This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2, 491) on Friday, December 9, 2022.
’Tis the season for “traditions.” These are the things that we do in certain ways, and at certain times, at this end-of-year holiday season. These days are usually full of traditions.
A friend of mine once told me that one of the traditions in his household, dating from his childhood, was that Christmas presents would be opened on Christmas morning. But this only happened after everyone had eaten breakfast, the table had been cleared, and the kitchen had been cleaned. Everyone, of course, pitched in to do what they could to make these tasks go as quickly as possible.
For a number of years before he was unable to do this, my father-in-law—one of the world’s great human beings—would go with me on Christmas morning to the local Waffle House to have breakfast. It was something that he really enjoyed doing. Even after he was unable to go, and after his death, I continued that tradition, either going by myself, or with my son. I have always felt as though, in some way, going to the Waffle House on Christmas morning was honoring him.
The thing these traditions, or rituals if you will, have in common is they are about sharing. We share the food, and we share the experience, and we do it again and again, year after year. It has a meaning that often we cannot articulate.
So, during this holiday season, think about your traditions, particularly those that you share with others. Observe them with an open mind and an open heart, and let the experience speak to you.
Have a great and literate weekend.
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Dominick Dunne, novelizing the rich and famous
When the trial of ex-football star O.J. Simpson opened in Los Angeles in 1995, only one person in the courtroom that day could match the defendant in fame and celebrityhood. He was seated in the first row behind the defense and prosecution tables in a place especially assigned to him by the judge.
He was easily recognizable, a short man, with white hair, sunken cheeks, and small, rounded glasses, with dark horn-rimmed frames. In the courtroom, as elsewhere in his life, he knew everyone who was anyone.
He was the journalist and novelist Dominick Dunne.
The Simpson trial was his forte, a mixture of fame, money, political and social power, and most of all a dash of crime.
Dunne was born in 1925 into a well-to-do family in Connecticut. He attended private schools and mixed with the socially elite.
When World War II broke out, Dunne joined the army, fought in Europe, and came out of that conflict with a Bronze Star.
After the war, Dunne attended Williams College, and then moved to New York City and got involved in the entertainment business. In 1954, he married Ellen, an heiress, and they had three children who survived into adulthood.
Three years after their marriage, the couple moved to Los Angeles where Dunne worked as a producer in both television and the movies. The couple mixed easily with Hollywood celebrities, and they achieved fame within those circles for the lavish parties that they hosted.
Dunne produced several memorable movies, such as The Boys in the Band, The Panic in Needle Park, and Play It as It Lays. His personal life, however, fell apart. He divorced his wife in 1965, and his dependence on drugs and alcohol grew to the point where he could not easily function. His erratic behavior precipitated a fall from grace among his Hollywood friends.
In 1979, he left Hollywood alone and depressed, and he drove to a small cabin in the woods of Oregon. There, he resolved to give up alcohol and drugs, but his depression persisted. He later wrote that he came close to suicide.
Instead, he decided to return to New York, and to remake himself as a writer. His first novel, The Winners, was published in 1982 and was generally not well received.
Then came the tragedy that was to define much of the rest of his life. In 1982, his daughter Dominique, a beautiful upcoming actress, was strangled to death by her boyfriend. Dunne flew to Los Angeles to attend the boyfriend’s trial. The day before he left New York, Vanity Fair magazine editor Tina Brown suggested that he keep a journal during the trial.
Dunne took that advice and used his journal to produce a powerful and widely-read account of the trial and the injustice he felt when the jury convicted the boyfriend only of voluntary manslaughter. Vanity Fair hired him as a regular columnist and reporter.
Meanwhile, Dunne had transformed himself into a masterful storyteller. His subjects were the rich and powerful, and his motif was taking true crime stories and molding them into page-turning novels. The Two Mrs. Grenvilles was published in 1985 and was based on the lurid murder of William Woodward Jr., an heir to a New York banking fortune, who was shot in 1955 by his wife Ann. The book was a phenomenal success (it sold more than two million copies), and, according to Dunne, “utterly changed my life.”
Two more best-selling novels followed, both using the facts of real life murders among the rich and famous as their starting points. An Inconvenient Woman was published in 1990. A Season in Purgatory, a book aimed directly at the Kennedy family, he came out in 1993. Dunne had been friends with some of the Kennedys and attended the wedding of Robert and Ethel Kennedy. Readers not only enjoyed reading about the foibles of the rich and powerful, but they also took to Dunne’s insider knowledge about such people.
During this time, Dunne worked ceaselessly as a journalist covering the famous trials of Claus von Bülow, William Kennedy Smith, the Menendez brothers, and others. He hosted a long-running television series, Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege, and Justice, for Court TV. He inevitably took the side of the victim and made no effort to disguise his feelings about the accused.
Dunne died at the age of 83 in 2009 at his home in Manhattan. He left a long legacy of perceptive and entertaining journalism and fiction that continues to attract readers more than a decade after his death.
