Book Review: Reasonable Doubt

I don’t know how many people who read this blog know that I’m a skeptic when it comes to accepting the official version of the death of president John F. Kennedy. I’ve read most things about it that I can get my hands on. My collection of books concerning this subject is fairly large.

So I was glad when I was in a thrift store and found one I hadn’t seen before. Reasonable Doubt, by Henry Hurt, is a 1985 book that purports to be an overview of the entire assassination theories up to that point, say until 1983. Thus, it is a somewhat older book, with much research having been done since then.

The book is good, not great. It covers the major theories about Kennedy’s death: Who did it? Was it a conspiracy? If so, whose conspiracy? Did Oswald have anything to do with it? Was he just, as he claimed, a patsy? If it was a conspiracy, how could it have been pulled off, and why haven’t some conspirators come forward and proclaimed their stories? All good questions.

The book covers very little new ground, though I think I learned a little something in each chapter.  The one thing that was new to me was the alleged participation of Robert Easterling. He approached Hurt in the early 1980s, wanting to tell his story. Easterling’s supposed part in it was very low level, driving some people in and around New Orleans, and in Dallas. As Hurt tells Easterling’s story, he was supposed to be the getaway driver for Oswald the day of the assassination, but Oswald didn’t show.

The Easterling connection seems very thin. Hurt describes it as such. Easterling had problems in his life, and wasn’t a source that could be believed without having corroboration. It seemed quite far-fetched that he had been used in this manner, and that the people he was “in contact” with either existed or, if they were real people, were involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the president.

The chapter on Easterling helped to lower the book in my estimation. The rest of it was good. For sure, if you were just getting involved in wondering about the murder of JFK and if the government was telling the truth about it, this book would be a good one to start with. Three stars out of five. It would have been four except for the Easterling chapter.

R.I.P. Billy McConnell

A young man I know, Billy McConnell, passed away this week, age 36. The first report was that perhaps two competing medications caused him to vomit in his sleep, not wake up, and choke to death. Today his grandfather told me that wasn’t correct. He had a blood clot go to his lung, and he died from that.

12583984_10153320934336500_1157518651_nBilly had a difficult life, having significant physical and learning disabilities. He had neurofibromatosis, which runs in his family. His eyesight was quite poor, and he may have been legally blind. He had some speech difficulties, though I never knew how much was physical and how much was development. For sure he was developmentally challenged. Yes, Billy had many physical and developmental problems.

He was pretty much raised by his grandparents, at least all the time I knew him. We attend the same church, and I got to know Billy. In 1992 I started a teen Bible quizzing program at our church, which is one of our denominational programs. This part of the country was, at the time, a hotbed of teen Bible quizzing activity, and the top quizzers and teams in the nation typically came out of our region, either Oklahoma or Arkansas. Billy came out for it the next year, probably in his 9th grade year. He was the same age as my son.

At first I wasn’t so sure about that. The little I knew of him at the time I knew he didn’t have the abilities to compete. However, we had enough teens to have both an “A” team and a “B” team (and sometimes a “C” team), and I didn’t want to turn anyone down. So Billy came out for Bible quizzing. I don’t know how much he studied—if he even could study. He came faithfully to practice, and went on all of our quizzes, most of which were out-of-town over-nighters. He didn’t often “jump” to answer questions, or if he did he didn’t often get the answer right. But he came out; he absorbed the word of God; and he competed.

I recall a quiz in Oklahoma City, I think in Billy’s second year in the program. He was on the B team. Right after lunch, when the event turned from round robin groups to double-elimination tournaments, our B team had their first quiz in the large room, with the big quizzing set-up. The operator of the equipment slid the name “Bentonville” into the marquee. This was in one of the lower tournament brackets, and our B team quizzed against a team of similar abilities. The others on the team were more advanced than Billy, though they were by no means experts or top competitors. The A team, which I was coaching, wouldn’t quiz for half an hour, so I stayed to watch a while.

The first question, one of our quizzers jumped. In this set-up you had to walk ten or twenty feet to a microphone, and say the answer into it so the judges could hear. That meant your answer was audible throughout the large room.  A fairly large audience would hear how you answered. This first boy actually had an easy question, and got it right. Bentonville led 20-0. On the second question, the second boy on the team jumped, walked to the mic, and gave the right answer. Bentonville was up 40-0.

