Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Author Sean McLachlan, A Fine Likeness

Today's guest is Sean McLachlan, an avid hiker and traveler.  He's talking about his release, A Fine Likeness.

AUTHOR: Sean McLachlan
BOOK TITLE: A Fine Likeness
PUBLISHER: Kindle Direct Publishing
A Fine Likeness is available at Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, and Amazon FR

Why don't you start with telling us a little about yourself? What genre do you write in and why?

I am a full-time freelance writer living in Santander on the north coast of Spain. My day job is blogging for the travel blog Gadling and writing history books. When I’m not writing I’m traveling, hiking, or watching obscure movies. I’m a big silent movie fan.

Tell me about your current book which you are promoting.

A Fine Likeness is firmly stuck between genres. It’s set in Civil War Missouri and may (or may not) include paranormal elements. Some characters certainly believe there’s something paranormal going on! The easiest label is to call it historical horror, although much of the evil comes from men’s hearts. Here’s the blurb:

A Confederate guerrilla and a Union captain discover there’s something more dangerous in the woods than each other.

Jimmy Rawlins is a teenaged bushwhacker who leads his friends on ambushes of Union patrols. They join infamous guerrilla leader Bloody Bill Anderson on a raid through Missouri, but Jimmy questions his commitment to the Cause when he discovers this madman plans to sacrifice a Union prisoner in a hellish ritual to raise the Confederate dead.

Richard Addison is an aging captain of a lackluster Union militia. Depressed over his son’s death in battle, a glimpse of Jimmy changes his life. Jimmy and his son look so much alike that Addison becomes obsessed with saving him from Bloody Bill. Captain Addison must wreck his reputation to win this war within a war, while Jimmy must decide whether to betray the Confederacy to stop the evil arising in the woods of Missouri.

How long have you been writing?
I got started during the 1990s zine boom. Back then I was an archaeologist and had my own travel/archaeology zine called Ichthyoelectroanalgesia. Other zinesters started asking me to contribute articles about my travels, and I began to write more and more. The tipping point came in 1999 when I realized that I didn’t want to spend my life as an archaeologist. I still enjoyed the thrill of discovery, but dreaded the office politics and petty territorialism that come with an academic career. Choosing to write seems the natural way to go.

Do you outline before you write? If not, what’s your initial process?

Before I put pen to paper I generally know where I’m going. It starts with fragments of scenes. The characters begin to flesh out and a story arc develops. I don’t write a single word until I have a clear mental picture of the whole story. I find that to write something down gives it strength, and that can be limiting. For me, it’s best to allow the story and characters to develop naturally, without restrictions. Of course, some things begin to change once the writing starts.

Which of your characters do you love/hate/fear/pity the most and why?

The character I most pity is Bloody Bill Anderson, a real person who certainly earned his nickname. He was a nobody before the war and became a guerrilla like many Missouri rebels in that Union-occupied state. The Union forces couldn’t catch him and in an attempt to make him surrender, they arrested his sisters and put them in jail in Kansas City. The jail, which was a rickety old building, collapsed and killed several of the inmates, including one of Anderson’s sisters.

This drove him insane. He went on a binge of drinking, stabbing, shooting, and scalping. There’s no evidence that he was the high priest of a Chaos demon, but if there had been one in the Civil War, it would almost certainly have been him.

Bloody Bill is a perfect example of how an otherwise normal person can be turned into a monster due to circumstances and personal trauma. 

Did your book require a lot of research? How long does it take to write a book for you?

A Fine Likeness is set in Civil War Missouri, and I had already written three books on Missouri history and two on the Civil War. The action takes place in Union-occupied Missouri during the 1864 Confederate invasion. I have written and researched extensively on this particular campaign so I had pretty much already done all my background reading for this historical novel. I weave my fictional protagonists into real events with real historical figures. Sometimes I even used actual dialog from newspaper reports.

History was very cooperative. Bloody Bill’s guerrilla band disappeared for a week just when I needed them to do something fictional!

