tv Author Discussion on True American Crime Stories CSPAN August 18, 2019 7:15am-8:16am EDT
their test because they don't have the background knowledge to understand the passages in the first place. it's not that they can't make an inference, we make inferences in their lives all the time and even toddlers can make an inference so that's not the problem much as they lack a background in vocabulary to understand the passage and that has been a big problem that has been overlooked. >> watched "after words" tonight at nine eastern on book tv on cspan2. >> thank you for coming. to this panel at 2:45,true crime across america . i am persephone mcdaniels, dean at jackson state university andi'm happy to be here as the room coordinator . will have 45 minutes for the session and we believe 15 or
q&a. the sponsors for our panel are cecil and nancy brown. are they with us? [applause] i'm happy to introduce our moderator for this session, james a stevens, is not only, i'm sorry. i skipped over.curtis wilkie. no, he's over there. our moderator is curtis wilkie, associate professor of journalism at the university of mississippi and a fellow at the university's overby center or southern journalism andpolicy and he'll take over . >> thank you for coming and we appreciate the presence of our guests on the panel at the mississippi bookfestival. it's getting bigger and
better every year.i'm going to start off by introducing very briefly . our guest will carry on a discussion and i hope you all will have discussions for the towards the end of our hour. karen abbott is a best-selling author of several books and her newest one, the ghost of eden park is an in the next pick as wellas an amazon best book . a glowing review in last sunday's clariion ledger, maybe some of you read, said abbott captures the feel of the gsh and its gangsters. and they also call her book a well researched and highly engaging work filled with intrigue, infidelity, murder and headline catching courtroom drama. abbott lives in new york, glad to have you with us. casey set is author of furious hours, which a recent review in the commercial
appeal described as her ravishing debut. casey lives on the eastern shore of maryland. she's a graduate of harvard and one an advanced degree in theology from that other oxford as a rhodes scholar. >> the lesser oxford we like to think . she's already winning all sorts of critical acclaim for her book the commercial appeal and it said quote, with exquisite pros and the pacing of the thriller, furious hours reveals a major talent in full print possession ofher gifts . and then we have those of us that are old enough to remember the tv show the untouchables, i see some gray hair out there. some of usremember that and more recently the film .
brad schwartz is co-author with max allan collins of scarface and the untouchables , that's eliot ness. it's another tail that grows out of the prohibition era that features a couple of familiar characters for those of us old enough to remember that and it's set in one of my favorite citiesin america, chicago . in fact no less an authority in the richicago magazine called the book a gripping take on chicago's past that reads like a novel. brad is a doctoral student in american history at princeton and this is his first book also . >> my second. >> it's yoursecond, forgive me . anyway, to set the stage for our discussion , i'm told to
ask each of them to give us just a capsule summary of what the book is about and what attracted them to the subject sold what we go down the line, brad abbott and casey. >> i'll answer the second part of your question as well as answering your first which is i grew up not quite so much on the robert stack tv series but first loving dick tracy and finding my way to kevincostner, robert de niro film the untouchables that came out in 1987 . initially loving it i think because it was, it's so reminded me of the comic strip that i loved as a kid but it was based on a true story or at least was supposed to be and growing up in michigan not too far from chicago, that familiarity geographically made me want to know more about the story of eliot ness and our capone kso i was the rare kid that
wouldgo to the library and try to read as much as i could . if something interested me and all of the books that i told about our capone and there were many about eliot ness at that time but quickly presented me with this contradiction which is that i've seen the film presenting this great story of good and evil with eliot ness as the hero and every nonfiction book that i read presented me with a quite different perspective, that eliot ness was a glory hound, glory grabber, but he who took credit for others' work and had nothing to do with our capone but i also discovered that a writer whose fiction i already knew, max allan collins had written dick tracy but also some books about eliot ness and mrs. career and presenting a different image of ness that while not kevin costner or robert stack was closer to the heroic image that i knew from hollywood and these were historical novels but you would always have a short
afterward at the end talking about his research and the sources that we use and how surprised he was to go to where eliot ness is papers were kept in cleveland or to look at newspaper articles and to discover so much of what had been discounted about ness's career specifically with regards to our capone turned out to be verifiable facts and i loved his work, i got to know him and when i was studying history at the university of michigan doing the thesis that would become my first book about orson welles were of the world broadcast and eventually we were complaining about how his story had bit been misrepresented by hollywood and a lot of poorly founded nonfiction accounts and eventually i said to max, we've got to stop complaining about this and do something about it, i'm being trained as a historian, you're a master novelist so we can write the proverbial
