Tinney Heath, author of A Thing Done (an excellent read, btw), hosted me earlier this week on her blog. I share a bit more about the research behind The Prodigal. Please stop by Tinney’s website (she just returned from another research trip to Italy), and check out her writing as well. Enjoy!

Historical Fiction Research blog


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I’m doing a short blog hop starting today to promote The Prodigal. My first stop is at author Linda Collison’s blog. Linda has written award-winning nautical fiction as well as young adult novels. Please check out her writing, and I hope you enjoy my guest post on her site wherein I discuss how The Prodigal came home.

You can visit her site and see my post at this link:

Keogh - PRODIGAL - Website Cover (600x400)

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The Prodigal has had a facelift! New cover, new lower prices on both paperback and e-book formats! I’m very excited to be able to offer this novel at more affordable prices than before. I hope if you haven’t read The Prodigal, you might reconsider now and take advantage of the new pricing. It’s a fast-paced read with colorful characters.

Click here to purchase.

And stay tuned for upcoming promotions!

Keogh - PRODIGAL - Kindle Cover

A story of relentless pursuit, betrayal, and revenge:

As a young boy Jack Mallory knows horror and desolation when James Logan and his pirates murder his father and abduct his mother. Falsely accused of piracy himself, Jack is thrown into jail. He survives seven years in London’s notorious Newgate prison and emerges a hardened man seeking revenge.

His obsession with finding his mother’s kidnapper drives him to the West Indies where he becomes entangled with a fiery young woman named Maria Cordero. With a score of her own to settle with James Logan, she disguises her gender and blackmails Jack into taking her aboard his pirate brig, Prodigal, in his desperate search for Logan. Their tumultuous relationship simmers while Jack formulates a daring plan to rescue his mother and exact revenge upon Logan for destroying his family. But Logan has no intentions of losing what he now treasures more than life itself–Jack’s mother, Ella.

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This is Part 3 of my ongoing series of excerpts from Borden Hicks’ personal account in Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle. Borden Hicks was a humorous young officer in the 11th Michigan Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War. The 11th Michigan is the regiment chronicled in my upcoming novel, The Edge of Hell.



In December we started out on the Stone River campaign under the command of General Rosecrans. We marched towards Franklin, and then turned at right angles and marched across the country, and on the morning of the 30th were in line of battle in front of Murfreesboro. Our skirmishers were in the timber in our front. Soon a stretcher was seen coming from the skirmish line, and our first man killed was brought in, a lieutenant from Company F. As we looked on his still form, we realized what war meant. Our cheeks paled as we viewed our first sacrifice for our country.

On December 31 we held a position to the right of the railroad in a cleared field. Instead of taking a position in the timber in our front, we lay in the open field, on the side sloping towards the enemy, when we could have been protected by moving back a couple of rods, and getting below the crest or rise in the ground.

This was our first big battle and our line had to be kept straight. At daylight the Confederates charged our lines in massed columns. Away to our right our forces commenced to give way, finally reaching us, and we too had to fall back to the railroad cut. Here we reformed our lines, and took position in front of two six-gun batteries. The enemy was coming, the guns were loaded with grape and canister, and fired over our heads as we lay on the ground. The concussion from twelve guns just back of us and over our heads was terrific and affected our ears. It caused mine to ring, and they have been ringing ever since. I mention this fact as a basis for a pension. From here we charged into the cedar thicket, repulsing the so-far-victorious enemy, and leaving our front clear.

That night we moved to our left near Stone River, and on January 1 made a charge across the river with the 19th Illinois, capturing a battery and a number of prisoners. This charge was made famous by George F. Root, composing and dedicating to the 19th Illinois, the song entitled “Who Will Save the Left?” The reverses of the first day had been overcome by the victories of the second, the enemy had retired, and the field of battle was ours, and we were at liberty to move forward.


