Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Midlist Writer blog, where he talks about writing, adventure travel, caving, and everything else he gets up to. He also reproduces all the posts from Civil War Horror, so drop on by!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Captain Daniel Turrentine, 12th Arkansas Infantry

Here's a Library of Congress photo of Captain Daniel Turrentine of Company G, 12th Arkansas Infantry Regiment. What struck me about this photo is how young this guy looks. He looks a lot like someone I had in one of my freshman-level writing classes back when I taught at Pima Community College.

According to his family history website, he was born in 1832, so he was actually in his thirties when this shot was taken. He survived the war and died in 1905.

A hundred and fifty years ago today, Captain Turrentine was having a bad time of it. He was at Island No. 10 in the Mississippi getting bombarded by the Union navy. The fortification would fall on April 8 and the regiment was captured. They were exchanged later that same year and fought again.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Two writing milestones

I reached two milestones in my writing this week. The first was getting halfway through the next novel in my Civil War horror series. I'm taking a step back for a while to edit, polish, and map out the second half. I'll also be working on a fantasy novel I've been diddling around for a while. The back burner becomes the front burner! I always write new material for something so that editing doesn't become an excuse for not writing.

The second milestone was writing my 1,000th post for Gadling, the travel blog I work for. In total I've written 465,451 words in 1,048 days. That's what persistence gets you! Check out the link for some of my insights from this long and crazy ride.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Shafting the rebels in the Civil War!

I introduced a new character in the still-untitled sequel to my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness. He's a sergeant from the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, the first black unit of the American army to see combat when they beat a band of bushwhackers at the Battle of Island Mound on 29 October 1862. By late 1864, he's deserted his unit to fight an evil even greater than slavery. Of course he hooks up with the heroes from A Fine Likeness!

He's a tough gunfighter who doesn't take any crap from anyone at a time when blacks got crap on a daily basis. It took some time to think of a name until one popped into my head: Sergeant Richard Roundtree.

Two chapters later I realized where I got that name from.

Am I going to keep it? Hell yeah!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Quaker guns and dummy soldiers

Trickery has always been a part of warfare. During the Civil War one favorite scare tactic was to paint logs black and mount them on carriages to make the enemy think you had artillery. This was done by both sides, especially the Confederates, who suffered from a serious weapon shortage.

Here are two images from the Library of Congress showing these "Quaker guns", so called because they wouldn't kill anybody. The bottom image even has a few scarecrows, or "scare Yankees"!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Today in the Civil War: hunting for Quantrill in Missouri

By early 1862, William Clarke Quantrill was already making a name for himself as a rebel guerrilla. He had been involved with the border war for several years, serving on both sides before finally throwing in his lot with the South in 1861 when the war started in earnest.

Now he led quick, effective raids against Union outposts and infrastructure. In late March he burned an important bridge between Kansas city and Independence. Colonel Robert B. Mitchell of the Second Kansas Cavalry set out with about 300 men in pursuit. On this day 150 years ago he caught up with Qauntrill's band at Little Santa Fe, Missouri.

In his report in the Official Records, Mitchell says,

"I. . .reached Little Santa Fe about 10 o'clock that night, and sent Major Pomeroy about 3 miles from the town, with instructions to arrest one David Tate, whom I had reason to believe was connected with Quantrill. Major Pomeroy had with him a detachment of Companies D and E. . .When Major Pomeroy reached the house he demanded entrance, and a gun was immediately fired through the door. He then called upon them to surrender, and to send out their women and children if they had any in the house. After waiting some time, while shots were fired from the house, he ordered a volley to be fired into the house. The cries of women were then herd, when he ordered the men to cease firing. The women and children then came out and firing was resumed on both sides."

"Two of the men then came of one the windows and surrendered. They stated to Major Pomeroy that Quantrill was in the house with 26 men. Major Pomeroy then threatened to fire the house, and upon their continued refusal to surrender he ordered the house to be fired, and an attempt was made to fire it, but without success. Major Pomeroy and Private Wills, of Company D, were at this time shot. Major Pomeroy becoming disabled, Captain Moore took command, and sent back to me requesting re-enforcements, so as not to let any of the men escape. Captain Moore the house and they still refusing so to do,[unclear in the original] he ordered the house to be against set on fire, and this time the flames rapidly envolved [sic] the house."