nonfiction book that reads like a novel and do this story right and according to chicago magazineat least, we succeeded so that's the story . >> if anybody here has watched the tv show boardwalk empire, there was a minor character named george ramis, he was incredibly odd and to go and innovative and he spoke of self in the third person with all of these abbott and costello confusing exchangeswith capone , nobody quite knew what to make of him and he stole every scene he was in and i wondered if you was a real person and indeed he was and the real george ramis also spoke of himself in the third person and said things like so many people want to kill ramis but ramis's brain exploded which was a particularly bizarre one and i'll give you my elevator pitch, ramis and it up in 1921 becoming the most exceptional bootlegger in american history. he was also reportedly an inspiration for jay gatsby and at scott fitzgerald's novel. his wife imaging with whom he threw gatsby-esque parties
and it up falling in love with the very prohibition agent who put him in jail. and this is all true, so that's darted a very sordid love triangle. there was a murderer and a sensational trial and i'll say this, in my book jay and herhoover is one of the good guys . >> i just want to say thank you to curtis and the festival for having me and curtis in me the favor of not reading the subtitle of my book which is murder, fraud and the last trial of harper lee and i was reluctant on the first two of those nouns but into the last one. so i grew up loving mockingbird like a lot of you all did and i had always been interested in harper lee's life and i went down in 2015 for the new yorker to write a story about go set a
watchman, the surprising announcement that harper lee would be publishing a new book and when i was recording on that i learned about this other book she tried to write and it was a true crime project about a series of murders in alabama so that's the story of the book, the first two thirds is the crime story and the last two thirds is harper lee's life and what made herinterested in this case and what made it hard for her to write her own book about it .>> correct me if i'm wrong but i don't think there's any central character in any of your books that's still living. it anybody encounter any personal observation, ever talk to any of these characters? did you ever talk to harper lee at all to mark. >> harper lee was alive for the first year i was working on this book but for those of you who read it, i don't want to get bogged down in the plot of any of our stories but the alleged murderer of my boat was gunned down at the funeral of a vigilante and i was able to interview him and i think maybe i have the advantage, it's the rare
moments where i feel like my story is contemporary compared to these guys. it took place in the 70s but i was able to interview people who knew my central amcharacters and many of their family members, spouses and children and a lot of folks in this town remember meeting harper lee because she worked on the book in the 70s and 80s andher friends and family cooperated to . >> i want to ask each of you how you were able to develop thecharacters , to define their personalities, not really knowing them. >> i was lucky, i did speak with family members. remus became the employer in cincinnati and employed 3500 people in prohibition in that state and a master at one point, he owned 35 percent of all theliquor in the united states .and had about a $40 million fortune in 1921 which was not adjusted for
inflation so i actually talked to a lot of the people who worked with him, a lot of people had stories and artifacts and so i was able to talkwith them but the biggest piece of my research was a 5500 page transcript i found at the yale university law library which was invaluable . it creates incredible detail about george ramis's life, the people who knew him and just bizarre quirks. one of my favorites is george ramis did not wear underwear. which apparently was a cost for great alarm in the 1920s. it was potentially the side of an unsound mind so little things that probably i wouldn't have found by talking to many relatives. i didn't know what his underwear habits were that was the sign of my research, i would say. >> in our case, my co-author and i began with the understanding that these are mythic thcharacters who have
been portrayed in film and television and we wanted to make them live and breathe as much as possible, our watchword was to let you know what it feels like to be in the room with these guys because both of them, elliott mess and out capone were so different from robert stack and robert de niro and everybody else who's for trade them and it came down to i think incorporating their voices asmuch as possible . fortunately neither really left us. eliot ness left a compromised autobiography which maybe we can talk about but he wrote a very sort of short and spare 21 page account of his own investigation that gets spun into the book that becomes the basis for the tv series so as much as possible we tried to go back to that , to give you his words. fortunately the two of them gave a lot of interviews and you can pull their voicesfrom that as much as possible .
