Reading John Jakes, again

I discovered the books of historical novelist John Jakes (1932 – 2023) as a high school student during the 1980s. The television miniseries adaptation of his Civil War epic, North and South, aired in 1985.

North and South was extremely well-done for a network (ABC) television production of the mid-1980s. The cast included Patrick Swayze, Kirstie Alley, David Carradine, Lesley-Anne Down, and Parker Stevenson. The sets were realistic and the production values were high.

After watching that, I decided to give John Jakes’s books a try. I read North and South (1982), plus the subsequent two books in the North and South trilogy, Love and War (1984) and Heaven and Hell (1987).

Then I delved into The Kent Family Chronicles. The books in this long family saga were published between 1974 and 1979. These are the books that really put Jakes on the map as an author of commercial historical fiction.

I emphasize commercial. John Jakes never strove for the painstaking historical accuracy of Jeff Shaara, or his approximate contemporary, James Michener. Jakes’s first objective was always to entertain. If the reader learned something about the American Revolution or the Civil War along the way, that was icing on the cake.

As a result, John Jakes’s novels lie somewhere along the spectrum between literary fiction and potboilers. His characters are memorable and he imparts a sense of time and place. But these are plot-driven stories.

At the same time, Jakes’s plots have a way of being simultaneously difficult to believe and predictable. Almost all of his books have a Forrest Gump aspect. His characters are ordinary men and women, but they all seem to rub shoulders with figures from your high school history classes.

That said, Jakes is one of the few authors whose books pleased both the teenage me and the fiftysomething me. This past year, I started rereading The Kent Family Chronicles, and catching up on the few installments I missed back in the 1980s. I have changed as much as any person changes between the ages of 17 and 55, but I still find these books to be page-turners.

This past week, I started listening to the audiobook version of California Gold. This one was published in 1989, after Jakes’s long run of success with The Kent Family Chronicles and the North and South trilogy.

California Gold is the story of Mack Chance, a Pennsylvania coal miner’s son who walks to California to seek his fortune in the 1880s.

I will be honest with the reader: I don’t like California Gold as much as Jakes’s earlier bestsellers. California Gold is episodic in structure, and the main character is far less likable than some of Jakes’s earlier creations. In California Gold, Jakes indulges his tendency to pay lip service to the issues of the day (in this case: the budding American labor movement and early feminism) through the voices of his characters. Most of these pronouncements are politically correct and clichéd.

Worst of all, California Gold employs sex scenes as spice for low points in the plot. This is always a sign that a writer is struggling for ideas, or boring himself as he writes. When Jakes wrote California Gold, he may have been a little burned out, after writing The Kent Family Chronicles and the North and South trilogy.

California Gold, though, won’t be tossed aside on my did-not-finish (DNF) pile. This is still a good novel. Just not the caliber of novel I’d come to expect from John Jakes. No novelist, unfortunately, can hit one out of the park every time.


**Quick link to John Jakes’s titles on Amazon

O.J. Simpson (1947 – 2024)

In the summer of 1994, O.J. Simpson probably killed Nicole Brown Simpson and her male friend, waiter Ron Goldman. But he got off scot-free.

The O.J. Simpson case had heavy racial overtones, at a time when America was going through yet another hand-wringing moment over race. Two years prior, the white LAPD officers who beat black suspect Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted of the charges against them. The Los Angeles Riots of 1992 were one result of that misguided decision. But not the last result.

At least one O.J. Simpson juror has speculated that the majority-black Simpson jury decided to acquit the former football player as “payback” for Rodney King. One juror, a man named Lionel Cryer, gave Simpson a Black Power salute in the courtroom after the verdict was read.

That’s all I’m going to say about the O.J. Simpson murder case of 1994, and the trial that finally ended in October 1995. It was a long time ago. Everything that possibly can be said about it has probably been said in the years since then.

Before the 1994 murders, former football player O.J. Simpson also had a lucrative career as a brand spokesperson. That came to an abrupt halt in 1994.

