This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,060) on October 19, 2018
The bees, I am happy to report, are in good shape, So far. We opened our four hives last weekend and found that the bees in each were multitudinous and had stored up honey for the winter. That’s exactly what you want to see in October: hives with lots of bees and honey.
Those signs are no guarantee that they will make it through the winter, which is the sure sign of a beekeeper’s success. For that, we must simply wait. The bees themselves will do the best they can; there is very little that the beekeeper can do about that. A decade of beekeeping has taught me that, if little else, and I plan to be sharing some thoughts about beekeeping in some future posts. Warning: those thoughts may run against the orthodoxy of the American beekeeping culture.
Today’s newsletter introduces a couple of new folks whom I have never written about and refers back to some of the old faithfuls. I hope you will enjoy it.
Meanwhile, I hope, too, 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.
Ray Bradbury on what it takes to be a writer
My stories run up and bite me in the leg — I respond by writing them down — everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off. Ray Bradbury, science-fiction writer (22 Aug 1920-2012)
Ray Bradbury had a zest for life and a zest for writing, and he never tried to separate those feelings.
“Become yourself, have fun, and then love what you are doing,” he would tell audiences over and over again — especially audiences of writers or potential writers. Bradbury described himself as a “collector of metaphors,” the ones that described his own life. He advised writers to “look for the metaphors that describe your life.”
How do you do that?
“Stuff your head,” he said. Read a short story every night. Read at least one poem every night. Read one essay a night.
“At the end of a thousand nights, you’ll be full of ideas and metaphors,” he said.
This, of course, is good advice for anyone, not just wannabe writers.
Bradbury’s most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, is classified as science-fiction, but it has crossed over into the realms of Great American Literature. Bradbury also wrote in the horror and mystery genres. For the vast majority of his 91-plus years, he wrote every day. He had his first short story published when he was a teenager, and his first novel, The Martian Chronicles, was published in 1949; the book was actually a series of short stories that he re-worked and strung together at the suggestion of an editor.
So, if you want to take Bradbury’s advice, start reading a short story every night — one of his would be good. For instance: Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales
Here’s another collection: October Country.
Walter Isaacson on storytelling
Walter Isaacson, editor, author, and biographer (Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci), has a video and posted by the PBS News Hour about people who thrive at the intersection of arts and sciences.
People who are storytellers are particularly important — far more than those who simply advocate (or “preach,” as he says in the video. (Thanks to newsletter reader and friend Marilyn F. for this link.)
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Good advice for the General: Write like you talk
As a writing teacher of several decades, I never cared for the advice “write like you talk.”
Most people don’t talk all that well. Besides, writing is a different process from talking. Talking is easy. Writing is hard.
But “write like you talk” was the advice that Ulysses S. Grant got from Robert S. Johnson, an editor at Century Magazine, in 1884 after Grant had sent the magazine a draft of an article that he had written for its Battles and Leaders of the Civil War series. The draft was a disaster.
Grant been asked to write his memoirs many times, and he had always refused. He did not believe he could write, but more than that, he did not believe anyone would be interested in what he had to say. That makes Grant, to my mind, the last truly humble politician in American history.
Grant, of course, could not have been more wrong. Generals on both sides of the war had been weighing in with their points of view on the war — mostly favorable toward themselves — almost since the day Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. Two decades after the war, the editors of Century Magazine gave many Civil War participants yet another chance to tell their stories. Most jumped at it. Grant did not.
But in the winter of 1883-84, Grant found himself financially strapped. He had invested in what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme and had lost all of his money. After initially refusing an offer for Century Magazine to write four articles for $500 each, Grant accepted. The $2,000 would not alter Grant’s fundamental financial situation, but it promised some relief.
So, Grant wrote his first article and sent it to the magazine.
The editors read it and were appalled. It was stiff, cliched, and boring. It read like a military report, which Grant was used to writing.
Robert Johnson, the youngest of the editors in charge of the Battles and Leaders project, was assigned to tell the most famous person in the country — the hero of the Civil War — that he would have to try again.
Johnson did so, and Grant took it well. He was willing to try again.
