This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,914) on Friday, February 22, 2019.
Still painting, still writing, still editing, still reading — if I can do those things, then the massive amount of rain that East Tennessee has been getting fades is not as significance as it might be otherwise. It’s also February, too early for planting a garden or thinking too much about the baseball season. But planting, baseball, and other good things are not far away.
I mentioned last week that I was reading Joyce Carol Oates’ Jack of Spades. The book is about a successful mystery author who writes a different set of books — these much darker than the ones for which he is famous — under the pseudonym of Jack of Spades. Jack of Spades slowly takes over the author’s psyche with disastrous results. Although Oates is an acquired taste for many readers, this fairly short novel is a good one to start with if you have never read any of her books. It’s billed as a “thriller” and a page-turner, and it is certainly that.
For the final week, I’m touting a couple of my own efforts below the signature of this email. The first of the Baseball Joe books is still $.99 (for the ebook), but that price will be going to $2.99 as of March 1.
Have a great weekend.
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Emma Lathen: a dual force in mystery literature
If you were an avid reader of mystery novels in the 1960s, you were probably aware of three female mystery writers more than any others: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Emma Lathen.
While Christie and Sayers have achieved immortality in the realms of mystery fiction, Lathen has all but disappeared. Yet her own story is as interesting as any 20th-century writer, and her books are almost unique in their settings and character.
As Neil Nyren writes in CrimeReads.com:
Between 1961 and 1997, Lathen published 24 mysteries featuring John Putnam Thatcher, senior vice president of the Sloan Guaranty Trust, the “third largest bank in the world,” and the first fictional sleuth to spring from the world of Wall Street. The novels were witty, crisp, insightful, intricately plotted, and highly instructive about the ways of the financial universe and the myriad businesses and industries therein. Source: Emma Lathen: A Crime Reader’s Guide to the Classics | CrimeReads
But who was Emma Lathen anyway?
Emma Lathen was a pseudonym for the writing team of Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart, both of whom were born in the late 1920s. They met when they were graduate students at Harvard University in 1952. Latsis was studying public administration and economics, and Henissart was in law school. They were roommates at Harvard and loved mystery novels.
Latsis took a number of government jobs after graduation but eventually returned to the Boston area to teach at Wellesley College. Henissart practiced law in New York, but she also returned to Boston to be the chief legal counsel for Raytheon. When she came back, she stayed with Latsis while house hunting. It was during those days that they came up with the idea of writing mystery novels together.
Their method was to come up with and develop an idea. Latsis would write the first chapter, and Henissart would write the last, and they would alternate writing the chapters in between. Once a draft was finished, they would get together and iron out the contradictions and inconsistencies.
Their first novel, Banking on Death, was published in 1961. In all, they produced 24 of these novels during the next 36 years. In 1968, they produced the first of a different series with an Ohio congressman as the protagonist/detective. These novels were written under the pseudonym of R.B. Dominic. There were only seven books in this series.
Their pseudonym stayed a secret until 1977.
They continued to write until Latsis’ death in 1997. Henissart is still alive, but she gave up writing when Latsis died.
The books they produced are written with verve and humor — the opposite, I suppose, of the noir genre. The characters are often comic, and it’s obvious that the writers were having fun creating them. Their Accounting for Murder won the Silver Dagger award in 1964, and Murder Against the Grain won the Golden Dagger award in 1967.
Here is the 1997 New York Times obituary for Latsis: M.J. Latsis, 70, Emma Lathen Writing Team Collaborator – The New York Times
Writing Lincoln’s first inaugural address
In honor of President’s Day, a federal holiday recently “celebrated,” I dug this item out of the JPROF archives:
Lincoln’s second inaugural gets a great deal of attention from historians, but the circumstances of his 1861 speech made it one of the most important addresses ever given to that point in American history.
Lincoln’s election had provoked widespread feelings through the South that session was the only option left for the slave-holding states. The voices advocating a separate nation thundered loudly and in states like Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina had overtaken any expression of moderation.
The president-elect had not spoken to the nation since his nomination because campaigning for the presidency after one received the nomination of a party was thought to be undignified. Consequently, Lincoln’s words carried great import for the immediate future of the country. Different factions projected different attitudes onto the upcoming speech. Anti-slavery supporters expected Lincoln to stand up to the Southern firebrands. Moderates on all sides urged conciliation. Hard-line Southerners expected little from Lincoln that could change their minds, and many of them did not want to change their minds.
Still, the president had to try to hold the country together with this speech.
He showed drafts of it to several people including William Seward, his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination and now his nominee for Secretary of State. Seward suggested changes throughout, but he was most disturbed at Lincoln’s ending. Seward had counseled moderation, and Lincoln’s draft, he thought, was far too harsh to give moderation any hope.
Instead, he suggested this ending:
I close. We are not we must not be aliens or enemies but fellow countrymen and brethren. Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too hardly, they must not, I am sure they will not be broken. The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battle fields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation.
Lincoln took those words and ideas and made them his own:
I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthsone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Lincoln’s sharp thinking and succinct writing took Seward’s good words and turned them into what Doris Kerns Goodwin calls “powerful poetry.”
The words did not, unfortunately, prevent disunion and four years of bloody battles. But when that was done, they gave voice to the enduring sentiment of American unity.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Podcast roundup: three worth listening to
Three podcasts that I have listened to during the last couple of weeks are well worth the time:
We’ve all heard about Individual One in the filings of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Well, before there was Individual One, there was Public Official A. That was former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year sentence for fraud and corruption charges.
