On the surface, there are major differences between Pam White and Pamela Clare. White is an area journalist known for passionately advocating on behalf of women and members of indigenous communities, and for taking contentious stances without regard to political correctness. Just days after 9/11, for instance, she penned "Why Are We Despised?" a Boulder Weekly cover story about allegedly misguided U.S. foreign policy that prompted one of many angry letter writers to declare: "The shame of a nation is on your shoulders." As for Clare, she's the author of the Leisure Books title Sweet Release, a new historical romance novel described in the industry mag Romantic Times as "a sensuous tale of lust, betrayal, redemption and freedom." In addition, the publication declared Release hero Alec Kenleigh, portrayed on the tome's cover as a dark-browed, ponytailed, shirt-optional hunk o' burning love, to be a Knight in Shining Silver -- K.I.S.S. for short. Watch out, Gene Simmons.
Nonetheless, White and Clare have a great deal in common, which makes sense, considering they're the same person. Perhaps that's why White - who will speak and sign copies of her fictional debut at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, at the Boulder Bookstore, 1107 Pearl Street -- sees no contradiction between her reputation as a champion of equality and the work of her alter ego.
"I think romance novels are inherently feminist," says White, who was named editor of the Weekly last month after her predecessor in that post, Wayne Laugesen, cut back his hours to serve as CEO of Windhover Creative Partners, a new multimedia firm. "They're very pro-woman. They're about a woman discovering what she wants in her life and fighting for it."
The romance genre is battling for respect, too, and White's doing all she can to help. In "Romancing Society," an offering she wrote for the Weekly that spun off a Romance Writers of America convention held in Denver last summer, White disclosed that romance novels "account for 18 percent of all books sold and a whopping 55.9 percent of the paperback-fiction market," racking up $1.37 billion in sales during calendar year 2000 alone. Yet White feels most mainstream publications ghettoize or condescend toward romance books.
Just as irritating to her is the assumption on the part of many potential readers (most of them male) that while such novels make room for ripped bodices, heavy breathing and tragic obstacles to love, they fail to include anything of real substance. "My book touches on a lot of historical points, the most important of them being chattel slavery, the genocide of native people, and women's rights in colonial society," she says.
Likewise, White feels that perceptions about what appeals to women like her are out of whack with reality -- a point she makes in a February article in the Weekly about the "rising interest in porn" among new-school feminists. As she puts it, "There's tons of stereotypes about romance novels, and most of them are easily debunked by reading one."
White discovered historical romances when she was in her mid-teens and continued to devour them while attending the University of Colorado at Boulder, even though she majored in the classics, with an emphasis on art, archaeology and Latin. After doing graduate work in archaeology, she transferred to the art history department, but eventually realized that "hanging out in grad school was a cool way to avoid writing," she says. "I dropped out, went into journalism in order to hone my writing skills, and started doing research for Sweet Release."
This last process was certainly a lengthy one, in part because White wanted to nail every detail of life in 1730s Virginia, when Sweet Release is set. She translated Latin love poems by Catullus, a Roman scribe whose writings date to the time of Julius Caesar, and explored the particulars of "everything from underwear -- What did they wear? How did it fasten? What was it made of? -- to kitchen utensils to seasonal diet to political affairs of the time to eighteenth-century plumbing in London to Irish folk cures for stab wounds and cow diseases."
Of course, White also had to make a living, and she wound up becoming immersed in newspapering. She freelanced a piece for the Colorado Daily in 1984, beginning an on-again, off-again relationship with what was then a feisty, unapologetically progressive broadsheet. She stuck around the Daily for much of the '80s, returned in a full-time position during the early '90s, and eventually became the paper's first female editor in 1998.
A few years down the line, the Daily was purchased by veteran publisher Randy Miller, whose vision for the paper was considerably more conventional than White's ("Paper Trail," April 26, 2001). She stepped aside in favor of a staff position at the Rocky Mountain News, but her rabble-rousing was a bad match for the tradition-bound Rocky, which cut her loose after only a few months. Shortly thereafter, she took a story the News had dismissed to the Weekly, whose staff she later joined.
Throughout these professional changes -- not to mention many personal ones (a divorce, a near-fatal climbing accident) -- White kept working on her book, which revolves around Cassie Blakewell, an expert horsewoman who runs a plantation owned by her dementia-stricken father. Early on, Blakewell buys a badly injured convict ("to spare him the indignity of dying in chains," White says) without knowing that he's actually the aforementioned Alec Kenleigh, an English gentleman of considerable means. "There's a suspense plot in which we find out how this happened to him and show him trying to regain his identity -- and show the danger he causes to Cassie because of his status as a convict," White allows. She concedes that these assorted complications are resolved, "but not until the very, very end."
