The Misguided Investment of Mark Twain’s Samuel Clemens

Like so many writers, one of my early literary influences was Samuel Clemens, the guy who successfully branded himself as Mark Twain and gained unprecedented worldwide recognition as an author.

So inspired by him, that on my only two visits to Connecticut, I made certain to visit The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford.

The museum was the author’s home, where his family lived from 1874 to 1891. Twain wrote his most important works during the years he lived there, including Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

One of my favorite bloggers, Phil Strawn from Granbury, Texas, who reminds me of a cross between Clemmons and the founder of Luchenbach, Texas, an old Hill Country storyteller of yesteryear that I met in the ’70s. Strawn’s observations in TALES FROM THE CACTUS PATCH have a Mark Twain from Baby Boomer Texas type feel to his posts.

Anyway, I digress. Clemmons was driven to financial dissolution in a bid to develop an efficient mechanical typesetting machine.

It was called a Paige Compositor and was designed to eliminate the need for human intervention while typesetting.

The result? It was a debacle and the only working model with 18,000 separate parts. It ended up as a museum piece in the Twain House.

Clemens’ career included a stint as a journeyman printer and compositor. He clearly understood the potential of the machine. From the moment Clemens encountered the typesetting machine in James Paige’s workshop, he was dazzled by the possibilities and convinced that this revolutionary device represented a golden financial opportunity.

While the Paige Compositor was truly an engineering marvel, and could successfully and precisely set and distribute type, Paige was fixated on enhancing the machine so it could create justified lines of type.

His insistence on including this complex feature (that he could never get to work reliably) fatally delayed its release. A simpler machine from Linotype grabbed the market.

In the meantime, Clemens’ investments in the project topped $170,000 by the close of the 1880s, leaving him in deep financial straits, exacerbated by other bad investments.

To pay off creditors and restore his financial equilibrium, the 60-year old Clemens, his wife Olivia, and daughter Clara set off on a five-year tour, dubbed the “Round-the-World Comedy Tour” by author Richard Zacks, delivering stage performances to welcoming audiences in India, South Africa, Australia, and other countries.

The tour, however, was capped by tragedy upon the family’s return to London: the death of daughter Susy at the family home in Hartford, CT during their absence.

With long time friend John Lewis, who inspired “Jim” in Tom Sawyer

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Clemens recorded in his notebook, “The cloud is permanent now,” and Olivia, exhausted from the travel, was traumatized to the point that she would never return to their Hartford home and never fully regained her health.

Clemens did not forget the role Paige played in his misfortunes, and wrote in his autobiography: “Paige and I always meet on effusively affectionate terms; and yet he knows perfectly well that if I had his nuts in a steel-trap I would shut out all human succor and watch that trap till he died.”

With the proceeds from his round-the-world tour and the release of a book of his collected works, Clemens successfully turned the corner on his financial woes. He died, debt free, in Redding, Connecticut in 1910.

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Jack Dennis often reports on politics, crime, history, travel, nostalgia, entertainment, immigration, drugs, gang activities, and human trafficking. Please support our efforts to provide truth and news that corporate media will not. 🔹Dodie Dennis, retired RN and health instructor, writes about health, nutrition, Big Pharma, nature, travel and everyday hacks-tips-hints.

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Sources and Networking for Writers, Investigators and Sales People

“Where do you get your ideas for articles? How do you develop and retain dependable sources? How do you sell more? Increase business? Obtain information?”

These are common questions I have received over the years as a “Jack of All Trades” being an investigative reporter, insurance salesman, business executive, trade organization president, writer, detective and corporate facilities manager. The simple answer is to be a good networker.

Personal Connections

After making any connection, I always tried to build on it. Sometimes it takes creativity and thoughtfulness, but those are wonderful traits for life anyway. At HEB Food/Drugs, my division had thousands of employees (Partners), service providers, vendors and other resources to keep our stores, offices, warehouses, manufacturing plants and other real estate safe, lawful and in welcoming conditions.

H-E-B calls employees ‘Partners’

Early on, I would use Rolodex files (labeled: “Sources,” “Engineers,” “Partners,” “Designers,” Electricians,” and others) for individual information on people in each category.

For example, when I visited Austin, Houston, Dallas, the Rio Grande Valley, the Coastal Bend and other regions of Texas, the file for that area would include more than just names, phone numbers, and emails. It was critical to have personal notes to connect and care with individuals I may come in contact with. Examples might be:

Birthplace, Birthday, Anniversaries, Spouse, Children, Other Family, Connections, Hobbies, Interests, Education, and Accomplishments.

