Jackson Speed: Not really like other historical novels

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

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

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

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

But my friend wasn’t familiar with Flashman.

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

“Um,” I hesitated. “Not really.”

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

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

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

These are all great historical novels well worth reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it farcical? Yes.

Is it absurd? Sometimes.

Is it interesting and informative? Absolutely.

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

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Jackson Speed in the United Kingdom

For the past three months sales of the Jackson Speed books have been higher and more consistent than they ever were previously.

Jackson Speed used to sit unnoticed on virtual bookstore shelves for weeks, sometimes a couple of months, with no sales. Those were frustrating and dispiriting days as I lamented my lack of readership and obviously poor noveling abilities.

jackson speed in the united kingdomBut since May, I’ve been selling books regularly, and the real surprise is the rate at which Jackson Speed is selling to Kindle readers in the United Kingdom. I’ve noted before that the first Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike paperback sold in Amazon’s UK site, but through June and July better than half my Kindle sales came out of the UK.

It’s still early in August and my sales are continuing to be consistent, but so far I’ve not sold a single Kindle ebook in the United States. All of my sales this month have been out of Amazon’s UK store.

I never expected the books to sell in the United Kingdom the way they are. The protagonist works his way in and out of America’s 19th Century conflicts (mostly with herself), and as a result when I first started writing, the audience I had in mind was strictly an American audience.

I am left to conclude that the reason the Brits are buying the Jackson Speed books is because of the obvious influences George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman had on Robert Peecher’s Jackson Speed. As I’ve noted before, I am a massive fan of the Flashman novels, and Fraser’s creation was the inspiration for Speed.

I entered the latest Jackson Speed novel in the Reader’s Favorite book contest, and disappointingly (but not surprisingly) I didn’t even make it to the finalist stage. As part of the contest, Reader’s Favorite reviews the book and posts the review on their website.

Though the book received four stars out of five, the reviewer clearly is not a fan of Jackson Speed.

She called him a sociopath!

I feel terrible for poor Jackson Speed. I’ve heard him described as everything from a rascal (my personal favorite, thanks Mandy Stephens!) to despicable, and now he’s “sociopathic.”

From the review: “Jackson Speed has so few redeeming qualities that it didn’t quite leave me laughing.”

Well, as Ol’ Speedy might point out, there are plenty of men with no lack of redeeming qualities who found their way into an early grave while he’s able to enjoy the peace of his sunset years.

So, perhaps the answer to the mystery as to why my books are selling so well in the United Kingdom is simply this: The Brits simply love a sociopath.

Either way, every sale of one of my books is humbling and gratifying. I cannot express how much it means to me. I’m still a long way from making any best seller lists, but when I started writing these novels I wasn’t sure if anyone, anywhere would find them interesting or entertaining. The fact that people do seem to be entertained by them (as demonstrated by the fact that it’s not just El Teneria selling, but all three of the Speed novels) is just overwhelming. It really is.

As I’ve said before, I love to hear from Jackson Speed readers. If you’d like to be added to my list to receive updates about the next Speed book, you can send me a message through the form below. And if you’re one of the Speed readers in the United Kingdom and you’re thinking of sending me a message, I’d love to know how you found the novels.

Also, you’ll want to get added to my email list because when I told my wife that my sales in the United Kingdom were doing very well, she immediately started planning a UK book signing tour. Details on that tour will be available as soon as we can afford it.

Based on my current rate of sales and the 8-day packages she has been able to put together, it appears that the Robert Peecher book signing tour in the United Kingdom will be in about 63 years!

I can’t wait!

 

Celebrating little successes

If you’re a self-published novelist or published through a small press, there’s a pretty good likelihood you’ve wallowed in a fair amount of self-doubt and self-pity.

If you see fireworks this week, almost surely they are being set off in celebration of my best sales month last month.

If you see fireworks this week, almost surely they are being set off in celebration of my best sales month last month.

I think most indie authors discover that finding and connecting with potential readers is a more challenging task than writing the book.

I didn’t know what to expect in terms of “success” when I first published Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria. I mean, obviously I wanted to sell a million copies and be on the NYT bestseller list for years. But I suspected that wouldn’t happen.

Now, after two years and four published books, I’ve learned that you have to find success where you can. Maybe you even have to redefine what success means. Otherwise, it’s easy to get terribly dispirited.

In June I had a pretty good run of “little successes.”

Toward the end of May I realized I was coming up on a milestone – 1,000 books distributed through Amazon. Around the first of June I achieved that milestone when I distributed my one-thousandth book. That’s not 1,000 sales, and that’s not all the books I’ve sold or given away, but it’s 1,000 books through Amazon (paperbacks and Kindle ebooks) both paid and free. The majority were free, but that’s okay.

Then over the course of the rest of the month, as I periodically checked my sales reports, I realized that I was having a good month. Again, this is scaled because we’re talking about a good month for me, not for Stephen King. But I was consistently selling books through the month of June and – by far – had my best sales month ever.

My month of little successes kicked off at the end of May when I received an email from a reader who contacted me through this blog. He’d read all three of the Jackson Speed novels and was complimentary. He favorably compared them to George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman books (which is high praise in my mind, because Fraser is among my favorites).

Fraser died in 2008, and for his fans it was devastating to know there would be no more Flashman books.

As I’ve noted before, I patterned the character of Jackson Speed after Flashman – a coward and a womanizer. As I’ve written the novels, I’ve felt that Speed has developed more into his own self, but the comparison to Flashman is obvious and will always be there.

Anyway, the email closed with: “Thanks for filling the void, but making it your own.”

That’s enormous praise. I can’t ask for anything more than that. If a Flashman fan thinks I’ve filled the void left by Fraser’s death, that’s as much as I can hope to do.

Still, it scares me to think that fans of the Flashman novels would read a Jackson Speed novel, because truthfully they must be disappointed. I’m not half the writer that George MacDonald Fraser was.

When compared to a lot of other indie authors, I know my sales seem pretty weak and my little successes insignificant (especially after two years of this), but I’m still feeling pretty good about the way June went.

So, I’m filing this under advice for indie authors: Don’t get bogged down in the disappointments. Whether you set small goals (1,000 books distributed) or just celebrate unexpected victories (a reader who enjoyed your book reaching out to let you know), I’m convinced that the people who achieve success as indie writers (or, really, anything) are the ones who persevere through the tough days so that they can enjoy the good days.

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!