My friend and fellow writer Arin Greenwood once said in interview that people who want to write should “have realistic expectations about what the writing process is like.”
Note: I didn’t write this, but I wish to god I did. The writer did send it to me, inspired by a post I made on Facebook about an ad for a tampon that is healthier for you because you can set it on fire.
Cecilia “Cici” Watkins is no Luther Burbank, George Washington Carver, or even Gregor Mendel. She is not an expert in plant breeding and genetics. Professionally she heads branding for a national firm located in Asheville, North Carolina. But a combination of sharp eyes, fertile imagination, branding chops, and frustration with her husband led to create a new hot pepper variety that is terrifying men and being celebrated by feminists with a sense of humor (and, contrary to rumor, there appear to be quite a lot of them based on her 2019 seed sales).
Somewhere around 1995 her husband became obsessed with hot peppers. Not just eating them, but raising them and trying them out on his beer drinking buddies. Cici didn’t mind a fresh jalapeño on a nacho now and then, but her husband kept ordering seeds for the some of the worlds hottest peppers. Then, inspired by new record breakers, he started his own plant breeding experiments in an effort to raise ever hotter peppers, a cause Cici found inexplicable because she believed most of those peppers peppers are virtually inedible. By 2000, virtually three-quarters of their garden plot was occupied by hot peppers. The supply of tomatoes, zucchini and other fresh vegetables had dwindled. Her husband was happy, but the garden that had supplied a lot of fresh veggies in the summer had slowly turned into an experimental pepper production unit. It was bad enough that the veggie supply was drying up but “his buddies kept goading me and my girlfriends to try some of these ridiculously hot peppers. Why? I don’t get it. “
When he was working on some of his Intense hot sauces is the kitchen it filled with fumes that made it nearly impossible to breathe. She learned to stay away, but in 2002 she happened to notice a squat green pepper that looked Somewhat like a jalapeño but which was more oblong, less pointy. It had faint ribs just like a green pepper but it was only about two inches long and she remembered thinking at the time that it looked like a shiny green tampon. She didn’t think much of it until the following year when her husband went away on a business trip. When he came back he complained that all the super hot hybrid jalapeños that he had planned to pick while Green had matured and turned red. Prior to that time Cici hadn’t understood that green was not necessarily the ultimate color for hot peppers.
That’s when inspiration hit and Cici conspired with a girlfriend Eki Samuels to start their own plant breeding project. EKi Was divorced and had plenty of garden space so they did some research and found that some hot peppers are striped or mottled, while others can veer towards a darker, chocolatey color. Working with seeds from the squat peppers her husband had been working on over the course of five plant breeding seasons they developed a pepper that kept the original dimensions of the fruit she found in her husband‘s garden and created a pepper that when ripe was variably carmine and deep red with occasional darker mottling . It wasn’t an outrageously hot pepper — in fact it’s only twice about as hot as a jalapeño. But the appearance was startling and Cicii used to branding background to create the Worlds first “Flaming Tampon”.
In 2012 they were ready. At a hot pepper competition Cicii surreptitiously set out a plate of her selectively bred peppers with the Flaming Tampons label and, to her delight, nobody tried them. She had bred a hot pepper the tough guys wouldn’t touch, (even though it wasn’t all that hot).
Her female Friends loved that their macho males were reluctant to even pick one up and they demanded seeds. In 2016 Cici and Eki ramped up production are now selling small batches of seeds, presumably to women who were comparably fed up with MHPO (male hot pepper obsession).
Cici’s Main challenge is now is growing enough plants to produce the seeds women want, and making a decision about whether to challenge or sponsor a local band that has taken to calling itself the Flaming Tampons.
This Tampa Bay cozy mystery lets us visit all our beloved St. Petersburg haunts.
Mary Kay Andrews has real Tampa Bay ties. She set one of her earliest books — Lickety Split — in St. Petersburg, and if you go to her beach house in Georgia, you’ll find Munch’s ketchup squeeze bottles on the table.
I loved her books even before I knew any of those things, and I love her more now for it. Whenever review copies of her books show up at work, I can’t wait to get home and read them.
