A ‘day’ becomes a ‘date’; Poe’s rules for detective fiction; a little bit of Henry Fowler

December 11, 2017 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter, Private eye.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,140) on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017.


Last week’s question: Were there no Americans before 1776?

An answer came in from newsletter reader and good friend Jane P:

There were many Americans long before 1776, in the numerous Native American societies and groups across what became the U.S. and other modern countries of North and South America. I recommend a compelling book “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann. Here’s a link to the New York Times book review: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/09/books/review/1491-vanished-americans.html

Thanks, Jane.

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

Edgar Allan Poe and the development of the detective/mystery novel

American author Edgar Allan Poe — whom we all read in school and some continued to read long afterwards — gets lots of credit for developing the modern detective/mystery novel. He was not the first to write about mysterious crime and its solution, but his five short stories (Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter, The Mystery of Marie Roget, Thou Art the Man, and The Gold Bug) pointed the way for future writers to develop this genre.

In addition, Poe — the literary critic — had some definite thoughts about the detective story. It should contain the “unity of effect of impression” that he believed could only be achieved by a short story or something that could be read in one sitting. Plenty of authors have taken the detective story to the novel form and maintained this unity. But Poe also wrote that

the mystery should be preserved throughout most of the story, 

that the mystery should converge in the denouement (“There should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design.”), and

that no “undue or inartistic means should be used by the author to conceal the solution to the mystery.”

This information all comes from Detnovel.com, a website created by Prof. William Marling, who has written extensively on the topic of the detective novel.

December 7, 1941: ‘Day’ becomes ‘date’ — and a historic phrase is born

On the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, President Franklin Roosevelt dictated a speech that would become one of the most famous in American history. Unlike more modern presidents, who employ an army of speechwriters, Roosevelt wrote much of his own speeches.

He began this one by dictating to Grace Tully, his secretary. The first draft of his first sentence was, “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a day which will live in world history . . . .”

Roosevelt was a notorious and perfecting editor, particularly of his own copy. No one knows what went through his mind when he was writing and editing this speech, but the evidence that he was giving each word much thought can be found in the image at the right. He made many changes to that draft. To Roosevelt, those first words were important, and they had to be right. They must have sounded flat, like the beginning of a dull history lesson.

Somewhere in the process, “day” became “date,” signifying a larger and more memorable moment in history than just a day. And “world history” became “infamy.” Roosevelt needed a word that would express the outrage that Americans felt about being “suddenly and deliberately attacked.”

Infamy was the word he chose. It hadn’t come to him at first. It came only in the editing process.

And it has become an indelible part of American history.

Read more about this speech and its context here on JPROF.com

True crime podcasts (continued): Casefile

Casefile, a well written and well delivered podcast from Australia, deals with stories of real crime under the moniker: “Fact is scarier than fiction.” Casefile is this week’s true crime podcast recommendation. Casefile deals with crimes from all over the world, not just Australia, but their native cases are often the most interesting and intriguing. The narration is delivered by Anonymous Host, an unnamed voice whose Australian accent is positively charming. The podcasts are well-researched and tightly written and are a pleasure to listen to. Casefile has a large following around the world and has gathered a number of prestigous awards. After listening to a few episodes, it’s easy to see why. Start with Episode 66: The Black Widow and get hooked.

Here’s what else we’ve recommended so far:

True Crime All the Time , hosted by Mike Ferguson and Mike Gibson, or “Gibby,” presents some fascinating cases, and the hosts are well informed (though not experts of any sort). Both have engaging personalities, and a big part of the fun is just hearing them play off of each other. Try episode 45, the case of Adolpho Constanzo and Sara Aldrete. It’s typical of Mike and Gibby’s approach. (Be careful; some of this episode is graphic and hard to take.)

Real Crime Profile, with three excellent hosts, have discussions of criminal cases that are riveting and insightful. The link provided above is to a list of some of the recent podcasts. Start anywhere. You will be fascinated. (Real Crime Profile on Facebook.)

Dirty John: Christopher Goffard, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has written and narrates a series called Dirty John. It’s the story of Debra Newell and John Meehan and is a true crime podcast of the highest order. It will take you a while to get through it, but once you start, you’ll likely be hooked. The reporting is thorough, the interviews are fascinating, and the story is full of twists, turns, and surprises. The ending is well worth the journey. Here’s a link to part 1, “The Real Thing.”

