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W. W. Norton: First Lines from New Books Out Today: August 1, 2011


“Stunned by love and some would say stupid from too much sex, I decided I had to drive down South to kill a man.”
Busy Monsters: A Novel by William Giraldi

The Sand Speaks
“I’m fluid and omnivorous, the casual
kiss. I’ll knock up your oysters.
I’ll eat your diamonds. I’m a mutt, no


As an aside, I would like to mention that I have six new books out myself and maybe someone from Norton would want to take a look at them. They are Ebooks with the following titles:

Sissy! by Tom Mach (a historical novel of 1862-1863)

An Innocent Murdered by Tom Mach (an unusual mystery whodunnit novel

All Parts Together by Tom Mach (a historical novel of 1863-1865)

ADVENT by Tom Mach (thriller—with two conflicting scenarios about earth’s final demise

STORIES TO ENJOY by Tom Mach (a collection of 16 short stories with O. Henry-like twists)

HOMER THE ROAMER by Tom Mach (a delightful story about a cat who got an adventure he didn’t want)

Filed under Norton publisher Tom Mach Sissy All Parts Together Homer the Roamer An Innocent Murdered Stories to Enjoy Advent new books books Ebooks

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Self-Publishing ≠ Vanity Publishing

I came across the following discussion on the various types of publishing (My source: ) and I’d like to share this with you. I was personally irritated one time when a librarian told a group of folks that one of my novels was published by a “vanity press.” She was grossly misinformed. Publishing your own book by your own press at your own expense where you receive all of the profits is NOT vanity publishing at all. Here are some definitions:

Independent Publishing – (1) Custom publishing wherein the publishing processes are managed and/or contracted exclusively by the author; or (2) a small press that handles less than six titles annually with revenues under an accepted industry level.

“Independent Publishing”, “Small press”, “Indie press”, and “Self–published” describe, for the most part, a specialty publishing shop; or an individual, whose expertise is managing the full range of processes involved in bring books, audio, and/or video to publication.

Vanity Press – Publishers who are author–selected and who handle the details of publishing, and/or marketing, for the author, for a fee. (I draw distinctions between the terms “Vanity Press”, “Self–publishing”, and/or “Independent Publishing”.)

Contract Publishing – I would like to see a distinction develop between the terms ‘self–publishing’ and ‘contract publishing’. (When an author contracts with an entity that offers publishing services such as Outskirts Press,, Llumina, Tafford Publishing, et al that author is not, technically, “self–published”.)

Read E-Books? Click on: tom mach on your device when you shop for a book and get a list of his superbly enjoyable stories.

Filed under Tom Mach publisher publishing self-publisher self-publishing vanity press vanity publishing small press independent publishing

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Historical novel about a Civil War angel—FREE 1st Chapter of SISSY!

I’d like to introduce you to a historical novel covering the Civil War area of 1862-1863 that is so historically accurate, I was invited to give a presentation on it for a Kansas University history class.  Posted below is the first chapter of my novel SISSY! that concludes with the devastating raid of William Quantrill on the town of Lawrence, Kansas, resulting in the deaths of almost 200 innocent men and boys. If you would like to read the rest of this novel, I invite you to click on and order it directly from me—AND if you mention you saw this chapter on my blog I you will get a 40% discount off the retail price.

Here, then, is the first chapter of SISSY!  Enjoy!

                                           SISSY! by Tom Mach

                                              —Chapter One—

                                       ©2006 by Tom Mach

June, 1862    Lawrence, Kansas

"Thank you, but I’m not helpless," nineteen-year-old Jessica Radford said when the stagecoach driver offered her his hand after she opened her door.

The man narrowed his eyes in surprise as he dropped his hand. “Sorry, ma’am, I was only askin’.”

Jessica hoped she didn’t sound rude, but men shouldn’t assume all ladies were helpless. After all, she used to plow Pa’s field and chop wood at home, didn’t she?

