A look back at the year of book production and the decade of true-crime books, and the deaths of famous females: newsletter, Nov. 29, 2019

December 1, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,661) on Friday, November 29, 2019.



The gardens are, for the most part, sub-soiled and will be tilled in the next few days before the truly cold weather sets in. The bees are still alive in their three hives, although I do not know if the colonies are strong or weak. I won’t know that until late February or early March. With some fairly good rain lately, all is mostly normal on the farm.

As we enter the last month of the year, I take a moment in this newsletter to look back at the publications we have overseen this year for the local library. You may find something on the list you can’t live without. If you do, the Friends of the Blount County Library (not me) will get the profits.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,663 subscribers and had a 25.7 percent open rate; 2 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.

Friends of the Blount County Library publications: the number is now six

With the impending launch of Tenth Watch: Maryville College at the Millenium Mark: A Memoir by Gerald W. Gibson (described below), the Blount County Friends of the Library will have six imprints published in 2019.

As writer-in-residence at the library, I have some pride (understandable, I hope) in being the overall editor of this series of publications and contributing in some way to each of these books.

Here’s the list in full:

Loyal Mountaineers: The Civil War Memoirs of Will McTeer

Will A. McTeer gives us a rare find: a detailed, exciting, but modest account of what happened when, as an East Tennessee farm boy in 1862, he became one of more than two million people to serve in the Union Army. McTeer’s account of a soldier’s daily life, and his almost-daily battles, will keep you up late into the night.

The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson Burnett

When she was a teenager, future author Frances Hodgson Burnett (Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Secret Garden) moved with her family from a comfortable life in Manchester, England, to East Tennessee. It was 1865, and the land was not an easy place for a teenage girl.

The One I Knew the Best of All is Burnett’s autobiographical novel that includes her beginnings as a writer in her newly discovered East Tennessee. This new edition, fully annotated by reference librarians at the Blount County Public Library, is both delightful and enlightening.

Ole Bert: Sage of the Smokies by H.C. “Woody” Brinegar

Bert Garner was often thought of as the “Appalachian Thoreau”—a man who lived simply and stoically near the mountains that he loved. Throughout his life of 85 years (1885-1970), he developed a reputation as a true mountain man. That reputation was cemented by his friend H.C. “Woody” Brinegar, another mountain lover whose manuscript, Ole Bert: Sage of the Smokies, was published and locally distributed in 1982. This new edition, along with original illustrations, brings to life one of the most internationally famous of all Blount Countians.

Foothills Voices: Echoes of Southern Appalachia (2019)

Twelve writers from the East Tennessee region tell twelve stories—true stories of love, family, joy, and heartbreak—in the latest volume of Foothills Voices: Echoes of Southern Appalachia, produced by the Blount County Public Library. The voices in this volume echo with a pitch, tone, and diversity that reflects the Appalachian region itself.

Vietnam Voices: Stories of East Tennesseans Who Served in Vietnam, 1965-1975 (volume 1)

Many East Tennesseans served in the armed forces during the 10-year conflict that we now call simply “Vietnam.” Since the spring of 2019, as part of its Vietnam Voices project, the Blount County Public Library has been interviewing veterans who served in-country during that conflict. This first volume contains edited transcriptions of 13 of those interviews – stories of conflict, humor, heartbreak, and homecoming. Once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop.

Tenth Watch: Maryville College at the Millenium Mark: A Memoir by Gerald W. Gibson

Just before Gerald Gibson accepted the presidency of Maryville College in 1993, a friend told him that he had heard “the college was about to close.” It wasn’t, but the condition of the nearly 200-year-old institution was not good. Declining enrollments and buildings in disrepair had sapped much of the energy from the college. Tenth Watch is Dr. Gibson’s story of how the college, with strong leadership and committed constituents, climbed back into the ranks of American’s premier small colleges.

All books are available from the Friends of the Blount County Library or on Amazon.

CrimeReads.com’s 10 Best True Crime Books of the Last Decade list

We are now into the season where the lists of “10 best books of the year” are now proliferating, as are the lists of “10 best books of the decade.”

I will confess that while these lists are sometimes fun, they are more often frustrating and maddening because I have rarely read any of those books and many times have never even heard of them. The authors of these lists have different reading habits and much more time than I do.

The editors of CrimeReads.com have undertaken to make such a list for true-crime books for the decade, and this one was a lot of fun. As they write in the introduction:

The field of books that could conceivably be labeled “true crime” is so vast, it’s nearly impossible to narrow it down to a coherent list of the ten best. But we’ve undertaken to do it anyway, with a few caveats. In general, we limited ourselves to just two true crime memoirs in the top ten, but only because we needed room for other kinds of books and that area in particular has seen a flowering this decade. Source: The 10 Best True Crime Books of the Last Decade | CrimeReads

They are correct in that lots of books could be tagged as true-crime, and they have been thoughtful in their choices. A favorite of mine, Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, made the list.

The real value of these lists is to describe and remind you of books you may have missed. If you are a true-crime genre fan, this is a good list.

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

Developing a motif: inside the artist’s head

Tiring of the baseball players and fans that I have been drawing for the last few weeks, I have been working on developing a different motif to work with. Last week I started scratching around with a pen on a piece of Bristol board — a card-stock paper with a smooth finish — to explore some poses of an individual reading a book.

I’m showing this only to give you some insight into how some artists go about developing a subject for a painting or drawing. These are not meant to be finished drawings. Rather, they are experiments that provide some ideas about individual elements of a picture — the position of the subject, how the book is held, tilt of the head, etc. — and the play of lights and darks.

