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!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hitler on a sled

Here's something you don't see every day, the evil Nazi leader enjoying a bit of wintertime fun. This is from an article over at Cracked called 14 Photographs That Shatter Your Image Of Famous People. Martin Luther King as a pool hustler, Mister Rogers flipping you off, Eminem wearing an Alf shirt. . .it just keeps getting weirder.

Mountains were part of the mystical image of the German people cultivated during the Third Reich. They were considered primeval, mysterious, a land where a rugged and pure people could breath clean air. The Alps were often contrasted with the steppes of Russia, where the "inferior Slavic hordes" dwelled. So it's not so surprising to have Hitler do a photo shoot on a sled. But couldn't they have found him an adult sized one?

And couldn't he have crashed into a tree?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wild West Photo Friday: Judge Roy Bean's Combination Courthouse and Saloon

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Judge Roy Bean of Langtry, Texas, was the only law in a large area of western Texas. People liked to attend his trials not only to see justice done, but because his courthouse was also a saloon, where the judge himself tended bar. Bean selected the jury, which was made up of his best customers and who were expected to buy a drink every time the court went into recess.

This photo shows the courthouse/saloon in 1900 during the trial of a horse thief.

Photo courtesy National Archives.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Researching and writing in Oxford

As I mentioned in my last post, my family and I are in Oxford, England, for our usual working summer vacation. So what does a Civil War/Wild West historian do with himself in Oxford? Luckily, quite a lot!

Oxford University's Bodelian Library is a copyright library, meaning they have a copy of every book ever published in the UK. Since many American books have UK editions, I have acess to them. There's also a special library building specifically dedicated to American studies.

Right now I'm working on the second edition to my Outlaw Tales of Missouri. This includes two new chapters, one on the famous shootout in Springfield involving Wild Bill Hickok and the other about Francis Tumblety, a quack doctor in St. Louis who was a prime suspect for being Jack the Ripper.

I'm also working on an article about the Civil War experiences of several key figures in the O.K. Corral shootout and Arizona War. For more UK-centered research I'm also doing a behind-the-scenes article on the British Museum. Of course I'm busy with fiction too, both the sequal to A Fine Likeness and the novel I stated in Tangier.

All this writing won't keep me from enjoying a sunny British summer and some pints of real ale!

What are your writing plans for this summer?

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A new country, a new blog, and a guest post about castles

Hello from Oxford! Wait, wasn't I in Valencia? Why yes I was. Hard to keep up with me, isn't it? My family and I are enjoying our usual summer working vacation here in Oxford, where I'll be researching some magazine articles and writing fiction, and my wife will be working at the astronomy department. My son will be at a great daycamp he's been going to since he was three.

If you look at my blog roll, you'll see a new addition. Roads to the Great War is an excellent new blog about World War One run by the same folks that gave you the World War One website. With the centennial coming up next year they've decide to do a blog! If you like military history, check them out.

Speaking of blogs, I have another guest post up on the Black Gate blog, this one about Spanish Castles reused during the Spanish Civil War. I have two more posts in the pipeline for them, this time about an Italian castle.

Oh, and don't forget you can still get my fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence free on Smashwords. Please blog, tweet, and share!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Military History Photo Friday: The Torres de Quart in Valencia, Spain

These impressive towers are called the Torres de Quart. I saw them this week when visiting Valencia, Spain. My wife had an astronomy conference there and I tagged along so I could write a travel article on Valencia.

The city dates back to the Roman times but sadly most of its early remains are gone. The only parts of the old city walls still standing are two city gates dating to the Renaissance. The Torres de Quart defended the city against various invaders, the most recent being the forces of Napoleon. The French emperor had take over Spain some time before and in 1808 the Spaniards rose up in rebellion. Soon Valencia was in their hands.

Napoleon tried to take the city back on 26 June 1808. The Valencians flooded the surrounding plains so that the French were forced to attack the relatively higher ground on which the fortified gates, the strongest parts of their defenses, stood. As you can see, the towers still bear the scars of cannonballs.

The Spaniards put up a stout resistance and soon the French had to withdraw. The pockmarks on the Torres de Quart are a testimony to their determined defense.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Wild West Photo Friday: Jesse James in a Men's Magazine

If you're a guy and of a certain age, you'll remember the men's magazines. Popular from the 50s to the 70s, these cheap publications offered up large servings of violent action, fast cars, and loose women. They were often called "lad's magazines" to distinguish them from more serious periodicals such as GQ and Men's Health.

