Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The subject of gun control resurfaces from time to time, usually when something horrible has happened. The latest tragedy in Connecticut is the most horrific that I can recall. Rather than offer the standard condolences to the victims’ families, I’d like to posit that when something like this happens it’s a tragedy for everyone. It isn’t just something horrible that happens to somebody else. It’s an indication that something is dreadfully wrong in our society.
In my opinion the endless debate about gun control is missing the point entirely, which is why is this even happening in the first place? The simplistic answer is that guns are cheap and easily available. However, the sad fact is that banning guns won’t do much to stop a truly determined psychopath. Somebody has already offered Timothy McVeigh as evidence for that one.
The uncomfortable fact is that tragedies like this happen on a fairly regularly basis here in the Land of the Free, but pretty much not at all anywhere else. (I think there might have been an incident in a German school several years ago.) It can’t be attributed simply to the presence or absence of guns. For example, the Swiss have guns in their homes. Men between the ages of 19 and 35 must serve in the Army and they keep their guns at home. Yet murders are so rare that they make front-page news. In the entire decade I was in Bern, the capital of the country, there was exactly one murder. A deranged man ambushed a girl walking home from the train station and stabbed her to death. It was front-page news all over Switzerland, and it had been more than ten years since the previous murder in Bern. And it didn’t have politicians clamoring to ban knives.
I don’t have any theories about this, except that Europeans in general and the Swiss in particular are extraordinarily formal and so polite that they seem positively frosty by our standards. They are generally well-educated, don’t watch much TV, and the consumerism so rampant over here hasn’t made many inroads in Europe, except maybe Britain.
In the meantime, here’s something that should make you very, very worried. According to the Huffington Post, Arkansas has officially become a police state. You will be stopped and questioned simply for walking your dog. I don’t live in Arkansas and don’t plan to go there any time soon, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t a good thing.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Please excuse the prolonged absence. I try, but sometimes life gets in the way. Things have calmed down some, so hopefully I'm back for a while. In the meantime, here's a link to a lovely little review (in French, sorry about that) by French sci-fi blogger Spocky Qui Lit. http://spocky-qui-lit.blogspot.com/2012/11/au-rapport-mr-spock-2.html

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Check out the September 2012 issue of The Dallas Writer's Journal! They published a fun little sci-fi short story that I wrote a while back. It's called "Toby's New Home". You can read it online here--go to page 8.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The sneak preview to my upcoming book is here! It's called The Science Professor's Ghost and the first chapter is available here. I hope you enjoy this preview. The book will be out in a few weeks, in plenty of time for Halloween.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bad mojo

A couple of weeks ago I went ghost hunting with a friend in one of several small towns known as “The Most Haunted Town in Texas”. This particular little town isn’t very happy about its haunted reputation, so I won’t tell you where it is. I will tell you, however, that it’s not Jefferson.

My friend and I went alone, during the day, to the site of a house that was deliberately burned to the ground some years ago. So many bad things happened there that the owners finally decided just to torch the place. There’s nothing left now of the house except a few traces of the foundations and a dead tree, scorched black on one side. This was the first time I’ve ever done an investigation in the day time, and was certainly the first and probably my only occasion to conduct an investigation while wearing a skirt and sandals. Which might have been a mistake, judging from the number of bug bites I ended up with. But in retrospect I’m relieved we weren’t dumb enough go to there after dark. There’s no amount of money that would get me to go back to this place again in broad daylight, let alone at night.
I’m the first to admit that I’m a die-hard skeptic. However, it’s not the first time I’ve gone into a place that had a decidedly bad vibe. There was something darkly evil about this place, even under a blazing Texas sun at mid-day. It was a perfectly bright, cloudless day, and we had a decidedly Hollywood-esque moment when a stiff wind started up just as we announced we were leaving. I chalked it up to my overactive imagination until I finally got around to listening for EVPs a couple of days later, when what I heard gave me the creepy-crawlies. (Note to self: never listen to evidence just before going to bed.)

My intent in posting this is not to tell you a ghost hunting story. I just want to point out that there are some places that seem to harbor bad vibes. One could argue that the place has negative energy because of the bad things that have happened there. But you could make an equally convincing argument that maybe the bad things happen there because the place has bad energy. I’d be really interested to hear if anybody has anything to add on this subject.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who are the Big 6 publishers?