The men in the house who were not wounded then burst out the weatherboarding at the back of the house and ran for the timber immediately in the rear. Two were shot down as they ran - 1 killed instantly and 1 mortally wounded. . .The others escaped, and though the woods were carefully scoured, no traces of them were found. While the firing was taking several men were seen to fall in the house, and the prisoners stated when they were first taken that there were 4 or 5 wounded. Five bodies could be distinctly seen in the flames at the time I reached the spot with that part of the command which was left behind."

"I caused all the horses and horses equipments of the enemy to be gathered together and guarded and remained at the house until 6.30 o'clock in the morning, when I started for the house of one Wyatt. As we nearer the house 6 or 7 men were seen to break from it into the brush immediately adjoining the premises. I immediately dismounted some of my men and sent them into the brush, but succeeded in capturing only 2."

"The command being without provisions, and being satisfied that Quantrill and those of his gang who had been in the locality had undoubtedly fled, I returned to the Tate House and started back to camp, leaving Captain Moore's command, with 1 wounded. We reached camp about 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon."

"Our loss was as follows: Major Pomeroy, severely wounded with a Minie ball in the right thigh near the femoral artery; Private William Wills, of Company D, since died, with a Minie ball in the right arm near the shoulder, and also with buck-shot in the groin and abdomen. We also lost 2 horses in the fight. The jayhawkers' loss was 5 killed or wounded and burned up in the house, 2 killed outside, and 6 prisoners. We took 25 horses, some of which have already been identified as belonging to parties in this State, from whom they were stolen, and about 20 sets of horse equipments."

It's interesting that in this Union report, Quantrill's rebel band is referred to as "jayhawkers". Modern historians generally use this term only for Unionist or supposedly Unionist irregulars. Back then, apparently, the definition wasn't so clear.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Guest Post. Meredith Stoddard on Researching for Content and Context

Today we have a guest post from Meredith Stoddard. Meredith is a writer and fiber artist living in Central VA. She studied literature and folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before working as a corporate trainer and instructional designer for 10 years. She now devotes her energy to fiction and creative non-fiction.

Last summer my husband and I went to see Cowboys vs. Aliens and surprisingly came out of the movie with very different opinions. I had been ambivalent about the movie based on the sheer ridiculousness of the title, but was willing to overlook that given the cast and his excitement about it. So, I reluctantly agreed to see it.

What I saw was a fun, campy, far-fetched adventure with plenty of eye candy. What he saw was not only far-fetched but impossible, inconsistent, and stupid. It took some discussion in the car on the way home to figure out what the problem was. My husband is a sci-fi nerd. As a sci-fi nerd he was bothered by the inconsistencies in the apparent "science" behind how the alien ships and weapons worked.

Once I thought about it for a bit, I realized that a history nerd like me might have a similar problem. I flashed back almost ten years to when I saw Gods and Generals. In case you haven't seen it, it follows Stonewall Jackson through the battles in Fredericksburg, VA, and the surrounding areas. Since I'm a history nerd who grew up living about halfway between the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville battlefields, I know a thing or two about these battles. Gods and Generals is an outstanding movie, but much like my husband, I was bothered by some inconsistencies that I saw.

For example, I thought the film makers didn't quite capture the dramatic slope of Marye's Heights and its view of the Rappahannock, nor did they sufficiently portray the complete idiocy of Union generals choosing to cross the Rappahannock at Chatham. So like a true nerd, I let some minor inconsistencies (And I'm being easy on them. Check out the Goofs list on IMDB to see some real nitpicking.) color my opinion of an otherwise good movie.

Much like sci-fi writers, those of us who choose to write historical fiction have to be aware of the tendencies of our informed readers to pick apart even the minutest details of our writing. Therefore research becomes one of our most important tasks. Luckily for most of us we write historical fiction because we love history. Research in that case isn't such a trial.

I tend to divide researching for historical fiction in two categories.

General Period Research
This is research about what it was like to live in whatever time period you're writing about. This is essential to drawing your reader into the correct time and keeping them there. There is nothing more jarring than having a character use a common 20th century expression like "OK" in a story that is set in the 19th century or earlier. Everyday details may not have a lot of bearing on your plot, but they help the reader see the world that you're creating and believe it.
What did people eat? How did they play? How did they talk? What were the social customs of the day like? How did they dress? There are resources out there where you can read this information, however I've always found it more compelling to see these kind of things first-hand.

