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, October 30, 2013

Helping out with National Novel Writing Month

I've started a thread on the National Novel Writing Month website for writing a Civil War novel during NaNoWriMo.

If you're writing about the American Civil War, I'll be happy to answer your questions if I can. I've written two books about the Civil War for Osprey Publishing and numerous magazine articles for magazines such as Missouri Life and America's Civil War. I also have a novel set in Civil War Missouri titled A Fine Likeness.

My research focus is on the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Theater and guerrilla warfare. I'll try to answer any questions posed to me, however. I've already had a couple of good ones. Please don't ask questions that can easily be researched online, though. I'm going to be a wee bit busy this month!

Image of bombardment of Fort Sumter courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Writing a novel in November

Yesterday I signed up for National Novel Writing Month. I'll be working on my post-apocalyptic novel Radio Hope. You'll be hearing more about that novel in coming weeks and more from me on the NaNoWriMo forums! Most of that stuff will be over at my new/old blog Midlist Writer. I'll be keeping this blog open for Civil War and Wild West stuff.

Anyone else here going to do NaNo? Connect with me at the NaNo site. My handle is just my name: Sean McLachlan. We're going to need each other's support!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Check out the new Midlist Writer blog!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm shifting my blogging emphasis over to my other blog, Midlist Writer. I'll be keeping Civil War Horror going to cover its core areas of the ACW and Wild West, but my main blog will be Midlist Writer. I'll be posting several times a week over there and will be able to embrace a broader focus on things like writing advice, travel, and National Novel Writing Month.

I always felt that this blog was too narrow for some people. In blogfests I got the impression that the title made some readers skip me. A more general blog, which still reflects the interests of yours truly, may appeal to a broader audience.

Hopefully you'll be interested in following that blog. Also, check out the redesign and tell me what you think. I'm open to suggestions. And yes, it needs some more color. I just haven't decided what yet!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Civil War Photo Friday: Private Simeon J. Crews, 7th Texas Cavalry

This fearsome fellow is Private Simeon J. Crews of Co. F, 7th Texas Cavalry Regiment. He's carrying a revolver and a cavalry saber that he's cut down for some reason, making it more of a stabbing than slashing weapon.

The 7th Cavalry saw plenty of action, going with General Sibley on his ill-fated expedition into New Mexico and later fighting in Texas and Louisiana.

I can't get over this guy's weapon! It reminds me of another Confederate Texan I've featured here and some of the medieval weapons used in the Civil War. I would definitely try to shoot this guy before he got in close.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Finished my next novel!

Whew! I just finished the sequel to A Fine Likeness, tentatively called The River of Despair and the next in the House Divided series of Civil War horror novels. While A Fine Likeness is a standalone novel, I wanted to explore the world a bit more.

The River of Despair came in at 107,000 words, 12,000 more than the first book. It will probably get trimmed some, and will be off to beta readers soon. I have to hurry, though, because next Friday is the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, when I change my tune and start writing a post-apocalyptic novel called Radio Hope.

Oh, and Jack Badelaire over at the Post-Modern Pulp blog just gave A Fine Likeness a nice review. My favorite part is when he says "I think the only weakness of A Fine Likeness, if there is one, is that I'd be hard-pressed to pin this book down in any sense of a traditional genre. I don't really consider it traditional horror, but the supernatural elements definitely take it out of the realm of historical fiction. I think the author was actually very smart in independently publishing this book, because I can't imagine a traditional publishing house attempting to market this book."

That's exactly what several publishers said in their rejection slips!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I'm a winner in the 2013 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition

I'm happy and humbled to announce that I'e won the 2013 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition, taking the gold in the Personal Comment category for my article Video Games with a Refugee, part of my Iraq travel series on the Gadling travel blog.

