This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,610) on Friday, February 21, 2020.
Update on reading: I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was in the process of reading five different novels. I finished one (see below), got so lost in the story of another that I gave up, got far enough into two others that I had either figured it out or didn’t need to finish, and there is still one I want to devote some more time to.
Since then, I have gotten deeply into two more: a detective story and a spy novel. I have also started a non-fiction book that promises to be enlightening and interesting.
So this newsletter has a heavy emphasis on reading. I hope during this last full week in February you get some reading done.
Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,613 subscribers and had a 27.4 percent open rate; 3 people unsubscribed.
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Walter Mosley on the ability to speak freely
Sometime in the middle of 2019, Walter Mosley joined the writers room of the third season of Star Trek: Discovery.
It was quite a coup for the producers of the show. Mosley is a well known, much-published author who has won numerous awards, particularly in the mystery genre. He is a giant among mystery writers and certainly one of the genre’s best known African-American authors.
One day, Mosley was telling a colleague a story and used the word “nigger.”
Soon afterwards, he received a call from the human relations department saying that someone had complained that he had said that particular word out loud. Normally, the person explained, he would be fired immediately, but in this case he was getting off with a warning.
There I was being chastised for criticizing the word that oppressed me and mine for centuries. As far as I know, the word is in the dictionary. As far as I know, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence assure me of both the freedom of speech and the pursuit of happiness.
How can I exercise these freedoms when my place of employment tells me that my job is on the line if I say a word that makes somebody, an unknown person, uncomfortable?
There’s all kinds of language that makes me uncomfortable. Half the utterances of my president, for instance. Some people’s sexual habits and desires. But I have no right whatsoever to tell anyone what they should and should not cherish or express. Source: Opinion | Why I Quit the Writers’ Room – The New York Times
Mosley was so offended that anyone should attempt to stifle his speech that he quit later that day. Then he wrote an op-ed piece about the incident for the New York Times.
I’m a fortunate guy. Not everyone can quit their job. But beyond that, we cannot be expected to thrive in a culture where our every word is monitored.
Mosley has published more than 40 books since he began writing at the age of 34. He has created three detective/mystery series: Easy Rawlins, Fearless Jones, and Leonid McGill. His work runs in the same channels as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. His novel Down the River Unto the Sea was nominated for best novel for 2019 by the Mystery Writers of America.
Since achieving success as an author, Mosley has been a supporter of young writers, particularly those of color. See Crime Writers of Color.
Podcast recommendation: HLN’s Down the Hill
A new show that is sweeping its way through the podcast-true-crime cybersphere is Down the Hill, the story of the murders of two teenage girls in Delphi, Indiana, in 2017. What makes this podcast compelling is that there are so many clues to the murders — including some video, pictures, and a voice recording from one of the phones of one of the girls. Still, the police have not been able to identify the killer.
Here’s the official description of the podcast:
Abby and Libby – 2 young girls murdered. Investigators are searching for the killer using their biggest clue: a recording of his voice from one of the victims’ phones ordering the girls Down the Hill. Almost three years later, it’s a mystery that still haunts the small town of Delphi, Indiana while police say the killer may walk among them.
HLN is Headline News, a spinoff of CNN in Atlanta. The folks who put this podcast together are pros at both reporting and audio production. If you are a true crime podcast listener, this one is well worth the time.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
A reporter and a story that never went away
Judi Singer got into Katherine Ellison’s head and stayed there for close to 40 years.
Singer was a stay-at-home mom in California in 1981 when her husband was convicted for arranging the contract killing of her first husband.
Ellison was a reporter for the San Jose Mercury and covered the trial. She spoke to Singer several times during the trial, but toward the end of it, the relationship became very complex in a surprising number of ways.
I was drawn to Judi immediately. With her perfect blonde bob, single strand of pearls, and ever-present Louis Vuitton tote, she seemed so much more familiar than the seedy stream of folk normally frequenting criminal courtrooms. She could have been one of my cousins, or a friend from our synagogue. Specifically, she had a lot in common with my mother, who like Judi was a native Midwesterner, a talented cook, and a fashionable dresser who proudly made her children her life’s work. Later, I saw the similarities didn’t end there. Both women were hiding secrets behind their perfect housewife veneer.
