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.

No NANWRIMO for me this year

I'm not doing NANWRIMO this year, but I won it last year and finished out Jackson Speed at the High Tide.

I’m not doing NANWRIMO this year, but I won it last year and finished out Jackson Speed at the High Tide.

A couple of people have asked me if I was going to do NANOWRIMO this year. For those unfamiliar with it, NANOWRIMO stands for National Novel Writing Month and the idea is that you write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. NANOWRIMO is an online (and in person) community of writers who encourage writers.

It’s a cool deal, and I did it last year (writing the last 50,000 words of Jackson Speed at the High Tide last November). I really enjoyed NANOWRIMO, and it probably forced me to finish the fourth Jackson Speed novel about two months earlier than I would have.

NANOWRIMO works really well for me for a couple of reasons. First, I’m accustomed to working on deadlines having spent 20 years or so in the newspaper business. Second, Jackson Speed’s life has already played itself out pretty thoroughly in my head. There may be details yet to be written, but I have a fairly thorough understanding of where he’s going and what he’s going to do. So the only thing that stands between me and the conclusion of the next novel is research and time. I don’t have to dream up a lot of ideas. I just have to do the research and make the time to write.

But when it comes to NANOWRIMO this just isn’t the year for me.

In May I closed the newspaper I owned. In August I sold that newspaper to the Athens Banner-Herald and they hired me on a part-time, freelance basis to do some work for the paper. Also in August, I started a new business with one of my former college roommates, Ken Sawyer. The work to start a new business is significant, and right now it means that I’m spending a lot more time writing for work than I was a year ago when my duties ran more along the lines of editing and managing the newspaper. For MoonCalf Press – the business Ken and I started – I’m also doing a fair amount of writing.

None of that is to say that I’m not also writing Jackson Speed. A few weeks ago I started the fifth book and I’m a significant way into it. It’s possible (though not likely) that I will this month write 50,000 words of the next Jackson Speed book anyway, but I don’t want to commit to NANOWRIMO if I’m already thinking that it’s unlikely that I’m going to be able to finish it out.

For whatever reason, I tend to publish most of my books in the spring, and I suspect the next Jackson Speed book will again publish in the spring, maybe mid-May.

So, for those writers who are participating in NANOWRIMO, I wish you luck! You have all my sympathy as I reflect back on last November when I stayed up until the wee morning hours trying to knock out another 5,000 or 10,000 words. It really is an experience, and if you win NANOWRIMO (or even if you just give it a good try), I think you’ll be glad for the effort you put into it. I know in my case it will last with me for years as one of my favorite writing events, and I hope next November I’ll be better positioned to give it another go.

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!