Sunset Beach was no different. Except that, instead of being set in any of the other amazing Southern places, Andrews set it in Sunset Beach, in Treasure Island. Of course, she threw in a one night stand, murder, and another murder.
And Sunset Beach is a pretty cool little beach. It’s the new McMansions mixed with old beach cottages, and Andrews captures the vibe of the two worlds perfectly.
Sunset Beach brings Andrews back to Tampa Bay, to the area of Treasure Island known as Sunset Beach. And while I’d love to give you all the plot, well, no. You’re gonna have to read it.
And read it you should, because Sunset Beach is Andrews in high form.
I will say this: You can revisit the Sandman Motel, the St. Petersburg Police Department, beach bars and a prominent St. Petersburg law firm if you read the book.
And, uh, it’s up to you to decide what’s real. But even if it’s totally fake — or even if it’s all real — it’s a fantastic read, and hey, who doesn’t love a beach read?
Even if there are dead bodies on the beach.
This article initially appeared in Creative Loafing
McKee took the fall for a Tampa hate crime he didn’t commit in 1987.
“It’s over and he’s a free man,” Seth Miller said.
You can hear the joy in Miller’s voice — he’s a lawyer with the Innocence Project of Florida — when he talks about his former client, Dean McKee.
Former as of this morning.
It’s been a long road for McKee, who falsely confessed to the 1987 racially motivated murder of a black man, Isaiah Walker. The judge sentenced the 16-year-old boy to life in prison for murder. Read our full story about what happened next here, but bottom line: McKee kept protesting his innocence and, when DNA evidence suggested he was right, the Innocence Project of Florida took the case in 2011.
For eight years, Miller, his staff and McKee worked to get the conviction overturned. In October 2017, two years after a hearing, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell issued a 17-page order overturning the 1988 murder conviction. DNA showed McKee never touched the victim.
The State of Florida filed an intent to appeal Campbell’s decision.
McKee stayed in jail, this time in solitary confinement for his own safety, until the court released him on an appeal bond on Jan. 9.
The rules of his temporary release were clear: McKee had to wear an ankle monitor. He couldn’t drink. He couldn’t go on social media. He couldn’t leave Pinellas County, except for work. He had to be in his home by 9 p.m. every night. He had to plug his ankle monitor in nightly or go back to prison.
Since Jan. 9, 2018, McKee’s had some firsts. His fiance threw him his first birthday party in more than 30 years. He “paroled” an Australian Shepherd that follows him everywhere. He started making plans in case he could be free — but not definite plans. He knew that the state’s appeal could find him guilty again, and he knew that even if the state didn’t find him guilty, they could re-try.
All that went away this morning. The State dismissed the appeal on Dec. 28, but had not yet decided whether or not they would re-try McKee’s case.
At a status hearing this morning, the state attorney told the court they would drop the appeal and would not re-try McKee.
And just like that, with no pomp or circumstance or flashbulbs popping in the courtroom, McKee’s nightmare — which began in 1987 at the Tampa Museum of Art — was over.
He turned to Miller, who’s led him through every decision since 2011, and asked, “What do I do now?”
“Whatever you want,” Miller told him.
“He’s a free man,” Miller told Creative Loafing. “It’s over. He’s no longer a convicted felon, no longer charged with first-degree murder or any other crime. He’s a free man in America. This is what we’ve been waiting for, what we’ve been hoping for.”
And, Miller added, “we’re thankful the State Attorney Office finally got to this point.”
McKee, tearing up a bit, thanked the state attorney.
“I know this means a lot to you,” the Honorable Barbara Twine Thomas told McKee, “Good luck.”
The 1987 murder of Isaiah Walker remains unsolved.
This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.
‘Creature From the Bag Lagoon’ may be the best thing we’ve seen all year. It heads to Tampa in December.
Even if I didn’t already love Creature from the Black Lagoon, I’d be in love with local filmmaker Kevin Short’s short film, Creature from the Bag Lagoon.
Watch the trailer. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I’ve seen the full thing (hey, as a journalist, you take what perks you can get) and can tell you it’s well worth heading to either the Tampa Bay Underground Film Fest or the Silver Screen for Short Films to check it out. It’s an environmentally aware B-movie riff made locally, which is to say that we had a filmgasm watching it.