Volume 2 of Heads and Tales
The second volume of Heads and Tales is nearly complete. (Pictured here is the cover of the first volume.) This second volume features an all-female writer’s cast. There are about 30 entries, all about female writers. Some of them you know, and some have been completely overlooked.
In getting the book ready for publication, I am going to try something a little different. I am going to use advanced copy readers. These readers will have access to a Google document that contains the book, and they will have limited editing access. That is, they can correct technical mistakes (such as spelling errors). They can also note where there are questions about missing words, bad syntax, and the like.
By next week (I hope), I will be calling for volunteers. If you would like to be an advanced copy reader, you can let me know, and I will explain the process more fully. The deadline for finishing will probably be around January 15 or so. The reward will be that you are named in the introduction, and you will get an autographed copy of the book when it is published. I would like to have about five advanced copy readers, so please consider volunteering.
Below are what some of the pages will look like in the new volume:
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: Jeannie Rousseau, a diminutive spy and an extraordinary tale of courage
She was small, too small to be a danger to anyone.
And she was attractive, a good-time girl, maybe even a little flighty.
Plus, she had a talent for getting people, particularly men, to talk to her.
Those traits hid her steely courage, creativity, resourcefulness—and, maybe most importantly, a photographic memory.
Jeannie Rousseau was a young woman in Paris during the Nazi occupation in the early 1940s. She was a brilliant linguist and spoke German fluently and thus became valuable to the Germans in the city. By day, she was a translator and an endless flirt. By night, she was a member of Georges Lamarque’s Druids network, a French resistance organization that gathered intelligence for the Allies.
The information that she provided was an immense help to the Allies.
In particular, she was shown the plans for Germany’s V-1 and V-2 rocket systems. She provided detailed drawings of the plans from her photographic memory, and that led to the Allied bombing attack on Peenemünde, where the rockets were being developed. The raid disrupted the work there, and the Allies credited her with saving thousands of lives.
Just before D-Day in 1944, an Allied plan to evacuate some of their important agents, including Rousseau, was betrayed, and she was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Camp administrators never learned her real identity, however, because of confusion in communications. That did not save her from some harrowing experiences over the next few months that nearly took her life.
After the war, Rousseau got married and lived quietly, working as a translator. She never made much of her war work and claimed modestly—and not quite correctly—that other people had done much more than she had.
She was awarded the Central Intelligence Agency’s Seal Medal in 1993 and told her story fully to David Ignatius of the Washington Post a few years later. She died in 2017 at the age of 98.
One of the great questions about her work was how she got the Nazi officers to give her so much information. She flirted with the officers where she worked, but it never went beyond that. She never traded sex for information. That would have been suicide.
Here’s a portion of Ignatius’ 1998 story:
“I had become part of the equipment, a piece of furniture,” she recalls. “I was such a little one, sitting with them, and I could not but hear what was said. And what they did not say, I prompted.”
How does one “prompt” occupying forces to reveal military secrets? She explained: “I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane. I kept saying: ‘What you are telling me cannot be true!’ I must have said that 100 times.
“ I’ll show you,” one of the Germans said. How,’ I asked, and he answered: It’s here on a piece of paper!’ ”
So the German officer displayed a document explaining how to enter the test site at Peenemünde, the specific passes that were needed and what color each one was. Jeannie, with her photographic memory, recorded each word in her mind. Her friends were so trusting, and so eager to impress, that they even showed her drawings of the rockets.
David Ignatius: AFTER FIVE DECADES, A SPY TELLS HER TALE – The Washington Post
British government report calls for supporting and improving libraries
We conclude that libraries remain an important part of communities’ cultural infrastructure, particularly in deprived areas, and call for further support to improve these services.
That’s the last sentence of a summary of a report published by the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. The report is titled Reimagining where we live: cultural placemaking and the levelling up agenda.
The report concludes that community libraries are an important part of the infrastructure of the local community, not the least because they provide digital access and services to those who would otherwise be deprived of them.
The report highlights that libraries could be “engines for entrepreneurship, economic growth and job creation through the services they offer”, citing the British Library’s Business and IP Centre (BPIC) Network. It also found that libraries provided “important services to people from a range of socioeconomic groups”, such as a physical study space and a venue in which to host community and cultural events and activities.
Libraries also contributed “to quality of life, alongside other infrastructure like heritage, museums, local media and so on”, said the committee, and gave people reasons to visit high streets and town centres, as around 25% of libraries in England are located on high streets and a further 65% are close to one.
Let’s hope that those in power pay attention.
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.
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.
I outlined my objections to ghost-written novels in the newsletter last week, particularly to those that use the name of a well-known author who really did not write the book.
Tiffany N.: Agreed! There’s something about ghost writing that I’ve never been quite comfortable with, and I think you pinpointed it with the idea that it somehow breaks the initial trust between writer and reader.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Reading in the park
Best quote of the week:
It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into. Jonathan Swift, satirist (1667-1745)
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: The ever-controversial game of soccer, writing like a shotgun, and the “branding” of an author’s name: newsletter, December 2, 2022
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