The annual competition is sponsored by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation. Winners of the awards, the most prestigious in the field of travel journalism, were announced Oct. 21 at the SATW convention, held this year in Biloxi, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This is the 29th Lowell Thomas competition and drew 1,257 entries. Judges were members of the faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

In honoring my work, the judges said: "Is it possible that we can have our hearts broken while playing with a child? The author demonstrates that it is. In this extraordinarily touching piece, Sean McLachlan recounts a hotel lobby visit with a Syrian refugee, 9, who wants to play video games with him. In one short piece, he delivers the pathos of the Syrian conflict with the innocence and joy of a child. This crisply written piece is not weighed down by sermonizing. Its impact comes from the story, sharply told."

This made my week! Oh, and I big shout out to my friend David Farley, who won gold in the Short Article on Travel for his article “Mama Knows Best” in Afar magazine!

Monday, October 21, 2013

KOBO UK banned my books!

If you pay attention to publishing news, you've probably heard about the great self-published porn scandal. The media discovered that some indie publishers have been uploading incest and rape porn, and probably making tons of money in the process.

Online bookstores have gone into panic mode. Amazon is cleaning out adult titles, WH Smith shut down their entire website, and KOBO UK has been deleting self-published books. KOBO UK hasn't just been deleting porn, though. They've cast their net wide and are deleting ALL indie books, including my three fiction titles.

Wait, what? My books are fantasy and horror. They don't even have any sex scenes in them! Fifty Shades of Gray is still available on the site, though.

While KOBO UK claims they will bring legit books back online, that hasn't happened with my titles yet. Meanwhile erotica readers have started a petition demanding that erotica be allowed. The petition makes it clear that they don't support underage sex scenes (even though Lolita is considered literature) and they've garnered more than 14,000 signatures.

In the meantime, I'm not going to shop on KOBO anymore. If they have such bad business practice as to punish innocent authors such as myself after being caught profiting from porn they let on their site in the first place, they don't deserve my money.

(Yeah, this image is a bit over the top, but I'm really pissed off right now)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Received my author's copies for my latest book!

A big box of books came to my door this week, my own books! Here's yours truly in need of a haircut holding a copy of the second edition of It Happened in Missouri. This is a collection of tales about interesting and odd events in the state's history.

This edition has a new cover showing Vice President John Garner playing around with a pair of Jesse James' pistols while Harry Truman looks on. The book also includes two new chapters. One covers a champion bicycle race in 1887 where the racers used those strange old bikes with one giant tire and one small one, except for one plucky cyclist who did the race with a tricycle! The other new chapter is about the various hucksters who impersonated Jesse James after his death. One guy was even so bold as to do this as late as 1950.

The book is available for preorder now. If you'd like a free signed copy I'll be happy to send one along, although I'll have to ask you to pay for the international shipping.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Civil War Photo Friday: John Wilson Vermillion, CSA

This is John Wilson Vermillion of Virginia, long thought to be Texas Jack Vermillion, a supporter of Wyatt Earp during the Tombstone fights. Actually that was a different man, as is thoroughly proven in an excellent new book I reviewed here.

While John Wilson Vermillion wasn't the famous Western gunslinger, he still had an interesting life. Here he is posing for a photo during his time serving in the Confederate army. He enlisted on August 12, 1861 in the 5th Battalion of Tennessee cavalry. He spent the war mostly in Tennessee and Kentucky and saw a great deal of combat. His service records are incomplete, but we know he was sent home at least once after being wounded.

Here he is with a cavalry saber and a rather unimpressive little pistol. This photo was probably taken when he enlisted. Men would often have their photos taken to mark that important event, and often posed with weapons supplied by the studio. So while he certainly carried a saber during the war, that little popgun may have been a studo prop!

On the other hand, many soldiers brought weapons and other equipment from home. Vermillion's war records show he was paid extra because he brought his own horse, so maybe he carried that pistol as a backup weapon to the saber, pistol, and possibly carbine that the army issued him.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Need some blogging advice

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm almost done with my next Civil War horror novel. After it's done it goes to my crit partners and I'll start working on a new project.