The army now moved up to, and around Murfreesboro. The 78th Pennsylvania and our regiment were detailed as provost guards, with our Colonel Stoughton as provost marshal. Each company was assigned a private dwelling house as quarters. This duty was not very strenuous, and we rather enjoyed it for the five months that General Rosecrans now took to prepare his army for a forward movement.

While stationed at Murfreesboro, my father came down to visit us. I made up a party to visit the battlefield of Stone River, getting horses to ride. I had just blossomed out in a new uniform, with lieutenant’s shoulder straps as large and gaudy as could be bought. I had never been noted for my horsemanship, and the farther we rode the more my pants insisted on crawling up my legs, and reached high water mark. As we rode through the camp of a cavalry regiment, they commenced to guy me, by calling out, “Pull down your pants, Lieutenant, pull down your pants!” Whenever I had occasion after that to ride a horse, I went afoot.


In June we started on the Chattanooga Campaign. Previous to this time we had the pleasure, as well as duty, of escorting [noted Copperhead, Clement] Vanlandingham through our lines, and turning him over to his avowed friends, our enemy.

We had a small engagement at Duck River, and then were stationed for a time at Cowan, on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railway, to guard a tunnel. This must have been the place where two Irishmen were looking at the tunnel. When a train came along and dashed into it, Mike says to Pat, “What are yez thinking about?” and Pat replied, “I was wondering what would have happened if the cars had missed the hole.”

We remained here till the army was ready to cross the Tennessee River. We crossed at Bridgeport, about the 1st of September. We made our way slowly up and over Sand Mountain, and one bright morning, the 8th of September, we chopped out the roads leading down the east side of Lookout Mountain, and, about two o’clock p.m., arrived in the valley at McLemore’s Cove, the first troops of the XIV Army Corps to arrive in the face of the enemy. We were ordered back that night by General Negley to the top of Lookout Mountain and arrived there at two a.m. On the 9th the regiment with the balance of the brigade and followed by the whole division again descended into the valley. Here we soon found that we were confronted by General Longstreet’s corps, so thinking discretion was the better part of valor, we fell back to the foot of the mountain where we threw up temporary works at what is known as Davis Cross Roads. Our division was ordered to fall back in echelon, which was done in a most masterly and successful manner, our brigade had a sharp and decisive fight at this point.

We had thrown off our knapsacks in order to work more freely. I had hung my haversack on the limb of a tree. We were ordered to fall back and take position behind one of the other brigades. The enemy were so close on us that the boys left their knapsacks and never saw one again while in the service. I had gotten back about two or three rods when I realized that I had deserted my base of supplies, so back I charged into the teeth of the enemy and snatched my haversack from the teeth of the enemy. This was a very brave and heroic deed, and yet it was not reported to the General Commanding, neither had Congress ever voted me a Medal of Honor, and no song has even been dedicated entitled, “Oh, Save My Knapsack.”

The various skirmishes and battles took time and gave General Rosecrans a chance to concentrate his army in defense of Chattanooga, the goal for which we started when we commenced the campaign, as when we first came into the valley, our army was spread out to the north and south some sixty miles.

(Next time: the battle of Chickamauga.)

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This is Part 2 of my ongoing series of excerpts from Borden Hicks’s personal account in Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle. Borden Hicks was a humorous young officer in the 11th Michigan Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War. The 11th Michigan is the regiment chronicled in my upcoming novel, The Edge of Hell.



We landed in Louisville, Kentucky, in December, 1861, with our knapsacks. Oh no! We did not forget our knapsacks with all that they contained, besides some things strapped on the outside. They were not heavy when we started, but when we had marched from the river’s front to the outskirts of the city, some six or seven miles, they weighed a ton, on Fairbanks scales. Here we went into camp, our first experience under canvas. Our quartermaster had drawn our camp equipage, which not only embraced everything known for camp life at that time, but also five Sibley tents to each company. After many a mishap, we finally got our five tents in a line as straight as a rail fence. As we looked inside of the tents, our future homes, we wondered what we were going to sleep on. No feather beds, not even straw. Did the government expect us to sleep on the bare ground? One old man who had seen service in the Mexican War assured us that soldiers in the field always slept on the ground. That settled it, and we bravely though with much discomfort carried out his assertion–our first night under canvas.

