Officially launched: “Jackson Speed at the High Tide”

conf sharpshooter at gburg

“The home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg” photograph by Timothy O’Sullivan, Civil War battlefield photographer.

When I was a small child I used to look through my father’s books about the War Between the States, in particular those that bore lots of photographs and maps. I would guess they were probably Time-Life books that I dragged out of the bookcase and sat on the floor and looked through. I remember the first time I saw the photo “The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter,” a photo by battlefield photographer Timothy O’Sullivan.

I vividly remember the way that photograph captured my imagination. Maybe I was 5-years-old. Maybe six.

In the photo is a dead Confederate soldier in among the boulders of the Devil’s Den. His musket is propped against some stacked rocks – rocks that presumably the soldier put there to protect him and failed in their task. The lifeless body never seemed real to me.

Some years later, when I was a teenager, I visited Gettysburg with my parents. It was a stunning thing to me to be walking in among the rocks at Devil’s Den and find myself staring at the exact spot where the photo was taken.

I had spent so long when I was little staring at that picture of death that could clearly see the body on the ground, the gun propped against the stacked rocks. The stacked rocks, to this day, remain in place.

This is Gettysburg – a place that haunts the American conscious. It is remembered as the “Bloodiest Battle” of the War Between the States. When old veterans of the war held reunions, those reunions at Gettysburg were the most prominent. Presidents attended reunions at Gettysburg.

Gettysburg marked the time and place that the Confederacy was at its highest point – it’s High Tide – and it was the moment that the fortunes of war began to turn in favor of the Union.

Argonne in World War I, and Battle of the Bulge and Okinawa in World War II were worse than Gettysburg in terms of total American deaths, but the 3-day battle at Gettysburg saw 51,000 casualties and some 8,000 Americans killed. It was the “bloodiest” battle of the Civil War, though Sharpsburg (Antietam if you’re reading this from north of the Mason-Dixon Line) was the bloodiest single day battle.

But Gettysburg, for some reason that I don’t know I can even articulate, holds a place of prominence above all those in the hearts and minds of the American people. Perhaps the only battle that stirs our collective soul more than Gettysburg is Normandy.

When I sat down to write about Jackson Speed at Gettysburg, I knew I was heading into rough waters. If you want a fictional character to tear down your most revered places, Jackson Speed is the character to do it. And, truthfully, I doubt there are many people who revere Gettysburg more than I do.

So I went into the writing of “High Tide” with an internal conflict.

Also, you know I am a fan of George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman and you know that Flashman was a huge inspiration for Jackson Speed. In the Flashman books, Fraser often implied that there would be a “Flashman at Gettysburg” novel, but he did not live to write that tale. (Interestingly, I read an interview where Fraser said he really wasn’t interested in writing about Flashman in the American Civil War because the subject bored him!)

I’m certainly not suggesting that “Jackson Speed at the High Tide” is the Flashman book Fraser never wrote, but I will say that in writing “High Tide” I did feel I owed a certain respect to Fraser.

So I went into the writing of “High Tide” more than a little intimidated.

I’ll leave it to readers to decide if I managed to tell a story that entertains while respecting the revered status of Gettysburg and honoring the memory of Fraser and the character he created.

But I will say I’m pleased with the thing.

Heavily footnoted (there are 78 footnotes), I dug into my research pretty heavily. I cite Glenn Tucker and Shelby Foote in the acknowledgements, but I can’t imagine the numbers of books and articles I referred to in the writing of this book. One of the real joys for me was going to original sources. I read tons of material from people who lived in the town of Gettysburg – civilians during the battle. How fascinating that was! I went directly to Longstreet, Pickett, Doubleday, Oates, Chamberlain and many others to get their first-hand accounts of the battle.

Without intending to, I built a case that Ewell could have won the battle of Gettysburg for the South if he had pressed his advantage on the first day of the battle – at least, that was Speed’s opinion. Speed also spends a fair portion of the book defending Longstreet, and – as is his way – puts all the blame of Confederacy’s loss on Robert E. Lee for engaging the Federals at all.

Maybe the most fun I had was writing about the day Early’s troops came through Gettysburg a couple of days before the battle. They rode through town making a nuisance of themselves, and you’ll read where Speed has a conversation with a couple of Early’s men. It still makes me laugh and I’ve read it a dozen times to anyone who will listen (mostly my wife and children because they can’t escape me).

The promise I’ve always made to my readers is that the Jackson Speed novels will be historically accurate, and with the exception of the presence of Speed, I think you’ll find “Jackson Speed at the High Tide” is more accurate than your average textbook.

Can you learn something from reading this book? I promise you can. Even if you think you know Gettysburg, I can almost guarantee there is some historical fact in here that you’ll not have already known.

