A Jan. 6 Family Tragedy + 7 More Finds
A newsletter about available IP; I do the reading for you
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I hope you got a chance to read the interesting Q&A in Wednesday's Optionist with Greg Nichols and Matthew Pearl, the founders of Truly Adventurous, the digital-first longform narrative story site (and check out their newest story, Conwoman, which Optionist readers are getting an advance look at before it officially publishes next week). They talk about the business model of Truly Adventurous, which has 30 projects parked around town, and what's getting traction (grifter stories) and what's not (war and conflict stories).
Back in late January, I flagged the fascinating story of Mackenzie Fierceton, a Penn student who gave up a Rhodes scholarship in the face of accusations that she misrepresented herself as a first-generation/low-income student (FGLI in college jargon) and a survivor of parental abuse. I liked that piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education because it relayed the story as a mystery of competing claims. Now The New Yorker is out with a long piece about Fierceton and how Penn investigated the accusations. This one mostly tells the story from Fierceton's POV and is very sympathetic to her. I still prefer the Chronicle piece as underlying IP because it leaves it up to the reader to come to his or her own conclusion. But the New Yorker story could be the basis for an alternative version, though adapting it would, I think, require obtaining life rights from Fierceton.
I was thinking about this in the context of my conversation with Greg and Matthew. They make the point that deadline-driven journalism often tantalizes with a great story but doesn't necessarily tie the narrative together with the nice bow needed for an adaptation. In the case of a hot story like the one involving Mackenzie Fierceton, there's going to be multiple competing versions and sometimes that requires choosing between planting a flag with the first version or waiting for a more comprehensive telling to arrive. That's a tricky decision, of course, so I'll occasionally flag follow-up stories like this New Yorker piece.
But now I have a great selection of stories this week including an awesome comic featuring an almost completely forgotten first Black superhero, some great journalism that ranges from cool tech (bionic arms) to a family torn apart by January 6th and a fun hospital-set romcom.
Bungleton Green and the Mystic Commandos by Jay Jackson (New York Review of Books, Nov.) Everyone wants a superhero and here's an awesome one that is in the public domain and features one of the first (if not the very first) Black superheroes. Bungleton Green, which appeared in the Chicago Defender, the most important Black newspaper in the 20th century, was the longest continually-running Black comic strip. It was comedic until Jay Jackson took it over in 1942 and transformed it into a sci-fi superhero story. The NYRB book features the first time the strip has ever been republished since it first appeared in the Defender. Bungleton teams up with a group of Black teen sidekicks, the Mystic Commandos. Together they fight Nazis, time travel, meet George Washington, and take on Benedict Arnold and racist slave traders. To me, this works best done with a bit of a lighter comedic touch than say Watchmen. There's a great multi-part move here as well that would pair an adaptation with a documentary on Jackson, who did a lot of art for pulp and sci-fi magazines as well as the Bungleton strip, and who should be remembered as a pioneering Black comic artist. (Get a little taste of Jackson's story in this mini-bio by blogger Steven Carber.) REPS: Did I mention this is PD? So if you're interested, go for it.
BOOKS I LIKE (current)
On Rotation by Shirlene Obuobi (Avon, June) This is just fun. Angela Appiah, has always been the perfect Ghanaian-American daughter of her immigrant parents’ dreams: Medical school, successful boyfriend, popular with friends. And then the hot boyfriend dumps her, she bombs a med school exam and her friends abandon her. Bring on the quarter-life crisis where Angela starts to question everything. And then in comes a McDreamy by the name of Ricky Gutierrez to shake things up even more. We see a lot of Black doctors on TV but mostly as supporting characters and not the lead, and I found Angela a winning and relatable main character. Imagine Insecure by way of Mindy Kaling. You could do this as a movie but there's enough world building and fun supporting characters that it strikes me that a TV series is the way to go. REPS: CAA
Anon Pls by Anonymous (William Morrow, Nov.) The creator behind the celebrity gossip account @deuxmoi (1.4M instagram followers plus a twitter feed and podcast) is doing a fictionalized life-imitates-art book that's part Gossip Girl, part Devil Wears Prada, and likely all fun. Here an assistant to a notorious celebrity stylist starts a gossip blog on a drunken whim only to find it blows up into a huge phenomenon and changes her life. Now she has to decide whether the double life of her own reality versus the rush of being an anonymous gossip queen is worth it. Think Emily in Paris but even more madcap. REPS: WME
For Succession fans
