Two years in the making, “In the Rush” is now available

My wife, and first reader, Jean models the Kindle version of “Jackson Speed In the Rush.”

I wrote the first Jackson Speed novel in 28 days. It was a mad dash of late nights, early mornings, writing at the dinner table. My wife Jean thought I had lost my mind, and she worried she had lost her husband.

Over the years I’ve started and never finished a lot of novels. Back in the mid-1990s I was writing a novel I was really excited about. I spent months writing the novel. It was an enormous tome. I don’t know for sure, but if I had to guess, it was probably around 150,000 words (by way of comparison, most of the Jackson Speed novels are fewer than 100,000) and it was not even close to being finished.

Then I lost interest and quit writing.

And I’ve done that a lot with different ideas I had for novels. For many years, I didn’t even try any more.

But when I first had the idea for the Jackson Speed novels, it was like an epiphany. I can’t describe how excited I was about the concept, and I was just desperate to get the story written. And I was worried that if I stopped long enough to take a breath I would lose my momentum, and poor Ol’ Speedy would go the way of all the other novels I’d ever started.

So I wrote feverishly and didn’t stop to take a breath.

It was a weird month.

I’m not saying that writing El Teneria in 28 days made it a better book, but I finished it. And published it.

Five years later, I’m really pleased to announce that I’ve now published the sixth book in the Jackson Speed series.

Jackson Speed In the Rush was two years in the writing.

It was not the feverish, non-stop writing marathon that El Teneria was.

When I first envisioned Jackson Speed – that morning I had the epiphany – there were four very specific books I planned to write about Jackson Speed’s life. I knew there would be (or could be) many others, but I had four specific episodes in mind.

In the Rush is the last of those four.

I knew I wanted to start Speed in the Mexican-American War. I knew I wanted him to be a Pinkerton spy saving Lincoln from the Baltimore plotters. I knew I wanted to put him at the Battle of Gettysburg. And I knew I wanted to send him to California as a Forty-Niner.

I also generally knew the story before I ever started writing it.

It’s hard for me to say, then, why this particular book took so long for me to write. One reason might be that I had to do more research for this novel than I have for the others.

Prior to writing Jackson Speed, my knowledge of the American Civil War was already vast. I’d read countless books on the subject, visited battlefields, watched documentaries. I am, obviously, what they call a “history buff,” and before Jackson Speed was ever an idea in my mind I had already done the bulk of the research for any novels set during the Civil War.

But In the Rush takes up episodes in history that were less familiar to me. My knowledge of the California Gold Rush and the Cherokee’s early days in Oklahoma was only surface knowledge. When I wrote Orange Turnpike and High Tide, ever bit of research material I needed was already on my book shelf in my office. But for In the Rush, I had to buy or borrow several books, and I spent countless hours on the Internet doing research.

In the Rush is slightly longer than High Tide, which up to now was the longest of the Jackson Speed books.

In the Rush is almost like two novels in one, with two distinct and separate stories being told. So readers may come away feeling like they’ve just read two novels.

If you’ve enjoyed the previous Jackson Speed novels, I don’t think you’ll find anything disappointing about Book 6 of the series. If you haven’t enjoyed previous Jackson Speed novels, you’ll like this one even less because it is a little bit longer.

And if you haven’t read the previous Jackson Speed novels, what are you even doing reading this? – Get yourself over to Amazon and start reading them!

So, if you’re ready for Book 6 of the Jackson Speed Memoirs, click here to get the Kindle version.

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Book 6 of the Jackson Speed series is now available

Jackson Speed In the Rush is now available to Kindle and Kindle app users!

The print version of the book should be available in the next couple of days.

I am massively pleased with this book, and very excited for Speed fans to get a look at it.

The Jackson Speed books do not follow the chronological order of his life, and this one – the sixth book in the series – actually takes readers back to where the first book left off. In Jackson Speed In the Rush, readers find Speed returning home from the war in Mexico, but as Bugs Bunny might say, Speed took a wrong turn in Albuquerque (actually, his wrong turn was in Dallas) and instead of returning to Georgia he goes off seeking gold in California.

But for Speed to get from war in Mexico to gold in California, he has to take an adventurous detour that leads him to the Spavinaw River in northeast Oklahoma. There he meets and spends time with the famous Cherokee chief Stand Watie.

Watie is an interesting person to me, and I really enjoyed writing the first half of the novel where Watie plays a role.

As I have noted previously, this book required a good bit more in-depth research than I usually have to do, and for about a month I was studying up on Watie quite a bit. I got caught up reading a great deal of his correspondence, and it was truly fascinating to me. I knew I was going to like the guy, though, when I discovered early on that he was the last Confederate general to surrender. I have big respect for anyone who is willing to stand his ground even when everyone else has thrown in the towel.

