Book Review: “American Ulysses” by Ronald White

If you still didn’t know yet, Ulysses Grant is my favorite American in history. Why exactly? Probably because of the raw deal that this great man has received in our history books.

In a rare case of history being written by the vanquished, former Confederates or their descendants swarmed academia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and set in stone the Lost Cause narrative. Men like William Dunning gained a cult-like following when it came to Reconstruction Era teaching. Both the Lost Cause and the Dunning School of thought slandered the hell out of Grant’s reputation, and because these were the dominating mindsets of academia, it became the mainstream view.

I held these negative views of Grant growing up; it’s all I’d read in my history textbooks at school. But a few years ago I read an article about Grant that taught me something I didn’t know about him. I don’t even remember what it was but it piqued my interest and I started reading more about him.

I was shocked and embarrassed to find how badly I misunderstood such an important figure in such an important time in American history. As a history buff, my pride took a blow. Since then I’ve read three biographies on Grant and next I’m eyeing his personal memoirs, published by Mark Twain.

Anyway, on to the review! American Ulysses by Ronald White is one of the first books of the 21st century that really began to shift the public perception of Grant. There were a couple works before this, but pro-Confederate sympathies were still strong enough that these works were largely panned and relegated to the abyss of the bottom shelf of public libraries.

White does an admirable job of framing Grant’s life from birth to death, paying particular attention to his relationship to his wife, Julia Dent Grant. Their was an interesting relationship, Grant’s father being a strong abolitionist and Julia’s a slave owner. Julia was a true socialite, Ulysses an introvert. Grant couldn’t wait to leave the White House, Julia sorely missed the parties and galas held there.

Sometimes, opposites really do attract.

I also liked the more candid writing style compared to other biographers. White would refer to Grant by different names throughout the book. He called him by his birth name ‘Hiram’ up until Grant began to go by his middle name Ulysses, and when his West Point classmates called him ‘Sam Grant’ that’s what White called him, too.

American Ulysses was not as in-depth as my favorite Grant biography “Grant” by Ron Chernow, but it did come first and is mentioned by Chernow as a source of inspiration. For instance, White largely glosses over the part of Grant’s life when he was scammed out of his entire life’s savings, but Chernow dives deep into what was going on behind the scenes.

I’d recommend American Ulysses as a starting point for anyone wishing to read about Grant. It’s well written, easy to read, and about 300 pages shorter than Chernow’s biography so it’s not as daunting. 5 stars and a strong recommendation!

I’m Querying Again!

As of yesterday, I’ve officially sent out the first of many querying emails for Creed: Mandate of Heaven. I’m very excited to be doing this again, and I hope to actually get some full manuscript requests this time (if you’re an agent reading this I promise you won’t be disappointed if you request the full thing)!

I do have higher hopes for this one, if I may say so. For one, I never tried querying His Name Was Zach until after I’d published it myself on Amazon. I didn’t know at the time that that made it near impossible to get picked up. For two, I think my Creed series is going to be more commercially viable. It’s much shorter, more PG-13 instead of R, and a lighter read, if that makes sense. Not so much doom and despair.

Basically I always saw my His Name Was Zach series as something to read when you’re settled into your couch for a couple hours. Creed is something you would bring to read on the bus or during your lunch break.

I will be querying this one for a few months, at least. I know that rejection comes with the territory, but if I don’t get any takers after a sufficiently long time I’ll just publish this myself. I’m far too excited for y’all to read it than to spend years trying to get it published!

Toxic Positivity

Well, I did it again. I said something on Twitter that made a lot of people really mad.

Over the weekend, I saw a Twitter comment say something about the term published author, that even if you’re self-published you can still call yourself a published author.

I respectfully disagreed. I said that that term comes with certain expectations, that the average person would assume it means you’ve beaten the gatekeepers and signed with a publisher. I said it’s like giving yourself a literary award and then calling yourself an award-winning author.

Is it true? Technically, yes. Is it a fair characterization? No.

Well, Twitter didn’t like that answer one bit. Several people immediately jumped on me, insinuating that I was just some snobby, published author looking down on self-publishing or accusing me of belittling their worth as authors, or just outright insulting me.

This was a perfect example of what I call toxic positivity, where a group of people are so 100% positive on everything all the time that even the slightest criticism is taken as a personal attack. I never said self-published authors are worthless than those signed to a publisher, I never said it’s a lower form of publishing. But because I didn’t gush with support for the person who made the original post, I’m a terrible person.