I was 26 years old in 1994, the same age as Nicole Brown Simpson’s male friend, Ron Goldman. I watched O.J. Simpson’s low-speed run from the LAPD, and his surrender on television, along with the rest of America. I followed his drawn-out trial sporadically.

The 1990s were a peaceful time, at least compared to the 2020s. That was an era in which a celebrity murder trial could become the top item on the news, and remain so for a stretch of months.

Nowadays, I suspect, we would have a lot less bandwidth for the O.J. Simpson murder trial. We have far more to worry about.

Orenthal James Simpson is now beyond earthly justice. Did he kill Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in 1994? Like many people old enough to remember it all, I think so.

But I don’t know for sure. I will therefore fall back on those lines from Romans 12:19: “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

O.J. Simpson, 76, R.I.P.


Joe Biden at 30? Me at 4? Wow

The news segment below shows President Biden as a young senator in 1972. Biden was then 30 years old.

In 1972, Richard Nixon was President of the United States. The Vietnam War was winding down, but US troops were still active there. Leonid Brezhnev was the General Secretary of the Soviet Union. Iran, still under the Shah, was a staunch US ally.

The two highest grossing movies of 1972 were The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure. Disco had yet to make an appearance. Robert Flack, the Rolling Stones, and Cat Stevens all had best-selling albums. 

And, of course, 1972 was the year of Don McClean’s American Pie.

Yeah, 1972 was a long time ago.

On a personal note: I will turn 56 this year, and Joe Biden has been in government since I was 4 years old. Make of that what you will.

Some readers will necessarily interpret this as a subliminal political statement: “Don’t vote for Biden…he’s really old!” But Biden’s age is no secret, and it’s doubtful that anything you read here is going to change your mind…however you plan to vote in November.

No, this is just a reflection on how much time has passed: for the president, but also for yours truly. In 1972, Joe Biden was in the prime of his early adulthood, and my life had barely begun. Tempus fugit. How time flies. For all of us.





My first Atari, Christmas 1981

As noted above, there really was something special about growing up in an era when video games were not old hat, but something brand-new and on the cutting edge of the technology of that time.

I suppose I like my 21st-century iPhone and my MacBook as much as the next person, but they are tools for me, not objects of indulgence. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed anything quite as much as that first Atari console I received for Christmas in 1981.

Did I have a favorite game? Of course I did. Space Invaders, hands down. Missile Command came in a close second, though.

**Shop for retro video game consoles on Amazon (quick link)**

The eclipse that wasn’t

Today’s solar eclipse was a bit anticlimactic here in Cincinnati. The local news channels all predicted a 99.2 percent eclipse in my area just outside the city. 

That didn’t happen, not by a long shot:

Me, eagerly awaiting the full eclipse as the shadows start to lengthen
This is going to get good any minute now! I tell myself. But I am already growing skeptical.
The high point of the eclipse, at around 3:20 p.m. EST. The sun has been noticeably dimmed, but it’s a long way from dark.

What can I say? Here in Cincinnati, the local weather forecasts are right only about 50 percent of the time. Why should the eclipse forecast be any different?

This was worth walking outside for, but I’m glad I didn’t make a day of it. 

I hope the eclipse was better for you, if you live in an area that was forecast to experience it. 


Why streaming makes me long for Blockbuster and the VHS tape

This brave new digital age, I am told, has brought us unparalleled convenience and endless options.

Those days when people had to rely on cable and Blockbuster? The Dark Ages! Or so I am told.

What about Netflix?

I know: I’m sounding like a Luddite already. But I’m not; I’ve plunked down the monthly fee for a Netflix subscription. Maybe this streaming stuff isn’t so bad, I thought. Give it a chance. Everything I’d want to see that isn’t currently playing at the cinema will be on Netflix, right?