Living in Virginia, I am lucky. We have terrific living history parks such as; the Henricus Historical Park, Colonial Williamsburg and the Frontier Culture Museum where you can learn what life was like in the very first colonies, at the dawn of the revolution and as pioneers moved west. Many areas across the country will have similar museums that make a wonderful daytrip when you're looking for information or just to get the feel of a time period.

Specific Research
This is research into the specific events or people that you are writing about. My latest foray into historical fiction is actually based on a true story. Although it is not a widely known story, in the town where it takes place it is a much loved local legend. Naturally, I wanted to get the facts about the actual events straight in my fictionalized version. No matter how gripping my story might be, there will always be the local history buff who will find even the smallest mistake that could spoil it for them. With that in mind I spent many hours researching the people involved in my story. Here are some of the resources that I found helpful.

Local resources: Luckily for me, there is a local historian in the town where my story is set who does a great job of cataloguing the history of Beaufort, NC. Almost every city or county in the country has a local historical society, and they will probably be happy to help a writer looking to write about their area. Look for local historical societies and/or bloggers who know the area well, and can likely help with some of the lesser known aspects of the area's history.

Google Books: This is a terrific resource for out-of-print books and books that may be harder to get. I like to write about what some people call micro-history. These are historical events that are often not recorded in text books. They're not any less compelling for not being famous, but it can be a bit harder to find detailed historical accounts. I have often found books or collections of letters on Google Books that I doubt I would have been able to find even at my local university library.

Census Records: Because my story involves the inner workings of a particular family, I used census records and other historical documents to identify family members and their correct ages and relationships. You can even use these documents to find information about their neighbors.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My upcoming Jesse James book gets a cover!

I've just seen the cover art for my next book, The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang: Jesse James & the Northfield Raid 1876. This is a new title in the Raid series for Osprey Publishing and my fifth book for that publisher. Osprey is great to work with and I'm busy on another book for them on Wyatt Earp and the Arizona War.

These two titles are a bit of a departure for Osprey, in that they aren't strictly military history (for which Osprey is famous) but rather Wild West. Despite hard times for publishers and the economy in general, Osprey continues to grow because they're a leader and innovator in a popular niche market.

Thanks to artist Johnny Shumate for such a great cover! I've seen the interior art too and it includes a train robbery, the gunfight at Northfield, and the Younger brothers' last stand at Hanksa Slough. Expect some exciting, detailed, and historically accurate paintings. This title is already available for preorder on Amazon and has already garnered a sale despite it's not coming out until October. It's available for preorder on Barnes & Noble too.

In other good news, I've heard that another of my Osprey books, Armies of the Adowa Campaign: The Italian Disaster in Ethiopia, is going to have a second printing. It's been selling well! It's often in the the top 20 or top 10 in Amazon's Ethiopia category. While that's a rather narrow category, there's a good chance anyone searching for books on Ethiopia would be interested in mine.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Guest Post: Bestselling author Robert Walker on giving away books

Robert Walker is becoming a familiar name to ebook fans. He has a large number of titles out there and some impressive sales. I have his historical novel Children of Salem on my Kindle and will be starting right after I finish a couple of other novels. (So much to read, so little time). There's been an ongoing debate about ebook pricing. I've posted my views here, and Dean Wesley Smith has posted a lot about this issue. Robert has a different opinion, and it's worth reading whether or not you're a writer. Take it away, Robert!

This is for any and all who are Indie Writers using free and 99c promotions and so often 'under attack' by those who claim we are fools to do so, that we are somehow destroying others in the bargain, etc....etc... Here is my long answer to that:

The 99c book is nothing new - 75 cents for first "Pocket" books and more recently, it began with Amazon.com SHORTS 33c program BEFORE there was any such device as the Kindle reader and no such thing as uploading your own work. With the Shorts, program such greats as Ed Gorman published via electronically submitting work to EDITORS who worked for Amazon.com -- honestly. At the time an unknown fellow name of J.A. (Joe) Konrath went whole-hog in this program, writing short after short involving his main characters from his Whiskey Sour novels, Jacquelyn (Jackie) Daniels. Joe set the pace then as he did later via eReader novels once Amazon DROPPED the shorts program as obsolete, let all the editors go, and made it a simple process to upload your work on your own.