How long a book takes is a hard thing to answer. Generally about a year, although I’m always working on other projects. I enjoy writing a fiction and nonfiction title at the same time, plus blogging almost daily over at Gadling. This gives me enough variety to get through my 50-60 hour week.

What are some of the challenges in your writing process?

Getting enough time and avoiding distractions. For example. I recently finished a major deadline for my next book with Osprey Publishing. I enjoy working for them, but when a deadline looms my blogging begins to slack off and my fiction writing reduces to almost nothing.

Then, of course, there’s life. I have a wife, a kid, and friends. August Derleth once told his children, “You can waste my money if you want to, but don’t waste my time!” I don’t agree with that parenting philosophy.

Describe your writing space.
When my son was born six years ago I lost my home office and have been working at the dining room table ever since. Later this month, though, we’re moving into an apartment where I’ll have an office with a broad view of the Bay of Santander. I can see the ships come in. A writer can’t ask for a better view than that!
The office is pretty large, so I’ll be able to spread my organized clutter all over. I’ll also be covering the walls with various photos, articles, and quotes that help inspire me.

What so you see for the future of publishing and e-books?

It’s the Wild West out there right now. A lot of people are making a lot of claims. Personally I fall between the various extreme points of view. I don’t think paper will disappear. Some people will always prefer print and it makes sense for things like children’s books and art books. POD is what’s going to keep print economically viable. As for ebooks, they will gain a greater and greater share before eventually stabilizing a few years from now.

Kindle Direct Publishing is proving highly successful for some, and a big disappointment for others. I think it will peak in popularity in the next couple of years and then taper off when those who aren’t really all that serious realize how much work it is to market your books and get them into the hands of readers. When you read the KDP boards you see a lot of people who think it’s some sort of get-rich-quick scheme. It isn’t.

What are your current books out right now and what are the books coming up for

Current books:
Ride Around Missouri: Shelby’s Great Raid 1863 (Osprey Publishing: 2011)
Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896: the Italian Disaster in Ethiopia (Osprey Publishing: 2011)
Medieval Handgonnes: The First Black Powder Infantry Weapons (Osprey Publishing: 2010)
American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics (Osprey Publishing: 2009)
Outlaw Tales of Missouri (Globe Pequot Press: 2009)
Missouri: An Illustrated History (Hippocrene Books: 2008)
Moon Handbooks London (Avalon Travel Publishing: 2007) (out of print)
It Happened in Missouri (Globe Pequot Press: 2007)
Byzantium: An Illustrated History (Hippocrene Books: 2004)
The Insiders’ Guide to Phoenix, 3rd and 4th editions, with Mary Paganelli (Globe Pequot Press: 2002, 2005) (later editions are available)

Upcoming books:
A Fine Likeness (Civil War horror novel) (Kindle Direct Publishing, 2011)
Hard Winter (Epic fantasy novel) (Kindle Direct Publishing, 2012)
The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang: Jesse James and the Northfield Raid 1876 (Osprey Publishing, 2012)

What is your marketing plan?

Luckily with my historical writing I already have a base for marketing my Civil War novel. That doesn’t mean I can rest on my laurels, though! I’ll be doing an extensive virtual book tour for A Fine Likeness and will continue my blog, Civil War Horror. I started that back in July to build up a readership and initial buzz for the novel. Now I’m getting well over a thousand hits a month. I also participate in various online forums and will be sending press releases to Civil War and Missouri publications, including those I’ve written articles for.

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?

Concentrate on the writing. Don’t worry about marketing or genre or formatting right now. Don’t worry about other people’s opinions. Just write. You can join a writer’s group later. You can read the forums later. Just write.

Where can people learn more about you and your work?

Learn more about Sean and his fiction, travel, and history writing at his Civil War blog, Facebook page, Goodreads page, and Twitter feed.

A Fine Likeness is available at Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, and Amazon FR.


  1. Thanks for having me! I love the variety of authors I've read about on here.