Actually, not so much. While the vast, vast catalog of Netflix does include a handful of high-quality series and movies, the overwhelming majority of it consists of B-grade fare that is there simply for the sake of volume. There are endless series and movies from amateurish production companies in South Korea, Poland, Romania, and Colombia. Plus all the stuff that never made the top tier of the American film industry.

I’m sure there are a few hidden gems among all those lumps of coal. But who has the time to sort all of that out?

Streaming options for a random movie

Meanwhile, what about something I know that I do want to see? I’ve been wanting to watch the World War II movie Greyhound, starring Tom Hanks, since it was released in 2020.

Four years later, Greyhound is no longer a new movie. It’s actually kind of an old one. Greyhound ought to be on Netflix, right? After all, Netflix has room for all those series dubbed from Korean, Romanian, and Spanish. They ought to have Greyhound.

Netflix doesn’t have Greyhound.

If I want to see Greyhound, I have to get an Apple TV+ subscription for $9.99/month.

Wait! I already have a Netflix subscription at $22.99 per month. (Netflix recently raised the prices of all its plans.)

But if I want to see a single 4-year-old movie, I have to get an Apple TV+ subscription, too.

My other option is decidedly un-digital and unhip: I could buy the DVD on Amazon.

That’s probably what I’ll end up doing.

Streaming options for a favorite series

The Americans, a spy drama about a family of Soviet sleeper agents in Reagan-era America, is my all-time favorite TV series. The Americans originally ran on FX from 2013 to 2018.

I wouldn’t mind watching The Americans again. It was my all-time favorite show, after all.

The Americans ought to be on Netflix, right?

No, The Americans is not on Netflix.

How about Amazon Prime Video, then? (I pay $139 per year for an Amazon Prime Membership.)

Nope. The Americans is not on Amazon Prime Video, either. (BTW, neither is Greyhound.)

If I want to see The Americans, my first option is to purchase a digital copy of each episode at $1.99 per episode. There are 75 of them in total, so that comes out to $150.

I also have the option of buying a Hulu subscription. Hulu recently licensed The Americans. The ad-free Hulu subscription costs $17.99 per month.

So far, this streaming stuff doesn’t seem all that great.

Were the 1980s better?

Before we answer that question, let’s consider why the present age might be much worse.

A few years back, someone (?) decided that we all wanted to watch TV on our 6.1-inch phone screens, instead of actual televisions.

Why? Who knows? Personally, I’d much rather watch a movie on the screen of a 55-inch Sony Bravia TV, for example. I have no interest in watching a two-hour movie on the 6.1-inch screen of my iPhone. It’s a simple matter of geometry.

The infatuation with mobile devices led inexorably to streaming. We couldn’t expect people to mess with physical media anymore. Physical media was no longer cool.

So instead we now have to manage a score of monthly streaming subscriptions. Netflix has its own walled garden. Ditto for Hulu, Apple TV+, Disney+, Paramount +, and many others.

Such is the price of so-called progress. We’re paying a lot of money, and often getting a lot less, just because the market has bought into the latest technology.

Technology is great if it makes life better. If technology makes life more inconvenient or expensive, then go back to the horse and buggy, say I.

RCA television print ad from the 1970s

And the horse and buggy wasn’t so bad. Now let’s look at the way we sourced entertainment in the backward 1980s and 1990s.

Movies appeared first in the cinema. Then, after a predictable period of 6 months or a year, they showed up in Blockbuster and other VHS/DVD rental outlets. For a nominal fee, you could borrow any title for 3 to 5 days.

Any TV show you wanted to watch was on cable. Most were on standard channels!


In those days, HBO was only for movies. HBO was a cable alternative to Blockbuster. But there was practically no movie that you could only get on HBO. Renting it on physical media for a few bucks was always an option.

Superior to streaming? They always had my favorite movies at Blockbuster, and for only few bucks.

So simple. And no—we never thought about watching a 2-hour movie on our landline, analog phones, either. Not when we had those big RCA and Zenith televisions, with their 27-inch screens.

