Guest Post: R.W. Peake, author of Marching With Caesar: Antony and Cleopatra, Part II-Cleopatra

Publisher: R.W. Peake

Publication Date: April 1, 2013

Order Links:  Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: In the fourth book of the critically acclaimed Marching With Caesar series, Titus Pullus and his 10th Legion are still in the thick of the maelstrom that follows after the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar. With the disastrous campaign in Parthia behind them, Mark Antony continues his struggle with Octavian, both men vying for ultimate control of Rome. Enter Cleopatra VII, the Pharaoh of Egypt and mother of Julius Caesar's son, who harbors ambitions and dreams of her own. Through her son Caesarion, Cleopatra is a powerful player in her own right in the continuing drama being played out for control of the most powerful society on Earth. With Cleopatra combining forces with Mark Antony, Octavian, the legitimate heir to Caesar's fortune is facing the most formidable barrier to his ascendancy yet. Through it all, Titus Pullus and his men must tread a very careful path as the two forces head for an inevitable showdown at a place called Actium.

Marching With Caesar series: Conquest of Gaul (1), Civil War (2), Antony and Cleopatra: Part I-Antony (3), Antony and Cleopatra, Part II-Cleopatra (4)

Author Bio: I am a retired Marine, with a primary MOS of 0311, although over the years I picked up a few other designators, but I guess I will always think of myself as a grunt. I was born and raised in Houston, and have only recently relocated to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. After my medical retirement from the Marines and realizing that my experience at locating, closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver was not exactly going to have employers knocking down my door, I decided to earn a Bachelor's degree, majoring in History, with a goal of teaching. Then my daughter came to live with me full-time, and while thrilled, I learned very quickly that a teacher's salary would not support her in the style in which she was accustomed.

So I went into the software business, starting at a small startup that I stayed at for 10 years, clawing my way to middle management, to echo a commercial of that era. My company went public, and I had these things called stock options, so for a brief period of time I was one of those tech paper millionaires. Then the great NASDAQ crash of 2000 happened, and I was a working stiff again.  When my company got bought in 2006 by one of the largest software companies in the world, I very quickly learned that working for a big company was not for me, so I took the lure of the (relatively) big bucks as a VP of a much smaller company. It was the worst professional mistake of my life, but the one good thing that did come out of it is that my dissatisfaction drove me to consider taking a risk on something that those who know me had pushed me to do as long as I can remember, and that was to write.

I must admit that I have always enjoyed writing; in fact; I wrote my first novel at 10ish, featuring myself and all of my friends from the street where I lived who almost singlehandedly fought off a Soviet invasion. I was heavily influenced by WWII history at that time, it being my second historical passion after the Civil War, so our stockpile of weapons consisted almost exclusively of Tommy guns, M1's, etc. Why the Russians chose my particular street to focus their invasion I didn't really go into, but after a series of savage, bloody battles, my friends and I were forced to make a strategic withdrawal to the only other part of the world I was familiar with at that time, the Silverton area of Colorado. I recently re-read this magnus opus, and it is interesting to track the course of my friendships with the core group that were the main characters of my novel. Some sort of argument or disagreement would result in the inevitable serious wounding of the friend with whom I quarreled, and depending on how serious it was, they might linger for days, clinging to life before they recovered, but not after suffering excruciating pain.

From that beginning, through my adult life, I was always told that I showed talent as a writer, but it wasn't until I hit the age of 50 that I decided it was time to find out if that were true. And the result is Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul, the first in a completed trilogy that is the story of one of the lucky few men who managed to survive and retire, after rising through the ranks of the 10th Legion. I hope that you enjoy following Titus Pullus' exploits as much as I enjoyed bringing him to life.

For more information, please visit R.W. Peake's website.

Guest Post: How Much Is Too Much

My books are long; from a traditional publisher’s standpoint, they’re unfashionably, and most importantly, unprofitably long. In fact, when I was approached by an unnamed publisher earlier this year, their pitch consisted of two main components. The first was that, with a traditional publisher, in the genre in which I write, I could reasonably expect to quadruple my sales. The second worked hand in glove with the first, and that was how much “better” my Marching With Caesar series would be if the existing volumes were cut at least in half, doubling the number of books in the series from what will be six, to twelve. Now, math was never my best subject, but one thing I did manage to remember was that 70% of 100,000 is more than 15% of 400,000, although if I had listened and doubled the number of books in the series, I suppose I would come out ahead. On paper, anyway.

I won’t go into any more detail about the conversation, other than to say that it was very short, as long as it took me to say, “Thanks, I appreciate it, but I’m not interested.”

And now, I imagine some of you are shouting at your screen, “What? Are you crazy? Turning down an offer from a big publisher?” If it makes you feel any better, if the me of a year before could have been magically transported to stand next to the me of this past March, I would be screaming at me too. After all, when I decided to self-publish, it was with the story of Amanda Hocking in mind, who I had seen on a talk show as one of the early darlings of the indie publishing world. She had parlayed her indie success into a contract with Bantam Books (I believe), and when I compared my twenty-two rejections to her thousand, not only did I not feel so bad, I also thought, “If she can do it, why can’t I?”