To continue my commentary about the indie press vs the Big Guys, I thought it might be helpful to know exactly who the Big Six publishing houses are. This is something you need to know if you have written a book and want to see it in bookstores, as almost all of the books in a brick and mortar bookstore are published by one of the Big 6 publishing houses. No doubt you’ll recognize the names of all of them:

Simon & Schuster
Harper Collins
Random House

It may say something else on the spine and copyright page of the book. That’s because books are published under an imprint, the trade name under which the book is published. Sometimes an imprint is a business entity that comes under umbrella of the parent company. For example, many smaller publishing companies live on in name, despite having been absorbed into a larger company. But an imprint may just be a name that the parent company uses. A random check of books on my shelf that came from Borders (may they rest in peace) or Barnes and Noble turns up the following imprints:

St. Martin’s - owned by Macmillan
Signet - parent company Penguin
Berkeley - Penguin
Ace - Penguin, via Berkeley
Dell - Random House

I found one exception among my books: the surprise best-seller, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is published by Quirk books. The aptly named Quirk is an imprint of Harlequin, which is owned by Torstar, a Canadian company that publishes newspapers, including the Toronto Star. They’re not exactly a boutique publisher. In case you’re interested, a quick search of Wikipedia will get you a list of the Big 6 publishers’ imprints.

Independent and specialty bookstores are typically more flexible than the big bookstores (bookstore?) about carrying works by indie publishers. I define “independent publisher” here as any publishing company that’s not one of the Big 6 or their imprints. Some of them are niche-market publishers that may or may not actively solicit submissions. You’ll sometimes hear the term “boutique publisher” or “boutique press”, which I think has a nice ring to it. If you decide to self-publish, by default you become a publisher.

The defenders of the status quo like to deride independent publishers, calling them “vanity press”. To me this sounds a little bit like whistling in the dark. Unfortunately, I can understand where this comes from. I’ve seen independently published books that are simply dreadful. This is not always the case, though, and I’ll discuss this in more depth in a future post.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

While we're on the subject

Just a quick note to all you would-be writers out there, my friend Kathy sent me a link to a most interesting article that's worth a read: http://indiebookwriters.com/2012/06/16/new-study-declares-the-self-published-book-a-major-force-in-the-publishing-world/

And another interesting article I found: http://indiereader.com/2012/06/how-amazon-saved-my-life/

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why you might need to go the traditional publishing route

In a recent post, I wrote about why it used to be necessary for writers to go around cap in hand looking for a publisher and why that paradigm has changed. There’s now absolutely nothing between you and seeing your book in print but you.

But for some reason, independently published books don’t have quite the cachet books from the Big Six have. It’s up to you as an author to decide whether the prestige of having your book published by a “name” is worth the 60% of your royalties. With a traditional publisher you might only get 10% of the book price in royalties, where with Kindle Direct Publishing, for example, you can take 70%. This might seem like a no-brainer until you consider that there are some very real services that publishing companies provide that you will be responsible for on your own if you self-publish. When you self-publish, you are responsible for the editing, the book cover design, the layout, and everything else.

One of biggest criticisms I hear of small-press books is the quality of the editing. This is often a very valid criticism. Many self-published books are full of mistakes. I’ve read a few that are all but unreadable, they were do badly written.

For everyone who doesn’t know the difference between you’re and your, there’s someone like me who can spot an amateur editing job from a block away. And it’s people like me who read.

And something that would-be authors would do well to remember is that the book’s manuscript is only one component. All books, even e-books, have a cover and some degree of interior layout. The cover is the first thing that attracts people to your book. It has to compete with thousands of other books among a dwindling audience, and very few talented writers are also talented artists. There’s a certain elusive difference between a book that’s been professionally designed and an amateur job, and it goes way beyond mechanics like margins and gutters. Take typography, for example. I know the very mention of the word fonts probably makes you go glassy eyed with boredom. This is not a good sign--it means you probably need to leave the typesetting to a professional. if you don’t know the difference between sans serif and serif fonts and the basic design principles for when to use them, you are not ready to self-publish. That goes double if you are still using Comic Sans anywhere in anything intended for public consumption.

The key thing to understand, is that you will pay for an editor, a cover designer, proofreader, and a layout artist, whether it comes out of your pocket or out of your royalties. If you are not willing or able to invest the time and money to find professionals to help you put your book together, you might be better off seeking a traditional publisher.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Big publishers vs the indie press

Are the big publishers even still relevant? One of the things about being a writer that a lot of people don’t stop to think about, is that at some point you have to consider how you’re going to get what you’ve written into the hands of readers. That’s the publishing aspect of the business. It can be a daunting and soul-crushing process that most writers would prefer not to have to think about.