Joe dragged me into the Shorts program - years before Kindle - but as I had little to no interest at the time in doing short stories, I convinced the editor - John Hart, was his name - to allow a serialized version of my Flesh Wars novel. He went for it and each chapter was a separate short. I earned out next to nothing yet I was one of the authors routinely at the top of the list. It gave me exposure alongside Gorman, any number of others like Lawrence Block, and many more. The shorts sold for something stupid like 33 cents a pop. Joe relentlessly put out short after short and grew himself a following, while he was crisscrossing the country in a broken-down Land Rover, dropping in on every bookstore he could find, and chronicling his entire cross-country gambit on his blog.

I had neither the time, money, nor inclination to leave my family alone for months to play shotgun to Joe's "crazy" cross-country gambit, but I sure was learning a helluva lot from watching him and I was dragged into the Kindle option kickkkkkin' and screammin it would not work for me, dragged in by Joe Konrath who has as big a heart as they come. I am not he only one he has inspired to go Kindle. His Newbie's Guide to Publishing blog has inspired hundreds if not thousands to write, write, write first, to hone the craft, and to place up as many titles both short and long on one's dashboard.

Just today, I got a note in response to my telling folks at KindleKorner of my Free titles up now. She wrote back that she not only took the freebies but while there, she picked up 3 of my Instinct Titles -- all three are 2.99. She did so as she is a huge fan of the M.E. serial killer chase down novels of Patricia Cornwell and my Instinct books are in the same vein....

My saintly dear old mom is 85 now and she understands that to give is to receive. The limited time offers of Free and 99c titles (I have 21 99c titles at the moment, any of which I can boost up at any time) --these 'giveaways' have netted after THREE years of putting up Kindle titles sales that have gone from paltry hundreds in dollars to now my last paycheck (which will go entirely to the IRS by the way) six thousand for my last six weeks sales.

Does it help to have a brand name? Sure it does, but I am by no means a Tess Gerritsen or a Stephen King or even an Ed Gorman in terms of name recognition and stature; however, I have worked diligently as has Joe Konrath to MAKE the name known. I even posted on Ben Afleck playing the part of Robert Walker in the film The Company Men on Facebook just to get that fact out there and of course to raise awareness for this fine movie. No one knows what comes of making a connect with readers on Twitter, Facebook, KindleKorner, etc., etc. or HERE. Someone else sees Anonymous and you begin debating the relative merits of Edward DeVere as Shakespeare and how much truth and leaps of faith are in the film and viola, debate over, but your books have a new visitor to your Kindle Shelf.

I urge ye one and all to locate my now Enormous Thread at KDP Community Forums found on your kindle dashboard under Voice of the Author/Publisher - under which is "What Mioves Kindle Bks. off theShelf" - start with the first few pages. Ignore the fact that there are close on to 300,000 views there and something crazy like 300 pages over now Two Threads. Just open on the first pages and read up/study up!

With millions and millions of iPad and Kindle readers, there is room for any and all writers.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: The USS Essex

This is a photo of the USS Essex, a steam-powered Union gunboat that saw service on several Western rivers. She was built in 1856 as a ferry and was originally called New Era. The U.S. government bought it in September of 1861 and armored it with timber. As a timberclad she dueled Confederate gunboats and bombarded Fort Henry in Tennessee.

Later that year she was outfitted with iron plating and became an ironclad. This improvement served her well when she started pummeling the Confederate timberclads, prompting the Confederacy to make more ironclads for themselves. The Essex also took part in the bombardment of Vicksburg and the ill-fated Red River Campaign in Louisiana.

A few stats for you naval buffs: The Essex was 250 ft. long, 60 ft. wide, yet had a displacement of only 6 ft. This was the big advantage of these river gunboats--they could go into shallow tributaries and bombard enemy positions on the land. Her maximum speed was 5.5 knots and she had a displacement of 640 tons. Her armor was responsible for a lot of that weight, yet was only ¾ of an inch on the sides and 1 ¾ inches on the forward casemate. She had a crew of 124 and six cannons.

