Author Harry Hunsicker is a fourth generation native of Dallas. In 2005, he introduced the city to private investigator Lee Henry Oswald in his crime novel Still River (St. Martins Press) to critical acclaim. He followed up in 2006 and 2007 with two more additions, Next Time You Die and Crosshairs, to create a trilogy that captured “the dark heart of the Dallas underworld.”
Hunsicker is also the former executive vice president of the Mystery Writers of America, which is why in celebration of National Novel Writing Month, we asked him to talk about the craft of writing.
by Harry Hunsicker, Guest Blogger
November is National Novel Writing Month, sometimes known amongst aspiring scribes by the supremely inelegant abbreviation Nanowrimo. (Just slides off the tongue, doesn’t it?)
The goal of Nanowrimo is to write an entire book in one month. For those of you who don’t know, a completed manuscript typically runs between 250 and 500 double spaced pages. That’s somewhere between 70,000 and 120,000 words. Or, as I like to think of it, two metric tons of coffee.
By the time you read this, if you are participating in Nanowrimo, you will be just past the halfway mark. If you are somewhere near the middle of your first draft, I commend you and urge you to keep going. There are not many better feelings in the world than finally tapping out END on your first novel.
My first book, Still River, a detective novel, took six months to write and didn’t really come together in my head until I settled on the name of the protagonist, a Dallas-based investigator named Lee Henry Oswald. Lee Henry, Hank to his friends, is not related to Lee Harvey. The name is just one of many crosses he must bear.
As a life-long resident of Dallas, I wanted my main character to have a name that was instantly relatable to the city. (For a period of time, I considered writing about a hitman called Tom Landry, but I was afraid I’d be run out of town.)
If you chose not to participate in Nanowrimo this year, or if the pace has gotten too hard, or you find yourself stuck for whatever reason, consider this an opportunity to brush up on your craft. Here are some books that I have found helpful over the years. (If you’re cooking along, for heaven’s sake don’t stop to read anything. Just keep going!)
On Writing by Stephen King. Far and away the best volume on writing fiction that I have ever read. Part memoir, part how-to, the text peels back the secrecy on the creative process of one of the most successful novelists of all time.
Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell. In 1972, Morrell, a young college professor, published his debut novel, First Blood, a thriller about a Vietnam veteran named Rambo. Pop culture was never the same, not to mention Sylvester Stallone’s career. Lessons is Morrell’s ode to the craft, advice on how to tell a story and to tell it well. The essence of his message: Write about what you fear the most.
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Beginning writers—and more than a few veterans—often have trouble plotting a story, the what-happens-next part of the process. If that sounds familiar, then grab a copy of this book. Save the Cat is designed for screenwriters but the advice is universal, clearly explained and illustrated with examples from the movies.
The last resource I can offer is a simple but effective bit of advice: Don’t ever give up!
To read the Lee Henry Oswald series or see other fictional stories related to President Kennedy or the 1960s, make an appointment to check out the Museum Reading Room!
Guest Blogger Harry Hunsicker’s forthcoming novel is The Devil’s Country (March 2017; Thomas & Mercer.) His work has been short-listed for the Shamus and Thriller Awards. He can be reached via his website: www.harryhunsicker.com, or on Twitter.
by Krishna Shenoy, Librarian/Archivist, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
In the immediate aftermath of a national tragedy, the reaction of a president can set the tone for how a nation will heal and the magnitude of the scars that will remain. In the hours after the assassination of President Kennedy, that task was given to Lyndon B. Johnson.
Only two hours after the fatal shot, on Air Force One, Johnson took the oath of office with Mrs. Kennedy by his side. When the plane landed in Washington, D.C., his statement to the American people was brief: “This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep, personal tragedy. I know the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best; that is all I can do. I ask for your help…and God’s.” In his book Flawed Giant, historian Robert Dallek called Johnson a “master therapist, soothing the nation with sincerity and wisdom.”
In Washington, Johnson found himself with the burden of moving a grieving nation forward. On November 23, 1963, (the day after the assassination) after viewing the fallen President’s body with other Congressional leaders, Johnson issued a proclamation declaring November 25, 1963, as a National Day of Mourning for President Kennedy. On that day, schools, businesses and government offices closed in observance. Many watched the funeral on television, while others followed Johnson’s call to attend memorial services. Johnson’s actions and words promoted feelings of continuity and unity.
One week after the assassination, on November 29, Johnson issued an executive order appointing a commission (Warren Commission) to “evaluate all the facts and circumstances surrounding such assassination, including the subsequent violent death of the man charged with the assassination, and to report to me its findings and conclusions.” Johnson believed it essential to provide the nation with a convincing explanation of why and how Kennedy was killed. “A troubled, puzzled and outraged nation wanted to know the facts,” he wrote in his memoirs.
Ten months later in 1964, the Warren Commission submitted a report concluding that Oswald had acted alone and there was no evidence of a conspiracy. Johnson could not have predicted that despite his attempt to assuage the public with this investigation, the findings would ultimately exacerbate the nation’s wound and leave scars of suspicion and doubt in the minds of people for decades to come.
