Friday, December 2, 2011

How Not to Screw up the Jesse James Legend

Today I have a new twist for you – Civil War horror and Hollywood! Think that’s an odd combination? No, it’s the perfect blend for a guest post from my buddy Sean McLachlan at Civil War Horror. I’ll let Sean explain…

Why my novel can’t screw up the Jesse James legend any worse than Hollywood

People don’t really spin in their graves. If they did, Jesse James would take off like a helicopter, rise from his Missouri resting place, and soar over the treetops to a fabled, far-off land where Hollywood directors actually read history.

I’ve seen lots of Jesse James movies. They’re all terrible. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter is one of the ten worst horror films ever. Not surprising, given the title. Brad Pitt’s The Assassination of Jesse James is fairly accurate except for being filmed in Canada. Where were those snowy mountains and pine forests when I lived in Missouri? Plus the homosexual tension between Robert Ford and Jesse James was an odd addition.

Then we have Jesse James as the Outlaw and Jesse James under the Black Flag, starring none other than Jesse James, Jr. He should have become a bandit like his father, because he sure couldn’t act. Nor could the director direct. Or the screenwriter write. Produced in 1921 as silent films, in 1930 they were hacked up, spliced together, and a poor-quality narration was added. It flopped, both in 1921 and 1930.

It wasn’t hard for my Civil War horror novel, A Fine Likeness, to do better. Jesse’s a minor character, yet manages to steal every scene he’s in. That’s a legend’s privilege. Originally I didn’t plan on putting him in but I wanted Bloody Bill Anderson, a bloodthirsty Confederate guerrilla who led a deadly group of cutthroats. Frank and Jesse James rode with him, so I couldn’t exactly ignore their presence.

In one scene, based on an actual skirmish, the brothers rescue one of my protagonists. Actually they rescued a real, not fictional, guerrilla. That’s the only liberty I took with their story.

I took more liberty with Bloody Bill. He’s less of a cherished legend and more of an icky sidenote to history. Changing his story wouldn’t anger anyone except staunch Neo-Confederates, and I really don’t mind offending them. So I changed Bloody Bill to suit my needs. For example, there’s no evidence he ever used his extensive collection of Union scalps for magic rituals, but if anyone in 1864 worshipped a Chaos demon, it was him!

I’m surprised such a colorful character hasn’t starred in any movies. Perhaps I should write screenplays. Bloody Bill vs. Batman! The Torched Bridges of Madison County! Bloody Bill Scalps the Muggles! Yeah, I’d fit in over in Hollywood.

You can find A Fine Likeness at Amazon and Amazon UK
Visit Sean at his blog, Civil War Horror

Any questions for Sean? Any questions for Jesse James? (Be weird if he answered, wouldn’t it?) Think your story is better than anything out of Hollywood? Or it at least sucks a little less…

98 comments:

salarsenッ said...

Although I write for children, I find this adult topic interesting. I am a major history buff. The way you've chosen to present this story sounds fascinating, Sean. Best of luck with it!

Dafeenah said...

holy cow I don't think I've ever been one of the first few ninjas to comment. I"m usually bringing up the rear!! ok sorry I got a little excited and I totally have a thing for movies screwing up history (or my favorite books) which is why I do NOT watch movies based upon history (for the most part occasionally I make an exception here) or movies based on my favorite books (no exceptions here hollywood kills the best parts of the book and I end up disappointed).

farawayeyes said...

Hollywood has given s skewed view of history at every age. Sadly more people see movies than read and most think that what they see on the screen is gospel.

I taught a teen Sunday school class a lesson on Moses. Guys - he was NOT Charlton Heston. Some of those images cannot be erased.

Civil War Horror sounds interesting. I'll check out 'A Fine Likeness'. Thanks.

Ciara said...

I think the skewed view of history goes right along with the dropping of accents. Drives me nuts! :) Your book sounds great. Actually, I think I'll order a copy for Christmas for my dad. This is his kind of book. I've still got 1777 sitting on my nightstand. I can't wait to find time to read again.

Great post!

Heather M. Gardner said...

Movies are fiction too.

Very interesting concept though. They had great scary names back then too.

Thanks for sharing with us.

HMG

Bish Denham said...

I've heard tell that Young Guns with Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid is one of the more accurate movies out there. That said, writers take liberties with history all the time. Just think of all the historical novels that have been written!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

SA, he really knows his stuff when it comes to American history.

Dafeenah, you totally scored with your comment today!

Faraway, that's funny in a sad sort of way. And don't worry, I don't picture Heston as Moses.

Ciara, Sean will be happy to hear that!

