convince her that her own children really aren’t that bad.

For several years I have written a weekly humor column that traces difficulties and joys of raising three sons. Most of these columns come from when my oldest was in middle school, a truly awful time in life when children are devoid of all cerebral functioning, and my two younger sons were in elementary school and were still (mostly) adorable.

You’ll get to read about hot chicks with cheat codes, the exploding tooth paste prank, and find out the four things my wife hates about mornings.

Seriously, if you have kids, you should get your wife this book. In fact, get two so you can read it, too, and you’ll know what she’s laughing about.

Inteview with James Best

James D. Best, author of the Steve Dancy series and other books, was kind enough to answer some questions from me for an author interview. I think readers and writers alike will find his answers interesting. If you’re an indie-author looking for advice, I think the advice he offers is outstanding and right on point. What he has to say about large print and audio books is particularly useful for indie-authors who might not have considered that as their foot in a library’s door.

Author James Best

Author James Best

If you enjoy good historical fiction and Westerns, I would strongly encourage you to check out Best’s books. I’m a big fan, and you should be too.

Q. You’ve written American historical fiction (Tempest at Dawn) and Westerns (the Steve Dancy series). I suppose Westerns are more than just American historical fiction set west of the Mississippi river. In your mind, what differentiates a Western from other American historical fiction?

Best: L’Amour once said, “If you write about a bygone period east of the Mississippi River, it’s a historical novel. If it’s west of the Mississippi it’s a Western.” He added, “I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks, I know it’s literature and I know it will be read 100 years from now.” In the recent past, Westerns were a staple of fiction, Hollywood, television, and daydreams. Good Westerns are about people and their struggle to survive a rough and tumble frontier. This is a timeless theme for science fiction, fantasy, or Westerns.

Q. When you’re writing a Steve Dancy book, are there rules to the genre you try to adhere to?

Best: There are norms that enthusiasts expect to find in a Western. I try to adhere to most of them so genre fans are not disappointed. My continuing characters are traditional heroes, there’s gunplay, and the moral code is consistent with popularly perceived ethics of the Wild West. I also break many Western stereotypes to appeal to a broader audience. My protagonist is rich, there are few cowboys in my stories, and I strive to make my villains unconventional. In the real Old West, mining brought more people to the frontier than ranching, so my stories take place in mining camps. In The Shopkeeper, my villains include an accountant, a showboat, and a particularly nasty woman.

Q. One of the things I like about Steve Dancy is that he’s not clearly a white-hat wearing good guy. He blurs some lines on ethics. Not to spoil the plot, because I really want my readers to give your books a try, but Dancy doesn’t seem to have any qualms about setting his enemies up to be murdered. What is Dancy’s personal code of conduct?

Best: I classify heroes into three types: the wholesome hero (Roy Rogers), the flawed hero (Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven), and the antihero (Ben Wade in the movie versions of 3:10 to Yuma). I’ve always preferred the flawed hero. Also, if you study the real Old West, a stand-up duel was rare. Lawmen and outlaws who survived didn’t wait for the other guy to draw first. Dancy does what is right in a larger sense and begins nonviolently. When forced to resolve issues with a gun, his ethics are sometimes sacrificed for survival.

Q. When you started writing did you know Steve Dancy’s character, or did he develop for you through the telling of the story?

Best: I knew his character from the start, but that said, every character must grow or the story will become stale. By the fourth book, he is a much more mature character than at the beginning of the series. I had nothing to do with it. He learned and grew as he ventured around the frontier and I scribbled down what he did and how he did it.

First three in the Steve Dancy series. Read these.

First three in the Steve Dancy series. Read these.

Q. I read in another interview where you used more than 100 history books in writing your historical novel Tempest at Dawn, based on the Constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Obviously for that novel historical accuracy was critical to you. But how about with the Dancy novels, how much research do you do into the time period, the people and their customs? How important is historical accuracy when you write your Westerns?

