This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,602) on Friday, March 6, 2020.
The tornados that roared through Nashville and Middle Tennessee earlier this week left death and destruction in their wake and broke more than a few hearts — one of them being mine. I grew up in east Nashville not far from where the tornadoes touched down, and although I have not lived in Nashville for decades, the place still has special meaning and memories. That is also the case for several newsletter readers I know who also grew up there.
The same thing happened in 1998. The path of this year’s tornadoes took almost the same route though east Nashville as the ones in 1998 did. Nature is an odd, powerful, and awesome thing.
It is with those thoughts that I am heading into the weekend. I wish you good thoughts for your weekend.
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Jack Higgins, aka Harry Patterson, finally gets a break
When The Eagle Has Landed was published in 1975, it was an immediate and huge hit for its author Harry Patterson, who was writing under the pen name of Jack Higgins.
The fast-paced and gripping narrative captured the imagination of readers and the attention of filmmakers, who quickly purchased the movie rights and almost as quickly produced a film starring Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Donald Sutherland. The movie, of course, spurred sales of the book and for decades thereafter, Higgins’ name was rarely absent from the bestsellers lists.
The Eagle Has Landed has been described as a break-through novel for Patterson, and it was certainly that — but that descriptor is somewhat misleading.
In 1975, Patterson was no novice to the writing game. In fact, The Eagle Has Landed was his 35th novel. Some of his novels had sold very well, and two of them — A Candle for the Enemy and The Wrath of God — had already been made into movies. (The movie title for the former was The Violent Enemy.)
Patterson was born in 1929 in Newcastle Upon Tyne, but his mother moved the family back to her native Belfast, Northern Ireland, when the father abandoned the family. In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, he said:
“We were very poor and there was great tension between the Catholics and the Protestants . . . . As a Protestant, I’d get beaten up by Catholics, and there was one occasion when shots were fired at the tram we were travelling in and my mother pushed me on to the floor and lay on top of me. On another, a Catholic priest patted me on the head and said: ‘Poor wee boy; his black Orange soul will go straight to hell.’ Strangely, though, these experiences made me less rather more than sectarian. I came to see both religions as both morally compromised and oppressed, and have written that ambiguity into two of my main characters [Liam Devlin and Sean Dillon, who have appeared in 17 novels]. Many Catholics even assume I must be Catholic from the way I write.” Source: A life in writing: Jack Higgins | Books | The Guardian
After two years in the Army, Patterson attended the London School of Economics and eventually achieved his teaching certificate. He took a position lecturing at Leeds Polytechnic and in 1959, at the age of 30, he began writing novels. He has been at it ever since.
His first novel, A Sad Wind from the Sea, sold well enough, but his publishers told him not to write more than one novel a year because that’s all that readers would want. So Patterson began using pen names and could produce two or three in a year. They were all in the thriller genre with exciting plots and tough heroes.
Patterson now lives on the island of Jersey. He has passed his 90th birthday, and his last novel, The Midnight Bell, was published in 2016.
March literary madness: Hilary Mantel and Erik Larson
Two major literary events of the season are occurring this month: the release of new books by Hilary Mantel (The Mirror and the Light, due out March 10) and Erik Larson (The Splendid and the Vile, available now).
Mantel caused a sensation with her Wolf Hall, the first of a trilogy of historical novels that centered on the life of Thomas Cromwell, close adviser to Henry VIII (until he wasn’t) and one of the most important characters in English history. Wolf Hall won the Man Booker prize, Britain’s top book award, and became a successful stage play and ultimately television series (starring Mark Rylance).
The second novel in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, also won the Man Booker prize, an unprecedented coup for Mantel.
Now, The Mirror and the Light, in its pre-publication state is gathering more rave reviews. Writes Alexandra Harris for The Guardian:
So the trilogy is complete, and it is magnificent. The portrait of Thomas Cromwell that began with Wolf Hall (2009) and continued with Bring Up the Bodies (2012) now concludes with a novel of epic proportions, every bit as thrilling, propulsive, darkly comic and stupendously intelligent as its predecessors. “Concludes” is perhaps not the word, for there is no tone of finality. Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal, deputy head of the church in England, chief minister, second man of the realm, Cremuel to the imperial ambassador, Crumb to friends, has a great deal of business to do, through 900 pages, before we contemplate endings. The heights of his power are all before us, and though he likes ladders and cranes of construction sites, for his own progress he prefers to think of wings. Source: The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel review – Cromwell’s end | Books | The Guardian
You can read an excerpt of the book in The Guardian here.