because these two men died, they were both surprisingly young. capone takes over what's called the chicago mob at the age of 26 and elliott mess is 27 when he is put in charge of what we now know as the untouchables and they died very young. capone in 47, nesn 57 so i was able to people who did note ness near the tail endof his life and one in l particular was very , he referenced, i asked him what portrayal was most authentic to the man he knew and he didn't answer my question but he said that part at the end of theuntouchables where he throws a man off the building would never have happened . eliot ness hated guns, he hated violence, he was the antithesis of what you would expect but we incorporate their voices into the book. that was i think how we tried to make them live andbreathe again . >> casey, you've got some
indelible characters in your book and i like the reverend. >> it's a great question and i'm sure there's writers in there aren't, f i'm sure everybody here is trying to learn about him but he they've never met, a grandmother, a great grandfather, a patriarch of the town where you were raised and there are interesting methods for doing it and court transcripts, when you're writing about true crime there's always investigative records or trial correct transcripts so oryou get a sense of the person's voice but then you go rooting around like a pay for truffles looking for any mention of the person newspapers or magazines or any contemporary coverage and we were talking beforehand, being clear about our methods was as important to us as the final product so for all of us who can go and look, there was a serious bibliography and a notes section so you can go and see how we put
these portraits together and who we talked to and what documents we relied on. >> each of you have gone way beyond the journalistic approach of just the facts and have developed a very colorful story with strong character development and i'm going to read a short passage from casey's book that touches on a technique that truman capote likes to think he invented, casey referred to it any thought he was the marco polo of new journalism and invented the first nonfiction novel, but this is what i think for purpose of our discussion, it's a good line that capote borrowed the strategies of fiction writers in his nonfiction. rendering settings that were more than just datelines, crafting characters were more than just quotations and physical descriptions and identifying within his
reporting or imposing on it moods and themes that made a story more than the sum of itsparts . and certainly, it is more of a trend to whatever you call itit, new journalism in magazine writing or the nonfiction books that we read , that they are more colorful and people tend to put themselves in the heads of their characters and so and so may have thought such a thing. i want to ask each of you, how much of your own imagination dare you use in crafting your story, casey, why don't we start off with you? >> i was hoping i could create an answer from one of these two . we're all creatures with mines and ideas and
imagination and when you spend so much time thinking about someone you imagine things that i think again you have to be careful in your writing a nonfiction book and you want to be clear about the source and and where things are coming from and if you do speculate, which some people choose to you want to fly that for readers but it's an interesting thing and we are gathered around the genre of true crime and it has different standards from other nonfiction genres and it's been co-opted recently by podcasts and documentaries in a way that the boundaries are even more porous between what's true and what's not and what's speculation and once backed so i'm on the conservative side of things and i took my cue from harper lee was part of the book is about her relationship to the genre of true crime and she had helped capote report she knew a lot about the source material and the decisions he had made so there's a little bit of a meta-commentary about her feelings about the genre and her thoughts and
really, or objections to some of the places it was going in the 70s and 80s. >> exactly what casey said. also, i was doing a lot with the transcript as i mentioned d and the whole, the nature of a trial is that somebody's line, not one person, several people and the whole nature of he said she said and i was careful, i think that what people say and what they lie about and what they omit is just as telling to them as a character and to the story is what they say that'struthful . so i don't like to entirely omit it but i like to flag it ascasey said and say this is what this person contended or claimed . i like to trust that the reader has some emotional intelligence to decide on their own whose lying and i don't haveto spell it out for you . and it sort of at the end, act like a prosecutor and lay
out the case of what i think happened while leaving it a little bit open to interpretation inso that people can have a little intellectual play with the book on their own with their own psyche tand their own prejudice thateverybody brings the reading . >> and this is one place in my case where i didn't need the devil on my shoulder telling me in that direction because i was working with a novelist , and this would be one of the things that made the collaboration interesting and hopefully makes the book a little unusual is that that would be, it wasn't a dispute often times but it was a tug-of-war between we can say that, we can't say that . his imagination having written historical novels would pull him more in that line and i would say well, this is as far as we can go. there is speculation and its necessary speculation and it's signposted as such, but to give an example, there's a famous, i keep going back to
the kevin koster movie that there's a scene in the untouchables where al capone of course kills someone with a baseball bat and that is one of the few things in that film that actually has a basis in history, that is then discounted by a lot of revisionist ehistorians and we were able to find a lot of contemporary avenues in true crime magazines. perhaps not proven that it happened that way but that the story had been spread very deliberately by the capone mob as a way of engendering fear because capone very much understood that in his position as much as you wanted to be loved by the public, he needed to be feared by his employees in order to keep his hold on power so letting people know that if you tried to cross him asthese individuals did , you were going to end up eaten with a baseball bat is one way to do that so that's an instance where we have in the book the discovery of the bodies and we say this story
