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!

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Jackson Speed and the cover illustrator

I’m not yet going to post the “reveal,” but I am going to say I CAN NOT WAIT for you to see the cover illustration for the next Jackson Speed novel.

It is glorious.

When my youngest son saw the first draft of the cover, he said, “You’re going to have to write a better book to go with that cover.”

He wasn’t kidding. It really is that good.

Several weeks ago I was trying to decide what to do about the cover for the next Speed book, and I decided to try something different from the previous covers. So I started searching the internet on a number of different freelance artist sites looking for someone who I thought would be able to create a cover for me.

I spent a few days searching various sites and looking at different artists’ work when I finally ran across some pieces by Alex McArdell. I spent a couple of days looking at some of his work. Then I came back the next day and looked at his stuff again. I waffled back and forth about whether or not I even wanted to do this.

dumbledore and the inferi

Dumbledore and the Inferi by Alex McArdell

One of his pieces in particular convinced me Alex was the right guy. He did an illustration of a scene from one of the Harry Potter books – Dumbledore and the Inferi – and being familiar with the scene (I’ve read the Harry Potter books to each of my sons), I was very impressed with it.

So after looking at Dumbledore and the Inferi a couple more times, I sent an email to Alex to see what would happen.

Alex responds to emails very quickly.

That afternoon we sent a couple of emails back and forth and by the next day I think we were both pretty comfortable that we wanted to go forward.

I told Alex everything I thought I knew I wanted for the cover illustration. Alex told me all of that was a bad idea, and then I told Alex to do what he thought was best.

Telling Alex to do what he thought best was a really, really good idea on my part.

Alex took the cover design more seriously than I did with any of the previous Jackson Speed books.

After just a few emails back and forth, him asking thoughtful questions about the book and about the characters, Alex came up with some ideas that impressed me.

I explained to him that Speed was a true rascal, a coward who looks to save his own skin however he can. I also told him that in the fourth book, Speed “fights” for both the North and the South.

I wasn’t sure how he was going to accomplish it, but Alex suggested putting Jenny Rakestraw (who makes a return appearance in the fourth book) behind Speed, pulling at his Federal coat to reveal he’s wearing a Confederate uniform beneath it.

I loved the idea!

He also thought it would go along with the ironic humor of the stories to put Speed in a heroic pose – the cowardly, traitorous Jackson Speed looking all brave and daring.

Spectacular!

I told Alex I liked his ideas and to run with them, and then I waited.

Honestly, I expected to wait several weeks. I’m still months away from being ready to publish the book, and I told Alex not to be in any hurry on my account. But it was only three or four days later when Alex sent me the first draft.

I was blown away. I showed it to my wife and kids. My youngest son, Robert, said I would have to write a better book to go with the cover. Jean and I were both as impressed as we could be with what he’d done with Speed and Jenny, but we weren’t particularly thrilled with the background.

I threw out some suggestions for the background. I sent Alex some historical photos I thought might help. A day or two later – almost no time at all – Alex sent what was basically the finished piece. He still needed to do some sizing, but the image was nearly perfect.

It’s no secret that the fourth book takes place during the Battle of Gettysburg. One of the most recognizable features of that battlefield – at least from the first day – is the cupola of the Seminary building up on Seminary Ridge. When I saw how Alex managed to incorporate the Seminary and its cupola into the background, it was a wonderful surprise to me.

You’ll probably never have the opportunity to look at a high resolution copy of the illustration in Photoshop the way I did, but trust me when I say that every tiny detail in the background is there. You’ll never see the light coming from the windows of the Seminary, but having zoomed in and looked at it in almost microscopic detail, I’m just astounded at what Alex did.

For Jackson Speed fans, the good news is that having such a great cover is pushing me to write more frequently, so there’s a decent chance I’ll have the book finished sooner because of it.

If you’re an indie author looking for a cover illustration, I would urge you to consider getting in touch with Alex. I think you’ll find he offers reasonable prices, and based on my experience with him, I am certain you’ll be thrilled with the final product.