Tuesday, January 13, 2015
SOUTH OF RISING SUN by JD MCCALL (AND A GIVEAWAY!)
If all went well, by now I should be the newest member of Western Fictioneers, so I would like to take this opportunity to say hello and introduce myself to the group. I'm John McCall, writing under the not-so-cleverly-disguised pseudonym of JD McCall (sounds a bit more like a western writer, don't you think?). The JD part isn't much of a stretch since that was the nickname some folks used to refer to me by when I was younger, those "folks' being my five older sisters. In November of 2014, Western Trail Blazer released South of Rising Sun, my second foray into the realm of the Old West. Since I have been graciously allotted the space to do so, I'd like to tell you a little bit about it, if I may.
I have to credit the existence of South of Rising Sun to Rebecca J. Vickery, the former owner of Western Trail Blazer. You see, when I wrote my first western, Four Horses/Dead Ringer (now re-released under the new title, Borrowed Guns, as well as with a new cover), I was figuring on being a one-and-done author. Rebecca, bless her heart, just assumed I was like every other aspiring writer and expected I would be cranking out my next effort in short fashion. When I balked at doing a follow up by stating I wasn't any good at coming up with new plot lines (true), she suggested I make a short story out of an incident briefly mentioned in my first book. Once it was pointed out to me, I could see the potential there, but I immediately knew there was no way I could do it justice as a short story; hence, South of Rising Sun became a full-blown novel.
It was my accidental good fortune to have concocted the aforementioned incident as taking place some twenty-some years earlier in the historically important town of Lecompton, Kansas, only a few short months since Kansas had entered the Union as a free state and just weeks after the start of the Civil War. Good fortune indeed, for it lent this new story an interesting backdrop against which it could be told. I would be willing to wager that most of you have never heard of Lecompton, and you could not be faulted for that. Prior to writing SoRS, my only knowledge of the town was that it had been the first official territorial capital of Kansas. Despite living in Kansas for all of my fifty-nine years and having a cousin who grew up in Lecompton, a mere thirty-five miles from me, I, too, knew nothing about this city's major role in precipitating the election of Abraham Lincoln. You could, in fact, make a strong argument that the shenanigans which took place in Lecompton set in motion the chain of events which ultimately led to the Civil War. Lecompton was also the site of one of the biggest gunfights in the West, again something few people have any knowledge of. But back to the story.
Alistair B. Taggart, a former school teacher long ago turned U. S. Marshal, has been assigned to the territory of Bleeding Kansas since its inception in 1854. During one of his regular visits to the fading city of Lecompton, a local rancher asks for help in stopping the rustlers who have plagued his ranch for the last several months. But before Taggart can even get started solving James Harper's problems, he's coerced into helping track down a runaway slave, forcing him to choose between his lawman's oath and his own personal values. Taggart's fight to navigate his way through helping one man gain his freedom and the other violent complications thrown in his path will challenge his skills and the faith he has in his own aging abilities. By the time he unravels the rustler's unusual scheme, Taggart will forge new friendships, renew some old ones and pay a terrible toll to get the job done. Sometimes, justice only comes with a price...
Writing South of Rising Sun was a tremendous amount of fun for me. Along with getting to write rousing action scenes, I couldn't resist the many opportunities to balance the serious with a fair amount of humor where it was appropriate. I also enjoyed the research I was able to do for the book in the way of numerous field trips to Lecompton, learning something new about this now tiny but proud community every time I visited. Located several miles east of the Kansas capital of Topeka, Lecompton has a great little museum with a lot of helpful members of its historical society who aided me in my quest to find the names of former inhabitants and places I could use in my novel. I was also blessed in that Lecompton had two newspapers (both pro-slavery) operating in the years prior to the Civil War, both of which were archived in Topeka at the Kansas Historical Society. Several key bits of information were gleaned from those sources which made it into SoRS.
I think really you'll enjoy spending time between the pages of South of Rising Sun. What meaning lies behind the title? Give it a read and find out. Here's an excerpt:
Holliman wasted only a few moments watching them leave before he turned on Taggart. "That's all you're gonna do to ‘em, dammit? Make ‘em join the army? A few minutes ago those sons of bitches were gonna burn my place down with my wife in it, and all they're gonna get for it is to have to join up with the goddammed army?" He threw the stack of hats to the ground.
Taggart's eyes narrowed and shot their own brand of lead at the farmer. "Mr. Holliman, I stopped your place from being torched and killed a man in the process. What would you have me do, ride out and kill the rest of them?"
"You didn't kill the dirty skunk. He's still alive, ain't he?"
"Not for long," Taggart said, looking cold and angry. "I shot him square in the side, clear through the chest to the other side. He'll be lucky to make it to a doctor before he bleeds to death. If he does make it, there won't be anything a doctor can do for him. He's as good as dead already. Does that make you feel better?"
Holliman withered under Taggart's gaze. "Well . . . maybe . . . some."
Taggart continued to glare at him. "Well, maybe when those men spend day after day listening to the roar of gunfire and cannons assault their ears with no end; or when they've seen countless of their friends die in front of them, seen enough dead with eyes run through by bayonets and pierced through every other body part imaginable, seen men butchered and hacked to pieces with broadswords and bodies torn in half by cannon fire; perhaps when they've buried enough fly-ridden, maggot infested corpses, maybe then when the war is over, and the one or two of them who may make it home alive put up their guns and take up quiet lives raising families, maybe that will be enough for you, Mr. Holliman."
And one more, a scene where Taggart visits with the bartender at a saloon.
"The way you tell it, I've been missing out on all the fun by not stopping in on a regular basis."
"Maybe you should stop in more often. I could do with a little less fun of such kind, and things do seem to settle down some when you're in the place."
"Are you suggesting my presence puts a damper on the festivities in here? I never considered myself as much of a stick in the mud as you make me out to be."
Criqui grinned wide enough you could see his missing tooth. "I ain't sayin' you don't know how to have a good time, but ever since you about shoved your pistol up old Pete Talbot's nose when he started actin' up, there's a lot less fightin' to be had whenever you stop in."
"Served him right. Everybody knows you don't go wasting good whiskey by cracking the bottle over someone's head. I take special offense at the transgression when it happens to be my bottle."
"I think you got your point across to him. I can still see the look on his face when you had your gun to his snout, and he glanced down and saw the badge on your shirt. I ain't never seen him back in here since then whenever you're in town. And when he does come in, he behaves pretty much."
"Good," Taggart said. "I would hate to see him take out his orneriness on another innocent bottle of spirits, which by the way, would make good company while I sit at a table and fill in some papers this afternoon."
I'm giving away an e-copy of SOUTH OF RISING SUN today to one lucky commenter! Just be sure to leave a comment and your e-mail addy so I can contact you if you won. Meanwhile, here are the buy links if you just can't wait to see if you are my winner!