In a few days we were ordered to Bardstown, Kentucky. This was a two-day’s march. When we thought of our sore experience in carrying knapsacks through the city of Louisville, we informed the Captain that we did not enlist to be a government pack mule, and that he must hire a farmer to haul our knapsacks, or we would break our guns around a tree, and go right home. Our Captain very graciously listened to our terms and hired a team (pity we could not have gone that way all through the war). As we entered the town, we marched past the general-in-command, in company front, as our adjutant who had seen service in the Mexican War knew what was proper and according to Scott’s Tactics gave the command “Present arms” and thus we marched by, to the amusement of the other regiments that were looking on.


At this place the very mild form of “chicken pox” (at least that is what the surgeon called it to allay our fears) that had bothered us in our camp at White Pigeon broke out in the genuine small-pox, and we were quarantined in a camp all by our lonesome, where we lost more men by measles and small-pox than from all other causes during our term of service.


From Bardstown we were ordered over onto the Louisville & Nashville Railway to do guard duty on that line. Here we relieved the 3rd Minnesota; our stations were from Shepherdsville on the Salt River to Bowling Green.


Late in the spring of 1862, we took boats at Louisville and steamed down the Ohio River and up the Cumberland to Nashville. We marched out as far as Columbia on the Duck River, then back to Nashville, then to Murfreesborough, where we arrived the next day or two after the surrender of the 3rd Minnesota and the 9th Michigan, then back again to Nashville. We made one raid all over Kentucky after John Morgan, but it was a case of infantry chasing cavalry–the bird had always flown just before we got there.


Our first battle was a bloodless one, so far as we knew. It was at Galatin, Tennessee, on the Louisville & Nashville Railway. We were loaded on flat coal cars and, arriving at the supposed camp of the enemy, were disembarked and formed in an open field, where we could see the town in the distance. We saw, or thought we saw, some men between us and the town. We blazed away at them with our Belgian muskets. The section of artillery that we had with us threw solid shot and shells at them. The firing hurt us sorely and frightened the enemy if there was one, so that they ran away, taking their dead and wounded with them. At least that is what we claimed, as no dead or wounded were left for us to take care of. Our men broke into stores, and as usual loaded up with some things they could not carry. I do not mean the liquid stores, but rather heavy articles such as grindstones, anvils, and the like.


About this time we were brigaded with the 69th and 18th Ohio, and the 19th Illinois, to be known as the 29th Brigade.


We formed a part of General Negley’s division and were assigned the duty of defending Nashville while Generals Buell and Bragg made their running fight up to Louisville and back. We were shut off from communication with the North for about 90 days, and had to forage from the surrounding country for most of our supplies. During one of these foraging expeditions, we had a little fight at Fort Riley.

(Next time: “Battle of Stone River.”)

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While researching the 11th Michigan Volunteer Infantry for my Civil War novel, The Edge of Hell, I came to know many names/personalities from the ranks of the regiment. One of the most memorable and entertaining was a young man in Company E–Borden M. Hicks, or Bird, as he was apparently called by others. John Downey, another member of the regiment, described Borden as a “smooth-faced, green looking boy.” Borden may have been boyish in appearance, but by the time he left the regiment with the rank of captain three years after his enlistment he was a mature, war-weary man of twenty-one years.

It was after the war that he wrote an account of his experiences, and this was read before the Minnesota Commandery of the Military Order of the the Loyal Legion of the United States, November 17, 1907. This narrative easily reveals Bordon’s sense of humor, one that no doubt was responsible for helping him survive the horrors of Civil War combat in places like Stone’s River, Chickamauga, and the Atlanta Campaign. Borden was there for some of America’s most important crucibles, and lived to tell the tale.