The relationship that developed is the subject of Ellison’s latest book, Mothers and Murderers: A True Story of Love, Lies, Obsession and Second Changes. Ellison gives a fascinating account of that relationship and of how the book describing it was finally developed and written: The True Crime Story That Changed My Life | CrimeReads
The article is forthright about how the Singer case haunted the reporter for entire — and award-winning — reporting career and about how she was finally able to let go of it.
Carl Hiaasen and the characters of South Florida
Author Carl Hiaasen couldn’t do without South Florida. In an extensive review of Hiaasen’s work by Neil Nyren for CrimeReads.com, he describes Hiaasen’s work this way:
The books are all set in Florida, because of course they are. Besides being the place where Hiaasen was born and raised, and lives in and loves, it is a place utterly unique in both its natural beauty and its level of venality. “Every pillhead fugitive felon in America winds up in Florida eventually,” muses a detective in Double Whammy (1987). “The Human Sludge Factor—it all drops to the South.” Another detective in Skinny Dip (2004), who is originally from Minnesota, concurs: “[In the upper Midwest] the crimes were typically forthright and obvious, ignited by common greed, lust or alcohol. Florida was more complicated and extreme, and nothing could be assumed. Every scheming shithead in America turned up here sooner or later, such were the opportunities for predators.” Tied to that, gloats a crooked (and entirely uncredentialed) plastic surgeon in Skin Tight (1989), “One of the wondrous things about Florida was the climate of unabashed corruption. There was absolutely no trouble from which money could not extricate you.”
I mentioned at the beginning of this newsletter that there was one novel that I completed of the five I had been reading two weeks ago. It was Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip. It’s a hilarious romp through some of Hiaasen’s swamp of wetlands and characters. If you have never read Hiaasen, this is the place to start.
G.J.W.: I am reading four non-fictions with one expected to arrive any time. Three are health care diseases by M.D.s who are specialists in their field. They have few commonalities.
A.J.N.: I really prefer to read one book at a time, straight through without stopping (2-4 hours, or however long it takes) … but that isn’t always possible, and now that I’ve discovered e-books, I usually have one of those “in progress” as well as a stack of library books to read through. It’s really a treat when I find a new author and can read his entire backlist, one after another, preferably in order.
And yes, I no longer feel compelled to finish every book I start, although I still remember the first book I ever put down without finishing … Taylor Caldwell’s The Glory and the Lightning … which I began reading back in 1986 … maybe I should try again to finish that, but no, there are so many others that I’d rather read!
The “10 classics” listed below include two that I’ve never read: The Great Gatsby (saw part of the movie once, & didn’t appreciate it, either … boring bunch of alcoholic socialites, who cares?) and The Catcher in the Rye (rumored to be about a teenage boy’s sexual angst … I was never interested in that topic). I read Orwell but didn’t appreciate him much, either … I’m an optimist, and don’t care for dystopian fiction. I want the “good guys” to win in the end, and the future to be better than the past. I appreciate nobility of character, or at least a protagonist who does the best he can. Perhaps that is why I always loved Dick Francis – his leading characters shared a nobility of spirit that I have always appreciated. I still enjoy the novels of Felix Francis, which are written in the same style.
I never minded being assigned any sort of reading, because I always loved to read, but I recall skimming through some of the novels that didn’t appeal to me (Heart of Darkness was one such) and wondering who it was who had decided that this dumb story was “a classic” and what, exactly, readers were supposed to gain from reading it.
Elizabeth H.: I agree with you, Jim. I usually have several books going at one time. Fiction, biography, history, science, business all interest me and since most of my reading these days is on my tablet, what I read may depend on where I am. If waiting for a client who is late or, sometimes a no-show, I have something light or filled with essays or poetry, something that can be interrupted. I like a novel for a long wait, a biography for some unfilled office time. What a treat to delve into the variety available!
Finally . . .
I had to reach into the archives this week for a watercolor since nothing I tried seemed to work out very well. We’ll give it another shot next week. This is a painting I did a couple of years ago for a friend. Her husband grew up in a house like this one, but the picture they had was very vague. I had to do some improvising, but it turned out satisfactorily, and the friend and her husband were pleased.
Best quote of the week:
It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. Ansel Adams, photographer (1902-1984)
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.
You can connect with Jim on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and BookBub.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The mysteries of Eleanor Taylor Bland, the firing of Dorothy Parker, and reader reactions: newsletter, February 14, 2020
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