Along the way, there's plenty of sex, although not as much as romance-novel snobs might expect. "Only about sixty pages out of 352 have sex on them -- and that includes foreplay," White estimates. "And it's not like Penthouse letters. It's written in a way women can appreciate. You know exactly what they're doing, whether he's performing oral sex on her or doing something with his fingers. But it's all about emotions, which is what makes sex scenes in these books so hard to write. You have to have a strong emotional setup for sex. You can't have people just dropping their clothes on the floor and banging."
To assist readers, Romantic Times has created a scale to rate the frankness of such couplings. In the end, it determined that Sweet Release is "Very Sensual" ("Spicy, but goes beyond conventional lovemaking. Explicit sex") -- a couple of rungs above "Sweet" ("May or may not include lovemaking. No explicit sex"), but two notches below "Sexy" ("Borders on erotic. Very graphic sex"). Still, these sequences were fleshy enough to cause White occasional moments of maternal embarrassment. She named Alec, her hero, after the oldest of her two sons, both of whom are now teenagers -- "and over the period of seven years when I wrote it, he would come up to me every so often and say, 'What am I doing now?' And I'd have to say, 'Um, nothing.'"
In truth, White knows her fiction does a lot more than that. She has no plans to permanently leave journalism, but she's already up to her elbows in her next book, a semi-sequel to Release subtly named Carnal Gift. "It's set 25 years later in Ireland," she says. "The little brother of the heroine in the first book goes to Ireland and gets mixed into the English-Irish conflict." Along the way, she's sprinkling in Gaelic phrases translated by Mick Bolger of Colcannon, Denver's finest purveyor of Irish music, and digging into more controversial topics that, in this format, are unlikely to generate much controversy.
"The cool thing about romance is that it enables me to write about the exact same issues I write about in my column, but no one gets angry with me," she maintains. "The pop-culture context is the proverbial spoonful of sugar. Sweet Release deals with race issues, genocide, abortion and contraception, date rape, domestic violence, class issues and gender equality, yet people read it and enjoy it. Go figure."
Return of the Seibert watch: Denver Post reporter Trent Seibert was practically a regular in this space last year, thanks to a trio of stories (two of which made the Post's front page) that had government officials in a snit over what appeared to be factual errors. And now, thank the gods, he's back as a result of another piece that's got critics carping.
Before we get to that, though, let's recap. On March 1, 2002, Seibert wrote that "Gov. Bill Owens is taking millions of dollars from the state's employee retirement program to help balance the budget" -- a statement that was simply false, as Owens said at a press conference later that day. Just over a month later, on April 2, a story of Seibert's said that House Minority Leader Dan Grossman was behind a proposal to stop the mailing of photo-radar snapshots to the homes of speeding motorists because he wanted to protect potential adulterers. For his part, Grossman insisted that he mentioned the idea as a joke on April Fool's Day, and others backed up this claim. Finally, on June 2, Seibert printed a misquote attributed to state treasurer Mike Coffman hinting that he has the power to cut taxes, which he doesn't. Coffman asked the Post for a correction and got one ("Pac-ing a Punch," June 20, 2002).
For more than six months afterward, there was relative quiet on the Seibert front. But in the wake of "Union Station Study Fee Growing," a Seibert-penned offering that ran on February 19, a new accuracy dispute surfaced, with longtime Rocky Mountain News reporter Kevin Flynn doing the finger-pointing.
Seibert's page-one article led with a grabby assertion: "A group of powerhouse consultants has asked cash-strapped city and state agencies for a nearly 40 percent pay hike -- bringing their payday to $5.56 million -- to contribute a study of whether Denver's historic Union Station can be turned into a regional transportation hub. The partnership of consultants includes Jones Lang LaSalle, a prominent development firm, and CRL Associates, one of Denver's leading lobbying and consulting firms that wields enormous influence in city government." The Post expressed its outrage over this apparent turn of events in a February 20 editorial called "On the Wrong Track," with columnist Al Knight penning a salvo dubbed "Don't Pay the Bribe" on February 23.
