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When I joined the U.S. Navy in the fall of 1970, I had already completed a bachelor’s degree in journalism and had worked professionally as a reporter and editor. I signed up for four years in the Navy because I had received a draft notice ordering me to report to the Army for duty. At the time, I thought the Navy would be a better choice.
Either way, it appeared that my career as a journalist had been put on hold for several years. The Navy gave me no indication of where I would be or what I would be doing. I had heard that journalists in the Navy were rare and that it was unlikely that I would get to do any journalism work while I was in the service. That’s what I was prepared for.
As things turned out, I was assigned to be a journalist straight out of boot camp. About a year later, I received a plum assignment to be on the staff of All Hands magazine, the Navy’s fleet-wide personnel publication. That is where I spent the rest of my enlistment. I was very fortunate in that regard.
But I sometimes wonder what kind of experience I would’ve had if the Navy had chosen to put me in a different job and a different place. I might have been doing work that had nothing to do with journalism, and I can now only imagine how that would have felt. It probably would have been a good experience and might have expanded my horizons a bit. That, undoubtedly, would have been a good thing.
Have a horizon-expanding weekend.
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Robert Louis Stevenson: igniting the imagination of young readers
One book that should be on the shelf of every pre-teen is a well-illustrated copy of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. For more than 140 years, Treasure Island has fired the imagination of young readers all over the world.
Its central character, Jim Hawkins, is a young boy who finds himself in the middle of a cast of interesting and sometimes dangerous characters caught up in a situation where lives and treasures are at stake.
The location is a pirate ship and a faraway island, all designed to excite the thoughts of children who imagine adventures for their own lives. It is, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, the “realization of an ideal,” a great story grippingly told.
The book has given us many things, including the stereotypes that we have of pirates and buccaneers, the romance of sailing the high seas, and the independent thinking that even children can show in difficult situations. Another concept that it embedded into our cultural brains is the idea of the treasure map, a guide to some far-off place where hidden between rocks or under soil is a chest full of jewels and golden coins.
Indeed, Robert Louis Stevenson’s original thought in coming up with the idea for the book was a map. Stevenson, who suffered from bronchial trouble for most of his life, was on a holiday in a cottage in the Scottish highlands with his wife and stepson, a young man named Lloyd Osbourne.
Lloyd had been coloring a map that he had drawn with a set of watercolors when Stevenson came into the room. The author, reports the stepson, was an ever-affectionate father and always took an interest in what Lloyd was doing.
Lloyd later wrote:
I shall never forget the thrill of Skeleton Island, Spyglass Hill, nor the hard stirring climax of the three red crosses! And the greater climax still when he wrote down the words “Treasure Island” at the top right hand corner! https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/378-x-m-aarrrh-ks-the-spot/?utm_source=pocket_mylist
As Stevenson worked on the map, he began to form a story around it. He was much influenced by the works of Washington Irving, Daniel Defoe, Sir Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, and many others in constructing the plot and the characters of the story. The original title was The Sea Cook: A Story for Boys. It was serialized in Young Folks magazine in 1881 and 1882 under the title of “Treasure Island or the Mutiny of the Hispaniola.” The author was originally named “Captain George North.”
The story was so popular that a London publisher wanted to bring it out in book form. Stevenson sent off the manuscript to the publishers, and separately he sent the original map of Treasure Island. The publishers never received the map, and it was never found.
The loss of the map was both frustrating and heartbreaking for Stevenson. The book had to have a map, and Stevenson painfully reconstructed it from the story in the book, but he was never satisfied with that map. He sent it off to the publisher, and that is the one that was used in the first edition of the book.
What happened to that second map?
The answer is that we do not know. The publisher lost or discarded it.
More than 40 years after the original publication of the book in 1883, the American author Alfred Edward Newton claimed to be the owner of the map and to have it in his vast collection of books and papers. That collection was auctioned off after his death. If he did indeed have that second map, it too has been lost to us.
Treasure Island was Robert Louis Stevenson’s first commercial success. He continued to write and was able to leave readers with great pieces of literature such as Kidnapped, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and the Master of Ballantrae. As a native of Scotland, Stevenson saw himself as a great storyteller in the tradition of Sir Walter Scott.
Stevenson was a prolific author, turning out dozens of poems, short stories, political journalism articles, plays, and novels. He was also an incessant traveler and observer. He was always seeking a place where his health would improve and unfortunately never finding it. He died on the island of Samoa in 1894 when he was only 44 years old.
The literary abundance of Stevenson’s work has placed him today in the great triumvirate of Scottish authors that include Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. His Treasure Island and other stories will live forever in the hearts of children who seek adventure.
A journalist writing a novel
What’s the biggest difference between writing journalism and writing fiction?
Since the publication of Kill the Quarterback, I have been asked that question more than once.
For an old line journalist like me (when I started in the business, they still used typewriters, pica sticks and paste pots), writing a novel had one big advantage:
You could make things up.
I suppose I had always wanted to do that but, like every other good journalist, I had suppressed the urge—suppressed it to the point of never thinking about it. My mind was imbued with accuracy, verification, getting the facts, finding out what really happened, points of view, getting direct quotations right, getting paraphrasing even more right.
That’s what makes journalism hard work. That’s what gives it value.
