More on Nancy Drew, Charles Finch on writing a mystery, and Tunnel 29: newsletter, October 25, 2019

October 26, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: baseball, journalism, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,653) on Friday, October 25, 2019.


We got rain again this weekend, and we got more on Monday night. After a two- to three-month stretch with almost no rain at all, the world is beginning to feel good again in East Tennessee.

In the newsletter this week, I’m following up on a couple of things that I mentioned last week. Lots of readers responded with appreciation for the piece on Mildred Wirt, the woman who gave Nancy Drew life and character, so there is another article you should read about Nancy Drew’s effect on our culture.

And there is another good podcast series to follow up the BBC’s Intrigue that I wrote about last week.

Meanwhile, have a great weekend. I’m doing something Very Special this weekend, and I will report on it in next week’s missive.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,656 subscribers and had a 29.6 percent open rate; 5 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.

Charles Finch on getting started on writing a mystery novel

How do you write a mystery novel?

Charles Finch, author of the Charles Lenox mystery series, says that plots don’t come naturally to him, so he has a trick:

I start by writing a brief, extremely dull short story. No one will ever see one of these if I can conceivably prevent it; it’s usually only about three pages, but I refine it for weeks, as carefully as Rudy Giuliani mixing his old fashioned before he Skypes in to Hannity, because, like Rudy, I’m focused on doing a crime. Specifically, that small story contains a full, straightforward account of the case my detective must solve, told in simple English. It enumerates who committed the crime and why, how they covered it up, and all the stuff of mystery novels: clues, red herrings, false leads, bloody knives, mysterious scars, anonymous notes, midnight rendezvous — in short, all the details I know I’ll have to omit from the real book I write, the actual mystery novel. Source: Charles Finch on How He Writes Charles Lenox Mysteries

This is an interesting look into not only the method but also the mind of a novelist.

Most novelists get some form of the question, “How do you come up with your stories/ideas/plots?” on almost a daily basis. This article in New York magazine’s is Finch’s answer.

Finch is an under-40 author who has developed an audience and made it onto a number of best-seller lists. He is a true preppie — which, of course, is no knock on him or his background. He was born and raised on Manhattan, educated at Phillips Academy, and did his college at Yale, where he majored in English and History. He also has a degree in English literature from Merton College in Oxford.

His advice on how he writes mysteries is surprisingly low-brow and straightforward:

This probably sounds like an artificial way to go about writing a book. But it isn’t, or at least, it doesn’t feel that way when I’m inside of doing it. The first impulse of each mystery I write is some crime — or occasionally some enigmatic and ominous image — that gets a grip on me. (A good test I use for these is whether I’d listen to a whole season of Serial about whatever I just made up. If not, I scrap it immediately.)

If you are interested in the writing process, this is a good (and short) article to read.

Charlie Munger: financial wisdom and more

Shane Parish, chief writer and creator of the Farnham Street blog, one of my regular reads, writes this about one of his favorite people:

Charlie Munger, the billionaire business partner of Warren Buffett and major inspiration behind this site, is not only one of the best investors the world has witnessed, he’s also one of the best thinkers. A quick recap is in order. Source: Charlie Munger and the Pursuit of Worldly Wisdom

Among the many quotes from Munger is this one:

“A few major opportunities, clearly recognizable as such, will usually come to one who continuously searches and waits, with a curious mind, loving diagnosis involving multiple variables. And then all that is required is a willingness to bet heavily when the odds are extremely favorable, using resources available as a result of prudence and patience in the past.”

It is meant, I think, to be financial advice, but it sounds like more than that.

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

2019 Mystery Book Deal event

Kill the Quarterback, my mystery novel, is featured in the 2019 Mystery Book Deal Event along with some great books by more than 20 mystery authors. Each of us is offering one of our books for just $0.99 or less this week only. This is a great way to discover new authors and books you might love.

The official start of the event is Monday, but it won’t last very long, so you can click here to check it out

All these amazing book covers make this discount/give-away work a look.

Podcast recommendation: Tunnel 29, another podcast hit from the BBC

First, there was the Ratline, the story of a high-ranking and much-wanted Nazi who escaped justice after World War II.

Now, the BBC’s Intrigue series has come up with another podcast hit: Tunnel 29.

