Dulcimer, Dorothy Parker, book buyers, and hot cities; newsletter, August 24, 2018

August 27, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,152) on August 24, 2018

August is speeding to a close, and in East Tennessee, we’re looking toward September for some relief from the heat. Speaking of hot, it’s getting hotter, and The Guardian is taking a deep look worldwide at the heat and what it will be for the residents of this planet. (See below.) Lots of good reading came my way this week, and I have told you about some of it in this newsletter.

I promised pictures of the dulcimers I have made in the past few weeks, so here they are. On the left, the dulcimer has a fir top, walnut sides and bottom, and walnut fretboard. In the middle, the dulcimer has a redwood top, pecan sides and bottom, and pecan fretboard. The one of the right is a “teardrop” dulcimer, made with a butternut top and cherry sides and bottom; the fretboard is also cherry.


I hope you’ve had a wonderful week and are looking forward to a great weekend.

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.

Always wit, often wisdom, under a heavy cloud: Dorothy Parker

When they told her that the taciturn ex-President Calvin Coolidge was dead, she said, “How could they tell?”

Dorothy Parker never liked the monicker or the reputation she had acquired as a “wisecracker,” but that is indeed what she was. She was more, however. She was a poet, critic, screenwriter, and political activist, and as a writer she had a major impact on her time and place.

She was also a victim of alcoholism and depression and dealt with these conditions for most of her adult life. She made several attempts at suicide — most of them thought to be half-hearted — and went through many broken relationships. Her leftwing politics eventually got her blacklisted from Hollywood.

All the while, she continued to write and crack wise:

You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.
Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses.
If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.
I’d like to have money. And I’d like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that’s too adorable, I’d rather have money.
I hate writing, I love having written.
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.

The fact was that Dorothy Parker was a good writer, maybe even a great one. She received two Academy nominations for her screenplays, and her poetry is still read and honored. She died in 1967, but she is not forgotten. (For more on Parker and other off-kilter writers, check out Andrew Shafer’s Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors.)

What makes readers buy books?

Why do readers buy books?

It’s an ancient question with no definitive answer, but fortunately folks keep searching for one.

Maggie Lynch, author of numerous books and articles, has a roundup (Opinion: What Makes Readers Buy Books? | Alliance of Independent Authors: Self-Publishing Advice Center) of some of the latest research on the Alliance of Independent Authors website, and while most of it is common sense (readers buy books on subjects they like), some of it enlightening.

Here’s a list of reasons that was produced by the results of a large survey (2,697 participants) of  book buyers in Australia; the survey was conducted by Macquarie University for the Australia Council for the Arts:

1. The topic, subject, setting or style 89.7%
2. Read and enjoyed previous works by the author 77.9%
3. The book is available in the format I want 62.6%
4. Recommendation from a friend 59.7%
5. The price 44.9%
6. Reputation of the author 42.2%
7. Reader book reviews 25.4%
8. Type size 24.0%
9. People are talking about this book 23.1%
10. Professional book reviews 21.9%
11. Won or shortlisted for a prize 21.0%
12. Recommendation from a bookseller or librarian 20.5%
13. The length of the book 20.3%
14. Bestseller lists 18.6%
15. The jacket cover 18.4%
16. Promotional activity in the bookshop or library 7.9%
17. Recommendation by public figures and celebrities 7.3%
18. Cover endorsements 6.7%

What are some of the reasons you buy a book? Send me your list.


Giveaways and offers

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


The long life of Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride”

When William Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1860 and published it in The Atlantic in the January 1861 issue, he had a goal in mind. He wanted to create a clarion call to his fellow citizens to recognize the danger to the Republic by the secession of Southern states and for those citizens to take up arms to prevent it.

He accomplished those goals. The poem was wildly successful and reprinted in newspapers throughout the North.

But Longfellow accomplished far more than that, according to David Hackett Fischer in the historiography note in his book, Paul Revere’s Ride.

That poem

— raised Paul Revere from being a merely local hero in the New England area to the pantheon of national figures associated with the American Revolution — figures such as George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson;

— latched onto and added to the American myth of the lone individual who can make a difference in shaping the great events of the day;

— itself became a national anthem, read and memorized by generations of school children, who were acculturated into the myths of the American Revolution.

Ever since its publication, critics and historians have made a cottage industry of pointing to the many inaccuracies in the poem. The main one — not the only one, by any means — was that Revere acted alone. He had plenty of help at every stage of the story. He was not even the only rider to alert “every Middlesex village and farm.” William Dawes and Samuel Prescott also rode that night, partly with Revere and partly alone. Their names are unfamiliar to us because Longfellow excluded them from the narrative.

Longfellow was part of an abolitionist movement in Boston and was horrified at the potential breakup of the Union. His purpose was to create a hero — a symbol that would enlist the minds of the fighting men and remind them why they had taken up arms. In that, he succeeded admirably.

