This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,070) on Friday, October 20, 2023.
For the past two or three weeks, the weather and absence of other duties have allowed me to spend some time doing some woodworking. I have been building a “floating mantle” for some relatives, and I must say the whole process has been a pleasure.
A floating mantle is little more than a long box and looks very simple but is actually more complicated than it appears. There have been many decisions that have confronted me and many small problems that I have had to solve along the way. All of those things have given me a lot of pleasure. I love to work with my hands and to produce things that did not exist when I began.
Working with wood also gives me particular pleasure. Its naturalness, variety, and beauty are incomparable.
This project is nearly at an end, and when it is complete, I will post pictures in the newsletter. There is one important fact about this project that I am withholding, but I will reveal that in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.
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From the archives: Lawrence Block: prolific and successful
When an intelligent but smart-alecky high school junior got his English composition assignment in a 1943 Buffalo High School, he decided to treat it like the intelligent but smart-alecky kid he was. He would make some fun of it.
The assignment was to write about his own career possibilities. He wrote about all of the different things he had been thinking about becoming as an adult since he was 4 years old. He ended the essay with what he thought was a humorous line. “On rereading this composition, one thing becomes very clear to me—I can never be a writer.”
His teacher, Miss Jepson, did not find that line as humorous as he thought it might be. She wrote in the margin: “I’m not so sure about that!”
For the student, Lawrence Block, that changed everything.
“Before that, I’d never for a moment considered a career as a writer,” he says, “but from that moment on I never considered anything else.” Source: My First Thriller: Lawrence Block ‹ CrimeReads
After that, Block says he began to take his writing seriously and began to think that maybe he could be a professional writer after all.
Block went off to college and while there submitted poems and stories to numerous publications without much success. During one of the summers, however, he managed to gain an internship at a literary agency. While there, he sold his first short story, and it happened to be to a magazine that was edited by the head of the agency.
Block returned to college and became the editor of the campus newspaper, but he was dissatisfied with where he was. He dropped out of college for good and returned to New York where he began pumping out soft-porn novels for just about anyone who would take them. He learned then how to write quickly and how to formulate a plot. It was good training that he has used during his lifetime of writing.
And what a lifetime it has been. Block has produced dozens of novels and scores of short stories and his nom de plumes are almost too numerous to count. As he says on the biography page of his website:
Because one name is never enough, LB has also published under pseudonyms including Jill Emerson, John Warren Wells, Lesley Evans, and Anne Campbell Clarke. Source: About | Lawrence Block
He has written numerous detective and mystery series with delightful and well-formed continuing characters. In addition, he has conducted hundreds of writing seminars where he has helped thousands of people understand the process of writing.
Block has won the Anthony, Edgar, Shamus, and Gold Dagger awards from various writers’ associations, and he was named a Grandmaster in 1994 by the Mystery Writers of America.
In addition to all of this, Block writes columns and books for writers themselves. Many years ago when I got interested in writing fiction, I picked up a copy of his book Spider, Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers. It still occupies a place on my bookshelf.
Outside of writing of his own, Block has put together several anthologies of short stories by others. I am reading through one of them now. Its title is The Darkling Halls of Ivy. Block says this about it on his website:
. . . its stories all having to do with the world of higher education. (Their other common denominator is their excellence.) As the book was coming together, we explored ways to market it to college and university bookstores—and that looked promising, until Covid came along and all those bookstores closed up shop, along with the colleges and universities that spawned them.
Still, the book got good reviews and generated strong word of mouth, and had no trouble finding an audience. The Subterranean Press limited edition sold out in a hurry, but the book continues to move briskly in ebook, paperback, and hardcover editions.
The two words you can safely apply to Lawrence Block are prolific and successful.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”
Group giveaways for October
Kill the Quarterback and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:
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.
Vietnam Voices, volume 3
I mentioned in last week’s newsletter that the fourth and final volume of Vietnam Voices has just been published. This is a project for the Blount County Public Library that I and others have been working on for more than four years. In this week’s newsletter, I would like to remind you about volume 3 in the series.