The next day, February 24, Flynn weighed in as well, arguing in a Rocky transportation column labeled "No Boogeyman Involved in RTD Study Price Hike" that the implications contained within Seibert's lead paragraph were extremely misleading. In his piece, Flynn, who referred only to "a breathless report in another medium" rather than naming Seibert and the Post, pointed out that the Union Station plan had originally called for an Environmental Assessment -- a relatively small-scale impact study. But the Federal Transit Administration had subsequently determined that a more sweeping examination known as an Environmental Impact Statement was needed. The extra costs were a direct result of this FTA order, Flynn declared, and not because of a request by "powerhouse consultants." In fact, the vast majority of the money was not going to Jones Lang LaSalle or CRL Associates; the latter "added only 37 more billable hours to its original 3,229, just over a 1 percent fee increase," he wrote.
When phoned about the incidents that took place in 2002, Seibert either declined to answer Westword's questions or failed to return calls. But this time, to his credit, he responded, pointing out that he cited the FTA (incorrectly identified as the "Federal Transportation Administration") near the middle of his article. In the opinion of RTD Chief Public Affairs Officer Scott Reed, however, the mention is treated as a throwaway rationalization intended to justify greed and government indifference.
"It left the clear impression that there were some shenanigans going on with the consultants," Reed says. "It seemed to come to a conclusion that really wasn't supported by the facts."
Flynn agrees. "The two 'powerhouses' he mentioned were getting the least amount of money, which seemed to undercut the impetus of his article," he says. "It's one thing to be hard-hitting and edgy, but you still have to be accurate."
When contacted in late February, Seibert said he saw no need for a correction but felt that further investigation was warranted. "We really need to find out what's going on," he said. "It could be that the consultants were the driving force, or it could be that the RTD needed an Environmental Impact Statement rather than an Environmental Assessment. That's what I want to determine." He revealed that he would be going over RTD documents on February 28, with an eye toward a possible followup that would straighten things out once and for all.
As of March 11, no such article had been published.
Suspicions confirmed: Is the term "breaking news" currently being overused in a way that lessens its impact? That was a question debated last week in this space -- and on March 5, as the issue containing the column was hitting the streets, a pair of incidents suggested that the answer is a resounding "Yes." On Channel 4 just after 2 p.m., during the soap opera Guiding Light, a visual crawl labeled "breaking news" appeared on the screen, alerting viewers to a terribly important development: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer had agreed to become a Denver Bronco. Then, near the top of Channel 2's 9 p.m. broadcast that evening, anchor Wendy Brockman introduced the Plummer story by saying it was "still breaking," even though more than seven hours had passed since word had first circulated.
You'd think the news would have been broken by then.
Ready and waiting: Perhaps you haven't noticed, but the American media is standing by for war. Even network slogans are in battle mode, with CBS teasing a "Showdown with Saddam," CNN opting for the more punctuated "Showdown: Iraq" and MSNBC going with "Countdown: Iraq" for assorted updates as well as a program of the same name that was recently extended to fill the time slot previously occupied by wimpy peacenik Phil Donahue. Still, Clear Channel, the radio conglomerate that owns eight of the most muscular signals in Denver, may deserve the preparedness prize if a February communiqué leaked to the InternalMemos.com Web site is any indication.
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The document in question -- online at www. internalmemos.com/memos/memodetails.php?memo_id=1329 -- revolves around KFBK and KSTE, a pair of Clear Channel properties in Sacramento, California. As such, a number of the items mentioned are extremely specific to these stations; for example, "Ross, please consider setting the volume high and removing the volume knob [on the ABC satellite feed], otherwise someone will turn it down and you'll miss an important bulletin." But others speak to the mania of the media at large for, among other things, giving a name to everything it does. At one point, the memo's author says, "Our coverage will be called 'America's War with Iraq.' In writing copy, please call our coverage, 'LIVE In-Depth Team Coverage of America's War with Iraq'.... Branding liners have been produced and are in the system."
The memo lists oodles of "interview and news possibilities," including "military history professors," "former G-Men," "local Mosque spokesperson" and, lastly, "anti-war types." Reporters are encouraged to look for "local angles, local people involved, local experts for commentary, federal buildings on alert, watch local gas prices, etc." But they're also warned not to "do local just to do local. This is an international/national story and the nets do a great job.... If you are going to make a mistake, do too much network. Especially early. THIS IS WAR."
It's also an opportunity. "People who have never listened to our stations will be tuning in out of curiosity, desperation, panic and a hunger for information," the memo says. "We must make sure we meet their expectations, otherwise they're gone forever and they ain't coming back." Talk shows, meanwhile, are seen as "a very important piece to the coverage puzzle. After the long-form coverage dies down, talk shows should live it and breathe it 24 hours a day. YOU CANNOT OVERKILL this story."
Should I wave the white flag now, or wait until the shooting starts?