Seriously, it’s a lot of fun to watch. In a world where every environmental choice seems to have planet-ending consequences, this one approaches the same topic with levity and — dare we say it? — schlock.
This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.
Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival | Britton Theater and Villagio Cinemas, Tampa | Dec. 6-9 (Creature shows ec. 8) | tbuff.org
A fact-based look at whether or not we should blame Rick Scott for this extended red tide season.
Red tide. Whose fault is it, anyway? Is it Big Sugar? Rick Scott? Bill Nelson?
There are so many choices — and so many political ads — that it can be hard to find the villain in it all.
Right now, let’s focus on that unfortunate moniker “Red Tide Rick” and take a look at what Florida Governor Rick Scott has actually done that could have contributed to red tide.
- Rick Scott has adopted an anti-tax, anti-regulation stance on government.
- When he took office, he cut budgets at state environmental agencies like the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the water management districts ($700 million), including the South Florida Water Management District.
- According to Politifact, DEP cuts included eliminating the agency that reviewed plans for development in Florida cities and counties, the Department of Community Affairs (2011)
- In 2012, the DEP laid off 58 employees.
- According to the Tampa Bay Times, the DEP no longer handles environmental enforcement cases at the same level as it did under Governor Charlie Crist. In 2010, DEP handled 2,289 cases by 2012, that number had dropped to 799.
- Those budget cuts at the water management district meant that Florida’s water monitoring network lost more than 200 of its 350 sites. Currently, the state has only 115 sites for monitoring water. (Source: Florida International University’s Southeast Environmental Research Center).
- DEP pollution regulation enforcement has also dropped. In 2010, DEP handled almost 1,600 enforcement cases; last year, it handled 220. (Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)
- Governor Scott also made it easier to have a septic tank, repealing the law requiring they get inspected. Florida has 2.6 million septic tanks; after Scott repealed the law, only 1 percent get inspected.
- He has also disallowed the use of the phrase climate change, although scientists say research indicates rising ocean temperatures contribute to extended red tide blooms.
While we know that red tide is a naturally occurring bacteria and it originates offshore, significant evidence suggests nutrient runoff acts as a fertilizer for the bloom, so it’s safe to assume Scott’s policies haven’t done much to prevent — or remedy — the situation.
This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.
My friend Becca is planning a Literature Month for her church, which is actually one of the coolest churches you’ll ever see. She asked me to send her a writeup about how the written word elevates, challenges and supports my humanity. I didn’t exactly do the assignment properly, choosing instead to write about how my writing does that for me. Here’s what I told her, and hey, buy a kid a diary. You never know where it might lead.
Writing for the exercise itself started as a recreational habit (recreational writing, I’d like to note, is not unlike recreational drugs, but it is cheaper) in grade school. My aunt (who was also my godmother) bought me a diary with a lock — we all know now how easily picked those locks were, but for a young girl developing her own identity, the idea that some physical place existed where I could put my most secret thoughts and feelings? Well, that enchanted me. From a really young age, too, my head had a lot of voices in it and I learned quickly the best way to quiet the chatter was to let the voices have it out somewhere. That diary allowed the voices to have space. As I grew older I realized I didn’t need to allow the voices to construct my reality, and I had an easier time with that when the voices had a physical manifestation.
Predictable writing, superb everything else makes Urbanite’s latest show well worth the ride.
If this were a review of the script, Northside Hollow would get far fewer stars. In a post-M.-Night-Shyamalan world, endings with a twist become too easy to spot, too predictable, too… normal.
But this is not — thankfully — a script review; it’s a review of Urbanite Theatre’s latest production, a regional premiere of Jonathan Fielding and Brenda Withers’ Northside Hollow, which opened Friday night to a sold-out house.
Unlike Urbanite’s last production, Echoes, which relied solely on lights and the supreme talent of the two-member cast, Northside Hollow has a realistic, detailed set of the inside of a collapsed mine. Rick Cannon’s scenic design distracts you from holes in the script, holes that suggest the world is not what it seems, and perhaps this plays a part in the story working as well as it does — the intricacies of the set make allow for a suspension of disbelief, rendering the ending more powerful.