I'm doing National Novel Writing Month for the first time. November is generally a bad month for me because I usually have a nonfiction book deadline in December. This year I don't, so I'll take the plunge and write a short post-apocalyptic novel that's been stewing in my brain. After that, I'll be in Tangier all December finishing up my novel set there. It's contemporary fiction. After that I'll probably work on a World War One action novel called Trench Raiders, which may turn into a series a bit like Jack Badelaire's Commando series. If I can be half as good as he is with the action genre, I'll be happy.

Anyway, it may be some time before I get back to Civil War fiction. My two books are linked but stand alone, so there's no pressing need to write another, although eventually I will.

Which brings me to this blog. While I intend to continue with it, my writing queue is drifting away from its core subject matter. What to do? I'm thinking of reviving my old blog Midlist Writer. I can give it a much-needed redesign, trot it out as my NaNo blog, and use it as my main writing/travel/randomness blog, keeping the Civil War and Old West stuff on this blog. Or perhaps I can feed that stuff onto Midlist Writer as well so I don't have to double up blog posts on those days?

Does that sound like a good idea? How do I make the switch without losing followers? Anyone out there done something like this? I need your advice! Oh, and I'd love the input of the larger blogger community, so if you could link to this question on your own blog that would help me a lot.

Broke the 100,000 word mark on my next novel!

Yesterday I broke the 100,000 word mark on my next Civil War horror novel, tentatively titled The River of Despair. I think I have about 5,000 more words to go and I hope to be done by the end of the week. I got a real kick in the pants by a crit partner. Over beers one evening we agreed to get our books to each other by the end of the month. He's already given me his so I need to get going!

The book is sort of a sequel to A Fine Likeness but can stand on its own. One of the protagonists is Allen Addison, the son of Richard Addison, who was one of the protagonists in A Fine Likeness. Allen is Richard’s only surviving son, yet is generally ignored by his father. Several characters from the first book including Jimmy and Rufus also appear in this volume. Much of the action takes place on the USS Essex, shown here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: The Story of Texas Jack Vermillion

When writing my book Tombstone - Wyatt Earp, the O.K. Corral, and the Vendetta Ride 1881-82, I sadly didn't have much room for some of Wyatt's colorful friends like Turkey Creek Jack Johnson and Texas Jack Vermillion. I only had 25,000 words to play with!

Luckily Australian researcher Peter Brand has been hard at work researching the lives of these lesser-known Vendetta Riders and has come out with a great book on Texas Jack Vermillion. For many years it was thought that this little-known friend of Wyatt Earp was Confederate veteran John Wilson Vermillion. Brand proves conclusively that the real "Texas Jack" was John Oberland Vermillion, a Union veteran. Brand goes into detail about both men's lives so you're really getting two biographies here.

Of course Texas Jack is the focus and he's an interesting character. He ran away from home in 1864 to join the Union army, serving in the 122nd Ohio Infantry. He saw action in some of the toughest battles of the Overland Campaign such as the Battle of the Wilderness and Cold Harbor and was left traumatized by his wartime experience, unable to speak above a whisper for two years.

After the war he got restless and headed west. Like many people seeking to reinvent themselves, Vermillion left his relatives and never wrote home. He worked as a carpenter in various spots and also earned a reputation as a gunman. At some point he earned the nickname "Shoot-your-eye-out" Vermillion.

In Tombstone he was squarly on the side of the law and order Earp faction, but he did his share of nefarious deeds as well, such as hooking up with the famous gang of conmen run by “Soapy” Smith. All these coming and going are hard to document because Vermillion occasionally used aliases. Even as careful a researcher as Brand has to admit that he simply doesn't know where Vemillion was or what he was doing for large periods of his life.

What we do know, however, is fascinating, and Brand plugs in the gaps with details about Tombstone, the Arizona War, and Soapy Smith. While the book's subject may seem obscure and only of interest to specialists, Brand tells some fascinating tales that anyone interested in the Old West will enjoy.