That would have been almost as foolish as watching a 2-hour movie on an iPhone today, when you can watch the same movie on a modern flatscreen television, with a 55-inch screen.


The guilty pleasures of Velveeta

I was a child during the 1970s. In those days before concerns about juvenile diabetes and child obesity, the mass-marketing of junk food was in full swing. And children were fair game for the marketers.

Velveeta is to cheese what SPAM is to meat. It is a sort-of cheese, but not really cheese. Velveeta is a “processed cheese product”, which the internet defines as “a product made from cheese mixed with an emulsifying agent”. Doesn’t that sound delicious?

The Kraft company promoted Velveeta heavily throughout my childhood. In the case of our household, at least, the marketing worked. Velveeta was always in our refrigerator during the 1970s.

My mom made macaroni and cheese with it. Velveeta was also tasty by itself. A little slice of Velveeta could hold you over until dinner, most of the time. And it did taste good, by the standards of 1970s mass-market, prepackaged food.

Velveeta was invented in New York in 1918. This 1966 ad tells us that “Dutch children thrive on it”; but I’m inclined to doubt that children in the Netherlands ever consumed much Velveeta. I’m also inclined to doubt that Dutch adolescent girls wore traditional kraplaps and lace bonnets as recently as 1966.

No one claims that Velveeta is a weight-loss food, but there is some debate over just how bad it is for you. It contains an equal amount of fat (4g) and protein (4g) per 70-calorie serving.


Bobby Mackey’s: a haunted place near my home

It’s no wonder I’ve written so many horror novels. My local area is filled with urban legends and reputedly haunted locations.

One of those is Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Wilder, Kentucky. (I live in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. But Wilder, Kentucky is less than thirty minutes from my front door. I’m a hop, skip, and a jump from the Ohio River.)

Bobby Mackey’s has been the subject of many paranormal studies and documentaries over the decades. I won’t venture a guess as to whether or not the site is haunted, but the building (a former slaughterhouse) is loosely associated with a gruesome murder that occurred in 1896.

The murder itself is a matter of historical record. Two men beheaded a young woman, Pearl Bryan, nearby. Bryan was pregnant at the time, and one of the murderers was the father. 

The killers were promptly caught and hanged for the despicable crime. But Pearl’s head was never found.

Guess where urban legends say the head ended up? Bryan’s headless body was found 2.5 miles away, in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. But if you believe the local legends, the killers tossed Pearl’s severed head down a well in the basement of the slaughterhouse that would become Bobby Mackey’s Music World in 1978. 

Photo by Nicolas Henderson

Over the years, many patrons of Bobby Mackey’s have reported various phenomena: cold spots, disembodied voices, and worse. Above the main bar hangs a disclaimer, stating that the building is haunted, and that management is absolved of all responsibility for injuries or trauma caused by wayward spirits. 

I’ve also talked to patrons who report that the only danger is the very living, very human clientele. Bobby Mackey’s has a reputation as a mildly dangerous place. Despite its popularity on the ghost tour circuit, the bar draws a rough-and-tumble crowd on the weekends. But if you’re a certain kind of person, that’s part of the charm, maybe.

No, I have never been there myself. Partly because I don’t like the bar scene (especially the country music bar scene), and partly because I don’t like to tempt the paranormal…especially when demonic forces are said to be involved, as is the case here.

I don’t know if the stories about Bobby Mackey’s Music World are true or not, but I don’t want to find out.

And now it looks like I won’t get the chance, anyway. The 76-year-old Bobby Mackey is moving his business to a new, and hopefully unhaunted, location nearby. 

This blog wishes Mr. Mackey success at the new site.


How about a haunted road story set in Ohio?

***View ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT on Amazon***

Spring has sprung, but it’s still cold as %$@#

As you can see in the attached photo, springtime has come to Cincinnati, Ohio. (That’s a view from my front door.)