She whisked away strands of her blond hair before lifting her two bags, one containing her college textbooks. A ragtag band played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” outside the four-story, eighty-room Eldridge House. The magnificent red brick hotel, displaying a great deal of red, white, and blue bunting, together with that hypnotic “Glory-Glory-Halleluhah” refrain, reminded her of this insane war. When would it finally be over? Six years earlier, border ruffians had burned this same building to the ground when it was called the Free State Hotel, and Kansas bled long before the first shot was ever fired at Fort Sumter. However, war was now being raged not only over here in Kansas but everywhere.

The red summer sky was yet another reminder of this senseless massacre. At Carlotta College, a private woman’s college she attended this year, the War between the North and South was practically all the students talked about. Some of the young ladies even engaged in heated arguments over it.

Could she escape from it here, at home? After all, the major battles were being fought east and south of Kansas. Still, there were those awful stories about civilians… residents at Shiloh, Tennessee, killed by Union forces… a child hit by musket fire at Fort Pulaski, Georgia… an innocent bystander slain while he observed a battle in Yorktown, Virginia….

How was her family doing here in Kansas? She hadn’t heard from them in weeks. Could something have happened? Those awful stories about civilians. No. That dream she had last night could have meant nothing. Maybe she was just tired. The three-day steamboat ride on the Missouri from St. Louis to Westover, combined with the six-hour journey over bouncing corduroy roads to Lawrence had plumb wore her out.

Jessica waved off a stranger who offered to carry her bags and looked around at the throng of people on Massachusetts Street—once a road so wide there was room to spare even with three wagons driven alongside. Today, all she saw was a street crowded mostly with Federals on horseback and women in their Sunday best waving goodbye to their men.

Everything looked the same as she remembered it…the cabinet shop at the northwest corner of Winthrop and Massachusetts, Allen Farm Implement and Hardware to the northeast, and the Simpson Bank directly across from the Eldridge House. But no sense wasting time looking, Jessica thought. Picking up her bags, she forced her way down Winthrop Street. She tried not to think about a young pregnant woman in tears whom she had just passed. It was indeed possible that woman’s baby would never see her father return. All this pageantry and hoopla about uniforms and military balls and such, and no thought whatsoever about being killed…and guns made it all so easy….

It was an accident, Claire. 

She shivered, ordering herself not to think about that again. It happened three years ago, and she’d best forget it. She headed for the Eldridge Stables on Vermont Street a block away. Once there, she dropped her bags and leaned against a hitching post. The odor of hay on the stable floor wafted through the still air. A black stallion neighed. A squirrel climbed up a locust post across the street, jerking its head back and forth in search of enemies.

Where was Pa? He said he’d be here, unless…the nightmare that had jerkedher awake last night returned… “They’re all dead, rebels got ’em”… Jessica yanked the memory from her consciousness.

“Jessica!” a familiar voice called out to her.

Jessica turned, relieved to see her father, a man with bushy eyebrows and long beard, sitting in the shay and waving to her. He wore a black derby, light brown satin waistcoat, and dark brown trousers. He ought to dress up more often, Jessica thought as she smiled and moved toward him.

“Pa!” Jessica exclaimed, hugging him tighter than she ever had before. “I was so worried about you and Mom and Nellie, with thewar’n all.”

“Pshaw! Nothing to be concerned about, Jessica. C’mon. We’ll talk on the ride back to the farm.”

But Henry Radford said nothing even after he took the reins and drove his shay down Massachusetts Street, past familiar places—the Kansas Tribune, Duncan & Allison Dry Goods Store, Ward Meats, Danvers Ice Cream Parlor, Brechtelbrauer’s Saloon. He turned west on Henry Street, passing a few more shops and a tree-lined ravine, until only small farms surrounded them.

When Pa headed north toward a grassy field fronting the Kansas River, Jessica decided to break the silence. “How’s Ma?”

“Oh fine, and fit as a fiddle. She’s helpin’ out tryin’ to raise money for gettin’ uniforms and supplies and such. She’s also doin’ all she can for her church, with bake sales and helpin’ out in the sacristy and things like that.”

“I assumed both you and Mom would be here today.”

“Foolish woman,” Pa grunted. “She plumb thinks she’ll go to hell if she misses Sunday Mass. That’s why she ain’t here.”

