The great satisfaction of a project nearing completion came for me this week with the arrival of proof copies of Loyal Mountaineers: The Civil War Memoirs of Will McTeer. McTeer left his home near the Great Smoky Mountains in 1862 and joined the Union army. He spent the next two and a half years fighting to preserve his country. I’ll have more to say about him and the book next week.
Meanwhile, the earth produces, and we harvest: potatoes, onions, cucumbers, dill, beans, tomatoes, and blackberries.
Be happy and safe this weekend as America gets ready to celebrate the Fourth.
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Ernest Hemingway on writing
The spare writing style of Ernest Hemingway has been often analyzed — and too often imitated — by many writers, observers, and commentators.
It is unique. There is nothing like it in the English language, and when Hemingway emerged as an important and eventually well-known writer in the post-Great War era of the 1920s, the style was both praised and panned.
One of the techniques of Hemingway’s writing is the heavy reliance on the simple sentence — the subject-verb-predicate sentence without subordination. One study showed that 70 percent of Hemingway’s sentences were simple sentences.
Hemingway wrote like a reporter who was composing for a telegraph message that charged by the word. Every word had to mean something. Every word had to pull some weight. Lavish adjectives and adverbs were likely not only to waste time but to be inadequate for what the writer was trying to convey. What was important, Hemingway argued, was what was omitted, and he compared his writing to an iceberg:
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. (Death in the Afternoon)
Another device that Hemingway used was something the ancient Greeks knew about: polysyndeton. This is the technique of stringing together sentences or phrase with the use of “and” rather than what we would call the serial comma. For instance, Hemingway wrote:
“I said, ‘Who killed him?’ and he said ‘I don’t know who killed him, but he’s dead all right,’ and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights or windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was right only she was full of water.” (After the Storm)
This technique conveys an immediacy to the subject and allows the writer to juxtapose a startling image in the midst of a more mundane description. Many writers before Hemingway, such as William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, used it, and the technique is common in the King James Bible, particularly in the Old Testament.
And, as you might expect, polysyndeton has an opposite: the more commonly used and heard asyndeton. Remember this sentence from John Kennedy inaugural address:
We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardships, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Hemingway was well aware of what he was doing and of the techniques he was using. His quest was to write “the one true sentence.”
All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.
Book counterfeiting: it happened before Amazon came into existence.
What happens when you are a self-published author (as I am), and someone takes your books, republishes them on Amazon’s self-publishing site, and sells them at a higher price — depriving you not only of royalties but also very possibly creating ill-will among your readers?
This hasn’t happened to me — at least, not that I know of.
But it has happened to others, and the New York Times has published a long article about book counterfeiting that is pretty scary.
. . . Amazon takes a hands-off approach to what goes on in its bookstore, never checking the authenticity, much less the quality, of what it sells. It does not oversee the sellers who have flocked to its site in any organized way.
That has resulted in a kind of lawlessness. Publishers, writers and groups such as the Authors Guild said counterfeiting of books on Amazon had surged. The company has been reactive rather than proactive in dealing with the issue, they said, often taking action only when a buyercomplains. Many times, they added, there is nowhere to appeal and their only recourse is to integrate even more closely with Amazon. Source: What Happens After Amazon’s Domination Is Complete? Its Bookstore Offers Clues – The New York Times
The article blames Amazon for not properly policing what it sells, and it quotes an Amazon spokesperson saying the right things:
An Amazon spokeswoman denied that counterfeiting of books was a problem, saying, “This report cites a handful of complaints, but even a handful is too many and we will keep working until it’s zero.” The company said it strictly prohibited counterfeit products and last year denied accounts to more than one million suspected “bad actors.”
Amazon could, and should, do a better job of policing what it sells, but blaming Amazon — and its dominance of the book market — for this situation, I think, is not particularly helpful.
The existence of this kind of counterfeiting is the result of current advancements in technology. These advancements have had many good and positive effects. But they also allow people who lie, cheat, and steal new ways to lie, cheat, and steal. Book counterfeiting is nothing new. It has a long and storied history, and what’s happening on Amazon now is another chapter in its history.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Antonia Fraser’s writing day
Fortunately for writer and historian Lady Antonia Fraser, she was pronounced as “uppity” when she was a girl attending convent school. The nuns, for reasons she doesn’t specify, didn’t like her.