My only complaint with this seemingly self-published volume is its poor distribution. I had to order direct from the author's American representative. These days it's quite easy to get onto all major online outlets by simply uploading your book to Amazon and Smashword's Premium Catalog. I hope Mr. Brand does this with this and any future books. I think he'll get the wider readership he deserves.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Book Review: The Day New York Went Dry

The Day New York Went DryThe Day New York Went Dry by Charles Einstein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this out of my collection of vintage paperbacks thinking it was a post-apocalyptic tale, something I've been in the mood for lately. It turned out not to be, but was entertaining nonetheless.

The book, published in 1964, follows two movers and shakers in the New York City's political and social scene who try to curb an impending water crisis. One of the characters is a boozing socialite who reminded me of Roger Sterling from Mad Men!

The main strength of this novel is its clear explanation of just how such a big city is supplied with water, and the environmental and social pressures that can threaten that supply. There are also some wonderfully funny passages. Its weaknesses are the rather cardboardy characters and the uneven pace of the plot, which at times veers off into lengthy explanations of unimportant material (like one character's theories on blackjack) that feel like padding.

Still, it's a fun and quick read and if you have a taste for mid-century curios and you can find it cheap, give it a try.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 11, 2013

Civil War Photo Friday: Prisoner Exchange

This image shows non-commissioned officers from the 19th Iowa Infantry. They were recently prisoners at Camp Ford, Texas, before being exchanged and arriving at Union-occupied New Orleans. This shot was taken at their arrival back on friendly territory and shows their mixture of relief and exhaustion.

For much of the war, prisoner exchanges were common. A group of prisoners would be traded for a like number of prisoners from the other side. Sometimes prisoners wouldn't even see the inside of a jail. They'd be "paroled" on the spot wherever they'd been captured if they took an oath not to fight until exchanged. They would then return home and await a notice from their commanding officer that they had been exchanged and should return to duty.

The exchange program mostly broke down a few times during the war due to mutual mistrust. General Grant was always wary of exchanges. He had launched a war of attrition against the South and every prisoner exchanged meant one more soldier for the rebellion, he decided against further exchanges. While this led to horrible overcrowding of southern prisons such as Andersonville, it did bleed the South of men.

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Like the new background?

I've decided to change the blog a bit. You may not have noticed that I widened the center a tad to make for easier reading and larger photos. I've also added my Twitter feed on the righthand column. The biggest change, of course, is that I've replaced the templates bookshelf background with a photo of Civil War soldiers shooting down a pterodactyl!

I've written a few posts on the mythological Thunderbird and the various soldiers and frontiersmen who claimed to have bagged one. My hard drive contains a small collection of these photos and I might make a tiled background of them when I get the time. I certainly would have to include this charming photo of a Globster!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Indie Life: Keeping it Real

As indie writers we're all looking for attention, we're all looking to set ourselves apart from the pack.

There are good ways and bad ways to do this. Good ways include writing amazing novels like Hugh Howey's Wool, which I'm absorbed in right now. You can also be a blogging powerhouse like Alex Cavanaugh, or write engaging series for niche readerships like Jack Badelaire.

Sadly, there are more wrong ways than right ways. Review inflation, misleading advertising, spamming, all end up hurting the writer more than helping.

One old trick that I bumped into yesterday is the "Pulitzer Prize nominee". Someone on my Facebook feed was bragging that a certain erotica book had been nominated for the 2014 Pulitzer in fiction.

Um, no. "Pulitzer nominee" is an old scam. Since people can send in their own stuff, they are essentially nominating themselves. Not everything that's submitted counts as a nominee, only the finalists, and there's no finalist list for the 2014 Pulitzer Award for Fiction, as the deadline for submissions only passed on the first of this month.

Claiming to be a "Pulitzer nominee" is a tired old trick that writers have been using for years. The author and publisher are doing themselves no favors by claiming this, no media outlet is going to pick this up (journalists all know this con), and the idea of the stuffy old Pulitzer committee nominating an erotica novel for the fiction award is downright ludicrous.

