Thursday, July 9, 2020

The First Pandemic Crime Novel

By David Nemeth

Several weeks into the pandemic, writers began to wonder how they were going to incorporate the loneliness and repetitiveness of our socially distant lives into their crime fiction. Would the pandemic become a major player of setting or would it be folded in? As agents, publishers, and readers await for the coronavirus crime novel, little did they know that it's already here—David Zeltersman's "Everybody Lies in Hell" (Eraserhead Press).

Zelterman's strange novel which blends multiple genres has nothing to do with COVID-19, but life in Hell has some striking similarities, the ennui and the sameness of our lives, but with a lot more excitement, after all, it is about a PI living and working in Hell.
Time has no meaning in hell. I know I died on October eighth,1998, and I know one of my clients died in 2013, so it’s possible I’ve been dead for only fifteen years, but it seems as if I’d been coming to this office for thousands of years already.
Chapter by chapter, we follow Mike Stone, a private investigator living in a Hell that looks and feels remarkably like Brooklyn, the same way a movie set feels like the real thing but it's not. Stone's job in Hell is a simple and one that he explains to a potential customer, "Most souls who hire me to find out who killed them already know the answer. They also know why. They just don’t want to admit it."

Zeltersman has done a lot of world creation of his version of Hell and he relays it without bogging us down in minutia. We learn a little bit at a time on how this Hell works with reality, portals, squatters, awareness, and much more, even with its wash-rinse-repeat weariness.

Part noir, part horror, and with no intention of being a pandemic novel, Zeltersman has created an action-packed companion novel for our times. "Everybody Lies in Hell" is fucking tight. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Jay Stringer and the Fountain of Youth

The lovely and talented Jay Stringer, Do Some Damage's co-founder, has a new book out. Let's get to it, then, shall we?

Steve Weddle: How is Marah Chase different at the start of this book than at the start of the last book? 

Jay Stringer: One of the things that we don’t talk about much when it comes to Indiana Jones is that he’s a criminal. He’s also steeped in colonialism. He’s stealing shit from other cultures, with a different skin tone, and not bothering to stop and wonder about who owns the things that ‘belong in a museum.’ But he’s played by Harrison Ford and has a nice jacket, so we forgive him. Where was I? Oh yes. So, when I started writing Chase, I wanted to tackle this idea head on. She knows she’s a criminal. She knows what she’s doing is wrong, and she also knows she’s looking the other way on massive issues, like ye olde colonialism, to make a living. At the start of the first book she’s just trying to stay alive and make coin, and can’t let herself think about the moral compromises. In the two years that pass between the books, she’s been given a second chance. She’s cleaned her life up a little, been offered a ‘legit’ job in a museum, and written a book about her career. So it was interesting to explore why she would continue to operate as a relic runner. Now that she’s been offered an out from the dangerous lifestyle, why does she keep going back? I was newly sober while writing this book, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

SW: Marah Chase is described as Indiana Jones, but Jewish, female, and gay. What is it about her that makes her suited for this job? 

JS: She wears a leather jacket? I think that's the main qualification needed?

This has been a fun character, because I didn’t decide any of those things up front -outside of knowing she was a bit like Indiana Jones- she told me each of them along the way. Somewhere in the first chapter she told me she was Jewish. I mean, okay? Don’t see why that matters, but I’ll keep note of it, thanks. Then the first time she meets a woman in the story, she told me she was gay. Cool, thanks for the heads up. Her sexuality became relevant in the first book, but I figured her ethnic background was just an extra wee detail.

Then the new book started with her finding the Ark of the Covenant. (Suck that, Jones, you needed a whole movie, Chase needed about six pages.) And a few thousand words later she kept pausing to reflect on what that meant. I was like ‘hey let’s get to the next action scene’ and she was like ‘give me a minute, will you? I’ve never been religious but I was raised Jewish and I just found a box that is fundamental to Judaism, I’ve got some issues to resolve here….’ So that was annoying.

SW: How would Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth have been different had it been Marah Chase and the Fountains of Wayne? 

JS: It would have a far brighter future in sales.

SW: Marah Chase and the Conqueror's Tomb had her being chased around while she looked for Alexander the Great's tomb. What's this one about? 

JS: That depends. If you view Raiders as a film about the ark of the covenant, or Jaws as a film about a shark, then this is a book about a treasure hunter searching for the fountain of youth.