Publishing has traditionally been an ugly, cutthroat business. We’ve all heard stories about famous authors whose work was rejected by one short-sighted publisher after another. (I wouldn’t want to be one of the editors who rejected Harry Potter!) The big publishers have lots of expenses they need to recoup, and often aren’t willing to take chances on anything that doesn’t fit an established niche. Which leaves you in a bad position indeed if your masterpiece is outside of the proverbial box.

Many writers are astonished to learn that when they do finally land a publisher, they may get only a measly 10% of the royalties. And, you as an author are still expected to do most of the marketing and promotion work! Why would any author agree to such an insane arrangement? Because until very recently the big publishing houses held all the cards. If you were a writer that wanted to get your work before the public, you had no other choice. As a business model, it made perfect sense when authors had to rely on someone who could not only create the physical book, but also get it into bookstores. Typesetting, printing, and distribution of printed materials was and is an expensive and complex business.

Things are different now. You no longer need a printing press--if you have a computer and an internet connection, you can get your book published. You must be prepared to provide for yourself those services that traditional publishers provide--editorial services, layout and cover artists, for example. (More about this later.) And, of course, the indie route doesn’t carry quite the cachet of having your book published by a big name. This is something I’ve never quite understood. Think about it--writers are the only professionals who are stigmatized by selling their work themselves. Who benefits from this attitude? The big publishing houses! It seems that the more irrelevant they become they more stubbornly they cling to the status quo. I read this week that Houghton-Mifflin has filed for bankruptcy. I predict that they will be but the first of many.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Getting creeped out

Sorry for the prolonged absence from the blog, it was unintentional. I was supposed to go on a promising paranormal investigation and planned on coming back with a great story, but it didn’t happen. A friend recently inherited a substantial spread of land way out in the middle of nowhere. Plenty of paranormal activity has been reported there over the years and we were going to take our equipment and check it out. Alas, my friend got kicked by a horse! So we’ve had to postpone.

In the meantime, I’m hard at work on my next book in the Ghost Hunting with Margo series. I figure it makes sense for a book about ghost hunting to be published around Halloween, so that’s the plan. You heard it here first! Obviously I can’t tell you anything about the plot, but I can tell you the tentative title will be “The Science Professor’s Ghost”. A couple of readers have written to me to say they would like to hear more of the ghosts and their stories, and I’m happy to oblige.

An interesting thing happened while I was working on the draft: going back over some sections that I’d written earlier, I actually got kind of creeped out. I wrote it, I know what happens--but I still got goose bumps! I consider this a good sign. One of the hazards of being a ghost fiction writer is that you get rather jaded. When, by necessity, you have to spend a lot of time in dark, scary places trying to talk to ghosts, stuff just doesn’t phase you anymore. I’m curious to know if this happens to other writers. If you’re a paranormal writer--or even if you’re not--has something you wrote yourself ever given you the creeps? Please let me know.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Get well soon

One of the things I really like about my neighborhood, aside from the fact that it's close to all the cool stuff, is that I'm right on Turtle Creek. Turtle Creek, as the name implies, is a creek with turtles in it. According to Wikipedia, it's a tributary of the Trinity River. When I moved back to Dallas from Switzerland 3 years ago, I discovered a small park across the street from me right on the banks of the creek. At the time it was home to a white swan, a mated pair of Australian black swans, three grey geese and hundreds upon hundreds of ducks.

Since then, the white swan has disappeared, the two remaining geese have moved downstream, and one of the black swans has gone missing. In addition, the duck population has been decimated. We suspect coyotes are to blame. The lone black swan is a popular neighborhood resident and much loved. Everyone keeps an eye on him and he seems to appreciate the attention now that he is without his mate.

It recently dawned on me that it had been a while since I've seen the swan. He hides sometimes, and I didn't think anything of it at first. But when several days passed and there was still no sign of him, I began to fear the worst. A few days ago, I learned that he was attacked by raccoons, or possibly coyotes. He was rescued but injured, and is now convalescing in a wildlife center. Please join me in sending him your positive healing vibes! He is a beloved neighborhood pet and we are looking forward to having him back home.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Places I've been to

I couldn't resist sharing this.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

eXtreme Croquet - the Sequel

One day, when I was out for a walk, I discovered some ancient and derelict croquet courts in my neighborhood. Decades ago they were a popular place for family outings but have since fallen into a state of total entropy. It seemed a shame to let them go to waste, so I rounded up a bunch of friends one blustery afternoon last fall and we had a croquet tournament. It was so much fun that we’ve decided to make it a regular happening, so last weekend we had our second occasional eXtreme croquet tournament.

