A special offer on Women With Words, Chesterton on wedding vows, and the most dangerous female spy: newsletter, June 2, 2023

June 2, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, June 2, 2023.

Some years ago, I had a colleague—a man I liked and deeply respected—who asked me to read and edit an article that he was writing. He was a good writer, and I willingly took on the task.

As I expected, what he had given to me was coherent and well written. I had a few comments to make about it, but nothing I considered substantial. A few days after I gave the article back to him, he came to me with a second draft. He had completely rewritten his original piece, not because of any comments that I had made as far as I could tell, but because he had simply re-thought what he was trying to say.

Again, I gladly read it, found it to be cogent, and returned it to him with a few minor comments.

Not long after that, he came to me with a third draft. It was not so much a third draft as simply a new version of what he had written previously. My comments on his first two versions had little effect, and I did not expect that they would have. He was still thinking and re-thinking. Again, I made some minor comments and suggestions. Finally, at some point in his own mind, he was satisfied with what he had written.

I have often thought about him, and that process that he went through—and how different it is from my own. Some writers believe they must take their writing through multiple drafts if it is to be any good. Fortunately (I think), I am not one of those writers. More often than not, I am satisfied with my first draft and content to do some minor editing. When I edit my own work, I rarely change very much, although sometimes I will think of things to add to it.

Writers are a funny lot like that. One of the things I know about writing is that there is no one way to get your words together.

Have a great and literate weekend.


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Women With Words

June is a special promotional month for Women With Words, the title that I published earlier this year. The book is now widely available (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lulu, and on a number of other platforms) and can be purchased as a hardback, paperback, or ebook. During this month, I have reduced the price as much as possible wherever it was possible to do so. Now is the perfect opportunity to purchase a copy.

Perhaps you know a young woman who loves to read and write and needs some inspiration. This would make a great gift and a perfect birthday or Christmas present. (I know, it’s June, but is it really too early to start your Christmas shopping?)

As a special for newsletter readers, I will post a chapter from the book in each of the June newsletters. This week’s story is that of Victoria Woodhull.

Don’t wait to make your purchase. By July, prices will be back to normal.

Victoria Woodhull: Journalist—and the first female presidential candidate

Victoria Woodhull, on the night of November 5, 1872, should have been at home with her husband and family or possibly somewhere with friends and companions. It was the evening of the presidential election of 1872, and Woodhull had a special interest in its outcome. During that campaign, Woodhull had been the first female presidential candidate in the history of the United States.

She was vying for the highest office in the land, even though women would not obtain universal suffrage in this country for almost 50 years.

Impossibilities, such as being elected president when she couldn’t even vote, never seemed to deter Woodhull from doing—or at least attempting—whatever she set her mind to do. She had, after all, done the following:

– divorced her husband to whom she was married when she was 15 years old

– made her own way in the world, including making a living for herself

– established, with her sister Tennessee Claflin, the first female-owned stock brokerage company on Wall Street and in the process made a ton of money

– testified before the House Judiciary Committee in 1871 and thus became the first woman ever to address the United States Congress officially

– owned and operated a newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, begun in 1870, the circulation of which reached 20,000

– became one of the nation’s most well-known and sought-after mediums (people who could communicate with the dead) and healers

– spoken to large and paying crowds on subjects such as sexual freedom, spiritualism, and women’s suffrage

After all of that, forming a political party and mounting a campaign for the presidency did not occur to Woodhull as something that she should not do.

But on that presidential election day evening in 1872, she found herself experiencing another unique event in her life. She was spending the night in the Ludlow Street jail in New York City.

Woodhull was born Victoria Claflin in 1838 in Ohio, the seventh of eleven children. Her father was a trickster and con man, and the family had to move frequently to avoid creditors and others whom he had tricked and swindled. In 1853 she was married to a local doctor, Canning Woodhull, who turned out to be a womanizer and an alcoholic. Victoria developed her skills as a medium and earned enough money to keep her family, which included two children, together. But before too long, she had had enough of her husband, and she divorced him, keeping only his last name.

The experience of her first marriage turned Woodhull into a passionate advocate for social and legal rights for women. She moved to New York City, where, with her favorite sister Tennessee (Tennie), she established her base of operations. She believed that all sexual activity should be the choice of the woman and should not be an obligation of marriage. She also called for the legalization of prostitution.

As a spiritualist, Woodhull attracted many clients both rich and poor. One of the rich ones was railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who became romantically involved with her sister. Woodhull understood the workings of the stock market, and in 1868 when Vanderbilt offered her and her sister financial backing to set up a brokerage firm, they accepted.

By this time Woodhull had acquired a new husband, James Blood, a Missourian and Civil War veteran who willingly supported many of the causes that Wodhull had espoused.

In 1870, as part of her planning to run for president in the next election, Woodhull and her sister began publishing the Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which gave a national voice to Woodhull’s views on controversial topics such as feminism, vegetarianism, sex education, and licensed prostitution. James Blood was one of the paper’s chief contributors.

Woodhull and her cadre of followers had many critics, of course, one of them being Henry Ward Beecher. As the pastor of Brooklyn Plymouth Church, Beecher had become one of the most famous men in America, and his criticisms of Woodhull stung. Woodhull decided to strike back when, in early November 1872, she published an account of an affair that Beecher had with a church member.