started going out on the gangland great line and we tell it the way that it came down to us and we can be confident something like it happened. but that's an instance where people who are going to leave a record often times of multiple homicides so myou're sort of left with thestories they told about themselves . >> i'm going to read you your account of that scene. where de niro goes crazy in the movie, but this isfrom your book . a bodyguard handed capone a baseball bat which he gripped in hands as powerful as babe ruth while the stunned conspirators still seated were held atgunpoint . the boss began with scalise, crushing his goal, red streamed down his face like a cracked egg. the gunmen waiting their terms were cut off one at a time by similar blows and then beyond that, capote
worked him over for a while, then none of the men dead, each playing to consciousness , they were turned over to the waiting clutch of bodyguards who blasted away and then there's a line, so goes the story with variations but chilling similarities. are you pulling your puncha little bit ? >> again, this is an instance where we are very mindful that we're dealing with characters in a story that has been somythologized . that sometimes people are too quick to discount the myth in this instance, i do think there's a great basis in fact behind it but at the same time, as we were talking about earlier, i did have to convince my co-author of the book needed hundred 50 pages of source notes and he would
say can't we write a bibliographic essay and should call it a day? no, we need to show our work so in an instance like that you can go right back to the back of the book and see what we were pulling from the newspaper articles, the true crime accounts. when you're dealing with a en story and some people claimed data to the 70s, having an image from the true crime magazine from 1932, an illustration of capone taking a baseball bat to these guys what's the likethat quite strongly . >> i think you added some credibility to your story by guesting maybe it didn't happen exactly this way. you mentioned and notes, we were talking about thisbefore we went on . it's apparently a new phenomenon with so much of nonfiction, all three of these books are chock full of endnotes, roughly 30, 40 pages maybe more in the back of the book so if you're wondering where did they get that, it's in the back of the book and you see it's not in
the academic footnotes, that clutter academic writing, but it's there for you and up until 25 years ago, you really didn't have that requirement and i think it's a good one and i congratulate all three of these writers. it is very extensive footnotes in it. you have an authors note where you assure the reader that there are no invented dialogue in the book and you provide a lot of attribution in your end notes so i thought i'd test it. it's the beginning of the chapter and its the way writers try to develop a scene. it begins, on the morning of november 29 1922, preparing for appearance before the
united states supreme court, will a brand, that's the assistant attorney general has a cameo role in your book to . >> harold remus. >> she stood at her closet and contemplated what to wear. if she had her way, she wouldn't spend more than a moment taking about fashion from her first day on the job, the press focused on the cut of her dress, the style of her hair, the height of her heels, etc. and i said come on, you obviously are making this up and damned if i don't look in the endnotes and you got it from her own diary at the library of congress so a good example of how these people have gone out of their way to ensure there is credibility in what you're writing about.
>> if i could decide one thing, the danger is then only to tell stories that are so richly documented and obviously only certain people of certain means have access or time to keep a document three and when we took in the historical presence, certain stories were prioritized over others so i think that the kind of attention, detail and scrupulous miss with which we operate is important but equally important are those silences where the historical ryrecord may not give you enough to make a character and you don't want to erase those people from your stories so i don't want to start with it's only a game of you can make characters with those who left a robust record behind but there are injustices in history and it's why often academics aside from their own biases are biased by what remains of the historical past . >> academic historians took apart our own shall be put but beautifully written and there are no footnotes and they cited a dramatic scene involving robert e lee at the
battle of gettysburg, pickett's charge, it failed and the mississippi unit was decimated and he had the cantering around on his horse and almost like saying he's beating his chest and he saying my men are lost and the historians insist there is no other reference anywhere and charged to put with making it up and then we talked briefly about this but we were talking about another book that hadn't occurred to but that's midnight in the garden of good and evil, a wonderful book that came in for a lot of criticism because -- >> it's not nonfiction.
>> there's strongsuspicion that a lot of it's made up . >> they massaged the timeframe to so that was a bigcriticism of that . >> in our case i referenced that nest cowrote or had a ghostwriter write an autobiography that became the basis of the tv show in the book that the published version of the book the untouchable which came out after nest died in 1957 has been sort of disparaged and dismissed and a lot of the nonfiction writing about alcohol and and one of the things my co-author and i set up to do initially was to say let's subject to scrutiny because it doesn't have h footnotes, it has a lot of invented dialogue and you can't know what people were wearing on a particular day necessarily but if you take the incidents that are described in the book, and piecemeal the chronology, but if you take the incident described and compare them to
the scrapbooks nest and to other sources that we were able to find, i was shocked radically how much of it checked out and how much of it we were able to talk about in our own book to put in proper chronological order and with the additional context because we didn't use anything from that book that we couldn't independently verify but we ended up independently verifying at least threequarters of the stuff described in it . >> we have an individual question for each of you about your book. casey, without giving away anything in your book, could you tell us what your best guess on why harper lee never got around to writing the book? >> i love it when someone cut to the chase, i spenthundreds of pages avoiding the question .