Visit the Museum’s Reading Room to learn more about the days following the assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson or any of the books mentioned.
by Krishna Shenoy, Librarian/Archivist
Money in politics can often be a lightning rod issue during a presidential election, casting a reflection of a candidate’s character and influence. Today, we live with unprecedented access and discovery of a candidate’s fundraising operations – large or small contributors, soft money versus hard money– but that was not always the case.
While disclosure of campaign finance information was enacted in 1910, it was not enforced until 1967. However, in 1958, when little information concerning campaign finance was available, a group called the Citizens’ Research Foundation (CRF), a non-partisan, non-profit organization, began collecting financial data on national-level politics. The Foundation issued a series of studies on presidential campaign financing, starting with the 1960 presidential election. This original, staple-bound issue of Financing the 1960 Election (which sold for 50 cents at the time) from our collection gives details about the financial operations related to Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.
In campaigns, no expense is spared when votes are at stake. During the 1960 election, Vice-President Nixon made a $35,000 flight to Alaska and Ohio, the weekend before the election, which paid off for Nixon, when most had predicted both states to go to the Democrats. The campaign staff of Senator Kennedy included a speech professor to teach the candidate voice control, a psychologist to evaluate the size, composition and reactions of campaign crowds, and an official photographer (Jacques Lowe). Both candidates hired stenographic teams to catch and transcribe ever word the candidate uttered to make accurate transcripts available to reporters within minutes after a speech.
Such expenses revealed the high stakes and great lengths each candidate went to gain the winning edge. Financing these endeavors was no easy task. In 1960, both political parties attempted to broaden their financial base with fundraising drives and dinners. In Syracuse, the “Kennedy for President Club” gave trading stamps in return for contributions at the rate of 10 stamps per dollar. The CRF study reported 213 (142 Republican and 71 Democratic) fundraising dinners, luncheons, breakfasts and cocktails parties. Other fundraising innovations included the Republican party’s “Dinner with Ike,” a series of dinners being held simultaneously in numerous cities and linked via television, with a price per plate ranging from $5 to $100. As Charles Grutzner, New York Times columnist and reporter once said, “The knife and fork are mighty implements in the Presidential campaign.”
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s winning general election campaign reportedly cost about $100,000, and his opponent Stephen Douglas’s campaign about $50,000. One hundred years later, John Kennedy’s campaign spent about $9.7 million to defeat Nixon, whose campaign cost about $10.1 million. In 2012, Barack Obama spent $985 million to defeat Mitt Romney, who himself spent $992 million. Our current election in 2016 is bound to exceed these numbers and in 2017, after the final tally is done, we will pause to consider what the rising cost of presidential campaigns means for the direction of our democracy.
To learn more about the 1960 election, click on JFK.org/ATimeForGreatness or visit the Museum’s Reading Room and its latest exhibit, A Time For Greatness: The 1960 Kennedy Campaign, open through November 13.
by Alisha Cherry, Reading Room Assistant, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
We all have a special summertime moment in our lives that we will remember forever – a trip to a strange and exotic place, a quiet moment basking in the warm sun, a thoughtful conversation with a stranger who opens your mind to new possibilities.
Perhaps that is the most evocative aspect of One Special Summer by Lee and Jacqueline Bouvier (the future Jackie Kennedy) – reading the two sisters’ personal and private thoughts while away from home reminds us of our own similar experiences. Their journey through London, Paris, Spain, Venice, Rome and Florence reminds us of the hope and joy one feels during summer.
As the season begins, we take a look at this exhilarating memoir as a road map for the myriad of possibilities that summer brings. The warm days and cool nights, the strangers we meet who become life-long friends, the sights we see that are truly ingrained in our memories forever.
Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier originally compiled photographs, drawings, letters and writings during their travels through Europe in 1951 as a token of appreciation for their parents. The illustrated journal was originally published in 1974 after Lee rediscovered the materials while researching for a book, and was then republished in 2006.
One Special Summer is not a simple memoir about the Bouvier sisters’ journey; it is a piece that transports the reader to the places the sisters saw, the sounds they heard, the people they met, and the food they tasted. The sisters’ exploration of the unknown reminds us of our own desire to explore and experience something new during the summertime. Jacqueline and Lee also undertook plenty of unplanned adventures, and while not always positive experiences, they nevertheless remind us why travel is so necessary. The two endured flat tires, embarrassing clothing malfunctions, and quirky aristocrats. Yet they also encountered famous musicians and artists, priceless works of art, and developed their passions of singing and drawing. Much like the book, travel is intriguing, at times hilarious, and always unexpected.
The two sisters went on many adventures together after their first trip to Europe, but of those travels Lee said, “I can only look back on those trips and think how marvelous it would have been if we had recorded them as we had this first one. Perhaps we had lost some special sense of time, in growing up.”
Perhaps we all can learn from Lee’s reflections – never take your time traveling for granted and always appreciate the wondrous sights, sounds and feelings that come with exploring a place for the first time. Above all, always retain that sense of fascination and intrigue that is present before you have “grown up.”
The Museum’s Reading Room provides free public access to books and other resources related to John F. Kennedy, the Kennedy family, and 1960s history and culture. Stop by and read One Special Summer as inspiration for your next adventure or explore the other resources we have to offer! For books similar to One Special Summer, pick up a copy of Mrs. Kennedy Goes Abroad by Jacqueline Duhême, an artistic recollection of Lee and Jacqueline’s travels through Rome, India and Pakistan in 1961.