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!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

It's the penultimate day of my birthday sale!

I celebrated my 43rd birthday on August 16 and to celebrate, I dropped the prices of my ebooks for the rest of the month. My Civil War novel A Fine Likeness is reduced from $5.99 to $2.99, and my short story collection The Night the Nazis Came to Dinner and other dark tales is reduced from $2.99 to $.99. That's right, just 99 cents!

Tomorrow is the last day of August, and the last day of the sale. Get these books at a discount while you can! (and thanks to those who already have, I love getting new readers!)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

When does a writer know if he's stretching himself too thin?

I've been hugely busy the past couple of weeks working on is the artist's references for my next Osprey Publishing book. This one is on the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the ensuing Wyatt Earp Vengeance Ride. As with all Osprey titles, an artist is painting three color plates just for the book. Part of the writer's job is to describe everything in minute and historically accurate detail. While it's fun to design paintings, with my level of artistic achievement it's certainly best to get someone else to actually paint them!

Although the book will come out nicely and probably be a hit with Osprey readers, this work is making my other two writing careers suffer. As regular readers of this blog know, I am a history, travel, and fiction writer. My output of travel blogging for Gadling has been less than normal. I have been working behind the scenes, however, planning what will be my greatest adventure travel series ever. More on that in a month or so. of course, that series will make my fiction and history writing suffer. SIGH.

My fiction writing has been hardest hit. I've written perhaps a thousand new words and edited a few dozen pages in the last couple of weeks. That's about a day's fiction work on my normal work schedule. I also haven't been able to do any promotion, not even properly announcing my birthday sale except in a few venues.

I feel stretched thin. Are three writing careers too much? Should I focus on just one or two? That would be ideal except (A) I can't afford to give up any paying gig and (B) I don't want to. I love all three of my careers and want to keep them all.

So what to do? There are only so many hours in a day. Do I just bite the bullet and accept the fact that while I have three careers, only one or two can progress quickly at any one time? Is anyone else in this situation?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Civil War Video Friday: Confederate Veterans Give The Rebel Yell

Here's something special. Out of the vaults of the Library of Congress comes this video of a Civil War reunion from the 1930s. These Confederate veterans take turns to give out the famous rebel yell. Imagine these guys 70 years younger, with guns in their hands, and multiplied by 5000. It's amazing the Union troops held the line! Sorry I've been silent on the blog this week. I've been very busy writing up the artist reference for my next book for Osprey Publishing. I should have a more normal schedule next week.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The three traits you need to win a gunfight

In my last post I reviewed Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier by Bat Masterson, who was a gunfighter himself. While I found the book flawed on a couple of levels, it did have some useful information about life (and death) in those days. One interesting passage is about how to survive a Western-style gunfight.

Masterson says every gunfighter needs three traits. The first is courage, which should be obvious. You should also have skill, which is also obvious. But both of these traits are useless without an all-important third trait--a cool head.

Masterson states, "I have known men in the West whose courage could not be questioned and whose expertness with the pistol was simply marvelous, who fell easy victims before men who added deliberation to the other two qualities."

He goes on to give a few examples. Here's one:

"Thirty-five years ago Charlie Harrison was one of the best-known sporting men west of the Missouri River. His home was in St. Louis but he traveled extensively throughout the West and was well-known through the Rocky Mountain region. He was of an impetuous temperament, quick of action, of unquestioned courage and the most expert man I ever saw with a pistol. He could shoot faster and straighter when shooting at a target than any man I ever knew; then add to that the fact that no man possessed more courage than he did, the natural conclusion would be that he would be a most formidable foe to encounter in a pistol duel.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier

Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Luke Short and OthersFamous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Luke Short and Others by W.B. Masterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bat Masterson led the life that movies are made of. He was a buffalo hunter, a gunfighter, and a lawman in the Wild West. Unusually, he ended his days as a writer in New York. One of his most enduring works is a series of articles about his fellow gunslingers, assembled into this volume by Dover Books.