All of the books in The Jackson Speed Memoirs have a cast of characters of real people who really did some or all of the things depicted in the books.

Included in previous novels have been people like Devil Dan Sickles, Jefferson Davis, Ben McCulloch, Allan Pinkerton, Stonewall Jackson, Fitzhugh Lee and even Abraham Lincoln. I thoroughly enjoy writing about these historical people in the Jackson Speed novels. Pinkerton is probably my favorite historical person to write into a novel, but I really enjoy the process of discovering more about these individuals and trying to resurrect them on my pages.

In the Rush has another wonderful cast of characters joining Stand Watie.

Jesse Chisholm makes an appearance or two in the book. Chisholm, of course, lent his name to the famous cattle trail. Most interesting to me about Chisholm, though, was that he routinely adopted children who had been kidnapped by Plains Indians. The Comanche even purposefully kidnapped kids just so they could sell them to Chisholm. Jesse tried to find the families of the children he rescued, but when he could not, he just took them as his own.

John Rollin Ridge, a tragic character if ever there was one, also appears in the novel. I felt a deep connection to Ridge because he, too, was a journalist and novelist. I’m convinced the novel does not do justice to Ridge as a person, but I needed him to play a specific role in my novel and then I needed to leave him in Fayetteville, but it was always a nagging shame to me that I could not incorporate Ridge into the novel in a bigger way.

My own seventh great-grandfather shows up in the novel, though I’m afraid he isn’t cast in the best light. Great Grandpa Nathan Boone was about 70-years-old in 1848 and by then his health wasn’t great and he was in the habit of drinking heavily and reminiscing even more heavily. I think my portrayal of Boone is fair, but he’d have acquitted himself much better if we’d have caught him at a younger age.

Obadiah Bush, an ancestor to two U.S. Presidents, also makes a convenient cameo in the novel. I was able to find very little factual information about Obadiah Bush that would allow me to draw him out as an accurate character, and so the Obadiah Bush in the Jackson Speed novels is mostly fantasy. Sometimes when I incorporate historical people into my novels, the novel bends around the historical character. Sometimes when I incorporate historical people into my novels, the person bends around the plot of the novel. Obadiah Bush does all the bending here.

And finally, Joaquin Murrieta and Three-Finger Jack (Manuel Garcia) provide Speed with the antagonists he needs so that he can do that thing he does second best: Run like hell!

This isn’t the first time that Murrieta has appeared in fiction, so he’s pretty darn good at it. He’s quite a bit more of a villain for Robert Peecher than he was for John Rollin Ridge, but I think you’ll like him anyway.

I’ll note, too, that Slim and Brother were a couple of guys I knew in college. They were roommates in Beeson Hall at Georgia College, and I used to hang out some with Slim and Brother. They provided inspiration and nicknames for a couple of the characters in the novel.

So, with a cast full of fascinating historical people, I hope In the Rush is as fun and entertaining as it is informative.

To get the Kindle version, click here: Jackson Speed In the Rush.

First reading of Jackson Speed in the Rush gets a couple of tears

Not only is she my first reader, but Jean will also sometimes model books for me when first editions show up.

I am feverishly working on the final edits for the next Jackson Speed novel with the hope that it can be done and published in time for my friend Chris to read it on his vacation the first part of June.

If there has ever been any question about whether or not I love my readers, let this put all rumors to the contrary to rest. I am staying up until midnight night after night after night to be sure that Chris’s vacation has some Jackson Speed in it.

The “final edits” process looks like this: I read over every word and try to catch any last type-o’s, any continuity issues that were missed in previous edits, or anything that just sits funny with me (there are two scenes in El Teneria that still make me cringe when I wonder why I didn’t edit those out).

During “final edits,” I simultaneously give the book to my wife and ask her to read through it.

If you follow this blog, you know that Jean is my first reader, and I put tremendous value in her opinion of my books.

So this is what was going on in our house last night. I was final editing, and Jean was first reading.

If you’re a fan of Jackson Speed, you know these are not weighty books. I try to keep them historically accurate, full of action and satire, and entertaining to read. But periodically I’ll throw in some really terrible stuff because we are, after all, talking about a rough period of American history. My books are full of characters who die. I think of the final chapter of Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs, where Speed is on the battlefield at Fredericksburg and is standing over a dying Yankee soldier. It’s a poignant moment. And while the books are not weighty, there are certainly scenes that get heavier than others.

So last night Jean read through one of those heavier scenes.

And it made her cry.

She wasn’t bawling. She didn’t have snot coming out of her nose. But she had a couple of little tears she was willing to shed over a scene in the book.

