Friday, May 30, 2014

NBC series inspired by my book premiers tonight

"Crossbones", the NBC drama inspired by my third book, The Republic of Pirates, premiers tonight in the U.S. at 10 pm Eastern.

For my family, it's the culmination of several years of waiting anxiously to see if the project would clear the next (usually taller) hurdle in the long, difficult path from idea to airing. We're thrilled to see the show -- which stars John Malkovich as (and older, madder) Blackbeard -- finally hitting the small screen.

It's actually a "what if" sequel to the historical events revealed in my book. Series creator Neil Cross has imagined what would happen to Blackbeard if he hadn't been the one whose head was brought back from Ocracoke Island in 1718 -- if instead, a decade or more later, he was out there somewhere, ensconced in a new base, presiding over another republic, one that looks very much like a cross between the pirate base at Nassau and the quiet criminal base the pirate set up in North Carolina in the final months of his life.

Readers of the book will see no shortage of borrowings and inspiration from the historical pirate's (earlier) experiences, although Cross (of BBC "Luther" fame) hasn't been very forthcoming about them in interviews. (C'mon, Neil, give us some love here!)

The New York Times weighed in on the show today. Let it be written on stone tablets: "[Crossbones is] sophisticated, well-acted television for a warm-weather series."

Enjoy the show!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Talking pirates with Maine's "207" on WCSH-6 and WLBZ-2

The NBC series based on my book, The Republic of Pirates, premiers tomorrow night, and the network's local affiliates here in Maine were kind enough to have me on air tonight to talk about the book, the series, and the relationship between the two.

The show, "207", appears on both WCSH-6 in Portland and its sister station, WLBZ-2, in Bangor. Thanks to Rob Caldwell and his team for having me on.

The series -- "Crossbones" starring John Malkovich as Blackbeard -- has been receiving a bunch of preview attention this week, including these reviews from the San Antonio Express-News, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Kansas City Star and the Orange County Register, plus these features in  TV Guide, the Portland Press Herald and Los Angeles Times. The general consensus, as the Chronicle put it, is that it's fun.

Tune in at 10pm Eastern tomorrow night, May 30, and let me know what you think.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Crossbones cometh Friday

"Crossbones", the NBC drama inspired by my non-fiction work, The Republic of Pirates, premiers this Friday, May 30th, and the media is starting to take note.

The Portland Press Herald had a front page story on me and the show today, with exclusive interviews with creator Neil Cross (who some among you will know as the creator of BBC's "Luther") and, of course, myself. We reveal that the show is in fact a "what if" sequel to the historical events told in the book, imagining what Blackbeard might have become if he had secretly not been the person killed and beheaded at Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, in 1718. But read to learn more.

Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times (and its sister paper, the Chicago Tribune) carried this preview feature, which devotes some attention to the relationship between the book, the show, and the show's creator. Therein Cross likens my book to "brown rice", which I've decided is a good thing, coming from someone who doesn't write non-fiction. (Such fare is nutritive, real, good with butter.)

"It's a show which undeniably has pirates in it, and it's set during the time of the golden age of piracy," Cross told the L.A. Times. But "it's got elements of speculative fiction in there, little hints of steampunk and it's kind of a spy show, really, more than a big, swashbuckling pirate show."

Also over the weekend, Excelsior and its sister dailies across Mexico carried this feature on the show, though it appears to quote an old NBC press release as being my words. But nice exposure nonetheless, seeing as the book is available in Mexico, in Spanish.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Talking American Nations with Cracked

I had an enjoyable and extended conversation with the good people at -- producers of the popular Cracked Podcast-- about my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. It posted earlier this week.

Here's their synopsis:

On today's podcast Cracked editors Jack O'Brien, Kristi Harrison and Jason Pargin discuss America's crazy regional differences, and talk with Colin Woodard (author of 'American Nations') about his claim that the fifty American states are actually eleven distinct nations. Whether the land you live on was conquered by Spain (Florida), France (Louisiana), stuffy British slave lords (the South) or Braveheart (Appalachia) determines how you view the government, law and so much more.
I've also just given an American Nations keynote talk here in Atlanta at the Governing Georgia Leadership Forum. Thanks much to all who attended. Back in Maine shortly.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Maine: ex-tribal finance director pleads; last PUC commissioner recuses from Nestle Waters case

Two story updates from my desk at the Portland Press Herald.

Nestle Waters and the Public Utilities Commission: A week ago, I reported (but neglected to post here) and update on the conflict of interest bonanza at Maine's PUC, where all three commissioners and the official tasked with representing ratepayers before the body all have ties to Nestle Waters North America, which is seeking a controversial long-term contract to pump water from Fryeburg, Maine's (family-controlled) public water utility.

The new development: the last of the three commissioners has recused himself, following passage of a new law to allow the appointment of alternate commissioners in (hopefully rare) situations such as this one.

Charles Fourcloud -- the Indian of a thousand names -- pleads not guilty: Today I was up in Bangor and got to catch the arraignment hearing of the man known in Maine as Charles Fourcloud, who the Passamaquoddy tribe discovered was actually Arlyyn Knudsen, a convicted felon who'd help steal tens of millions from the Lakota Sioux, and has since bounced from Indian tribe to Indian tribe across the nation, taking top finance positions under various names. After being fired in Maine, he showed up at a remote tribe in California to apply for a job as "Leon Knudsen." He now faces up to 15 years in prison.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2014 Gerald Loeb Award finalist

At the end of last week, UCLA's Anderson School of Management announced the finalists for the 2014 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, the most prestigious in that field.  I'm greatly honored to have been among their finalists for the second year running.

The nomination is for "Lobbyist in the Henhouse", my Portland Press Herald /Maine Sunday Telegram investigation on how Maine's Commissioner of Environmental Protection -- previously a lobbyist at the state's largest law-and-lobbying firm -- stifled the implementation and enforcement of laws and regulations she'd unsuccessfully fought against on behalf of the oil, chemical, drug, and real estate industries.

It's in the Small and Medium Newspapers category with worthy competitors from the Charleston Gazette, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Orange County Register, and Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The story received considerable national attention when it came out -- particularly after Gov. Paul LePage issued a (short-lived) government-wide ban against speaking to my paper -- including the Associated Press, Columbia Journalism Review, and extended segments on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" and WGBH's "Beat the Press." 

The winners will be chosen at an awards ceremony in New York City June 24th.

In 2013, I was pleased to have been nominated in the same category for my Maine Sunday Telegram investigation of how national for-profit digital education firms were being allowed to ghost write Maine's inaugural digital charter school policies with the help of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education. That story won a George Polk Award that year.