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.