A final point: Much of the criticism of Longfellow’s shortcomings as a historian have been transferred to Revere himself. That is, many commentators have tried to diminish Revere’s role in the American Revolution altogether. That is both unfair and inaccurate. Paul Revere was a central figure in the revolutionary politics of Boston in the 1770s. A previous post discussed his travels to Philadelphia and other venues to carry news about the independence movement in Boston. In an upcoming newsletter, we’ll talk about another role he undertook: that of artist to the movement.

The complete poem is below the signature of this email.


Self-publishing resource: The Creative Penn

If you’re thinking about self-publishing a book and want to learn more about it, there are lots of places on the web to look. Too many, in fact.

Chopping your way through the jungle of advice and how-tos is not easy.

Here’s a place I recommend starting: Joanna Penn’s website, The Creative Penn. Specifically, take a look at her Publishing section:

Your Publishing Options: Traditional, Self-Publishing, Print-on-Demand and Ebooks | The Creative Penn

Penn is a prolific author and active promoter of self-publishing. She’s delightful to read and to listen to — she does many podcasts — and her advice is sound and on target.


It’s getting hotter: The Guardian’s series on ‘Sweltering Cities’

It’s not tornados, hurricanes, or floods. It’s heat. That’s what kills more Americans each year than any other natural disaster.

And it’s getting hotter.

You’ve seen plenty of stories lately that have this same basic line: hottest year/month/season on record. They’re not kidding. And it’s unlikely that we’re going to cycle out of this. That is, the next generation is not going to be saying, “Boy, it sure isn’t as hot as it used to be.”

The Guardian currently has an excellent series on what the heat is doing to urban areas in the United States and around the world. The heat isn’t just a health issue; it has social and political implications, too.

The series is called Sweltering Cities. It’s good journalism, and its pretty scary. Start here:

‘It can’t get much hotter … can it?’ How heat became a national US problem | Cities | The Guardian



Marilyn H.: Jim, once again, thank you for your eclectic and always interesting newsletter.  I was interested to read your notes about Paul Revere; everyone knows about his famous ride but I didn’t know he’d been so involved on a regular basis, carrying messages back and forth from Philadelphia.  

I had thought every state allowed a person a court-appointed attorney if they couldn’t afford their own.  But I hadn’t heard about having to pay the costs if one was found guilty.  It’s not a very sensible system – if a person is going to jail and had no funds to begin with, they’re unlikely to pay the court costs from jail.  Similarly, I know a number of states toss people into prison for failure to pay debts like parking tickets; apparently, it’s poor single mothers who end up going to jail much of the time, never able to get out because they have no way of raising the funds and their kids go into care.  It’s a very costly system to the taxpayer for the sake of ‘collecting’ on a parking ticket.  There’s much about U.S. law and culture that I fail to understand despite being a close neighbour to the north and spending winters in California.  
I enjoy your artwork and look forward to seeing the photos of the dulcimers you’ve been making. 
Frank C.: I googled the McWhirters (the authors of the first Guinness Book of World Records). They were controversial in their day for the causes they supported and that they opposed. Ross was an IRA victim which is probably a good character reference.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor (pen and wash): Dorothy Parker


Watercolor bonus (pen and wash): Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Best quote of the week:

Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays in the palm; clutch it, and it darts away. Dorothy Parker, author (1893-1967)

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who 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 yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), 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: Road warrior Paul Revere, the concept of zero, and the odd beginning of the book of world records: newsletter, August 17, 2018


The full text of

Paul Revere’s Ride

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow1807 – 1882

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive 
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified 
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears, 
Till in the silence around him he hears 
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet, 
And the measured tread of the grenadiers 
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead, 
In their night-encampment on the hill, 
Wrapped in silence so deep and still 
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread, 
The watchful night-wind, as it went 
Creeping along from tent to tent, 
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!” 
A moment only he feels the spell 
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread 
Of the lonely belfry and the dead; 
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent 
On a shadowy something far away, 
Where the river widens to meet the bay, --
A line of black, that bends and floats 
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride, 
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride, 
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side, 
Now gazed on the landscape far and near, 
Then impetuous stamped the earth, 
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search 
The belfry-tower of the old North Church, 
As it rose above the graves on the hill, 
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height, 
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns, 
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight 
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark, 
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark 
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet: 
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light, 
The fate of a nation was riding that night; 
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight, 
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock, 
And the barking of the farmer’s dog, 
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington. 
He saw the gilded weathercock 
Swim in the moonlight as he passed, 
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare, 
Gaze at him with a spectral glare, 
As if they already stood aghast 
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When be came to the bridge in Concord town. 
He heard the bleating of the flock, 
And the twitter of birds among the trees, 
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,--
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,-- 
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

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