This will be the first part of a series that I will be reproducing here, for the knowledge and entertainment of others, of Borden’s speaking engagement that day long ago. First-person accounts like these make the job of researching a joy. They put flesh and blood on the memories of those who preserved the country that we know today. Borden’s narrative of joining the service, told in this first part, tells a tale that was reflective of thousands of other boys, North and South, at the start of the war, including resistance from parents when enlisting as well as a naivete about what lay ahead.

Without further adieu, I give you the incomparable Borden “Bird” Hicks in his own words:

Commander, companions, and the guests of the Commandery:

I have no apology to make for this paper, but give you fair warning, that there will be no display of rhetoric, well-rounded sentences, or flights of eloquence.

I beg you to overlook the numerous repetitions of the personal pronoun, for how could it be otherwise in a paper of personal recollections, than that I should be the most important person.


Now look pleasant, don’t heave a long sigh, and nudge your neighbor and say we are in for it again.

A certain farmer was ploughing a field with a yoke of oxen, the off ox would not follow the furrow without lots of persuasion, and finally the farmer lost his patience, and said, go where you damn please, the whole field has got to be ploughed anyway; and so on this occasion, the causes of the war have got to be given, for who would attempt the writing of a paper on war, without giving it a proper setting.

I don’t think it would be making too broad an assertion, when I say that I know as much about the causes of the war of the rebellion, as ninety out of every one hundred men who took part in it.

When the Star of the West, loaded with reinforcements and supplies for Major Anderson at Fort Sumter, was fired on in the harbor of Charleston, I was a school boy not quite seventeen. I had heard of the Missouri Compromise, Masons and Dixons Line, the underground railway to Canada and John Brown’s raid. Yet all of these events did not make me lose my head, or fire with a desire to clean out the South. I kept on with my school (my mother insisted on my attending school regularly) till the end of the term. I heard the shrill notes of the fife, the rattling of the snare drum, saw the boys marching up and down the street and heard the drill master shout in clarion tones, “Left–left–left,” then, and not till then, did I realize that our Southern brothers were causing an unholy war. My heart was set on fire with an intense desire and longing to serve my country, to go down south into Dixie land, and shoot those misguided southern “fire-eaters” back into the Union. Not a bit of it. Rather, my heart was on fire with an intense desire and longing to be a soldier. All I wanted was a chance to don a uniform, to march and fight, to do some heroic deed and come back home and be admired by the girls, as a hero. Was not that patriotism?

I have been very explicit in setting forth the causes of the war, and hope that you will pardon me for going into this much-discussed subject so thoroughly.


Before I go farther, I want to give my obituary notice, as I may not escape from this audience alive.

I enlisted in June, 1861, at the age of seventeen; was mustered into the United States service for three years, or during the war on the 24th day of August, as duty sergeant in Company E, Eleventh Michigan Volunteer Infantry, was promoted to Second Lieutenant at the Battle of Stone River, at age eighteen and to Captain at Chickamauga at nineteen; was discharged on account of expiration of term of service the 13th day of September, 1864, at Sturgis, Michigan, being then twenty years old.


After becoming so proficient in the school of the soldier that it was possible to put the left foot forward at the command march, and to distinguish between the right and left without too long a deliberation, we were ordered to join the regiment at its rendezvous at White Pigeon, Michigan, about the 15th of August. Everything had gone smoothly up to this time, and now my father stepped in and said, “I will not consent to your going,” so I arranged with the Captain to send a Corporal of the Guard to my home and arrest me. Well do I remember as we marched out of the front gate, my father saying that by this act I ceased to be a son of his, and that from now on he disowned me. But when I was made a Second Lieutenant, he was so proud of his son that he made me a visit at Murfreesboro. We were mustered into the service August 24th, 1861, for three years, or during the war. Many a warm discussion did we have over what “during the war” meant, the majority insisting that it meant if the war lasted longer than three years, we would have to stay till the end. But that interpretation of the enlistment clause did not bother us, as we were only fearful that we would not get south before the war end.