Sword and Scale. This website and podcast, according to its own description, is about “the dark underworld of crime and the criminal justice system’s response to it.” The folks associated with Sword and Scale have spent a lot of time producing interesting and informative podcasts about serious crimes. One episode I listened to was episode 90. It was an hour well spent.

Do you have any true crime podcast recommendations to share with fellow readers?

Crimes Against English: Readers’ pet peeves

Reader and friend Dan C. (Las Vegas) writes:

My pet peeve with the English language (though I assume it is happening in all languages) is the destruction of spelling, punctuation, and grammar brought about by original SMS text and Twitter character count limitations. The flaws of texting are taking over email and even the actual written word. The French went after what they felt was the terrible destruction of their language in the 1970’s, with the influx of Americanisms and words (Blue Jeans was a big no no). I haven’t heard the same uproar with the bastardization of language from texting.

What’s your pet peeve about English, its use or misuse?


Christmas Spree Giveaway. As usual each month, I get together with some other authors to sponsor an Amazon gift card giveaway. This month’s giveaway is $180, which should come in handy for some Christmas shopping. The giveaway sign-up runs from Dec. 1 to Dec. 15, and the winner will be announced shortly thereafter. Go to this Rafflecopter link to sign up: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/77deea0966/?

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

More from The Devil’s Dictionary

More entries from The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, these from the letter F:

FINANCE, n. The art or science of managing revenues and resources for the best advantage of the manager. The pronunciation of this word with the i long and the accent on the first syllable is one of America’s most precious discoveries and possessions.

FLAG, n. A colored rag borne above troops and hoisted on forts and ships. It appears to serve the same purpose as certain signs that one sees on vacant lots in London—”Rubbish may be shot here.”

FORGETFULNESS, n. A gift of God bestowed upon doctors in compensation for their destitution of conscience.

FUNERAL, n. A pageant whereby we attest our respect for the dead by enriching the undertaker, and strengthen our grief by an expenditure that deepens our groans and doubles our tears.

The savage dies—they sacrifice a horse
  To bear to happy hunting-grounds the corpse.
  Our friends expire—we make the money fly
  In hope their souls will chase it to the sky.

You can get a free copy of The Devil’s Dictionary in a variety of formats through Project Gutenberg.

A bit of Henry Watson Fowler wisdom

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Henry Watson Fowler’s book, Modern English Usage, as a good volume to have for those who are interested in English. Fowler is superb in writing about the nuances of the language, and I thought I would give some some bit of flavor of his book. This is the entry on the word intended:

Intended, n. It is curious that betrothed people should find it so difficult to hit upon a comfortable word to describe each other by. ‘My intended’, ‘my fiance(e)’ , ‘my sweetheart’, ‘my love(r)’, ‘my (wo)man’, ‘my boy (girl) friend’, ‘my future wife (husband)’, ‘my wife (husband) to be’ — none of these is much to their taste, too emotional, or too French, or too vulgar, or too evasive. The last two objections are in fact one; evasion of plain words is vulgarity; and “my intended” gives the impression that the poor things are shy of specifying the bond between them; so too with ‘my engaged,’ and the modern word ‘steady’ does not necessarily imply serious intentions. And so in finance(e), they resort to French instead of vague English for their embarrassing though futile disguise. It is no doubt too late to suggest that another chance be given to betrothed. It means just what it should, i.e., pledged to be married, and is not vulgarized and would be a dignified word for public use. But it is so out of fashion as to sound facetious.

Fowler’s book is full of this kind of stuff. Get one for yourself or for someone who loves the language.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Edgar Allen Poe

This is a larger version of the one at the top of this newsletter. The painting is watercolor on Strathmore Bristol hot press paper. I have been practicing portraits lately and using some 19th and 20th century writers and artists as my subjects.

Best quote of the week:

If I can do no more, let my name stand among those who are willing to bear ridicule and reproach for the truth’s sake, and so earn some right to rejoice when the victory is won. Louisa May Alcott, writer and reformist (1832-1888) .

Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.Keep reading and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter



5-star review: I this book in exchange for an unbiased review. I loved this book! Its plot and characters are quite realistic. Having been a high school teacher I felt the voices of the teens were correctly written. It is a great read!

Kill the Quarterback

5-star review: I voluntarily reviewed an ARC of this book. Wow. This is the first book I’ve read by this author. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it but I thought I would read a few pages and then bam! I was hooked! Excellent writing. Excellent story. I could not figure out whodunit and that’s the best kind of mystery. I can’t wait until the next book comes out!


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