If James Garner is your Clint Eastwood, Jackson Speed might be for you

A few days ago, I wrote a post wherein I describe people who should not bother reading the Jackson Speed novels.

I thought it was only fair that I also put together a list of those readers who might enjoy the Jackson Speed Memoirs and should therefore be reading them.

 

If James Garner is your Clint Eastwood

There was a time when I thought that folks who enjoy a good Western would also make good Speed fans. Though most of the Speed novels published so far take place during or around the time of the American Civil War, I’ve always known that eventually the action would shift to a Western setting.

And, as is true with The Outlaw Josey Wales or The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, the American Civil War and the traditional Western should never be completely separated. Much of the lawlessness of the “Wild West” was a direct result of the Civil War veterans who sought their fortune to the west in a hard and untamed land.

So knowing that one day Jackson Speed would rub elbows with the likes of Billy the Kid and Buckshot Roberts and would ride with the Pinkertons, I always considered the Speed novels to be akin to Westerns.

But I trip on a specific point.

Most Westerns feature as the protagonists brave and hard men who fear nothing. They are fast with a gun and are modern-day knights, chivalrous and noble.

If you love a good Western, there’s a pretty good chance that you want your heroes to be heroic.

Jackson Speed is not that. He’s a coward who stumbles into his adventures, and rather than putting on the white hat and figuring a way to beat the guy in the black hat, Speed is always trying to figure out how to get out of the trouble he’s in. And the color of the hat he wears is always whatever is most convenient for the moment.

I think about some of James Garner’s movies, particularly “Support Your Local Gunfighter.”

Speed is much more the conman with loose morals, more similar to Latigo, than he is Marshal Jed Cooper, the trail-hardened gunslinger.

Jackson Speed is the classic lovable rogue: Rhett Butler, Maverick, Han Solo. If he wasn’t, then how does he manage to always get the girl?

So if James Garner is your Clint Eastwood, and you like your heroes to be a bit on the cowardly side, you’ll probably enjoy the Jackson Speed Memoirs.

 

If you love history

I am meticulous when it comes to the historical settings of the Jackson Speed books, and I can all but guarantee that even the most avid of armchair historians will learn something in the Jackson Speed books. Some of the books are more heavily footnoted than others – Orange Turnpike, High Tide, and In the Rush all have numerous footnotes to assist in setting the historical context of the books.

In researching the books, I go to as many primary sources as I can. When historical figures make a cameo in the Jackson Speed books, I try very hard to be true and accurate to the character of the man or woman resurrected in the novels.

When describing battles or historical events, I attempt to recreate those as exactly as I can, and I will bend my story to fit the historical record before I will rewrite history to fit my narrative. And when I cannot tell the story I want to tell without altering history, I make a note of it in the footnotes to preserve the historical record.

I do this because I have both a passion and respect for history.

As a result, I also dig deep into my research to find the bizarre and outrageous and forgotten bits of history that you’ll not find in your text books.

Where – other than a Jackson Speed novel – are you going to discover the true and accurate reason why the Georgia volunteers were not taken into battle by Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-American War? Almost nowhere. That true and accurate historical accounting took extensive research, and it’s a moment of history that has almost entirely disappeared from memory.

And that was just a scene from the first book. Similar scenes can be found in any of the Jackson Speed novels.

 

If you’ve gone looking for Historical Fiction and you’re sick of finding this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing against Jasmine Ashford (if that’s your real name!). Her books sell significantly better than mine, and she’s got dozens and dozens more 4- and 5-star reviews than I have.

But if you’ve gone looking for historical fiction, and you found this, and you were horrified, I promise that Jackson Speed is not this.

“Shauna had loved Aaron so much; their eyes locking when they met on the street one day. She wasn’t stupid though; she understood completely that a Lord could never marry a peasant, no matter how much they thought they loved each other. She had accepted that from the beginning, just as she accepted everything about him. His smile, his blue eyes, his laugh; his penchant to dream. She knew everything about him as he did her, and she loved him with all of her heart.”

Jackson Speed is nothing at all like this.

 

You like your humor dry and dark

The Jackson Speed Memoirs are not laugh-out-loud novels, but they are rich in humor. Much of it is a dark humor, as a fair number of the punchlines are centered on some man’s misfortune or death. All of it is a dry humor.