The way we play it is no ordinary croquet. The courts are in a terrible state of disrepair, so we incorporated rocks, tree branches and bent wickets into a particularly diabolical court and dubbed it ‘eXtreme Croquet’. My friend and neighbor, Mary, has a special talent for this. The latest game was enhanced greatly by a motley collection of plastic garden flamingos (whose names are now John, Paul, George and Ringo).

By our rules, the winner gets to drink the first beer. Infraction of any rules, including whining, swearing, and drinking out of turn, are punishable by having to wear the Tiara of Shame. The tiara was a disciplinary measure intended to curb overly competitive behavior on the part of the males present. However, it proved not to be enough of an affront to anybody’s masculinity to ensure much compliance and soon there was much whining, swearing, and drinking. We were also joined by a basset hound named Winston, who, although he did drink some beer out of turn, was exempt from wearing the tiara on the grounds that it didn't fit his head and he just shook it off anyway.

For a while it looked like my friend Chris Basten was going to be the one who took the title from defending champion Dale Crawford, but Bill Bernstein, who arrived 45 minutes late, came from last place to finish as the surprise winner.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Confessions of a former expat

I lived for rather a long time in Switzerland. Having been bitten by the proverbial travel bug in my teens, it had always been something of a life’s goal of mine to live abroad. I’d finally given up on my quest when I was unexpectedly offered a job with a small UN agency in Bern, the country’s capital. I heard about the job through a former colleague and exchanged a couple of emails and my resume with the manager in charge. They hired me sight unseen without even bother to interview me. How could I possibly turn it down? Switzerland was never my favorite German-speaking country. But the job chose me, not the other way around, and a month or so later I found myself in Bern looking for a place to live. Soon thereafter I met my future ex and what was supposed to be a one year stay turned into ten years. I came back to Texas a few years ago without any regrets.

I once read that only about 2% of the world’s population ever lives outside their country of birth. This is a shame, really, because there’s nothing like living abroad to expand your horizons. You get a rare opportunity to see your country and culture as others see it, and this can be a humbling experience. As an American, it also made me appreciate certain things that I always took for granted. Things such as air conditioning, Mexican food, being able to shop on Sundays, comfortable dwellings with spacious rooms, Target, huge bookstores full of books in English--the list goes on.

In Switzerland, business hours are for the convenience of the merchants, not the customers. During the week, the stores - that’s grocery stores, pharmacies, bookstores, department stores, everything - close at 6:30. They’re open on Saturdays until 4:00 or occasionally 5:00 and not at all on Sundays. Many larger towns and most cities have late-night shopping once a week. In Bern it was Thursdays until 9:00. I seldom left work before the shops closed and I don’t miss having to plan an entire week’s shopping in advance and rushing to fight the crowds on Thursdays to try and get everything the spousal equivalent and I needed for the week.

On the other hand, there are quite a few things I miss about Europe. Trains and viable and convenient public transportation systems spring immediately to mind. But I think the thing I really miss most is the cities. I like being able to get from place to place on foot, and European cities have character and an often quirky charm that we don’t find much over here. It’s not that there aren’t chain stores and ugly big-box retailers in Europe. There are plenty of them, but they haven’t taken over like they have in the US.

Most European cities have preserved at least part of their old towns (Paris is a notable exception), which almost always originated in the middle ages or earlier; I can think of several off the bat that go back to Roman times. Bern is not the most bustling of metropolises. But its old town is nothing if not picturesque. In fact it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the buildings in the old town--or their foundations anyway--date to the 1400’s, although the facades are mostly later, thanks to a “modernization” campaign some time in the 1700’s. Mozart would recognize Bern. He stayed there with his father in 1762, although that it doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression on him.

Now that I’m back in the States I’ve noticed that a lot of new urban development seems to be trending toward the walkable cities model. I live about a five-minute walk from one of these. Of course, there’s no history behind it and it looks pretty much like any other urban development of its kind. Still, it’s a step in the right direction and it’s nice not to have to drive to get there. More on this subject later.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Random thoughts on Davy Jones

I’ve had “Daydream Believer” stuck in my head for the past couple of days. Faced as I am now with the reality that I will never get to have my way with Davy Jones, I have been in a particularly cranky mood this week. 

