Not another Civil War book

I have recently finished writing “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” and am currently writing “Jackson Speed at the High Tide.” Both are set just before or during the American Civil War.

This is hallowed ground I’m treading upon, and I know it. My family is eat up with Civil War (a family farm actually makes an appearance in “Jackson Speed at the High Tide”). My oldest son is named for his sixth great-grandfather who lost his arm at Vicksburg, serving with his father and four brothers. Nobody has more respect for the history of the Civil War than I do.

Jackson Speed was caught on the cover of Harper's Weekly resting a comforting hand on Kate Cherry's bottom during the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

Jackson Speed was caught on the cover of Harper’s Weekly resting a comforting hand on Kate Cherry’s bottom during the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

But let’s be honest … There are a hundred thousand fiction and non-fiction books about the American Civil War, and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine of those take an appropriately reverent approach to their subjects.

Even for the most fanatical of Civil War fanatics, you could never hope to read but the smallest percentage of Civil War books. I mean, it takes a couple of decades to get through Shelby Foote’s “The Civil War: A Narrative” (which comes in three volumes of a million pages each), and that’s required reading. If you haven’t read Foote’s Narrative, don’t even talk to me about the Civil War.

Of course, nearly all of it is required reading. Personally, I think the finest Civil War historian has been Glenn Tucker. His histories are incomparable in my opinion. I know a lot of people don’t care for Tucker, and he challenged some long-held views about Gettysburg and Old Peter. Nevertheless, for my money, Tucker does it better than most Civil War historians.

In every Civil War book I’ve ever read, one thing was consistent and clear: The author understood that the American Civil War is sacred. Lincoln is to be revered. Robert E. Lee venerated. The warriors were honorable, the battles worthy, the cause of preserving the Union and freeing the slaves righteous.

The Jackson Speed books are not that.

“Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” is the first in the Jackson Speed Memoirs to get Speedy into the Civil War, and only the smallest bit of the book is set during the war.

Speed is there when the cannonballs trace their arc in the Charleston sky to explode among the Yankees in Fort Sumter (no Yankees were killed during the making of this bombardment). And when a cannonball lands at Bobby Lee’s feet on Marye’s Heights overlooking the Battle of Fredericksburg, it’s Ol’ Speedy who’s standing nearby.

If you’re looking for a definitive Civil War novel that captures the horror and tragedy and heartbreak, the courage and honor and dignity, I can recommend some fine books, but Jackson Speed will not provide you with those things.

While I take great pains to ensure historical accuracy and spend more time researching than writing, I do not pretend that “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” or “Jackson Speed at the High Tide” fall into the category of Civil War fiction.

Instead, I’m writing Jackson Speed books set during the Civil War.

Those familiar with Ol’ Speedy from the first volume of his memoirs, “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria,” know that Speed isn’t your typical Civil War Southern Presbyterian officer who prays for God’s favor when he commences to killing his enemies. No, if Jackie Speed is praying for anything, it’s that God will help him find a hidey-hole to crawl into until the shooting is done.

Speed holds no man in esteem when that man’s goal is to get him at the death, and so Stonewall Jackson is a priggish Presbyterian who looks like a flapping duck any time he attempts to ride his horse; Sherman is a red-headed little devil. To Speed, they are all maniacs and madmen who enjoy the slaughter.

And, of course, his one motivating desire is to get belly-to-belly with any woman unfortunate enough to catch his eye, and so while the cannons are blasting, you can bet that Speed is likely as not hiding in some bedchamber and hoping to use the woman astride him for cover should a cannonball come bouncing into the room.

No, the Jackson Speed Memoirs are not Civil War novels, they are Jackson Speed novels with a Civil War backdrop. My brand of humor and Jackson Speed’s unique observations have no place in Civil War literature.

Jackson Speed and the Photo Shoot

You ladies are lucky there's no abolitionist poetry around!

You ladies are lucky there’s no abolitionist poetry around!

 

A friend of mine, Kate Sherrill, will be painting the cover of the next Jackson Speed book. Kate wanted to put together some photographs of people in period clothing, and she will paint from those photographs.

So yesterday I went out to the Dress Up Box in High Shoals, Georgia, where Mary Delaplane dressed me up as Jackson Speed. Kate found some volunteers to stand in for some of the other characters from the novel. Sam Chafin is our chief Blood Tub bad guy, looking all sinister with a switch-blade comb. Jim Kenaston portrayed a disapproving and jealous Allan Pinkerton. And Leah Morris, a student at UGA, stood in for Kate Warne, the female Pinkerton detective who convinces Speed to hang around Baltimore and save Abe Lincoln’s life.

Leah as Kate Warne and Kate Sherrill, the cover artist.

Leah as Kate Warne and Kate Sherrill, the cover artist.

 

It took Leah 20 minutes or more to get her hair done and the dress on, and we were done taking pictures in about half that time.

We had all kinds of trouble finding a pair of pants that covered my ankles. Everything Mary gave me was much too short. In the end, she handed me a pair of size 38 pants that were enormous around the waist, and so we slid those pants halfway down my hips to cover my ankles and the problem was solved. I was sort of like a Civil War-era gangsta Jackson Speed with my pants pulled down.