If you like slapstick comedy because you don’t get the joke unless someone smacks you with it, you might not laugh much while reading Jackson Speed. But if a subtle joke that makes you crack a smile is how you roll, you’ll probably enjoy the Jackson Speed novels.

 

You’re sick of political correctness

I don’t go out of my way to write non-PC novels, but I am certainly not creating characters who have 21st Century sensibilities and putting them into novels about the 1800s.

Some of my characters are bigots. Jackson Speed is a womanizer. The only thing his wife hates more than an abolitionist is William Tecumseh Sherman.

I don’t seek to write offensive books for the sake of being offensive, but if you feel like everyone is too uptight all the time and you think an off-color joke shouldn’t be a crime, you might find that the Jackson Speed novels are just the right amount of offensive.

If you are easily offended, please see my list of people who should not read my books. It does not (but should have) included people who are easily offended.

 

Nipples and bigamy are cool with you

You think it’s funny that an old man in his 80s and 90s, writing his memoirs, recalls all the women he bedded by the size, color and shape of their nipples.

As noted earlier, Speed is a womanizer. He gets belly-to-belly with as many women as he possibly can in 100,000 words or so, and in writing his memoirs his favorite thing is to reminisce about those women. Often, he recalls them by specific features, in particular their nipples. And he refers to their breasts as “teats.”

The sex is not explicit, but there is a lot of it. Jackson Speed’s arch nemesis throughout each of the novels is the “toothed vagina.” Every escapade and dangerous adventure that Jackson Speed encounters is brought about by his desire to bed some woman, and he is only married to a few of them.

If this isn’t enough to put you off the books, then you are almost surely going to love the Jackson Speed novels.

 

You love a good adventure

The Jackson Speed novels are full of adventure. Some of them read like a spy novel, and some are military adventures.

Speed’s life span takes him from the Mexican-American War, through the 1849 California Gold Rush, into the War of Northern Aggression, and out to the Wild West. In that time he spends time as a Texas Ranger, a Pinkerton, an officer and a spy for both the Union and the Confederacy, an outlaw, a prospector, an Indian and he rides with the 7th Cavalry. He’s a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, and he helps fugitive slaves flee the South.

You don’t have to know the history to enjoy the adventure.

 

So if James Garner is your Clint Eastwood and you get a kick out of a hero who will do any anti-heroic deed to get himself out of trouble, then I’d recommend the Jackson Speed Memoirs to you.

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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.

Typical Jackson Speed readers are Flashman fans

Jackson Speed

The Jackson Speed novels often get compared to George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series.

I am a fan of the Flashman novels, and I readily admit that Speed was significantly influenced by Flashman. Many of the emails I receive from readers of the Speed novels or the reviews that readers leave on Amazon refer back to Flashman.

It was never really my intention to court fans of the Flashman novels, but I think it’s accurate to say that the typical reader of the Jackson Speed Memoirs is a fan of Fraser’s Flashman novels. Probably he has read all the Flashman novels twice, and he’s looking for books similar to the Flashman novels – books that are historically accurate and feature a comical anti-hero rather than the archetypal hero who is bold and daring.

My goal, when I started writing the series, was to write novels set in 19th Century America that I expected would appeal to an American audience. I wanted to write accurate portrayals of historical events and include in them a scoundrel, a cowardly womanizer whose motives are never glory or honor but purely selfish. I wanted to create a character in the Flashman mold but put him in the period and place of history I am most familiar with.

In my research, I look hard to find the obscure stories from American history where I can insert my roving rascal, and my expectation is that even a lot of well-versed armchair historians will learn something.

Whether you’re a fan of the Flashman novels and you’re looking for a character similar to Fraser’s cad Flashman, or you just enjoy humorous historical fiction, I’m just thrilled that every month it seems new readers are discovering and enjoying the Jackson Speed novels! I don’t get a lot of reviews on the books, and I only occasionally hear from readers with an email, but the fact that all four of the books continue to sell consistently suggests to me that people are enjoying the books, and I’m grateful that are!

Help a brother out, leave a Jackson Speed review

Help a brother out ... please leave a review if you've enjoyed a book.

Help a brother out … please leave a review if you’ve enjoyed a book.