Jessica stared down at her hands, fighting her disappointment. Nellie wasn’t here either. Didn’t that girl know how much she missed her? Maybe it was Ma’s fault that Pa didn’t bring Nellie with him to the station. Didn’t Ma say, more than once, that Nellie was an embarrassment at times? It wasn’t that the girl was so terribly uneducated. It was that Nellie was a Negro girl, three years younger than herself, and people would always ask the same question about Nellie—is she slave or free?

Jessica shifted in her wooden seat. Truth was, Nellie was a slave child whom a courageous white man named Otto Heller had discovered on the bank of the Missouri River five years ago on Christmas Eve. “You have to take her as your own,” Otto had pleaded with Pa. “She’s crying her eyes out for her mama, and her mama can’t hear her cries. She’s been taken by the slavers. If you don’t take the child in, she’ll surely die.”

But why didn’t Nellie come to the Eldridge House with Pa to meet her today?

As if reading Jessica’s mind, Pa added, “Ma took Nellie with her to church. Wants that poor child to be a papist like herself.”

His abrupt comment stopped Jessica from going further with this line of questioning. Her parents had never agreed about religion. Ma would always be a fervent Catholic, and Pa’d always be an occasional Methodist. Sometimes Jessica wondered if they believed in the same God.

“Any news about Uncle Adam, Pa?”

His face fell a little, but he kept his eyes on his horse. “Didn’t yuh get our letter?”


“Well, maybe it got lost or something.”

“But what about Uncle Adam?” she asked, not hiding her impatience.

“I got the news ’bout three weeks ago. Still can’t believe it…” His voice trailed off.

Jessica put her hand to her mouth. “Oh no, Pa!”

He turned his head for a moment. There was a tear on his rough cheek. “He was at Shiloh with the Eleventh Indiana Volunteers. Gave up runnin’ his medicine and drug company so’s he could fight them rebels. Killed at close range with a shotgun. Died right quick they say, but your ma didn’t take no comfort in that.”

Jessica closed her eyes for a moment, agonizing over her uncle’s death and wondering why people made killing so easy. It happened three years ago, but her hysteria after the gun went off still haunted her….Please, Claire. Please, please, wake up! But Claire Silas, her seven-year-old cousin, had never recovered.

“Y’know,” Pa continued, “how your uncle was always wantin’ to help others? By thunder, that’s why he even gave Ma enough money to put you through college for this year.”

Yes, she thought, and Uncle Adam had intended to have her manage the firm he owned, the Silas Drug Company, after she graduated. He was the only man she knew who believed women could hold an equal position with men in business. She often wished Pa were like that.

Pa ran his hand over his beard. “Shot a deer yesterday. Right from my bedroom window I did. Eight-point buck. Used a handgun, too, by golly.”

Jessica visualized Pa pointing his pistol at the animal. It was different than the Colt .31 caliber pocket revolver hidden in her luggage. Uncle Adam made her promise she’d keep this weapon, the one that a kind stranger insisted she take after saving her from Sam Toby three years ago….

 * * *

She’d never forget that stranger’s face. It was broken with lines of worry. But his stern jawbone and eyes of steel spoke volumes of his determination to face danger without fear. Heoffered her the Colt revolver. “This here’s Sam Toby’s weapon. Picked it up from the ground in the cornfield after he took off. Nice small revolver. It’s yours now, young lady.”

“It’s not mine,” she had said. “I don’t want it.”

He ran his bony finger down his long white beard. “For your own protection, ma’am, you ought to have it. We’re livin’ in a dangerous world.” He forced the gun into her reluctant palm and glanced down at Nellie. “Want me to see to it that this here slave girl gets further north? I can get her over to Illinois.”

“It won’t be necessary. My family already took her in as one of our own.”

 * * *

Uncle Adam…how could he be dead? She took a handkerchief from her dress pocket and dabbed her eyes. Dead? No, it couldn’t be. He was the only man she knew who understood her love for literature, even though he was also a shrewd businessman. She still cherished the book of poems he had given her, poems penned by an obscure writer named Walt Whitman. But he also gave her something she never wanted—shells for her Colt revolver….

