An admiral floats while multiple writers write the same story, the scientific method, and more reasons to stay home and read a good book: newsletter, June 26, 2020

June 29, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,573) on Friday, June 26, 2020.


A few weeks ago in the newsletter, I mentioned blackberry winter. Well, it is now officially blackberry summer here in East Tennessee. I have declared it so this week. The wild blackberries are  bright red, and a few are turning black. From the looks of things, this may be one of the best blackberry seasons that we have had in a while.

I look forward to blackberry season the way hunters look forward to turkey or deer season. Wild blackberries are not easy to pick. Not only are there thorns on the blackberry vines themselves, but they are surrounded by large thorny sprouts as if they are standing guard against blackberry pickers like me. There are also the birds and the occasional buzzing creatures. It takes some skill and experience to pick blackberries without shredding your hands or clothes. I relish the challenge.

But life today is full of challenges, isn’t it? The pandemic continues to rage, putting all of us at a risk that we dare not ignore (see below).

Whatever challenges you are facing, I hope that you can stay in and stay safe as much as possible this weekend. Write when you can.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,577 subscribers and had a 30.1 percent open rate; 4 persons 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.

The Floating Admiral, the most famous of the round-robin novels

The admiral had lots of authors — 13, to be exact — help him into his dinghy. Unfortunately, none of them helped him stay alive while he rowed across the lake that night. They, of course, had a vested interest in seeing that he was dead by the time he reached the middle of the lake.

Mystery writers — you can never count on them to keep you alive.


The book in question is The Floating Admiral, published in 1931, and it is the most famous, though not the first, of the round-robin mystery novels. A round-robin novel is where several authors agree on a situation, a set of rules for the story, and an order in which authors will write. Then each author writes a chapter after the one before has written the previous chapter.

The last author has to tie the story together, and that is the toughest job of all.

The Floating Admiral is famous because of the authors involved: Victor Whitworth, the writing team of GDH and Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Agatha Christie, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Croft, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane, and Anthony Berkeley. An introduction was written by G.K. Chesterton. How did all these heavy-hitters of 20th century British literature come together to write this book?

The answer is that they were all members of the Detection Club, a group of published mystery authors who met periodically in London for dinner, drink, conversation, and maybe a little shop talk. The idea of the book came from something Dorothy L. Sayers had done for the BBC a few years before.

The BBC was new to the air and searching for interesting programming, and the Talks Department (yes, that’s what it was called) contacted six authors — Hugh Walpole, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, E. C. Bentley, and Roland Knox — about doing a round-robin detective series for the radio. Such a series would be a challenge for the authors on a number of levels. First, the episodes would have to be short. They would have to be written for the ear, not the eye. And, finally, they would have to be written with a deadline in mind.

None of these authors was used to any of those conditions, but they all accepted the challenge. Sayers was put in charge of managing the project and keeping everything on track. The audience was invited to submit solutions to the mystery at the end. The broadcasts were first heard in June and July of 1930, and the BBC considered it a great success, despite the trouble that Sayers had in keeping everyone on track and on deadline. There were more than 1,700 entries to the solution from listeners, and one was chosen as the best, and a prize was awarded.

The BBC was so pleased that they all did it again two more times.

Sayers carried the idea forward to her colleagues in the Detection Club, this time with the idea of making money. The club wanted to rent its own space in London for its meetings, and sales from a book would do the trick. It worked. The authors made their contributions, the book was published, and it sold enough copies so that the Detection Club was able to rent a couple of small rooms in SoHo.

Some of the authors tried the idea of a round-robin novel again, although not in precisely the method of The Floating Admiral. The results were Six Against the Yard in 1936 and Double Death in 1939. Many critics have tagged Double Death as the best of the lot.

The Detection Club still exists today, although they no longer have their rooms in SoHo. They do meet to eat, drink, and talk several times a year.

Podcast recommendation: Shedunnit

Some people have a thing for the “classic” murder mystery — the ones written before the 1970s, usually but not always by British authors. They could be “cozy” or they could be “hard-boiled.” Just as long as they’re old — you know, Agatha Christie- or Dorothy L. Sayers-old.

If that’s you, you should be listening to Caroline Crampton‘s podcast Shedunnit at

And even if that’s not you, you should probably be listening to it, too. Crampton goes to great lengths to tell you the stories behind the novels, authors, and characters that you have either read or seen in television or movie adaptations. Most of the episodes are around 20 minutes, so it doesn’t take a lot of time, but with each one you will come away feeling like you know something new.

Give it a try, and you will probably wind up listening to two or three episodes.

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

Ignoring the best advice

My good friend and colleague Brennan LeQuire is putting together a book on what Maryville, TN, was like 100 years ago. It’s something I’ll say more about in a few weeks.

I am giving her a hand with it, and I was particularly struck by something in it that I read this week. She has a section about health and medicine at the time, and she includes information about a smallpox outbreak in the rural community of Walland, which is up close to the Great Smoky Mountains. Brennan writes:

A February 8 article in the Enterprise chronicled a smallpox outbreak in Walland that Dr. Lovingood was dealing with, which had already resulted in one death: “The rules of quarantine have not been rigidly followed by those who are suffering and the result is that scores of exposures have been made, some of which resulted in bad cases of the small pox.  Curiosity on the part of one woman who wanted to see what small pox looked like has caused several to suffer with the disease who could have been spared.” 

I couldn’t help thinking about the pandemic that we are experiencing these days and about how people are ignoring the best medical advice by gathering together in small, enclosed spaces and not wearing facemasks. In the past couple of weeks, I have seen people in crowded stores without masks. I know of several voluntary organizations that are rushing to get back together physically. And I even heard of a faculty group — very smart people indeed — that scheduled a retirement luncheon for a colleague at a local restaurant.

