Free Books!! Including ‘Soldier’s Joy.’ That’s Right, Free.

Soldiers Joy Final
Did you know that you could get to read ‘Soldier’s Joy’ free, along with a few thousand other books, through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

If you have Amazon Prime and a Kindle device, you can borrow Kindle books for free through Amazon for free with no due dates.

Details here

Of course you can still buy the book too. Buy lots of them and tell friends you knew me when.

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The Republic of Suffering – A Review

Tombstone of Unknown Union Dead at Gettysburg

One summer recently, my wife and I took took a drive through the southern United States, stopping off at various sites of Civil War battles and old forts. Up through Savannah, on through the Carolinas and into Virginia and Washington, D.C. Then on to Gettysburg, with stops on the way home to tour the deadly grounds of Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

At each stop, we paused and looked over the killing grounds where young men by the tens of thousands died. Nearby cemeteries spread out like a great sea, the small stones inscribed ‘Unknown.’ We looked out and were speechless.

The Civil War, of course, was a horror story. In the four years after Southern cannons fired on Ft. Sumter, more than 620,000 soldiers, Yank and Rebel, died. That would be about 2 percent of the then U.S. population – an equivalent today of 6 million lives.

As outlined in her very moving book, The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust, historian and president of Harvard, details how the sheer enormity of the scale of death and destruction came as a brutal shock to the religious and social culture of the 19th Century. The prevalent convention of the Christian ‘good death’ – to die at home amid loved ones, who would witness your last words of acceptance of God’s mystery and reassure the dying and the living alike that that death was merely a passing to Eternity – was irreparably shattered.

Faust tell us that about 40 percent of Union combat fatalities and a higher percentage of Southern were never identified. Often their remains were never located. How could a benevolent God, whom both sides fervently prayed to for victory, allow this horror on the earth? ‘How does God have the heart to allow it,’ asked Southern poet Sydney Lanier.

The armies of both sides were woefully ill-prepared for the slaughter to come. The Union army had no units trained for graves registration, no burial details, no systematic means of counting the dead or identifying them. Soldiers would write notes and pin them, sometimes with daguerreotype images to assist in identification. In the wake of great battles, wives, fathers and brothers and sisters wandered the fields of corpses, hoping to find their loved one’s body and take it home. Often, their search went on for months or years.

A cottage industry arose of entrepreneurs who, for a fee, would scour the battlefields and ship the bodies home. Other specialists brought ‘improved’ embalming techniques and and the promise of airtight coffins and set up shop amid the fields of dead. Some Nothern states and, eventually, Congress provided funds for great cemeteries near the battlefields to provide sides provide a decent burial for the soldiers who had given such a price. Until long after the war, however, they were only for the Union dead. Southerners weren’t allowed.

Faust provides ample scholarly detail to document how the war greatly affected 19th Century life. But the greater story she unfolds is the lasting effects it played on the creation of a sense of a United States.

‘Death created the modern American union,’ Faust tells us. ‘Not just by ensuring national survival, but by shaping enduring national structures and commitments.’ The war that had helped end slavery and its odious hold on America now helped create a greater sense of national purpose and obligation. Whether the nation should have elevated the end of slavery as the sacred result of the work of death in the war – and abolitionist like Frederick Douglass had certainly hoped so – the struggle to comprehend the meaning of the war’s harvest took precedence.

The dead, known and unknown, had experienced what the 19th Century termed ‘the great change.’ But they were the creators of their own destruction – both butchers and butchered But the survivors – the soldiers who experienced such horrors as this war brought, as well as thei loved ones who were left with only memories of their sons and brothers and husbands – also underwent the shock of change.

‘Individuals founds themselves in a new an different moral universe…,’ Faust writes. ‘Where did God fit into such a world?’

The nation, too, survived and found itself charged with a new and immeasurable debt for the sacrifice of those who died and suffered for its very survival. We live today with the legacy of the state’s responsibility created by the force of the dead in the Civil War, Faust says.

We owe those who we call to serve in war to care for those who die and those who survive. We owe it to their families to account for their lives and deaths. The very purposelessness of their sacrifice, she writes, created its purpose.

