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Wednesday, October 05, 2016

An interview with Peter Grant

Now that BRINGS THE LIGHTNING is out in all four formats, hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook, and is available on Kindle Unlimited as well, it seems a propitious time to link to this excellent interview of author Peter Grant by Scott Cole of Castalia House. The level of knowledge that Grant has about the weapons of the period, and the amount of research he puts into his books, are truly astounding. - VD

Scott Cole: How did you decide to base your first Western novel on Walt’s demobilization, journey home, and quest to find a new life in a changed world?

Peter Grant: A lot of this was personal experience. I’ve been in military service, and experienced demobilization, a journey home, and having to start all over again. I knew that hundreds of thousands have had to do the same thing after almost every war in history. I researched the stories of both Union and Confederate veterans, and found they shared similar experiences. Also, the corruption, attacks on returning Confederates by both official and ‘unofficial’ enemies such as bushwhackers, etc. are all documented in books and narratives of the period. It was a logical step to make this the beginning of my novel.

Q. Is Walt’s character based on historical figures or is he your Western alter-ego?

Walt is entirely based on historical figures. Some were Southern veterans who became first guerrillas, then outlaws, such as the James gang. Others are based on veterans from both the North and the South who wrote about their experiences of coming home after the war, then heading west to make a fresh start. I have no alter ego in the book at all.

Q. You mentioned that you fired many of the weapons mentioned in the book. Were these updated versions of the original models or part of private collections that survived the years?

These were original weapons that had survived the wars in Southern Africa. I’ve fired original versions of Colt’s 1861 Army and 1873 revolvers, Winchester Model 1873 and 1886 rifles, and the Winchester Model 1887 lever-action shotgun. All were in private collections.

Q. Walt does a good job in explaining the advantages and disadvantages of various firearms in the book. Then again, he had a lot of them. If you had to choose only one pistol and one long rifle to equip yourself with in that time what would you choose and why? Would you make different choices if you were equipping yourself for the African bush?

Good question. If I were in Walt’s shoes, I’d have gone with the choices he made, for the same reasons: the Remington revolver and the Henry rifle. Both were suitable for the plains. I’d have liked a heavier rifle as well, to handle buffalo on the plains and bear, etc. in the mountains, but if I was limited to one rifle, the Henry would be it, because it would be so much more useful in combat to have its rapid rate of fire and large magazine capacity.

If I were to pick one of each for Africa, during the period when it was still wild and filled with very dangerous animals, the revolver would be the same, but the rifle would unquestionably have to be a much more powerful weapon. Don’t forget, African dangerous game is much larger and more powerful than those in North America. I’d pick a European big-caliber rifle, probably (in the days of blackpowder propellant) an eight-gauge or even a four-gauge muzzle-loading weapon. That would have obvious limitations in its speed of reloading, etc., but it would have the power to take down the largest African animals, unlike any American rifle of the period. If dangerous animals were less of a factor, I might consider a repeating rifle; but all of the cartridges during the period in which this novel is set (mid to late 1860’s) weren’t very efficient or powerful. If we were in the 1870’s, I’d take the Winchester 1876 rifle with its .45-75 cartridge, or, a bit later, the Winchester 1886 in .45-70. By the 1890’s I’d take a European bolt-action repeater with a smokeless round; the British Lee-Metford, the German Mauser, etc.

Q. Why were the cartridges so weak and inefficient in the mid to late 1860’s? Cost savings by manufacturers or just the technology at the time?

The cartridges were weak for two reasons.

The technology to produce metal cartridges was brand-new and in its infancy. Extruded brass was unknown; cartridges had to be formed from a sheet of the metal, with consequent weaknesses at the seams. This meant that if a powerful propellant load was used, it risked rupturing the case; so all early cartridges were relatively lightly loaded. For example, the Henry rifle (and its immediate successor, the Winchester Model of 1866) used a powder charge of only 25 to 28 grains, less than many handguns of the day. The Winchester 1873 used 40 grains – an improvement, but not greatly. It took until the 1870’s for more powerful cartridges such as the .50-70 and the later, more efficient .45-70 (and their larger, longer cousins) to be developed.

During the 1860’s, the centerfire primer had not yet been invented; all early cartridges were rimfire, like modern .22LR, or pinfire. This meant that ignition was less reliable. It also meant that the bases of the cartridges were less strong, as their rims had to be hollow to accommodate the priming compound and/or the pin. It took until the 1870’s for central primers to be developed (most notably the Berdan and Boxer priming systems). That, in turn, allowed for solid rims that were stronger.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Mighty Lou October 05, 2016 8:05 AM  

Thanks for this great interview. I can't wait for the next Walt Ames book.

Blogger Ben Cohen October 05, 2016 8:30 AM  

Just purchased this and started reading it. Even after reading only a few pages you realize the level of detail that Ames put into the book.

Please make more westerns.

Anonymous Determinator October 05, 2016 8:38 AM  

I just got KU. This book is next in the hopper.

Blogger JaimeInTexas October 05, 2016 8:40 AM  

Ok. I have procrastinating. Tonight I will be buying and reading the book.

Anonymous Dave October 05, 2016 9:50 AM  

Q. Finally, what would you most like to get across to the reader to look out for when they read Brings the Lightning? Anything the reader should keep in the back of his mind while reading?

I’ve tried to make “Brings the Lightning” as historically authentic as I possibly could. So many Westerns today are thinly disguised romance or erotica novels – a complete departure from the historical norm for the genre. Others focus on immensely high body counts, ridiculously so, seeking to shock and titillate through violence rather than portray the era accurately. I tried to avoid all those traps. Unfortunately, political correctness has made it impossible to use much of the language of the period, including terms related to race, tribe, etc., without giving serious offense to many. This hampered my work for a long time, until I decided that I had no choice but to accept a certain lack of authenticity in my language.