It's a cracking read with lots of insights into life in those wild years on the frontier. Masterson describes gunfights, Indian fights, cattle drives, and Wild West towns with a flair and detail that doesn't come off as too dated even a hundred years later.

The problem is that it's not terribly accurate. More sober studies of some of the characters, such as later biographies of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, show that Masterson highly exaggerated the level of violence these people engaged in. Holliday comes off especially bad, being ascribed several murders for which there is no evidence. Masterson was obviously writing to an audience brought up on dime novels and hungry for rip-roaring tales of the frontier.

In that, Masterson certainly delivers. He and other figures of the Old West played a great part in creating its mystique. If you want to read a partially true Western, pick this up. If you want accurate history, look elsewhere.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 17, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Banner of the 22nd US Colored Troops

Here's another great photo courtesy the Library of Congress. It's the regimental flag of the 22nd Regiment US Colored Troops from New Jersey. This unit was formed in January of 1864. For a time it had garrison and scouting duty until it became part of the Siege of Petersburg, a grinding nine-month attempt to cut off Richmond's railway network.

The regiment participated in numerous assaults on Confederate forts and won the honor of being among the first soldiers to march into Richmond when the rebel capital fell. You can read more of this regiment's fascinating history here.

It's interesting that the banner has the words Sic Semper Tyrannis ("thus always to tyrants"). Brutus supposedly said this while assassinating Julius Caesar and John Wilkes Booth was heard to say this after shooting Lincoln. The 22nd was one of the many regiments sent out to hunt for Booth.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Birthday sales and the Battle of Lone Jack!

Today is my birthday. Yes, this grizzled old writer has turned 43. To celebrate, I'm dropping the prices of my ebooks for the rest of the month. My Civil War novel A Fine Likeness is going down from $5.99 to $2.99, and my short story collection The Night the Nazis Came to Dinner and other dark tales is reduced from $2.99 to $.99. That's right, just 99 cents!

While this is an historic moment, of greater historical importance is that this day marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Lone Jack. On August 16, 1862, Union and Confederate forces clashed at the little town of Lone Jack in Jackson County, western Missouri.

A group of rebel raiders had come up from Arkansas gather recruits. They found plenty thanks to a new decree by the state requiring all men to join their local Union militia or face punishment. Men who had been content to sit out the war had to choose sides, and many chose the South.

To head off the rebel raiders, three separate Union columns went after them. Only one made it in time. Outnumbered more than two-to-one, the Union troops put up a stiff fight all day amid Lone Jack's buildings before having to withdraw.

The Union troops had a few things on their side: they were defending a town and thus had better cover, they had two cannons while the rebels had none, and the Confederate force consisted of several units each under their own commander. By the end of the day, however, the weight of numbers gave the field to the rebels. For an excellent article on the battle with some good maps, click on the link I provided above.

Even though Lone Jack was a small battle compared to many in Missouri, it may have been the toughest one for the men in it. I'm tempted to include it in one of my novels one day!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New indie titles coming out thick and fast!

A couple of my blogger buddies have come out with books lately. First off, occasional guest blogger A.J. Walker over at the Genre Author blog has come out with At the Gates, Book Two of his timeless Empire series. He's offering it at an introductory price of $2.99 and has temporarily slashed the price of Book one, Hard Winter, to 99 cents! A.J. sent over a blurb for At the Gates.

In the thirtieth year of my life, I find I am a soldier in two armies about to go to war with each other, and already at war with a third.

We march across an endless plain, we soldiers of the Baron, loyal human subjects of the Dragonkin and their Timeless Empire. Loyal, I say, but only in name. For within that great army intent on crushing the rebellious cities of Haadsted and Ryksierde marches another army, a secret army, the army to which I owe my true allegiance.