This is an excellent book, both morbid and hopeful. It is a very American book. Whether you are a Civil War buff or not, you will find something moving and provocative in it.

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Soldiers Joy: Changes on the Way. Maybe.

Soldiers Joy Final

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The latest Amazon review for Soldier’s Joy

And it’s a great one.

While we’re at it, let’s keep ’em coming. You read the book. Now give me a review. You know who you are.

And it you haven’t read ‘Soldier’s Joy’, get it. Go on. I’ll wait….

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Are You Sure You Want to Write That Novel?

Computer turned on. Margins set and typeface ready. Ideas formed and outline sketched out. Or not. Now for that first downward stroke of the finger on a key…. But wait. Maybe we need a little more research. Or maybe we need check the blogs of Those Who Teach Creative Writing one more time. The story can wait, right?

No, it can’t. The best advice is to take no advice. From anyone. Just write. Write until the story is finished. Than look at what you’ve done and rewrite. Than do it again. When you’re finished – I won’t say happy with it, no one is every happy with the finished product – send it to your agent. Or, since we live in an age of wonders, you can self-publish. And you will have a novel.

You write because you must. Like the illustrious sports writer Red Smith said, writing isn’t a chore. ”Why, no,” he said. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

That’s about right.

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Why Still Care About the Civil War?

It really was a pretty big deal.

Courtesy of the Civil War Trust

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Free E-Book!! Kind of

Yes, you can still get to read ‘Soldier’s Joy’ for free. I’ve added it to Kindle’s Lending Library on Amazon. Which means, if you are a  Amazon Prime member, you can borrow the book for free. Just search Amazon for ‘Soldier’s Joy’ and click on the link by the Prime icon for the details.

Or, if you’re Old School, you can just buy it. You won’t hurt my feelings. Honestly.

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The Day They Robbed the Treasury of Texas

Inspiration is where you find it. Sometimes, its in tiny print.

I don’t recall the exact day but it was a slow news day and I put off any actual work for my employer, The Dallas Morning News, by thumbing through the Texas Almanac,  published every year or so to chronicle the story of Texas, everything from the workings of the Legislature to its city populations, value of goats, cows and food crops for a given year to the state economy, weather extremes – all the stuff of Texas life. That day, history won out. I scanned the capsule accounts of things past when a brief item from 1865 hit me like a brick.

In a few sentences, the Almanac reported that on June 11, 1865, a small band of ex-Confederate soldiers rode into Austin, robbed the Treasury of thousands in gold, then rode off into the west after a brief gunfight with residents. The raiders disappeared over Mount Bonnell. Neither they nor the money was ever found.

That story stayed with me. Eventually, I realized that this true story would be better told in fiction. It eventually became the key part of my novel, Soldier’s Joy.

The odd part was how little there was in the historical record. Austin was in chaos. The Confederacy was in collapse, the army in Texas had begun to melt away in the east and the Union army was advancing on the state capitol. The governor and other officials,  sensing that their rebellion would not be seen as treason, fled Austin, heading south toward Mexico. Law enforcement and civil order vanished. Mobs of citizens and ex-soldiers ransacked the city.

According to the Handbook of Texas,  Captain George R. Freeman, a Confederate veteran, organized a small company of thirty volunteers in May 1865 to protect the city.

“I found the public stores sacked and the whole city in turmoil,” Freeman
wrote.  Captain Freeman’s volunteers gained control and restored the peace, remaining an informal police until Union forces arrived.

On the evening of June 11, Captain Freeman learned that raiders were planning to rob the treasury. A church bell rang to alert the volunteers, who assembled on Congress Avenue below the capitol grounds.  As they approached the treasury, where the robbers were busy opening the safes, gunfire broke out.  In the brief gun battle, one of the robbers was mortally wounded and Captain Freeman received a wound to the arm. The raiders made their escape and rode out of town toward Mount Bonnell. The dying robber identified the raiders’ leader as a Captain Rapp.