On the third question, Billy felt that he knew the answer, and he jumped before anyone else did. The quizmaster called him to the mic. He walked toward the mic with confidence, and gave the right answer. It was neither a hard or easy question—it was an average question, one that you had to know something about the part of the Bible being studied to get right. Obviously, Billy had either studied or had picked it up along the way. The rules say that when the third person on a team gets an answer correct, the team gets a 10 point bonus. So Billy got 30 points for that answer, and, three questions into a twenty question quiz, the Bentonville B team had a 70-0 lead.

That was a great moment, for the team and for Billy. I got to stay a few more minutes before having to go on and corral my team and get them ready for their quiz. I heard later that the B team won its quiz. Billy had a big part in it.

I need to share one other story about Billy. This was at church, one Wednesday evening. Back then the church had a dinner every Wednesday night, not so much for fundraising but for fellowship. This Wednesday I sat across from Billy. A couple of other adults (not his grandparents) were close, including one who was in authority in the church. Billy said something that was disparaging of someone else. I’m not sure he knew what his words really meant. I gently corrected him and explained what he had done and how he might have handled things differently. The adult in authority who was nearby laughed. Billy shortly had finished eating and left. I asked that adult why he laughed. He said, “Billy’s hopeless. Don’t waste your time trying to help him.”

With all his difficulties, Billy was never going to be a valedictorian. He would never be able to beautifully recite poetry; or drive a car; or partake in so many of the activities others his age did. But to be laughed at, to be abandoned, to be denied the help he could use to do what he could, and excel to the best of his abilities…well, that just wasn’t right.

I don’t know if his time in teen Bible quizzing helped Billy much or not. I’d like to think it did. I certainly think the efforts I made with him helped me; hopefully they helped him as well.

I would see Billy now and then through the years after he became an adult, either when he visited at church, or when we happened to see each other around town. We always had a brief and pleasant conversation. He didn’t seem to change much. I think, at his passing, it had been three years since our last contact. I would have liked to have seen him again, and am saddened that I never will anymore in this life.

Rest in peace, Billy. Condolences to his extended family.

2015 Book Sales Report

Well, let me start right off with the 2015 sales table, then I’ll break it down. You might have to click on the table and view it full size to read it.

DAT Book Sales 2015

So in 2015 I sold 83 books. That’s one more than I sold in 2014. A few outlets I sell at via Smashwords haven’t reported all of 2015, so it’s theoretically possible I’ll have a couple of more sales. However, I never sell any books at those outlets, so I feel okay posting results now. Here’s some breakdown

  • Titles published in 2015: 51 sales
  • Previously published titles: 32 sales
  • Print books: 63
  • E-books: 20
  • Personal sales: 24
  • Sales through retailers: 59
  • Items with at least one sale: 13
  • Items with no sales: 8

So, I had a better year with print books than with e-books, a complete turnaround from prior years. But that’s not an accurate picture. Two of my news books, Daddy Daughter Day and Seth Boynton Cheney: Mystery Man of the West , I published only as print books. Since they were my two best sellers, naturally that would skew my results toward print books.

The Seth Cheney book was my best seller, at 29 copies. This was a book for members of my wife’s family, prepared prior to a family reunion in Dodge City in the summer. It had about 100 pages of narrative with photos and maps, and 200 pages of genealogical data, also with photos and maps. I completed it a month ahead, had time to market it to the family, and they bought it. I have only one unaccounted for sale that may have been from a non-family member. Sales of this will not be repeated in 2016.

So, was it a good year, or a dismal year? I suppose any time your sales increase, even if the increase was less than 2 percent, you should consider it a good year. On the other hand, selling only 4.17 copies per book published is rather dismal.

Oh, well, onward into 2016. Next post will be goals for the year.

And, I’ll link a smaller image of the table for linking at Absolute Write.

DAT Book Sales 2015 smaller 298x130

End of Year — Beginning of Year

I begin 2016 much the same way at 2015: With a cold. It’s a deep cold, though not quite as bad as the one last year. Then I lost more than two days of work. This year, I had a deadline last week (a deadline of my own making; perhaps more on that in another post), and couldn’t take time off. Friday was probably my worst day, but I toughed through most of the day, met my several deadlines, and left for home and a restful weekend.

Yesterday I spent much time in The Dungeon. But, I wasn’t writing. I worked on end-of-the-year paperwork. I made sure our stock trading tracking was all up to date, which it now is. I filled out some trading sheets on current trades. I organized receipts for filing.  By then it was time for a relaxing evening of ordered pizza and reading.