Some artists do small sketches, called thumbnails, that have only a few lines and take only a few seconds to complete. Others do far more elaborate drawings than what you see here.

Myself, I enjoy making lines with a pen. I probably enjoy it too much because, once I step back and look at what I’ve done, I end up thinking that I have made too many lines. But it was fun.

I will probably try to develop several paintings with this motif.

Podcasts: The deaths of Marilyn, Natalie, and Diana

The premature death of a world-famous person always provokes first rumors, which quickly morphs into conspiracy theories. Official investigations are imperfect — they are conducted by humans, after all — and they are inevitably described as “botched.”

If the famous person is female and beautiful, well, you can imagine how sensational everything surrounding that death can become.

The deaths of Marilyn Monroe (1962), Natalie Wood (1981), and Princess Diana (1997) are the pinnacle events of that genre. Multi-episode podcasts are now available to listeners who are interested in any of these tragic occurrences.

Here’s part of the introduction to the set about Princess Diana:

Former Detective-Sergeant Colin McLaren, who investigated Princess Diana’s death in 1997, returns to the scene in this 12-part audio documentary to uncover a decades-long conspiracy of secrets, speaking to the one man who will blow the case wide open. Source: ‎Diana: Case Solved on Apple Podcasts

The link to the Diana podcast also serves as the link to the Natalie Wood story because they are produced as part of the same series. The Marilyn Monroe set is at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-killing-….

I can’t recommend any of these because I have only listened to parts of them.

Listeners who left reviews complained about the Monroe and Wood podcasts for being repetitious and occasionally lacking in audio quality. Both, from what I listened to, seemed to take seriously every sensational rumor that you might have heard about both their lives and deaths.

The Princess Diana podcast appears to take a more serious approach, but that is just a first impression.


Frieda M.: Thanks for sharing about the podcast Hunted, I’m starting it today. Also I really enjoyed your art of Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln; the latter has always been my favorite President and your rendition is spot on.

Dan C.: Thou must realize that “thou” is about as divisive as one can get since it is seen as a religious pronoun, so secular divisions line up on one side or the other.

Vicki G.: Nov. 22, 1963, is a day that will be forever in my memory. I was a Senior in high school, it was my nephew’s 5th. birthday and I was a huge supporter of JFK. (I have since changed party affiliation), but that in no way affects my great respect for Kennedy. Even though it’s been 56 years (where did the time go?) it’s as fresh in my mind as it was then.

Vic C.: I took Latin as my language (suggested by my father) when I was in high school (1957) and I distinctly remember being mocked because it was a “dead language.” My response, as noted by my teacher Mr. Knapp, was that it lived on through its descendants.

Flash forward to 1965 and I was in Rome, reading the program for Carmen at the outdoor opera. Later, in Paris getting a haircut, I picked up a copy of Le Monde. In bold headlines was the announcement that Adlai Stevenson had died. Latin enabled me to stumble through the article. Not bad for a “dead language.”

Also, I remember that I was crossing Broad Street (the main North/South thoroughfare in Philadelphia on my way back to class at Temple University when a bus came up the street and someone shouted from the window that Kennedy had been shot. I didn’t believe it… I couldn’t believe it. When I got home, I turned on the TV and saw Walter Cronkite covering the story. It still makes me sad.

Thanks for another great newsletter.
Tod W.: Thanks for your thought-provoking and interesting newsletter.

I enjoyed the Kennedy piece and your accompanying artwork. I recall where I was: I worked in a local phone company central office and was compiling traffic stats at the time, measuring how busy our switches were. Suddenly traffic skyrocketed, then after about 20 seconds, it crashed. I reported this to my boss and he simply said that Kennedy had been shot. Thus the heavy traffic – everybody was calling somebody. That overloaded the equipment so it went to “line load control,” limiting calls from lines that were designated as emergency, that is police, fire, doctors, and so on.

The other part I liked was regarding pronouns. Man, I hate it when radio and TV news readers and hosts try their ever-lovin’ best to avoid the gender problem when the gender is unknown by saying, “him or her” or “he or she.” It has been suggested by style guides to use “they,” “their,” or “them” rather than the awkward “he or she.”

Kitty G.: Loved the Abe Lincoln drawing. Looks like my great grandfather….N.W. Thayer. He dressed like Lincoln and was called Vicksburg’s Abe Lincoln. He was a businessman and owned Abe Lincoln’s Tourist Courts.

Marcia D.: I also was a sophomore in high school when President Kennedy was assassinated. I am a third-generation Democrat so my parents, grandparents and an aunt an uncle voted for him. My generation was thrilled to have a young president.

Jean T.: Not my belief, but many a British schoolchild inscribed the following poem in their Latin textbook:

“Latin is a language
As dead as dead can be
First it killed the Romans
Now it’s killing me”
I chose to learn Latin and I’m always glad that I did.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Phifer Hall, University of Alabama

None of the watercolors I tried this week worked out very well, so I thought I would reach way back into the archives to a painting I did years ago when I was at the University of Alabama. The University has a beautiful campus, and I loved painting there. Phifer Hall was my favorite subject — it was where my office and my college were located — and I drew and painted it many times. This is just one version.

Best quote of the week:

“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.” Gustave Flaubert, 1867

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: The significance of Nov. 22, the politics of pronouns, and the impact of World War I: newsletter, Nov. 22, 2019



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