The Pulitzer Prize's own website says:

"Nominated Finalists are selected by the Nominating Juries for each category as finalists in the competition. The Pulitzer Prize Board generally selects the Pulitzer Prize Winners from the three nominated finalists in each category. The names of nominated finalists have been announced only since 1980. Work that has been submitted for Prize consideration but not chosen as either a nominated finalist or a winner is termed an entry or submission. No information on entrants is provided.

"Since 1980, when we began to announce nominated finalists, we have used the term "nominee" for entrants who became finalists. We discourage someone saying he or she was "nominated" for a Pulitzer simply because an entry was sent to us."

This sort of thing only hurts the reputation of indie publishers, and I doubt it leads to many sales. I mean, have you ever bought an erotica novel because it was "nominated" for a Pulitzer?

Keep it real, friends. It will help us all out in the long run.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The end is in sight for my next Civil War horror novel!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been forging ahead with the sequel to A Fine Likeness. I had more than 60% done, had the ending written, but didn't know how to get there. It was coming in little 1000-word bursts. This is different than my usual method which is to have the entire story arc in my head and I'm really only filling in details.

Now I'm happy to say I know exactly where I'm going. That last span of the story arc is in place in my head and cone again my writing is essentially filling in the little blank spots, like that crusty old riverboat captain that makes a certain scene but didn't exist until my fingertips surprised my mind by putting him on the page.

So I'm hoping to get this sucker done by the end of this week. We shall see!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Guest Post: Using Real Cultures in Fantasy Fiction

Today I've invited blogger buddy A.J. Walker to talk about his new fantasy novel, The Maze of Mist. I've guest blogged for his Medieval Mondays series several times on topics such as medieval handgonnes and medieval weapons in the Civil War, so it's great to have him here. He's going to talk about using real cultures in fantasy fiction. Take it away, A.J.!

Fantasy fiction is a blend of the familiar and the strange. The familiar helps the reader construct a framework for envisioning the story. It's no surprise, then, that most high fantasy settings are reminiscent of medieval Europe. Writers usually pick medieval England, France, and the Norse region as their settings, and while I love all these cultures, I've always felt there were plenty of others that were being underused.

For my Timeless Empire series, the setting is reminiscent of medieval Spain. That makes it a little different than your typical fantasy novel, but still familiar.

I went further afield with The Maze of Mist. The protagonist, Metis Itxaron, is a mixed-race prince, the son of a goblin mother and a human father. Goblinkin culture is a mix of Native American, the peoples of the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia, the prehistoric Kurgan culture, and a fair amount of my own weirdness. The human culture is medieval European. I wanted something for my reader to find familiar!

I also throw in a new race, the mysterious Amhara from beyond the Southern Sea. These explorers have solved the mystery of the Maze of Mist, a strange labyrinth of fog that has baffled navigators for all of recorded history. For this culture, I borrowed some of Sean's experience and made them Ethiopian. If you're a regular reader of Sean's travel writing you know he's a regular visitor to that ancient land and has even written a book about Ethiopian history.

So why Ethiopia? Because as an archaeologist I know this land is home to one of the oldest and most advanced civilizations in the world. Even Heroditus lists it as one of the great cultures of his time. Yet it is almost entirely ignored in Western history books.

The kingdom of Abyssinia went through several different incarnations that had several similarities. The land was made up of several tribes and held together by a ruler that did not have absolute power except in times of dire emergency such as a foreign invasion. Women enjoyed a relatively high status and compared to medieval Europe (although there weren't female warriors like I have in my novel) and studies such a geography, painting and literature were highly developed.

When my protagonist goes off with these newcomers on a diplomatic mission, he gets to sample their food and drink, learn about their world view, and generally immerse himself in their culture. He's not just journeying across an ocean, he passing from one culture to another. The ancient Abyssinian kingdoms are a perfect model for a civilization that your typical fantasy character would find both strange and alluring.

Plus they had cool swords and strong booze. You gotta have cool swords and strong booze in a fantasy novel!

Thanks, A.J.! Do you have a new release you'd like to shout about? Go to the How Can I Help You? page to learn how, well, I can help you. . .