Today, skipping church due to the cold, I got to The Dungeon early enough to have a fair number of hours at my tasks. First I began working on my 2016 income taxes, specifically the tax forms for stock trading.  And, the good news is they are done, except for a few bits of information I’ll add when our December statements arrive, and double-checking it against the year-end statement when it arrives. I then spent an hour or two filing papers. To look at my desk you may not think I did much, but I truly did. My filing basket is way down from where it was. My desk is somewhat freer of clutter (though certainly not uncluttered). The utility receipts are lying on the floor next to the desk drawer they are filed in.

All in all, I’m happy with where things are. I have much more work to do, but I’ll always have that. And, the work I did wasn’t taxing physically. The day has seemed restful despite having accomplished much. And, it’s only 2:00 p.m. Still time to do more. And I’m feeling much better than I did the last four days.

About writing, however, I have no accomplishment. I don’t feel like starting a new project until I have other things more complete. A new short story is buzzing through my head, the next in my Sharon Williams Fonseca series, but I don’t want to start it yet. I have two different novels also stimulating my gray cells, but, again, I’d like life to be a little more settled before I commit time to them. Corrections to books already published are in order, as is buttoning up a Thomas Carlyle project that I want to put on the shelf for a while, but which I want to have in an easily re-start-able condition. That’s about the only writing I worked on in December.

So, the clock having just chimed, I believe I’ll go upstairs, put some socks on (it’s cold in The Dungeon), eat a piece of fruit for lunch, and then return to see what more I can get done. Who knows but that, by the end of the day, my desk will be uncluttered, my mind will be more focused, and I’ll have a plan of what to do next.

Childhood Christmases: Progressive Decoration

The modern way seems to be to put all your decorations up right after Thanksgiving. In fact, this year, for the first time, I saw a number of houses with exterior lights up a week or two before Thanksgiving. One in particular, on Lancaster Drive in Bella Vista, is a gaudy display of flashing lights that serve more to distract the driver than thrill the viewer. Alas.

Then, the day after Christmas, the decorations are all taken down. Many people put their used, natural tree at the curb, waiting for someone else to deal with their waste. The house returns to normal. Most people with outdoor lights will leave them up until New Year’s Day—even the gaudy one on Lancaster.

Growing up in the Todd family, it was not so. Mom and Dad said it was English tradition that Christmas decorations went up the day before Christmas and stayed up till Epiphany. Yet, it wasn’t quite that way. I few decorations went up earlier, but always in moderation, and always in the same order.

First was the candles in the front windows. We had four windows in the front of the house, and one on the east side close to the street. Each of these windows were given a single electric candle. They went up about three weeks before Christmas, and with a twist went on at dark and off before bedtime—but early enough to let the heat dissipate so we could pull the shades all the way down.

Actually, even before the candles went up, Christmas cards that came in became a decoration. They began shortly after Thanksgiving. The first was always from Aubrey Pooley, a man from the church. Dad ran a wide ribbon across the doors of the secretary in the dining room and paper-clipped the cards to it. When that was filled he hung string in the wide archway between the living room and dining room and hung cards on the string. They were always beautiful, and were a decoration before any other went up.

We got the Christmas tree, always a natural one, about two weeks before Christmas. I think I wrote about that in a previous blog post. If I did and I can find it, I’ll come back and add a link. If I didn’t write about it, perhaps I will between now and Christmas. But, the tree didn’t go up. It went into our detached garage in a bucket of water. Then, about a week before Christmas, Dad moved it to the basement to let it “get acclimated to the heat” of the house. It didn’t go up until Christmas eve.

The manger scene went up next. Maybe a week before Christmas we made room for it somewhere in the living room (I think). But, it had only a few animals in it, and maybe one shepherd. Mary and Joseph were put as far away from the manger as they could be in that attached living room/dining room combo. Over the course of several days they would journey to Bethlehem, arriving at the manger on Christmas eve. We added the baby, more shepherds, and a couple of angels. The magi weren’t there yet. They showed up far away in the house, and began a journey that would have them arrive at the manger on Epiphany.

So it came down to Christmas eve, and in a flurry of activity all the other decorations went up. We brought the tree up from the basement, cleared space for it somewhere in the living room, and decorated it, complete with a mixture of light types and colors, including the old style bubbly lights. And don’t forget the lit Santa and snowman that sat under the tree, or the spire that went on top. This was a dad and kids task mostly, and more on that some year in a dedicated post. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Mom was working on a number of things. The most time consuming of these was the candy house. I’m going to see if I can find a photo of it to scan and add. I won’t say a lot about the candy house and all that went with it, for that’s a post in itself.