Kate checks to see if I broke her camera.

Kate checks to see if I broke her camera.

 

While trying to find a pair of pants that fit, I was reminded of a story I heard about Abraham Lincoln. As I everyone knows, Abe Lincoln was a tall man, and especially tall for his time. A newspaper reporter once pointed out to him that he was tall, and asked him how long a man’s legs should be.

“Long enough to reach the floor,” Lincoln replied.

I’ve always gotten a kick out of that story.

John and Sam and I examining the Civil War pistol Mary Delaplane brought to use as a prop.

John and Sam and I examining the Civil War pistol Mary Delaplane brought to use as a prop.

 

I know you’ve heard tales of the high-society, wealth and glamour lifestyle of fashion models. This being my first foray into that lifestyle, I can tell you that our models were well-paid. My wife Jean baked up a batch of brownies that we took to the photo shoot, and I got everyone’s address so that when the book comes out I can send everyone a copy of “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs.”

I am working on the final edits of the novel and expect it to be released in a few weeks. In the meantime, if you’ve not yet read “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria,” I would recommend that you do so. It’s probably the most fun you can have reading about the Mexican-American War.

Our four models portraying characters from the book.

Our four models portraying characters from the book.

Thankful for that rascal Jackson Speed!

It’s been a very thankful week in the world of Jackson Speed.

Wednesday I took most of the day off from work and stayed home to write. It wasn’t planned or expected, but by 9 p.m. I had finished writing the second Jackson Speed novel. Even better, I added a final chapter to the book that was a surprise to me, and I really loved the way it turned out.

With both of the Jackson Speed novels now written (and those that I have not yet written) I started with an idea of putting Ol’ Speedy in a specific place and time and the general overview of the story was clear to me from the outset. As I wrote, the details emerged, but I knew where I was heading with it.

But Wednesday morning as I was writing, I had a little bit of inspiration. I rewrote a few lines to add a final twist to the plot I had initially envisioned. And that was fun. A good book, for me, is one that provides moments where I cannot predict what will come next. But when I write a book, my expectation is that I generally know where my characters and I are headed. So this last little bit, unplanned, was pretty fun for me as the writer, and I’m really, really pleased with the way it turned out.

Then Wednesday evening – just as I was finishing – one of my best friends from all those decades ago when we were in high school sent me a text. Drew Mapp was up from Florida for the holidays, so we went out and grabbed a beer late Wednesday night. The last time I saw Drew in September I’d given him a copy of the first Jackson Speed book. Wednesday he told me he’d read it and enjoyed it, and it was great fun to be out sort-of celebrating the completion of the second Jackson Speed book with someone who’d read the first Jackson Speed book.

As I noted last week, I’ve gotten another review at Amazon.com for Jackson Speed (it was Review Number 4).

This morning I came into the office and got two more Jackson Speed surprises: I sold a book over Thanksgiving, and it’s always fun to see that I’ve increased sales. Also, I’ve gotten a fifth review at Amazon.com.

The reviewer referred to Jackson Speed as a twisted, Southern Casanova, which is very ironic because I’m fairly sure that was one of my nicknames in college.

Despite my book sale over Thanksgiving, I am still well short of becoming a wealthy novelist (haha!) but I am continuing to have so much fun writing about Jackson Speed and getting feedback from people who have read about him, that I’ve got to say I am very, very thankful this year for Jackson Speed and the massive amount of fun he’s brought into my life.

Customer reviews

This morning I received my fourth customer review for “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria” over at Amazon.com.

“The history is true and the fiction is fun,” is one of the things that the reviewer said, and I love that! When I set out to write the Jackson Speed Memoirs those were my two primary goals: To write books that are 1) fun to read with a good mix of humor, action and romance (okay, call it smut if you want) in a quick page-turner; and 2) historically accurate.

I’ve spent a lot of time researching these books, and I want that to show. When readers say, “That can’t possibly be true!” and then they go and look up the “Battle of the Boat” or the “Blood Tubs” or the “Wide Awakes” I want them to say, “Wow! I can’t believe that was true!”

History is fascinating and wonderful stuff. It’s hard to imagine some of the things people have done: The bizarre, the amazing, the sinister and cruel, the courageous … and I am thoroughly enjoying walking through some fascinating history with Jackson Speed.

If you’ve read the first “Jackson Speed” book, post a review over at Amazon.com. If you haven’t read it, then why are you wasting your time on any other pursuits?

Q&A with the author

I’ve started a Q&A section at Goodreads.com for the Jackson Speed books, and to kick it off a little bit I decided to go ahead and ask myself the first question and answer it. It is the question I most often get from people who have read the book:

“Was the Battle of the Boat real?”
The answer is an unbelievable YES!

In researching Jackson Speed, I used (among many other sources) newspaper articles from a couple of Georgia newspapers. As I was reading the articles, I read one that referred to a “despicable incident” that occurred between two companies from Georgia. I knew immediately, whatever companies were involved and whatever happened, I was somehow going to have to get Ol’ Speedy involved in that.