Bish, I also have to wonder about the movie Tombstone...

Jemi Fraser said...

REally fascinating! I love the twist on the legend! :)

Journaling Woman said...

I am a MO girl and have read lots about JJ. And I am a lover of all things western esp movies, boots and cowboys.

Best of luck with your book. It sounds awesome!

Teresa

Bryan Russell said...

Okay, that was pretty damned funny. And we always need a few more scalpings.

Rusty Webb said...

The book sounds great. I ran off and downloaded the sample. And this business with hollywood not being historically accurate... well, maybe they just dropped the ball with Jesse James. All the rest is correct, right?

I mean, Jack Black in Year One, if you tell me that was wrong then I'm going to have to go back and relearn everything.

I kidd, the books really does sound great. I won't mind if you fudge to tell your story.

Talli Roland said...

Ah yes, revisionist history. I was watching a very interesting BBC documentary on Abraham Lincoln and what he was really like. Wow.

Brinda said...

I think my husband would like this book on his Kindle. I've seen most of the Jesse James movies you mentioned. Although I'm not a history buff, I have this fascination with him. He's supposedly somewhere in my family tree. (Everybody thinks they are related to somebody famous or notorious, don't they?)

Pk Hrezo said...

Sounds really interesting... a civil war horror novel... which really the whole thing was a horror anyway. Jesse James and Billy the Kid will always fascinate us--the charisma that shines thru their naughtiness.
A Fine Likeness sounds like a great guy gift book!

Laura Pauling said...

I love reading history and finding fodder for stories, esp. if not many people know the real story! Sounds great.

Vicki Rocho said...

Everything I know about Jesse James I learned from a Brady Bunch episode. Remember? When Bobby was obsessed with him until he realized he was a baaaad guy. hahaha.

Bookblogger said...

"Bloody Bill Scalps the Muggles!" Awesome. I'm hoping to get your book read very soon. It is a very unique story idea and I'm looking forward to it.

Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Alex: Thanks for having me!

Ciara: Sean certainly is be happy to hear that! If your dad doesn't have a Kindle, the print edition will be out in a couple of weeks. I'm making darned sure it's out in time for Christmas.

PK: If you like Billy the Kid you can always watch Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. It was originally on a double bill with Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

Bryan: On my blog today I talk about scalping in the Civil War. WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTO!

Old Kitty said...

You can't really go wrong in horror with a name like Bloody Bill and his scalp collection! Yikes!!

Hello Capn't Alex, hello Sean!

Take care
x

Robyn Campbell said...

*Dabbles in history*

I must stop by your blog, Sean. It doesn't surprise me that Jesse steals every scene he's in. I think he's just that type of guy. Though, Bloody Bill sounds like he's as interesting character as Jesse himself. I must have this book. It sounds like the type of read you just cannot put down!

Now Sean, I hope there is a lady in the book. One with a lot of charm. And one more thing, does it end? Or is there another part to this story? I feel I must know more about Bloody Bill. Union scalps. Yikes!

Great job, Alex, my friend.I can't believe I'm such an early commenter. *high fives myself*

Sarah McCabe said...

I don't mind when people take new approaches to history, just for the fun of it. What I mind is when they alter things to suit their agenda and then want it to be taken seriously as realistic history.

Sounds like Sean doesn't have that problem though. I don't think anyone who makes their characters worshipers of chaos demons is taking their history too seriously. ;)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Rusty, I think you have some relearning to do!

Brinda, that is cool!

Vicki, what's scary is I remember that episode...

Robyn, you did good today!

Yvonne Osborne said...

Jesse James....isn't he still alive?? :)

I love the sound of this, Sean. I love the part about JJ taking off like a helicopter. He sure would.

If we want accuracy, we read. We don't watch a movie.

Man O' Clay said...

Sounds very interesting Sean, thanks for sharing!

Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Robyn,

There are several ladies in this story. Some appear, while some are only seen through memory and letters. This is a war story after all! I have a lot of letters in my novel. They're fun to include.

A Fine Likeness is a standalone novel. It is, however, part of a series. Am I making sense? Not really. The latter two books I envision as being somewhat separate from the first. I'm designing the books so they can be read in any order and none rely on the other. You can read one, two, or three. Or none, but that's not my favorite option!

Stephen Tremp said...

Talk about the cult of personality. Jesse James still has an ardent following almost 150 years after his death. I remember even the Brady Bunch had a Jesse James themed episode. Bloody Bill scalps the Muggles? I love it!

oceangirl said...