The rest of our decorations were a mixture of things gathered over the year. There was the vinyl Santa face we taped to the mirror in the living room. I think we scattered ornaments on various surfaces. The candy house, once completed, was moved to the dining room table and all the characters were placed around it. And, of course, Mary and Joseph made it to Bethlehem some time that afternoon.

Looking back, I don’t know how all that was accomplished on one day. Mom was sick with the illness that would take her life when her children were teenagers, but somehow found the energy to do all this. And, of course, make Christmas cookies. Dad worked nights, and if Christmas and Christmas eve fell on Monday through Friday, he had to work. So he would be sleeping in the morning and would be gone by 7:30 p.m. Yet, together they got it done.

Of course, as we children got old enough, we would help. It was great fun to add frosting to the candy house and drape it like icicles. But actually, the decorating wasn’t necessarily done. Since the tree went up so late, only a few presents were under the tree when we went to bed; but when we got up Christmas morning there were many.

I have one clear memory from one Christmas. I guess I was around 10 years old. It was a Christmas eve Dad had to work, so he was gone when we went to bed. I remember waking up one Christmas eve. Our bedroom door was shut most of the way; the light was on in the kitchen behind it, and I could hear Mom’s and Dad’s voices. It had to be sometime after 4:00 a.m., because back then that was the time Dad got off work. I didn’t get up to see what they were doing, and drifted back to sleep.

The next morning I got up, went into the kitchen, and found it transformed with many more decorations. Red and green crepe paper ribbons had been twirled and attached from the light in the center  to each corner of the room. Other decorations were also up, though my memory fails me on specifics. But I remember the streamers. They had worked a long time to put those up.

So Christmas morning would dawn in the Todd house with that house looking much, much difference than the previous morning. Rather than a month-long time of decoration, we had mostly 12 days. Looking back on this, it was a magical time, and I cherish the memories. My adult practices are different, in a world of different expectations, but the Christmases of my childhood are not lost.

Still Not Writing

I read a post the other day, over at The Passive Voice, about a writer who self-published five years ago, and has sold over 3,000,000 copies of her books since, most of those of her self-published books. While I rejoice at her success, it’s hard to read that and think “Why not me?” Very bad, I know, to compare oneself to another writer. She says her first break-through came without any publicity effort on her part, though actually her publisher (some of her books are with trade publishers) had a promo of one of her books that happened to coincide with her self-publishing release. Hence, she did have what turned out to be an effective publicity campaign.

In another post, a writer who went from trade publishing to self-publishing in a similar, or perhaps later, time frame, made a post about how dangerous it is to check your sales numbers. Dangerous in the sense that it’s useless, doesn’t get you to writing more, and in fact can turn you away from writing. Well, it’s true that I check my sales numbers every day, and it’s also true that seeing those zeroes pile up discourages me from wanting to write.

I was going to write Monday night, but came home and was diverted. My mother-in-law, who now lives with us, needed help with her finances. My wife was helping, but it was a situation where it was better if one person searched through check registers and another wrote. So I helped with that. After we had the data concisely on paper, I went to The Dungeon to put it in a spreadsheet in order to compute the magic number. I had to do a work-around for a couple of missing statements. Sometime close to 10 p.m. I had the number, went upstairs, and gave it to her.

That was too late to go back downstairs and try to shift my brain’s focus from numbers to words, so I wasted the hour before going to bed with mindless Facebook reading.

Yesterday evening was filled with going through a week’s worth of accumulated mail, then watching two television programs and some news. Tuesday is the only evening that has programs on that I want to watch.

So here it is Wednesday morning. This is the first bit of writing I’ve done all week, except for my blog post on Sunday. I realize that, should any fan happen to drop by this page, or even should a casual visitor somehow surf here, or—heaven forbid—a family member come upon this, this will seem like whining. I suppose it is.

Perhaps life will turn around. Or perhaps I’ll learn to be productive in 15 minute chunks of writing time, or learn how to write in manuscript with significant distractions. And then, perhaps someday, I’ll have a reason to check sales numbers.

Thank You Notes

Our pastor has a short series of sermons leading up to Thanksgiving. He’s titled it “Thank You Notes”, and modeled it after Jimmy Fallon’s such notes on The Tonight Show.

