Rules for writing, the great John Steinbeck, and the second volume in the Vietnam Voices series: newsletter, October 27, 2023

October 27, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,070) on Friday, October 27, 2023.

When you are writing:

Use simple straightforward language to communicate with your readers. Don’t try to develop a writing style. If you have a style, it will come out naturally.

Always use “said” as your verb of attribution. If you use something other than “said” without a clear, precise reason, you call attention to your writing and distract the reader from what you are actually saying.

Think constantly about your audience. What is it that your readers want to know? The answer to that question is likely to be far different from the answer to this question: What is it that I want to tell my readers? The first question is far more important than the second.

These are just a few of the writing principles that I tried to convey to students when I was teaching. I am reminded of them because I am including Elmore Leonard’s rules for writing in this week’s newsletter. His rules are a delight to read and think about, and I hope that you enjoy them.

Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.


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John Steinbeck: A Master of Language and Storytelling

When Nobel laureate John Steinbeck sat down at his writing desk early in the morning, he had a goal in mind. He would stay there until a certain number of pages were completed.

But those pages would not necessarily be what eventually appeared in one of his many prize winning novels. Very often Steinbeck was dissatisfied with what he wrote.

So he rewrote and he revised. And then he rewrote and revised again. His goal was to get his story and his complex thinking into words that readers would understand, but that also would convey the deep feelings and mindset of his characters.

In doing this, even though he was often dissatisfied with his own work, readers and critics in general found his work to be successful, and Steinbeck, in the middle decades of the 20th century, rose to be one of the true giants of American literature.

Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, in 1902. He was raised in an Episcopalian family, and although he later declared himself to be an agnostic, his religious upbringing influenced his writing. Steinbeck attended Stanford University but dropped out after a year to pursue a career in writing. He began his career as a journalist, and this training in writing and research is evident throughout his work.

Steinbeck’s first two novels, Cup of Gold (1929) and The Pastures of Heaven (1932), were not commercial or critical successes. His third novel, Tortilla Flat (1935), brought him modest literary fame. Set in California and drawing on his experiences with the local Mexican American population, the book is a serious but comic look at the lives of some of these people in the post-World War I generation.

Steinbeck’s social conscience was deeply affected by the Great Depression, and he was determined to write about the people who were struggling economically during this time, particularly those who were fleeing the Dust Bowl of the Midwest for the more fertile fields of California.

Steinbeck’s talent and commitment to these stories are most prominently displayed in his two most famous works, Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which won the Pulitzer Prize. Both of these novels demonstrate Steinbeck’s commitment to the lives of these people, as well as his extensive research into their habits and attitudes.

During World War II, Steinbeck was hired by the New York Herald Tribune to be one of its European correspondents. He was specifically tasked with reporting on the war’s progress and its impact on both soldiers and civilians. Steinbeck covered various actions, including the invasion of Normandy on D-Day in June 1944.

More than a decade after the war ended, Steinbeck gathered a collection of his war journalism into a book titled Once There Was a War. The insights that Steinbeck developed about the war make interesting reading even today.

Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, capping a career that saw him work as a peacetime journalist, a short story writer and novelist, a war correspondent, and a screenwriter for Hollywood. His commitment to social justice for all of the nation’s citizens never wavered.

Steinbeck died in 1968 at the age of 66, but his work continues to be read and enjoyed by people all over the world. He was a master of language and storytelling, and his novels offer timeless insights into the human condition.


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



Group giveaways for October

Kill the Quarterback ia part of a couple of group giveaways this month:

October Crime Thriller Giveaway

Crack the Case: Exclusive Giveaway of Top Crime Fiction and Thrillers

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 2

A couple of weeks ago, we announced the publication of volume 4 of our Vietnam Voices project. That volume signals the end of the four-year-long project that I have been a part of for the Blount County Public Library. The project began as an audio archive that gathered stories from East Tennesseans who had served in Vietnam, but it quickly grew into a series of publications that are now available on Amazon.

In previous newsletters we have looked at volume 4 and volume 3. Today we are reviewing volume 2. Here is the Amazon page description of volume 2:

Vietnam Voices, volume 2, follows the same paths through the towns, villages, and jungles that we forged in Vietnam Voices, volume 1. We leave aside the strategy, the grand plans, and the politics to listen to those who were actually there. These are the people who made war, and in some cases peace, on the ground.

This is the war that most politicians in the early 1960s promised that “American boys” would not have to fight. These are the stories that you don’t often hear.

In this volume, we hear:

  • A Marine member of the Judge Advocate General Corps, who sometimes pursued misconduct of U.S. soldiers for war crimes and took care of many other legal challenges for the military.
  • An Army transportation officer who tells about fellow soldiers at his base collecting money to buy two little Vietnamese boys cowboy suits ordered from a Sears and Roebucks catalog.
  • An Army captain who worked in logistics to make sure troops in the field were adequately supplied.
  • A Navy electronics technician on board a carrier who helped helicopters start their missions.

These and others were in Vietnam, interrupting their lives and doing what their country asked them to do.

It’s time we hear their stories.


Elmore Leonard’s rules for writing

Lots of people seem to want rules for writing—as if that makes the process easier. (It doesn’t.)

Still, these rules make for interesting reading and are sometimes good reminders. They are the habits that writers should develop. Elmore Leonard worked in the genre of fiction, but his rules are worth noting for any type of writing:

  1. Never open with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than said to carry a dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’.
  5. Keep your exclamation marks under control.
  6. Never use the word ‘suddenly‘.
  7. Use regional dialects and patois sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Ditto, places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

These come from a site called Everything2, which is where a lot of the links above will take you, and there is a short explanation for each if you need explanations or examples.

Leonard likes dialogue to tell his stories and tends to think that everything else is extraneous. Not a bad approach.


Check out last week’s newsletter


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Split, Coratia

Best quote of the week:

Life is just a short walk from the cradle to the grave and it sure behooves us to be kind to one another along the way. Alice Childress, playwright, author, and actor (1916-1994)

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 or wherever you get your podcasts (Apple, Spotify, Google, etc.). The episodes are about five minutes and are meant to enlighten and inspire.


Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, 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 ( 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: Lawrence Block, Winston Churchill on writing a book, and Vietnam Voices volume 3: newsletter, October 20, 2023



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