That’s what I’m looking for. That’s why I put the book in Jean’s hand and watch her while she reads. If she cries when I want her to cry and laughs when I want her to laugh or shakes her head in disgust as Jackson Speed crawls into yet another woman’s bed, then it’s all a good gauge to me that I’m doing my job as a storyteller.

I don’t expect everyone to tear up while reading this book. It’s a fact about Jean that she’ll cry while watching Hallmark or Folger’s commercials. But for the average reader, there might be a scene or two that make you wonder if the room has suddenly gotten a little dusty.

So Chris need not worry that Ol’ Speedy is going to ruin his vacation with a lot of tear-jerking, but if my first reader’s reactions are a fair representation of the book, then I think I’ve done my job.

This one tops 100,000 words, so it’s a bigger book than all the other (except High Tide) and really it should feel like two stories for the price of one.

I’m excited for you to read it!

Now … back to editing before Chris gets his suitcases packed!

Sherman jokes are indeed too soon

Cump Sherman

With the fire and collapse of a section of bridge on I-85 yesterday, there’s been a lot of posting about William Tecumseh Sherman in the last 24 hours.

Sherman makes an appearance in the soon-to-be-released “Jackson Speed in the Rush.” Sherman biographers will know that the Yankee general made famous for burning Atlanta on his March to the Sea will know that in 1848-49 the young Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman was in California and played a small role in the California Gold Rush.

I learned some interesting things about Sherman during my research, not least of which is that his friends all called him “Cump,” a shortened version of his middle name.

I’ve seen lots of jokes floating around Facebook about Sherman and the burning of Atlanta. My favorite is the photo of Sherman with the caption: “Police have released this photograph of a suspect in the I-85 fire.” Invariably, someone will post: “Too soon.”

But I think it’s important to remember that for many people, these jokes are “too soon.” My personal authority on the Old South has many times reminded me that when Sherman and those damn Yankees marched through Georgia they devastated lives and property, and generations later some have not forgotten. In fact, my personal authority on the Old South has told me how he used to hear stories from the old-timers (who got it from older-timers) of how the Yankee soldiers entertained themselves.

It was common back in the old days that peacocks roamed the streets in some small Southern towns. Some people kept them as pets and allowed them to roam at will. In fact, I used to live down the road from someone who had a couple of peacocks as pets, and they were constantly coming into the yard, honking and aggravating my dog.

My friend and Old South authority said that when Sherman came through, the Yankee soldiers entertained themselves by shooting these peacocks for sport.

“They shot the peafowl,” he says, and the generational sorrow is thick in his voice.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t be able to have their fun on Facebook or that there’s not some humor to the joke that Cump Sherman set the fire that shut down I-85, but don’t dismiss those who say it is “too soon” as idle jokers. Some wounds take hundreds of years to heal, and Sherman’s gash across the face of Georgia is still a raw scar.

They shot the peafowl.

The Battle of the Boat video

When writing the Jackson Speed novels, I try very hard to find interesting, unique, and often forgotten episodes from history to slip into my plots. When I was writing the first of the Jackson Speed novels, I stumbled upon the story of the Battle of the Boat, and I knew immediately it was the exact sort of disaster in which Jackson Speed should take part.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of sources about the event, but there were enough that I was able to piece together a pretty thorough approximation of what happened.

In the video above, I discuss the Battle of the Boat and what took place on the Rio Grande to make General Taylor decide that he was not taking any of the Georgia militia units into battle with him during the Mexican-American War.

If you enjoy reading historical fiction and like your heroes to be on the scoundrel side, please check out the Jackson Speed Memoirs. And if you enjoy the novels, leave a review on Amazon!

Also, go and “like” the Jackson Speed page on Facebook where I am regularly posting short videos in which I discuss my research and the novels.

Researching travel in the 1800s

Toll house and toll road from the 1800s.

Toll house and toll road from the 1800s.

As I research and write the Jackson Speed Memoirs, one of the things that really fascinates me is the transportation of the era.

Anyone familiar with the books will know that typically the books unravel along a physical journey, and Speed rarely finishes a book in the same place he started it. So I end up spending a lot of time figuring out how a 19th Century scoundrel would get from here to there.

Transportation in the 19th Century was a crazy slow mixture of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination.

For instance, in the earliest days of train travel, it was not uncommon to have a bolt in the floor of the train car come loose from the vibrations and shoot into the air. Train passengers were sometimes injured by these flying bolts. And those early trains did not have cushioned seats, so passengers bumped and jerked over rails while sitting on flat wood benches or chairs. I imagine train depots probably presented a comical sight of stiff-backed travelers trying to stretch out the kinks.

The very first trains, going back to the early 1800s, consisted of nothing more than stagecoaches hooked to an engine.