Now, I must say right off I’m not a fan of that show; never have been going all the way back to Johnny Carson.  I’ve never liked any of the late night entertainment shows. I guess by that time of night, if my work for the day and evening is finished, the bed and sleep seem more entertaining than TV.

Why not DVR it, you ask? I don’t have one of these. I guess the price has come down, and I could now probably afford one, but I don’t see any point in spending money on a device that will allow me to watch more TV when I have little enough time for the TV I now watch. Why try to expand my TV watching?

But I prate. Back to the sermon series. I’ve seen Fallon a couple of times, and am familiar with his thank you notes sketches.  I found them moderately funny, but not something to lose sleep over. I would say the thank you notes “written” by Pastor Mark, complete with desk, stool, hand gestures, piano playing while he wrote, and a nearby sidekick, were significantly funnier than Fallon’s. Or perhaps it’s that Mark’s subjects were more local and hence of greater interest to me than are Fallon’s subjects, and thus are funnier to me because they are more about where I am  in the world.

Today he tied gratefulness to stewardship. He proposed three levels of stewardship as being equivalent to a good, better, and great approach to life. Those are my words, not his.

Well done, Pastor Mark. You’ve exceeded Fallon at his own game, and brought us an engaging sermon series on a subject that can easily be difficult due to the commonness of the theme.

A Shot in the Arm on a Dull Sunday

I had my flu shot a little over a week ago, but that’s not what I’m referring to.

This morning we had a good sermon, a great service, and a great Life Group class (that I didn’t have to teach). It was a difficult lesson, and my co-teacher did a wonderful job with it. But that’s not what I’m referring to.

After church, we dropped off recyclables, which is on the way home. That’s a once or twice a month Sunday ritual. Then we had a simple lunch. I pulled out the piano and vacuumed behind it. Then I vacuumed one little place in our bedroom that needed it. I paid a couple of bills and walked them to the post office, about a 2 mile walk. Thence it was re-hydrate with some ice water, and to The Dungeon to see what I could accomplish. Many things to do, including write this blog post, and not enough time to do them in.

First thing I did was check my e-mail. Ten new ones, which I figured were the usual junk and “who cares” type of e-mails. But there, in the middle of the ten, in the “from” line, was the name of a high school and college friend I’d lost contact with. Actually we’d all lost contact with him. By “all” I mean every single one of my high school and college friends I still keep in touch with. Every time we get together we speculate about ________, wondering if he was alive or dead (an awful speculation, one that will only grow through the years), where he was, what he’d done with his life, etc. I had looked for him on FB and not found him.

He found me. Said in his e-mail he was organizing old negatives, found a couple with me in them, went looking for me on the Internet, found my website (I guess) and thus my e-mail, and sent me the photos. We’ve now exchanged a couple of e-mails, and have caught up a bit. Turns out my February business trip will be to his current city of residence. Hopefully we’ll be able to see each other.

It’s always a shot in the arm to reconnect with someone after four decades. But what’s even nicer about this is he tried to find me. That has happened so rarely in my life that I’m sure I could count them on the fingers of one hand. Sorry for the cliche.

That wasn’t what I was going to write about today. I had two other things that crossed my mind and would have made good posts, but this seemed better. Hopefully the other ideas will come back to me at some point.

Can’t Write

It’s not writer’s block, but I just can’t write. It’s not as if I have something to say but can’t figure out the words. Nor is it that I can’t figure out anything to write. It’s more, why bother? How will it help me or the world?

I had every intention of sitting at my computer this afternoon and writing a blog post about our recent road trip to Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  I have much to say about that. But why bother? There’s aren’t three people in the world who will read it and care about it. Will it further my writing “platform” to add a post about that? I doubt it. I even have an idea for a follow-up post for Wednesday, but why bother?

Life is pressing in on me. Lynda wants me to look over some stock trading material with her, for which we paid good money, so I need to do that. With that hanging over my head, I just don’t feel like writing. I need to leave The Dungeon, head upstairs and do that.

I really don’t know what’s to become of me as a writer. At present I can’t see much hope for it. Perhaps it’s a tunnel I’m in and I just need to get through it. But right now I feel like I’m running from crisis to crisis, or major (and time-consuming) event with no end of them in sight.

I guess I don’t write well under adversity.

I don’t know when I’ll be back.

Author | Engineer