Then Johnson asked Grant to talk about some of his war experience. Grant did so. He did it was grace, humor, and humility. That’s it, General, Johnson said in effect. That’s the way you should write — just the way you have told it to me. Just the way you talk.
Grant took that advice, too, and that’s the way he began to write. Doing it that way, he found that he enjoyed the writing — enjoyed telling the stories that he had experienced and that were still in his head.
The ultimate result was the greatest military memoir written in American literature: The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S, Grant. The story of the actual composition of the memoirs is more complex and tragic, however, and we have written about that previously.
The story here comes from a recent presentation by John Marszalek to the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable. Marszalek and his colleagues Frank Williams, David Nolan, and Louie Gallo, have recently produced a complete annotated edition of Grant’s memoirs. The work has been critically acclaimed and will be a necessary part of the library of anyone who wants to do further work the Ulysses Grant, the man who could write like he talked.
A dozen authors write about the libraries they love
The New York Times asked a dozen authors to write about their experiences with libraries. What they say is fabulous.
Here’s part of what Barbara Kingsolver wrote:
Everywhere I’ve gone since (childhood), I’ve found libraries. Those of us launched from bare-bones schools in uncelebrated places will always find particular grace in a library, where the temple doors are thrown wide to all believers, regardless of pedigree. Nowadays I have the normal professional reliance on internet research, but my heart still belongs to the church of the original source. Every book I’ve written has some magic in it I found in physical stacks or archives. Source: 12 Authors Write About the Libraries They Love – The New York Times
If you love libraries, if you think they’re valuable, if you want to see them help other people as they have helped you, read this and enjoy.
Then go check out a book.
The almost forgotten Eugenics Crusade
From its very beginning, the theory of evolution — natural selection — carried as much social weight as scientific speculation. We are familiar with the religious controversy that it invoked.
Less familiar is the social movement that it inspired. That movement is documented in the Public Broadcasting System’s American Experience video title The Eugenics Crusade.
The Eugenics Crusade tells the story of the unlikely –– and largely unknown –– movement that turned the fledgling scientific theory of heredity into a powerful instrument of social control. Perhaps more surprising still, American eugenics was neither the work of fanatics, nor the product of fringe science. The goal of the movement was simple and, to its disciples, laudable: to eradicate social ills by limiting the number of those considered to be genetically “unfit” –– a group that would expand to include many immigrant groups, the poor, Jews, the mentally and physically disabled, and the “morally delinquent.” Source: Watch The Eugenics Crusade | American Experience | Official Site | PBS
The study of genetic inheritance, in the first decade of the 20th century, morphed into what many believed was a simple innovation that could improve society. That was eugenics, and its adherents spread its supposed benefits far and wide with effective media campaigns.
But from the very beginning, eugenics had its critics. Chief among those was the writer G.K. Chesterton, who published a book titled Eugenics and Other Evils in 1917. Genetic scientists also pointed out the flaw in the thinking and methods of eugenics advocates. The movement ran into opposition from the Catholic Church. Most of all, however, it was Nazi Germany that killed eugenics — by embracing it as justification for its horrid policies of the annihilation of Jews, Slavs, the physically impaired, the mentally ill, and many other groups.
The story is more complicated and interesting that this simple rendition, however. That’s why this PBS presentation is so valuable.
Eugenics represents one of the great failures of mankind’s romance with science during the last 150 years. The lessons that the story of eugenics teaches us should not be lost on today’s world.
Proofreading The Writing Wright, volume 2: readers step up
Several newsletter readers stepped up last week when I asked for proofreading help with the second volume of The Writing Wright. Thanks to all who volunteered. You should get something in the mail before long, and I hope you enjoy. I hope to get volume 2 up and available on Amazon and elsewhere shortly. You can find volume 1 of The Writing Wright here at Amazon.
Mike P.: It is difficult to understand how one man can be so debonair sophisticated and intelligent while still having the ability to express his common everyday Witt that is easily understood by the common person. Thank you.
Lorraine F.: I enjoy your comments.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Ray Bradbury
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 (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: The teenage revolutionary, Cold War spies, Potterheads, and the writing of a sentence: newsletter, October 12, 2018
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