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Reader News for October 6, 2013

A couple of new books from blogger buddies this time around! Have some news you want to share? Drop me a line!

The Maze of Mist, the latest fantasy novel from A.J. Walker, is for sale in the Kindle store. For the first month he's priced it at only $3.99, and it's free for Prime members.

Here's the blurb:

When the heir to the throne is treated as an outcast, he has to prove himself before he can rule.

Prince Metis Itxaron is the son of a human father and a goblin mother. As heir to the Twin Thrones, he will some day bear the responsibility of ruling two peoples while protecting the kingdom from the vicious armies of the Bandit Queen and the Elves of the Great Forest.

Instead he spends his time getting drunk and sleeping with the few women willing to look beyond his mixed heritage.

In a desperate attempt to make a man out of him, his parents send him on a secret diplomatic mission to prepare for an upcoming war. What they don't expect is that he will come upon visitors from an unknown land beyond the Sea of Mist, a strange labyrinth of fog that has baffled navigators for all of recorded history.

Metis sees a visit to these new lands as an opportunity to escape his responsibilities and prove himself on his own terms.

Then he discovers that representatives from his kingdom's enemies are coming along for the voyage. . .

This is the second book in the Chronicles of the House of Itxaron series. The first volume is Roots Run Deep. While set in the same world, each title is a standalone novel.

Missouri historian Larry Wood also has a new book out. Murder and Mayhem in Missouri tells the story of some of Missouri's toughest outlaws.

Desperadoes like Frank and Jesse James earned Missouri the nickname of the "Outlaw State" after the Civil War, and that reputation followed the region into the Prohibition era through the feverish criminal activity of Bonnie and Clyde, the Barkers and Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd.

Duck into the Slicker War of the 1840s, a vigilante movement that devolved into a lingering feud in which the two sides sometimes meted out whippings, called slickings, on each other. Or witness the Kansas City Massacre of 1933, a shootout between law enforcement officers and criminal gang members who were trying to free Frank Nash, a notorious gang leader being escorted to federal prison.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Wild West Photo Friday: Hotel in Contention, Arizona Territory, 1880

When I started working for Gadling, the editor interviewed me as a way of introducing me to the readers. One of his questions was what was my worst hotel experience. I answered, "Oooo, tough one. The Peruvian hotel with sand in the halls and no working bathrooms? The British bed and breakfast where the owner walked into our room without knocking? The Pakistani flophouse with the junkie staggering around the courtyard at all hours? I really can't decide."

At least I didn't have to stay in this place. This was the one hotel in the dusty mining town of Contention, Arizona Territory, which sprang to life in 1879 when silver was discovered there. It became one of the Wild West's many boomtowns until an earthquake a few years later made the mines flood. Now all that's left of Contention are a few weathered foundations and an overgrown cemetery.

During those few years of life, Contention had its share of shootouts and craziness. I wonder what it was like to stay in this little adobe hotel, hearing the drunken miners carousing outside your window after a long day underground? Did you have to contend with fleas and bedbugs, or just the usual Arizona problems such a cockroaches, scorpions, black widow spiders, and rattlesnakes?

Ah, the good old days, when going to Arizona was still considered adventure travel!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Forging ahead with my next Civil War novel

As I've mentioned before, I've been working on a sequel to my Civil War horror novel A Fine Likeness. I took a hiatus from writing it for a while because I was a stuck. I had written the first 60% or so, knew the ending, but didn't have the bit in between.

That's strange for me. Usually I have the whole story arc in my head from the start and the writing process is just filling in the details. This time, the penultimate section really had be stuck and I took a break to do various other projects, including a spinoff short story that will be published later this month.

Now I'm back to writing the novel. I still don't know quite how I'm going to get to where I'm going, but each scene has been coming to me in chunks of about 1,000 words or so. It's also becoming apparant that this novel will be longer than I anticipated. Oh well. A story has to be as long as it takes to tell. It's good to be working on this again!

Now if I could only think of a title. . .