Can you find some entertainment from reading this book? I certainly hope so. If you have no sense of humor or you don’t care for a cowardly scoundrel, then this book probably isn’t for you. But if you enjoy novels that don’t take themselves too seriously, if you’re even slightly interested in history, and you can enjoy the tale of a rascal whose only interests are pretty women and not getting shot, then I think you’ll find that reading “Jackson Speed at the High Tide” is a worthwhile use of your time.

Also … in formatting the ebook, I learned how to create links for my footnotes. This was a huge discovery for me, because the footnotes add so much to the story (you should read the footnotes). Because something more than 90 percent of my sales are ebooks, I really wanted to figure this out for those readers. So moving between the footnotes and the body of the novel is a simple thing now. Though it’s time consuming, I may at some point try to do this for the previous books, but I will definitely do it with all future books.

At The High Tide FinalAs always, I hope you enjoy the book! If you do, please leave a review at Amazon.com. Reviews help me sell books. And if you want to get in touch with me, please do that, too. I ABSOLUTELY love to hear from the people who enjoy my stories. Every time I get an email from a reader who enjoyed one of my novels, it makes my day.

So, without further ado, I’m officially smashing the bottle of champagne against the bow of the ship “Jackson Speed at the High Tide.”

Whether its paperback or Kindle ebook, go and get you one of these and learn a little bit and have a laugh and enjoy getting lost in the world that plays out in my head!

Update on Jackson Speed at the High Tide

The trauma of NaNoWriMo has left me speechless. I’ve not written a blog post in two months.

For you fans of Jackson Speed, here’s where things stand: The fourth book is written but I am still editing/rewriting.

Taking Jackson Speed at the High Tide as a continuation of Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike and considering them one complete work as they were initially intended, I’ve got to say Volumes III and IV of the Jackson Speed memoirs are my personal favorites so far. I’m really proud of these two books, and I cannot wait for Jackson Speed fans to see Volume IV!

Speaking of Jackson Speed fans, I’ve occasionally written about my sales here, and I’ll say a word about sales today, too. December was awful. I’d been riding a pretty good wave of sales from May through November, but December my sales fell off the wagon.

Thankfully, January picked up steam and February (so far) has been very good. Interestingly, I’m selling books in the United States again. Back in June my sales in the United Kingdom began to increase dramatically, and through the second half of 2014 almost all of my sales came out of Britain. But my U.S. sales outpaced foreign sales in January. I think that’s a good thing, because my novels offer a chance for more people to learn about U.S. history as seen by Jackson Speed – and what better way to learn than with Ol’ Speedy as your teacher?

When I say that I am grateful beyond words to you people who buy my books, I hope you understand that I am being completely genuine. It’s not the $1.34 I get from the sales in England or the $2.05 I get from the sales in the United States … it’s the fact that people are enjoying my work enough to come back and read the next book. That’s really so amazing to me.

When I started writing the Jackson Speed novels, I was writing stories that would entertain me. I created this character who I found amusing and put him in historical situations that I found interesting. I didn’t know if I would ever sell a single book or if anyone who read the stories would even enjoy them. Basically, Jackson Speed was just a pleasant diversion for me.

But when I go to look at my sales chart and see that I’ve sold a copy of Blood Tubs or Orange Turnpike – that people enjoyed El Teneria enough to want more – it truly is the most gratifying experience.

While I work on edits of High Tide, I’ve also got some other projects that I’m working on – many of which are in some latter stages of completion – and I hope to soon be able to share some details about some of those projects.

My target date for publishing Jackson Speed at the High Tide is late March (though it could be mid-May), and when the time gets a little closer I’ll release the cover image that Alex McArdell created for High Tide. It’s spectacular!

NaNoWriMo 10,000 to go!

Just a quick update for those keeping score at home … I’ve been writing all day (and most of last night) and I just this moment passed 40,000 words! With less than 10,000 words to go to win NaNoWriMo, I have a fair amount of confidence.

Our hero Jackson Speed is currently in the woods on Seminary Ridge with George Pickett. Pickett is writing a love letter to LaSalle Corbell, and Ol’ Speedy’s bowels are exploding to drown out the cannons.

“Run old hare! If I was an old hare I’d run too!”

Orange Turnpike free on Kindle today

Orange Turnpike CoverJackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike is free to download for Kindle and Kindle apps today and tomorrow.
While it would be nice if I could sell hundreds or thousands of books, the reality of self-publishing is that getting my books in the hands of potential readers is a massive challenge. I’ve had success with previous “free days,” and I’m hoping to once again send hundreds of copies of a Jackson Speed book to new readers.

Click here to get your copy today!
So if you’re interested in history and like a good joke, download a copy of the book. Check it out and let me know what you think!

 

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!

Next Speed book coming soon

Last spring I was diligently working on the Jackson Speed books, churning out pages like a Civil War history machine.

Devil Dan Sickles (left) ... Something seems to be missing.

Devil Dan Sickles (left) … Something seems to be missing.

My plan was to finish in the summer of 2013 the third and fourth Speed books. The third book sees Speed into the battle of Chancellorsville, and the fourth book answers how it was that Speed fought for both the Confederacy and the Union at Gettysburg, and how he managed to win the Medal of Honor from Lincoln.