I’ve tinkered with the history of this vessel in the next novel of my House Divided Series. Instead of its real commander, Commander Andrew Bryson, in late 1864 it is commanded by Allen Addison, the son of Richard Addison, one of the protagonists in A Fine Likeness. Allen is Richard’s only surviving son, and is generally ignored by his father. He appears in some letters in A Fine Likeness, but never has a scene. In the as-yet-unnamed second book in the series, he becomes one of the main protagonists.

Being an historian, I’m not entirely comfortable changing history. In A Fine Likeness I was able to worm the plot through the cracks in history, filling in the gaps, as it were. Through the letters in A Fine Likeness it’s already established that Allen was serving aboard the Essex, so I wrote myself in a corner in that one. Since putting Addison in charge of the Essex would change history, I might have him get a promotion and get his own (fictional) gunboat by the time the second book starts. That way I can do whatever I want!

I do like the Essex, though, because for the purposes of the plot I need a powerful gunboat that has spare room to take a bunch of passengers. Besides, she’s a beauty!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Interview with horror author Paul Parducci

Today my guest is horror writer and actor Paul Parducci. He's appeared on shows like NYPD Blue, Desperate Housewives, and Murphy Brown and starred in films like A Gun, A Car, A Blonde with Billy Bob Thornton. He lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, son, and an old one-toothed dog named Shadow. You can see his full film and TV credits at his IMDB page. Also check out his blog.

You are an actor as well as a writer. Do you do any of the other arts?
I am also a filmmaker. I’ve directed two feature films and dozens of shorts and TV projects.

Has your acting experience affected the way you write?

I'd imagine it might have a special influence on dialog. I’d like to think that my work as an actor has given me an insight into how words feel on the tongue. For me the characters lead the story and what they say to themselves and others has to always pass the word-feel test.

You've written for television and film. How different is that process from writing traditional prose?
TV and Film writing outside of dialog is really blue print work. Prose for me is all about the inside- the thought process of the character. When it comes to storytelling prose is the king of the inside realm.

Why did you decide to publish via Kindle rather than traditionally?
I’ve been using a Kindle for over two years now and it has become my favorite way to consume written content- (and I am not alone.) The Kindle has changed everything and I’m just going with the flow.

What are you writing now?
My second novel- it’s a horror story that takes place in the High Sierras of California. Nuff said- I’ve learned from bitter experience that if you tell too much of a story before it’s finished you bleed out all the energy.

Parducci's current novel is has the intriguing title Wet Linda: A Novel of Liquid Horror.

A self-hating eighteen year-old moves into a sterile California suburb and her life becomes a lung-filling nightmare as she comes under the control of something very evil met at the community pool. Many Helger has not fit in anywhere her entire life.  At eighteen, she is an innocent floundering in the brutal social environment of the upscale Southern California world she is trapped in.

When she moves with her family to a new home for her senior year, she makes a decision to take drastic actions in order to fit in. In an attempt to lose weight and be accepted by her attractive peers Mandy begins swimming at a mysteriously unused community pool. It is there at the pool day after day that Mandy learns the pool's dark past and becomes the handmaid of its unspeakably evil resident.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How to cook squirrel

A while back I gave some details about how to hunt squirrels. Now I've come across this interview with the director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. In it, he makes some interesting points about diet and nutrition during the war and gives a link to a recipe for fried squirrel. Cool! If anyone out there want to break out their squirrel gun, bag a rodent, and fry it up, I'd be happy to have you do a guest post. Don't forget to take pictures!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: The Aftermath of the Battle of Pea Ridge

On this day 150 years ago, the Confederacy west of the Mississippi was reeling from its defeat in what was arguably the most important battle of the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Theater.

The Battle of Pea Ridge was fought from March 6-8 in northwestern Arkansas. Several good accounts of this battle are already online and in print, so I'm just going to look at its ramifications.

The Confederate thrust into Missouri by a rebel army led by Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn and numbering more than 16,500 had been stopped by Brig. Gen. Samuel Curtis' Union force of only 10,500. The Confederates suffered about 2,000 casualties during the battle, most notably the death of Brig. Gen. Benjamin McCulloch, pictured here.

Van Dorn had left his supplies far behind, and so for a week his troops, weary from forced marches and hard fighting, shambled their way south with little to eat but what they could scrounge or steal from the locals. Men deserted by the thousands.