For me, it’s probably more about identity, faith, family, climate change, colonialism, cultural appropriation, and the way fascism used capitalism to take control of our society decades ago. Also, water is going to be the next big thing that corporations steal from us and people fight over.

Who am I kidding? It’s about a treasure hunter searching for the fountain of youth. Along the way she goes to Ethiopia, New York, London, and Glasgow. She’s in a race against a group of Nazis who are hiding in plain sight in a large soft drinks company, who want to find the fountain to further their eugenics plan.

SW: Much of the fun in the first book was the Sunday movie matinee feel of a good adventure flick, especially when Marah gets trapped in a tomb that's filling with water and so forth. Assuming you have some high-octane pressure in this one, too?

JS: Oh for sure. There are boat chases. Helicopters. Jokes. Sex. Sabre-toothed tigers. An erupting volcano.

There’s also some added depth. The first book was very much me scratching the itch to write the big fun goofy action story. This time round, the book kept asking me, ‘what else have you got?’

SW: Your first Eoin Miller book came out nearly a decade ago. What have you learned since Old Gold that has helped form this book? Alternatively, how would the books be different had you written Marah Chase back then and Eoin Miller now? 

JS: TEN YEARS? TEN? TEN YEARS? (I can fit Grosse Pointe Blank into any conversation.)

I wrote Old Gold in my twenties, I’m hitting forty this month. I’ve learned a lot about listening since then. I always thought of myself as a writer who pushed diversity, but it’s only as the years -and books- went on that I learned to really listen to other people, seek different experiences. I’m proud of Old Gold on a line by line level, there’s some very good writing in there, but I wasn’t ready to escape tropes, and it’s very much a book about a sad man being motivated by a woman’s death.

When it comes to craft I’ve also learned that emotion is the key. We’re emotional creatures, and we seek out art and Entertainment to feel things. There are so many books and blogs that talk about plot, beats, structure, exposition. You do need to know that stuff, but it only works if it’s in service of the reader feeling the emotions. It’s like if you’re telling a joke, you want people to find it funny, you want the audience to enjoy it, all your joke-writing craft needs to be in service of giving them that moment.

SW: I'm getting the feeling this Marah Chase thing is meant to be a series. Tell me about the shorts you've worked on and what's next? 

JS: I’d definitely love to do more Chase books. There’s a third one researched and ready to write. I found a really wacky, far out, fringe theory in Arthurian myth, and I can build a whole book around it, to have Chase going in search of Excalibur in an unexpected place. And along the way, I’ll throw in Bigfoot, Men in Black, and knights in armour riding motorcycles. And there are some breadcrumbs I’ve left in the first two books to suggest how the world can get much bigger, and future storylines to be developed. But that’s only if the world wants more.

I’ve just released a short story collection on kindle, Jay Stringer Tells Lies, which is basically all my short stories up to this point, plus some essays and poems. Yes, poems. Fancy.

After that…it’s all a big unknown. I’ve got a couple books written. One is set in New York, Gone Girl meets The Rockford Files. The other is set in Arizona, sort of like who Karen Sisco could have become five years after Out of Sight. But publishing is in a weird place right now, publishers are all chasing the big thriller with the big hook. I’m not really a big hook writer, so I think for me, like a lot of writers, it’s a time to take a step back and figure out where to go next. I was talking to an agent recently who told me Elmore Leonard wouldn’t work now. The thing is, Elmore Leonard didn’t ‘work’ for a long time back then, his books didn’t sell very well for over a decade, but publishers believed in him and supported his work, and then one of his books broke through and he never looked back. Writers aren’t getting that support at the moment. So who knows where publishing will be in five or ten years, once the big-hook era passes, but a lot of interesting writers will have been lost along the way.

SW: Who are you reading now that people should know about? 

JS: Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a great book. People should check it out. S.A.Cosby’s book deserves all the love being thrown at it. My buddy Johnny Shaw has a book out soon, The Southland. And if you like the Chase books, it’s well worth checking out Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem, by Gary Phillips, who can out-pulp me without breaking a sweat.


About The Book

Adventurer Marah Chase can’t resist one last globe-trotting quest to rescue a friend and discover a legendary locale.

Marah Chase has everything she wanted. Her academic career is back on track, she’s moved into a Manhattan apartment, and a dream job is waiting at the American Museum of Natural History. So why can’t she seem to stop slipping into her old ways, traveling the world in search of lost relics and buried treasure?