The trees are flowering and the grass is growing. I really ought to mow the lawn. My dad’s lawn, too.

The only problem is: there is a mismatch between the temperature and the season. The temperature this afternoon only made it up to 41 degrees, with a considerable wind chill.

When it comes to grass-cutting, I don’t mind the heat. I’ll walk behind that lawnmower in mid-August, with a heat index over one hundred degrees.

But I don’t like to mow grass in the cold. If I need to dress for cold weather, then it’s too cold to mow. That’s my rule.

Temperatures are supposed to (slightly) improve over the next few days. Unfortunately, though, the warm front will bring rain.

Such are the joys of springtime lawn care in Ohio.


Audiobooks while you mow

Or podcasts, for that matter. Or music.

I am a big fan of  making use of all available time. During the spring and summer months, I mow two suburban lawns. That means about three hours of walking behind a lawnmower.

Here’s the problem, though: ordinary earbuds don’t provide sufficient hearing protection while you’re mowing the lawn. Nor are you likely to hear much of what you’re listening to, unless you only want to listen to KISS and AC/DC.

If you want to listen to spoken audio content while you mow the lawn, or operate other kinds of machinery, then you need to get a pair of WorkTunes Connect Hearing Protectors with Bluetooth Technology Headphones, made by 3M. 

It took me only a minute to sync my pair with my iPhone, which is loaded with podcasts and audiobooks. These headphones muffle the sound of my lawnmower to a very small background rumble, and I can hear the spoken audio content perfectly.

You can also accept incoming calls on these bad boys. Even with the lawnmower going, the party on the other end of the call can hear you perfectly if you speak at normal volume.

Highly recommended for audiobook enthusiasts who mow their own lawns. Audiobooks make the task of lawn-mowing much more pleasant.

**Get a pair on Amazon

AI narration: an experiment

One of the dominant players in the AI audiobook narration field recently offered access to its platform at a deep discount.

As an author, it behooves me to keep up with such things, even when I have my doubts. I have long been skeptical of the much-ballyhooed AI panacea. But I thought I should try AI narration before I completely wrote it off.

And like I said: the company was offering a deep discount.

I gave the whiz-bang AI narration platform a try. It does indeed output a narration from text. 

That narration is far from perfect. Not something that I would package as a for-sale audiobook…not at this point.

But I might use it for some short stories for YouTube and my website.

More on this later…


Classical music in small doses 

Amadeus, the biographical drama about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the mid-1980s. Starring F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, and Elizabeth Berridge, Amadeus brought the famed 18th-century composer and his times to life.

Amadeus remains one of my favorite movies of all time. But when I saw it for the first time, as a teenager in the 1980s, I was inspired: I had a sudden desire to learn more about classical music, or at least about Mozart.

This was more than a little out of character for me at the time. As a teenager, my musical tastes ran the gamut from Journey to Iron Maiden, usually settling on Rush and Def Leppard.

So I read a Mozart biography. I was already an avid reader, after all. Then it came time to listen to the actual music. That’s when my inspiration fell flat.

I found that Mozart the man was a lot more interesting than his music. At least to my then 17-year-old ears. Nothing would dethrone rock music, with its more accessible themes and pounding rhythms.

Almost 40 years later, I still prefer rock music. In fact, I still mostly prefer the rock music I listened to in the 1980s.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1781 portrait
**View Mozart biographies on Amazon**

Recently, however, I took another dive into classical music.

Classical music, like popular, contemporary music, is a mixed bag. Some of it is turgid and simply too dense for modern ears. Some pieces, though, are well worth listening to, even if they were composed in another era.

Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” is one such piece. For the longest time, I mistakenly assumed that this arrangement was written for the 1986 Vietnam War movie, Platoon, in which it is prominently figured.

I was wrong about that. “Adagio for Strings” was composed in 1938, long before either Platoon or the Vietnam War.

