Category: Reading

Dakota North, by Marvel ComicsWay, way back in the day, I pitched Marvel Comics on a revival miniseries for their mostly forgotten ’80s character, Dakota North (link).  With the exception of a few scattered appearances in the 2000s, Dakota has been missing in action from the Marvel roster since 1987.  But I freaking loved the character when I was a teen and I love her now.  Everything about her spoke to my tastes, and there’s actually a little bit of Dakota in Camaro.  Heck, even their names echo each other, though I never intended it to be that way.  Funny how the mind works.

Given my affection for Dakota North, it was nice to run across an article by Evan Narcisse lending praise to the short-lived comic (link).  He highlighted some terrific moments from the book, too, including a great bit involving Dakota’s crotchety father who — man, this is kind of freaking me out — has some things in common with Jeremy Yates from Walk Away (link).  Again, this wasn’t something I consciously set out to do, but now I’m starting to wonder at what forces lurk beneath the surface of my imagination.

I highly recommend the article, and I likewise recommend tracking down copies of Dakota North (link) if you can.  They’re relatively cheap as ’80s comics go, mostly because no one cared about her then, and fewer care about her now, and you’re in for a fun time.  Sure, as Narcisse points out, the cultural content of Dakota’s stories is very much of its time, and I’ll be the first to admit the art doesn’t always hold up, but so what?

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Coconut palm treesOccasionally a piece of work intended for promotional inclusion somewhere upon the release of a new book doesn’t get used.  Maybe it’s because of space, maybe it’s because of the ever-popular, “it’s not quite right for us.”  For whatever the reason, the work is left orphaned.  Luckily I have my own website, so nothing will ever be wasted.

Accordingly, this is a short essay entitled, “Miami is the place,” originally written for a book site.  Unfortunately they wanted a listicle, as they had recently run a Miami essay.  No offense, but I’m okay with never writing or reading a listicle again, thanks.

Enjoy.

When it comes to Miami, there’s something which sets the mind to imagining.  Maybe it’s the sun, maybe it’s the beautiful people, or the classic architecture in the Art Deco District.  Maybe it’s the city’s reputation as ground zero for the cocaine explosion of the 1980s.  Certainly I’ve never gotten completely out of Miami, though my Miami is a touch more unreal than the city as it truly is.  I blame Miami Vice (link), my favorite television show, which went out of its way to create a strange and beautiful, yet menacing, vision of Miami that changed visual storytelling forever.

Make Them Sorry (link) owes a massive debt to Miami Vice, and includes a number of easter eggs for those who like hunting for such things.  A significant location in the novel is located and described as it exists today, but made its debut in the episode, “Little Miss Dangerous.”

But what about books?  We’re not here to talk about television, though I could write about Miami Vice until your eyeballs glaze over.

If you’re looking for Miami on the page, start with Charles Willeford’s Miami Blues (link).  Willeford was a giant in the crime genre, and Miami Blues is the book that truly broke him into the mainstream.  It came out in 1984 and is funny, violent and touching by turns.  A series of novels starring its protagonist, Hoke Mosely, ensued.  Sadly, Willeford died in 1988 before the violent, crazy days of the “cocaine cowboys” were over, or all his stories told.  I’m on book three of the Camaro Espinoza (link) series, and Willeford managed four Mosely books.  I hope this isn’t a warning sign.

Shift gears (but not too far) into Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch (link).  Leonard knew Florida, and his Miami is terrific.  His depiction of West Palm Beach, which is part of Miami metro, is spot-on.  The story’s no slouch, either, as airline attendant Jackie Burke gets pulled into an operation to take down a small-time “crime boss”.  The book is full of Leonard’s trademark dialogue and clever plotting.  Not one to be missed.

Incidentally, Miami Blues and Rum Punch were both made into fantastic movies.  The former stars the immortal Fred Ward as Hoke Mosely, and a young Alec Baldwin as a clueless ex-con.  The latter novel was adapted as Jackie Brown (link), and had the added element of blaxploitation, which enriches the experience even more.  Check them both out.

Arthur Hailey was known for doorstop novels with tons of research and procedural detail.  You might know him from Airport (link) and Hotel (link).  His last book was Detective (link), a serial-killer novel set in Miami.  As you might imagine, the thing is massive, but you will still find it a compelling read.  I can think of no other author who was able to marry pulpy goings-on with intricate real-life detail the way Hailey could.

While it’s much different to the rest of these books, you should move on to Joan Didion’s Miami (link).  Released in the ‘80s, when much of the best Miami material — filmed or written, as the case may be — was created, Miami focuses largely on the Cuban exile community, and was a strong influence on The Night Charter (link), the first Camaro Espinoza novel.  It is engrossing stuff, and well worth your time, even if it’s described as Didion’s darkest book.  You don’t mind a little darkness, do you?

One of the things about Miami is that while it has its own homegrown madness, like all of Florida, it has imported some of its craziest stories, from the aforementioned Cuban exiles plotting the assassination of Fidel Castro in the ‘60s, to the Colombians who hit the city like a bloody hurricane in the ‘80s.  Movies like Scarface (link) have expertly captured just how insane the criminal scene in Miami was back in the day.  But it’s important to remember that Miami has always been sun-washed and exotic, and even the famed Simon Templar couldn’t stay away.  In The Saint in Miami (link), he gave us Miami in the ‘40s with all the same elements we’d expect in a novel written in the last thirty years.  And it has Nazis!  Real ones, not the kind waving signs around these days, though they’re still okay to punch.

Start with these books, and then set out into the larger world of Miami fiction.  There’s quite a bit out there, and you’re not likely to run out of books or short stories or movies or TV anytime soon.  I’ll see you on Ocean Drive.

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Camaro Reading

Ernest HemingwayToday marks what would be the 119th birthday of the master wordsmith, and Nobel Prize-winner, Ernest Hemingway.  I am a longtime devotee of the man who asked his friends to call him “Papa,” though he has fallen distressingly out of favor in recent years.  Perhaps it’s a byproduct of the general decay of reading culture in the United States, or perhaps it’s what appears to be a lessening emphasis on foundational literature in the nation’s schools, but it is a tragedy whichever the cause.

Whatever you happen to be reading right now, I’d like to invite you to pick up something by Hemingway when it’s time to read the next thing. Whether you’ve read his work before, or not, it’s likely you’ll discover something worthwhile in his words.  Though I have read and reread Hemingway‘s writing many times over the decades, I still learn something every time I return to him.

I will leave you with the opening sentences of Hemingway’s most familiar classic, A Farewell to Arms (link).  I think you’ll find it enough to draw you into the larger work.

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

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