Erik Larson always stays on the nonfictional side of history, and in doing so, he has placed himself among the best of today’s practitioners of narrative history (which include David McCullough and Nathaniel Philbrick). Larson’s mode is to take a well-known story or character in history and dig deeply into it to find another story, or dozens of other stories, that give us new insights into how we got to where we are today.
In The Splendid and the Vile, Larson magnifies the story of Winston Churchill’s first year as prime minister and the family and advisers who surrounded him. Churchill not only had to defend Great Britain from the horrors of defeat at Dunkirk and The Blitz of London, but he also had to shore up the courage of his family and the British people.
Critics are already hailing the book as another of Larson’s triumphs, and LitHub.com has a short and enlightening interview with Larson, which you can read here.
Mantel and Larson are heavyweights in their particular classes of writing, and it’s always rewarding to see what they produce.
Illustration: Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the television production of Wolf Hall.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Dorothy Thompson’s spectacular rise to the top of European journalism
Dorothy Thompson knew from a fairly early age that she wanted to do something significant. In her early twenties, she realized that journalism was the tool to do just that.
Born in 1893 to a Methodist minister and his wife in upstate New York, Thompson’s mother died at a fairly early age, and her father would take her along as he made his ministerial rounds. When he remarried, Dorothy and her stepmother did not get along (“She had an allergy to children.”), and she was shipped off to Chicago to live with an aunt.
Her time in Chicago freed her from the strictures of small-town life and introduced her to art, music, theater, and a way of thinking that fit with her natural spunk. When she returned to New York, it was to attend Syracuse University where she earned a degree in 1914. She then took to the streets as an organizer for the New York suffrage movement and learned how vicious the world could be toward a woman who was asserting her rights. Suffrage was defeated in the New York State Legislature in 1915, and the movement in that state was deflated.
Dorothy, however, was not. She continued to develop her social conscience and was drawn to the promises of Bolshevism — something her cold-eyed realism led her to abandon after Lenin took power in Russia. Still, Europe seemed to be where the action was and Dorothy wanted to be there, so she decided to launch herself into journalism. Along with a female friend, an invitation to a Zionist conference in London, and $150, Dorothy set said for Europe in 1920. Her plan was to write about the emerging Zionist movement and present an article to the International News Service.
The INS rejected the article, but Dorothy talked her way into the service’s freelance realm. Her first break came when she traveled to Ireland and interviewed Terrance MacSweeney, one of the leaders of the Sinn Fein movement. It was the last interview MacSweeny gave before being hauled off to prison and dying there two months later.
The money she earned from the INS allowed her to travel to Italy where she covered the general strike that led to Benito Mussolini taking power, gaining more respect and more money from the INS. She had also joined the Red Cross, and she went from Italy to Vienna where monarchists were planning to reinstate the King of Hungary. Her position in the Red Cross gained her entry into the King’s entourage, and her interview with him was a sensational journalistic coup. It also brought her to the attention of the Curtis Publishing Company, which hired her as the Vienna and Balkan correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger.
During her time in Vienna and Budapest, Dorothy met Marcel Fodor, Eastern European correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, who mentored her with great kindness and generosity. She also learned German and became fluent in the language.
In 1923 she married Joseph Bard, a Hungarian intellectual, but their marriage had few happy moments. They were divorced in 1927. During that time, however, she continued her upward spiral in journalistic circles, adding Germany to herlist of countries that she had covered. In 1925 she became chief correspondent for central Europe for the Public Ledger, and in 1927, she took over as head of the bureau in Berlin for the New York Post.
Thus, in less than a decade, Dorothy Thompson became the unchallenged queen of foreign correspondents in Europe. That reign was interrupted in 1928 when she met and married novelist Sinclair Lewis. They moved to Lewis’ home in Vermont, but Thompson was too well known and too well connected to remain in isolation for long. By 1930 she was back in Europe working on freelance assignments and watching Germany spiral into more political chaos.
In 1931 she was granted an interview with the rising star of the National Socialist Party, Adolph Hitler. She was less than impressed and wrote as much. She did not think Hitler would amount to much, an assessment she later regretted.
From the archives: Margaret Fuller packed more than a lifetime into her 40 short years
What I mean by the Muse is that unimpeded clearness of the intuitive powers, which a perfectly truthful adherence to every admonition of the higher instincts would bring to a finely organized human being. It may appear as prophecy or as poesy. … and should these faculties have free play, I believe they will open new, deeper and purer sources of joyous inspiration than have as yet refreshed the earth.
