The past four weeks has turned out to be pretty cool. First, there was the news that my well-reviewed new book about police corruption in Baltimore is being turned into an HBO miniseries produced by me after my earlier success with “The Wire.” Then there was news that one of my best-selling novels is being turned into an Apple TV+ limited series starring some major Hollywood stars. And then it was all capped off this week by my nomination for an Academy Award for best actress. (I briefly hesitate here to allow the applause to die down.)
But I must also, if only for the sake of modesty, share some of the credit with others for this turn of events, including: The Baltimore Sun’s Justin Fenton, author of “We Own This City”; writer, producer and raconteur David Simon, who is bringing a limited series version of Mr. Fenton’s book to HBO; mystery writer Laura Lippman, author of “Lady in the Lake,” which is being adapted as a miniseries for Apple TV+; and, of course, Frances McDormand who starred in the movie, “Nomadland,” and recently got an Oscar nod. Some portion of their success is due to their own talent and hard work and I am perfectly willing to share credit. They deserve a bit of recognition, too.
Some of the more skeptical readers may be thinking, what the hell does of any of this have to do with you? Did you help write any of these books? Or ink these production deals? Or act on the big screen as a displaced older woman living the vagabond life? Well, technically, no. But I’ll tell you what I did do, and I’m not trying to brag, but I have to be blunt about this: Every one of these people has worked or studied near me. That’s right. They have all suffered my presence for an extended period of time. Mere coincidence? Surely not. Maybe one, perhaps even two. But that’s four. And I’m not even counting the Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, other well-regarded authors, the daytime TV talk show host or the former CNN Headline News anchor, all of whom have similarly encountered me as a co-worker or college classmate. I’m not claiming to be a muse, but I do believe there are muse-like tendencies at work.
There is another theory, of course. Some will say if I had any influence at all, it was surely as a cautionary tale as in: “See that guy? Don’t end up like him. Work hard, be creative and get a good agent.” This is not beyond the realm of possibilities. But isn’t that sort of inspirational, too? In my defense, I think Fran doesn’t see me that way at all. Indeed, since we’ve only spoken a few times since her graduation from West Virginia’s Bethany College more than 40 years ago (and her last message, relayed through an intermediary after she was told of my frequent name-dropping was, “Tell him to get a life”), I’m guessing she doesn’t spend too much time pondering me. So much the more amazing my professional influence on her. She’s won two previous Oscars, two prime-time Emmys and a Tony. And all that after we performed on the college stage a few times.
Did Justin consult me closely when researching police corruption? No, he did not (although he might have asked about the weather once). Nor did Laura when she worked at The Sun. Nor David. But look at that: I just referred to them all by their first names. I think that demonstrates just how close we are. And I would add that I’ve never pressed my case for a share of royalties from any of them. I’m not in it for the money. That’s just not me. I wouldn’t refuse a minor on-screen role (I’m thinking perhaps a three-episode arc as a corrupt police sergeant with a heart of gold in “We Own This City” or a skeptical city editor with a heart of gold in “Lady in the Lake”), but I would settle for Pedestrian #12 seen briefly in background if the gig paid well.
And speaking of compensation, here’s my main point (that it comes in the second to last paragraph may demonstrate why my writing is not in especially high demand from either Amazon or Hollywood): This apparent skill to inspire others to such remarkable achievements needs to be monetized. I haven’t worked out the specifics, but I’m thinking of selling proximity. Post-pandemic, of course. For a certain amount, I will sit near you for a month. If you don’t experience professional success, you can pay for a second month. And so on. I know I said I wasn’t in it for the money but that was before all these TV shows. Now, I’m strictly in it for the money.
Anyway, the point is that the world is too big a place for me to have passed through it Leonard Zelig-like coming in contact with so many famous people. There has to be some causal effect. Just ask my family. They will tell you. I inspire people — to run as far as possible. Whatever. It’s been a great month for musing.
Peter Jensen is an editorial writer at The Sun; he can be reached at email@example.com.