Nellie Bly, Women With Words, and the first Wild West adventure stories: newsletter, June 9, 2023

June 9, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, newsletter, Vietnam Voices, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, June 9, 2023.

It is something that during the majority of my working life I would have disdained and dismissed with disgust. The people who practiced it, I would have said in my youthful and middle-aged arrogance, were lazy, unmotivated, and a drag on the corporate goals (whatever they were). They were setting an unhealthy example and wasting theirs and others’ time.

Fortunately, I knew of no one who actually did it.

What is this nefarious practice that is undoubtedly included in the “shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments: the mid-day nap.

Today, sleeping during the day, even for short periods, is viewed as a healthful habit with benefits that outweigh any loss of working time. And I have fallen into line with this thinking. The sleepiness that overtakes me soon after eating a light lunch (always!) is difficult to resist. This change in attitude is one of the many things that the accumulation of birthdays has given to me, and I am grateful for it.

Meanwhile, once you wake up, 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 Elizabeth Cochran Seaman (Nellie Bly).

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

Elizabeth Cochran Seaman—Nellie Bly: Pioneering modern investigative reporting

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 Cochran 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.

Cochran did so, and Madden asked her to write another article. Cochran 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 she needed a pen name. She 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 such as  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. When she was 21, she persuaded her editors to send her to Mexico where she spent six months reporting on how Mexicans live 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 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 patients endured.

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 the stories 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 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 cans. 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 her journalism. She gave thousands of girls a chance to dream of doing something large and significant with their lives.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


From the archives: Capt. Mayne Reid and the beginnings of the modern idea of the American West

“Go West!” has been the clarion call for Americans since the days of the early Republic.

West across the Alleghenies, west across the Mississippi River, west across Texas and the Great Plains—whatever is west of where we are has represented openness, wonder, opportunity, and adventure. In more modern times, writers like Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour took advantage of these ideas to build an image of the American West that was akin to life itself.

But before there was Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey, there was Thomas Mayne Reid—more popularly known as Capt. Reid.

Reid (1818-1883) was an Irish immigrant who first settled in Pittsburgh and later in Philadelphia, and graced the newspapers of both cities with his stories, reviews, essays, and poems. In Philadelphia, he was a drinking companion of Edgar Allan Poe. When the war with Mexico broke out in 1846, Reid joined a New York infantry unit and found himself at the battle of Chapultepec, where he fought courageously and was badly wounded. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. (There is no evidence he was ever a captain, the rank he adopted as the author of his later adventure books.)

In 1849, Reid sailed back to Europe intending to participate in the Bavarian revolution, but he changed his mind and instead returned to Ireland. Then he moved to London and in 1850 published his first novel, The Rifle Rangers, which was soon followed by another, The Scalp Hunters. In these novels and many that followed, he vividly described the landscape that he had viewed while traveling through Texas and Mexico and constructed exciting and adventuresome stories of the people there.

His books were highly popular with boys — one of whom was Theodore Roosevelt, a sickly, asthmatic child, who in his autobiography credits Reid with sparking his desire to be part of the adventures of the American West. Another of Reid’s young readers was Arthur Conan Doyle

Reid’s adventure novels were much in the genre of Robert Louis Stevenson. Indeed, Reid did not confine himself to the American West but also wrote books set in South Africa, Jamaica, and the Himalayas.

Reid’s works were popular into the 1860s, but that popularity faded. He returned to America in 1867 and tried to restart his career as a writer, but he could never capture the magic of his early work. He returned to England and lived the last decade of his life wracked with melancholia and poverty. He died in London in 1883.


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.

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

Dan C.: You are like me when it comes to the writing and editing process. I attended Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna College) for the last three years of my undergraduate degree, following my freshman year at the U.S. Military Academy. Claremont is known for its tough writing requirements in all courses, with a minimum 100-page thesis in your major as the final requirement. For all of those papers, I followed a simple formula:RD = FC

I was initially going to make you try to guess what the variables were, but that wouldn’t have been nice. Simply put, RD = FC is Rough Draft equals Final Copy.

I used the formula all my life except for my three years as a General Staff Officer at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). When writing for General Officer signatures, you write, rewrite, submit to your boss for review, make the recommended changes, and rewrite again before sending it to the General’s aid for editing/review and then the (hopefully) one last rewrite before finally submitting it.
Vic C.: I’ve been reading the quote from Seward and wishing that a copy of it could be sent to so many of this country’s politicians in the hope (vain as it might be) that they might recognize and adopt its relevance.  I may be labeling myself as a dinosaur in some respects when I say that I immediately recognized Secretary Seward’s name.  As Secretary of State, he was the author of the deal by which the United States, in 1867, purchased Alaska from Russia.  That action was often referred to as “Seward’s Folly” by many Americans at the time.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Anticipation

Best quote of the week:

Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments. Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

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



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