For Men Only was a typical lad's magazine, with lots of gunfights and sex. The issue shown here featured the James-Younger gang's disastrous robbery at Northfield, Minnesota. I wrote a book on this raid, and I bet it was more accurate than this hormone-driven coverage. I can't say for sure, though, since I haven't read this issue. I'm more curious about that white god who ruled a tribe of amorous women!

With cable TV providing 24-hour soft porn and cage fighting, men's magazines are mostly a thing of the past, with a few holdouts such as Maxim keeping the torch lit. So it looks like I won't be writing any popular-level Wild West articles laden with sex and violence anytime soon.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Reader News for July 11, 2013

Some interesting stuff coming down the pike this week.

Short story writer and poet LaShawn Wanak just did an interesting interview at the blog of no less a writer than Jim Hines! You can see it here.

Closer to home (at least for me), fellow Spanish residents Sue Burke and Lawrence Schimel have translated Terra Nova, An Anthology Of Contemporary Spanish Science Fiction.

Sue and Lawrence are both experienced translators and science fiction writers, so this is a great chance to get a look at a  Spanish take on the future.

Here's the blurb:

Six top Spanish-language authors prove that science fiction remains sharp and visionary, with stories about the deepest anxieties, challenges, and problems of our societies. Their speculations and metaphors analyze and dissect a reality in continuous change.

"The Texture of Words", by Felicidad Martínez: women seek to lead despite being blind and dependent, while men fight constant wars.

"Deirdre", by Lola Robles: in the future, robotics can create made-to-order lovers.

"Greetings from a Zombie Nation", by Eric J. Mota: a stagnant society turns its citizens into the living dead.

"Light a Lone Candle", by Victor Conde: social networks want too much and never let go.

"Bodies", by Juanfran Jiménez: in a globalized and pseudodemocratic Europe, the rich practice sex tourism by means of mind exchange.

"Memory", by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría: personal relationships and sex roles evolve in radical ways on a terraformed Mars in a relatively near future.

"Science Fiction from Spain", by Mariano Villarreal: a close view of what Spanish science fiction is and has been.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Offering my fantasy novella for free

I have decided to offer my fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence as a free ebook. It's now available on Smashwords in all formats. Since I'm not in the Kindle Select program, I can't make it free on Amazon unless someone reports a lower price to them (hint, hint).

I've never done a free promotion before so I want to ask my fellow indie publishers--what's worked for you? I've already done the usual FB and Twitter announcements. What else can I do besides plea for a bit of your blog and Twitter time? Of course, I'm assembling the next Reader News post, so if you have anything you'd like to share, I'd be happy to reciprocate.

This dark alternative history novella was originally published in Black Gate magazine. I'm hoping this free promotion will boost sales on my other fiction. By the way, if you were one of the kind folks who bought a copy before it went free, drop me a line at the email address you see on the sidebar and I'll send you another, as-yet-unpublished story as a thank you.

A blurb is below:

Can a drug-addicted sorcerer sober up long enough to save a kidnapped girl and his own Duchy?

In an alternate 18th century Germany where magic is real and paganism never died, Lothar is in the bonds of nepenthe, a powerful drug that gives him ecstatic visions. It has also taken his job, his friends, and his self-respect. Now his old employer has rehired Lothar to find the man's daughter, who is in the grip of her own addiction to nepenthe.

As Lothar digs deeper into the girl's disappearance, he uncovers a plot that threatens the entire Duchy of Anhalt, and finds the only way to stop it is to face his own weakness.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Civil War veteran in Tangier

While I was in Tangier I learned of an interesting connection between the American Legation, pictured here, and the Civil War.

In December of 1777, Morocco became the first country to recognize the United States. Diplomatic relations soon began and the American Legation, now a museum, was built in 1821.

One early consul was Felix Mathews. Mathews was living in California when the war broke out and organized a Union cavalry force in the California militia to patrol the area. He rose to the rank of colonel.

His service had started earlier than that, however. He had been in the navy and served with Admiral Farragut, who later commanded the Union navy during the Civil War. He spent time sailing the seas and suppressing the slave trade off the coast of Africa. Once he left the navy he went hunting silver in Utah and got into several skirmishes with the Indians.