I did a fair amount of research beyond the newspaper articles, and the sources were sometimes wildly divergent in their details. Some of the newspaper articles were so wrong about what took place (one article, for instance, had Col. H.R. Jackson shooting his own men on the deck of the boat, when in fact he was miles away with Gen. Taylor), and often those errors of fact were never corrected.

None of the sources I could find was what I would consider authoritative, although some had very specific details that were clearly accurate. So I took what made the most sense out of all of my sources and created Jackson Speed’s version of the Battle of the Boat. I believe it is accurate, or accurate enough. It does seem that the fight began over anti-Irish insults from the Kennesaw boys against the Jasper Greens; I believe the fight started down on the beach and was taken up later in the day on the deck of the boat. It seems to me from all of the sources that it is most likely that the fight was under control by the time the Illinois Col. Baker rushed the boat.

The Battle of the Boat was one of the great surprises to me as I researched the book … what a wonderful episode of history (mostly forgotten) to be able to add into my novel!

Back cover of Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs

While writing about the night of the red ballot last night, I topped 50,000 words on the next Jackson Speed novel. I’m shooting for 80,000 total, and I feel pretty confident that you Jackson Speed fans will be able to put “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” on your Christmas wishlist.

So this morning I’m kicking around some thoughts for the text on the back cover (because it’s all about the marketing, don’t ye know) and I’ve come up with the paragraphs below.

Here’s what I’ve got for the back cover:

Allan Pinkerton called it “the Night of the Red Ballot.” It was the night that president-elect Abraham Lincoln’s would-be assassin was selected among the members of the Blood Tubs. Seated at the head of the room was a sinister Corsican with round-rimmed glasses and a thin, almost weak frame. Ferrandini had sworn that the Black Republican would never live see the White House and took a vow that he would sacrifice his own life so long as it meant Lincoln’s death.

Among those gathered in the room was Jackson Speed, confident that it did not matter whether he pulled a white ballot or a red ballot, he was in no danger. Ferrandini’s plot had foiled Pinkerton’s plans and Ol’ Jackie Speed had nothing to fear.

Or did he?

America’s reluctant adventurer, inadvertent hero and all-around scoundrel is back, and he’s on a mission. Sent by Allan Pinkerton to save Abraham Lincoln and the Union, Speedy can’t keep his hands off one of Pinkerton’s detectives (and any other belles of Baltimore who cross his path) long enough to stay focused on the plotting of the Blood Tubs.

Can Lincoln survive long enough to make it to the inauguration? With Pinkerton Detective Jackson Speed on the case, it seems unlikely.

All my characters are dead

One peculiarity about writing historical fiction is that while your characters live in your imagination and on your page they are, in fact, dead. And when you write historical fiction that incorporates actual people as characters of your book, their lives go on beyond the pages of your book in a way that other characters do not.

In the first book of the Jackson Speed Memoirs, both Texas Ranger Ben McCulloch and A. S. Johnston appear as minor characters (Johnston much more minor than McCulloch).

Both men went on to serve as generals for the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

A.S. Johnston

Part of the research I am doing for the Jackson Speed memoirs is reading about that Civil War. I am slowly picking my way through the first volume of Shelby Foote’s “The Civil War: A Narrative.”

(To give you an idea of what I mean by slowly: Since I started reading Foote’s “The Civil War” I have written a book and a half and read three other books. For someone interested in the Civil War, it is a great and fascinating and massive retrospective of the war.)

In just a matter of pages – from the Battle of Pea Ridge to Shiloh – I read about the deaths of first McCulloch and then Johnston.

Though I’ve studied the Civil War for decades now, I could not have predicted either of their deaths at these places, so they came as a surprise to me. I’ve never read much about Shiloh, and though I knew Johnston was killed early in the war I did not know where, and prior to my research for “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria,” I’d never read anything about McCulloch.

Because these men appeared as characters in my novel, I felt like I knew them a little bit. I’d studied enough about both of them that I felt confident in writing about them. And so I was a little sad when I read of their passing (150 years ago) in the same way that you’d be a little sad when reading an obituary of an acquaintance you’d known a little and liked pretty well.

But I was also a little gratified when I read of their deaths, because I believe they died in exactly the same sort of way that the characters from my book would have died. Both of them were leading their men into battle: McCulloch feverishly at the front of a charge and Johnston (atop his horse) calmly and kindly, and also at the front.

When Jackson Speed meets these men from history, I try very hard to be as true to their memories as I can be. They are all seen through the filter of my character, who has his own notions about courage and leadership which may not correspond with what McCulloch or Johnston thought of courage or leadership, but I want my readers to be able to walk away from the book with the impression that they saw the real man.

Having read of the deaths of McCulloch and Johnston, I’ve decided from now on when I write about people who actually lived and incorporate them as characters in my novels, I will be sure – before I write about them, instead of after – to research their deaths.

As in the case of McCulloch and Johnston, I believe in some cases when you read of a person’s death you get a further glimpse into their true character. In both cases, I got it right by being lucky.

But also, I don’t want to get caught again reading a book and find out 150 years later that an acquaintance has died.