This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2, 491) on Friday, December 2, 2022.
In a conversation I had recently with a friend, she and I were discussing certain authors, whose books we enjoyed reading. The name of one author, one who is quite well-known, came up, and we both agreed that we had become disinterested in his books. They did not seem to have the flair or flavor his previous books contained.
“I’m not sure he is even writing those books,” I said, and my friend agreed. And I told her that I found something wrong, and even disturbing, with a famous author who put his or her name on something that he or she did not write. My friend also agreed with that.
Writing is an extremely personal act, a shared investment, if you will, between the writer and the reader. And the reader begins the book as an act of faith, believing that for whatever purpose, the writer has something to say. Even if the book is written only for entertainment purposes, that trust between a writer and a reader is always there.
I know that using a pen name is a long and honored tradition in literature, but that is not the issue here. What I am talking about is the commercialization of the writer’s real name. That commercialization makes the writer’s name no longer a name, but a “brand.” And I consider that a violation of the trust that should exist between writer and reader.
Have a great and literate weekend.
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The ancient and ever-controversial game of football (soccer)
Soccer, or what most of the world outside of America calls “football,” is once again in the headlines. It’s not just that the World Cup, the globe’s biggest sporting event, is underway. The headlines involve the politics of the sport, this year revolving around where it is being played.
Such controversies are nothing new. In fact, they are ancient.
The first few documentary references we have to football come from the 1300s when Edward II banned the playing of the game in 1314, and Edward III commanded that people participate in any other sport besides football in 1365. In fact, the game was frowned upon or banned numerous times throughout the following two centuries by officials from priests and mayors to monarchs.
The authorities of the 14th and 15th centuries weren’t just spoilsports. They had good reason for trying to stop the game from becoming popular. It could easily become disruptive, violent, and deadly. The game was played by groups or “teams,” much as it is now, but sometimes these groups had more on their minds than just winning a contest. They might involve families, villages, guilds, or what we might refer to as “gangs.” Generally, none of the members of these teams were members of the nobility. The life of the underclasses at that time offered little hope of advancement from an impoverished state, so the game could easily turn into a release for resentments or frustrations.
Scholars Steven Gunn and Tomasz Gromelski who have studied documents from the Tudor period and have a fascinating website at Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in Sixteenth Century England have written:
We know that football was a popular sport in the sixteenth century, because governments kept trying to ban it to make men practise archery instead. We don’t know much about how it was played, though it did have regional names: camping in East Anglia, hurling in Cornwall.
On Sunday 4 February 1509, at Tregorden, Cornwall, sixty men were playing in a game of ‘whurlyng’ according, said the coroner’s jury, to ancient custom. John Coulyng of Bodieve, a village one mile west of Tregorden, ran very strongly and rapidly towards Nicholas Jaane of Benbole, a village two miles east of Tregorden, holding a ball in his right hand. They grappled and Nicholas threw John away from himself. John fell on the ground from the force of the tackle and broke the lesser part of his left leg. He died on 20 February, a classic football victim because nearly all matches seem to have taken place in that month.
So football was more like rugby or even American football – other accidents show that players could be tackled whether they had the ball or not – and could be played by large teams from neighbouring and perhaps rival villages. Players often wore knives at their belts and played on fields where they could fall onto stones or tree stumps. The authorities’ claim that it was dangerous as well as distracting, starts to make more sense. https://tudoraccidents.history.ox.ac.uk/?page_id=177
Football continued to be controversial and often condemned throughout the Tudor era. When James I took over the thrones of England and Scotland in 1603, he made it clear that he enjoyed sports and encouraged people to play. This royal sanction was countered with the rise of Puritanism over the next half-century and the condemnation of such worldly pleasures as sports.
The popularity of football grew whether sanctioned or condemned, however, and by the Restoration period beginning in the 1660s, it had become part of the fabric of everyday life in England. The simplicity and elegance of the game has made it the most popular and the most played sport in the world.
Much of the information here comes from Football and the Tudors, an episode of the Not Just the Tudors podcast.
Writing advice to young Tommy Wilson
- Scott Berg’s biography of Woodrow Wilson contains the following passage on the Rev. Joseph Wilson’s advice to his son on how to form sentences:
“When you frame a sentence, don’t do it as if you were loading a shotgun, but as if you were loading a rifle. Don’t fire in such a way and with such a load that while you hit the thing you aim at you will hit a lot of things in the neighborhood besides; but shoot with a single bullet and hit that one thing alone.” (quoted material, page 36)
The reverend wasn’t talking to his son, the future president, about writing; he was telling him how to speak.
But the advice applies marvelously to writing. Write your sentences as if they are rifles, aiming at a specific target, rather than shotguns aiming at the neighborhood. Write as if you purchase PA-10 rifles from Palmetto State Armory every single weekend—which is to say that you must brush up your vocabulary every now and then—and shoot [the words] at a specific subject.
How do you do that?
Here are a few thoughts:
Recognize the target. What are you trying to accomplish with this sentence? What are you saying? The subject and predicate should work together to accomplish your purpose.
Choose precisely the right words. Most words have a shade of meaning to them. That is, they may have synonyms, but those synonyms don’t mean exactly the same thing. The good writer knows words and their synonyms but is sensitive to their meanings and how they are used. The good writer has a sense of how readers will interpret those words. Thinking hard about the words rewards writers with sentences that mean exactly what they are intended to mean.
Use only the words necessary. This gets to the heart of Joseph Wilson’s advice. The truly confident writer is the one who will let as few words as possible stand for what he or she means to say. Showering the reader with unnecessary words is the shotgun approach. As Wilson says, you may hit the target, but you may hit a lot of other things too. Hitting a lot of targets will dilute the sentence’s impact.