“No use just having an empty pistol,” Uncle Adam had said. “You need these, too. You never know when you might come face-to-face with a rebel.”

“But I don’t want these shells,” she answered. “I don’t even want this gun.”

“You may need it someday. Promise you’ll always have it with you.”

How could she tell him who had shot his daughter Claire with this revolver? That the one responsible for Claire’s death wasn’t Sam Toby, but it was—”

He grabbed her hand. “Promise?”

“Yes,” she said, struggling with her awful secret.

As she listened to the rapid klip-klop-klip-klop pace of the horse pulling the shay, Jessica brought her attention back to the news about Uncle Adam’s death. “Pa,” she asked, “how did Ma take the news about her brother?”

“Pretty hard. Before he left for Shiloh, he gave Rachel a chest full of his valuables. ‘Jest in case something happens to me,’ he said. She didn’t open that there chest yet. And she didn’t get her brother’s body back home so she could bury him proper. Yuh know what I mean? The whole thing has busted her up pretty bad.” He turned to Jessica for a moment. “Yuh know, of course, this means no more money for college.”

Jessica felt a twinge of guilt as she inwardly admitted it was true. She had hoped to graduate some day. Maybe then she’d manage her uncle’s firm. Better still, she’d write important books. Now those dreams were shattered. And… and… Uncle Adam was dead. She felt awful about that, and she knew if she let herself cry, she would. “I don’t care about the money,” Jessica lied. “How’s Nellie been?” she asked, changing the subject.

“Oh, Nellie’s same as always. Sometimes slow ’bout some things, like her mind’s asleep or something.”

Yes, Jessica thought, an uneducated sixteen-year-old girl who still played silly little girl games. That’s at least how Uncle George described Nellie in his last letter. But the Radfords loved the little Negro child they had taken from Otto on that cold Christmas Eve in Missouri. “I will try to be a real mother to her,” Ma had said when she brought Nellie to their new home in Kansas. But as far as Jessica was concerned, Nellie was sweet, even though she still acted like a child most of the time.

“Does Nellie understand what this war’s all about?” asked Jessica.

He smiled for the first time. “I reckon so. But she’s not afraid of it. Y’know, that there girl’s got more spunk than all of us put t’gether. Yeah, she’s not afraid of nothin’. Believes God will take care of everything. Y’just have to believe in Jesus, she thinks. Keeps tellin’ me the stranger who saved you’ n her from Sam Toby surely must be in heaven now for all the good he’d done.”

In a flash, Jessica recalled her last conversation with the stranger….

 * * *

“I appreciate your kindness, sir,” she had said, “and I want to thank you for your help. But I don’t even know your name.”

The man paused, his face as solemn as a cemetery. “Ma’am, perhaps you’ve heard about me and the Underground Railroad,” he said calmly. “My name’s John Brown.”

Jessica pressed her fingers around her neck. What good had come out of John Brown’s hanging? People still owned slaves.

Pa stroked his beard and glanced at Jessica. “Collar too tight?”

 “No,” she said, dropping her hand to her lap.

“Say, I’m sure glad yer back—I guess for good now. Sorry Ma and I can’t ’ford to send yuh back now that Adam’s gone.”

“I’m not concerned about that, Pa.” There was no use telling him her hope for a better life and Ma’s dream for her were both shattered. “I guess I could work, but I don’t know if anyone here would want to hire a woman for anything except cooking and cleaning.”

“Well,” Pa said, “yuh kin help us out with the chores. By golly, yer the best field hand I ever had, with the way yuh can shoe a horse or drive a mule. Hope that college of yers didn’ make yuh afraid to use your muscles.”

“I’d like to use my brain muscles for a change.”

“What’s that?”

“Never mind.”

“Yuh know,” Pa said, “in the fall, yuh kin even do some teachin’. Don’t need no diploma to do that, I reckon. Why, yuh kin even get one of them certificates if yuh kin jest read and write.”

“I know that, Pa.”

“Heck, most girls your age never even seen the inside of a college.”