Davy was my first true love. As a child, I wished fervently that my name were Valleri. It didn’t matter to me that Davy was short--he was still taller than me, unsurprisingly, as I was still playing with Barbies. Davy was just so freakin’ cute! He might have had more of an influence on me than I ever consciously realized. Looking back, I wonder if maybe this earliest of infatuations didn’t have some bearing on my preference as an adult for guys with brown eyes and a foreign accent.  Eventually, I moved on to Mr. Chekov on Star Trek; my ex is a dark-haired, brown eyed Frenchman and somewhat short of stature. 

By the time I discovered them, "The Monkees" was in re-runs on Saturday morning as a kid’s show.  It was actually kind of a fun little show if a bit surreal at times. In this respect it was fairly typical--many 60’s TV shows were really quite campy. Think "Batman", "Bewitched" & "Gilligan’s Island". At least back then shows were creative. Now all we have is reality TV.

In retrospect the Monkees seem rather iconic, though being the made-for-TV band that they were, they were often referred to disparagingly as the Pre-Fab Four. I don’t care; I still like their music. Many of their biggest hits and catchiest tunes (the theme song, "Valleri", "Last Train to Clarksville") were written by Boyce & Hart, but my personal favorites were written by Mike or Mickey.  Unfortunately these weren’t particularly big hits and didn’t have much of an afterlife. “Daydream Believer” gets played regularly on oldies radio but if you want to hear “Listen to the Band” you probably have to look it up on YouTube. 

My favorite Monkees tune is not one on which Davy sings lead. It’s Mickey singing on “Randy Scouse Git”, a most under-appreciated song. The lyrics are worth listening to. By the way, I’ve often wondered if these guys don’t find it rather galling, particularly Mike Nesmith, that they’re still best remembered for something that they did 40 years ago. 

What a sad week this has been. Good-bye Davy, and thanks.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why bookstores are an endangered species

The Dallas Theater Center recently staged a production of Giant. You might recall the movie from the 50’s starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. It was based on a novel by Edna Ferber, one of the most successful American authors of the 20th century. I had mixed feelings about the DTC’s musical, not the least of which being I hate musicals. Hate musicals, love opera. Don’t ask me why-that’s just how it is. It seems I’m one of the few people alive that has never actually seen the movie, neither have I read the book. Since everyone I know was a bit incredulous when I told them about it--the general consensus being that Giant is not the stuff of which musicals are made--I began to wonder how it the musical compares to the book.

Giant apparently doesn’t exist as an ebook, but I found myself in the northern ‘burbs the next day and I decided to pop in to the nearby Barnes & Noble. I figured that there was a better than average chance they’d have it, since the Theater Center’s production has been getting rave reviews. Nope. So I trekked back across the frozen tundra to Civilization, stopping at another Barnes & Noble on the way. Nope. I had to go to four bookstores before I finally found it.

One hopes that the reason a major novel by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author was so hard to find is that there was such a flurry of interest that it caught bookstore managers all over town by surprise. Somehow I doubt it. It is, however, beside the point. The fact is, if there’s a book you want to read and it’s not the latest “Twilight” novel, you’ll probably have to order it online. This suits me just fine, as the brick-and-mortar stores don’t carry my book anyway. (They’ll order it for you, though, if you ask.)

There used to be a Borders in my neighborhood before they went under. It was within walking distance, but the one and only time I went there they didn’t have the book I wanted. They offered to order it for me, but if I’m going to do this, why not just order it from Amazon? It’s not their fault--they have room for a finite number of books. I’m actually one of the small percentage of the population that still shops at bookstores. Or I would, if there were any close to me and they had the books I want to read. No matter how much I love books, it’s just so much easier and faster to download an ebook, and that’s what I usually do.

Any thoughts on the future of brick-and-mortar bookstores? Real books vs. ebooks? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The parrot formerly known as Jethro

I have a parrot, a yellow-collared macaw named Jethro. When I got her almost 16 years ago, she was just a homely little baby. Astute readers might wonder how a female parrot got a name like Jethro. There's a perfectly good reason.

When I first brought her home, I had to hand-feed her with a syringe. The care and feeding of a baby parrot is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, and for a while it seemed like I was constantly mixing up parrot baby food. One day I was reminded of an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, an old 60’s sitcom that was in re-runs at the time, in which the Clampett family are in England. A snooty English lady says to Jedd, “I assume Jethro went to Eaton?” And Jedd replies, “Yes ma’am. I reckon he went to eatin’ about the minute he was born.” It just seemed too perfect, so the name stuck.