Let us be wise, and not impede the soul. Let her work as she will. Let us have one creative energy, one incessant revelation. Let it take what form it will, and let us not bind it by the past to man or woman, black or white.
Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, 1845
Margaret Fuller, born in 1810, has these “firsts” to her credit
- first full-time book reviewer in American journalism
- first woman allowed to use the library at Harvard College
- first female foreign correspondent for a major newspaper in the U.S.
But that is just the beginning to understanding and appreciating this remarkable woman who thought far ahead of her time.
Margaret Fuller was as smart as any man around her. In an age when the educational and professional opportunities were limited, Fuller elbowed her way into the top intellectual circles of her day with a depth of knowledge and understanding others could not match. Her personality could be grating. She was assertive in an age when women were supposed to be demure. She talked when most women would have stayed silent. She showed up in public places when most women would have stayed home.
She was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, into a family that valued education and had an extensive library. She had some periods of formal education at various schools, but in the main, her education was directed by her father and conducted by herself. By the time she was in her late 20s, her family had moved to Groton, Mass., her father had died, and her financial troubles — which would plague her for the rest of her life — had begun.
But she had begun an intellectual journey that would take her a long way in a very short time.
She had met Ralph Waldo Emerson and those who would become known as the Transcendentalists, America’s first literary movement. In fact, she was so involved with them that they asked her to edit their publication, The Dial, and she did so, contributing a number of articles of her own. To sustain herself financially, she began teaching, and in 1839, she began a series of Conversations, seminars in which women were invited to discuss the status of females in modern society. During all of this time, she wrote extensively — articles, essays, reviews, and books.
Fuller knew most of the major literary figures of the day including Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Edgar Allen Poe, who called her a “busy-body” when she intervened with him for a friend.
Her writing caught the attention of Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who in 1846 invited her to move to New York and become a columnist and reviewer. Before doing that, however, Greeley encouraged her to expand her writings on gender inequality into a book. She did so, and the book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, became a founding document of modern feminism. Her subsequent work at the Tribune as a reviewer and columnist greatly expanded her audience for her radical views on gender equality.
Those radical views included abolitionism (the freeing of slaves) and suffrage (the right of women to vote).
In August 1846, she sailed for Europe. She had been hired to tutor the son of a wealthy Quaker family, but she continued to write for Greeley’s Tribune. As such, she became American journalism’s first female foreign correspondent. Her travels took her to Italy where she met and fell in love with Giovanni Ossoli, an Italian nobleman of no particular wealth or intellectual virtue. He was involved in the Roman revolution of the period, however, and Fuller sent dispatches about that movement to the Tribune, thus becoming American journalism’s first female war correspondent.
Fuller and Ossoli had a son, but there is no record that they were ever married. In 1850, they returned to America on board a merchant ship. As it approached Fire Island, New York, the ship was caught in a violent hurricane. Fuller, Ossoli, and their son were killed, and their bodies were never recovered. A cobbled-together anthology of her works after her death was a best-seller in the 1850s until it was replaced at the top of the charts by Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Here’s another sample of her writing:
We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man. Were this done, and a slight temporary fermentation allowed to subside, we should see crystallizations more pure and of more various beauty. We believe the divine energy would pervade nature to a degree unknown in the history of former ages, and that no discordant collision, but a ravishing harmony of the spheres, would ensue.
Yet, then and only then will mankind be ripe for this, when inward and outward freedom for Woman as much as for Man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession.
Another first should be added to Margaret Fuller’s list of credits at the beginning of this piece:
She was America’s first female public intellectual. Her mind and her pen never stopped, and her life was too short.
Fuller’s life has inspired several biographies, which are amply cited in a 2013 New Yorker article on Fuller’s life by Judith Thurman: An Unfinished Woman | The New Yorker
Thanks to https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Margaret_Fuller#Woma… for the quotations in this piece.
Vince V.: Jane Friedman’s points on editing are well-made. I spent a quarter-century as a “line-editor” and eventually learned to suggest rather than change (when there was time). In my newsrooms I had a rule that anyone could (and should) challenge a headline, but you had to write a better one. Writers may be “born,” but I think editors are “made.”
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
Knowing exactly how much of the future can be introduced into the present is the secret of great government. Victor Hugo, poet, novelist, and dramatist (1802-1885)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornadoes in Tennessee — 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.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The 20th-century’s top female journalist, good advice to editors, and more fodder for the spy novelist: newsletter, February 28, 2020
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