It seems that after the battle the Confederate high command pretty much gave up on the region. Van Dorn and his Arkansas troops were transferred east of the river, and were shortly followed by General Price and his Missouri troops. There would be no major Confederate threat to Missouri for the rest of the war, unless you count Price's ill-fated 1864 raid/invasion, which provides the background to my Civil War novel.

The war west of the Mississippi was not finished, however. The Union high command was also hungry for troops to throw into the killing fields. Northern states west of the Mississippi were drained of many of their men, making what could have been a short campaign south through Arkansas and Louisiana a long and arduous struggle that was never completed.

With each side too weak to make a decisive impact on the other, much of the region was overtaken by guerrillas and bandits. The Battle of Pea Ridge was a victory for the Union, but a defeat for civilians of both sides.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Friendly fire in the Civil War, part 2

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, friendly fire became an increasing problem in Civil War Missouri. The happened because bushwhackers and Jayhawkers (as guerrillas were called in those days) dressed as civilians or wore the uniforms of the opposite side.

To fight the rebel bushwhackers, the Union army in Missouri soon developed a series of hand signals to deal with any approaching force. The signals were changed on a regular basis. While this was a good idea in theory, the Union militia included many Confederate sympathizers who only served because they'd been drafted. Often these rebels-in-blue would relay the current signals to local bushwhackers and they'd use them to get the drop on unsuspecting groups of militia. In my Civil War novel, A Fine Likeness, Captain Richard Addison has to deal with just such a situation.

By the end of the war, nobody trusted anybody, and so it came as no surprise that when Jesse James and his bushwhacker buddies tried to surrender on May 15, 1865, to the garrison at Lexington, they were fired upon. Jesse was shot through the chest and nearly killed. He and his friends and supporters thought this shooting to be treachery of the vilest stripe, but in reality he and the other bushwhackers were the victims of their own tactics.

Breaking the rules of war can give you an advantage, but it's a two-edged sword!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Friendly fire in the Civil War

Civil War Missouri was a chaotic place. Combatants often wore no uniforms or the uniforms of the opposing side. Enemies sniped from the thick underbrush or attacked civilians in the dead of night. A sense of paranoia spread throughout the land. One good example of this paranoia is preserved in the pages of Turnbo's Tales of the Ozarks: War and Guerrilla Stories.

In the closing days of the war, four or five veterans of the Federal army were passing through the country, possibly headed home. Some had their wives and children with them. They stopped at an old vacant house near the base of Washington Bald Hill three miles northwest of Lutie, Missouri. Vacant homes were numerous by then as many of the civilians had fled the terrible guerrilla war that had ravaged the state for several years.

On the following morning, just before dawn, they were attacked by fifteen Federal soldiers returning from a scouting expedition. They began shooting through an opening or crack in the house, thinking Confederates were hiding inside. The men in the house fired back, thinking they were being attacked by Confederates.

As Turnbo related, "Directly the soldiers ordered the men in the house to come out and surrender which they refused to do. They not only thought they were Confederates, but the worst type of bushwhackers or guerrillas and they did not propose to surrender to them. . .it was cheaper to fight until they died rather than surrender and be put to death afterward like a lot of fattening hogs."

"The outside men now said, 'We will burn you out if you do not give up your arms.'"

"The inside party replied, 'Burn the house if you want to. We will fight you by the light of the fire.' The inside party continued, 'Who are you fellows?'"

"'We are Federal soldiers,' the spokesman answered."

"'Good! We are all of the same stripe,' said one of the insiders, 'and there is no need of us fighting.'"

"An explanation followed and peace was made between the two parties."

Nobody was killed in this affair. As we'll see tomorrow, these incidents were common and didn't always end so happily.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Guest Post: Looking through the Eyes of the Dead

Today we have a guest post from G.R. Yeates, author of several horror novels set in World War One. I have an abiding interest in that war and have a couple of my own ideas for fiction set in the period, so this is an especially interesting post for me.

The First World War has been a passion of mine since my high school English teacher, Mrs. Bury, introduced me to the poetry of Wilfred Owen. I later read the works of Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves in the school library (I was never one for the football pitch when there was all that knowledge to hand - as an aside, I find it ironic now that the librarian used to chuck me out at lunchtimes - punishing a student for actually wanting to read and to learn).