They decided to punish by making her spend her Saturday mornings learning to touch type.
Fraser walls herself off for three hours in the mornings and writes “ferociously.” Then she stops, has lunch, exercises and does other things in the after. In the late afternoon, she edits and revises what she had done in the morning, but it’s at a much more languid pace.
The reason that this pattern of work-in-the-morning-only is something so deeply ingrained in me, is that I began trying to write history seriously when I had six children born in 10 years. I have actually written all my life, but history was It. So I devised a way of working like a bat out of hell, or anyway a bat out of the nursery, the moment I could cram the children into cradles, kindergartens, schools … with the wild hope they would stay there. (There are wicked stories of notices on my door saying “Only come in if you have broken something”, which I utterly deny.) Under the circumstances, I never ever suffered from writer’s block. Source: Antonia Fraser: ‘I was forced to learn typing as a punishment for being uppish’ | Books | The Guardian
All this information comes from a brief and delightful description that Fraser gave of her day to The Guardian a couple of years ago. If you are interested in how a good writer writes, you will want to read this.
Fraser is the author of many tomes of history (Mary Queen of Scots, Cromwell The Lord Protector, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, etc.), a couple of memoirs, and a detective series — among other works. She writes and gives her full powers to it.
Verse and Vision
For the second week in a row, my good friend and newsletter reader Vince V. suggested a poem for a video. Last week I read Alfred, Lord Tennyson‘s most famous poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade and did a portrait of the poet for a video. This week we drop back a couple of centuries to pick up To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace — the poem with the famous line, “Stone walls do not a prison make . . . ”
Here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April:
To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace: http://bit.ly/lovelace-toalthea
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: http://bit.ly/tennyson-lightbrigade
The House of Rest by Julia Ward Howe: http://bit.ly/howe-houseofrest
Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott: http://bit.ly/scott-lochinvar
Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner: http://bit.ly/ole-bert
In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson: http://bit.ly/RLStevenson-2poems
To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell: http://bit.ly/Marvell-CoyMistress
Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat
The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: http://bit.ly/HWL-TheOldClock
Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe: http://bit.ly
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray: http://bit.ly
My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: http://bit.ly/EBB-myheartandi
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: http://bit.ly/poe-theraven
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare: http://bit.ly/shakespeare-sonnet18
And more are on the way.
Podcast: Man in the Window
He became known as the Golden State Killer, but his crime spree was so long, so widespread, and so extensive that he went by many names: the Cordova Cat, the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, just to name a few.
Now the folks who brought you the compelling podcast Dirty John — Wondery and the Los Angeles Times — have a new podcast series titled Man in the Window. Here is how they describe it:
In Man in the Window, Paige St. John, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter has uncovered never before revealed details about the man who would eventually become one of California’s most deadly serial killers. From Wondery and the LA Times comes a new series that traces his path of devastation through his victims’ eyes.Source: Man In The Window on Apple Podcasts
It is hard to believe the evil of the man who committed the crimes ascribed to the Golden State Killer. The descriptions of his actions are chilling, especially since many of them come from the victims themselves. We had a brief item last year about the arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, the man accused of being the killer, and it is worth reading before diving into this podcast.
Everything surrounding this story is strange and complex, and the podcast does an excellent job of shepherding you through it.
Alice K.: It was nice to read Jennifer’s remarks about the role of a library in the community. (See the newsletter of June 7, 2019.) She makes many good points, and who would know better than she does about the many people whose lives are touched each day at the library? There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that says, “the only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
All men — whether they go by the name of Americans or Russians or Chinese or British or Malayans or Indians or Africans — have obligations to one another that transcend their obligations to their sovereign societies. Norman Cousins, author, editor, journalist and professor (1915-1990)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — 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: A newspaper story becomes a famous poem, the domestic troubles of a famous poet, and a cure for our civil ills: newsletter, June 21, 2019