Water, of course, was hugely important to travel. The rivers truly were our first highways.

I once came across some information about a river that I frequently travel in my canoe. The Oconee River, which runs from north of Athens, Ga., to South Georgia where it helps form the Altamaha River and goes out to the Atlantic, is a narrow river full of shoals and sandbars, and once or twice a month I can be found in my canoe paddling the Oconee around Athens.

In the early 1800s, the Oconee had significant boat traffic from the sea up to Dublin, Georgia. Above Dublin, the Oconee passes through Milledgeville (which was the antebellum state capital).

For more than a decade, every spring, tens of thousands of dollars and countless man hours were wasted trying to clear the Oconee of obstacles from Dublin to Milledgeville so that boat traffic could move up to the state capital. Typically in a season they would only be able to float a small handful of ships up river. The river north of Dublin was just too shallow for boats. They would dredge the sand and clear deadfall and even blast rocks, but the work would only clear the river long enough to allow a few boats to get to Milledgeville.

In Indiana there was an even bigger boondoggle in the making.

In the mid-1830s the Indiana general assembly passed a bill allocating $3.5 million to the construction of the Indiana Central Canal. Intended to run 296 miles from the Wabash and Erie Canal to the Ohio River, only 9 miles were ever completed (near Indianapolis) and another two dozen miles were dug. The project nearly bankrupted the state.

In the 1900s, the completed portion of the canal at Indianapolis was used to provide drinking water for the city, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

In researching the Jackson Speed novels, I dig pretty deep into the history of transportation, and I am constantly amazed by what I learn. Mostly, I am amazed at the ingenuity of the human race.

In Jackson Speed and the Fugitive Slaves, Speed flees slave hunters aboard a flat boat.

Big rivers – the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, and others – were littered with these flat boats. They were large barges built almost like house boats, and farmers would pack these boats with livestock and produce and float them down the rivers (Abraham Lincoln once floated a flat boat down the Mississippi).

Typically when they arrived where they were going, these farmers would sell their boats and walk home. Sometimes the boats would be dismantled and the lumber used to construct homes or barns. Sometimes people would live on the boats on the river. Sometimes they would hitch the boats to steamships and carry them back upstream.

Especially in the novels set prior to the Civil War, my ability to get Speed from one place to another is very limited. I have several period maps I use that show the rail lines in the 1840s and 1850s, and the railroads of the day were a bizarre mishmash of ties and rails. Particularly as a line was being constructed, it was possible to arrive halfway along your journey only to discover that to complete your trip you would have to find some other mode of travel because the tracks had not yet been laid all the way to your destination. Speed encountered this particular dilemma when he arrived in Chattanooga in Fugitive Slaves.

But of course there was always some other way. A canal, a steamship, a stagecoach, or a horse would get you where you needed to go.

Another aspect of travel at the time that interests me is that most of the roads of the early- to mid-1800s were toll roads that were privately owned. While toll bridges proved to be successful private ventures – because evading the toll was quite a challenge when crossing a river – toll roads were less successful as private ventures. Toll jumpers, known as “shunpikers,” were common, and the roads were often chartered by the government with lots of regulations. People who lived within a mile of the tollhouse were not to be charged; people on normal family business were not to be charged; people going to and from church were not to be charged.

Between the no-charges and the shunpikers, private toll roads struggled to make money.

By the early 1900s, local and state governments were taking over roadways and the private toll roads were soon to be a thing of the past.

The history of travel in the United States is fascinating to me, and it’s easy for me to get lost in the research as I try to move Jackson Speed from one place to another without benefit of interstates, cars driving 75 mph or airplanes.

In some of the novels, such as Jackson Speed and the Fugitive Slaves, the physical journey the characters make is as important as to the story as anything, but in other novels, the travel is merely a necessary part of the story. In Fugitive Slaves, I spent hours and hours researching roadways, river and train travel of 1853.

In the novel I’m currently writing, Jackson Speed in the Rush, Speed makes one of the biggest journeys in the history of our nation – the Overland trip to California. I spent a massive amount of time researching the trip, but the novel is not about that journey and it only takes up a chapter of the book.

I think my fascination with early travel stems from a family story I heard many years ago. There is a letter that survived from when my Peecher ancestors moved from Virginia to the Midwest in the early 1800s (before the war). In the letter, one of the women making the journey wrote of traveling over the Appalachian Mountains, and she noted that one evening as they camped they were able to see across the valley to the spot where they had camped the previous night. It was a long, slow process to travel any distance.

And while I certainly don’t lament the advances and improved efficiency of travel from those days in the 1800s when Jackson Speed was traipsing about, I do find a certain nostalgia in the slower, simpler modes of travel of 150 years ago.

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.