If you have read and enjoyed any of my books, I would really appreciate a short review on Amazon. Reviews help sell books. Even if I handed you a copy and you didn’t buy it from Amazon, you can still go to Amazon and leave a review.

It doesn’t have to be long or thought out or grammatically correct. A word or two: “Fun read!” or “Enjoyed it!” would be very helpful to me. One of the best reviews I’ve received was from someone who said the book was so funny “I cried and almost pee my underwear.” Do I care that her pee is present-tense and her tears are past-tense? Not at all. I’m just glad she’s soaking wet from top to bottom.

Or, if you’re a bit more verbose, a longer review is always very helpful, too. If you can describe the book or what you enjoyed about it – even what could have been improved – all of these things are worthwhile and helpful to other readers who are considering reading the book.

Obviously, if you were ambivalent about the book (3 stars) then that’s not going to help me, and if you absolutely hated it (1 star or 2 stars) then I’d prefer you keep your opinion to yourself. But if you hated the book so much that you feel compelled to leave a one star review, I do hope you’ll be specific about why you hated it and give other potential readers an honest accounting of your opinion.

But I think I’d rather have an honest 1 star review than a fake 5 star review.

I know people are enjoying the Jackson Speed books because sales of all four of the Jackson Speed novels are consistent. Clearly folks are reading a book and coming back for the next book in the series.

I was recently lamenting the lack of reviews to a friend of mine. I told him that I’ve had more people email me through my blog to tell me they enjoyed the books than have posted a review on Amazon – and that’s something I don’t understand. Especially when Kindle readers get a prompt to post a review when they finish the book. For someone to email me through the blog requires at least another step or two.

It might be that people get to the end of a Jackson Speed book but never get the prompt because they don’t reach the last page after the endnotes. It may be that the endnotes are dooming me from getting reviews.

Based on my sales reports from 2015, it looks like I picked up somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 new readers in the United Kingdom and another 30 new readers in the United States who read all four of the Jackson Speed novels just in 2015. There were others, too, who read some but not all of the books. That doesn’t include the folks who bought books in 2014 (and we won’t talk about 2012 and 2013 when my sales were so poor I thought about never writing another novel again).

If half of those people who bought all four books in 2015 (and presumably did so because they enjoyed them) would leave a review, it would help me out so much. Instead, I only received one review on a Jackson Speed book in all of 2015.

All the conventional wisdom on novel writing tells me that reviews will improve my sales. Someone recently told me that Amazon has an algorithm that kicks in when a book reaches 50 reviews, and writers find it difficult to get traction before they have those 50 reviews. At the rate I’m going, I’ll be dead and gone before my books start getting traction.

I am deeply grateful to everyone who has read a Jackson Speed book and come back for a second one. Those people who have read all four of the books are the people who keep me writing. I love you folks more than I love my dogs (and you come in very close behind my children, and on some days you’ve got them beat, too). You can’t understand the feeling I get when I see a copy of El Teneria sell and a few days later I see a Blood Tubs sell and then an Orange Turnpike and then a High Tide. It’s like I can watch someone enjoying the Speed books (and yes, I realize, it may not necessarily be the same person, but I like to imagine it is).

So please don’t misunderstand me begging for reviews to think I’m not grateful. Every time I look at a sales report and see that people are reading my books, I am humbled and so very thankful.

But I really need some reviews, too.

Seriously, me begging for reviews is so much better than me begging for spare change on the side of the road. Help a brother out.

Exciting stuff in the Jackson Speed universe

The cover for Jackson Speed and the Fugitive Slaves.

The cover for Jackson Speed and the Fugitive Slaves.

I’ve got some exciting stuff going on in the Jackson Speed universe.

Speed fans will be glad to know their favorite 19th Century rascal will soon be making a new appearance. Jackson Speed and the Fugitive Slaves, a novella, will be released April 22, and it will be followed closely by a second novella in which Speed meets for the first time famed detective Allan Pinkerton. Speed fans will know that Pinkerton is a recurrent (and favorite) character in the Speed universe, but I’ve not yet explored how the two came to be friends.

More noticeably, to followers on Facebook and readers of my blog, I’m also re-branding the books. As part of the re-brand, I’ve designed new covers for most of the books (I’m keeping the Alex McArdell cover of High Tide, but changing the rest of them). I wanted a more consistent look to the book covers and something that would allow me to more quickly publish Jackson Speed stories.