I am astonished and frustrated. What is wrong with these people?

The best medical and public health advice from the experts (not the politicians) is STAY HOME. Don’t go anywhere unless it’s necessary.

And if you do go somewhere, WEAR A MASK.

How hard is that to understand?

The surprising origins and history of the “scientific method”

Chances are, if you attended your eighth-grade science class, you probably learned the parts of the “scientific method”: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experiment, and confirmation.

And if you had a deep thought among that age’s hormonal swirl, you might have said, “So? What’s so different about that? That’s what we do all the time, isn’t it?”

And the answer to your insightful questions would be, “Well, yes, you’re right.”

That is, more or less, the answer that Henry M. Cowles’s The Scientific Method: An Evolution of Thinking from Darwin to Dewey gives, according to a review in the New York Review of Books by Jessica Riskin.

Cowles traces the scientific method to a later period than the Scientific Revolution—the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This makes sense, since it coincides with a tectonic shift in intellectual geography: the splitting of the sciences and the humanities into two diverging continents. To prove its distinctness among human endeavors, science required a defining method. It hadn’t always been so. Source: Just Use Your Thinking Pump! | by Jessica Riskin | The New York Review of Books

The “scientific method” is a 19th-century construct that helped “scientists” distinguish themselves from those in the humanities in a post-Darwinian world. While Francis Bacon had referred to it and Isaac Newton used it many decades before Charles Darwin, neither has rightful claim to its invention. And neither, Cowles says, does Darwin, who never used the term and never claimed to be a “scientist” and never thought of what he did as a “method.” Had there been a distinction at the time, Darwin would have considered himself as much a humanities guy as a science guy.

Not so with his followers, however.

Not only did the science guys want the distinction; they want supremacy. The science guys argued that theirs — the “scientific method” — was the only way to find truth. Economic progress, the only progress that really counts, is made by studying and apply the scientific method, not by studying Shakespeare. Cultural progress, what you might get if you do happen to study Shakespeare, doesn’t count for much.

Riskin’s excellent essay, if you read it carefully, may make you want to delve into Cowles’ book. Try Riskin first and see what you think.

The Motown list

Nothing new this week, but here’s the previous posts about Motown:

Fifty years ago, Marvin Gaye asked What’s Going On?

Please, Mr. Postman

Berry Gordy began Motown with an $800 loan from his family

Martha and the Vandellas: Heat Waves, Quicksand, and but always Dancing in the Street

Temptations: soulful voices, close harmonies, and choreography that made you want to dance

Smokey Robinson, Motown’s founding brother

Stevie Wonder: the most talented Motowner of them all

The Supremes: achieving Berry Gordy’s ultimate crossover appeal

The Four Tops: polished performances and fierce loyalty

A few of Motown’s one-hit wonders

Tennessee Vietnam War Roundtable

I shared with you last week some information about our recent project, the Tennessee Vietnam War Roundtable, an online conference that we are conducting once a month about what it was like to be in Vietnam as a U.S. serviceman or woman. As I said then, you don’t have to be a Tennessean or a vet to be a part of the roundtable. Anyone is welcome.

We are having regular meetings on the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. ET, and all you need to join us is the Zoom URL, which is I hope that you will consider doing so.

Here’s the email I sent out this week to the folks on our mailing list. If you would like to be on the list, let me know.

The first meeting of the Tennessee Vietnam War Roundtable occurred on Monday, June 8, and was, to our minds, a great success. Billy Minser, our featured speaker, told some exciting and harrowing stories about what it was like to be a forward observer with a combat unit in 1969-1970.
We had more than a dozen people show up for this first meeting, and that gave us a good start. We have decided to meet monthly, at 7 p.m. (Eastern) on the second Monday of the month.
The schedule for the TVWR meetings through January is as follows:
    Jul 13, 2020, 07:00 PM Eastern Time (U.S. and Canada)
    Aug 10, 2020 07:00 PM
    Sep 14, 2020 07:00 PM
    Oct 12, 2020 07:00 PM
    Nov 9, 2020 07:00 PM
    Dec 14, 2020 07:00 PM
    Jan 11, 2021 07:00 PM

The link for all of these meetings is the same:
We have posted two videos of Billy’s appearance last Monday on YouTube. The second one just became available today. Here are the links: – What it was like to be a “forward observer” with a combat unit – “A wall of exploding steel around us”
Remember, it helps greatly with our visibility on YouTube if you do the following:
— watch the entire video
— click on the “like” (thumbs up) button
— leave a comment.
Next meeting: Monday, July 13, featuring Bill Beaty
Our next meeting will be Monday, July 13, at 7 p.m. The featured guest will be Bill Beaty. Bill flew 155 combat missions in an A-7 Corsair, an attack aircraft, which he selected because “I always wanted to fly low and fast.”  He deployed in 1970 to Vietnam aboard the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier. 
Here is the Zoom link to join that meeting:   
Facebook page
We also have a Facebook page where we will be posting information about events, books, and other activities of the Vietnam Voices project. This is the link:
It would help greatly if you would go there and “like” that page, too.
Please share this email with friends who would be interested in this project. The most effective way to gather participants is through our personal contacts.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor (with graphite): Boyd’s barbershop

Best quote of the week:

Kindness is not without its rocks ahead. People are apt to put it down to an easy temper and seldom recognize it as the secret striving of a generous nature; whilst, on the other hand, the ill-natured get credit for all the evil they refrain from. Honore De Balzac, novelist (1799-1850)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — 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: Cornelius Ryan and the origins of the New Journalism, a new branch of Vietnam Voices, and some of Motown’s one-hit wonders: newsletter, June 19, 2020


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