Here our uniforms were issued, dress coats with brass shoulder scales (frying pans as we called them), not only foraging caps, but the tall, stiff black hat. As no chevrons were issued to us we bought tape and put them on ourselves, not quite as artistic as the government issue, but they told the onlookers that we were officers, and did not belong to the common herd. Then we asked for furloughs to go home, and see the girls in our new togery, and when we got there we made a beeline for the photographers, and did not rest till we had our pictures taken in all the panoply of war. They were distributed not only to our best girl, but to all who asked for them.

Here we drew our first arms, consisting of a good heavy hickory club, to do guard duty with, and we respected those clubs in the hands of a uniformed soldier of Uncle Sam, far more than we did the Springfield rifle loaded with ball cartridge after we had been in the service a year.

Just before “entraining,” that is what they call it now, but then it was taking the cars, the Belgian musket was issued to us, the gun that we feared more than we did the rebels, as it was sure to hit us every time it was fired, whether the three buckshot and round ball with which it was loaded hit what we aimed at or not.

(Next time: “In Dixies Land.”)

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ARE WE THERE YET? Travel Times in the Dark Ages

Today’s guest post is from Kim Rendfeld, who writes historical novels set far, far before my Jack Mallory series. Today, Kim gives the modern-day reader an idea of some of the challenges people in the Dark Ages faced just to get from Point A to Point B.

Kim R

Kim Rendfeld was drawn to the days of Charlemagne by a legend but stayed for the history. Her published novels are The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press), about a noblewoman contending with a jilted suitor and the possibility of her husband falling in battle, and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (2014, Fireship Press), about a peasant who will go to great lengths to protect her children – after losing everything else. She is working on her third novel, which is about Fastrada, Charlemagne’s strong-willed, influential queen when his eldest son tried to stage a coup.

One question constantly causes me to pause writing my novel set in eighth century Francia and do research: how long does it take to get from Point A to Point B?

The answer: it depends. Are the characters traveling by foot, horse, or ox cart? Are any of them sick or pregnant? At which cities or abbeys will they stop to rest their animals for three days? Does anyone break a wheel? If the characters are in a hurry (a rarity in the Middle Ages), are they changing horses? Can they afford to? And do they know how to get to their destination?


A journey in the Dark Ages was more miserable than the middle seat in coach. Travelers had no weather forecast, and they risked being waylaid by bandits. As they traversed wilderness, the folk would have been terrified of otherworldly creatures, especially at night. The food was awful, often a type of hard bread edible only when softened with water to the texture of leather.

On top of all that, progress was slow. Charlemagne’s armies typically went only twelve to fifteen miles per day. The animals they used for transport would need to rest and eat around midday. Think of it as the equivalent of filling up the gas tank.

To calculate travel times in my novels, I use maps in my reference books and Google maps. Sometimes, I will redraw Google’s route so that it more closely resembles the roads and the cities that existed at the time. (Yes, Google, I know your way is faster, but I’m not interested in that right now.)

Kim Cover



If the distance is great, the trek really is a combination of several trips, with three days at a civilized place to rest horse, mule, or ox. So a list for journey from Nevers to Le Mans—which my characters undertake in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar—reads Nevers to Bourges, three to five days; three days of rest; Bourges to Orleans, about five days; three days of rest. You get the idea.

Today, a drive between those two French cities might take less than four hours. In the Dark Ages, people could be on the road for almost a month. And that reality can lead to conversations like this from Ashes, where my heroine’s son is trying to get to Le Mans to rescue his family from slavery, but he is way off course at Saint Riquier Abbey:

“Where is Le Mans?” Deorlaf grumbled. “The guard at Orleans said to go to Paris. The guard at Paris said to go to Orleans, but we had just been to Orleans, so that could not be right. The priest at Reims said go to Laon. And no one here knows anything.”

“Perhaps we have not reached it yet,” Ives said.

“But my sister said it would take a month to reach Le Mans from Nevers. It’s been well over a month.”

Learn more at or visit Kim’s blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at

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