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Arts & Culture

Former Journalist Brings Political Reality to New Fictional Novel

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When it comes to writing about controversial current events, sometimes fiction can go where journalism cannot.  A novel by a former journalist examines political corruption and the misdeeds of the powerful.  And while it may be a work of fiction, its author says it’s based on real events, people and places. 

“I had to change a lot of names, so I had that liberty to flesh things out, to make them larger than life and, of course, to make them dramatic.”

Andrea Brunais is a former journalist who covered politics in central Florida. But it wasn’t until she wrote her novel, a political thriller called Mercedes Wore Black that she felt she could really tell some of her best stories.

“There were things that were on the record about what happened in the Florida governor’s race that were on the record that we had to take out, watering down, direct quotes, that sort of thing, because it was too incendiary. It’s the truth but if it’s a small independent publisher like mine, does she want to have a million dollar judgment against her and have to prove that it’s the truth? Probably not.”

Brunais day job is Communications Director, Outreach & International Affairs for Virginia Tech, where she writes about the projects and achievements of its faculty, staff and students. But she says fiction is an outlet where she gives voice to the outrage she felt covering certain vexing stories from a position of journalistic objectivity.

“It’s like, oh my gosh, can you believe this is going on in society?  So can you believe that big pharma is concealing the results of drug studies and pressuring scientists.  Can you believe that a scientist at the Department of Environmental Protection in Florida was told he could not say and do certain things?  He could not make a scientific recommendation.  Yes, that happened in the year 2000 and here we are in 2015 and in that same environmental agency, scientists are being told not to use the words, ‘climate change.’”

 

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Andrea Brunais

  In the novel, her main character, Janis Pearl Hawk, also a journalist in central Florida, has been downsized from a daily newspaper. But a wealthy patron wants to sponsor her blog, on the condition that she writes pro environmental stories and covers a candidate running for office on a pro environmental platform.

“And that makes it fiction right there because no governor of Florida could ever win running on the environment.”

With steamy Florida as a backdrop, the machinations of the damp and powerful play out amid a made up murder mystery, as if to say, this is the consequence of all the corruption.  Disregard for human life as a metaphor for lack of concern for the natural world. 

Here’s Brunais reading from a scene that features one of her catch phrases, something she calls the “Tallahassee Stare Down.”  That’s when a still, small voice of dissent gets silenced by nothing more than the chilling look of a character, more powerful than his prey. In this scene she’s on a boat in Manatee Bay with a scientist who is showing her what’s at stake.  

“Mertens raised his voice to be heard over the wind, the engine and the water hitting the spray rail.   He steered toward what looked like endless sky. “Look at all this he said Mertens was agitated, as he had the right to be. His professional opinion was that dredging would turn sea grasses to toast. And yet he’d been silenced.  Yanked to Tallahassee for the intimidating stare down. He’d learned that speaking up would cost him his job. Yet the wind and salt spray on our faces, the gleaming horizon and the occasional dolphin arcing into the air, all conspired to cast a spell and I found it hard to hold to thoughts of dredging destruction and death.”

Andrea Brunais, reading from her novel, Mercedes Wore Black. It’s published by Southern Yellow Pine Press.

Andrea Brunais will talk about her book next month. She’ll be at Reynolds Homestead in Critz, Virginia, The Diamonds and Gold Look in Princeton, and at Only One Look in Bluefield, West Virginia.

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