WBEZ-Chicago, which should know a thing or two about handling audio, has produced a compelling multi-episode podcast about the rise and fall of Blagojevich. Here’s house WBEZ describes it:
Remember when the governor of Illinois supposedly tried to sell President Obama’s Senate seat? Or, how the same ex-governor got a “You’re fired” from Donald Trump on The Celebrity Apprentice? New from WBEZ Chicago, Public Official A uncovers the rise and fall of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. How he did whatever it took to reach the top. The trail of destruction left in his wake. And how the complexities, charisma, and tragic flaws of this public official resonate today. Source: Public Official A | WBEZ
The production and editing of this podcast are exceptionally good. Three episodes are out now with a fourth available on Friday.
Mystery novelist Michael Connelly had a previous writing life as a police reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and he takes us back there in this recent entry onto the podcast scene, The Murder Book (Murder Book). These podcasts tell real stories about real crimes and real cops.
Connelly has good reasons for getting away, momentarily, from fiction and going back to the facts:
No matter what success I achieve as a storyteller I have always and will always feel I am still a journalist at heart — I put the truth in my novels and I research them like a reporter on a story. In the last couple years as I have seen a growing threat against the integrity of journalism and law enforcement, it has awakened a desire in me to return in some way to telling the real stories of the unsung heroes of law enforcement. What better place than in a podcast, which I view as the new arena of journalism.
He’s promised 10 to 12 episodes this spring with a new one each Monday. Listen to the first one, and you’ll get hooked.
Crime Junkie is a fun podcast not because of the content but because of the chatty dialogue of the two hosts, Ashley Flowers and her pal Brit (whose surname, apparently, we can’t know). Ashley does the research for the cases she talks about, and the podcast has her telling Brit about and Brit reacting and questioning.
The content takes on interesting and sometimes gruesome crimes, and Ashley does a good job in presenting them. The podcast was just named as one of the best true-crime podcasts of 2018 by Rolling Stone magazine.
Tana French on the mystery genre and true crime
As a late-comer to the Tana French party (she’s had sales of 5 million, and I’m just now getting around to reading my first Tana French book), I found this profile of her in the Guardian enlightening.
Interviewed by former detective Alex Clark, French has a history as an uprooted child and former actress.
Although she had read mysteries all her life, French did not believe that her latest novel, The Wych Elm, was of a particular genre until her editor explained the realities of the marketplace.
On the vexatious question of genre, French is straightforward and breezy. She’s been imbibing mysteries since she was a child, her reading encompassing an Agatha Christie binge (“They’re Pringles, aren’t they? Once you pop you can’t stop”) and a love of Patricia Highsmith and “that scalpel sharp dissection of how somebody’s psyche can disintegrate … The most emotionally powerful mysteries of all are other people. I guess that makes sense for an actor to say.” She is an enormous fan of (Donna) Tartt, declaring The Secret History “one of the great mystery books of all time, and one of the great literary novels, as far as I’m concerned. And she doesn’t compromise on either one. She doesn’t seem to see any reason why she should be limited by either set of genre expectations.” Source: Tana French: ‘Nobody with imagination should commit a crime. You wouldn’t handle the stress’ | Books | The Guardian
What she has to say about true crime is certainly worth spending a few minutes with the article.
The novel I’m reading, Faithful Place, is a fascinating exploration of the Irish Catholic culture of a part of Dublin — one that her protagonist, undercover cop Frank Mackey, has tried his best to escape. So far, I’ve found the book to be lively and clever, and I can see why this author has such an avid following.
Faithful newsletter reader and regular correspondent Jeannie H. put me on to the website of author Colin Falconer, which contained this interesting article about the 19th century’s first female detective and the important work she did for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. It set me to some sleuthing of my own about women in the profession of crime detection and prevention, and I hope to say more about that next week.
This is another fairly large (18 x 24 inces) watercolor that I have been doing of some scenes around Maryville and Blount County, Tennessee.
Best quote of the week:
“The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.” Bertrand Russell, mathematician, philosopher (1872-1970)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Galbraith, Rowling and the losing art of anonymity; football and P.D. James: newsletter, Feb. 15, 2019
New edition of the Baseball Joe series (repeated from last week)
The newsletter last week carried an item about the incomparable Edward Stratemeyer whose publishing syndicate produced for us young 20th-century readers series of books like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. One of those series was titled Baseball Joe, and Stratemeyer published 14 volumes between 1912 and 1928. The “author” of the series was Lester Chadwick, but they were actually written by Howard Garis and John Duffield.
I promised a big announcement about Baseball Joe last week, so here it is: First Inning Press is publishing new editions of some of the volumes of the Baseball Joe series. So far, we have four Kindle (ebook) editions out and about on Amazon:
The Baseball Joe series follows Joe Matson as he starts on the local sandlot and ascends to the top of the baseball world. These new editions contain more illustrations than were found in the originals. The new illustrations are by me.
The first of the volume listed above (Silver Stars) is currently $ .99 on Amazon. The others are $2.99. We will be bringing out paperback editions before long and will also be publishing other volumes in the series.
Seeing Suffrage (repeated from last week)
Several years ago I wrote a book about the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade that was held on March 3, 1913, in Washington, D.C. It was the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Not only did this event turn out to be a pivotal one in the history of the suffrage debate, but it also was one that was well-covered by the newspapers of the day — particularly photographers. In my research, I had discovered a trove of photographs in the Library of Congress and in the library of the Sewell-Belmont House, the historic headquarters of the National Woman’s Party. Many of these photographs had never been published before and were included in the book.
The book, Seeing Suffrage: The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, Its Pictures, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape, was published by the University of Tennessee Press. The press published it only in a hardback edition, however, and has never brought it out as an ebook. Since I hold the copyright, I decided that it was time for that to change. That project was completed just two days before Christmas and is now available on Amazon (free if you are a Kindle Unlimited member). If you have a chance to look at it, I’d like to know what you think.
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