Back out in the field, Chase finds the lost Ark of the Covenant, a discovery that could trigger a holy war, as religions and nations argue over ownership of the sacred item. The Ark also brings Chase into conflict with another legendary relic runner, August Nash, a clash the entire underground smuggling community has been waiting for, and not one that will end anytime soon.

Upon returning home, Chase is hired by US soda billionaire Lauren Stanford to find the Fountain of Youth. At first, Chase dismisses this idea. But then Stanford tells her that an old friend found some information on the Fountain’s location and is now missing. Chase agrees to take the job—but only to find her friend—and enlists allies along the way on a trail from New York to London, and then on to Glasgow. Behind the myth, they find, lies a much older secret, and now they’re in a race to find the Fountain ahead of Nash and his nefarious cohorts. Whoever gets there first will have control over the future of humanity.

Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth is a tense, exciting, and epic adventure novel, spanning three continents and broadening the world of the Marah Chase series, placing Chase in the unique position to confront questions of identity, faith, imperialism, and appropriation.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Low Down Dirty Vote, Volume 2

Scott's Note:  James McCrone guest blogs today to talk about an anthology he is part of called Low Down Dirty Vote, Vol.2.  It's edited by Mysti Berry and has a forward by Scott Turow, and money raised from sales of the book will go to a worthwhile cause.

Here's James to tell you about it:

First, thanks to Scott and everyone here for giving me an opportunity to make folks aware of the new short story anthology, Low Down Dirty Vote, Vol. 2 –“Every Stolen Vote is a Crime", which debuted July 4. It’s a stunning collection of crime-fiction that will raise $10,000 for the Southern Poverty Law Center to help fight voter suppression. LDDV, Vol. 1 (2018) has already raised $5,000.

The stories contained in LDDV-v2 are each very different, reflecting the diverse writers who contributed and their varied experiences; and the stories run the gamut of history and geography—stories of disenfranchisement, conspiracy, and murder—held together by the very real threat of voter suppression: Every stolen vote is a crime. Or should be.

It’s appropriate that I should be talking about my contribution here on Do Some Damage, because that’s what my and the other contributors’ stories are about—damage, suppression, theft. My story “Numbers Don’t Lie,” is a deliberately ironic title from a narrator who never reveals his true name, and who is bent on falsifying the vote tally in a gubernatorial election. The damage he seeks to inflict may reach farther than just this one election he’s been hired for. I did extensive research for the story, and (unfortunately for the nation) there is no dearth of factual examples for what happens.

The narrator—only ever identified as “Mack”—is snarky and contemptuous, and it’s not clear whom he’s working for:

“I guess I felt bad about it, but not bad enough not to do it. The money was right,” he begins.

This story was an exciting departure for me. I’ve been writing political thrillers—novels—exclusively for about five years, and this was a chance to work on something new, to get inside the head of someone new, while still working with subject matter I feel passionate about. For my thrillers, I’ve written in third person, but Mack’s voice asserted itself, demanded attention. He wanted me to hear the story. So I listened and tried to convey the immediacy I heard. He’s a fixer, very good at his job, a conflicted hired gun summoned to ensure election results go the “right” way, but only when everything and everyone else has failed. “Always at the eleventh hour,” he laments.

“Elections were a time to reap what you had sowed—for good and bad. They only called me in when the shit had hit the fan. And this candidate was that.”

“Ideally,” he continues, the only reference to ideals anywhere in the story, except to disparage them, “voters looked at the cases presented during the various campaigns and made their preferences known at the ballot. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and that’s where I come in.”

I was intrigued by what lies beneath his contempt and swagger. Mack is dismissive even of his assistants, because they’re true believers, “which is never a good place to start.” Maybe he knows from intimate experience that it’s a bad starting place. But for him, those doubts, those misgivings are in the past. For this vote theft, Mack tries to craft a “two-fer”—one that will ensure a win for his clients’ candidate, and smear the other side at the same time.

In the end, it’s about more than this one election. My stories—and indeed many in this anthology—seek to reveal not only the crime, but what lies beneath it. There is a great deal of purposeful distraction and canny misdirection in politics these days, to put it mildly. But voting—free and fair elections—confers legitimacy, and it obliges accountability. Any disenfranchised voter, any stolen vote, is a crime.

