Growing up in Upstate New York I was under the influence of Syracuse University.
That meant my sports heroes included football stars Ernie Davis and Jimmy Brown.
Both were All-Americans at Syracuse and Brown later starred for the Cleveland Browns. Davis, sadly, died young of leukemia.
In addition, because my mother was from Boston, another group of sports heroes were the Boston Celtics, mainly Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders, and K.C. Jone
As a kid I was also riveted by news film of the civil rights and voting rights movements taking place in the South at the time.
Later as a reporter with the Daily Record of Morristown , N.J, for one Martin Luther King holiday story I interviewed a white minister from Dover who was a student at Little Rock High School when the school was desegregated, a Morristown bar owner who with his wife were teachers in Mississippi during the voting registration drives, and members of Morristown activist community who fought housing discrimination.
This came to mind over the weekend when I read a story from Indiana about a GOP lawmaker who filed a bill requiring that state teachers provide a “balanced look” at such topics as slavery, Naziism, authoritarianism and the like so Indiana students would not judge such movements harshly.
Had two thought.
First, if the legislator can not talk to a relative who fought in WW2, he could at least Google Sen. Bob Dole, visit the library for a picture book on the war or watch any of the histories on TV that show the rise of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and any of the gallery of dictators which plagued the world.
Second, he is another example of the GOP effort to recruit the dimmest bulbs in the hallway to run for office.
That report also made me think about my imaginary town , Ironton, N.J. base for the Frank Nagler Mystery series and the choice to include as many diverse characters possible and give them important roles.
This is not an effort to be “woke,” as is the current term.
These characters go back to the first drafts of the mysteries written in my 20s.
Great stories have memorable minor characters who served to move the story and expand the universe.
One such character is Manny Calabrese, an Italian jeweler, who appears in several books. During an interview about THE RED HAND, the host noted how Manny reminded him of shopkeepers in his hometown, people who knew their customers, patted kids on the head. It was one of the highest compliments I had received.
Manny, like Barry, the Hispanic owner of Barry’s, the popular Ironton eatery, exists to add sympathy for Frank Nagler and the main characters, and add depth to the life of the city without caricature.
Leonard, for example, appears in the earliest drafts as blind street kid.
Over the stories he becomes owner of a bookstore which becomes a cornerstone for redevelopment of a section of Ironton.
There’s Del Williams, Detective Frank Nagler’s black childhood friend from the worker’s ghetto. Nagler is always recounting their escapades. Del overcomes addiction to become a leader and trainer for the street kids hired by Leonard at his store and other businesses.
Calista Knox overcomes child abuse and sex trafficking to become a hero in THE WEIGHT OF LIVING, and Nagler’s companion, Lauren Fox, represents all the qualities of the many women administrators, social workers, nurses, cops, fire fighters and others I have had the privilege to know as a reporter. Nagler doesn’t succeed without her.
One of the favorite heroes in the stories is Lt. Maria Ramirez, Nagler’s no-nonsense partner. In the upcoming DRAGONY RISING, Ramirez and her companion, Destiny, are endangered because of their sexuality.
These characters exist because they make the Nagler stories more interesting and lively, not to make it appear that I am a writer trying to be heroic or politically correct.
I am instead a writer partaking in the world that is, the one I learned about by living.
That brings up one more point.
A week or so ago I started a story about an elementary school I attended. It was supposed to be a goofy growing up story.
Instead, “Dev” showed up.
She is the daughter of a farm worker who disguises her upbringing.
Where did Dev come from?
As a kid in Phoenix, N.Y. I would ride my bike past vast fields of vegetables – truck farms.
At the far rear of the fields were shacks and tents when the migrant workers lived.
That’s where Dev came from.
Where to find the Nagler books: