Today's Picks: An Ivy League Scandal
A newsletter about IP; I do the reading for you
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First, if Shonda Rhimes is looking for a follow-up to her Netflix con-woman hit Inventing Anna, she needs to look no further than her own backyard. Definitely the weirdest story of the week is this tale (broken exclusively on The Ankler) of a Grey’s Anatomy writer who may have faked details of her own extraordinarily traumatic medical history. Those details helped her become one of the most public faces of the show. Now she’s under investigation by Disney. No doubt, more facts will come out, but anyone who wants to get a head start should definitely read Peter Kiefer’s piece that came out yesterday.
Until then, I have a great selection of stories this week, including a Magnum P.I.-esque 80s-set detective series, a dark modern fantasy with The Craft vibes, a sweet YA romance and a possible Varsity Blues-adjacent doc.
BOOKS I LIKE (current)
Peter Colt, Death at Fort Devens (Severn House, June) This 80s-set, Boston located gritty detective series (this is book three) has a bit of a Magnum P.I. vibe — the period plus he's a Vietnam vet — with some Spenser thrown in. What I like about this is the well-developed main character Andy Roark (think a well-grizzled Chris Pine-type), who can't shake the stink of Vietnam off of him, and the settings. Colt does a great job bringing alive '80s Boston from the gritty Combat Zone to the posh environs of Nantucket. Colt's background — he's a Rhode Island army vet who’s lived on Nantucket for a decade and is a working cop — really informs the books and gives the story an insider's authenticity. Feels like the kind of mass procedural that could capture that kind of old-school broadcast feel with new IP. REPS: Kohn Agency
Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took On a World at War by Deborah Cohen (Random House, March 15) Surprisingly this thrilling — and timely — joint biography of the reporters who chronicled the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s (John and Frances Gunther, H.R. Knickerbocker, Vincent Sheean and Dorothy Thompson) by an esteemed historian at Northwestern hasn’t been optioned yet. There’s great globetrotting adventure here mixed with lots of details about the private lives of these reporters who helped invent modern conflict reporting. With so much here, there's a ton of directions to go. I'd consider pulling the thread on Dorothy Thompson, who became the first reporter banned from Nazi Germany (she framed the letter) and then snuck back into the country to do more reporting and was also married to writer Sinclair Lewis. REPS: The Robbins Office
The Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert (Flatiron, June) A creepy engrossing contemporary-set coming-of-age fantasy about 16-year-old Ivy who discovers her mother is a witch, and then battles a malevolent entity as she tries to uncover the secrets of her mother's past. The intertwined dual timeline narrative — Ivy today and her mother Dana as a teen — offers a rich foundation to tell this as a movie or a limited series. (The Dana story definitely has the feel of The Craft.) Ivy is the central character but it is easy to see teen Dana being the scene-stealing star of an adaptation as you just know all that messing with dark forces and making bad decisions are gonna lead to disaster. REPS: The Book Group
The Charmed List by Julie Abe (Wednesday Books, July) Imagine this as Sabrina the Teenage Witch by way of Jenny Han (To All the Boys I've Loved). Here, a teenage witch/wallflower in Palo Alto sets out to improve her life with a 13-item anti-wallflower bucket list plan to get cool. When number four (revenge on friend-turned-enemy Jack Yasada) goes sideways she finds herself stuck with him on a road trip down the California coast to attend a magical convention and unexpectedly romance blossoms. Very fun, very cute, very YA. REP: UTA
BACKLIST GEMS (worth a second look)
Desert Reckoning by Deanne Stillman (Nation Books, 2012) Stillman, who expanded this book from a Rolling Stone article, is a great chronicler of the West, including a great book on the relationship between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill (under option). In this earlier book, which is getting a 10th anniversary re-release and an audiobook adaptation with narration from Frances Fisher and Band X frontman John Doe, a desert hermit in the Antelope Valley kills a deputy sheriff after a brief encounter, and sets off the largest manhunt in California history. There's lots of great characters here from hermit to the surfer-turned-deputy who was killed to the hermit's punk rocker son (who's straight out of Euphoria). Stillman delves deeply into the history of the Mojave Desert (sections which make up something like half of LA County) and the clash between an Old West and creeping subdivisions of Los Angeles, which are bringing new people and a different life to the Antelope Valley. Her descriptions of the sweeping vistas of the Mojave (and the crime setting) called to mind the visuals of Breaking Bad's desert scenes. Could be the basis for a great modern Western with a timely edge about development and the tensions it brings. (Her 2001 book, Twentynine Palms, about another Mojave murder — this one of two teen girls by a troubled marine — has also been optioned.) REPS: Aevitas
“U.S. News Ranked Columbia No. 2, but a Math Professor Has His Doubts,” by Anemona Hartocollis (New York Times, March 17) The Varsity Blues scandal showed the public has a real itch that for stories that exposes the mess that high-stakes elite college admissions is today. Central to that is the fraud that is the U.S. News and World Report college rankings and the power they have. I'm flagging this article but I'd go right to whistleblower Matthew Thaddeus, the Columbia professor (sure hope he has tenure!), who revealed how Columbia may have cooked the books on its data it provided for the rankings. Thaddeus could be the central hook in a great documentary expose about how these rankings came to be so important and how schools have been massaging the data for years to goose their position. What Columbia did to move to second place on the list, tied with Harvard and MIT, is a story in itself that could challenge the elitism of academic institutions (huge endowments, selling the idea of exclusion), and why parents care about the status of a college so very very much much, even as a minute shifts in the data can shuffle rankings. REPS: You can find Thaddeus in the Columbia faculty directory
“My High School’s Secret Fantasy Slut League,” by Lena Crown (Narratively, March 17) For someone looking for a Euphoria-like spin on high school, here's a great story about a wealthy Bay Area high school where a hookup “game” that had the boys “drafting” girls and scoring points for sex acts caused a scandal in 2011. (Definite shades of the Owen Labrie scandal at elite private St. Paul's School.) What I particularly like about this story and what I think gives it a fresh take is the potential for dual timelines (a theme this week?) that toggles between 2011 and the present day as these kids, now in their late twenties and getting ready to start their own families, trying to make sense of what happened. A really fascinating drama would probe that fallout, which is a story we don't often see. Think Euphoria: The 10 Year Reunion. REPS: APA
Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend and happy reading. See you back here next Wednesday and Friday. Remember, the free beta period is coming to a close.
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