LDDV, vol. 2 features work by  Faye Snowden, Stephen Buehler, Tim O’Mara, Jackie Ross Flaum, S.B. White, M.J. Holt, Frank Rankin, Bev Vincent, David Hagerty, Puja Guha, Gary Phillips, James McCrone, Madeline McEwen, Robert Lopresti, Camille Minichino, Jim Doherty, Ann Parker, Terry Sanville, Ben Harshman, Sarah M. Chen, Gabriel Valjan, Travis Richardson.

# # #

James McCrone is also the author of the Imogen Trager thriller series, comprising Faithless Elector (2016), Dark Network (2017), and the forthcoming Emergency Powers (Oct. 1, 2020) — political thrillers about a stolen presidency.  A Pacific Northwest native, he now makes his home in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children.  He’s a member of the Sisters in Crime network, Mystery Writers of America, International Association of Crime writers, and Philadelphia Dramatists Center. He has an MFA from the University of Washington, in Seattle.

Author site:

You can pick up Low Down Dirty Vote, Vol. 2 –“Every Stolen Vote is a Crime" right here.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Monday Mention - Mia P. Manansala

Chicago writer Mia P. Manansala is always busy. Winner of the 2018 Hugh Holton Award, the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, the 2017 William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy Scholarship, she is also a 2017 Pitch Wars alum and was a 2018-2019 mentor.

Her highly anticipated debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO (previously titled Love, Loss, and Lumpia) will be available May 4, 2021 through Berkley/Penguin Random House. Culinary cozy mystery ARSENIC AND ADOBO follows a Filipina-American sleuth as she returns home to forget a failed relationship only to find herself in the middle of a murder mystery.

Much like her main character, Mia always has something cooking. Figuratively and literally. ARSENIC AND ADOBO allows Ms. Manansala to combine a few of her many interests and talents, such as cooking and pop culture, but a visit to her website and blog finds even more interesting tidbits. It’s a great destination.

Mia’s most recent post let’s us follow along as she reads fifty-two books by women of color. You can find her thoughts on the first nine books below. After that, I encourage you to visit Mia at MPM the Writer to read the rest.

My reading list this year was inspired by an article in the Daily Kos about challenging yourself to read more books by women of color to broaden your perspectives. As a female writer of color, the majority of my reading is centered around writers of color and women writers, but I thought it would be a good exercise for me to be more intentional about what I’m reading, particularly since my preferred genre of crime fiction can skew very white.

Since we’ve just entered the second half of the year, I thought I’d provide a round-up of the books I’ve read so far since I haven’t had a single miss in my selections. Yes, some I love less than others but they’re all books I’m happy to recommend.

I’m providing affiliate links for each book, but you can also just go to my Bookshop page to see all the titles.

The first half of my 52 Books By Women of Color 2020 Reading Challenge:

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim
Simple yet lyrical. Heartfelt. Delicious!

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib
Fun, loved the Filipino stuff and clashing of cultures. Quick read.

Iced in Paradise by Naomi Hirahara
Fast read, great updated and diverse cozy. Interested in seeing how the series develops

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Sexy, funny, and full of ass-kicking

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
So adorable, well-implemented diversity, SQUEE

Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely
Wonderfully character-driven story. Grandmaster for a reason. Political commentary woven in expertly.

God's Will for Monsters by Rachelle Cruz
Need to re-read to better understand. Powerful but I clearly missed a lot. Great start to my initiative to read more poetry.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Loved it! So immersive and I loved all the historical details. Guessed the killer fairly early but still enjoyable.

Mimi Lee Gets A Clue by Jennifer J. Chow
Decent start to a fun new series.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Needed: Humanity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about how much we need one another. And how much the two big current issues have proven that.
Coronavirus has cut off everybody’s contact with everybody else. No get-togethers, no taking my laptop and working at the coffee shop, no school, no anything. Necessary, absolutely. For me, it’s driven home how much even small, everyday, in-person interactions matter for mental health. And then there are the normal markers of time that have excruciatingly evaporated—Easter egg hunts in April, baseball in May, swimming in June. Right now, my God, I just want to have a barbecue.
Our second need for one another comes with Black Lives Matter. The need to look through a lens that is not your own, to see the world as it affects others, and then to affect change. It’s not a new problem, that’s for sure, but right now we absolutely need one another to push this forward, to keep the momentum going.
So there we go. Humanity in contact, humanity in connection, humanity in equality. And as I write this on the Fourth of July, a hope that the future brings all three.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Online Author Interviews at Murder by the Book

Scott D. Parker

Sometimes, washing the dishes can lead to a book purchase. Oh, is that just me? Shrug. It still happened.

My wife's a great cook so she prepares most of our meals. Being the team player I am, if she cooks, I clean the dishes. It's never a problem because I'll always plug in the earbuds and listen to a podcast or a few minutes of whatever audiobook that's atop my To Be Listened To list. (Right now: the science fiction/spycraft novel The Bayern Agenda by Dan Moren).

But a little less than two weeks ago, as I moseyed over to the sink to wash up, I checked Facebook. I don't have notifications turned on, so to see what's going on over there, I have to literally tap the app and start swiping.

Right up at the top of my feed was an indication that Houston's Murder by the Book bookstore was live. Like many things online during this Covid-19 pandemic, it was an interview (Zoom meeting) between John McDougall and author J. Todd Scott.

Scott is one of those authors that has circled my radar for a few years. As a DEA agent, many of his assignments have been in west Texas and the American Southwest. More specifically, his books are set in the Big Bend region of Texas, a place I love for its stark beauty.

Seeing the interview was live, I ended up listening while washing the dishes. Scott is in many ways an author like myself. He's got a day job and writes a little bit each morning. But it was something very specific that made sit up and take notice. He mentioned a book he wrote that he liked and submitted to his agent. The agent liked it, but paused. You see, it wasn't really "on brand" for a J. Todd Scott novel. Scott said he marveled at the concept that he actually had a brand. He does.

That got me to thinking about my own brand. But that's a topic for a different post.

I enjoyed the interview so much that I called the store the next day and ordered a copy of Scott's first novel, THE FAR EMPTY. My son picked it up for me a few days later when he visited my dad. I started reading that very night. In only a few pages, I was hooked, making me wonder why it took me so long to get around to reading a J. Todd Scott novel. Dunno. Maybe the timing wasn't perfect.

But if there's a takeaway from today's post, it's this: if you are not following Murder by the Book's Facebook page, change it today. Follow their page and when you do, you'll have access not only to future live author interviews, but all the past ones you might've missed. That incluces the one from J. Todd Scott. (It's a little odd to have an author's last name be the same as my first name.) I couldn't figure out how to snag the actual link, but you can find it on 23 June 2020.

Then be sure to check Murder by the Book's webpage which has the events calendar with almost daily interviews. It's a great resource for all the time we're all spending at home, staying safe, and reading books.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Thursday, July 2, 2020



I’m known to most people for writing The Danny Bird Mysteries, and I’m really proud of those books, which have grown from a thing I didn’t think anyone would care about to a series that has people emailing me to demand the release date for the next one. <Spoiler: I’m still writing it>.

But a while ago, I wrote something different. Something darker. It’s about a man who is – at the very least – a sociopath, and possibly a psychopath.


Clarence is an errand boy-slash-enforcer for a gangster. He transports whatever needs transporting – drugs, money, women – and he does whatever needs doing, up to and including murder.


But Clarence has a habit. A preference. It’s not a weakness exactly, as it’s the one thing in his life he can totally control.


Well, most of the time.


Until one day his life his, work and his pleasures collide in a way you won’t see coming…

“What Goes Around” is published now as a Fahrenzine – a short self-contained story in a simple Zine-style book, limited to 100, hand-numbered copies.


Writing it was a strange experience. I’ve written violence before – I’m a crime writer, it goes with the territory – but to date the books I’ve had published have been told in the first person and through the eyes of Danny Bird, my everyman hero and all-round decent bloke.


So you might have thought that getting into the head of Clarence – a violent, misogynistic sociopath – would be a difficult experience. But I actually found it almost disturbingly easily. Clarence exists in a world where violence is currency, where murder is a business manoeuvre and where people have value only as long as they are of use to the powerful. A world where terror is normalised and where – when people end up dead – everyone simply shrugs, as though to say, ‘Shit happens.’


And that, to be honest, was easy to tune in to. In fact, tuning out of it – retaining my humanity, refusing to believe that some people are worth less than others – has been, for a few years now, the hard thing. If I wanted to know how people who lack empathy, decency and basic humanity look, how they sound, how they feel, I didn’t need to be a writer of fiction; I needed to be a documentarian.


Clarence is a self-centred torturer, a murderer and a rapist. I didn’t need to create him; I needed to switch on the TV and watch the people who lead the nations I once viewed as bastions of messy but vibrant civilised democracies leading their people into the darkness. They – and the columnists, Talking Heads and Twitter Trolls the world is awash with - gave me all the material I needed.


My work began when I dug a little deeper and tried to understand why Clarence was the way he was. It’s a short piece, and a pacy crime story rather than a psychological study, so there’s little room to expand on his background, but there’s one line – early in the piece – that I think explains a lot. For me, Clarence is what happens when people who have been made to feel small and helpless grow up and are given power.


And what happens to Clarence is - well, what happens to Clarence is something you’ll have to discover by reading “What Goes Around.” There are 100 copies of the book  and when they’re gone, they’re gone. No reprints.

Buy "WHAT GOES AROUND" Direct from the publisher HERE.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Joan of Arc and the Black Marshall of Oklahoma

Though it first aired on HBO late last year, I'm just now going through the series Watchmen.  I'm eight of nine episodes in and looking forward to the season finale.  After reading and hearing such positive things about it, I have not in the least been disappointed. It's exciting and trippy and it's thought-provoking in the best way.  And in how it explores, among other things, the history of racial strife in the United States, and ongoing racial conflict, and the determined intransigence of white supremacists, it is perfectly in sync with what is happening right now in this country.

Any series that opens with a depiction of the 1921 Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma has guts.  That event I knew of before watching the show, even though it's not something I learned of till well into my adult years.  I certainly never heard a whiff about the "Black Wall Street" or its destruction while in school.  The opening episode also presents us with old West black marshall Bass Reeves, and he is someone I did not know at all previously.  Since Watchmen mixes real history with alternate history, I thought Reeves might be a fictional character.  Now as it turns out, Reeves is of course an actual historical figure, the "Black Marshall of Oklahoma", the first black deputy US Marshal west of the Mississippi River, born into slavery in 1838 and who later worked for 32 years as a federal officer.  Basic Wikipedia research turns up startling facts: that when he retired in 1907, Reeves supposedly had made over 3,000 arrests, shot and killed 14 outlaws, and once had to arrest his own son for the murder of his son's wife.  I learned, too, that I had come across references to Reeves earlier; in season 3 episode 2 of Justified, two US Marshals bring Reeves up when discussing their favorite US Marshals of all time.  I didn't recognize his name at the time, and when watching Watchmen, failed to recall the reference.

You look up Reeves online, and the word "legendary" keeps popping up.  "Hero" does as well - "frontier hero".  It's not surprising to see these words, and they are standard ways to describe a person who lived such a noteworthy life. But these words, when you think about it, serve to describe nothing specific and tell you nothing you'd truly want to know about Reeves himself.  Reading those stock words somehow reminded me of a review I once read of French film director Jacques Rivette's film about Joan of Arc: Joan the Maid (Jeanne la pucelle), from 1994.  There have been numerous movies about Joan, not least being Carl Dreyer's great silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, but the Rivette film, as the review I'm talking about pointed out (I don't remember who wrote the review), stands out in part because it explores and foregrounds a basic question about Joan that other depictions of her don't, at least not as much.  How exactly, on a basic day to day level if you will, did an illiterate, peasant teenage girl wind up leading the armies of France, let alone successfully?  If you tell this story in a "realistic" manner, its strangeness becomes even more pronounced.  Rivette's film is six hours long so he has the time to give layer after layer of detail, and he brings Joan to life in what you might call a down to earth way.  The approach is not to portray a "legend", but a fully dimensional flesh and blood person who accomplished exceptional things. That's an approach to historical depiction that I prefer and find most illuminating, and I'd love to see a film or series about Bass Reeves that does it this way.  