In the past, I’ve been frustrated by the rate at which I released novels. I’m getting about one novel written each year, and I’d like to publish Speed stories faster than that.

To improve my novel publishing rate, I’ve decided to release shorter novellas – stories that hit somewhere around the 30,000 word mark that I can write and publish every four to six months. My plan is to release two or three or four novellas a year. I will release the novellas only as Kindle e-books, and when I have three or four I will combine them together for a full novel to be released as both e-books and paperbacks.

I may not have a thousands of fans out there, but I know what it’s like to be engaged in a series of books and eager for the next one to be published and waiting on an author who is too, too slow. All the evidence is that I’m picking up more readers every month, and I’d like to be more accommodating to the folks who enjoy these stories.

So in between the full-length novels, I’ll publish novellas, and that should mean three to five new Speed stories will be out every year so long as I can keep coming up with historical events from the 19th Century that deserve to have a scoundrel inserted among them.

Hopefully, too, the novellas can serve as an entry-point for new readers who don’t necessarily want to invest in a novel-length book but want to see if Speed is the sort of character they’ll love to hate.

As readers know, I jump from point to point in Speed’s life, so the books and stories do not have to be read in chronological order or even in the order I released them. About the only ones that should be read back-to-back are Orange Turnpike followed by High Tide because one leads directly into the other.

If you’re among those people who enjoy a Jackson Speed novel, thank you so much! I’m grateful to everyone who buys a book or reads a book through Kindle Unlimited. If you enjoy the books, please give a thought to leaving a review at amazon.com. Reviews are especially helpful to readers who are trying to decide whether or not to give a new indie-author a try.

And let me know what you think of the new covers! Leave a comment or shoot me a message through the blog.

Jackson Speed & the Green Eggs and Ham

green-eggs-and-ham-1

Periodically I’ll drop a line or a scene into one of my novels just because it makes me laugh.

Obviously, when I’m writing the Jackson Speed novels I’m trying to develop scenes that will amuse my readers, but sometimes the jokes are just for me. If any reader catches onto the joke, that’s even better.

In writing Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs, I dropped a line into Chapter 11 that was a great example of this. Speed is staying at Barnum’s hotel in Baltimore and he’s gone down for a breakfast of “ham and eggs and cabbage.”

It’s a throw-away line, right? He might have had a breakfast of eggs and bacon or bacon and grits or sausage and biscuits with apple butter. I suppose I could have had him eating an Egg McMuffin, though it might not have been appropriate for the time period.

In fact, it wasn’t a throw-away line. Somewhere in my research for the novel, I stumbled across the recipe for “green eggs and ham.”

Red cabbage, when cooked with eggs, will turn the eggs green.

So I tossed in an homage to the greatest poet of my childhood, Dr. Seuss, as a fun little joke to myself.

That’s right, Jackson Speed eats green eggs and ham.

At least one reader caught the joke. I got a message not long after Blood Tubs was released from someone who thought “ham and eggs and cabbage” was an odd combination of foods, so he searched the breakfast to see if there was some special 19th Century reference, and his search produced links to green egg and ham recipes.

Of course, Blood Tubs is full of references to poets.

I still am tickled by the scene where Speedy reads Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” to woo Southern belles in Baltimore. Whitman, of course, was a rabid abolitionist, and the attendees at the ball where Speedy read Whitman to the women were all secessionists, of course.

When I write these scenes that amuse me so much, I always call my wife in and make her read them. Her reaction is generally how I know if I’ve written a scene that will amuse a wider audience or if I’ve written a scene that is all for me.

I’m not suggesting that readers should Google every meal Jackson Speed has. Sometimes he eats oysters simply because oyster bars were like the Subway sandwich shop of the 1860s.

Jackson Speed in the Rush, first 835 words

JoaquinTheMountainRobber

I’ve been working on the next Jackson Speed book, in which our cowardly hero flees the war in Mexico and travels into Indian Territory before catching a case of gold fever and heading to California in the Gold Rush.

If you’ve followed the novels, you’ll know that this goes backwards in the chronology of his life (the most recent book saw him in Gettysburg, some 14 years after the Gold Rush) and picks up where the first Jackson Speed book left off.