“Adagio for Strings” is practically dripping with pathos. It is the perfect song to listen to when you are coping with sadness or tragedy. This music simultaneously amplifies your grief and gives it catharsis. You feel both better and worse after listening.

“Adagio for Strings” was broadcast over the radio in the USA upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. It was played at the funeral of Albert Einstein ten years later. The composition was one of JFK’s favorites; and it was played at his funeral, too, in 1963.

Most of the time, though, you’ll be in the mood for something more uplifting. That will mean digging into the oeuvre of one or more of the classical composers.

While the best-known composers (Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, etc.) all have their merits, I am going to steer you toward Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) instead.

Dvorak was born almost a century after Mozart and Beethoven, and longer than that after Bach. To my philistine ear, Dvorak’s music sounds more modern, while still falling within the realm of the classical.

Antonin Dvorak

I would recommend starting with Symphony Number 9, Aus der Neuen Welt (“From the New World”). This is arguably Dvorak’s most accessible work, and my personal favorite at present. Symphony Number 9 contains a lot of moods. It takes you up and down, and round again.

This is not the story of an older adult turning away from the pop culture of his youth for more sophisticated fare. Far from it. Dvorak is not going to replace Def Leppard on my personal playlist. Bach and Mozart have not supplanted Rush and AC/DC. 

But time has made me more musically open-minded. Almost 40 years after I was inspired by the movie Amadeus, I have, at long last, developed a genuine appreciation for classical music.

But that is a qualified appreciation, for an art form that I still prefer in measured doses.


Gen Z returns to my gym

As of early this year, I have noticed something in my gym: the young people have returned in large numbers.

The young people were there in large numbers before COVID, usually to my annoyance. They were the ones who were always holding up everyone else, as they attempted to text while they worked out. I often found myself scheduling my workouts when Gen Z members were likely to be fewest in number.

The pandemic, however, bred a different kind of teen and young adult: homo housebound-introvertus. Throughout the lockdowns of 2020-1, an entire cohort of young people sequestered themselves in their rooms. There they became [even less] engaged in the real world, and [even more] immersed in the make-believe realm of social media.

They didn’t go to the gym, either. My gym was closed for only a few months in 2020, from the middle of March through early June. But the young people didn’t return when the gym reopened.

They didn’t return in 2021, 2022, or most of 2023, either.

While I don’t have any empirical data to back this up, the COVID lockdowns seemed to have had another effect on teens and young adults: weight gain. Many of them packed on the pounds. Here in Ohio, the average 16- to 24-year-old was beginning to look like a 50-year-old who had spent decades sitting behind a desk and eating too many takeout lunches from McDonald’s. I was starting to wonder how many of those kids would even make it to the age of 50, the way they were going.

Here’s the thing about youth culture, though: its only constant is change. If the recent (early 2024) influx of young people in my gym is any indication, the era of the Gen Z marshmallow may be coming to an end.

They’re still neurotically obsessive about their phones, though. The downside of the youth resurgence in my gym is the return of the inconsiderate member who sits on the ab crunch machine for five minutes while he checks his text messages. Because—dude, you can’t let a single text message go unread for even five minutes.

That’s as annoying as ever. But it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to bear for a healthier generation of young adults. I don’t want them all to die off before I do, after all.


The Headless Horseman returns

How I wrote a horror novel called Revolutionary Ghosts


Can an ordinary teenager defeat the Headless Horseman, and a host of other vengeful spirits from America’s revolutionary past?

The big idea

I love history, and I love supernatural horror tales.  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was therefore always one of my favorite short stories. This classic tale by Washington Irving describes how a Hessian artillery officer terrorized the young American republic several decades after his death.

The Hessian was decapitated by a Continental Army cannonball at the Battle of White Plains, New York, on October 28, 1776. According to some historical accounts, a Hessian artillery officer really did meet such an end at the Battle of White Plains. I’ve read several books about warfare in the 1700s and through the Age of Napoleon. Armies in those days obviously did not have access to machine guns, flamethrowers, and the like. But those 18th-century cannons could inflict some horrific forms of death, decapitation among them.