Toxic positivity is prevalent in the writing community on Twitter and it’s a big reason I’ve mostly pulled away from those people. Because they are toxic as Hell. I really only keep a Twitter account because I know that’s what publishers and agents want to see if they’re considering publishing your work.

So yeah, that was a fun issue to deal with yesterday. But in other, better news, I’m going to begin shopping out my latest manuscript Creed: Mandate of Heaven to agents and publishers this week! I’m very excited, the feedback from beta readers has been excellent, and I’m actually kinda hopeful for this one to get picked, so fingers crossed!

Oh, and I apologize for not posting anything last week. I could come up with an excuse but the truth is I simply didn’t feel like posting. I’m sure you understand 🙂

Book Review: “Founding Brothers” by Joseph J. Ellis

Examining some famous events surrounding America’s birth and maturation, Founding Brothers puts a new spin on familiar topics!

Typically, we call the men who founded America the Founding Fathers. This gives us a particular image, one of old, wisened, dignified men who speak softly and lovingly. In turn, this has led us to believe that politics in the late-18th century were very civil and refined. Both are terribly inaccurate assumptions.

Beyond being a fun device for a book title, calling them the Founding Brothers gives a much better picture of how these men actually behaved. Brothers fight, brothers argue, brothers push each other’s button and can lash out in anger. And that’s precisely how these men behaved. In fact, the very first story examines how Aaron Burr, the sitting US Vice President, shot and killed the former Secretary of the Treasury over political differences! Imagine if you read a headline like that today.

Not exactly a time of polite disagreements, is it?

This is an excellent book for obtaining a grittier, more legitimate understanding of the formative years of the United States of America, and the men who founded it. Highly recommended!

Memorial Day 2021

It’s Memorial Day weekend! I won’t keep you long as I’d like to spend this time with my family. But this is a holiday that serves as a day of remembrance for those who died in military service. And I can’t let the day pass without mentioning the five Marines in the picture. They lost their lives in Afghanistan in the summer of 2011, in service with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.

Corporal Paul Zanowick

Lance Corporal Jason Hill

Lance Corporal Christopher Camaro

Corporal Mark Goyet

Staff Sergeant Leon H. Lucas

They were my brothers with whom I served. They were good and noble men, and one, Staff Sergeant Leon H. Lucas (far left in the picture) was a father to three little girls.

War always seems to take the best of us, and these men were no exception. I’ll be pouring a drink for them later to toast to their memory.

I hope you all have a great holiday with your families, and remember the fallen.

“Do you want to fight?”

I’m currently reading American Ulysses, a phenomenal biography of Ulysses S. Grant written by Ronald C. White. This is the third or fourth such book I’ve read about Grant, but every time I seem to learn more and more about one of my favorite Americans!

For instance when he lived in Galena, IL, White tells us a bit about his family life:

And I love this for two reasons: first because of how it humanizes Grant. It’s so easy to look at titans of history as marble pillars, devoid of emotion and humanity. But reading about their family life breathes life into these mythical heroes. I even like his choice of words: I can’t stand being hectored in this manner by a man of your size. Them’s fightin’ words!

Second, because this is almost exactly how my own son greets me at the door after work. He makes it very clear he wants to fight me and generally succeeds in beating me up.

And I love that ritual, fighting with both my kids and letting them get the upper hand.

In other news, His Name Was Zach and Abby: Alone both received new 5-star ratings yesterday! Thats always a lovely and most welcome surprise 🙂

What books have y’all been reading lately? Let me know in the comments!

“It is difficult to say anything without saying too much…”

“It is difficult to say anything without saying too much: the attempt to say a few words opens a floodgate of excitement, the egoist and artist at once desires to say how the stuff has grown, what it is like, and what (he thinks) he means or is trying to represent by it all.” -J. R. R. Tolkien

These are the opening words in a letter written by Tolkien to a friend who inquired about his created world, Middle-Earth, in which his high fantasy epic “The Lord of the Rings” takes place. Few things did Tolkien say in his life to which I relate more than these words.

Writing a story is an extremely intimate ordeal. An author plumbs the depth of his soul to find characters who can come alive on the page, to tell their story in such a way that others will find themselves enthralled. A part of your very self goes into the creation of a story, and that makes it intimidating to put out to the public, exposing yourself to stinging barbs of criticism.