That’s not to detract from the supreme performances from David H. Littleton, who plays Gene, a trapped miner who may or may not have triggered the collapse, and Christopher Joel Onken in the role of Marshall, who arrives on scene with a golly-gosh-gee Boy-Scout-first-responder vibe. Even after it’s clear fresh-faced Marshall can’t get himself back through the ever-collapsing mine shaft, much less the injured Gene, there’s an odd humor — not black humor, just odd — between the two men.
If this were a typical rescue story — does such a story exist? — it wouldn’t compel us when they joked. But fear for Gene’s fate — will this man whom Littleton instantly endears to us live? — sets a thoughtful pace of awkward moments of terror and laughter, interspersed with hostility between victim and savior.
A large part of making this regional premiere of Northside Hollow a success — and yes, although I’m not in love with the script itself, I consider this gripping production of it very much successful — the sound and light design deserve a review all their own. Ryan Finzelber’s lighting includes dressing five audience members in miner’s vests and helmets, with lights emanating from their headlamps. For the first several minutes of the play, his lighting design includes no actual lights, only complete darkness, which transports you from a tiny theater across the street from Whole Foods to a coal mine in, perhaps, West Virginia. The whole of the show’s lighting consists of those five audience members, Gene and Marshall’s headlamps (which had to wreak havoc on the first two rows of the audience) and a rescue lantern. But the most gripping light cue is the first: darkness.
And about that darkness — it’s complete. Littleton’s voice is all we have to orient us as we experience those first moments (unlike most other theater companies, Urbanite does not have a curtain speech reminding you to silence your phones and unwrap your candies; it is assumed audiences know proper etiquette and follow it); the opening of the show is such that one moment you’re chatting with your date and the next, Rew Tippin’s sound design has you quaking in the darkness until you remember, yes, that’s right, this is a play.
Tippin’s realistic sound — static-y radios come from the actual radios, not speakers elsewhere — mingles with the set and lights and contributes to the terror of immersion you feel those first few moments. That sense of terror becomes less visceral throughout the 85 minutes, but I’ll admit a revelation about Gene’s companion, Vincent, had me crying well before the end of the show. Those first few moments of darkness never wholly recede; they follow Gene throughout the show, and first terrifying sound cue, too, follows.
Onken’s Marshall had a sticky role, and while I don’t wish to spoil the ending, I was initially surprised not to see him in the final scene, because I’d grown attached to the wonky little guy by then and really wanted that completion of character. When you see the show — and please, go see the show — you may understand this next statement better, but Marshall’s role in the ending didn’t hit me until this morning, a full 12 hours after he took his curtain call.
If I had one complaint — and I do — it would be of Gene’s speech about begging to God. I’m unclear as to whether it’s my own Buddhist/pantheistic notions of spirituality that contributed to this or if perhaps it could be unpacked better for Littleton, but the words felt like words, not emotions. It was the only time in the show I wished I wore a watch, made more disappointing because I empathized severely with Gene. That one scene aside, Littleton made me laugh, cry and, in the end, broke my heart.
And so, I suspect, will he break yours. This show is predictable, but that’s OK. There are no new stories, right?
But you can tell the same old story in brilliant ways, and that is what Urbanite and director Summer Dawn Wallace have done: They’ve taken an age-old struggle and, despite your best efforts to resist, made it so that hours after the show, it still sucks you in.
This article initially appeared in Creative Loafing.
On Jan. 9, Judge Nazaretian may grant Dean McKee his appellate bond. Or he may not.
In the front corner, Dean and his attorney, Seth Miller of the Innocence Project of Florida talked quietly, their heads together. Dean gave small waves and smiles to each of his family and his friends as they walked into the courtroom. He blew his fiancée a kiss.
But let’s back up.
Last month, Dean McKee — whose first-degree murder conviction Judge Campbell overthrew in October of this year — stood before circuit court judge Nick Nazaretian while his lawyer, Seth Miller of the Innocence Project of Florida, prepared to argue two motions: either release Dean on bond until his appeal, or re-sentence him (more on that below). Assistant State Attorney Megan Newcomb told Judge Nazaretian that he might lack jurisdiction to rule on either of those two motions, arguing that as the case was on appeal, the judge couldn’t make any rulings.