Hello Sean, books introduce history. I am interested in reading your book. Hello Alex.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

this post makes me want to read this book EVEN MORE!
Moving it higher on my "to buy" list

JennaQuentin said...

A question for Jesse James? I'd love to hear his reaction to his modern day fame and messed up retellings!

BTW, there'sa blogging present for you on my blog!

Rusty Webb said...

I'm so disappointed to find that out. I think I was just telling my wife yesterday that I can finally quit bothering to listen to other people because I finally know everything.

I'm still young, I'll just relearn everything. I have time.

Karen Lange said...

I agree, Hollywood has screwed up more books and true stories than I care to count. The scary part is how kids sometimes think that a book actually reads like the movie (when it's been butchered). Good post, thanks a bunch!

Nancy said...

This sounds like a great read. Thanks for sharing it Alex. I'll be getting this and Sean I have a request, now do one on Belle Starr because I have been too lazy to look her up much. As Brinda commented, everyone thinks they are related to someone and my husband's mother told me there was a "bad seed" in the family (I think trying to scare me off of her son)and cited the female outlaw as in their lineage.

David P. King said...

I've yet to tackle a story about a real person. But this is a great post worth taking notes on. Awesome stuff, Alex! :)

Mason Canyon said...

An intriguing new twist on a legend. Sounds interesting.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Suze said...

'People don’t really spin in their graves. If they did, Jesse James would take off like a helicopter, rise from his Missouri resting place, and soar over the treetops to a fabled, far-off land where Hollywood directors actually read history.'

Nice.

Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

David: My two protagonists are fictional, but Bloody Bill, Jesse James, and several other members of the supporting cast are real.

Nancy: My Outlaw Tales of Missouri includes a chapter on Belle Starr. An interesting lady, who had her life twisted by legend even more than most outlaws!

Stephen: OMG, I remember that episode! Bobby gets fascinated with Jesse James until his parents introduce him to an old man who was the grandson of one of his victims. I still remember the line: "Jesse James killed my grandpaw!"

Helen Ginger said...

You should write about Bloody Bill's visit with the Muppets. Or better yet, Sesame Street. Oscar would set him straight.

I'm expecting an announcement of your movie soon.

Marta Szemik said...

Love the spinning in the grave! LOL!
I can't comment if my story would make a good movie because the answer would be skewed, but I've had others say it would, so perhaps it wouldn't be at the bottom ;)

Birgit said...

Hollywood is Hollywood...remember the flick "They died with their boots on" with Errol Flynn? Talk about taking liberties! I know Henry Fonda ..I think Henry did, play Frank James in a Jesse James flick. I have to say I did see that one "scray movie-Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter" but I think there are more...leave it to Hammer films. Oh Hollywood...leave it to them to redo history. BTW that last film with Brad Pitt...I fell asleep.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sarah, I don't think he's taking it too seriously...

Yvonne, well said.

Sarah, that's good!

Jenna, thank you.

Rusty, you have until you are forty. Good luck.

Nancy, that is wild!

Helen, I like that idea!!!

Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

Homosexual tension between Jesse James and Robert Ford?!?!

Those damn gays and their agenda. No matter where you turn it just pops up in everything from books to movies starring tried and true Wild West icons.

The snark runs deep.

Cate Masters said...

That's creative license for you, I guess! Movie directors seem to like to chuck the rules just because.
Love your story premise. Jesse James always fascinated me.
My stories always play like movies in my head, so it would seem kind of a natural leap to the screen. :)

Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Michael: Speaking of icons, do you know the gay community even try to claim Liberace and Elton John? It's scandalous! Can't a man wear sequins without. . .oh, right.

Birgit: A lot of people thought the Brad Pitt film was slow. My wife walked out (not of the theater, but our living room). I actually liked the pacing but it seems I'm in the minority.

Jay Noel said...

Love it!

I just saw some steampunk version of Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid at Barnes & Noble yesterday.

I can image Jesse James worshiping a demon. I live in Missouri, and I've taken a tour of the caves he and his brothers used to hide in. Very demonic looking.

Laila Knight said...

Well I have to say I've always say there's always been a certain appeal to Jesse James, and I did enjoy seeing him pop up in all those old movies.

Hmm, I'm going to have to check out that movie with homosexual tension to see if it's any good. I'm not biased.

I'm wondering what a Civil War Horror might be like.

Alex, this is a different kind of post for you. :)

E.R. King said...

This book is perfect for my brother. Thanks for solving my problem about what to buy him for Christmas. He's going to love it!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

How about Bloody Bill in concert with Justin Bieber?

Christopher Hudson said...