On the flip side of that, it becomes an utter joy to talk about your work. A simple question about a character’s motivations or the inspiration for a particular scene, in Tolkien’s words, has the potential to open a floodgate of excitement. Like a parent bragging about their children, an author can easily lose himself in regaling a reader with tales of his characters and their story.

That’s why I’ve made blog posts in the past about characters in my His Name Was Zach series. I was simply too impatient to wait for questions, so I gave the answers beforehand!

I’ll definitely be doing that again for the characters in my new series entitled Creed, after the titular character Conner Creed.

Speaking of that, I’ve almost finished with yet another round of edits! After receiving feedback from a beta reader, I’ve gone through and made some suggested changes with which I agreed, and I think the story as a whole has improved drastically. Once it’s finished, I’d be interested in one or two more beta readers to give the new, polished version a look.

Let me know in the comments if you’d consider reading my manuscript for Creed: Mandate of Heaven and sending me your thoughts, or shoot me an email at pwmartuneac@yahoo.com. It’s only about 75,000 words long so it wouldn’t be a terribly daunting project!

Book Review: “Genghis Khan” by Frank McLynn

I just finished reading an enormous volume on the famous conqueror Genghis Khan. Sadly, it wasn’t nearly as good as I hoped.

Honestly, this is one of my least favorite history books. The timeline wasn’t linear, the author kind of jumped around Genghis’ life a bit in the middle of the book. He also went on super long and unnecessary tangents about people who were frankly irrelevant (literally, he goes on for nearly thirty pages about a monk that Genghis spoke to a couple times).

The author uses A LOT of words you only ever see in a thesaurus. Usually this isn’t a big deal for me but it happened way too often. He also used a lot of French phrases. Luckily for me I’ve dabbled in French and could usually tease out the meaning but I didn’t see the point of this.

That said, the information offered was superb. The written records of Mongols are notoriously vague and dense, and putting together a coherent picture of Genghis Khan is a Herculean task, so I applaud the author for the months of work that must have gone into this. I only wish I enjoyed his writing style more.

I gotta say I’m definitely a bigger fan of the writings of Ron Chernow. If you need lots of information on a historical figure and a prosaic writing style, check him out. His works on Ulysses Grant and George Washington are sublime.

Book Review: “1NG4” by Berthold Gambrel

“1NG4: A Long Short Story” was a fun little read! I’m usually not a fan of short stories because the overall length leaves little time for truly connecting with characters and getting a feel for their world, so I take that into consideration when I do choose to read one and try to be fair in my review.

This one is told in first-person from the point of view of the main character, Gunnar. He’s a scientist aboard a kind of ‘water-station’ out in the middle of the sea. It was a little confusing at first, but it seems in this world there’s several communities that form and live permanently out on the ocean due to overpopulation on land. This resulted in a new international governing body called the Maritime Authority overseeing things.

Anyway, this water-station wasn’t for a large community but rather seemed to be a government owned and operated platform where they conduct top secret research, which in this case was a strange cube that generated enormous amounts of power from just a little bit of water and produced no emissions, which of course would be a game changer for life on Earth.

But enough about the plot. It was an exciting read that offered political intrigue as multiple interested parties tussle over control of the cube and the very knowledge of its existence. There’s shadowy government agents, mercenaries, and one creepy android.

The ending was left open with not everything explained, particularly the cube. And that’s the kind of ending I prefer for a story like this, leave me with some mystery.

All in all the writing was good, the dialogue never cringey, and the story fun. A great read for sci-fi fans!

Weekend Update: Going Cold Turkey

Sorry that I missed the usual Friday blog post, I was suddenly busy yesterday morning. But I’m here with another weekend update!

Unfortunately for me, I’ve decided to severely cutback on my intake of pop (soda as some incorrectly call it) and I no longer keep it in the house. So that’s been a challenge so far, but a needed change. For one, it’s not healthy and for two, I don’t like feeling like I ‘need’ something.

I finally got feedback from one of my beta readers yesterday for Creed: Mandate of Heaven! He had a lot of great feedback and noted several things in the story that I had been on the fence on, so now I feel much more comfortable cutting these things out or drastically revising them.

So now begins the process of revising the draft and I’m excited for it. I’ve got some good idea for new scenes and altered scenes, and I jumped right into it this morning!

I also finished reading “1NG4” by Berthold Gambrel, a short story. I’ll be reviewing it here and on Goodreads soon! And I downloaded “A New Jerusalem” by Stephen Black, looking forward to starting that one.

Anyway, that’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

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