Best: Historical accuracy about the times is important to me, and I insert historical references into my Westerns. I like the research, but it is also one of the ways I make the Steve Dancy Tales different than run-of-the-mill oaters. I try to be truthful, but I’m not always accurate. For example, Virgil Earp is a minor character In Murder at Thumb Butte, which takes place in Prescott, Arizona. A reader wrote to me saying he was under the impression Virgil Earp left Prescott to join his brothers in Tombstone about three months prior to my story taking place. I wrote back that he was correct, but one of the minor powers of a novelist is the ability to bend time.

Q. I saw on your blog recently that Thomas Edison is going to make an appearance in the next Dancy novel. I assume, too, that all or at least most of the characters in Tempest at Dawn were actual people. When you write about historical figures in a novel, do you endeavor to accurately portray those people in their speech and behavior, or do they become characters in your book who speak and behave according to your imagination?

Best: I attempt to reflect historical figures true to their personalities. That’s the reason for the hundred research books for Tempest at Dawn. Probably only five or six were about the convention. I read, or seriously scanned, at least three biographies of each major character. To be honest, I’m not as meticulous with historical figures in my Westerns, but I still seek out multiple descriptions of their personalities. Once I have their character firmly in mind, they do seem to take their own path, just like my fictional characters.

Q. I read on your blog in November that total sales of all of your books have topped 50,000. For an indie-author I think that’s pretty phenomenal success. What is your advice to the self-published and small-press authors for increasing sales? How do you find and connect with readers? Was there a time when 50,000 in sales seemed impossible, or have you always been confident you’d get there?

Best: Traditional publishers need to be experts at big-bang publicity because bookstores want fresh books that move quickly off their shelves. Indie-publishing is not constrained by a tight timeline, so authors can take longer to build a following. The secret to large sales for indie-authors is multiple books in multiple formats. Beyond garnering more shelf-space, multiple books and formats convey legitimacy.

Also indie-publishing does not preclude traditional publishing for the same book. For example, I’ve been asked how I got into so many libraries. It’s difficult to get a librarian on a tight budget to buy a trade paperback, but they’ll gladly order large print books to satisfy senior citizens. This is a neglected format that still has substantial demand. Unfortunately, you need a traditional publisher to break into the large print category. Look up large print publishers on the internet and then query them to see if you can mail them a copy of your book. If you get a positive response, you are more than halfway there. You can use the same approach for audio books. Again, you need a traditional publisher in order to distribute through audible.com.

When I started, I thought I would easily sell a hundred thousand books. After my first year, I wondered if I would ever sell ten thousand. It’s hard to build momentum, but once you get things going in the right direction, sales gradually improve month over month. I’ve been indie-publishing for five years and only in the last year or so have I made enough money not to consider writing a hobby. If you want to sell lots of books, I have three pieces of advice: persevere, persevere, persevere.

Q. Last question: When someone finishes reading one of your books, what do you want the walk-away to be for them? Do you hope they’ve learned something or felt something or just had a good time?

Best: I think of myself as a storyteller. I want to entertain, but I also hope to enlarge the reader’s view of the world. As Philip Pullman said, “Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”

For more on James D. Best, the Steve Dancy series and his other books, you can visit his blog or check out his author page at Amazon.com.

Again, I really appreciate James taking the time to answer some questions. One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about self-publishing my book is the chance to meet (face-to-face or virtually) a lot of interesting indie-authors. Personally, I think there’s a real revolution going on that is re-defining the book industry. These indie-authors are true pioneers and entrepreneurs (not surprisingly, a fair number of them that I’ve communicated with turn out to be small business owners).

St. Patrick’s Day free books

I’ve got some blog posts in the works that I’m very excited about. I’ve done or am working on a couple of author interviews that I think will be great and you’ll enjoy quite a bit. But the demands of my paying job are keeping me busy these last couple of weeks, so blog posts and book stuff and author interviewers and other stuff have taken a back seat.

Click the cover to buy the book!

Click the cover to buy the book!

In the meantime, I’ve decided this St. Patrick’s Day to offer “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria” for free for Kindle users (and those who have a Kindle reader app on their various devices) in honor of the Jasper Greens.

