Robert Caro’s interviewing trick; something new in Nashville; and reader recommendations for the cold winter: newsletter, Feb. 1, 2019

February 4, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (x) on Friday, February 1, 2019.


Despite snow interruptions in East Tennessee (and much, much worse elsewhere), this has been a busy week of discoveries and revelations. Another volume in the Baseball Joe series has been uploaded — see the list below the signature of this email. It’s the sixth volume and probably the final one for the foreseeable future.

Note, too, that the first volume of the series (Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars or The Rivals of Riversideis only 99 cents for the ebook, and that price is good for just a couple of weeks longer. Then it will go to $2,99 like the others. Each volume contains some of my original drawings and paintings.

Lots of good stuff in this week’s newsletter, and I already have some pretty cool things planned for next week. Thanks to all who responded to my call for book recommendations. Keep them coming.

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

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,927 subscribers and had a 28.9 percent open rate; 8 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.

Lyndon Johnson biographer Caro reveals a secret weapon of interviewing

Robert Caro’s magisterial four volumes on Lyndon Johnson is, in my view, one of the great works of nonfiction of the 20th and 21st centuries. They will stand for many decades as an amazing work of prose and scholarship.

Volume 4, which covers Johnson’s vice presidency and his taking over the presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, was published in 2012. His presidency and involvement in the war in Vietnam will be covered in Volume 5. It is eagerly awaited by many, including me.

Meanwhile, Caro has given us a glimpse of his research methods in a long article in the New Yorker — an article that comes close to being as fascinating as the books themselves. The article is wide-ranging, but here is one of the best tidbits.

Caro, who has interviewed hundreds of people who knew something about LBJ, talks about a “secret” that every good interviewer knows. That secret is silence.

In interviews, silence is the weapon, silence and people’s need to fill it—as long as the person isn’t you, the interviewer. Two of fiction’s greatest interviewers—Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret and John le Carré’s George Smiley—have little devices they use to keep themselves from talking and to let silence do its work. Maigret cleans his ever-present pipe, tapping it gently on his desk and then scraping it out until the witness breaks down and talks.Smiley takes off his eyeglasses and polishes them with the thick end of his necktie. As for me, I have less class. When I’m waiting for the person I’m interviewing to break a silence by giving me a piece of information I want, I write “SU” (for Shut Up!) in my notebook. If anyone were ever to look through my notebooks, he would find a lot of “SU”s. Source: The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson’s Archives, by Robert A. Caro | The New Yorker

Caro has been working on his Johnson books since the mid 1970s. He has done everything he could to find out the truth about Johnson — including moving to the Texas hill country with his wife and living there for several years. The article discusses these and other aspects of his research.

Caro’s work is history and journalism of the highest order, and this article is a must-read.

A news organization model, pioneered in Texas, coming to Nashville

If you were interested in journalism when you were growing up — as I was — there was no better town to grow up in than Nashville in the post-World War II era.

And that’s where I was born and grew up.

Nashville had two competing daily newspaper that saw it as their duty to go to war with each other just about every day. The result was an exciting brand of journalism that, unfortunately, no longer exists, even in multi-newspaper towns.

Each newspaper worked hard to beat the other, and the result was that local stories received lots of coverage.

But that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone.

Nashville today is just like many other cities. Corporate bean-counting and massive cuts have killed off any competition and reduced local coverage to a laughable shadow.

But there may be hope that journalism will actually return to Tennessee’s capital city. Steve Cavendish has written a must-read piece for the Washington Post (Local newspapers have already been gutted. There’s nothing left to cut. – The Washington Postabout the efforts in Nashville to revive good, hard-hitting local journalism and about the model that his organization is going to use.

The Daily Memphian plans to use donor money as a kind of philanthropic venture capital, giving it several years to achieve fiscal sustainability. It’s a model my colleagues and I plan to follow this year when we relaunch the Nashville Banner online under the umbrella of the newly formed Nashville Public Media. We’ve learned by now that leaving local news in the hands of shareholders will only get us less.

The nonprofit route, pioneered by outlets like the Texas Tribune, emphasizes generating most revenue directly from audiences through paywalls or membership. It’s attractive because the local revenue model for Gannett, Digital First and other big newspaper chains is irrevocably broken. Unless you have the scale of The Washington Post or the New York Times, the print advertising dollars that newspapers are hemorrhaging are being replaced by digital dimes or even pennies.

As Cavendish points out, we need a new economic model that will support good journalism — which, as I have pointed out many times, is difficult and expensive. In their efforts to do this in my hometown, they have my full support.

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

The many origins of English, gathered into a British Library exhibit

Those interested in the deep history of the English language will want to take a look at this article on the BBC website: BBC – Culture – What the earliest fragments of English reveal. And if you’re in London anytime soon will want to view the exhibit it describes at the British Library.

The exhibit, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, will be available until Tuesday, Feb. 19. It shows that the Mother Tongue had many mothers and father from various places in Europe:

The exhibition gathers together an array of documents, books and archaeological evidence to form a dense picture of the Anglo-Saxon period, including a burial urn with runic inscriptions in early English from Loveden Hill, Lincolnshire, England.Anglo-Saxons cremated their dead and interred their remains in earthenware vessels. About 20 objects with runic inscriptions from before 650AD are known from England, making this vessel – which seems to feature a woman’s name and the word for tomb – one of the earliest examples of English. Source: BBC – Culture – What the earliest fragments of English reveal

The BBC article, by Cameron Laux, points out that the roots of the English language date back to the Fifth Century in Denmark and Germany where the Anglican, Saxon, and Jute tribes lived. When the Romans withdrew from England about 410 AD, they were replaced by migrants from these tribes.

