Celebrating a milestone!

ONE THOUSAND BOOKS!

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!

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Sam Grant in a dress

As I conduct research for my Jackson Speed novels, I am always learning bizarre little tidbits from history, some of which I try to incorporate and others I just enjoy for what they are.

For instance, were you aware that U.S. Grant wore a dress during the Mexican-American War?

The story is related by James Longstreet in his memoirs From Manassas to Appomattox.

Sam Grant as Shakespeare's Desdemona in the Moor of Venice.

Sam Grant as Shakespeare’s Desdemona in the Moor of Venice.

Longstreet and U.S. Grant were together at West Point. Grant graduated a year behind Longstreet. As young lieutenants fresh from the military academy, both were appointed to the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. A lifelong friendship developed.

Longstreet was with Grant the first time he met Julia Dent (who became Grant’s wife). After the war, when Grant was president, he appointed Longstreet to a variety of government jobs. The two were close friends, despite having fought on separate sides during the War of Northern Aggression.

When the war drums started to beat in the new Republic of Texas and the United States seemed intent on answering their call, Grant and Longstreet both were ordered from the Jefferson Barracks to serve in the Mexican-American War.

Grant, particularly, distinguished himself in that war and was brevetted for valor.

But before the shooting started, there was much down time. In Missouri the young officers were accustomed to balls and hops and gay society. Down on the plains of Texas, there was little to relieve the boredom of waiting for the shooting to start, so the officers formed a small theater where they put on several performances.

They raised enough money among themselves that they were able to build a theater. Longstreet says that the performances were popular and that “the house was filled every night.”

Soon the young officers had money enough to buy costumes.

When they decided to perform The Moor of Venice, Grant was selected to play the part of the daughter of Brabantio.

So there he is – the future president of the United States, the man to whom Lincoln would turn to finally conquer Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia – wearing a dress and playing the part of Desdemona.

But Sam Grant wasn’t long in a dress.

Lieutenant Theodore Porter played the part of Othello, and apparently Grant served as too poor of a love interest to inspire Porter’s acting abilities. Porter complained that male heroines “could not support the character nor give sentiment to the hero,” Longstreet says.

So the officers sent to New Orleans and secured an actress, Mrs. Hart, to come and “give sentiment” to Porter.

Porter was killed soon after by Mexican banditti.

I love these scenes from history that have been left out of text books and largely forgotten. These are the events that tend to humanize the people whose names you had to memorize in high school history classes.

And for me, I think it gives me a better ability to show my readers Sam Grant through Jackson Speed’s memory if I always keep in the back of my mind that Grant not only wore a dress but made such a poor woman that he failed to inspire Ted Porter.

Historical smut

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review is titled: Not a Historical novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve got books to write

Probably I should be passing the time at book release parties in New York City, sipping champagne and accepting attaboys and back pats.

But the truth is, I’m feeling a little under the gun.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00067]On Good Friday I published the second of the Jackson Speed Memoirs. Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs is now available through Amazon.com.

On Easter Sunday the folks at The eReader Café were kind enough to publish an author interview with me. Thankfully, I’d published Blood Tubs just in time that they were able to use links and cover images in the interview. Whew!

And on Monday, April Fool’s Day, I published Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings & Other Collected Stories.

In the span of four days, I tripled the number of books I’ve authored and published.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00065]So I am kind of a big deal.

It was chance and chance alone that brought the culmination of both these projects over the same weekend.

My extraordinary editor, India Powell at Lightswitch Communications, finished editing the Blood Tubs a couple of weeks ago. I was going through her edits and formatting the chapters into the book as I received the chapters back from her, so it was all ready to go. Last week, Kate Sherrill – the unbelievably talented artist who did the cover illustration for the Blood Tubs – finished the painting and provided me with a high res digital file.

I also finished editing and formatting my columns for “Four Things” last weekend. The cover photo was shot in December and all that needed to be done was put the pieces together.

My beautiful and talented wife, Jean, who does the cover designs for my books, ended up being the one who decided which book would be published first because she decided to design the Blood Tubs cover and then work on the Four Things cover.

Even though it was by chance, it was still a lot of fun to see the completion of two big projects on the same weekend. I’ve been in one stage or another of working on both of these books for several months, and especially in the last few weeks I was getting increasingly excited to finally have them completed.

