William Seward, voting, Vietnam Voices, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, November 6, 2020

November 8, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, newsletter, podcasting, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, November 6, 2020.


There are those of us who are wondering if the fevered political season will ever end. An interesting novel is sometimes a good antidote. I’m reading a couple now: Ian Rankin’s In a House of Lies and Ian McGuire’s The Abstainer. Both are good and distracting. Any other suggestions?

The monthly meeting of the Tennessee Vietnam War Roundtable has been moved to Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. as a part of observing Veterans Day 2020. This meeting will also serve as the book launch for Vietnam Voices: Stories of Tennesseans Who Served in Vietnam, 1965-1975 (volume 2). (See below) As always, the public is invited to join in this special observance. You are free to share this link with anyone who is interested in joining us: https://tennessee.zoom.us/j/99528787603

Whatever you are reading or thinking about, I hope that you have a great weekend of it.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,502 subscribers and had a 27.2 percent open rate; 3 persons unsubscribed.

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The big, ignored issue: Voting

One of my lasting impressions about the recently concluded election campaign was the sight of the long lines that stretched through the Blount County Public Library and out into the parking lot every day during early voting. We were told by election officials that about 900 people came into the library every day to vote.

That prompted me to do a little checking, and here is what I found:

During the early voting period in Tennessee — nine days during the two weeks before Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020 — an astonishing thing happened: In this state, 2.2 million people voted early, about 2 million in-person and about 200,000 by mail. The 2.2 million figure represents 90 percent of the number of people who voted in this state during the 2016 presidential election.

Tennessee was not alone in this experience.

In Texas, the early voting total was 108 percent of the total vote in Texas in 2016. In North Carolina, it was 95 percent. In Oregon, it was 88 percent.

Much was said about voting during this election campaign with terms such as “voter fraud,” “voter suppression,” and “voter access” being thrown around quite a bit. These terms and others are serious issues and deserve to be discussed.

Americans do not normally exercise their franchise as much as they should or as much as some of us would like. There are lots of excuses for this, but one of them is that voting is not particularly easy in this country. This year, however, something drove people to the polls in numbers that we rarely see.

There is no single reason why people vote, but the long lines of early voters demonstrated to me, once again, how seriously people take this right and how much of their efforts they are willing to expend to exercise it.

As the campaign dust settles, I hope that politicians will take a long and nuanced view of what has just happened. Voting should be respected, it should be safe and secure, and it should be easy.

What seems clear from the last three weeks is that one day in the middle of the week set aside for voting is not enough. The voters have made that clear by literally showing up.

William Seward: Just enough virtue

William Seward’s modern biographer, Walter Stahr, subtitled his excellent book, “Lincoln’s Indispensable Man.” That sobriquet is hard to argue with when you examine how the Lincoln Administration navigated through the shoals of secession and the fierce opposition of the unionist Democrats. There was no guarantee that Lincoln, Seward, and the Republicans would prevail.

But Seward (along with many others) was there, and Seward himself could be thought the object of his famous quote:

“There was always just enough virtue in this republic to save it; sometimes none to spare, but still enough to meet the emergency.”

So the case of William Seward and the virtue that he brought to the republic during its most dangerous crisis is certainly worth remembering. An incident in his career more than a decade before that crisis exemplifies the “virtue in the republic.”

In the first half of the 19th century, Seward was the rising star of New York state politics, and by 1839 he was elected to the first of two terms as governor. He was only 37 years old. His tenure as governor was an eventful one in which he championed reform of public education so that all children could be included (including children of immigrants).

He also favored laws that gave African-Americans more rights. That included the repeal of the “nine-month law,” which allowed slaveholders to bring their slaves to New York for nine months without losing title to them. The repeal meant that slave brought into New York were automatically considered free, and it made the state a destination for fugitive slaves and earned for Seward the special enmity of many Southerners.

After two terms as governor, Seward left office and entered a political wilderness. In addition, he was deeply in debt because the lifestyle that he felt he must maintain as governor was far beyond his means. So, for the next few years, he returned to the town of Auburn and built a lucrative law practice.

Even there, Seward’s progressivism manifested itself. He used an insanity defense for a client accused of a heinous murder, gaining for his client a hung jury. That led to a second case also involving a man likely mentally ill in 1846. The man was William Freeman, an African-American accused of breaking into a house and stabbing four people to death. In that case, Seward boldly tackled both mental illness and racial issues, arguing that Freeman was “still your brother, and mine, in form and color accepted and approved by his Father, and yours, and mine, and bears equally with us the proudest inheritance of our race—the image of our Maker. Hold him then to be a Man.”