Let nothing distract. Our minds move from one subject to the next far more quickly than we can physically construct a sentence. While we are in the middle of writing a sentence, we may think of other things to say, other pieces of information to include. The discipline of writing includes keeping our eye on the target. It’s a discipline that can be acquired through practice.
Take the reader there. The reader will begin a sentence at a certain place. By the end of the sentence, you want the reader to be at another place. Take the reader there as quickly and efficiently as you can.
Joseph Wilson’s advice to his son is universal for those of us who love the language and want to use it well.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: Elizabeth Cochran Seaman—allowing girls to dream
When Elizabeth Cochran was 16 years old, she lived with her family in Pittsburgh. The year was 1880, and Elizabeth was intelligent and precocious. The Pittsburgh Dispatch ran an article titled “What Girls are Good For,” and the author concluded that girls were good for having babies and keeping house.
It was not an unpopular opinion at the time, but Elizabeth was offended. She wrote a response, which she signed as “Lonely Orphan Girl,” and sent it to the paper. The editor, George Madden, was so impressed that he ran an advertisement asking the author of the article to identify herself.
Elizabeth did so, and Madden asked her to write another article. Elizabeth wrote about how divorce affected women at that time, and she argued for the reform of divorce laws. Because pseudonyms were more common than real bylines during that era, the editors of the Dispatch decided that Elizabeth needed a pen name. Cochran wanted it to be Nelly Bly, but the editor in charge misspelled it.
Thus, she became Nellie Bly, America’s first great modern female news reporter.
It didn’t take her long to show the readers of the Dispatch what kind of reporter she would be. One of her main subjects was the lives of working women, and she wrote an investigative series on women factory workers. The factory owners complained, and she was transferred from the news department to the women’s pages to cover things like fashion, society, and gardening.
Such assignments, as you can imagine, were less than satisfying for this ambitious, driven young woman.
Cochran was always out to do things that had never been done before, and when she was 21, she persuaded her editors to send her to Mexico where she spent six months reporting on how Mexicans lived their lives. In one of her reports, she protested the jailing of a fellow journalist who had criticized the Mexican government. When government officials found out what she had written, they threatened to arrest her, too. She quickly fled the country, and the articles she had written were gathered together in a book titled Six Months in Mexico.
Back in Pittsburgh, Cochran was exiled again to the women’s pages and given many of her old assignments. She knew there was something better in the world of journalism for her, so she quit the paper. She then traveled to New York City, and after four months of surviving on nearly no money, she talked her way into Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newsroom. She convinced the editors that she could do the unusual assignments and produce the sensational stories that they were looking for.
The year was 1887, and many people were concerned about how the state was treating people who were mentally ill and who were residents of state institutions. Cochran got herself admitted as a patient to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island). It was no easy task to get in, and it was even more difficult to stay there. Cochran did both, and during her 10-day stay, she witnessed the appalling conditions that the patients had to endure.
Cochran’s observations and conclusions were published in a two-part series in the New York World, and they were later expanded to a book titled Ten Days in a Madhouse. The lunatic asylum story made Cochran famous as Nellie Bly and launched an era of participatory journalism that came to be known as stunt journalism. That name, “stunt journalism,” has never been satisfactory because it denigrates the courage and cleverness that women journalists, in particular, faced in doing it.
The name also dismisses the effects of some of this journalism. Not only did they increase circulation for the newspapers, but they also had lasting social consequences. Cochran’s series on asylum conditions launched an investigation that resulted in reforms in the way the mentally ill were treated.
Cochran followed up her asylum exposé two years later with a trip around the world in response to the title of Jules Verne’s popular book Around the World in 80 Days, published in 1873. After she had set out on her journey, another female reporter for another New York newspaper did the same thing, but she went in the opposite direction. The newspapers made a contest out of their journeys to see who would arrive back in New York City in the shortest time.
Cochran did not know she was participating in a race and only heard about it when she reached Hong Kong. She dismissed the competition as inconsequential, but she made it back to New York first after traveling for 72 days. She wrote numerous stories during her journey about what she was seeing and the people that she met.
One of the significant elements of her journey was that she traveled alone for most of the time. In an age when it was thought that women should be accompanied, even if they were just walking down the street, this was a radical act.
In 1895, Cochran married Robert Seaman, an industrialist who was more than 40 years her senior. Seaman died in 1904, and Cochran took over his manufacturing business. During that time she became a certified inventor, registering a patent for a new type of stackable milk can. She did not do well as a businesswoman, however, and the company went bankrupt.
After that, Cochran returned to reporting and traveled to Europe’s Eastern Front during World War I. She was the first woman reporter to visit the war zone between Serbia and Austria and was actually arrested when she was mistaken for a British spy.
Back in the United States, she died in 1922 of pneumonia.
Cochran’s life and story went far beyond the journalism that she produced. She gave girls by the thousands a chance to dream of doing something large and significant with their lives.
A good deal of additional information about Nellie Bly’s first big story can be found at the Library of Congress’ blog: “Behind Asylum Bars:” Nellie Bly Reporting from Blackwell’s Island.
Group giveaways for December
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.
My young adult novel Point Spread is part of a $2.99 sale in a December promotion also on BookFunnel.com. There are more than a dozen books in this promotion, and you are likely to find a bargain here:
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.
Vince V.: Thanks for the history lesson on Nedham and advertising in newspapers. I wasn’t there at the beginning but I may be here at the end. I fear it is near.
TianaRina P.: We do Thanksgiving every Shabbat—TWO meals!
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: American beauty, 1957 Plymouth Fury
Best quote of the week:
Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love. Claude Monet, painter (1840-1926)
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.
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
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: Thanksgiving, the father of newspaper advertising, new dinnertable rules, and campus fiction: newsletter, November 25, 2022
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