This is the true story of a group of people, mostly students, who found themselves in West Germany in the early 1960s when the Soviets built the wall that divided East and West Berlin. Being in West Berlin was good for them, but they still had ties to people in the east and wanted to get them out.

So, they dug a tunnel.

Presented by award-winning broadcaster Helena Merriman, Tunnel 29 explores the against-all-odds relationships that developed between refugees who sought freedom together. We also hear about the astonishing role that American TV network NBC played in the escape.

Told through an immersive and cinematic sound design, shaped by using recordings from inside various tunnels, including Tunnel 29 itself – this new podcast is a story of love, espionage, and one of the most daring escapes of the 20th century. (BBC press release)

This is a 10-part podcast, but most of the episodes are less than 30 minutes (sometimes only about 15 minutes). As I write this, I have listened to five of the 10 episodes and am eager to get back to it to find out what happened.

What ‘Nancy Drew’ really means

Those of us who read Nancy Drew mysteries as children did not realize that Nancy had a “social context” and that she had become a cultural icon.

We just enjoyed the stories and wanted to know what Nancy would encounter next.

We probably missed what Olivia Rutigliano points out in her excellent and thought-provoking review of the cultural history of Nancy Drew on CrimeReads:

Key to understanding the plot of any Nancy Drew story (as well as many, many other texts in twentieth-century young-adult entertainment, from Harry Potter to Scooby Doo) is accepting that grown-ups cannot fix problems, only create them. Teenagers, old enough to understand the adult world while young enough to see through it, are motivated to take justice into their own hands, knowing that if they themselves do not, no one will. Source: A Cultural History of Nancy Drew | CrimeReads

Rutigliano, a Ph.D. candidate and fellow in the departments of English/comparative literature and theatre at Columbia University, takes us through the various iterations of Nancy Drew, particularly the television adaptations.

Still, she said, Nancy is in many ways the same essential character that we found on the pages of the books that Mildred Wirt Benson wrote back in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Nancy Drew’s specific perfection was engineered in a 30s context, to, as the writer Deborah Siegel points out, combine Victorian conceptions of womanhood with modern ones. The purpose of the original Nancy was to reassure a (white) culture that a more active woman was no less feminine, but also to inspire young women to be as dynamic as they wanted to be.

The Nancy Drew fans among us will want to take a look at this interesting and provocative article.


Marcia D.: Thanks for the info on the author of Nancy Drew.

Vicki G.: Thanks so much for the article about Mildred Wirt, Once I graduated from the Bobsey Twins, Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys were next. I loved them all.

Lisa G.: Thanks for the Mildred Wirt article, Jim. I knew Carolyn Keene wasn’t a real person and am glad to give mental credit to Nancy Drew’s true creator.

My fourth-grade friend group traded Nancy Drew books every week, because we were allowed to check out just one book from our small school library. My favorite gift back then was a new Nancy Drew, and my collection still has a prominent spot on the shelf.
I’d like to think Mildred’s straightforward, journalistic storytelling influenced my career just a bit.

Amy C.: I just had to drop you a line to let you know how much I enjoyed reading about ‘Carolyn Keene’. I read all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys and others growing up. Had quite a large collection. I had known later on, after my teen years that they were ghostwritten and that women used male surnames to author novels but had never heard the actual back story to any of them. I printed out the University of Iowa article to reread. It was a lot of information and deserves to be absorbed in its entirety. Thank you for the information. She was an amazing author amongst all her other ‘hobbies.’ Outshines so many humans let alone authors. Have a wonderful weekend. Michigan is getting a warm and dry respite from a lot of rainy gloomy days this weekend.

Finally . . .

This week’s pen and ink: Fred Merkle

Fred Merkle was a player for the New York Giants baseball team in the early 20th century and was involved in one of the most famous of all plays at the end of the 1908 season. Merkle’s failure to run out a single at the end of a game — a single that would have won the game and the pennant for the Giants — caused the game to end in a tie. When the game was replayed, the Cubs won and claimed the league championship.

Best quote of the week:

Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value. Arthur Miller, playwright and essayist (1915-2005)

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 woman who created Nancy Drew, the Ratline podcast, and reader reactions; newsletter, October 18, 2019



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