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10 Questions

This is the continuation of our interview with Nora McFarland, author of A Bad Day’s Work: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery.

6.  Ruta Arellano (RA):  The ending of Going to the Bad left Lilly in a state of closure with regard to family secrets.   Will there be future books featuring Lilly Hawkins, Rod and her newly-discovered cousin Jack?

There’s at least one more book I want very much to write.   Lilly needed to come to terms with some of her family baggage in order to move forward in her personal life.   Now that she’s done that, there’s a very important day in her future that I’d love to center a book around.   I won’t get into specifics, but that day is set up at the end of Going to the Bad.

7.  RA:  There are notable class distinctions among the various families whose lives and pasts intersect for Lilly in Going to the Bad.   Are they indicative of your take on Bakersfield?   Does the somewhat isolated location of Bakersfield foster those distinctions?

I believe those kinds of class distinctions exist everywhere in our society, but it’s true that things have gotten much worse in Bakersfield over the last five years.   California’s Central Valley has been especially hard hit by the recession and housing crisis.   Double digit unemployment is the norm there and in some cities it reaches as high as thirty percent.   The real estate market was insanely inflated so the correction has been very painful.   Almost everyone I know there has suffered in some way.   Several of my friends lost their homes and jobs.

8.  RA:  The dedication of the KJAY news team to cover events as they unfold is pronounced in Going to the Bad.   Is this because one of their own is at the center of the story?

It’s always difficult when someone who works in news becomes a part of the story.   I like to believe that the KJAY news team would be just as dedicated, regardless of Lilly’s connection.   Where the real difference lies is in the rules Lilly breaks in her pursuit of the truth.   She trespasses, steals, and lies in order to discover who shot her uncle.   No decent journalist would ever do anything like that.   It would be unethical and could even give those that the journalist is trying to expose a weapon to discredit the investigation.

9.  RA:  Lilly has size 10 feet.   Why have you provided her with them?   Is this a metaphor for her earthy, grounded attitude?

I originally intended it as a quirky character trait, but in later drafts of the first book I began to think of it as a metaphor for Lilly’s awkward social skills.   At one point Uncle Bud looks down at her big feet and says that the family always hoped she’d grow into them, but it doesn’t look like she did.

In later books, as Lilly matured, I started to see her big feet as an asset.   She can kick in doors and be tougher because she’s got these giant boots.   It you want to take the metaphor a step further you could say that she’s taken what was once a weakness and made herself stronger.

10.  RA:  On a personal note – Did you encounter Chris Curle at CNN, who has a personality that’s bigger than life?

I didn’t, but my husband Jeff Ofgang did.   He worked with Chris and her husband Don Farmer back when CNN was in its old building on Techwood Avenue.

Thank you to author Nora McFarland!   You can see the first part of this interview here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/the-authors-perspective-5/

Joseph Arellano

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Expecting to Fly

My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir by Mark Whitaker (Simon & Schuster; $25.99; 368 pages)

“Perhaps there was something buried in this memor that I kept missing, something that I kept searching for in vain.   It may be buried somewhere…”

The best memoirs take off and soar as they take us on a journey through the writer’s life.   This memoir by CNN Chief Mark Whitaker seemed to taxi on the runway from its beginning on page 1 until its conclusion 367 pages later.   This reader never felt the presence of Whitaker’s mind or personality in an account that was overly flat and dry:  “My mother taught and my father began writing his dissertation and I played with the other faculty  brats in the spacious yard outside while my brother grew into a toddler.”   The language, in fact, was so dry that I began to wish that this had been prepared as an “As told to…” or “With…” version with some energy to it.

It’s difficult to see what major statement about life was meant to be imparted by this work.   Whitaker’s professor father divorced Whitaker’s mother when Mark was young; thus, he seems to view himself as a unique member of a group that “…had grown up without our fathers around and with very little money in the house.”   That’s actually quite a large group in our society.   Moreover, Whitaker reminds us again and again that he wound up at Harvard.

There’s simply far too much here about Whitaker’s time at Harvard, and the lifelong connections he made there.   It seems that wherever Whitaker goes in the world, he meets people – primarily women – of whom he states, “She had also gone to Harvard.”   It becomes a very clubby account, and it’s hard to see why this would be of interest to the general reader.

“Angry men don’t make great husbands.”

In an attempt to create a story of interest, Whitaker casts aspersions on his father who is portrayed as either “a cruel bully or a selfish baby.”   Cleophaus Sylvester “Syl” Whitaker is also portrayed as a major alcoholic although it’s noted that he only missed teaching three classes in a long and distinguished academic career.   (He once entered a rehabilitation center for treatment.)   Syl held numerous impressive teaching and administrative posts at Swarthmore, Rutgers, UCLA (where he was a key assistant to Chancellor Charles E. Young), Princeton, CUNY and the University of Southern California (from which he retired, at age 60, as professor emeritus of political science and former USC College Dean of Social Sciences).   He was never found asleep in a gutter or under a bridge, so it is hard to see how this squares with Whitaker’s notion that his father’s life was an “arc of blazing early success fading into self-destruction and financial hardship.”

Perhaps there was something buried in this memoir that I kept missing, something that I kept searching for in vain.   It may be buried in a sentence such as this one, which I found to be a bit too clouded to understand:  “It was as if the longer I was separated from my father, the more I lost touch with the outgoing child who had modeled himself after him.”

Joseph Arellano

An advance review copy was received from the publisher.   My Long Trip Home will be released on October 18, 2011.

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