Civil War horror film? Why not ... it was a pretty horrific war. BTW, I can't believe you dissed a classic like Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter ... one of my favorite titles ... right up there with Diary of a Narcissistic Bloodsucker.

Budd said...

cool cocept. Love the title! I wonder about the decision to put that it is in a series on the cover. This automatically screams bad idea for me. For one it doesn't say it is the first book, so I have to put forth an effort (regardless of how minimal) to find out if it is. Then knowing it is a series I have to ask myself if it is a self contained story or just part of an ongoing tale (could be both). Then I want to know how many books I am in for and how long it will take between each book (you can thank Robert Jordan and GRRM for this).

I guess saying it is a series on the cover may get the attention of some folks, but for me it carries a lot of questions about whether I want to buy the book or not. I was just wondering if this was decision that you made or if it was made for you by the imprint. Maybe you didn't think about it at all, which is very understandable because I imagine I am in the minority with my opinions on series.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Cate, mine as well.

Jay, steampunk? Really?

Laila, but it's still about movies and snark!

Christopher, you know your movie classics...

Budd, never thought about that...

Jen Chandler said...

Great post! And this book sounds very interesting. Then again, I'm always interested in GOOD horror :)

Love the reworked movie titles, especially Bloody Bill Scalps the Muggles! I'll be laughing over that one for days!!

Cheers,
Jen

PS: If Jesse James DOES answer anyone's question, do let me know.

Susan Roebuck said...

Oooh Jessie James - sounds like a great book. Here's hoping for lots of sales Sean! I never heard of Bloody Bill but I'm so intrigued I have to know more :)

Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Budd: You bring up a good point. I think I'll address that in the Amazon blurb.

Laila: The homosexual tension in that film was more on Robert Ford's side than Jesse. A gay friend of mine says the whole concept of Jesse James is sexy, although I'm not sure if he's talking about the real Jesse or Brad Pitt.

Jay: Ah, the old Jesse James cave story. Actually there's no hard evidence that the James-Younger gang ever hid out in caves. But who knows?

irishoma said...

I am from Missouri ("the Show Me State, right in the center of the 48" - as the out-dated childhood rhyme goes) and love reading books about our state's history and some of its notorious characters like Jesse James and Bloody Bill Anderson.
Sean's book sounds like the prefect blend of historical fiction, and -- dare I say -- horror.
Donna V.

Empty Nest Insider said...

This sounds like a great read! I loved your screenplay idea of "Bloody Bill vs. Batman!" Best of luck with your book Sean! Julie

Leovi said...

If not the best pro I've seen I'm staying with Henry King with Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda James is his brother. It gives me a great movie.

Anita said...

Hey! This sounds pretty darn cool!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Jen, I'll keep you updated!

Donna, it does!

Sean, thanks - looks like you've rocked Friday this week!

Lydia Kang said...

Hollywood takes such liberties with history. Sometimes it's for the better, sometimes it's for the wayyyyy worse.

Helena said...

Personally, I think it's just fine if you piss off staunch Neo-Confederates. I also think Jesse James vs. Zombies just might work, even though it drives me nuts when Hollywood really messes up history. You book is on my to-read list.

Donna Hole said...

Oh, I love the idea of Bloody Bill scalping muggles. When you get that one wrote, let me know. Sounds fun :)

You novel sounds interesting too. Great listing the hollyweird mess ups.

......dhole

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

This was an interesting and amusing piece. Thanks, Alex and Sean. You'd think a quick google search wouldn't cost too much of a screenplay writer's precious time. After all, some movie-goers are marginally informed.

A writer friend told me about a scene in Godzilla wherein a helicopter keeps zigzagging to escape the ape. Why it doesn't just fly straight upward is a bit baffling.

Cheers,
xoRobyn

LisaAnn said...

According to local legend, my family is somehow vaguely and loosely related to Jesse James. Not sure if it makes us famous or infamous, but I'm stoked about it, nonetheless!

Nancy Thompson said...

Ah, reality is usually so much worse that anything we can dream up, but your take on history is fascinating! Thanks for sharing your twist.

And Alex, thanks for sharing Sean. BTW - I appreciate your comments on my query critique today over on Matthew's QQQE blog. It really helped me focus. Thanks so much!!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Helena, that's funny!

Robyn, that would be too easy!

LisaAnn, that is cool!

Nancy, I hope they were helpful! I hate saying anything negative to anybody...

Kim @ Stuff could... said...

I think Sean could do a better job with civil war history than hollywood could any day....Sounds interesting...

Tyrean Martinson said...

Jesse James as a helicopter, and The Torched Bridges of Madison County . . .that last still has me laughing every few minutes. I didn't like the original "bridges" book or movie much so Bloody Bill can have them.

