This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,604) on Friday, February 28, 2020.
As February rolls into March, I am impressed by three items of “too much” during the last two months: too much warm weather (I know, but it is winter), too much rain (just like last year), and too much political news (with much of it uniformly awful). If you’re feeling too much of something, let us know.
So, how do we cope?
In this little patch of the woods, we mark this weekend as the time we shift our attention from African-American authors (February) (Chester Himes, Eleanor Taylor Bland, Walter Mosley) to those of Irish (sort of) extraction (March). We’ll be rolling on that fully next week, but I do have an initial thought: why is there not a month for Scottish authors as well? Probably not a question worth answering, but still . . .
Whatever extraction you prefer for your authors, I wish you a wonderful weekend of good reading and contentment.
Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,610 subscribers and had a 30.2 percent open rate; 7 people unsubscribed.
Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.
Dorothy Thompson, America’s leading voice denouncing Nazism in the 1930s
Winston Churchill is rightly remembered as the lonely voice of 1930s Britain who recognized the dangers of Nazism and loudly and regularly denounced Adolph Hitler and his thugs while his own nation was sleepwalking through the decade.
The voice was that of Dorothy Thompson, the foremost journalist of her age. Unlike Churchill, Thompson’s experience with Hitler and Nazism was up close and personal.
Thompson spoke German and had spent a good part of the 1920s in Germany as a foreign correspondent watching it deteriorate into turmoil. She left for a while (she married Sinclair Lewis in 1927 and lived with him in Vermont for a time) but returned in 1931 and because of her prominence was invited to interview Hitler as he was gaining more and more followers.
She was not impressed. She believed that he was a “little man” who would be outmaneuvered by the more skillful politicians in Germany. In that assessment, she was clearly wrong, but she was correct in seeing Nazism as a barbaric, authoritarian cult that posed a danger not just to Germany but to the world.
In August 1934, a year and a half after Hitler had seized power, Thompson was expelled from Germany, told that because of what she had said and written that Germany could not offer its “hospitality” to her. She had 24 hours to leave. When she boarded her train, almost the whole of the foreign correspondents corps in Berlin at the time came to see her off.
Her expulsion made front-page news around the world, and Thompson had the expulsion order framed and hung in her office in New York.
Thompson spent much of the next decade in loud and unceasing opposition to the Nazis. She had ample megaphones at her disposal. She wrote a thrice-weekly column, On the Record, for the New York Tribune that was syndicated in more than 170 newspapers and read by as many as 10 million people. Thompson was also offered a broadcasting spot on NBC radio as a news commentator, so she was not only read but also heard by most of the nation on a regular basis. In addition, she had a monthly column in Cosmopolitan magazine in which she discussed non-political topics, but that only enhanced her fame and her reach.
Thompson called on America to open their hearts and their doors to those fleeing Nazi persecution. She talked about how life in Germany was becoming intolerable for Jews and other minorities. In 1939 she attended a German America Bund rally in Madison Square Garden and loudly heckled the speakers until an armed guard had to escort her out.
Sadly and to its shame, America turned deaf ears to Thompson’s pleas until it was far too late.
Next week: How Dorothy Thompson got to Germany
Good advice from editors from Jane Friedman
One of my favorite people from the world of independent publishing is Jane Friedman, a wide-ranging consultant and author of the weekly newsletter Electric Speed, which is consistently full of good tips and advice.
The introduction to her newsletter this week struck me as especially enlightening. It’s a special message to those who would be editors:
One of my husband Mark’s favorite albums is God Bless Tiny Tim, first released in 1968. He believes it’s now an under-recognized album, mostly forgotten.
In 2018, the year of the record’s 50th anniversary, Mark decided it was time to write about it—a love letter, if you will—to convince the music world to listen again.
I was excited to see what he’d write. Of course he’s talked to me at length about what this album means to him. I couldn’t wait for his observations to be shared more widely. And he happens to be a very fine writer.
So he labored over this piece for months (doing loads of research) and was on the verge of publishing it.
But then he didn’t.
Why? Because of two mistakes.
The first mistake: He showed it to me.
The second mistake: I made a lot of revision suggestions that quashed his desire to go any further with it.
And now the 50th anniversary is in the distant past.
Editors do a lot of harm every day, unintentionally. In Mark’s case, I wanted the piece to work for the kind of audience I’d like him to have, not the audience he actually wants to reach. Plus I didn’t frame the feedback in a way that made it easy to take next steps.
It’s hard to find the right editor. If you’re struggling with an editor right now, ask them lots of questions. Figure out their assumptions. Ask for what next steps they’d take.
Good, heartfelt advice. And if you are looking to up your writing and editing game, you should subscribe to Jane’s newsletter.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
A new source of material for spy novelists
Espionage novelists have a lot of material to work with. World War II and the lengthy Cold War have seen to that. But this treasure trove of material just got richer within the last couple of weeks with this story, meticulously researched and written by Greg Miller and his colleagues at the Washington Post:
For decades, the CIA read the encrypted communications of allies and adversaries.