I’m extraordinarily pleased with the way this book starts out. The opening chapter was a lot of fun for me to write. The first chapter came in around 5,000 words, but I thought it might be fun to post the first few paragraphs (835 words) from the novel. Really, I’m at rough-draft stage in the writing, so these 835 words are still subject to change.

If you’re a fan of Ol’ Speedy (or even if you’re not), I’d welcome any praise these 835 words might elicit. If you think it’s complete trash, you can feel free to keep your damn fool opinions to yourself.

So here they are, the opening paragraphs to Jackson Speed in the Rush:

Back in the ’70s and ’80s – even into the ’90s – whenever I visited my California mines to see how much my foremen were stealing from me, the old miners still talked about Joaquin Murieta. They employed his legend to scare small children and coerce pretty girls to sit up close to them in the wagons. I’ve even heard that there are writers penning poetry about him, and that Joaquin Murieta has become a folk hero for some Californians.

Well, Yellowbird’s mythology not withstanding, I can tell ye Joaquin Murieta was full to the brim with evil, and I don’t know what poor bastard donated his head to Harry Love’s jar of alcohol, but it weren’t the real Murieta. Yellowbird, who was my cousin by marriage, never even met the real Joaquin Murieta.

I’ve no doubt that a dozen or more banditos invoked the name of the hated Joaquin in the early days of the Gold Rush. Back in ’48 and ’49, miners all up and down the North Fork feared that name more than they feared any other thing, for Joaquin had made a general nuisance of hisself, causing all sorts of trouble and murder.

For a time, miners and shop keepers and virgin maidens – what few there were – were safe in their camps, shops and beds, for Joaquin Murieta no longer marauded.

But in the early ’50s he showed back up, holding up stores, killing miners, robbing Forty-Niners of the measly quantities of dust and the tiny nuggets they worked months to accumulate, and forcing himself upon helpless womenfolk. But that Joaquin – or, perhaps more appropriately, those Joaquins, were never the real one. Why, if the tales could be believed, Joaquin Murieta was holding up a store in San Francisco in the morning and by midday he was up in the Sierra Nevada raiding mining camps, and by dark he was below Los Angeles raping farmers’ daughters. Not even Joaquin Murieta was capable of such daily journeys, but a dozen or so banditos looking to hide their own identity and at the same time paralyze their victims with fear, well, they might be expected to borrow the man’s legend.

But having known a fair few number of California banditos, maybe even some of whom took on the name Joaquin Murieta, I can say with absolute certainty, when it came to pure cold-blooded evil, not a man among ’em could stand in the same company as the real Joaquin Murieta. It’s a fact that I’ve known murderers who would cut your throat for no reason other than they had not yet killed a man all week and it was already Tuesday. I rode for a bit with Billy the Kid. I’ve been hunted by the entirety of the Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac, sent to do me in by none less than Devil Dan Sickles, but I’ve never known a man so filled with joy by doing evil as Joaquin Murieta. If he knew that they’d made him a romantic robber, he’d cut off the fingers of the poor fools who penned such nonsense and laugh with glee as he force-fed those fingers to the authors. There can be no truth in these fables that Joaquin’s bloodlust was the result of cruel treatment to him and the murder of the girl he loved, for that man was evil from the word go, and he never had it in him to love another thing. It weren’t revenge the man sought, but only vicious murder.

No, by 1850, the real Joaquin Murieta was at the bottom of a cliff where I’d left him with two of the fingers of one of his henchmen, and good riddance to him and them.

Perhaps it was the only time in my entire life where danger bared its vicious fangs and rather than flee or hide, I stood like a man and faced it. And I’ll say this, too: – Of all the things I’ve done in my life, fair and foul, there’s not much I’m more proud about in my old age than putting two balls of lead in that bastard’s gut and one in his eye.

It’s a good story, but to explain it fully, I have to start on a lonely river in what is now Oklahoma but was then Indian Territory. I came to the Indian Territory in the early fall of 1847, having fled the war in Mexico. I was out of my way, for a strange wanderlust had erupted in me. But if I’d returned home as I’d initially planned, the course of my life would have been forever altered. And while I’ve had many an opportunity to regret my decisions, as I look back now on the totality of the thing, I can’t say that I’m too sorry for the way it all went. The truth is, the wanderlust that set me north rather than east is what made me a rich man, so I’ll be damned if it was all bad.