The teenage revolutionary, Cold War spies, Potterheads, and the writing of a sentence: newsletter, October 12, 2018

October 15, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,079) on October 12, 2018

The workshop on self-publishing that I conducted for the Blount County Public Library was well attended and lots of fun for me. The participants had much information and many ideas, and they were not shy about sharing it. Self-publishing (I prefer the word independent publishing) grows both easier and more complex by the day. What is happening is that authors are able, if they choose, to take more control over their work, and that is a good thing from my experience and point of view.

In addition to the workshop, much of my week was spent at the library working on various projects that I have undertaken as its writer-in-residence. You will be hearing more about those in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, 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.

The American Revolution from the common soldier’s point of view: Joseph Plumb Martin

Joseph Plumb Martin, an otherwise quiet New England farmer in the first half of the 19th century, did three remarkable things in his life:

— He lived to be 90 years old, dying in 1850.

— He wrote and published his memoirs, to little acclaim, when he was 70 years old in 1830.

— He enlisted in the Continental Army in 1776 when he was 15, then re-enlisted at 16, and was with George Washington’s army in every major engagement from the Battle of Brooklyn to the end of the war at Yorktown.

It is for these last two things that we remember him.

Martin produced the only full eyewitness memoir of life in the Continental Army written by a “common soldier.”

The memoir is anything but common, however. Despite his lack of education and shortcomings in the area of grammar and spelling, Martin had a sharp mind and an eye for key details. He had a good sense of himself, too, never taking his situation or his feelings too seriously. Martin maintained his point-of-view as a common soldier, not trying to explain the significance of the battles in which he participated but simply telling what he saw, what his comrades experienced, and what happened to his company.

Plenty happened. He was besieged and part of a siege. He went on long marches and spent many long, tedious days and night in camp. He went hungry and suffered bone-freezing cold. He shared the attitudes of his fellow soldiers and their resentments of the unsupportive civilian population.

Through it all, he kept a distance from the events he experienced, and he kept a sense of humor. Here’s a passage from his description of landing near Yorktown that turned out to be the final confrontation with the British:

Soon after landing we marched to Williamsburg, where we joined General Lafayette, and very soon after, our whole army arriving, we prepared to move down and pay our old acquaintance, the British, at Yorktown, a visit. I doubt not but their wish was not to have so many of us come at once as their accommodations were rather scanty. They thought, “The fewer the better cheer.” We thought, “The more the merrier.” We had come a long way to see them and were unwilling to be put off with excuses. We thought the present time quite as convenient, at least for us, as any future time could be, and we accordingly persisted, hoping that, as they pretended to be a very courtly people, they would have the politeness to come out and meet us, which would greatly shorten the time to be spent in the visit, and save themselves and us much labor and trouble, but they were too impolite at this time to do so.

Martin’s memoir, thought to be lost for many years, turned up in the 1950s and is now available in several editions. It is a valuable asset if you want to understand how America came to be.

The book reminds us that while we remember the generals and politicians who made the big decisions, they could have done nothing without the efforts of people like Joseph Plumb Martin.

Source: Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Private Joseph Plumb Martin 2nd Edition


Ben Macintyre, master of the true-espionage take

 Ben Macintyre has done it again.

His genre is 20th-century spycraft and espionage, and he had told some thrilling tales. (Operation Mincemeat, A Spy Among Friends, Agent Zigzag, Double Cross; see his Amazon author page)

Now he’s got another one — the story of Oleg Gordievsky’s betrayal of his KGB masters and the Soviet Union and Aldrich Ames, the CIA analyst and operative who very likely revealed Gordievsky’s betrayal to the Soviets. The title is The Spy and the Traitor.

The Guardian has this to say about Macintyre’s latest:

Ben Macintyre’s wonderful The Spy and the Traitor complements and enhances Gordievsky’s first-person account. It reveals the dramatic role played by MI6 in recruiting and cultivating a serving KGB insider – and keeping him alive against the odds. Gordievsky’s British contacts were a colourful bunch. Some were upper-class cold war adventurers. Others were gifted working-class linguists recruited from Oxbridge. Women played a crucial part. All realised Gordievsky was unique.Source: The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintrye review – the astonishing story of a cold war superspy | Books | The Guardian

The New York Times has reviewed Macintyre’s book, which you can find here.

If you like stories like this, you have to read Ben Macintyre. He is the master at telling this kind of tale.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


Potterheads, take note: an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society

If you are a Potterhead, you will want to check out the Harry Potter exhibition at the New-York Historical Society.

Its title is Harry Potter: A History of Magic and includes “century-old treasures including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of the British Library and New-York Historical Society—with original material from Harry Potter publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives.” The exhibition comes from the British Library and will be in New York through January.

George Orwell, Joe Moran, and the complexity of the problem of writing a good sentence 

Joe Moran, an English prof in Liverpool, whose book First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life has been well received and reviewed, has written a marvelous essay on the sentence for The Guardian.

He begins it using the words and thoughts of George Orwell, who thought deeply about the use of the English language and who advocated its plain and straightforward use. Moran writes:

Orwell saw the plain English sentence as the sword of existential truth, a cure-all for the bad faith of modern life. But much of the time he didn’t even follow his own advice. “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out,” he ordered. Perhaps he should have written: “If you can cut a word, do.” How to write the perfect sentence | Books | The Guardian

Every writer who has taken the task of writing seriously has tested various ways of constructing a sentence well, has thought about what is best and what is not so good, and has attempted to learn from the successes and failure of others.

When I was a writing instructor, I would tell my students — many of whom were there because they thought they were weak at math — that the mathematician’s task in solving a calculus problem was child’s play compared to the complexity of the problem that a writer has in constructing a clear, readable sentence. Moran’s essay — well worth the time it takes to read it — reminded me of that belief.

It was a pleasant and timely reminder.

Proofreading The Writing Wright, volume 2: any takers?

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I have put together a second volume of The Writing Wright and am about to bring it into being. I need a few volunteers to proof the final pages. What needs to be read is only about 11,000 words. And a small gift is involved. If you are interested, just reply to this newsletter or email me at You can find volume 1 of The Writing Wright here at Amazon.



Tod W.: Write your newsletter on your own terms. Do not fuss over length. You have a great way of choosing characters out of history and highlighting aspects of their lives in such a manner that I at least find not only interesting but also as sparks to learn a bit more. I am reminded of a wonderful high school teacher who taught US History. He was also a Civil War buff. He had a large table and a bunch of little plastic soldiers, Monopoly houses, and green felt. He would set these all up at the beginning of each day, walking us through key battles, and explaining why they were important. He drew all of us into the drama and socio-political aspects far better than reading dry textbooks (though, of course, we still had to read). That was the first time I scored an A in any class. He was that good. Your writing has a similar effect.

Please keep entertaining and educating us through the nuggets you sprinkle in your newsletter.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention your wonderful watercolors that illustrate your articles. You are indeed a person of many talents.

Annamaria G.: My husband John and I enjoy your newsletter and look forward to future articles that both refresh and inform our understanding of the past and present.  Hopefully, your observations could serve to prevent our making similar mistakes in the future.  Or is that just wishful thinking?


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: George Orwell (caricature)


Best quote of the week:

Seven blunders of the world that lead to violence: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) 

Helping those in need

Hurricanes on the coasts and a tsunami in the Pacific. All over and in between, people in this world need help. This  weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that the needs are never completely met takes on special urgency.

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 ( 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.


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: Benedict Arnold explained; Joseph Plumb Martin, pictured; and more about William Tecumseh Sherman: newsletter, October 5, 2018




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.

Powered by ConvertKit

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *