Two new books by Laramie authors are hitting the shelves this winter. One brings a new hero to life, while another takes a deep dive into the world of Oz.
Traveling the yellow brick road
“The Road to Wicked: The Marketing and Consumption of Oz from L. Frank Baum to Broadway” was written by University of Wyoming professors Kent Drummond, Susan Aronstein and Terri Rittenburg. It was published by Palgrave Macmillan earlier this year.
While aimed at a scholarly audience, the book has plenty of popular appeal thanks to its subject matter, which is why it was written in the first place.
“It lives on,” Drummond said of the Oz story. “That’s the whole point of the book: how things find a way to sustain themselves and the different ways of sustaining it.”
Drummond teaches in the UW Department of Management and Marketing, Aronstein works in the English department and teaches about literature in culture, while Rittenburg is professor emeritus in the Department of Management and Marketing with a focus that includes business ethics.
L. Frank Baum published “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900. It was later adapted into a 1902 musical and a 1939 movie. The story was revived with the 1978 movie “The Wiz,” then again with the 1995 novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.”
“Wicked” was successfully adapted for Broadway, and a movie version is in the works. Now, almost 120 years after Baum’s first telling, flying monkeys, wicked witches and the yellow brick road are indelible pieces of our culture.
The nuts and bolts of this long-lived story are the focus of the interdisciplinary research behind the book, which explores the emotional impact of Oz, the marketing machinery that promoted it, the multi-generational appeal, the role of technology and the adaptable moral message.
Rittenburg described the original Oz story as one with characters that were clearly either good or evil. With the arrival of the “Wicked” novel and musical, good and evil depend as much on intentions as they do on outcomes.
“This is about looking at things from a difference perspective, but also inclusion of people who are different,” she said. “Everyone can understand and imagine feeling like they’re outside looking in.”
Aronstein said cultural sustainability requires touchpoints that bridge an artistic work between generations.
“Each iteration of the text has to offer something for existing consumers while also attracting a new audience,” she said. “You can’t just do the same thing over and over again.”
Cultural sustainability also depends on savvy marketing, and the authors learned Baum himself was adept at promoting his work.
“He had so much experience and was so shrewd and astute and identifying ways to keep his name and the Oz stories out in the public,” Rittenburg said.
The success of any artistic endeavor is important for generating jobs and supporting creative communities. The authors said an understanding of the ongoing popularity of the Oz complex could have other applications, such as in tourism.
“We hope it will be a useful framework to think about other things,” Aronstein said.
A hero for our times
A new series by novelist Andrew Grant is set for release Jan. 8 from Ballantine Books.
“Invisible” introduces a vigilante hero who goes undercover as a janitor at a courthouse in New York City, where he puts his military intelligence background to work righting the wrongs of the justice system.
Grant moved to a ranch near Tie Siding with his wife, novelist Tasha Alexander, in 2017. “Invisible” is his eighth novel.
He described his main character, Paul McGrath, as a hero that stands up for ordinary people, which he said is especially timely in today’s world.
“We’re in an age where corporate bankers can destroy the economy and get a slap on the wrist, whereas everyone else is losing their houses and losing their pensions,” he said.
As a young man, McGrath rebelled against his pacifist father by joining the Army, where he became involved with military intelligence. At the outset of “Invisible,” he decides to return home and rebuild his relationship with his father. By the time he gets home, however, his father has been murdered. Then the suspect goes free after a mistrial because critical evidence disappears.
“He decides to go undercover at the courthouse to find out what happened,” Grant said. “That’s why he took the job as a janitor.”
McGrath tries to call attention to suspicious happenings involving his father’s case, but no one else seems interested.
“He comes to the conclusion that in this new civilian world, if you want something taken care of, you have to take care of it yourself,” Grant said.
As the janitor, McGrath has access to the entire building and he can move about unnoticed. When he notices other things slip through the cracks in the justice system, he sets about making them right.
“There’s some real satisfaction to be had from a hero who does the right thing,” Grant said. “He’s not in it for money. He’s not in it for fame.”
Grant said he plans to continue the series for at least three books, and hopefully longer. Previous titles of his include “False Positive,” “False Friend” and “False Witness.”
Grant grew up in Birmingham, England, and described himself as someone who’s always loved to tell stories even though he never dreamed he’d be a novelist. He later started a theater company and then worked in telecommunications. His first novel, “Even,” was published in 2009.