The written language these tribes developed use runes, which are vertical and diagonal lines of text that lent themselves to being carved into wood. One of the items in the exhibit is a 5th-century cremation urn with a rune that means “ale.”

On a more familiar note, the exhibit includes the only manuscript of Beowulf known to exist. It dates from the end of the 10th century.

This has been a well-reviewed and highly popular exhibit, and tickets might be hard to come by. Fear not, the BBC article and the exhibit’s website have lots of information and pictures of the exhibits.

Image: The first page of the Beowulf manuscript.

Downloading books that recently lost their copyright

The newsletter noted earlier this month that thousands of books have entered the public domain as of January 1 because of the expiration of a part of the U.S. copyright laws.

Here’s an example of some of the books that are now available:

And here’s an article on how you can get to these and others: Where to Download All the Books That Just Entered the Public Domain


In last week’s newsletter, I mentioned some of the books I had been reading lately and asked you, dear newsletter readers, if you had any recommendations for the rest of us. Several of your responded:

Alice K.: I thought I’d share just a few of my favorite books.  One of my favorite fiction classics is My Antonia by Willa Cather.  In the Non-fiction category, I like Dear Bess, the Diaries and Letters of Harry Truman.  Reading Truman’s diaries and letters provides a “fly on the wall” perspective of both his personal and private life during an important time in history.  Another series of published diaries and letters I like are the volumes of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Bring Me a Unicorn,Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, and several others. 

Edwin Newman’s books on language and writing, Strictly Speaking and A Civil Tongue are also entertaining and thought-provoking. 

Freida M.:  You asked about what we have been reading lately; I seem to be on a non-fiction kick at the moment! Here is a list of a few of my favorites from the past four months:

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Hidden Figuresby Margot Lee Shetterly

A Girl’s Guide to Missiles: Growing Up in America’s Secret Desertby Karen Piper

I am a U.S. Navy veteran (Cryptologic Technician 1983-1991) so I really enjoy reading about women’s history. Still enjoying your newsletter!

Becky A.: I have recently completed all the available Hattori Hiro series by Susan Spann.  This is set in early 1600s Japan with a Shinobi assassin and Portuguese priest as protagonists.  I found the setting quite unique in my experience and the look at the culture fascinating.  I don’t know how close to history the setting is, but the author appears to have done quite a bit of research into the period.  Since the setting is wholly foreign to me, I was intrigued.

I have also finished the available Barker & Llewelyn books by Will Thomas, a series about a Private Inquiry agent set in late 19th century London.  The protagonists are a Scotsman who grew up in great turmoil in China and eventually made his way to England where he set up a business – since Scotland Yard just laughed at his presumption to ask for a position with them.  He employees a young Welshman, newly released from prison, but with a good mind and education.  Their cases often involve them peripherally in a number of historical events that make the books all the more interesting.  And, because of their backgrounds so completely outside the norms for middle-class English of the time, we get to see the events from a very different perspective.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Blount County Public Library

Bonus pen and wash: Robert Caro and LBJ (caricature)

Best quote of the week:

Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. Colette, author (1873-1954) 

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 ( 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: The unfair fate of Bulwer-Lytton; Margaret Drabble and Benjamin Disraeli; the week of the Brits: newsletter, January 25, 2019



New edition of the Baseball Joe series (repeated from last week)

The newsletter last week carried an item about the incomparable Edward Stratemeyer whose publishing syndicate produced for us young 20th-century readers series of books like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. One of those series was titled Baseball Joe, and Stratemeyer published 14 volumes between 1912 and 1928. The “author” of the series was Lester Chadwick, but they were actually written by Howard Garis and John Duffield.

I promised a big announcement about Baseball Joe last week, so here it is: First Inning Press is publishing new editions of some of the volumes of the Baseball Joe series. So far, we have four Kindle (ebook) editions out and about on Amazon:

Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars or The Rivals of Riverside

Baseball Joe on the School Nine or Pitching for the Blue Banner

Baseball Joe at Yale or Pitching for the College Championship

Baseball Joe in the World Series or Pitching for the Championship

Baseball Joe Home Run King or The Greatest Pitcher and Batter on Record

Baseball Joe Captain of the Team or Bitter Struggles on the Diamond

The Baseball Joe series follows Joe Matson as he starts on the local sandlot and ascends to the top of the baseball world. These new editions contain more illustrations than were found in the originals. The new illustrations are by me.

The first of the volume listed above (Silver Stars) is currently $ .99 on Amazon. The others are $2.99. We will be bringing out paperback editions before long and will also be publishing other volumes in the series.

Seeing Suffrage (repeated from last week)

Several years ago I wrote a book about the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade that was held on March 3, 1913, in Washington, D.C. It was the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Not only did this event turn out to be a pivotal one in the history of the suffrage debate, but it also was one that was well-covered by the newspapers of the day — particularly photographers. In my research, I had discovered a trove of photographs in the Library of Congress and in the library of the Sewell-Belmont House, the historic headquarters of the National Woman’s Party. Many of these photographs had never been published before and were included in the book.

The book, Seeing Suffrage: The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, Its Pictures, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape, was published by the University of Tennessee Press. The press published it only in a hardback edition, however, and has never brought it out as an ebook. Since I hold the copyright, I decided that it was time for that to change. That project was completed just two days before Christmas and is now available on Amazon (free if you are a Kindle Unlimited member). If you have a chance to look at it, I’d like to know what you think.


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