my book as a couple of mysteries and some are in the true crime session about methods and why cases unfolded the way they did and that sort of thing and you know, the stories that were told about this alleged murder at the time but the big mystery is this section of the book about harper lee is what happened to her own attempt to write about this case and the truth is there's some people who knew harper lee fewho say she finished it, she wrote the whole thing and chose not to publish it and there's a difference between what a writer might do for herself and for the reading public so i want to honor those people, they're real and they knew her and i knew her family but there's a group who point to difficulties harper lee faith in general when she was writing and in oparticular when it came to this case and we're a panel of writers and some of them are familiar and some of them are things other writers on the with. ever had a drinking problem, suffered from depression, she was a perfectionist when it came to her work and she experienced writers block for years after mockingbird and
that energized her and if you know anything about her work with capote, she was the key to that community and had gone to the small-town and gotten people tell their stories and she did the same thing in this small town in alabama so she was energized and moved by the reporting but struggled with the writing and we make this point in the book but you can have all the funding the world gathering information about learning about a story but i'm sure the three of us did but at some point you have to sit down to write it and that's where harper lee's troubles started. it's interesting in true crime, her experience would be interesting because you will get to see the kinds of decisions we make all the time, who the hero, whose a villain, how do we represent dialogue, what is a reliable source, how do i handle the complexities of the story was about murder but is not t insurance fraud so i wish i had a kind of straightforward answer. i wish there were one thing but if there had been, she would have figured out a way through it and instead, it's a lot of different things
that made it hard for her to write in general and specifically this book. >> i could address this to either brad or abbott but i will ask it of an. and i'll get you next. and in mississippi, we are very familiar with prohibition. we were the last date to get away with it. it took us until 1966, >> just about the rest of the country. >> just when i wasstarting to work, you got rid of it . >> anyway, both of your books were about prohibition. i'm going to ask abbott, is there anything and you're about both about the criminal aspect of prohibition, was there anything official to this country about prohibition customer. >> i just wanted to say i don'tthink my book is about prohibition . it's sort of the backdrop. >> but your characters, the kingof the bootleggers . >> i think i certainly understand back factors that
contributed, the women christian temperance union had had some valid reasons for not wanting their husbands to drink and stopping domestic violence in a lot of cases, loss patriarchs, unstable community and i can understand that but as we all know diamond again, you cannot legislate vice. it just doesn't work. and you know, i guess we could send over a decade figuring that out with prohibition. the grand experiment that failed. but so george remus was brilliant because the new prohibition was going to be a failure. i said anybody who got into bootlegging obviously that he was able to exploit a loophole that i think was his particular experience was what made him so successful, he had a background as a pharmacist and a lawyer and he read the volstead act and found a loophole that was a
position for prescription, you can buy manufacturers, alcohol for medicinal purposes and of course nobody was using alcohol for medicinal purposes and remus took full advantage of this. and in the country loved him for it. >> he always had always in mississippi . >> there was, one of my favorite things that i do a slideshow, there was a thing called cow shoes bootleggers in rural areas, related moonshine in parks and meadows, they would wear owthese cow shoes and they were basically their heels were made from wood, carved to look like". so they would literally cover their tracks and prohibition agents were trailing them through a meadow. fthey would sit down and look for somebodyfootprints and only see a bunch of those . i wish they'd come back in style, i would like a pair the point is people were always going to find a way. >> red, you've talked about it briefly. you're a co-author and it's
kind of an odd couple with a novelist and a historian. how did it work to the two of you to put together this very cohesive etbook? >> it's a difficult thing to describe to somebody who hasn't cowritten a book cause people want a clear dividing line. you wrote this, you wrote that but when a collaboration ra works as my co-author would say, 2+2 doesn't and up equaling five. that the pairing into the book that wouldn'thave been there otherwise. generally , as a way of boiling it down, i was responsible for writing the first draft ofthe parts that have to do with the lateness and law enforcement more generally .in and he was more responsible for first tracking the parts having to do without the phone and the gangster side of things . we started planning to do
alternating chapters but the story gets messy in a good way we found that that would have been too distracting so let it naturally come together. after having written those parts, we put the manuscript together and traded it back and forth. to the point where it did become one voice and it is difficult for me now to look at any particular page and say i wrote that he wrote that because of our fingerprints are all over it. it was an odd coupling not just in terms of these differingapproaches but in terms of we got a couple generations between us . i won't say how many. but he you know, what i think made it work , i think the odd nature of that is what made it work because he's coming at it as a novelist but we have the same vision for it. both new what we wanted the book to be, we wanted to read and what we wanted to say so if you trusted me on the