Growing Up Getty: The Story of America's Most Unconventional Dynasty by James Reginato (Gallery Books, July) Americans have long been fascinated by the rich, especially stories about the dark underbelly of wealth — think Succession or The House of Gucci. Vanity Fair writer Reginato gives a look into one of America's richest and most colorful families. Start with J. Paul Getty, once the richest man in the world, and then move on to his descendants. There are drugs, mental illness and the spectacular 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old J. Paul Getty III — the subject of the 2017 film All the Money in the World. But there are also descendants who have become prominent actors, environmentalists, musicians, activists and businessmen. This strikes me as a particularly timely story at this moment when the staggering fortunes of a few contain more wealth than the rest of America. Great wealth hasn’t brought the Gettys happiness or been the reason some have become productive citizens. For most, in fact, it has been more a toxic burden than a benefit. As the old saying goes, “money can’t buy you happiness.” What distinguishes this book and would make it the basis for a great documentary (and scripted treatment perhaps) is Reginato's extensive research, including J. Paul's diaries and love letters and new interviews with family members. REPS: Aevitas
The Ruins by Phoebe Wynne (St. Martin's Press, July) Who doesn't love a great dark Gothic coming-of-age psychological thriller set against a beautiful backdrop, in this case the French Riviera? Pitched in the vein of Patricia Highsmith and Rebecca, in 2010, a young British widow returns to the Riviera intent on purchasing the crumbling Chateau des Setes where she had spent time as a girl with her two best friends and where a terrible tragedy had happened in the summer of 1985 when they were 12. But she's not the only one intent on getting a hold of the house or the only one still haunted by what happened that summer. As the story unfolds she starts to uncover the truth about what happened 25 years ago. REPS: UTA
Investigations: Inside the First Capitol Riot Trial (Up First, NPR, March 27) Figuring out a way into the January 6 insurrection is tricky for a lot of reasons, but this story which finds a center in a family drama. The story struck a chord for its focus on the personal repercussions and heroism of a child. Guy Reffitt of Wylie, Texas, was the first person to go on trial for January 6th and the first convicted. The case was made because his 17-year-old son Jackson, as liberal as his dad was MAGA, repeatedly secretly recorded him talking about his role in the storming of the Capitol and turned the recordings over to the FBI. At trial, his father cried while his soft-spoken son took the stand to testify against him. This NPR audio documentary really captures the heartbreaking personal story of a family, like so many, torn apart by politics, with a trove of gripping and frightening tapes to supplement the story. It also has the benefit of a clear beginning, middle and end — no matter how unsettling the finale is. REPS: Storied Media Group
“He lost his arm in an accident. A new surgery and a bionic prosthetic are giving him back unprecedented control” by Michael Blanding (Boston Globe, March 31) This is such a great story about the development of the newest high-tech prosthetics — truly bionic arms and legs — and the genius MIT scientist Hugh Herr behind them. Obviously, this could be the basis for a documentary. I think we're all fascinated by how humans might be augmented by technology in the future even if we haven't lost a limb. “My dream as a scientist is that a person with an arm amputation could play a Beethoven piece at normal speeds and dexterity,” says Herr. But beyond a documentary, Herr’s brave new world could be the starting basis for a great sci-fi drama where we all become IRL avatars with bespoke parts. Think an updated Six Million Dollar Man but based on credible near-future technology. REPS: You can find Herr at MIT, where he works in the famed Media Lab.
“A historic all-Black town wants reparations to rebuild as a ‘safe haven’” by Emmanuel Felton (Washington Post, April 1) The questions of how we reckon with the idea of reparations for the suffering inflicted upon centuries of non-white Americans is at the crux of so much cultural and current debate. This is a fascinating story about the all-Black Oklahoma town of Tullahassee that is currently pursuing reparations for the way the whole town was hurt by racist policies — segregation, banks that wouldn’t lend money to residents, the fear of white violence like the destruction of the successful black enclave of Greenwood in nearby Tulsa in 1921. Tullahassee was once a thriving town with a doctor’s office, restaurants and a school, but now the population is just 83, the school is closed and Main Street is deserted. The leaders of the movement are people like town manager Cymone Davis, who moved here from Kansas City with the dream of starting an all-Black boarding school — more than 100 existed during segregation — and or Robert Bates, who grew up here, served in Vietnam and traveled the world but came back to open a BBQ joint and buy abandoned properties in the hopes of rebuilding and selling them to new residents. Imagine a documentary that follows the movement’s leaders as a test case for America’s appetite for restitution, or this story being used as the starting point for a fictionalized version where the town wins a huge award, sets itself up as a wealthy enclave for just African Americans, and a dramatic scripted series about what happens next. REPS: Storied Media Group
Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend and happy reading. See you back here next week. Remember, the free beta period is coming to a close.
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