Fleeing an enraged and cuckolded and murderous Uriah Franks, Speedy joined up with the Jasper Greens volunteer company out of Savannah who were off to fight Santa Anna in Mexico.

Like good Irishmen, they stayed drunk most of the time, played music and got in one of the most bizarre fights of any U.S. army unit in all of history when they engaged in what became known as The Battle of the Boat. On the deck of the Corvette on the Rio Grande, the Jasper Greens threw down with some boys from Kennesaw and some Illinois volunteers. Speedy, of course, kept his head down throughout the fighting.

Get it free on St. Patrick’s Day in honor of the Irishmen who went to Mexico to fight other US troops!

 

Free download of “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria”

For three days, from Christmas Day through December 27, I will be offering free Kindle downloads of “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria.”

So if you pull a Kindle out of your stocking on Christmas morning, be sure to snag a free copy of “El Teneria.” If you know someone who is getting a Kindle, let them know that they don’t have to spend any of their Christmas cash to get themselves some quality entertainment.

It’s a good book, and at the price of FREE you can’t hardly beat 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).

Email list

After my book signing at Reinhardt University I realized I should probably have gotten  email addresses for the folks who attended the talk/reading/signing so that I can add them to a list to send out when there’s news about my books or appearances I’m making or something like that.

So, I’ve started a new email account just to use for promotional type stuff with the Jackson Speed novels. If you’d like to get added to this list so that you receive an email when there is an event scheduled or a new book release (“Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” will be out soon!), then shoot me an email at robertpeecherauthor@gmail.com.

I’ll add you to my list and periodically send you an email. I will not sell, trade or in any way give out your contact information.

Free giveaway

All the conventional wisdom in the self-publishing market tells you that if you want people to read your book you’ve got to give it to them for free. So this week, I’m giving away “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria” for three days. September 25, 26 and 27 (Tuesday – Thursday) the book will be free to Kindle users or those who use a Kindle app on their smart phone or tablet or whatever.

I’m actually familiar with the idea of giving stuff away for free and getting people to read it. I mail out 12,500 copies of The Oconee Leader (my newspaper) to people each week and it arrives in their mailboxes free of charge every Thursday. With the newspaper, we sell advertising and that’s what allows me to pay my employees and feed my children. Giving the paper away for free (I thought) was pretty much a stroke of genius on my part, and ad sales have been pretty decent and it seems like the idea works because people are reading the paper.

But there are no ads on the pages of my novel, so I give it away for free and have to hope that people will read it, enjoy the book, tell their friends about it and then their friends will buy the book. Obviously, I didn’t write “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria” with the expectation that I’d make a lot of money. I’d like to make back what I put into it, and anything else I make off of it will go into my Thistle fund (the savings for one day traveling to Scotland to see Partick Thistle play … doesn’t everyone have a Thistle fund?). More importantly, I want people to read the book, and so I don’t mind giving it away in the hopes that people who read it will enjoy it and tell others to read it.

But at heart I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and I’m giving some serious thought to how I can rework some of my ideas and turn this whole novel writing thing into serious cash. What would happen if I started selling “product placement” ads in the Jackson Speed novels? They do it in the movies and no one questions the integrity of, oh – I don’t know – the Transformers movies.

So, when you start reading “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs,” (set in the first months of 1861) don’t be surprised if Speed is drinking a Budweiser while hanging out on the platform of the Calvert Street Depot and whistling “Dixie.” Or if Eliza orders a Coca-Cola in New York City and is furious to learn they only serve Pepsi (obviously, the product placement dollars are coming from Coke!) or if, when Speedy goes to Baltimore, he stays in a Holiday Inn Express.

And if you read it and decide to question the historical accuracy of my novels or the integrity of the author, you’ll have to save your complaints, I’ll be at Firhill enjoying a pie and Bovril and watching the Mighty Jags!

Anyway, my point is, go check out “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria” … free on Kindle Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week!

Download the book … it costs you nothing (for three days).