Others items to note might include Affiliations, Career and Work History, Goals, Prides, and other interests.

“Is Bobby, Jr. still playing baseball this year? How’s Nancy doing in track? Here’s an autograph of Tim Duncan for your brother. I know he’s big on Spurs basketball,” were some ways to build rapport.

The key was to capture the bits and pieces of hot, vital information
about people I met. These appear as phrases such as “Texas State alum,” “loves to fish,” “never eats lunch,” and so on.

Many times I kept a pocket recorder to help remember for when I jotted it down in the hotel room or plane ride later. As technology developed, I kept computer files and spreadsheets instead of manual Rolodexes.

Note: Even today, I do not include confidential information and confidential names on a computer or internet file. My reputation and ability to gather data and news depends on sources trusting me.

Resources You Can Count On

It’s all a lot of work, but worth every minute of it. What does all this
have to do with resolving an emergency, mitigating a problem, gathering resources, or closing the sale? Just about everything when it’s
used at the moment it’s needed.

Who can you depend on for help when your dealing with a hurricane, a sales proposal or news article?

I don’t subscribe to the saying “Networking is a numbers game.” The success doesn’t come from how many people you can meet. What you actually need is to have a list of people and resources you can count on.

One of my greatest mentors was a senior vice president of Facility Alliance at H-E-B, Ralph G. Mehringer. I watched and learned. When he met someone for the first time–a food server, janitor, visitor, new partner, whoever— Ralph was consistent about making them feel like the most important person in the room.

When I lived in an apartment above the Majestic Theater in downtown San Antonio, a neighbor, Walter Stovell, known as the “Godfather of Houston Street,” totally made eye contact with others–and he kept it. He smiled. He listened.

Majestic Theater

During conversations, Walter made comments and asked questions that showed he was hearing and listening. One day the current and two ex-mayors of the Alamo City walked by and Walter amazed me with his abilities to engage each one opportunities to express themselves without interruption.

What If You Need a Large List to Increase Sales or Potential Sales?

A sales person may mention to someone for whom has been a good customer, “I was just going through my checks, and I realized I spent over $2000 with you last year. I guess we’re really getting to depend on each other more than I knew.”

A typical question I receive is “where do you get your articles and story ideas?” They are all over, if you network properly.


You can expand networking by simply trading networks with someone else.
How big is your network? If you answered infinite, you’re
right. You’re only limited by the number of people on earth. Your network is potentially the size
of all your contacts, plus all your relatives’ contacts, your
friends’ contacts, your business associates’ contacts, and so on.

Suppose you want to introduce a new service you offer. Are you going to limit the list to the names you’ve been able to scrape together? Of course not. You’ll ask me for my list, and if I like the offer I might even ask a few other people for their lists. Instead of a few hundred names, you now have a few thousand.

Always treat anyone’s contacts with the utmost respect. Like tightrope walking, this is a system based on trust. A fall from grace, like a fall from the high wire, can be very hard to recover from.

3 Tips on Selling

🔹 Be Knowledgeable. If you want people to listen to you, you need to be an expert about the product you’re selling, about the market it exists in, and about the way it addresses the needs of your customer.

🔹Establish Rapport. Your primary responsibility is to establish a connection between the needs of the customer and the solutions that your product/service provides. It’s about them, not you. If you’re not paying attention to the customers’ needs, how could you ever accomplish that? Listen to what they’re saying. Ask questions to gain deeper understanding. Seek to build and demonstrate empathy.

🔹Build Relationships. Many people will go to online reviews to learn about your product or service. It’s amazing how much stronger leads are that come from customer referrals. Cultivating customer relationships will give you more leads, and when you listen to compliments and complaints about your offering, it will help you improve for future customers.

One final thought is to use the forever faith 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of your network likely provides 80 percent of the value. What have you done for them lately?

Jack Dennis

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The Most Fundamental Lesson Good Writers and Bloggers Must Know

It was fun interviewing and meeting performers (Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Clint Eastwood, Freddie Mercury, Kenny Loggins, Jim Messina, and Jackson Browne, to name a few).

In journalism school at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State) University, I started out as University Star Fine Arts Assistant Editor my sophomore year.

Especially rewarding were lessons I took away from writing reviews of concerts, theatrical performing arts, books and art. Committed to learning all I could to hone writing skills, I paid particular attention to Journalism and English professors who endured my thirst for knowledge in and out of class.

One of the more prominent lessons was the “Three Act Narrative.” Today, we have the Internet, but I wouldn’t trade the value of learning from brilliant teachers and good ol’ trial and error.

