Books stack themselves up around me (I don’t have the faintest idea how this happens). Some books I start and give up on; some I start and continue, though intermittently; and some I start and interrupt all other reading until I am well on the way to finishing.
Joyce Carol Oates’ Jack of Spades is the current volume in that last category. Oates has been writing for about a half a century. Her prose is well-crafted, and her books are generally well-reviewed, but she is not to everyone’s taste, and she rarely ventures into the thriller category. This is an exception. Jack of Spades is about a best-selling novelist who writes a different set of books under a closely guarded pseudonym. His alter-writing ego seems to be taking over his life. I haven’t read enough of the book yet to give you a proper description. Stay tuned.
Writers using pseudonyms — if you have been paying attention — is one of the subjects I have been banging on about in the newsletter the last few weeks, and this week is no exception. I also veer a bit into football and Facebook. Hope you enjoy.
Have a great weekend.
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Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling: yet another version of an oft-told tale
When Robert Galbraith finished The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the C.B. Strike series, the book was sent to a publisher for consideration. It was rejected. That likely happened again — but we don’t know how many times. We do know that it was accepted by Sphere Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, and appeared in bookstores in April 2013.
The book sold reasonably well for a first-time, unknown author. By midsummer, the sales number for the print book had reached about 1,500, and another 7,000 had gone to ebook and audiobook buyers. The book had received some reviews, mostly positive. The author was anonymous, the name Robert Galbraith being identified as a pseudonym on the book jacket.
But as with any anonymous author who debuts with a well-written book, questions arose and rumors floated.
It did not take long for the identity of the author to come to light. It was J.K. Rowling, one of the most famous and well-read authors of this generation.
The Sunday Times of London had used a couple of professors with software programs to try to sniff out the real author, but before their efforts came to fruition, they got a tip from a Twitter entry by a friend of the wife of a lawyer in a firm that worked for Rowling. The firm has apologized and made a $1,400 contribution to a charity designated by Rowling.
Rowling had hoped to publish at least three C.B. Strike novels before revealing her identity. That plan turned out to be far too optimistic. Her name was too well known and the means of finding secret information too pervasive for that to have worked.
There’s no particular moral to this story — except that an author’s identity will almost inevitably be revealed, no matter what.
Previous discussions about anonymous or pseudonymous authors have included such as
Except for Ward, each of these authors tried to keep their identities secret, and each was eventually found out. At least for Alcott, the discovery of her secret authorship was not made until decades after her death.
Is American football dying? Not yet, but the longterm outlook is unclear
Football is still the most popular sport on American television, but the thrill of the game seems somehow diminished.
Professional football has taken some serious hits during the past few years: divisive political controversies, misconduct of players, the continued and illogical denial by the NFL of links between on-field play and concussion effects, diminished television ratings, and most recently a boring and ratings-deprived Super Bowl.
College football has avoided many of the NFL’s problems but still has difficulties with a culture that protects rather than confronts rapists and sexual abuse and a system that fails to compensate players adequately for the vast revenue they generate.
The real problem for football, however, may reside at the high school level and below. Fewer and fewer kids are participating. The Guardian story cited below begins with the case of Manassas Park High School in Virginia, which had to cancel its football program this year because there weren’t enough players to field a team.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), high school football participation in the United States is down 6.1% over the last decade, falling from 1.14m players in 2008 to 1.07m in 2017. That decline has occurred even as overall high school sports participation has increased by 5.9% over the same span, rising to 7.98m athletes in 2017. In addition, youth tackle football – a feeder system for high schools – has seen a 17.4% participation drop among children ages six to 12 over the past five years, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Source: As the Super Bowl approaches, is high school football dying a slow death? | Sport | The Guardian
This article is a good roundup of the challenges facing football and, if you are interested in the topic, well worth reading.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
P.D. James tips for writing
P.D. James, the great British mystery writer, paid great attention to her craft and left us with a vast array of good, readable books as her legacy.
And like many writers, she left at least one list of tidbits about how to write well. Here it is:
— Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it.
— Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.
— Don’t just plan to write—write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.
— Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.
— Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people. Nothing that happens to a writer—however happy, however tragic—is ever wasted. Source: P.D. James: 5 Bits of Writing Advice – Gotham Writers Workshop
James died in 2014 at the age of 94. Her first book, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962, and she continued writing until shortly before her death more than 50 years later. Her last novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, was published when she was 91.
James did much of her writing while she held other jobs. She worked for two decades after World War II for a hospital board in London. In 1968 she was employed by the criminal section of the British government’s Home Office and retired from that position in 1979.
She continued to write, but her novels never came quickly. The plots were intricate and surprising, and her characters were always fully drawn. Her readers benefited from her careful craftmanship.
Where did the Facebook we know come from? It goes beyond Zuckerberg and the technology
If you are uncomfortable or possibly alarmed about Big Tech — its power, the money its has acquired, its amorality, and its use of slick TechSpeak — then you should be aware of, if not read, Roger McNamee‘s recently published book Zucked.
The book is an attack per se on Facebook and the acquisition of power without responsibility or oversight of Mark Zuckerberg.
But it’s more than it. It’s an explanation of how we got into this fix beginning with the anti-government, hands-off attitudes of the Reagan conservatives of the 1980s who saw a libertarian utopia in that bright and shining “city on a hill” they kept talking about.
The result is that our politicians seem totally befuddled with the idea of enforcing responsibility, honesty, and fair play on the big corporations that they are supposed to control. We need reformers of the caliber of Teddy Roosevelt for the job of taking back control from the likes of Silicon Valley, but currently those folks seem to be in short supply.
In reviewing McNamee’s book, John Harris of the Guardian concludes with this:
Should political will and public alarm eventually combine to finally break Silicon Valley’s remarkable power, McNamee knows roughly what ought to happen. He points to giving people control and ownership of their data, and the need to push through years of free-market dogma and convince the US authorities to reinvent anti-monopoly rules, and to take some action. What exactly this might entail remains frustratingly unclear, but he wants his readers to know he has made the ideological leap required. “Normally, I would approach regulation with extreme reluctance, but the ongoing damage to democracy, public health, privacy and competition justifies extraordinary measures,” he says. Source: Zucked by Roger McNamee review – Facebook’s catastrophe | Books | The Guardian
Harris’ review is well worth reading.
Barbara H.: Reading recommendation: A Time for Vengeance by Nathaniel Wycoff
A.J.N.: I had never heard the song about the MTA, but the music reminded me of the old folk song about “Casey Jones.” This Johnny Cash version isn’t quite exactly the way my grandmother taught it to me, about 60 years ago … but it’s fairly close:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq0fUa0vW_E
Here’s a story about it, with a version of the traditional song included:
My grandmother’s version had the refrain “Casey Jones, working for the railroad, Casey Jones, but they’ll all be dead” and the ending went: “Around the curve came a passenger train, both of their headlights shining the same; said Casey to the fireman ‘Better pick a place to jump, ‘cause ol’ Number One’s a-coming and we’re bound to bump!’ (refrain) When news reached home that Casey was dead, his wife and her children were a-sleepin’ in the bed; said she to her children ‘Better hush your cryin’ ‘cause you got another daddy on the Salt Lake Line.’ (refrain)”
Not sure how this happened to come up on my screen, but I thought it was interesting:
Thank you for your newsletters. I always enjoy them.
This watercolor is 18 x 24 inches, larger than the usual format on which I paint. To the extreme right is the Blount County Public Library and then to the left is the walking bridge over Bicentennial Lake that leads to the downtown. Below the pathway in this painting is part of the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway walking trails that weave themselves in and around much of the area. The painting shows only a small portion of the library building.
Best quote of the week:
In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it; they must not do too much of it; and they must have a sense of success in it. John Ruskin, author, art critic, and social reformer (1819-1900)
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 (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: Pablo Casals on staying young, an interesting blast from the past, and post-prison rehab: newsletter, Feb. 8, 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:
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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Tags: Artemus Ward, Casey Jones, Facebook, Fanny Burney, football, George Eliot, J.K. Rowling, John Ruskin, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Zuckerberg, MTA, P.D. James, Robert Galbraith, Roger McNamee, the Cuckoo's Calling, writing tips