Over at Post-Modern Pulps, Jack Badelaire has published Commando: Operation Arrowhead under his own PMP imprint. Jack loves all the classic men's adventure books from the Seventies and Eighties and judging from the blurb below, they certainly inspire him!

Corporal Thomas Lynch won fame at the Battle of Arras, and felt the shame of defeat at Dunkirk. A year later, as a member of Britain's elite No. 3 Commando, Lynch wants nothing more than to go back over the Channel and kick open Hitler's Fortress Europe, guns blazing.

Introduced by his commanding officer to the enigmatic Lord Pembroke, Lynch is offered a chance to be part of a special team of hand-picked Commandos. Their assignment: sneak into occupied France and ally with the French partisans to fight back against the Nazis.

Lynch readily accepts the challenge, but when the mission goes awry from the very beginning, and the motives of the partisan leader become suspect, the Commandos begin to wonder about their role in the mission: trusted allies with the partisans, or worms dangling as bait for a hungry fish?

COMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead is a military action - adventure novel written in the spirit of classic war movies such as The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, and Where Eagles Dare, mixed with military adventure fiction such as Len Levinson’s The Sergeant and The Rat Bastards series.

Do you have a publication you'd like to appear on Civil War Horror? Drop me a line! All I ask is that it is at least vaguely associated with the subject of this blog. Military fantasy, local history, Westerns, horror novels. . .sure! Erotica, coloring books, investment guides. . .sorry, not my readership.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait

Doc Holliday: A Family PortraitDoc Holliday: A Family Portrait by Karen Holliday Tanner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book on one of the Wild West's most famous figures is written by his great-grandniece. Holliday came from genteel Southern aristocracy who were horrified at the noteriety he gained in his lifetime. As the author states, they "circled the wagons" and never talked to outsiders about him.

Now that it's been so long, Tanner decided to write a book on her ancestor based on family memoirs and stories. What we get is a sympathetic look at Holliday, especially his early years and family.

The best part of the book is the details. For example, it turns out Holliday was born with a cleft palate that was succesfully operated on, although it left him with a speech impediment in his early years that made him a quiet and bookish child. He later went on to study dentistry. When he contracted TB, he headed out West to practice his trade and clean out his lungs.

He soon got sucked into the frontier world of saloons and gambling houses. He'd learned lots of card games and tricks from one of the family slaves and this served him well. His time in Tombstone is covered well, although not in the detail that many coming to this book will probably like.

The book is illustrated with numerous never-before-published photographs of family figures and personal items of Doc's. All in all, it's a fascinating and lively read.

There are two reasons I don't give this five stars. First, I get the impression that Tanner is a bit too sympathetic, hardly surprising considering she's writing about family. While Doc's gunfighting and resultant body count has been vastly exaggerated over the years, he comes off much cleaner than even academic readers make him out to be. i also think she went a bit too lightly over the key elements of Doc's career, namely Tombstone. Those wanting to know more about that will not find this a standalone book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A nice review for A Fine Likeness

My Civil War novel A Fine Likeness just got a nice review over at Boom Baby Reviews. The reviewer gave it 4.5 stars (presumably out of five, lol) and said some nice things. One nice observation:

"One thing that I really liked about this story was the “grey” characters.

"All the main characters weren’t black and white, from the union captain Addison and his attitude towards Negroes, and the Southern bushwhacker Jimmy who didn’t really seem to care one way or the other. It had a very realistic feel to it, when many Civil War stories try to make the divide more pronounced. (Bad Southern Slave Owners, Righteous Yanks.)"

That's one of the things I was aiming for in this novel, that regular, flawed people get swept up by greater forces and that was is rarely black and white.

You can buy A Fine Likeness in ebook and print form at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online outlets.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book review: Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge

Master GeorgieMaster Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book of read by the famous Beryl Bainbridge. While I was impressed with this short historical novel, I did have some reservations and was somewhat surprised it was shortlisted for a Booker.