“Ma almost did,” Jessica said, recalling how Ma used to tell her how wonderful it had been meeting Mary Lyon, the founder of the first woman’s college. Back then, Ma wanted to earn a degree and teach college in Massachusetts. Instead, she became Pa’s mail-order bride.

“If your Ma would’ve got college learnin’,” Pa said, “she wouldn’a met me. And then where would yuh be?”

“But Pa, if I had a diploma, I could do a lot more things. Maybe run a business like Uncle Adam wanted me to. Or maybe even become a famous writer. Just think, my book would be in libraries, next to such names as Longfellow, Shakespeare, Bacon, and—”

“I like my bacon with eggs,” Pa laughed, slapping his free hand against his knee.

Jessica let it go. Good thing Ma had pressured him to let her attend Carlotta College in St. Louis. Pa thought education was a waste on women.

By the time they arrived at the Radford homestead, the rim of the sun nestled itself on the roofline of the barn. Cows stood like statues in the field, while Haley, the Radford’s collie chased a jackrabbit toward the creek. Jessica swept her eyes over the homestead, inhaling the memories of her childhood. She and Nellie had helped out in the field while Pa and his farm helpers plowed the ground or harvested the fruit of their labors. Other times they’d rest, enjoying the sunflowers, making mind sculptures out of cloud formations. But one day Sam Toby, a former trusted field hand, had cornered Nellie, Claire, and Jessica in the cornfield when Pa wasn’t around….

Jessica instantly recalled how Ma and Pa used to tell her Nellie would always be a child. It didn’t seem to bother her any, Jessica thought. Maybe she was afraid to leave the new world she had discovered here in Kansas. A safe world. A world where she didn’t have to worry about some cruel slave owner.

“I’ve always liked this spot,” Jessica said, getting off her horse. “Gives me peace of mind just listening to the water rippling down the stream.”

Nellie joined her at the bank. “We used t’go fishin’ here, you’n me. You remember? Done never catch nothing.”

Jessica nodded. “Pa told me later there were no fish there. Made me think there were bass and pike and all kinds of fish in that creek.”

Nellie returned a guarded smile. “You mean your Pa tol’ yah a lie?”

“I wouldn’t call it a lie. He just wanted us to believe in things.”

“Henry says I gotta believe in some things. Like this here pretty medallion he gave me last year.” Nellie removed from around her neck a silver chain that held a round reddish-brown metal object. She showed it to Jessica. “Pa says it’s his favorite Psalm.”

Jessica held the heavy bronze object in her hand. It was plain except for something which was engraved on it. There was just enough light from the setting sun for her to make out the words:

For He has given His angels charge concerning thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

Jessica was about to return it when Nellie asked her to look at the back of it.

On the other side of the half-dollar-sized object was inscribed the name “Nellie Radford.” “Looks like Pa wants to think of you as his own daughter,” Jessica said, smiling as she gave her back the medal. “I guess this makes you an official member of the Radford family.”

Nellie put the chain back on her neck. “He tol’ me that this will keep me from harm. Is believin’ in this a lie, too?”

Jessica gave her a reassuring pat on her leg. “No, we all have to believe in something.”

“Like Jesus? Do you believe like your Ma that if’n we try real hard to be good, He’ll take us to heaven?”

“I don’t know. Pa thinks all we got to do is believe we’re saved and that’s it.”

Nellie smiled at her. “What d’you believe, Jessica? You don’t talk much about God. D’you believe in Him?”

Jessica didn’t have the heart to tell her she didn’t know what she believed in. Maybe Reverend Lightfoot was right. If she read more of the Bible, maybe she’d know for sure. “Well, you know, Nellie, I’m real glad you believe in Jesus. At college, I learned we sometimes have to believe in things we can’t see firsthand, things like beauty and love. We can’t see them, but we know they exist.”

Nellie moved her hand over her braids and cocked her head. “Yer so smart, Jessica, goin’ to college and book learnin’ and everythin’.”

“You don’t have to go to college to be smart. Look at Aunt Penelope. She’s sold her own business in Toledo and is looking for an opportunity to buy another. I don’t feel as smart as that, although I did learn a lot about literature and history.”