It sounds like you've got a great story! Thanks for sharing the history and fiction lesson.

Carol Kilgore said...

Maybe we take such liberties with history because the people are no longer around to dispute us or defend themselves. Nice to meet you.

Hi, Alex :)

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Thanks for sharing this Alex, the book sounds great.

Yvonne.

Angela Brown said...

Okay. Got to give it to you. You have me intrigued with this story, and I'm not that big on the horror genre at all.

Plus, I'm still giggling about "Bloody Bill Scalps the Muggles." That would be ridiculously interesting to watch.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Tyrean, Bloody Bill will take them down!

Angela, wouldn't it?

Arlee Bird said...

I recall when I was watching the "Assassination" movie I commented to my wife about the anomalies of geography in the film, and I've noticed that in many films. I guess the film makers just figure people won't notice or don't care. I did like "The Assassination..." though-it was quite an excellent film.


Lee
Tossing It Out

bclund.com said...

Cool.

Charles Gramlich said...

Yeah, pretty hard to imagine how you could do more weird things with Jessie James than have already been done.

Donna Shields said...

I really don't like how Hollywood butchers history. It's one thing to put a little spin on something. But, it's a whole lot different when you can't get through a movie without saying, "You've got to be kidding me."

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A.J. Walker said...

Sean did a great guest post on my blog about medieval weapons in the Civil War. Bloody Bill used a tomahawk (!) and Sean writes about all sorts of other crude weapons used by undersupplied armies North and South.

Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Thanks so much for all your comments, especially those saying you'll read my book! :-)

If you do buy A Fine Likeness, please help a starving writer out by liking it, hitting the tags, and reviewing it!

The Ninja Army rocks!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Charles, that's one way to look at it!

Sean, told you the Ninja Army rocks!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I had no trouble sensing ghosts at Gettysburg so I guess Jesse James in a horror novel should work. A novel idea, Sean. :)

Leovi said...

Civil wars are truly horrific, because they come to fight brother against brother and father against son.

Li said...

The Torched Bridges of Madison County - I like it. Precedent: a covered bridge across the Susquehanna (in Pennsylvania) really was torched to keep the Confederates from crossing.

Lynda R Young said...

This sounds great. I like the idea of Jesse being a minor character. It kinda makes sense he would try to steal the scenes (he is an outlaw after all) hehe.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Lisa, you are right!

Angela Orlowski-Peart said...

Cool post, Alex. I have watched Young Guns with Emilio Estevez playing Billy the Kid (a while ago) and I thought the movie was done pretty good. I haven't seen any of the Jesse James movies. I guess I need to catch up :-)

Leovi said...

Alex, the Civil War Horror link does not work.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Angela, guess you need to!

Leovi, I'll fix it.

Nas Dean said...

Hi Alex, Hello Sean!

A civil war horror novel sounds like a good lesson in history for me. Thanks for sharing.

All the best!

Anonymous said...

"Where were those snowy mountains and pine forests when I lived in Missouri?"

I wondered the same thing when I watched "Assassination of Jesse James" recently. It reminded me of the time I watched an obscure 1950s western called "Rock Island Trail" in which a train is depicted racing a stagecoach through the region of northern Illinois in which I grew up... with desert buttes and cliffs looming in the background :-)

Elaine

M Pax said...

Bloody Bill vs. Batman would be awesome. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hey, Nas!

Elaine, and they don't think people will notice?

Julie Musil said...

This book sounds like a lot of fun! And I have a feeling the research was interesting.

laughingwolf said...

well done, sean :)

dunno what all the fuss is about... we all know history is written [and re-written] by the victors, from THEIR perspective... so one can manipulate it at one's leisure, since there are damn few left, who were there, to refute YOUR version of events... viz:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpgJzlY9y8A

tfwalsh said...

Most Jessie James movies I've seen are twisted one way or another from the truth... and I like where you're going with it. Best of luck.

Jennie Bailey said...

Is it hard to suck less than Hollywood these days? Some of the things they're coming out with! Off to Sean's blog!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Laughingwolf, that is very true!

Melissa Bradley said...

Boy am I late on this one. Great post Sean, I love the idea behind your story. The Civil War is one of my fave time periods and I love to read stories set during that time, no matter the genre.

Now I'm off to check out your blog.

Great guest, Alex! :)

Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Melissa: the Civil War west of the Mississippi has long been an interest of mine. It has been understudied by historians (although this is beginning to change) and famous names like Grant, Sherman, and of course the James brothers got their start there.
Lots of good material to study and get inspired by!