The story follows several people in the circle of the eponymous Master Georgie. Each gets to narrate for a short time and we learn the intricacies of this group of followers who adore the hero without really understanding him. Like many people who attract little coteries of admirers, Georgie is a charismatic, a bit mysterious, and takes his friends for granted. I found the interpersonal relationships between these people as they orbit Georgie desperate for his attention to be expertly drawn.

I would have liked the book to be longer, however. We don't get to know the characters as much as I'd like to, and we never get to know Georgie at all. While that's annoying with the other characters, in the case of Georgie that's not surprising. In real life, people like Georgie must keep a bit of distance to keep their sparkle.

I was also bothered by a series of anachronisms about early photography and period armaments. Unless you're a history buff you'll miss them, but those who do detect them will wonder why Bainbridge didn't do a bit more research.

Much of the plot takes place in England, but when Georgie volunteers as a doctor in the Crimean War, his gaggle of admirers come with him. As part of the army's retinue, we are treated to the real hardships of war--starvation, harsh elements, and homesickness. Bainbridge brilliantly writes off the war's most famous event with the lines,

"I am at least better off as far as transport is concerned; three days ago over two hundred cavalry horses of the Light Brigade stampeded into the camp, their riders having perished in a charge along the north valley. An auction was held, and I bought another mare so shocked by its recent subjection to bombardment as to have passed beyond nervousness into a state bordering on imbecility."

I found this book a compelling read but not good enough to merit five stars or a Booker shortlist.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 10, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Confederate Currency

I've always liked old paper currency. While my bank account doesn't allow for me to have any Confederate banknotes in my small collection, I find them fascinating. They say so much about the era. This $4 Missouri Defense Bond was issued by the state's Confederate government in exile to pay the Missouri State Guard. It isn't signed so it was probably never issued. Note the steamboat. Missouri provided access to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, vital trading routes that both sides wanted.

This $10 bill from Virginia has always been one of my favorites because the first time I saw one was at a coin and stamp fair in Tehran. How a Confederate banknote ended up in Iran is anyone's guess.

Here's a closeup of the artillery rushing to the front to blast those Yankees back to Washington.

This detail from a $100 bill would remind wealthy plantation owners what they were fighting for. Honorable warriors, dishonorable cause.

You don't hear much about Confederate coinage. Banknotes were more common because most metal went to the war effort. This half dollar was struck in 1861 in New Orleans, shortly before the city fell to the Union.

For more on Confederate currency, check out the Rebel States Currency webpage. It has lots of information and pictures!

Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Guest Post: The Red Legs

I'm always happy to take guest posts from writers and researchers of the Civil War and Old West, and so I'm pleased today to bring you Bill Hoyt, author of Good Hater: George Henry Hoyt's War on Slavery. He's here to tell us about Hoyt's role in the actions of the infamous Red Legs. Take it away Hoyt!

Depending upon who is telling the tale, the Red Legs of Kansas were either soldiers, scouts, and guides particularly fitted for service along the bloody border, or else they were pillagers as “full of the devil as a mackerel is of salt.” The truth was even more complicated.

The Kansas Seventh Volunteer Cavalry, known in Missouri as “Jennison's Jayhawkers,” began wearing red leggings as early as 1861. Quickly picking up the symbol, other Unionist Red Legs thereafter gained a reputation for thieving, looting, and even bank robbery. A number of such gangs pillaged both sides of the Missouri/Kansas border in late 1861 and early 1862, much to the chagrin of the general in charge at Fort Leavenworth, James G. Blunt of Kansas.

Another threat was rising in 1862 that scared Kansans even more than Red Legs: William Clarke Quantrill.  As the Confederate captain grew bolder, looting Shawneetown, Olathe, and a few other border towns that year, the cries grew for a protective force that could keep Quantrill at bay.