“What’s history?”

“History is the story of all of us, going way back. Sometimes, they get it wrong, though. Like I think the students got it all wrong about John Brown. They say he was a murderer and an outlaw. But he saw Negroes as human beings with souls and not as animals that can be sold for money.”

Nellie leaned toward her. “If someone wanted to hurt me, would you kill’im with your gun?”

“That’s a foolish question,” Jessica said. She got up and walked toward her horse. “C’mon. We’d best be going. Getting late. It’s already dark.”

Nellie mounted Blister about the same time Jessica got on Leroy. Blister neighed, and Nellie petted his mane. “Y’know,” Nellie said, “you’re an awful lot like your Ma. She reads a lot. She hates guns like you do.”

Jessica moved her horse closer to Nellie. “I know. Ma made me promise something when she got real sick that time. Remember when the doctor said she might have pneumonia and die? Well, she made me swear that if she passed on, I would never kill anyone because killing is a big sin and we have no right to take a life that God gave. No right at all.”

“But you tol’ me that John Brown gave you Sam Toby’s gun. You aim to keep it?”

“I don’t know.” She pulled out the Colt revolver from the pocket of her dress. “I still got this with me because maybe I’ll need to use it some day. But I don’t want to use it. Not ever. I’m scared even holding it like this.” She put the gun back in her pocket. “Besides, maybe Ma’s right. I don’t want to be responsible for another person dying on my account.”

Oh, dear Claire! I’ve killed you!

Jessica choked. “You’re the only one, Nellie, who knows what really happened that day. You’re the only one. I made you promise not to tell.”

Nellie squinted. Her carefree, pudgy face became serious. “I done keep my promise. But you didn’t mean to kill Claire. You made a mistake.”

“It was an accident,” Jessica corrected. “I know that. Still, I don‘t ever want to use this revolver. Ever.”

“I shore appreciate Sissy savin’ me from Mastah Toby.”

“Nellie! You’re only three years younger than me, and you act like a child. Sissy’s not real!”

Nellie still wore her frightened mask and looked as if she were going to cry. “But she is real. She is! She was there when he had my dress off and she—”

Jessica turned Leroy around. “No good talking about this, Nellie. Happened long ago, anyway. It’s over, and I want to forget it.”

Nellie moved Blister alongside Jessica’s horse. “Jessica, are you mad at me?”

“No, course not. I’m just mad about the way things turn out sometimes. I think we ought to be getting back, though. I don’t want Ma and Pa to think we ran away.”

Nellie laughed. “Yeah, but might be fun if we did.”

They came to a narrow trail and Jessica let Nellie ride ahead of her. Tomorrow, Jessica thought, she’d have to figure out what to do with her life now that she wasn’t going back to school. Pa was right about being able to get a job teaching. Didn’t pay much, but it’d be something. Maybe it’d also give her ideas for writing stories.

She thought she heard men shouting in the distance. Maybe they were jayhawkers making their way to the border, or maybe they were celebrating something. Whatever it was, it needn’t concern her.

A shot rang out, and Blister reared from fright. “Oh, no!” Nellie screamed, kicking the animal with her boots. Blister moved at full gallop, Nellie yelling at the horse to stop. He ran like a runaway train, with Nellie hunched forward, holding the reins.

Jessica raced to catch up, screaming at Nellie to stop. Another shot sliced through the night air.

The nightmare exploded in her mind again, and this time she couldn’t shake it off—

“They’re all dead, rebels got ’em”….

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

What happens next will astound you. The Civil War will become as real to you as if you were actually there. More than that, SISSY! will add a touch of softness to an otherwise brutal conflict. If you will check all the reviews in Amazon you will find reviewers who thought this novel was outstanding. SISSY! also won the J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award. Please go to and order a copy of this book & get a 40% discount off the retail price if you mention you read the first chapter on this blog.

 Read E-Books? Click on: tom mach on your device when you shop for a book and get a list of his superbly enjoyable stories.

Filed under Civil War Perryville Quantrill Qunatrill Sissy Stones River angel literature prose writer author publisher