Here is the description of volume 3 on Amazon:
This third volume of Vietnam Voices continues the quest of the Blount County Public Library to record and archive the memories of those who served in the military in Vietnam during that conflict a half-century ago.
Much has been written about the war in Vietnam. At home, it was politically and socially divisive, creating fissures in American society, some of which have never been healed. Many volumes about the history, strategy, tactics, and effects of the war have been published in the years since the conflict ended.
Relatively little, however, has been written about the war from the point of view of the soldiers, sailors, and Marines who served there. The reasons for that are many and varied. Chief among them is the fact that when servicemen returned to the United States, they rarely wanted to talk about their experience there. Most simply wanted to get on with their lives, which they felt had been interrupted by the conflict.
A related factor in this silence is the fact that the servicemen were not invited to talk about what had happened. The society to which they returned was too divided to discuss the war rationally. A strong current feeling that blamed the soldiers for the war ‑ rather than the politicians ‑ had gripped the thinking of many Americans.
Consequently, a silence enveloped any discussion of the war with veterans. That silence has prevailed for much of the last 50 years.
The Vietnam Voices project, then, is an effort to break that wall of silence and to give the veterans who served in Vietnam a chance to tell their stories.
Kathleen W.: I read over the article on not reading the news. While I think most of the author’s points have value, the final conclusion is flawed. The opposite conclusion is that by ignoring the news because it is fleeting and might make the reader uncomfortable. In a democracy, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance allows us to bury our heads in the sand while our democracy disintegrates or rather explodes (here I reference January 6, 2021) in a blaze of dishonor. As citizens in a democracy, we are obligated to know what is going on in our country and the world or we must accept the consequences. There is a reason freedom of the press is in the First Amendment. It is there with the real expectation that citizens should make an effort to be well informed even if the information makes us feel uncomfortable.
Marcia D: We have always thought of Napoleon as short as 5’6” is short for a man. Had a Manager that suffered from the Napoleon Complex. What a Jerk!
Vince V.: As a child of the 1960s, I could never imagine that Vietnam would become one of America’s forgotten wars, but I fear that’s what is happening. Bravo for the four volumes of Vietnam Voices.
As far as news consumption goes, I too feel the overload, but with democracy in crises on so many fronts, I think we have an obligation to sort it out, as difficult as all the outlets make it.
Mike M.: I totally agree with you. I quit watching the news 11/20, and only listening to the top and bottom of the hour. Only in the car. Gotta know how to get around, what with the maniacs they give driver’s licenses to!
Bill G.: You asked for comments about accessing news. As far as reading news, which newspapers and magazines we choose have the same problem as watching news shows. We tend to watch people who agree with what we already think. Back in the 60’s, people watched Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America.” He never expressed an opinion. He told us what happened yesterday, so he had time to analyze the events of yesterday.
Now there is so much competition, especially in cable news that newscasters are trying to tell us what is going to happen tomorrow instead of yesterday. So what is presented as newscasters are really trying to be gypsy fortune-tellers.
As far as balance, many people take turns watching MSNBC and then switch to FOX NEWS. But watching both does not produce “balance.” It is more like a tightrope walker with MSNBC on one side and FOX NEWS on the other. The only chance for balance is to not watch either. Choosing one over the other will cause the ropewalker to fall. No solutions here other than to hope for another Walter Cronkite, but I don’t think “Corporate News” would ever allow him to exist.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Fall in the back yard
Best quote of the week:
It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy. George H. Lorimer, editor (1867-1937)
Grace for All: A daily devotional podcast
One of the great privileges I have had over the last few months is working with a dedicated group of folks to produce a daily devotional podcast series for 1st United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee.
Our first season (15 episodes, plus maybe a bonus one or two) is up and running now and can be heard at https://1stchurch.org/podcast or wherever you get your podcasts (Apple, Spotify, Google, etc.). The episodes are about five minutes and are meant to enlighten and inspire.
The episodes are also on YouTube, if that is your preferred way of receiving these things.
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
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.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Napoleon’s height, the final volume of Vietnam Voices, and a plea to stop reading the news: newsletter, October 13, 2023
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