Joan of Arc and Bass Reeves. On the surface, they have nothing in common.  They are entirely different personalities.  But when I read about Reeves, the "facts" of his life -- born a slave, man who escaped his slaveowner and lived for years among the Cherokee, Creeks, and Seminoles, who then worked for over three decades in the "Indian Territories" as a deputy US Marshall, who was actually appointed to that post by James Fagan, a former Confederate General who President Ulysses S. Grant made US Marshall in 1875 -- I find myself eager to know in as unglamorous and anti-heroic a way as possible what this person's life was like.  The story needs no embellishment because it's unusual as is.  How did an illiterate peasant girl wind up leading the armies of France? Good question.  And what kind of people skills and personality did Bass Reeves have that he could thrive and have the respect of his peers (white as well as black) in such a way back in the post Civil War US?  Did he laugh frequently?  What kind of temper did he have? How did he deal with insults?  Racial insults.  Depending on the type of white person he was dealing with, how did he conduct himself?  Did he disarm sometimes through the use of jokes or was he a stern and forbidding lawman?  Did he, as we now call it, code switch when he got away from white people and was hanging out with black friends or acquaintances?  What was he like when dealing with Native Americans, which he must have, often.

I don't want to know about Bass Reeves the legend or hero but about Bass Reeves the human doing his job and living his life.  In a series or film or any sort of depiction, that would be fascinating enough for me.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Of Course It's Palm Beach County

Palm Beach County, Florida is back in the news —and not for its beautiful beaches or its business or even its baseball spring training camps. No, it’s in the news because it’s crazy. Again.
A county commission meeting on Tuesday went viral after a series of speakers protested the commission’s decision to make face masks mandatory. Some were calm and reasoned. Some were the opposite. Name-checked by the second group at various points were: God, the devil, 5G technology, Bill Gates, the Constitution, psych wards, pedophiles, and high school drama queens. (I was hope someone would give a shout-out to alligators. No such luck.)
I used to work and live in Palm Beach County. My first job after college was reporting for the newspaper in Boca Raton. Yes, that Boca. It’s the southernmost city in Palm Beach County, on the state’s Atlantic Coast about an hour north of Miami. The county stretches from the ocean beaches east to the edge of the Everglades and the shore of Lake Okeechobee. It has rural poverty and one of the richest and most exclusive enclaves in the world.
And man, was it a great place for news. The crime was weird and the politics were weirder. It just seems to be a nexus for the bizarre.

I covered a contract killing attempt with a high-powered rifle at a busy intersection; accusations of matzo price gouging; and the theft of one of the Aston Martin DB5 sports cars used in the James Bond movie Goldfinger (the guns did come up out of the fenders but weren’t operational).
I sat in a city council meeting and listened to the mayor tell a property developer that she was sick of pink buildings (“Boca pink” is very much a thing), and she’d be much more inclined to vote for his proposal if he agreed to paint it a different color. The developer, not stupid, immediately agreed. I listened to heated meetings about airport expansion, crosswalk placement, and traffic problems caused by Snowbirds, the New Yorkers who spend their winters in Florida.
I covered an encephalitis scare out on the fringes of the Everglades where people couldn’t avoid the mosquitoes because they lived in mobile homes with no air conditioning and wide open windows. I met a tuxedoed Roger Moore while writing a story on an international film festival held at a (pink) luxury resort. 
And I covered the race for county sheriff and various events throughout the county, including one in Palm Beach. That Palm Beach. The Town of Palm Beach sits across the Intracoastal Waterway from the city of West Palm Beach. It’s a strip of land bordered by the Waterway on one side and the Atlantic on the other. It’s no more than three-quarters of a mile at its widest point. This is pertinent, trust me. At this candidate forum, a man in a cravat (I am not making this up) asked the candidates at a sheriff’s campaign forum if the town could issue IDs to domestic workers so it could let only them over the bridge and into town, instead of having to allow everybody in. (The candidates, stuttering in dismay, explained that no, that wasn’t possible—seeing as all the roadways in the Town of Palm Beach are public and open to everyone.)
I left there in the late 1990s, before the weird that had just been local burst onto the national stage. Perhaps you remember hanging chads? Those were the pesky messed-up ballots in what became the critical county in the critical state during the 2000 presidential election. No one I’ve ever spoken with who lived or worked there was surprised that such absurdity came out of Palm Beach County.
As for this anti-mask blowup, I’m sadly sure this is happening all over the country. Palm Beach County certainly isn’t the only place where some residents don’t believe in science. But it was the one that went viral. Because no place has that touch of crazy fairy dust like Palm Beach County does.
Further weird resources, highly recommended:
The @FloridaMan_ Twitter account, with as always the request that readers check out the source material for accuracy.