The father of modern horror literature, grammar rules to live without, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, January 17, 2020

January 20, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: baseball, history, journalism, newsletter, podcasting, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,6xx) on Friday, January 17, 2020.


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News from Major League Baseball in January is never plentiful, and what there was this week was not good: two team managers were fired because of their involvement in a cheating scandal (and a third may be in jeopardy). They had used some of the latest technology to steal signs from their opponents — something that was clearly against the rules — and doing so gave them a competitive advantage. (Here’s a New York Times story about what has happened so far.)

Cheating in baseball (and other sports) is nothing new, of course. In the 1980s, baseball was plagued by several cases of players who trafficked in illegal drugs and whose involvement in that trafficking affected the outcome of some games. During the next couple of decades, the sport was burdened with stories of players who ingested substances that gave them a competitive advantage. Through all of this, I am struck — and saddened — by how society’s problems have manifested themselves in a sport that I particularly enjoy.

I hope that the news this week on your personal front has been happier, and I wish you the best best of weekends. As usual, thanks for reading this newsletter, and send me a response to anything that you read here.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,632 subscribers and had a 31.3 percent open rate; 9 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.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft: The Life and Horror of a Gentleman of Providence

It’s good to have friends, even after you have died.

In 1939, the year H.P. Lovecraft died, he considered himself a failure. His life had been a series of mental and emotional battles. His relationship with his mother had been strange and destructive. His marriage had ended in divorce.

His view of non-Nordic, non-white people made him sympathetic to Nazism and put him on the wrong side of history.

His name was known almost exclusively to readers of Weird Tales magazine, and many of those readers were highly critical of his stories of the strange and the horrible. But whether they were complimentary or critical, Lovecraft took time and pains to answer every letter. He is thought to have written between 60,000 and 100,000 letters during his lifetime.

And it was this massive correspondence that ultimately saved his reputation and allowed his work to be available to succeeding generations. According to the biography on one of several websites devoted to his work:

. . . the friendships that he had forged merely by correspondence held him in good stead: August Derleth and Donald Wandrei were determined to preserve Lovecraft’s stories in the dignity of a hardcover book, and formed the publishing firm of Arkham House initially to publish Lovecraft’s work; they issued The Outsider and Others in 1939. Many other volumes followed from Arkham House, and eventually Lovecraft’s work became available in paperback and was translated into a dozen languages. Source: Howard Phillips Lovecraft: The Life of a Gentleman of Providence

Today, Lovecraft is considered to be the father of modern weird and horror fiction — the writer who gave inspiration to Robert Bloch, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Brian Keene, Jorge Luis Borges, and Joyce Carol Oates, just to name a few. His work has also inspired rock musicians, movie producers, and gamers. Some satanic cults have found great use for the concepts Lovecraft created in his fiction.

Lovecraft himself has appeared as a character in many fictional works.

The cult status of H.P. Lovecraft continues to grow, as do the publications and translations of his work. One of his biographers, S.T. Joshi, is responsible for much of this output. In 2005, the Library of America placed Lovecraft into the realms of American letters with a volume of his short stories. Joyce Carol Oates wrote a long review of Lovecraft and his work for the New York Review of Books in 1996.

The appetite for Lovecraft shows no signs of abating. Late in 2018 the BBC began a podcast series titled The Whisperer in Darkness: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which is based on a Lovecraft story. The podcast tells the story as if it were a true-crime investigation, and the first three episodes have little in the way of “horror.”

If horror is not your cup of tea (it isn’t mine either), this podcast is a good introduction to the work of H.P. Lovecraft.

Three grammar rules to ignore, according to the expert

A sharp-eyed, enlightened, and faithful newsletter reader sent me a link to a post by Benjamin Dryer, a copy chief at Random House publishers, who delineates his top three English “rules” that he believes should be ignored.

He introduces the post this way:

The English language, though, is not so easily ruled and regulated. It developed without codification, sucking up new constructions and vocabulary every time some foreigner set foot on the British Isles—to say nothing of the mischief we Americans have wreaked on it these last few centuries—and continues to evolve anarchically. It has, to my great dismay, no enforceable laws, much less someone to enforce the laws it doesn’t have. Source: Grammar expert Benjamin Dreyer lists three rules you can ignore — Quartz

His three rules to be ignored:

— Never begin a sentence with “and” or “but” (or, I might add, any coordinating conjunction).

— Never split an infinitive.

— Never end a sentence with a preposition.

I agree with Dryer on all counts. Ignore these rules.

How say you? Will you come to the defense of these rules?

Or, maybe you have your own “rules” that you believe should be ignored. Either way, write and let me know.

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

Henry Rawlinson on the Behistun inscription: key to the translations of Ashurbanipal’s library


— Writing: It started with the Sumerians 

— The library of Ashurbanipal: its discovery changed our view of history

The discovery of Ashurbanipal’s Library and its treasure of ancient clay tablets that contained writing up to 3,000 years old stands as one of the great archeological finds of the modern era. The discovery came in the mid 19th century, mainly through the efforts of Austen Henry Layard and Hormuzd Rassam.