His real name was Felix Mateo. He was born in Spain and immigrated when he was young. Like many immigrants, he Anglicized his name. Mateo/Mathews was appointed consul by President Ulysses S. Grant, another Union veteran, in 1869. His connections with Admiral Farragut probably played a big part in getting the job.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Tsarist coastal artillery in Estonia and Jesse James in Italy

While I was away on my writing retreat in Tangier I popped up on the Web a couple of times. The organizers of the èStoria Festival, who hosted me for the release of the Italian edition of my Jesse James book, have posted this video of my panel on the outlaw. Everyone's speaking Italian except for yours truly, so I'll forgive you if you don't watch it.

I also did a guest post for the Osprey Publishing blog on a shore battery in Estonia dating to the Tsarist era. It’s located near the village of Suurupi, overlooking the Gulf of Finland. It's an interesting bit of military history and nearly gave us a nasty surprise!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Civil War Photo Friday: First at Vicksburg

Titled "First at Vicksburg", this painting at the US Army Center of Military History shows the Confederate lines at Vicksbur along the Mississippi River during the Union assault on 19 May 1863. The Union 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, lost forty-three percent of its men, but was the sole regiment to get its regimental colors up to the top of the steep defences.

General Sherman called its performance "unequalled in the Army" and authorized the 13th Infantry to inscribe "First at Vicksburg" on its colors. Despite this heroism, the assault failed and a long siege lasted until July 4, when the rebel garrison finally capitulated. Soon all of the Mississippi River was in Union hands and the Confederacy was cut in half. From this point on, the war in the Trans-Mississippi; Missouri, Arkansas, the Indian territory, etc., would be in effect a separate conflict.

Photo courtesy U.S. Army.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

More on writing in Tangier

As I mentioned in my last post, I just got back from a writing retreat in Tangier. Not only was it hugely productive but it shifted my thinking about my career.

I originally got into writing with the dream of having a successful career writing both fiction and nonfiction. Well, the nonfiction part happened and the fiction didn't. Oh, sure, I've had several short stories published and a novel that has received good reviews and poor sales, but the vast majority of my effort has gone into developing my careers as a history and travel writer.

I need to change that. No, I'm not quitting my day job unless one of you happens to be rich and wants to be a literary patron, I'm just shifting emphasis. You see, I was really happy for those ten days on Tangier. I was doing nothing but writing a novel and getting into random situations that informed my novel. Like meeting Arabs, Berbers, and Saharawis. Like meeting French millionaires and children addicted to sniffing glue. Like wandering through the market at night and discovering that it smells of popcorn.

I'd spend long hours in cafes and in the courtyard of my pension writing it all down and working some of these details into the developing story. I delved into my protagonist's head. I immersed myself in the story.

I haven't been doing enough of that. Over my 13 year writing career I've squished my fiction writing time in between my nonfiction research and writing. It's always been secondary; now it's going to be a priority.

So I've changed my habits. Now the first thing I do in the morning is fiction, not email or blog posts or the thousands of other things that demand my attention. The email is being drastically cut down. When I returned after ten days offline I found more than 500 new messages in my inbox. In half an hour I was done looking at them. I read and responded to all the important one and the ones from friends and deleted the rest. Yes, it's really that simple.

Have you had a shift in your writing career? What prompted it?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Back from my writing retreat in Tangier

I'm baaaack!

After ten amazing days in Tangier, I'm back in Spain. I went there on a writing retreat to work on my next book, a novel set in contemporary Tangier.

I cut myself off from the internet, music, video, and all those other distractions that are only important when we have them around. I wrote 21,000 words in longhand and outlined the whole novel. It's amazing the progress you can make when you have nothing else to do.

It was nice to fully reconnect with my fiction, something I haven't been able to do for far too long thanks to all the other writing responsibilities that demand my time. Writing longhand was wonderful too. It made me write more slowly and focus on each word and phrase.

Of course I didn't spend all my time hunched over a notebook, although I did carry it everywhere. I explored the city more than I had time for on my previous visit and met lots of interesting folks who I'm looking forward to seeing again.

Yep, I'm already planning my next trip. This time I'm going to rent a cheap room in the medina and stay for a whole month, probably in November. The kind folks at the American Legation have given me access to their excellent library, complete with a desk and wifi. If I'm going for a month, I'll have to take my computer. I don't think my editors would take kindly to me disappearing for that long!