But in writing a novel, I didn’t have to worry about that so much. I had to be more-or-less accurate within setting and time period, but I could make sources sound like they should sound. I could make the “facts” what they needed to be to fit the story. I could even twist things around a bit and make people act out of character if I wanted to.
The other side of that coin, however, is the dilemma of every novelist:
You have to make things up.
As a journalist, if you are good enough, you don’t have to worry much about how the story will come out. Get enough facts, information, quotations, et al., and the story will speak for itself. It ends where it ends. You don’t have to go beyond that.
But as a novelist, you have to make things turn out a certain way. You have to resolve the major conflicts and story lines. You have to make it all fit with no gaps that even unclever readers will discover and inevitably point out. The reader, having suspended disbelief and invested some time, needs to be reasonably satisfied.
That’s what makes fiction work. That’s what gives it value.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: Martin Luther sparked the Reformation, and along with it, the printing industry
Martin Luther rightly gets credit for taking on the Roman Catholic Church and providing the impetus for the conflagration known as the Protestant Reformation.
Most people who know about Luther understand how important printing—which was still in its fledgling stages—was to the spread of Luther’s ideas. But the relationship of Luther’s ideas and printing is much more than coincidental. It was symbiotic.
Andrew Pettegree, a scholar of the period, makes this point elegantly in his book Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe—and Started the Protestant Reformation. The book details the way that Luther used and adapted himself to the printing process and how he made his hometown of Wittenberg, Germany, a center of the printing industry.
When Johannes Gutenberg put movable type on his printing press in the 1450s and created a device that would change mankind forever, printing was an expensive and risky business. Producing and distributing a book, especially one like the Gutenberg Bibles that we see in a few libraries and museums today, required time and labor. If a printer took on that task, there had better be a sure market for the product.
A much surer bet was the small tract or brochure. These could be easily, quickly, and inexpensively produced, and if there was demand, they could be sold for a high profit margin.
That’s where Martin Luther came in. When Luther nailed his 95 Theses protesting the sale of indulgences to the door of the Wittenberg church in 1517 (well, maybe he did nail them, maybe he didn’t; we’re not sure), he gave voice to a set of resentments toward the Catholic Church that ran through every segment of European culture. It turned out that Luther was both a deep and perceptive thinker and a clear and precise writer. Pettegree writes:
What was so remarkable was how quickly, instinctively, Luther adapted his writing to optimize benefit for the printing trade. Of his forty-five writings of these years (1517-1521), twenty-one were eight pages long or less. The demand and public interest meant that they often sold out very quickly. Printers got an immediate return for minimum investment. Luther, it very quickly became clear, was a safe bet for the printing industry. (p. 106)
Luther went further than just tailoring what he wrote to a form that printers liked. He also had in mind the readers as well as the printers. Luther knew that the better the tracts that he wrote looked, the more likely they were to be bought and read. Consequently, he paid particular attention to the design and typefaces that were used to present his work.
He found that the printers in Wittenberg could not produce the quality that he was seeking, but the printers in Leipzig could, and he actively recruited them to set up shop in Wittenberg. In a very short time, Luther had become such a popular writer that he could influence these hard-headed businessmen—even though some did not agree with what he wrote—to consider his proposals.
Eventually, Luther got what he was after (although the story is a complicated one), and Wittenberg became one of the major printing centers in all of Europe.
Group giveaways for July
Kill the Quarterback is part of three group giveaways during the month of July:
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.
It helps me a great deal if you use these links to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books. Many thanks.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Montana Valley Bookstore
Best quote of the week:
It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die. Nelson Mandela, activist, South African president, Nobel laureate (1918-2013)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, 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.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Cicero, The Feminine Mystique, a memoir, and the death penalty: newsletter, July 15, 2022
Murder Most Criminous (Volume 1): resurrecting the father of true crime writing
William Roughead, the Scottish barrister who attended and reported on every major British murder trial for nearly six decades and wrote about each of them in detailed and yet interesting accounts, is returning from obscurity. Roughead died in 1952 but not before he built a huge following for his work both in America and Great Britain.
His name and work, unfortunately, have fallen into obscurity. First Inning Press is bringing him back to life.
Murder Most Criminous: The Cases of William Roughead, Father of Modern True Crime Literature (Volume 1) has just been published. It is the first of several anticipated volumes of Roughead’s work. The editors, Jim Stovall and Ed Caudill, have worked not only to reproduce this great writer’s work but also to give it new life for modern audiences.
The first volume of this series includes four of Roughead’s cases, all from a time before he was able to attend their trials. They include
- Mackcoull and the Begbie Mystery
- The Secret of Ireland’s Eye: A Detective Story
- The Ghost of Sergeant Davies
- The Parson of Spott
Each case has unique features that Roughead interprets with his unique and fascinating writing style. The links above will take you to a JPROF page that contain
We have done a lot of work with editing these cases and trying to make them presentable to modern readers.
We have introduced some typographical innovations that include footnotes, more readable paragraphing, and subheads—all of which we believe will aid the reader. The essential Roughead is still there, and we believe the reader will be captured by his exquisite phrasing and point of view.
During March and April, the first volume of this series is being offered to readers at a special ebook price of $1.99. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook platforms. Paperback and hardback editions of this work are also available.
Volume 2 in this series, which will include the Oscar Slater case, is due out later this spring.
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