For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret.
The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. Flush with cash, it became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software.
The Swiss firm made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Its clients included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican.
But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.
That’s right. For most of the Cold War, the U.S. government had access to much of the diplomatic communications for most countries around the world. That did not include the Soviet Union or Communist China. Nevertheless, the CIA had some insight into these nations by reading the diplomatic exchanges they had with other countries.
It was a major con operation — perhaps the biggest in all of history — and it operated in near total secrecy until the CIA finally abandoned it in the 1990s. Incredibly, the CIA wrote its own history of the project, which Miller has managed to lay his hands on.
How the operation happened and how it worked is a fascinating story — a long but well-told one by Miller and his editors.
Spy novelists now have something new to stuff into their creative pipes and take some long, slow puffs.
If your community is blessed with an active, independent bookstore (as mine is), there are probably three reasons: community, curation, and convenience. That’s the conclusion of Ryan Raffaelli, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and author of the working academic paper, Reinventing Retail: The Novel Resurgence of Independent Bookstores. He and Jamie Fiocco, president of the American Booksellers Association and owner and general manager of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C., were recently interviewed for the On Point podcast from WBUR in Boston.
My local independent bookstore is Southland Books in Maryville, TN. The folks there are deeply involved in the community — particularly the local library — and have been consistently innovative in what they do and the services they offer.
If you have a good independent bookstore near where you live, let us know about it. A few words about what makes it work wouldn’t hurt either.
Illustration: A caricature of my friend Lisa Misosky, a proprietor of Southland Books in Maryville, TN.
Responding to items in the newsletter from February 7: Chester Himes and his mysteries, the books you love and hate, and Agatha’s greatest story
Vic C.: Looking at the list of books, I suddenly realized how the curriculum has changed since I was a lad. Mandatory reading included Dickens, Huxley, Dostoyevsky, Orwell, Shakespeare, Salinger, Swift, Hawthorne, Bradbury… Well, you get the point. We had optional books back then (after Dickens it was necessary) which brought me to Dumas (pere et fils), Hugo, Stevenson, On my own, I delved into Asimov, Heinlein, et al and many of the so-called “golden age” of the genre (I’m still a huge sci-fi fan), along with Hammett and Chandler (along with the screen renditions) and others of the same era. I found the swashbucklers of great interest and read Sabatini, Costain, C. S. Forester and so on.
Like you, I still juggle several books at one time though of different types and authors since I can’t partition my memory the way I used to and still keep things straight. It is surprising, though, how many authors, titles and plots I’ve managed to keep straight usually with only a slight reminder. My electronic index of e-books, incidentally, is kept in sequence by author since that’s that way I was taught to remember them.
I’d like to share one still vivid memory apropos of the subject. In my freshman year of college, I took advanced placement English. Grades were based on a term paper around the theme of predestination, though not, strangely enough, free will. The paper was to be shaped by the books we read: Voltaire’s “Candide”, Shakespeare’s “Othello”, Plato’s “Republic”, Homer’s “Ulysses” and Machiavelli’s “The Prince” — none of which would I have chosen on my own. To this day, I still don’t know how I aced the class.
On another note (and aside from its musical quality) I have, for a long time, felt that “America the Beautiful” is much more suitable to be our national anthem. I really look forward to your missives because, in addition to the erudition and content, they provide a moment of calm in an increasingly hostile and contentious world. On a personal level, I am resigned to the fact that I don’t expect to be around to see my fears realized in a disaster of epic scale. For my daughter and her family, however, I can only hope for a sudden breakout of sanity, civility, and compassion.
LuAnn R.: Like you, I used to read one book at a time and usually subscribed to having to finish what I started. Now that I am retired from teaching, I have more time to read (Yeehaw!) and can be occasionally reading at least three books at a time. Reading is my magic carpet ride!
Bonita B.: Thank you for writing a clean, interesting newsletter. I also used to force myself to finish every book. I think it must be due to a work ethic that requires finishing any job or project you start. However, I have also given myself permission to stop reading when the story does not hold my interest or is vulgar.
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week::
“It is good fiction, so largely ignored now, that brings us so much closer to the real facts.” J.B. Priestley, British journalist, novelist, playwright, essayist, non-fiction author, social activist, and radio and TV personality (1894-1984).
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: Walter Mosley’s freedom of speech, Carl Hiaasen’s South Florida, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, February 21, 2020
Get a FREE copy of Kill the Quarterback
Get a free digital copy of Jim Stovall's mystery novel, Kill the Quarterback. You will also get Jim's newsletter and advanced notice of publications, free downloads and a variety of information about what he is working on. Jim likes to stay in touch, so sign up today.