So my initial goal was to follow her example. Thank God that I didn’t experience immediate success, because I’ve learned so much over the last eighteen months, and I’m at a point now where I am hard-pressed to imagine a scenario whereby it would make any sense for me to sign a contract with a publisher. Part of it comes down to genre; although Rome was one of the “hot” genres in the early years of the new millennium, the truth is that there’s a ceiling on the number of readers who are going to be inclined to pick up a book like mine. That’s not counting the fact that my books aren’t for everyone, which brings us back to the idea in the title of this post, “How Much Is Too Much?”

When I sat down to start the story of Titus Pullus, I had a few goals in mind. The first was to tell a story that transcended time and gave the reader a sense of what the world looks like from the perspective of the average “grunt”, albeit with my characters carrying sword and shield instead of an M-4 and wearing Kevlar. During my career in the Marines, I was able to do a variety of different things, but at heart I am, and I suspect I always will be, the very first MOS, or job, that I volunteered for, and that is as a Rifleman, MOS 0311. There are a number of terms for what my job was; “bullet sponge” is one of the more memorable, but I’m proud to call myself a grunt, and proud of all that’s implied with the job description, good and bad. And there are things about the lot of the grunt that have never, and I suspect will never, change. Fairly early into the process of writing this story, I also got it in my head to create something that would be considered worthy of, at the very least, be considered worthy of inclusion to the Professional Bookstore of the Marine Corps Association, which only carries titles that are of professional interest to the development of Marines. That, in itself, was a lofty goal, but in my heart of hearts what I coveted, and still do, was to see at least one of my titles not only in the bookstore, but on the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Required Reading List for all ranks, which is revised every year. Although I haven’t achieved that final goal yet, I am extremely proud to say that Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul was considered worthy of inclusion to the MCA bookstore, where it is one of the few works of fiction alongside titles like The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, Battle Cry by Leon Uris, and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Best of all, at least to me, it is the only indie title carried by the MCA (at least as far as I can tell).

And I firmly believe that one of the reasons that this is the case gets back to the question of “How Much Is Too Much?” The print length of MWC-CoG is 660 pages, and that is in a 10 point font, which I used to get it down to its still-hefty size! But I was inspired to do so by what I think is one of the greatest works of modern fiction today, Stephen King’s The Stand. Simply put, I feel very strongly in the sanctity of the story, and I think back to when I first read The Stand, in its adulterated form when Mr. King was required to bow to the pressure of that dreaded formula in a spreadsheet that is the number one weapon wielded by the traditional publishing companies…in their own destruction. (Granted, back in 1978 there wasn’t a spreadsheet program available to the bean counters, but I’m sure they still had the ‘magic formula’) I know this to be true because Mr. King talks about it in the Foreword to the reissue of The Stand that, once he had the clout to do so, he insisted be republished some 10 years after the publication of the first edition. Like any great storyteller, he believed in the sanctity of the story, and it was with this in mind that I resisted the rational part of my brain that screamed, “Nobody is going to buy a self-published book this long, by an unknown writer!”

Probably not surprisingly, I am extremely happy that I didn’t listen to the rational part of my brain, and although I do get an occasional comment that it’s too long, out of the 225 reviews on Amazon in the U.S. and the U.K., about a dozen readers have opined such. The overwhelming majority of readers appreciate the level of detail and care that I put into every one of my books, but it was the first one that proved, at least to me, that what readers care about, like those of us who tell it, is the story. And if the story supports taking 660 pages, then giving the reader any less than that, particularly for strictly commercial considerations, is cheating them. Call it hubris, but I always think back to the scene in the movie “Amadeus” when Mozart is questioned about the number of notes it took to compose one of his operas, and he replies “As many as it took.” Or something to that effect.

Yet, in taking this route, I also recognize that there are readers who are going to be scared off, daunted by the very length of the book. Over the many years I’ve been a reader, I’ve watched a shift take place, where a book wasn’t considered a “real” book if it wasn’t more than 300 pages long, to where we are today, where publishers very rarely go that far out on the limb to publish books that length, especially by someone like me. Yes, Ken Follett, Edward Rutherfurd, Diana Gabaldon are all exceptions, but the first two got their start as authors back in those halcyon days when there weren’t spreadsheets and formulas that were so rigid, before the time when the commercial viability was not just an important consideration, it was the only consideration. And I imagine every avid reader, particularly of historical fiction, knows the story of Diana Gabaldon and how she “gamed” the system to get her work past the bean counters.

Still, I’m aware that for some readers, my books will be too much; too much violence, too much detail, too many words. And that’s okay; when I sat down to write the story of Titus Pullus, I didn’t intend it for a wide audience, and the truth is that it’s attracted a much broader readership than I ever imagined it would achieve, and what it tells me is that, like me, there is a healthy segment of readers who believe that certain stories require a level of detail that others may not. I also believe that the traditional publishing companies have forgotten about those readers in their desperation and desire to stay afloat but, to me anyway, that’s their true mistake and is why we barbarians are at the gate, knocking it down. By turning away from the belief that the sanctity of the story and what it takes to tell it properly is the “Prime Directive”, they’re ensuring their own destruction, or at least so I believe. But that’s fine with me, because I still have a lot of stories to tell, and neither I nor the readers need them in order for me to do so, and for readers to enjoy them.


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