Dean went back to solitary confinement in Hillsborough County Jail (for his own protection) until today, when he once again stood before the same judge, who took his time questioning Miller on several issues: Was it a moot point to be in the courtroom, given that Dean’s murder conviction had been overturned? Why did the Innocence Project of Florida want him to re-sentence Dean if they believed Dean didn’t kill Isaiah Walker in 1988? Why did Miller feel he had jurisdiction to re-sentence Dean?
Confused? Here’s some background from a Dec. 20 article about Dean, who was convicted of murdering Isaiah walker in 1988. The sentence was overturned in October of this year, but Dean remains in jail. Had Dean not asked the court to examine the DNA evidence, he would likely already be a free man because when Judge Harry “Hanging Harry” Coe III sentenced Dean to life in prison, it was legal to send a minor to prison for life — but it isn’t now. In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court declared such sentences unconstitutional (Graham v. Florida, 2009); anyone who’d been sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile has been re-sentenced. Former Sumter Correctional Institution Correctional Officer Joe Carney worked with Dean for many years and spoke with CL about Dean’s character.
Based on Carney’s assessment of Dean and current sentencing guidelines — and Dean’s accrued time off for good behavior — any prisoner with Dean’s record who’d been sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile in the 1980s would be free by now.
But because Dean’s case was on appeal — because he wanted to clear his name — he has not been re-sentenced. That’s what one of the Nov. 29 motions asked: Re-sentence him now.
After a relatively short explanation of why the hearing wasn’t a moot point, Miller and Assistant State Attorney Megan Newcomb agreed that Judge Nazaretian did indeed have the right to decide on whether or not Dean could get released on an appellate bond. As to why Miller wanted him to re-sentence Dean if Miller believed in Dean’s innocence?
“We are simply looking to get him home,” Miller said.
Then came the hard part. Judge Nazaretian listened to Miller and then Newcomb explain why they believed/did not believe he had the jurisdiction to re-sentence Dean. Miller presented a slew of case law in support of his point. Newcomb, of course, disagreed, but did call the judge’s right to re-sentence Dean “discretionary.” She also argued that since Judge Campbell had vacated (overturned) the sentence along with the conviction, the sentence no longer existed.
“So we can’t correct something that doesn’t exist?” Judge Nazaretian asked.
Meanwhile, Dean McKee sat in handcuffs and a red jumpsuit in Newcomb’s direct line of sight.
On Jan. 5, the judge will issue a written position on whether or not he has jurisdiction.
On Jan. 9, he will hear the case for Dean’s appellate bond.
Until then, Dean’s in jail, serving the sentence Necomb told the judge “didn’t exist.”
This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.
Here’s what Rowe posted:
Eight years ago, a bad man with a gun walked into a meeting of the local school board in Panama City, and threatened to kill everyone in the room. To prove his point, he began shooting at those assembled, creating a measure of terror that is simply impossible to imagine. Happily, Mike Jones – a good guy with a gun – was in the building at the time. Mike ran to the scene, drew his weapon, and told the bad guy to surrender. The bad guy fired three rounds at Mike, each missing his head by less than an inch. Mike returned fire. He didn’t miss.
You can read about the incident here http://bit.ly/2DGqFuC, or you can just take my word for it; Mike Jones is a hero. He’s also the “Salvage Santa” featured in this week’s episode of Returning the Favor.
It occurred to me as I watched this episode, just how badly we in the media have butchered the word, “hero.” It’s a shame, because the country needs heroes. Desperately. So much so, that we’ve redefined the term to include anyone who isn’t a schmuck. Teachers, athletes, civil servants, and every single soldier and first responder to ever put on a uniform are routinely described as “heroic,” just for showing up. Now, the truly bizarre expression, “everyday heroes,” is commonplace.
On Returning the Favor, I try not to present the people we honor as heroes, because by and large – they aren’t. They’re do-gooders. Do-gooders are people who make the world a better place through acts of kindness. Heroes make the world a better place through acts of bravery. The distinction is important, because all virtues require us to overcome different things. Kindness requires us to overcome selfishness. Courage requires us to overcome fear. Thus, it’s easier to be kind, than it is to be brave. Unless of course, you happen to be Mike Jones. Who just happens to be both.