Enter Captain George Henry Hoyt, late of the Kansas Seventh Volunteer Cavalry. Though relatively new in Kansas, Hoyt was no stranger to the border. After serving as an attorney during John Brown’s 1859 trial in Virginia, Hoyt had come to Kansas in 1861 with John Brown, Jr., eventually replacing him as captain of Company K, perhaps the most fiercely abolitionist company in any Kansas regiment. As a member of Col. Charles R. “Doc” Jennison’s personal staff, Hoyt had led many raids on bushwhackers, raids from which any captured bushwhackers consistently died “trying to escape.”

While Hoyt’s poor health had forced his resignation from the Seventh, now serving in Mississippi, his July of 1862 return to Kansas made him available for a different kind of duty: running an irregular company of scouts and spies that would provide border “services” to Kansas regiments stationed in and around Kansas City.

He called his company the “Red Leg Scouts,” giving notice to Missourians that he intended to continue what Jennison’s boys had started the prior year. Into that company he gathered nearly three dozen men who knew the order, could not serve in the army for various reasons, and most importantly, were as fearless and as merciless as himself.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Today in history: The USS Essex defeats the CSS Arkansas

On this day 150 years ago the Confederate gunboat CSS Arkansas was defeated on the Mississippi by the USS Essex, two other Union gunboats, and her own bad luck. You can read about this exciting naval battle over at the Civil War Daily Gazette.

I've written about the USS Essex before. It features prominently in the sequel to my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness. The story takes place in late 1864, shortly after the events of that book, and follows the adventures of Allen Addison, the son of Captain Richard Addison, one of the protagonists in A Fine Likeness. This Library of Congress photo shows the USS Essex. I'm thinking of incorporating it into my cover.

Reading about the battle again has given me some ideas for my novel. . .

Curiosity's first look across the Martian landscape

A bit off topic for this blog, but too cool not to share!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Book Review: The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters BrothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book got my attention because it's the first Western to make it to the Booker Prize shortlist. As other reviewers have noted, it isn't your typical Western. Charlie and Eli Sisters are contract killers sent to hunt down a prospector during the Gold Rush and discover his mysterious Formula. They journey west, meeting all sorts of strange and colorful characters on the way as Eli questions his commitment to the job and his rocky relationship with his brother.

What's most gripping about this novel is its style. It is told almost as a folktale. Nobody is drawn to terribly much depth. They're archetypes and symbols more than fully formed people, yet they manage to jump off the page and seem vividly real. The plot kept my interest and hummed along nicely. It's a quick, not terribly profound read, but comes off to a quite satisfying conclusion. Well worth picking up.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 3, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Civil War Body Armor

This photo, courtesy the Pitt-Rivers Museum, shows some personal armor used in the Civil War. While never officially issued by either army, a fair number of these bulletproof vests were sold by private companies to troops in the North and the South.

It was common for soldiers to supplement their equipment with privately purchased items. Vests were made of two or more steel plates and weighed up to 12 pounds. They cost $5 or $7 depending on the quality. Considering that a private in the Union army made $13 a month, this was a significant investment.

Did they work? There are a couple of accounts of them working, but they may have been stories made up by advertisers. Much of the equipment sold to the troops was of low quality and there's no reason to believe the "bulletproof" vests were any exception. On the other hand, Civil War bullets were made of soft lead and had a low velocity. The probably could be deflected by even a relatively thin piece of steel. As far as I know, none have ever been scientifically tested.

The vests were snapped up by soldiers in the early months of the war but soon declined in popularity. They were expensive, not always reliable, and the extra weight on long marches proved tiresome. The same situation happened during World War One. Soldiers ended up having to rely on luck and pluck to survive battle.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Guest blogging about Byzantine magic over at Black Gate

I've written a guest post for the Black Gate blog on Byzantine and Early Modern Greek Magic. It features some of the photos I took at the Byzantine Museum in Athens during my trip to Greece earlier this year along with some background information.

Black Gate will be publishing my historical fantasy novella, The Quintessence of Absence, in their next issue. I also plan on doing more blog posts for them. Stay tuned!