So today, as Four Things went live on Amazon, I was sitting here admiring the vast array of books available if you do a search for Robert Peecher on Amazon.com, and that’s when I realized what a dreadful spot I’m in.

I’m dropping books like it’s easy (it’s not, and, oddly enough, it is), but I’ve also got a timeline for the next two Jackson Speed books.

My intention is to have both of these books coincide with the 150th anniversaries of the battles during which they are set.

Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike (which sees our reluctant hero stepping out of the woods just in time to send the entirety of the Army of the Potomac back across the Rappahannock) takes place at Chancellorsville. The 150th anniversary of Chancellorsville is now just a month away.

The next book, Jackson Speed at the High Tide, sees Ol’ Speedy fighting for both the Federals and the Confederates at Gettysburg. The sesquicentennial for Gettysburg is only three months away.

The Orange Turnpike is essentially written. High Tide is not quite half done.

I can do it. But it will not be easy. I don’t know about my editor and my illustrator and my designer, but my hope is to get all of them equally excited about sesquicentennials.

Anyway, I shot an email to my social secretary and I told her she was going to have to postpone the New York City parties and the champagne sipping and the attaboying and the back patting.

I’ve got books to write.

Lost in research, and a chance to win a signed copy of the next Jackson Speed book

The trouble with writing historical novels is getting lost in your research.

I write at a pretty rapid pace. The first of the Jackson Speed novels (at 75,000 words) took 28 days to write. The second novel (about 85,000 words) took four months, but there were a couple of long periods when I didn’t write at all because other projects were occupying my time.

A cover from one of the issues of Harper's Weekly.

A cover from one of the issues of Harper’s Weekly.

I am currently writing the third novel and that is also moving along rapidly. My goal is to have it finished by late April.

I’ve written one thing or another all my life, and particularly as a journalist I am accustomed to writing quickly under deadline pressure. I developed this skill when I was a student and would put off writing lengthy essays until the very last minute. My teachers and my parents thought I was procrastinating, but actually I was developing skills that would benefit me as a future journalist and novelist.

Or maybe I was procrastinating.

But as I write these novels, a big part of my time is spent in research. My friends know that if I’m going to write a historical novel it is going to be historically accurate. If I write in a novel that the first gun fired in advance of Pickett’s Charge on the third day of Gettysburg was shot off at 1:07 in the afternoon, I write that because that’s what time it was fired. You can take it to the bank. If I write that General Taylor ordered a retreat just as Colonel Jefferson Davis was about to take the Grand Plaza at Monterrey, I write it because that’s what history recorded.

My desire to be historically accurate stems from my love of history. I’ve always been a sort of arm chair historian, and any time I’ve run across inaccuracies in films or novels it has always rankled me.

As a result, when I start to do research for a book or a chapter or a scene, I tend to get lost in my research. I’m easily distracted. I go to find out what road Fitz Lee was on when he discovered Hooker’s flank on the Orange Turnpike at Chancellorsville, and two hours later I’m reading about Dan Sickles shooting Francis Scott Key’s son for fooling around with Mrs. Sickles.

One of my favorite sites for research is sonofthesouth.net where they have posted all the Harper’s Weekly issues published during the Civil War. I could (and do) spend hours reading these and studying the sketches and forgetting the nugget of history I was there to discover.

Today in the mail I received a book that contains diary and journal entries, letters and other first-hand accounts of Gettysburg, not from the generals or soldiers (whose accounts I have by the hundreds already) but from the civilians who lived in Gettysburg.

I am currently working on the third novel in the Jackson Speed series “Jackson Speed at the High Tide.”

In it, Speed deserts his way into the biggest battle of the war, and on the first day at Gettysburg finds himself caught in the town between the two armies.

I’ll give you one guess what brought Ol’ Speedy to Gettysburg in the first place. The first person who comments here on my blog with the correct answer wins a free, signed copy of “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” (due out in late March).

So in doing my research I sought accounts from Gettysburg’s citizens and found this book. Seriously, I salivate over civilian accounts of the American Civil War and am most fascinated by those.

So I bought this book for “research,” and I will use it accordingly, but I doubt very seriously I will be doing any quality writing in the next few days as I once again get lost in my research.