What good are libraries, The Winds of War, and getting away with murder in the U.S.:newsletter, May 24, 2019

May 27, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, newsletter, writers.


For the last 105 weeks or so, this newsletter has been winging its electronic way to subscribers each Friday, rain or shine, hot or cold. We just passed our second birthday, and when I realized that the anniversary had come and gone, it was something of a shock — in a good way.

I started with an email list of about 700 names, and that grew to slightly more than 3,000 as I did a lot of active promotion. I scaled back the promotion a few months ago mainly because of the time it took, and since then the number of subscribers has fallen to about 2,800. The open-rate for the newsletter hovers around 30 percent, which means I’m talking with 800 to 900 of you each week.

That’s very gratifying, and I thank you all for giving me a few minutes of your time.

Meanwhile, I hope that you have had a great week and are beginning a wonderful weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,815 subscribers and had a 31.1 percent open rate; 16 people unsubscribed. A chart showing the percentage of newsletter recipients who opened the newsletter each week during 2019 is below the signature of this email.

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.

Television could barely contain “The Winds of War” and its author Herman Wouk

When The Winds of War mini-series premiered on the ABC television network in 1983, the small box in the living room could barely contain the gigantic tale of worldwide proportions that its author Herman Wouk had conceived.

It was the story of the coming of World War II in Europe and elsewhere, and its central character Pug Henry, a naval commander played by Robert Mitchem, could be found in the Oval Office chatting with President Roosevelt and then a few scenes later in Berlin in a darkened space where he, Adolph Hitler, and a few Nazi cohorts discussed the weaknesses of the enemies of the Reich, trying to impress Pug with their bluster. In between were vast battle panoramas and intimate exchanges of young people in love.

It was all believable and exciting, made so by the skill of Herman Wouk.

The drama played out over eight successive nights and drew more than 50 percent of the available television audience. Television had never seen anything like it.

Wouk not only wrote the novel on which the series was based, but he also ended up writing most of the screenplay. The 900-page script contained nearly 1,800 scenes and 4,000 camera setups. It was shot in 400 locations.

It was, in a word, epic.

The man who conceived all of that died at his home in Palm Springs, California, last week just 10 days short of his 104th birthday.

Wouk also wrote The Caine Mutiny (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction), Marjorie Morningstar, Youngblood Hawk, and War and Remembrance (the sequel to The Winds of War), and many other fiction and non-fiction titles. Critics often excoriated his work, but the public generally loved it.

Wouk was Jewish, and after a period of skepticism he returned to his faith and held it tightly. One of his daily habits was the study of the Talmud. Whatever he did, wherever he was — he kept writing. He published a comic novel when he was 100, and he was working on another novel when he died.

Here are links to obituary stories about him in the New York Times and by the Associated Press which appeared in the Washington Post:



The AP said of him:

He created at least one immortal fictional character, the unstable Captain Queeg of “The Caine Mutiny.” He was praised for the uncanniness of his historical detail in “The Winds of War” and other books. He was among the first modern Jewish writers who appealed to the general public and had an enviably large readership that stayed with him through several long novels, many of which dramatized the conflicts between faith and assimilation.

Five of the biggest writing mistakes, from  Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula

Mark Dawson is one of the most successful and prominent authors in the independent publishing world, and his Self Publishing Formula, which provides a vast amount of information and training on how to get into the business and stay there, has become a must-have resource for us indies.

One part of the resource is a blog about independent publishing that Mark and his team contribute to on a regular basis. A recent article by Tom Ashford (What Are The Biggest Mistakes Writers Make? – Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formulaoutlines the five biggest mistakes that fiction writers are likely to make.

They are 1) info dumping, 2) head hopping, 3) too much description, 4) cardboard-cutout characters, and 5) dialogue tags. I find much in the short article to agree with.

The first point, info dumping, is about the tendency of a writer reveal all of the backstory at the very beginning so that, according to the thinking of the writer, the reader will understand what’s going on.

Not necessarily, says Ashford.

Your reader expects to go into your story relatively blind – that’s why they’re reading your story. Don’t make them feel like a baby being born inside an EDM rave, unable to comprehend everything being thrown at them. Drip feed the essential (and especially non-essential) information through actual character interaction (be that dialogue or your protagonist’s view of the world around them) and through scenes that physically add to your story.

Another point Ashford makes is about “dialogue tags,” which are the verbs of attribution writers use when their characters speak. Ashford makes the point that I continually made in teaching media and journalistic writing for nearly 40 years: Nothing is as good as the verb “said.”