Vox, I'd love to see the politically incorrect version of this novel and/or the next Ames story. I'd imagine the Vikings will win a SB before it ever happens (I'm an Eagles fan so I feel your pain) but why can't you slap a warning label on it similar to what they have done with music or video games. Do it.

Anonymous Napoleon 12pdr October 05, 2016 9:52 AM  

I'm not sure I'd go with a Henry, simply due to availability of ammunition. Not in 1865-66. A Maynard, perhaps, because its cartridges were externally primed and reloadable.

Blogger buwaya October 05, 2016 1:58 PM  

In case anyone cares for historical armaments trivia -
There were indeed fairly powerful rifles firing center-fire cartridges available in the 1860's, notably the .577 Snider and the US 1866 Allin conversion of the Springfield. The Snider took @ 70grains of black powder and did well over 1100f/s with, of course, a huge 400+gr bullet. The US 50/70 government was similarly powerful.
The Franco-Prussian war (1870) had both sides armed with paper-cartridge breech loading rifles, but the French did also use a very large number of center-fire, brass cartridge "Tabatiere" rifles, a Snider-like conversion of their old muzzle loading arms, as well as a host of foreign import cartridge arms, nearly all American.
The first war fought on both sides armed (nearly) entirely with center fire rifles using brass cartridge cases was probably the Spanish Third Carlist war of 1872-76, on the government side with Spanish Remington rolling-blocks (mod 1867) in .43/77 (very comparable with the 45/70), and the Carlists used mainly Franco-Prussian war surplus US-made Allin-conversion 1866 Springfields in 50/70.

Blogger buwaya October 05, 2016 2:17 PM  

And for that matter, there were the Sharps rifles that also used the US 50/70 and were quite popular.

A very plausible competitor for a Henry would be an ex-military Spencer, with a seven-shot magazine (some ended up in France in 1870, and apparently, even in Spain). That was a more powerful cartridge than the Henry.

Blogger Ben Cohen October 05, 2016 2:18 PM  

Anyone here watch hell on wheels? Is it historically accurate?

Anonymous Napoleon 12pdr October 05, 2016 7:42 PM  

Concur on the Spencer. The Remington is an outstanding revolver, though. Rugged and fearfully accurate. My originals will shoot about 1.5 inches at 25 yards.

Blogger JWM October 06, 2016 12:49 AM  

I very much enjoyed "Brings the Lightning", although I did find the pc language jarring at times. Small quibble for a great story. Also, if you haven't visited Peter Grant's Blog, "Bayou Renaissance Man" you owe it to yourself to stop by. It has become one of my several times a day stops on the internet.

JWM

Anonymous A Paradigm Is More Than Twenty Cents October 06, 2016 12:54 AM  

Peter Grant
Others focus on immensely high body counts, ridiculously so, seeking to shock and titillate through violence rather than portray the era accurately.

The movie Open Range is quite exciting, but nothing like it ever happened in the old West. Grant is correct to avoid both erotica and high body count.

"Deadliest men" by Paul Kirchner has some examples of gunfights in that time period, along with a lot of other periods. He also wrote a book on Bowie knife techniques.

Blogger JohnG October 06, 2016 1:43 AM  

Mostly accurate - the charges weren't light necessarily because of the construction of the case... There's a limit to the explosive power of black powder and your case is of a limited size: You can't just pack more powder into the case (it'll spill out), you'd have to compress it and then you're running into pressure vs. design/metallurgy issues, which can be bad for the weapon, and therefore bad for your hands and face. With the 1860 cap and ball revolvers (beautiful guns) you can (they did) make paper cartridges (a cigarette paper, filled with powder glued to the ball) - you just drop it in the cylinder and ram the ball down, but if there was too much powder, you're breaking your cartridge and spilling powder everywhere...

Anonymous jOHN MOSBY October 06, 2016 4:28 AM  

Do I have to buy Castalia's books through Amazon only ?
I really don't like Bezos, and I'd much rather buy it direct from the publisher. Btw Vox, I bought Rebel Moon at the Dollar General store for a dollar, and I gifted it to my 12 year old niece. She loved it !

Anonymous jOHN MOSBY October 06, 2016 4:32 AM  

" I'm not sure I'd go with a Henry,"
I love the yellaboy, old or new.

Anonymous jOHN MOSBY October 06, 2016 4:41 AM  

Peter is a great dude. I read his blog, but don't comment there. (Lucky him, eh ? )

Anonymous Dick Hertz October 07, 2016 4:05 AM  

@13
It seems to me I've read of a technique of making paper cartridges using very thin paper, moistened with water that had saltpeter dissolved in it, then carefully dried. The saltpeter is an oxidizer which helps the paper ignite more reliably when exposed to sparks and flame from the percussion cap, which helps the powder charge ignite more reliably as well; it also helps the paper burn more completely and thoroughly with less ash and residue left in the revolver's chambers. Sooty fouling was the bane of black powder revolvers and I have read of modern reproductions so tightly fitted, with such narrow gaps between barrel and cylinder, that after firing twelve rounds the cylinder can no longer rotate due to the coating of soot causing mechanical interference.

I am fascinated by arms of that era and frequently consider buying one of the modern Italian copies of the Remington 1858 .44 revolver, but I'd have nowhere to shoot it. I live in an area where the only places to shoot within driving distance are indoor handgun ranges, and they take a very dim view of people setting off charcoal-burners in their range. Apparently it does very bad things to their air filtration system. This also makes it difficult to practice with rifles, beyond what little one can do with reduced-scale targets at 25 yards indoors.

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