In most parrot species it’s impossible to tell a bird’s gender without a DNA test. But for years, I assumed I’d made the correct guess for the logical reason that the bird had never laid an egg. Then one day about a year ago my mom, who was birdy-sitting for a few days, called to tell me she’d found an egg in Jethro’s cage. Imagine my shock. We let her sit on them for a few weeks then took them away. The bird didn’t seem to be any worse the wear for her ill-fated attempt at parenthood. The only one that seems to be having a hard time with the sudden switch of genders is my mom, in spite of the fact that she’s the one who found the eggs. She continues to refer to Jethro as “he” and says she can’t be female because she doesn’t act like a lady, although what exactly constitutes ladylike behavior in a parrot I’m not sure.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Facebook friends

I’ve noticed a lot of people I’m ‘friends’ with on Facebook seem to have lots and lots of friends. There’s a guy on my Facebook friends list that I don’t even personally know, but he’s from my hometown and I accepted his friend request because we have 45 mutual friends. I know someone else who seems to ‘friend’ pretty much everyone he’s ever met. One day I noticed that we have a surprisingly large number of mutual Facebook friends. We do have several mutual friends in real life, but only a couple of them are on Facebook. Upon further inspection I was astonished to find that almost all of the mutual Facebook ‘friends’ are my real-life friends that he’s met only once.

I can’t help but wonder what is the point of friending people you don’t even know. Facebook is a wonderful tool for getting reconnecting with old friends and keeping up with people it would be hard to keep in touch with otherwise. But if I send you a friend request, it’s because I know you. I can’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would want to sift through updates from dozens--or hundreds-- of people they don’t even know. Of course, you can always unsubscribe from people’s updates, but in that case, why have them as a Facebook friend in the first place? The only reason I can think of is to have lots of Facebook friends. But why would you do this? Is it an ego thing? Seems a bit sad, really.

Help me out with this--I’d really like to hear your thoughts. Do you get lots of friend requests from people you don’t know? Do you automatically accept friend requests? If not, what your policy on accepting friend requests?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Observations on Stephen King's latest book

I recently finished Stephen King’s latest book, 11/22/63. The subject of this book, as you probably already know, is time travel. The story’s hero, Jake Epping, has a friend who has discovered how to go back in time and Jake sets out to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. I’m from Dallas and since parts of the story take place in my very neighborhood, and because I’m particularly interested in the subject of time travel, the story resonates with me. By the way, lest you think I'm a huge Stephen King fan, I confess that I used to be. But in recent years the only book of his that I’ve read is On Writing, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to try to make a living at this.

Allow me to snipe a bit about a couple of wrong facts I stumbled across. There’s a reference to the Dallas library on Young Street, which in reality wouldn’t be built for another 20 years. In 1963 the Dallas Public Library was still in the old building on Commerce Street. When Oswald returned from Russia in 1962 with his new bride in tow, Marina Oswald was approaching her 21st birthday. King writes that she “wouldn’t be old enough to buy a legal drink for another month." But in 1963 the legal drinking age in Texas was 18. But these are minor details and if that’s all out of a book that’s 849 pages in the hardcover edition, I’m pretty amazed.

Plot spoiler alert! If you haven’t read it and plan to do so, you should probably stop reading now.

The possibility of traveling back in time presents many conundrums which King gets around rather neatly by creating a physical entryway to the past that always takes you to the same time and place every time you go through it. You can go through it as often as you want, but each time you do you start completely over. Jake can only go to 1958, so he has to live in the past for several years before he can do anything about accomplishing his goal. Which gives him time to get ready for his mission, but also time to get into all kinds of situations, such as falling in love. And he has to find a way to support himself all that time. He can’t just pop back into the present for a technology break, or keep one foot in his “now” life, for to do so would mean starting again from the beginning.

In the book, Jake manages to prevent the Kennedy assassination. (I told you to stop if you haven’t read it!) In doing so, he loses the woman he loves. Then he returns to the present and finds a world much changed--not necessarily for the better. Preventing JFK from being killed may have prevented all kinds of nasty things, like the Vietnam War, but Jake runs smack dab into the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Which brings up some interesting questions. If time travel were possible, would you be able to change history? Or would something always happen to ensure that the past stayed unchanged? If you were able to prevent the Kennedy assassination, what would be some of the unintended consequences?