history aspect and i trusted him on the storytelling aspect is how it worked out, that sort of push and pull and up giving the book as i said in energy that is unusual. >> each of you have wonderful characters in the book and they're very well drawn. i'm just wondering from each of you, which characters did you most enjoy dealing with lexmark casey, why don't you start off? you have a wide range. >> find a hostile way to think about characters. they're all interesting for different reasons and i think that to my experience, talking about the book that people are interested in them, for different reasons and i think though i wrote a book that's partly about a very famous novelist and a famously private one so i was aware of the public appetite for information about harper lee's life. and or a satisfied emotional account of a writer who means
so much to so many of us and for that reason i felt most compelled that i needed to spend a lot more time with the alleged murder in the book reverend millie maxwell and his lawyer. i wanted the book to be democratic. i wanted to look at their lives and take their stories seriously because without them, there would be no story to tell about harper lee in this book. and without their stories too, there would not be a satisfying explanation for why it was so hard for her to write like interested in religion and all it takes and so those two characters are every bit as interesting to me but i tried to be democratic not only in the writing but in the he researching. and thinking through the structure of the book so i'm going to go with all three equally which is to say i refuse to answer the question . >> and in panels like this they call it pocketing the tennis ball, he threw me something nice but i pocketed the tennis ball. >> i would say george remus
was by far the most bizarre character i've ever come across in history and i've come across a few but the person i think i was most amazed by on several different levels was the mabel walker will grant was also a character on boardwalk empire named esther randolph. mabel will grant when president warren harding appointed her to the assistant attorney general of the us in 21 women had only had the right to vote fornine months . she was 32 years old, five years out of law school and then never prosecuted a single case in her career and suddenly she was in charge of thousands of prohibition cases including aces against george remus and she had this hardscrabble upbringing. she had a favorite saying, life has few darlings and performative childhood in the , her father one time she bit of pet cats gear and to teach her a lesson, her father bit for your back. she was inhumanly tough and
skinned and to make matters more difficult, she was nearly death and she had to spend our morning rearranging her hair because she didn't want her male colleagues to realize was working with that deficit in addition to the sexism she based as we talked about earlier but i love the fact that her bosses at the justice department and white house, all the members of hardings crooked ohio gang figured let's put the little lady in there, she's going to be overwhelmed and not know what she's doing and we can continue our cozy relationship taking bribes from bootleggers but she took office in 1921 and started kicking butt so i enjoyed that part and wished i could have spent more time with her. she'sone of those people i would like to have hung out with in real life . >> before we start, you made maybe as your co-author
capone at times seem like a very affable, lovable rogue. >> absolutely was that your intention, that aspect of his personality? >> sure, that's why i think should be difficult to pick which of these characters was the most fun to write about becausethey were both so fun and confounding . capone as you said was an extremely charming man and one of the things that was most surprising to me about him that i've ever seen portrayed, we've seen the up-and-coming capone in boardwalk empire, we've seen a mythic capone and the untouchables and other things but the way he power, when power is thrust upon someone as it was with him reveals character. some people are diminished by it, some people grow into it. he grew into it and matures from a street tough into a
captain of industry as someone who thinks he ought to be a captain of industry. people say he's been born into different circumstances he would have been the president of standard oil but t i've always thought it was a born politician. they talk about when he got into prison, spoiler alert, the first thing he does when he gets to the yard is walk around and shake everybody's had and say hi, my name is al, you need anything, i'll deal with it. but he's always struggling because the undisciplined side of him , the brooklyn kids is always straining to burst out of the service and it's the disease that becomes harder for him to keep under control. >> did you have more fun with capone and eliot ness? >> i don't know if i go that far. maybe my co-author ouwould say so.
personally if i have to pick a favorite character , it can't be will a brand, it would be eliot ness just because he was surprising in so many different ways. >> he was dick tracy. >> he inspired dick tracy and he leaned into that public image but you're talking about a guy who was crashing trucks in capone's breweries and yet was so interpersonally shy that he couldn't ask a stranger on the street for a restaurant recommendation . he couldn't think about approaching somebody as a stranger in that way . or hears somebody who turns down what's his translation would be $1.5 million a year in bribes and yet lies about his age on his job application to become a prohibition agent to qualify, someone who we remember as robert stack , as the ultimate to gun pitiless federal agent and yet you had ideas about law enforcement
that would be progressive even for today's standards t and i think as much as we go hollywood for remembering even his name, the way that these tv shows have mischaracterized him have obscured what he strove for in life that we find it so fascinating that we're finishing up a sequel about the rest of his life . >> .. so everybody can hear the question. some of you may be leaving the room, but hope some of your coming up -- right there, great, thank you. >> my name iss maggie. thank you for being here today.