Poems and Paintings — the videos

I didn’t get any new suggestions for a name for the poetry-plus-painting videos this week. Nor did any express any preferences for those proposed:

Colorful Rhyme

Painting with Poetry

Illuminated Poetry

Poetic Watercolors

Of plume and brush

Poems for the Palette

Poetry in Paintings

Cadence & Canvas

Pens & Paints

Rhyme & Vision

Pens & Brushes

Verse & Vision

Keep sending me your suggestions, and let me know if any on this list appeal to you. You have one more week to do so. The top three suggestions will receive a small gift from me — a hand-turned wooden pen like the ones pictured here.

I have added another video this week: Bert Garner: In His Own Words. This was the video I put together for my presentation this week on Ole Bert: Sage of the Smokies. It uses quotations from Bert’s journals — not poetry, technically, but good enough.

Here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April:

Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner: http://bit.ly/ole-bert

In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson: http://bit.ly/RLStevenson-2poems

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvellhttp://bit.ly/Marvell-CoyMistress

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer: http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellowhttp://bit.ly/HWL-TheOldClock

Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poehttp://bit.ly/NPM-Poe-AnnabelLee

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Grayhttp://bit.ly/gray-elegy

My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browninghttp://bit.ly/EBB-myheartandi

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poehttp://bit.ly/poe-theraven

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespearehttp://bit.ly/shakespeare-sonnet18

And more are on the way.

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

Getting away with murder in the U.S.? It may be easier than you think

If you are planning to commit a murder (don’t do it!) in America and you’re a bit clever and a bit lucky, you have a pretty good shot at getting away with it.

That’s the conclusion you are led to when you read the Murder Accountability Project’s “Why We Exist” page, which begins this way:

America does a poor job tracking and accounting for its unsolved homicides. Every year, at least 5,000 killers get away with murder. The rate at which police clear homicides through arrest has declined over the years until, today, about a third go unsolved.

As a result, more than 256,000 Americans have perished in unsolved homicides committed since 1980 —  more than the combined death toll of all U.S. military actions since World War II. In fact, total U.S. military fatalities during the eight-year invasion and occupation of Iraq were less than a single year of civilian losses from unsolved domestic homicides. Source: Murder Accountability Project: Why We Exist

The Murder Accountability Project is the brainchild of Tom Hargrove, a retired award-winning journalist (someone I knew in Alabama many years ago) who realized several years ago that the U.S., with its many legal districts and jurisdictions, has no good means of tracking the overall number of homicides or their follow-up investigations.

Consequently, if we ask,”How does the police force where I live stack up against the force in other communities in clearing homicides?”, there is no good answer.

This website is a fascinating and unique view of homicides in the United States and is well worth a close look by those who are interested in this topic. Check out the Murder Accountability Project.

What good are libraries? How should they be run? Provocative questions from a reader

After my rant last week about the funding proposals from the county government for our local library, one of my very good newsletter readers and faithful correspondents (Frank C.) sent me these provocative questions. They were challenging enough that I thought I should share them with you to see if you had any reactions.

Does the library charge users (customers) for its services? If users would not pay to use it, does it say anything about its usefulness? Is it not a useful discipline to have to satisfy paying customers?

Now that digital books are widespread and readers for them are inexpensive does having a repository for paper books not seem akin to running horse-drawn trams at public expense in the age of Uber and motor cars?

Would a reduction in hours mean less service? Or would it merely mean that users would have to adjust their daily schedule to accommodate the reduced hours?

Why not reduce paid staff but allow regular users to volunteer to serve at busy hours in lieu of any charge for use of the library?

Why not move the library to a mall where shops might subsidize it to attract more footfall?  Have all forms of commercial sponsorship been considered?

Is the outcry a knee jerk reaction?

The classic ways of financing services like the library is to create a fundraising charity. It then can offer naming rights e.g. “Social Climbers” Family Wing etc. It can also create a friends of the library (organization) and get small crowdfunding donations and canvas for will bequests. The building seems impressive judging by the painting. Can it be used for social functions by sponsoring companies?

So, what do you think? I have my opinions about some of the ideas Frank has raised, but I’d like to hear yours. I will be sharing your opinions (without using names) with newsletter readers unless instructed not to do so.


Bill G.: Regarding the book about the war in Africa and Europe (Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy), my father followed that route in the war.  He started out in North Africa, fighting against Rommel. He then went on to Sicily and Italy.  After the Italians surrendered, he moved on to France and ended up in Berlin at the time Hitler killed himself.

Faye W.: Your newsletters are informative, and your art is splendiferous!

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Ole Bert
Watch this watercolor being painted with a voiceover of me reciting some quotations from Bert Garner, sage of the Smokies: http://bit.ly/ole-bert

Best quote of the week:

A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. Alexander Pope, poet (1688-1744) 

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.


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: Howard Pyle and the modern Robin Hood; Rick Atkinson’s new trilogy; and Ole Bert: newsletter, May 17, 2019


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