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On Writing: This and That from Here and There

Do you like writing info? Sound bites?  Stats?  Bullet points?  Then you are sure to love this post.  Since the info compiled here has been gleaned from various sources, I won’t bet the rent on it.  Still, it is interesting.  And thought provoking.

  •  Over 70 percent of books published in the world are in languages other than English
  • About 1.5 million books are in print in the U.S. at any one time.
  • The top 10 book publishers in the U.S. control about 88 percent of the market.
  • The New York Times reported that “According to a recent survey, 81 percent of people feel that they have a book in them…and should write it.”
  • This means that over 200 million people in the U.S. want to write a book.
  • Last year, according to Bowker, 764,448 titles were self-published. That’s a mind-boggling 181 percent increase from the previous year.
  • California has approximately six times the number of small presses as anywhere else.
  • Colorado and Minnesota are the self-publishing runners-up.
  • Religious books represent a significant share of today’s publishing market.
  • More and more spiritual and religious titles are crossing over into mainstream bookstores.
  • Women buy 68 percent of all books sold.
  • Most readers never get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

Interesting, huh?  Do you have any stats to add to this list? 

“When I want to read a good book, I write one.”

Benjamin Disraeli

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St. Paddy’s Day in Ireland

Several years ago, I had the great privilege of spending Saint Patrick’s Day in beautiful Ireland. I was touring the country with a group screening the film Amazing Grace, and since I had written two books on John Newton–John Newton, the Angry Sailor and Once Blind: The Life of John Newton–I was invited to go along.

A fellow who sat behind me on the bus going north from the Dublin airport to Derry peered at me through narrowed eyes and asked, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

I had already been warned to watch out for that question. It wasn’t really a religious query. It was political, and it could be dangerous.

“Christian,” I mumbled as I buried my face in my book.

During my week in Ireland, I crisscrossed the country by car, a different city every day. On March 17, I noticed with stereotypical surprise that not one person was wearing green. “So, how do you celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day here?” I asked a group of locals.

“We watch the telly,” one said. “The Saint Patrick’s Day parade from New York.” The others nodded their agreement.

“Do you eat your dinner of corned beef and cabbage before the parade or after?” I asked.

They stared at me gap-mouthed.

“What’s corned beef, Mum?” a little girl whispered to her mother. Her mother told her to never mind, that it was not worth discussing, let alone eating. In fact, not one person in the group would admit to ever having tasted it. Cabbage was okay, they allowed, but only with lamb. Not corned beef. Goodness, no!

Finally someone asked me the question they were all obviously dying to have answered: “Why would you eat corned beef and cabbage?”

“Lots of us do in America,” I said a bit defensively. “All the grocery stores run big specials on it. We eat it so we can celebrate our Irishness. It’s what we do on Saint Patrick’s Day!”

After a week of criss-crossing Ireland, I settled on the plane from Dublin to Atlanta in my aisle seat. But when I glanced over at my row mate–a rather hefty teenage boy–I saw that he was crammed into the window seat with his leg was awkwardly propped sideways to accommodate a plaster cast that encased his leg, foot to his thigh.

“It’s a long flight,” I said. “Let’s trade seats.”

He smiled appreciatively. His name was Sean, he told me, and he was nineteen years old. He was on his way to Florida, and he hoped to stay there with relatives. Before the plan even left the tarmac, he asked, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

“Sean, my lad,” I said with a sigh, “it’s a good thing we have nine hours together. What I am is a Christian. But you are on your way to the U.S., so we do need to talk!”

I have so many good memories of Ireland, but what I cherish most is that long flight home. I really enjoyed it. I hope Sean did, too.

I believe in the sun when it’s not shining, I believe in love when I feel it not, I believe in God even when he is silent.”

Irish saying



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War and Peace

I read that Lawrence Johnston, one of the last survivors of the Manhattan Project, just died at the age of 93.  I didn’t know Dr. Johnston.  Never even heard of him.  But I do know something about the Manhattan Project in White Sands, New Mexico.  That’s where the atomic bomb was developed in 1945.  The bomb that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  That led to Japan’s surrender and hastened the end of  the war in the Pacific.  The bomb that opened the door to the Atomic Age of catastrophic warfare.

I did know Dr. Voskuyl, who also worked on the project.  He was president of the college I attended.  Years after I graduated, for my first serious piece of writing,  I interviewed him about his part in the project.

Not long ago I read about the pilot of the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped that first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  The young lieutenant colonel, Paul Tibbets, watched in shock as a horrible boiling mushroom cloud enshrouded the city of Hiroshima.  Afterward he wrote these words in his journal: “My God, what have we done?”

That’s what I wanted to know back when I interviewed Dr. Voskuyl.  The question I posed to him was this:  “If you had known then what that bomb would lead to, would you still have been a part of it?”

“We did know,” he said. 

That dignified, white-haired man took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped gathering tears from his eyes. 

“We did know. But what choice did we have?”

I never wrote the article.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

~Song lyrics by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson~


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