this is been such an interesting talk. my question is about your own biases. going into writing all your books, you're dealing with larger-than-life mythological almost people. how do you disentangle your own biases about what you thought about them to begin with from your finished product? >> i think the difference, the thing with narrative nonfiction and when you say narrative nonfiction, you may nonfiction that you want to read like a novel, he wanted to be a story. the key thing is details. narrative nonfiction writers cannot try to be funny. reptile it details do those things for us. unlike novels who really bring their own voice. not to say they would have style or a voice that all of those sort of emotional connections come to the details that were
unearthed in our research, and i think that's important for us. and that the reason why we all just do deep diving and search truffles i believe casey put it, i just don't think that you bring your, , you bring a biased but it's true that covered over with the details. unlikable women characters in my books and always have thing about -- i don't care if people unlikable. i just care if they're interesting. i never try to cover over anybody's work. i lay it out there. you lay out to him that the people decide how they want to read that person and that's what approach to it. george remus is also sort of an unlikable person but many people are looking for at the end becausee the details present themselves as such. >> i think that's a great question and the truth is i was more attentive to it when it came to the nonfamous character in my book. people think they know who
harper lee is and a lover and the worshiper for all sorts of good reasons are good intentionedt reasons, but for me one of the tricky things about my book at a think of something very tricky for her, she was writing about an allegedly black serial killer and it was black on black crime in the 1970s and she was not from that community. she did not know much about it and bias is that a port award for any true crime writer. it matters when you are choosing the kinds of cases you are to bring to the public consciousness and how you framer them. for me one of the big moments was realizing the stories have been told toto me as the story f a black man who perpetuate a lot of insurance fraud. it turned out fraud went both ways in the life and should initiate the time and only recently have been tremendous multibillion-dollar settlement for african-american client or denied coverage are charged too much for it are sold substandard policy or after having paid for a lifetime of coverage were denied when they needed the burial insurance for the life
insurance on the other side. it was important to move beyond the buys. that's the way this driver told me and frame the life-insurance industry in that part of the book. i tried over and over with different aspects of the story to do that so waited less to do with the famous character in the book and more to do with the systemic issues that work in any kind of crime story. >> i hate to be a broken record but it really does get down to the sources. my co-author and i've made a conscious decision to go back into primary sources as much as possible. newspaper, court documents, federal files. i travel to something like a dozen states in researchings ths book all the way out to wyoming, trying to cast is brought and that is possible because i was mindful of his sack the witch talking about. growing up loving dick tracy, i want to portray eliot ness at dick tracy and al capone is big boy but you have to be open to
having your mind be changed, to want to be challenged that is the most important thing what you find. i'll just like it what's already been said and say that the characters that come to you to the historical research are much more fast eddie than the cardboard cutouts that we get oftentimes in popular culture. and that -- there are flaws and mistakes are often what makes an interesting. with eliot ness you have someone who, iav don't think creates the untouchable image necessarily, you know, the dick tracy image, but leads into it. i talked about a shyness. it becomes a shield for him, a bit of self protection that later on inn career in the sequl we're just finishing out into giving him in trouble. and without getting too far ahead of myself, there are
places in there where if you're dealing with somebody who's a a public servant but who, looking back now, we can see at very, very dangerous blind spots, you need to address that. and talk about the ways in which he failed to serve all of the public all of the time, and that's going to be a big part of this new book i'm so excited about. >> thank y'all very much. >> thank you. >> questions. well, seeingg none, i will have one more before we -- >> i think we do have one. >> good, thank you. >> as a journalist i appreciate the research and how much you have to rely on the factual record. i'm wondering if any of you, did you have character, one of the subjects or an incident that the just wasn't enough there for you to fully felt that as part of your story? and dated frustrate you in some way or how did you cope with
maybe a lack of a record? >> good question. who wants to try it? >> i feel like i confronted a very common occurrence for true crime writers, which is history remembers so much more about the perpetrator then the victims, and there are a few moments in my book where i'm they can sleep telling you what i can't find out about a particular some economically marginal like women in a small town in alabama, and all i can do beyond, i tried to talk to people who knew the appetite to talk to the journalists who covered those murders atay the time so there'a way to build up what you don't know but alsoca way to call attention to what we don't know and what we don't know it, and that's a a particularly sharp contrast in mywe book between, i can tell you what was served at harper lee's sisters birthday party when she was tenures all because her father owned the local newspaper and iten was
written up as front-page news. i can't do that because in so many black community, some were lucky to have newspaper but the archives are less accessible white monroe journal in searchu could go today. there's even more discrepancies with t digitization where againi think even when you can't do something, it's important to be conspicuous about why, so that's a cited in the historical record i felt pretty acutely, and all he could do was tell you what i didn't know more, and .2 again that kind of discrepancy i think is often the case between victims and perpetrators. we are pretty polite true crime crowd. there could even summon who could've stood up for the athletic the culture as for criminals and these kind of grandiose stories about them to get something think in responsible writer has to think about how you're presenting the discrepancy and power and survivorship and that sort of
thing. >> thanks for the question, a good question brings me back to mabel, because she was such, the most powerful woman in america at a time when people were not comfortable with women in power. as such she was very conscious of her image, as you can imagine. she wrote privately about this all the time her diary is full of notes about how she hates that truly girly stuff. people made all sorts of assumptions about her character because of the nature o of her ambition. because she was so public and also in charge of enforcing prohibition which of course was news for 13 years. she was very careful about how she curated the facts she put out, and there was a time when it was suspected she herself was having an affair with prohibition agent who ended up running off with remus his wife.