In screenplay writing, I’ve learned movie plots go by a formula called “The Hero’s Journey.” However, in practically every story you’ve ever read or seen has more in common than you think.

What if I said that a bloodcurdling horror movie with zombies and a Shakespeare play has the same building blocks? Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? But it won’t be once you understand what narrative structure is.

Plot vs Narrative

You may have heard of the word plot and the word narrative, but they are not one and the same.

🔹‘Plot’ refers to the summation of events in any given story.

🔹 ‘Narrative’ refers to the way the plot is structured and presented to the reader.

Detective novels involve the investigation recounting what actually happened in the mystery. While the plot would involve these details regardless of where they appear in the text, the narrative offers the reader clues along the way and saves the big reveal for the end.

By cursory glance, the structure may seem inconsequential. But in truth, the narrative is what makes every story satisfying.

As readers, we love to piece together the details of any story ourselves before its revealed at the end. We also love when the writer peppers foreshadowing throughout the novel, as it makes the ending that much more satisfying. Even twist endings make sense in some way. But why is that?

This is because of a concept most writers use called the three-act structure. The concept is simple; your story can be divided into three, clearly defined or not, acts, each serving a different purpose. At its simplest, a story must have a beginning, middle and end. But how the writer structures these three has a large impact on how the story itself is read.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theater

Act I: The first act has all to do with the setup. Also known as the expository act, this part of the story establishes everything we, the reader, need to know.

Where is this story set? If it’s not a real-world setting, what are the rules by which the universe operates? Who is our main character? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What is the main conflict our hero must overcome? These are all questions the first act must answer.

The first act also features an ‘inciting incident’ that sets the story in motion and slowly builds towards a major plot point.

Act II: The second act starts right after the first major ‘incident’ in a novel. In The Wizard of Oz, this would be when Dorothy reaches Munchin Land for example, and the first major plot point was Glenna the Good Witch telling her to “follow the Yellow Brick Road.”

The second act’s role is to build towards the big climax by adding additional details that will become relevant later and include a second major plot point. Some novels may even feature a ‘midpoint’ – this is where the protagonist is at their lowest or the farthest from achieving their goals.

Act III: The third act packs the biggest punch of all – the climax. But before the climax, there must be something called a pre-climax. This is the part where the protagonist is working towards the climax in which they face their primary conflict head-on.

In The Wizard of Oz, this would be the lessons learned along the way with Scarecrow, Tinman and the Cowardly Lion to be overcomed before Dorothy confronts the Great and Powerful Wizard.

The third act is usually the shortest act in any novel because it moves so fast. Following the climax, the novel quickly offers a resolution that wraps everything up.

Freytag’s Pyramid

The 19th-century German writer Gustav Freytag adapted the three-act structure into what is now known as Freytag’s pyramid.

According to Freytag:

🔹‘Rising action’ is where the stakes are continuously raised and the key to building a satisfying climax.

🔹‘Falling action’ is when the big conflict is conquered and the story either winds down for a resolution or resets for a sequel, as is the case with most children’s books.

The name ‘three act structure’ comes from the fact that most dramas, especially dramas in ancient Greece as well as most of Shakespeare’s play years later, followed the three-act structure almost religiously.

Aristotle, in his seminal work ‘poetics’, where he explains the mechanics of what makes a good story, explains the important way to keep a story moving is its “cause and effect beats”. Every scene in a story must feed into the scene that happens next and not seem like standalone episodes.

The three-act structure is especially important in cinema, which must fit a remarkable amount of plot points, rising action and character growth into two hours or so.

Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay writers rely on the three-act structure to help them pace their movie in a way that keeps the audience engaged as well. The three-act structure really took off in the film industry after Syd Field’s pioneering book ‘Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. This book has served as a reference for some giants in the industry like James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood and in writing their own movies too.

The three-act structure has become so prevalent that it has also influenced the way TV shows are written. You may have noticed that when your favorite television show ends on a cliffhanger, the next season quickly resolves the cliffhanger so it can move on to building up the story again.

A narrative that is just as intense throughout the story with no build rarely has a satisfying ending. So what these TV show creators are doing is something like a soft reset. They are slowly building conflict again so that the season finale can be the most exciting point in the season.

Once you realize the basics of the three-act structure, it’s not that hard to spot. Whether it’s in books, movies, or TV shows, the three-act structure is everywhere.

A common topic of discussion in our family after watching a movie or seeing a play include questions like Where did the writers go wrong? Was there not enough exposition? Was there too much exposition? Did they drag out the middle?

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.