I love American history. A quick glance through my bookshelves at home and even my Kindle bookshelf, will reveal volume after volume about American history. Most of my personal study of American history has been directed at martial history – the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II, mostly.
I can’t begin to guess how many books I’ve read about the War Between the States – books written by primary sources and books written a century or more after the war. I’ve read books that were nothing more than letters from soldiers and biographies and essays written by the battlefield commanders.
I suppose it would have been easy for me to write a novel or a series of novels set during the American Civil War that took an appropriately reverent attitude toward the subjects of my novels. Lee and Grant and Lincoln and Davis writ about properly with due respect. I could have turned these enormous statues of history into humans, I suppose, but still suitably solemn.
But what would be the point of that? After all, Killer Angels is already a book, ain’t it?
While I have respect for all these giants of history, it’s never lost on me that they are just men who did what they did during extraordinary times, and often as not they were neither extraordinary nor great. Some were bumbling morons with low morals and lower IQs. I present Dan Sickles as exhibit A. He may have won a Congressional Medal of Honor, but politics has always been politics.
No, when I decided to write a series of tomes about 19th Century America, my mission was to entertain with humor.
Thus was born Jackson Speed, a cowardly, lustful rascal who is driven only by his sense of self preservation and his lust for the fairer sex.
I patterned Jackson Speed after the uproariously hilarious Harry Flashman, the invention of George MacDonald Fraser because no series of books has ever so entertained me as the Flashman books (with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series taking a close second).
It didn’t hurt, either, that the idea for Jackson Speed came to me while I was simultaneously reading Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative Volume I and re-reading Flashman.
Literally, when I had an epiphany the morning Jackson Speed was born, I had both Foote’s book and Fraser’s book in my hands.
Five books into the series, Jackson Speed has developed his own personality and is less Flashman and more Speed, though certainly he retains the characteristics of his lineage.
While Jeff and Michael Shaara have certainly done yeomen’s work in capturing the War Between the States with proper reverence, not many (or any?) authors have treated the subject with improper irreverence. So I figured there was a niche for my character.
Along the way, I’ve thoroughly researched my novels, and if you keep up with the footnotes at the back of the books, you stand a pretty good chance of learning something along the way.
None of this is to say that I will never write an appropriately hallowed novel about the men who fought in that war. While Jackson Speed’s adventures amuse me, I think they unrealistically jab at those terrible years when our country was torn apart. I am moved from time to time to write seriously about that war, and I’ve made notes and written bits and pieces here and there that may one day find themselves in a more serious novel.
But in the meantime, Ol’ Speedy is still entertaining me as I tell his irreverent tales.