I was first exposed to the “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” via the 1949 Disney film of the same name. The Disney adaptation was already close to 30 years old, but still popular, when I saw it as a kid sometime during the 1970s.

Headless Horsemen from around the world

While doing a bit of research for Revolutionary Ghosts, I discovered that the Headless Horseman is a folklore motif that reappears in various cultures throughout the world.

In Irish folklore, the dullahan or dulachán (“dark man”) is a headless, demonic fairy that rides a horse through the countryside at night. The dullahan carries his head under his arm. When the dullahan stops riding, someone dies.

Scottish folklore includes a tale about a headless horseman named Ewen. Ewen was  beheaded when he lost a clan battle at Glen Cainnir on the Isle of Mull. His death prevented him from becoming a chieftain. He roams the hills at night, seeking to reclaim his right to rule.

Finally, in English folklore, there is the 14th century epic poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. After Gawain kills the green knight in living form (by beheading him) the knight lifts his head, rides off, and challenges Gawain to a rematch the following year.

But Revolutionary Ghosts is focused on the Headless Horseman of American lore: the headless horseman who chased Ichabod Crane through the New York countryside in the mid-1790s. 

The Headless Horseman isn’t the only historical spirit to stir up trouble in the novel. John André, the executed British spy, makes an appearance, too. (John André was a real historical figure.)

I also created the character of Marie Trumbull, a Loyalist whom the Continental Army sentenced to death for betraying her country’s secrets to the British. But Marie managed to slit her own throat while still in her cell, thereby cheating the hangman. Marie Trumbull was a dark-haired beauty in life. In death, she appears as a desiccated, reanimated corpse. She carries the blade that she used to take her own life, all those years ago.

Oh, and Revolutionary Ghosts also has an army of spectral Hessian soldiers. I had a lot of fun with them!

The Spirit of ’76

Most of the novel is set in the summer of 1976. An Ohio teenager, Steve Wagner, begins to sense that something strange is going on near his home. There are slime-covered hoofprints in the grass. There are unusual sounds on the road at night. People are disappearing.

Steve gradually comes to an awareness of what is going on….But can he convince anyone else, and stop the Headless Horseman, before it’s too late?

I decided to set the novel in 1976 for a number of reasons. First of all, this was the year of the American Bicentennial. The “Spirit of ’76 was everywhere in 1976. That created an obvious tie-in with the American Revolution.

Nineteen seventy-six was also a year in which Vietnam, Watergate, and the turmoil of the 1960s were all recent memories. The mid-1970s were a time of national anxiety and pessimism (kind of like now). The economy was not good. This was the era of energy crises and stagflation.

Reading the reader reviews of Revolutionary Ghosts, I am flattered to get appreciative remarks from people who were themselves about the same age as the main character in 1976:

“…I am 62 years old now and 1976 being the year I graduated high school, I remember it pretty well. Everything the main character mentions (except the ghostly stuff), I lived through and remember. So that was an added bonus for me.”

“I’m 2 years younger than the main character so I could really relate to almost every thing about him.”

I’m actually a bit younger than the main character. In 1976 I was eight years old. But as regular readers of this blog will know, I’m nostalgic by nature. I haven’t forgotten the 1970s or the 1980s, because I still spend a lot of time in those decades.

If you like the 1970s, you’ll find plenty of nostalgic nuggets in Revolutionary Ghosts, like Bicentennial Quarters, and the McDonald’s Arctic Orange Shakes of 1976.


Also, there’s something spooky about the past, just because it is the past. As L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

For me, 1976 is a year I can clearly remember. And yet—it is shrouded in a certain haziness. There wasn’t nearly as much technology. Many aspects of daily life were more “primitive” then.

It isn’t at all difficult to believe that during that long-ago summer, the Headless Horseman might have come back from the dead to terrorize the American heartland…