So when it came to researching the period for my trilogy, The Vetala Cycle, it was much less daunting, though I had no great desire to spend hours doing historical research my passion for the subject stopped the time from dragging. As my initial introduction to the First World War had been through poetry that evoked the place and time, I decided that I would focus upon reading the diaries and personal accounts of the people rather than the dry specifics of dates and stratagems. Though I did study the latter to ensure there was a certain amount of verisimilitude between fiction and fact, I did not slave myself to the details because the average soldier was not concerned with them either. Generals planted numbered flags and moved outlines of terrain across desktops whilst the Tommies in the trenches were more worried about their feet rotting in their boots or being shot in the head by snipers sitting in the bunkers on the higher ground of Passchendaele.

In a similar vein, I wanted to ensure the view of the war was balanced, which is why I moved the action in The Eyes of the Dead out of the trenches to show the equal horror of the aftermath in the field hospitals where the wounded were treated for gas gangrene in surgeries that became almost medieval in the butchery necessary to save lives.

In Shapes in the Mist, I researched the home front and, in particular, the effect of the zeppelin raids. Noting that these air-borne monstrosities did far more psychological than actual damage, this planted the seed that led to me resurrecting Jack the Ripper in that time period as a spectre feeding off the fear of the people.

In Hell's Teeth (to be released this month), which closes the trilogy, I took the story forward because I wanted to show the consequences of the war not only for the veterans but also for the world they then grew old in - night-terrors afflicted many of these men for the rest of their lives. This persistence of the horror of the war came up again and again as I studied the period and I think this stands alone as testament to how terrifying the First World War was for those who experienced it. Historians may note how the memory can cheat and inaccuracies can be created by constant reminiscence but I would say that they are failing to realise this--the First World War was the stuff of nightmares and that fact should have been enough to warn us never to do this to ourselves, to each other, ever again.

G.R. Yeates can be found on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Catch Fire! blog tour on now

I'm a little late with this one, but I wanted to mention that blogger and science fiction author Alex Cavanaugh is on a virtual book tour at the moment. He's a regular reader of this blog and has an awesome blog of his own. His new book CassaFire has just come out. Here's some info about it:

CassaStar was just the beginning…

The Vindicarn War is a distant memory and Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. He has kept the promise he made to his fallen mentor and friend - to probe space on an exploration vessel. Shuttle work is dull, but it’s a free and solitary existence. The senior officer is content with his life aboard the Rennather.

The detection of alien ruins sends the exploration ship to the distant planet of Tgren. If their scientists can decipher the language, they can unlock the secrets of this device. Is it a key to the Tgren’s civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassan’s technology and strange mental abilities.

To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers themselves; the strongest of which belongs to a pilot named Athee, a woman whose skills rival Byron’s unique abilities. Forced to train her mind and further develop her flying aptitude, he finds his patience strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…

Available today!

Science fiction - space opera/adventure

Print ISBN 978-0-9827139-4-5, $15.95, 6x9 Trade paperback, 240 pages

EBook ISBN 978-0-9827139-6-9, $4.99, available in all formats

CassaFire is the sequel to Cavanaugh’s first book, CassaStar, an Amazon Top Ten Best Seller:

“…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: A Union general and his family

Today my wife and I are celebrating our 12th anniversary, so in honor of that occasion here's a photo of Brig. Gen. John Aaron Rawlins with his wife and child, taken at their quarters during the siege of Petersburg. Although it's not known just when this photo was taken, the siege lasted from June 1864 to April 1865. In static campaigns such as that, soldiers often brought their families to stay with them.

Rawlins was born in Galena, Illinois, Ulysses S. Grant's hometown. Grant was a clerk in the leather store of Rawlins' brother. Once the war started, Grant's star rose faster than Rawlins'. Grant made Rawlins his aide-de-camp, a role he performed with meticulous attention to detail. He also tried, not entirely successfully, to keep Grant off the bottle and kept up an ongoing correspondence with Grant's wife, providing objective accounts of Grant's state of mind. Rawlins long friendship with Grant paid off after the war. Grant became president and made Rawlins his Secretary of War.

Here's a closeup of the happy family. I wonder what this little girl thought of life in an army camp?
Happy anniversary, Almudena!!!

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.