Beecher had powerful friends, however, and on the night of November 3, 1872, marshals showed up at Woodhull’s door and arrested her, her sister, and her husband on charges of printing obscene material. Woodhull was still in jail on election night and remained there for more than a month. Eventually, all three were cleared of the charges.

Woodhull and Blood were divorced in 1876. Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1877, and the Vanderbilt family feared that Woodhull’s sister would make some claim on his estate. The family offered $1,000 to Victoria and Tennie if they would leave the country. They accepted the offer and sailed for Great Britain.

Woodhull wasted no time in making herself known in her new country. She gave a lecture at St. James Hall in December of that year, the first of a series of lectures she was to give. In the crowd of one of those lectures was a banker named James B. Martin. He was smitten with Woodhull’s presentation and with Woodhull herself. They were married in 1883.

During the 1890s Woodhull published a magazine titled The Humanitarian. When her husband died in 1901, she moved to a country village, where she established a local school and became a champion for educational reform in Great Britain. She lived until 1927 and died at the age of 88.

G. K. Chesterton: The Revolt against Marriage

June is a popular month for weddings (although certainly not the only one), so the following from G.K. Chesterton is appropriate to begin this month:

The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words—“free-love”—as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free.


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


Ana Montes: the most famous spy you have never heard of

Ana Montes has been called both “the most famous spy no one’s ever heard of” and “America’s most dangerous female spy.”

Earlier this year, Montes was released from prison after serving more than 21 years of a 25-year sentence. In 2001 she pleaded guilty to espionage conspiracy charges, admitting that she had been a spy for the Cuban government for more than 17 years.

She is the “most famous spy no one has ever heard of” because she was arrested just 10 days after the September 11, 2001 attacks. At that time, America’s attention was elsewhere.

She is thought to be “America’s most dangerous female spy” because for nearly two decades she worked inside the Defense Intelligence Agency, which gave her high-level access to many of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets. Intelligent experts believe that her longevity as a spy did as much damage to the nation as any spy of the modern era. 

Ana Montes was not Cuban. Nor was any member of her family. Her father and mother were Puerto Rican, and her father—a domineering and abusive man—was a career Army officer, a psychiatrist who had been assigned to Army bases and stations in various parts of the world.

Ana Montes was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1957. Her family had originated in Spain, and her grandparents had immigrated to Puerto Rico. Ana lived in numerous places as she grew up, and she graduated from high school in Towson, Maryland.

She attended the University of Virginia and in 1968 she completed a master’s degree at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Her left-wing leanings and her opposition to American foreign policy in Latin America were evident at that time, and she became involved in a circle of like-minded students and professors. It is believed that under the guise of a vacation trip to Spain, she traveled to Cuba and there signed on as an agent for the Cuban Intelligence Service.

Montes had been working for the Department of Justice, where she received a security clearance, and in 1985 she transferred to the Defense Information Agency, the chief intelligence agency within the Department of Defense. Her expertise was Cuba, and she became known within the agency as the “Queen of Cuba.”

She was in the perfect spot to know what the U.S. government was doing in Cuba, and from then until she was arrested she passed along what she knew to her Cuban handlers. During her career as a spy, she had a brother and sister who were FBI agents. Her boyfriend was also an intelligence officer for the Pentagon. None of them had any inkling of her secret life.

The story of how Montes operated and how she was eventually tracked down and arrested is a fascinating one. Jim Popkin, a Washington-based journalist, has put that story into a book titled Code Name Blue Wren: The True Story of America’s Most Dangerous Female Spy—and the Sister She Betrayed.

An excellent podcast in which Popkin talks about Montes and his book has been produced by the SpyCast podcast, a production of the International Spy Museum, and is well worth a listen.


Group giveaways for June

Kill the Quarterback and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:

Dark Reads

Trilling Page Turners

Summer Thriller Giveaway (through June 20)

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.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Rosemary K.: Thanks so much for your wonderful, entertaining and informative newsletters. I particularly like the story of Francis Walsingham and the stocking of your new hive via the bait box. It sounds like you gained a few valuable insights on the latter subject the hard way!?!! 🐝

Keep up the good work!👍📖
Deborah M.: I am fascinated by bees. My husband and I live on three acres in Houston, TX. We have a pumphouse back towards the pond in the back. Some years back, a swarm of bees took over the pumphouse. Really wasn’t a problem, until it was time to mow the lawn. We quickly learned to give wide berth to that region of the lawn. I believe that they were Africanized. After some years, following a hard freeze, they appear to have vacated the building. It’s a blessing to not worry about them anymore. 

Vince V.: Along the line of LOVE YOUR ENEMIES, is my favorite podcast by former governors of Tennessee Bill Haslam (Republican) and Phil Bredesen (Democrat) called HE MIGHT BE RIGHT. It was a quote popularized by Howard Baker (a Republican senator from Tennessee) who said to always listen to  the other person for “he might be right.” 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: 1935 Bruick

Best quote of the week:

“Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.” Leo Tolstoy, author (1828-1910)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

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

Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: 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: More on Francis Walsingham, Walt Whitman, loving your enemies, and more: newsletter, May 26, 2023



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