Another great Civil War mystery is also solved in the fourth book, and I am certain there are historians everywhere who are salivating with anticipation over the release of this book so that they can, for the first time, have a definitive explanation for why Dan Sickles sent the Third Corps out into the Peach Orchard on the second day of Gettysburg.

Anyone familiar with the battle will know that Sickles’ Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac woke on the morning of the second day at Gettysburg in a strong position on Cemetery Ridge. General George Meades’ lines stretched in the famous “fish hook” from Culp’s Hill around Cemetery Hill and down Cemetery Ridge to the Round Tops.

It was good ground that Meade held.

Confederate Gen. James “Old Peter” Longstreet knew it was good ground. He advised Lee not to attack the Union’s defensive position but to skirt south of the Army of the Potomac, find a good defensive position of his own between Meade and Washington D.C., and let the Federals crash upon the Confederate shores (as they had at Fredericksburg eight months earlier). Lee, of course, rejected Longstreet’s advice, and the result was one of the most famous charges of all history. Charges (like Last Stands) are usually famous because of how disastrous they were. The Charge of the Light Brigade. The Charge of Krojanty. Pickett’s Charge.

Inexplicably, on the morning of the second day of the battle, Sickles decided to warp the fish hook.

He pushed Berdan’s sharpshooters into Pitzer’s Woods where they encountered Confederates.

Then, around noon on the second day, Sickles pushed the entire Third Corps forward into the Peach Orchard.

So many of those who witnessed it wrote later about the grand style in which the Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac marched forward: Lined up in columns; Flags unfurled; Bayonets gleaming in the sunshine.

General Win Hancock would be my pick for the best Union general on the field on the second day of Gettysburg. Commanding the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac and positioned just to Sickles’ north on Cemetery Ridge, Hancock had a good view of the Third Corps’ march in the Peach Orchard.

Hancock was standing with General John Caldwell, who remarked how magnificent the Third Corps looked as it stepped off Cemetery Ridge in grand style and went forward to the Peach Orchard.

“Wait a moment,” Hancock said, “and you will see them come tumbling back.”

Robert E. Lee’s attack plan called for an echelon attack beginning on his right flank and moving left, so the first Confederate troops to set out came out of Pitzer’s Woods and attacked into the Devil’s Den and the Peach Orchard and along the Emmittsburg Road where Sickles had moved the Third Corps.

The Third Corps was destroyed.

Sickles, who was a politician and not a general, personally paid for his folly. He lost his leg at Gettysburg when a cannonball shattered it. He was stretchered from the field.

More tragically, the Third Corps also paid for his folly. It was reduced to such an extent that it was no longer recognized at Gettysburg as a combat unit. Reserves had to be pushed up to fill the void on Cemetery Ridge – the original position held by the Third Corps. Hancock had to order troops into a suicide bayonet charge to hold the Rebels off long enough to get reinforcements up to Cemetery Ridge, so I suppose those poor Yankees paid for Sickles’ folly, too.

Because he was a politician, Dan Sickles was able to secure for himself the Medal of Honor. In my studies of military history, I have determined that politicians did not always make excellent generals, but they were remarkably successful in spinning their failures into chest decorations.

What’s puzzled historians over the years is this: Why? Why did Dan Sickles give up a good defensible position? Cemetery Ridge was a position his enemy (at least in the case of Longstreet) did not want to attack. Go to the field yourself. Stand on Seminary Ridge and look at Cemetery Ridge. You don’t need to be a West Point graduate. Common sense will tell you that you hold that ridge.

The answer from Sickles and the one most historians have accepted is that the Peach Orchard presented a small rise in the low ground between the Union and Confederacy. Sickles claimed that the Peach Orchard appeared to him to be a position from which the Confederacy could establish artillery and threaten the Union lines.

This is, of course, absurd nonsense!

Now, 150 years later, the truth is poised to be revealed.

Jackson Speed, in the upcoming book “Jackson Speed at the High Tide” (the fourth book in the Jackson Speed memoirs), reveals the true reason why Sickles sent the Third Corps forward to its destruction.

But, as I said from the outset, my plans to release the third and fourth books in the Jackson Speed series got delayed considerably.

Editing memoirs (or writing fiction, whatever) takes time, and sometimes you think you’ve got a chapter edited (or written, whatever) and you find you have to go back and re-edit it (or write it, whatever).

So I’ve been delayed a bit. The third book, Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike, should be out in a matter of just a few weeks now. The fourth book – the one where Sickles is revealed to have been just as nuts at Gettysburg as he was when he ran into Francis Scott Key’s son in Washington D.C. – should follow in a few months.

If you’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the next Speed book and thought you would have it by now, let me say two things: 1. I’m sorry. I’m working on it! I promise it’s coming soon. And 2. Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike will be better for the wait. I promise.

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.