Freeman was convicted, but his conviction was overturned on appeal. He was not tried a second time because officials were by then convinced of his insanity. He later died in prison.

Freeman’s trial was reported widely throughout the nation, and Seward’s defense placed the lawyer squarely in the middle of a rising anti-slavery tide was that form in the Northern states. By 1848 Seward was ready to re-enter the political area, and he did so by supporting the winning Whig ticket for the presidency that year. The next year, the New York state legislature sent him to Washington as a U.S. Senator.

Seward entered the Senate in what was to be its most tumultuous decade.

Next: Becoming Lindon’s indispensable man.

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

Podcast recommendation: Michael Connelly’s Murder Book

Sam Little, according to the FBI, killed more people in more places and for more years than anyone else. His record of heinous acts stretches across 30 years and just about as many states.

He repeatedly assaulted vulnerable women and often killed them.

The current season of author Michael Connelly’s podcast Murder Book follows Los Angeles homicide detective Mitzi Roberts (the inspiration for Connelly’s Rene Ballard character) as she and her colleagues track down Little and finally get him off the streets.

The name of the podcast is Murder Book: The Women Who Stopped Sam Little, and it

. . . follows this Los Angeles Police Department cold case investigator’s relentless hunt for Little across the country to capture and convict him with the help of a group of equally fierce women that included a prosecutor, a writer and several women who survived brutal attacks from Little. Source: ‎Murder Book on Apple Podcasts

This is a down and gritty podcast with lots of time devoted to interviewing detectives, the suspect, and witnesses. It gives real insight into how the police actually work these cases — and why, in this particular instance, Little was able to escape so many times.

The episodes are not easy to listen to. They don’t have the chatty millennials that some true-crime podcasts feature. Connelly takes listeners straight inside the police stations and interview rooms where listeners can be the fly on the wall. For those who are interested in how things really work and want authentic voices, this is the podcast to listen to.

An unpublished Raymond Chandler story in Strand magazine

If you have read everything that Raymond Chandler wrote and found yourself wanting more, here’s good news. There’s an unpublished story by the creator of Phillip Marlowe in the current issue of Strand magazine.

We’re proud to present an unpublished Raymond Chandler in the latest issue of the Strand. Professor Sarah Trott provides an introduction which looks at the biographical context of this gem. Before achieving fame as an author, Chandler was a career oil executive who worked for the Dabney Oil Syndicate for about a decade until he was fired at the age of forty-four. “Advice to an Employer” shows a different side to Raymond Chandler. The wry humor is there, but the piece also reveals a silly, fun side to an author long associated with novels about the seamy side of LA. Source: Strand Magazine: Unpublished Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie

There’s other stuff in the magazine that detective story readers might enjoy, including a 1923 Agatha Christie story featuring Hercule Poirot and an interview with James Lee Burke.

Vietnam Voices, volume 2, is now available

The second volume of Vietnam Voices, the Blount County Public Library project of interviewing veterans who served in Vietnam, has just been published with me as one of its editors. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

Vietnam Voices, volume 2, follows the same paths through the towns, villages, and jungles that we forged in Vietnam Voices, volume 1. We leave aside the strategy, the grand plans, and the politics to listen to those who were actually there.

These are the people who made war, and in some cases peace, on the ground. This is the war that most politicians in the early 1960s promised that “American boys” would not have to fight. These are the stories that you don’t often hear.

In this volume, we hear:

  • A Marine member of the Judge Advocate General Corps, who sometimes pursued misconduct of U.S. soldiers for war crimes and took care of many other legal challenges for the military.
  • An Army transportation officer who tells about fellow soldiers at his base collecting money to buy two little Vietnamese boys cowboy suits ordered from a Sears and Roebucks catalog.
  • An Army captain who worked in logistics to make sure troops in the field were adequately supplied.
  • A Navy electronics technician on board a carrier who helped helicopters start their missions.

These and others were in Vietnam, interrupting their lives and doing what their country asked them to do.

It’s time we hear their stories.

The Amazon link is: https://bit.ly/vietnamvoices2

We also have a large print edition: http://bit.ly/vietnamvoices2-lp


Bill H.: Max Allan Collins brings Jacques Futrelle back to life in his Titanic Murders.

Vince V.: One of the weekly mysteries of life is why anyone would unsubscribe from your newsletter. I never fail to find it illuminating on some subject.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Hitting the high notes

Best quote of the week:

Certainly none of the advances made in civilization has been due to counterrevolutionaries and advocates of the status quo. Bill Mauldin, editorial cartoonist (1921-2003)

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 (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 unknown Jacques Futrelle, Drew Pearson (part 2), and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, October 30, 2020

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