But neither of those men knew the full significance of what they had found because neither could translate the inscriptions of the tablets. Translations were eventually accomplished, of course, but those were difficult and painstaking. And the translation efforts actually began some 20 years before the library was discovered.

In 1835 Sir Henry Rawlinson, an officer in the East India Company and an expert in the Persian language, was assigned to a post in Iran and became interested in something known as the Behistun Inscription. Located in the Iranian desert, the inscription was a great deal of writing on a huge mountain of rock, much of which was inaccessible. It contains the same story in three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian. The story it tells, in part an autobiography, is that of King Darius, who reigned in Persia around 500 BC.

The inscription is about 50 feet high and 80 feet wide, but it is located more than 300 feet off the ground on an almost sheer cliff.

Rawlinson believed that he could work out a translation of the script, but getting to where he could see it properly was the problem. The most accessible part of the script was the Old Persian, and Rawlinson was able to work out a translation of that by about 1838. He was assigned to another post and did not return to Iran until 1843.

When he did return, Rawlinson studied the mountain carefully and worked out a system of suspending planks across a chasm so that he could read the Elamite portion of the script. Then he found a local boy who was willing to climb up through a crack in the rock and suspend ropes across the Babylonian portion of the script so that paper-mâché casts could be taken of that part of the writing.

It was a tricky, life-threatening maneuver, but it worked.

Rawlinson got the impressions that he needed to complete the inscription. During the next couple of years, he was able to decipher the text of the other languages and to gain greater understanding of what the cuneiform characters meant in the context in which they were used. His work continued when Austen Henry Layard made the astonishing discovery of Nineveh and the thousands of clay tablets.

Rawlinson had a distinguished military and political career in addition to his antiquity studies. He was a soldier recognized for gallantry during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1843), and he later served as a member of Parliament for several years. He was also president of the Royal Geographic Society.

Illustration: This 19th-century lithograph gives you an idea of the location of the Behistun Inscription and what Henry Rawlinson had to do to get to it.

A number of distinguished amateur scholars worked with Rawlinson in his translation efforts. One was a young man named George Smith, whose background was humble but whose discoveries were to eclipse in the public mind those of his predecessors. His story is next week.

Podcast recommendation: Accused, a top-notch true-crime podcast, now into Season 3

After June 18, 1984, no one ever saw David Bocks again. He was a divorced father of three and, despite the divorce, a devoted dad. He worked as a pipe-fitter at the Fernald Feed Production Center near Cincinnati, Ohio, which was a cover for a U.S. Department of Energy facility that processed high-grade uranium for use in nuclear weapons.

Was he murdered? Did he commit suicide? Was he the victim of an accident? Or, did he just leave?

That story comes from one of the best true-crime podcasts that I have listened to. It’s Accused, and it’s produced by the staff of the Cincinnati Enquirer, led by reporter Amber Hunt.

The story of David Bocks is Season 3 in this podcast that is deeply researched and spiced with excellent production values. The first two seasons dealt with very old cold-case murders. This one is different in that we don’t know if it is a murder or not.

You will find the episodes of Accused easy to listen to and easy to follow. Hunt’s professional presentation gives the listener insight not only into the case itself but into the reporting process. If you try just one true-crime podcast this January, try a season of Accused. You’ll get hooked.


LuAnn R.: My husband and I read Obama’s book (see last week’s newsletter) out loud. We found it interesting and worth the time and effort! I recommend it to anyone else with such an interest.

Curtis D.: First started buying Mad Magazine when it sold for 25 cents and didn’t miss an issue until I finished college. Unfortunately, I understand they have ceased publication. Sick Magazine wasn’t bad, but it apparently didn’t survive.

Shiela P.: I’m so sorry about your bees, Jim! How awful. Let us know if you find out what happened. And, I want to try Tapply now. Love a good mystery!

Dan C.: I believe the last of the Sumerians was about 4,000 years ago and that the pre-date the Eqyptian Pharoh Dynasties by between 2,000 and 7,000 years, depending on who you ask (Ancient Alien followers go for the 10,000 BCE time frame).
In October, I saw the Pyramids of Giza and Temples from Aswan to Luxor along the Nile (as well as the Valley of the Kings). I believe the Pyramids and the Sphinx on the Giza Plateau are much older than they are given credit for by Egyptian archaeologists, which would also set the Sumerian writing back 6 or 7 millennia.
Dierdre H.: Thank you for your weekly emails. I might not always know who you are discussing, but I always find your information fascinating. I have learned so much over the past year through your emails and while I may not have the opportunity to share and discuss it with others, it is very important to me to keep expanding my knowledge base.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: H.P. Lovecraft (caricature)

Best quote of the week:

“The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.” Mary Ann Evans, aka George Eliot, British journalist, essayist, editor, literary critic and novelist (1819-1880)

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 library of Ashurbanipal, Obama’s audacity of hope, and Highsmith’s first job: newsletter, January 10, 2020



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