this ise something she never addressed. there are letters from him to her where it has sort of very affectionate language and sinus that would not have been necessarily proper two colleagues at that time, and also when it was discovered this prohibition agent was indeed running off with the wife into all sorts of nefarious things do with stuff, j. edgar hoover was dying to prosecute this guy. he actually cared about having honest prohibition agents and she told him no. to me it was a sign of, and i make this assumption in the book and i make it clear it's my assumption, that i i think that she was so aware of the effect of, if she would at a prosecutor the guy publicly called her a city texas, gotin behind us and this is one of our best in the probation department of it would set back not only her own crew but the crew of women in politics for decades to come. i think that was something that weighed heavily on her mind but
again she was so careful, if privately it privately should talk with personal things but privately she would not comment on her public machinations of which are thinking better job ift she thought is going to be detrimental to her as it got it. that something wish i'd more on. it would've been great to find a hotel receipt with franklin hodgen and mabel, but alas the did not happen to think i would want more aboutut her. >> in trying to put together what the nest at the untouchables actually did, because that has been misrepresented by hollywood, but theth investigation of the untouchables were doing has often been characterized as just going around kind of shuttering breweries, trying to cut up capone's income but not doing any significant investigate work. certainly cutting off his income was part of it, but it ended up being much more serious, a were essentially trying to put together a rico case decades
before the rico law had been passed. the racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations act which in something the tool that finally gives federal law enforcement and effective means of combating organizedve crime. the ness and the untouchables before j. edgar hoover is really a household name and before people know she men are in many cases, the untouchables are providing this to understand what that alone forces can be and can do. but we were come with a difficult of having to together a lot of that come about the work you did for the outset from newspaper articles, from recollection that been written with five years after the fact come some educated guesswork because the wasn't a great source-based of prohibition bureau documents unfortunately. literally, two months after the hardcover of our book came out, a copy of the complete case summary case report that the untouchables compiled which one
of the men kept illegally turned up. angela first thought is this is a document with all the answers. this wouldn't make my life so much easier had turned up two years ago. did we get anything wrong? we were able to look into it and discover that a lot of our supposition and speculation turned out to be warranted. what we were able to do with the paperback that came out in june was to put some excerpts from in there so you can sort of see in the untouchables own words what they were doing. but it really i think, one of the tasks we hope the book would achieve was in showing you where ness and the untouchables really fit in history of the development of policing in the united states, and i think this is a major document that makes the case for them being quite significant. >> you heard from three very good authors who reduce three
very good books and i think you have heard how responsibly have handled it and there's a lot of fun o i commend to you, all through the books. and thank you all so much for joining us. >> thank you for having us. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> in 1979 a small network with an unusually rolled out a big idea. let use make up their own minds exceeds that open the doors to washington policymaking for all to see company unfiltered content from congress and
beyond. beyond. a lot has changed in 40 years but today that same ideas were relevant than ever. c-span is your unfiltered view of government so you can make up your own mind. brought to you as a public service by your cable or satellite provider. >> and now on c-span2's booktv, more television for serious readers. >> so little bit about our speaker. we are excited to have today chris derose. chris was an ugly sweden here -- was in sweden? last week, and we just got the call last week that he is coming so we're just thrilled that he took time away to reach out to us and confirm his appearance. but he's a "new york times" best-selling author of the "star spangled scandal" which is the topic of today the president for congressman lincoln and finding -- founded by t