Research and Development

Book Secrets

LIFE MAGAZINE excerpt, “An Epilogue”





“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

 –President John F. Kennedy


Immersion in the culture, politics, and still riveting mysteries of the Sixties enlightens and unsettles, but it sure makes for an interesting workday.

Every storyteller reaches back to their own era of arrival for deep sensual memories. My era happens is the sixties. When I decided to set my first novel in the decade, I was thrilled to realize there is no shortage of material. It is a darling of historians. William O’Neill called it, Coming Apart. Todd Gitlin said it was, Years of Hope, Days of Rage.  Brokaw just labeled it, Boom! How could I study work like that and not get hooked?

For me, a little truth and history makes good fiction superior. Draft one of No One Can Know centered on a twelve-year-old girl named Ivy Jean growing up in central Texas in 1964.  She has a bizarre encounter with secret agents during a weekend at her rich uncle’s ranch. Real live assassins and dime novel spies get mixed up in her head and she makes a decision that nearly topples the family.

Which led me to read up on the 1964 version of spies, and eventually led to Mark Lane’s Plausible Denial. Fascinating stuff. Really.

During the early stages, if someone asked about my book, I tried to sum it up but didn’t have that two-sentence pitch formed yet. I did a horrible job. I’m familiar with focus groups. Wandering eyes, new drinks ordered is a clue. Until I’d mention the girl’s uncle is riding the coattails of family friend LBJ, now America’s President. Ears perked up when real events came up. Cognitive reaction, engagement; boom. I’m not the only one still wondering who really killed JFK.

Of course I picked up Seymour Hersh’s, The Dark Side of Camelot. The title simply tantalized, and while it has been largely debunked since, Hersh demonstrates that Camelot was simply ‘spin,’ masking the underbelly of government. Up to this point my impressions of JFK had always hovered around his womanizing, conduct I find particularly unappealing, and I didn’t want to be a Camelot junkie – but it’s what I am. It’s an addiction. My bookshelves are packed with glamorous picture books about JFK and Jackie, amid the political and social circles of their reign.

Research impacted the plotting of my book in a strong way. I read Dick Russell’s On the Trail of the JFK Assassins, then Larry Hancock’s Someone Would Have Talked. and my next two drafts emerged darker. Ivy’s arc was still primary but the plot was taking on metaphorical depth and needed other voices, so I added backstory and conflict to the character named Haines. He’s the old Cold War spy trying to retire who, by coincidence, was a bystander in Dealy Plaza during the motorcade.

Now I had many more questions than answers and just kept digging. In 2009 I stumbled on James W. Douglass’ remarkable masterpiece: JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters.

Douglass cover

I was immediately engaged with the notion that JFK, a new dad, turned toward peace. The vision marked him for elimination. This was the time of big bombs. The bigger the better. Peace is not profitable. This compelling approach took me down dark paths of understanding. I studied the book like a scholar. Including a hundred pages of footnotes.

Ivy’s story, my research, and my future as a writer transformed.

One reviewer said Douglass’ book “…should be required reading for all high school and college students, and anyone who is a registered voter.” I agree.

“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

— President John F. Kennedy, commencement address at American University, May 1963



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