Initial reports said the robbers, numbering about 50, had stolen $17,000 or so in gold. A later, a more detailed audit to Gov. Andrew J. Hamilton in October 1865, reported that at the time of the robbery,  a total of $27,525 in specie and $800 in Louisiana bank bills was located in the treasury. Several million dollars in United States bonds and coupons and other securities were in the vaults at the time but were overlooked by the robbers.

The money was never recovered and the robbers never seen again.

Capt. Freeman and his volunteers were praised by the new state government for their efforts and a reward named. The Legislature, however, never passed a resolution to actually pay them.   But that’s another story.

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Shameless Plug Revisited

Once again, time to urge those of you who read and liked ‘Soldier’s Joy’ to write a brief review on Amazon. And tell your friends and family about the wonderful book you just read. If you haven’t read ‘Soldier’s Joy’ you can pick it up as an ebook or paperback via Amazon, B&N and, well, that’s about it. If you read and didn’t like it, talk quietly among yourselves. 

That is all. 

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Writing A Self-Published Novel: Was It Worth It?

In a word, yes. But let me explain.

I self-published ‘Soldier’s Joy’ via Amazon as a Kindle Book in December 2010. A paperback version followed, again self-published, in March 2011. If you measure success by dollars and volume of sales, ‘Soldier’s Joy’ has been an puny exercise in futility. Each month, it ekes out a handful of sales, mostly as an e-book. I could probably buy five or six cases of Shiner Bock or a hell of of a lot of breakfast tacos with the royalties.

But I didn’t write it for the money. I wrote it because I had too. The story kept bubbling around inside my head and finally it had to come out. So, I sat down at the computer and began to write. I watched the characters emerge and the story flow and enjoyed the hell out of it. Sometimes, the course of action startled me with surprise. I wanted to write this novel, tell this story. And so I did.

I admit to a boost to the ego when readers let you know they liked the novel. OK, it’s a major three-stage rocket shot at the moon to the ego when you get a bunch of 5-star reviews on Amazon. Or when a reader lets you know via Facebook or Twitter or email they loved the story, how it should be a movie. I agree. But still, that’s not why you write.

Nor did have any illusions ‘Soldier’s Joy’ would hit the publishing world like a thunderbolt, though I did anticipate a wee more positive response from publishers and agents. That is, I hoped for some positive response.  At one count, I had contacted nearly three dozen agents, following the arcane requirements for a query letter, plot outline, genre and marketing concepts (isn’t that what agents do?) as well as the requisite format each agent, it seems, demands for submissions. I received a handful of return letters/emails, always polite always kind and all saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Some actually read the first sample chapter or so they requested. Most never got past the query letter if that far.  Most never bothered to respond.

This is not to say agents should have been waiting, breathing suspended, waiting for my Answer to American Letters. I know they are busy and I know they are inundated with thousands upon thousands of letters, summaries, sample chapters or writers and wanna-be writers. I didn’t expect a careful critique. I can deal with rejection, Lord knows, we get enough of that. But being ignored?

I also know that publishing is a business and that what sells gets more of a look that what simply reads well. And we live in a literary age of niche markets. But, honestly, guys, in a market choked with teen angst among the vampires and zombie killing presidents and 50 ways of writing soft-porn, where does the simple story fit in?

OK, end of whining. We were talking about whether writing the book and publishing it yourself is worth it. Yes. A thousand times yes. It’s something you’ve done. It’s a goal (or maybe a dream) completed. It’s your words, your characters, your story. And you’ve fashioned it into your novel.

What next? I wish I knew. You learn quickly that writing is the easy part. Getting readers to notice is the harder task. I discovered that newspapers – those who still employ book editors – don’t review self-published books. And it’s hard to interest book stores – Big Box and indies – as well. So you’ll have to get the word out yourself. Talk to friends. Use social media of course – Facebook and Twitter and whatever other ones you use. Create a page about the book – though hounding friends and followers to buy the book can backfire. And recognize that it is a slow, tedious process that may not work. Much of what makes your book a success is beyond your control.

Except one thing. Write another. Keep the story going or find another to tell. If no one ever notices, you will, as the words come together into a tale you want to tell.

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