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Zoned Out 

For her hot new dog-mauling book Red Zone, eye-pleasing author Aphrodite Jones re-created dialogue and scenes; her publisher and the Chron don't seem to mind

Wednesday, Aug 6 2003
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Ferris wasn't bothered by Jones' penchant for re-creating scenes, he says, because she's a "total and complete pro."

"There's nothing fictionalized about this book," Ferris insists. "And this book was vetted in the same way all of our books are vetted. Well, not all of our books -- we don't vet our fiction."

Still, some of the people who pop up in the book would seem to have legitimate reasons not to be pleased with Jones' work. Whipple's partner, Sharon Smith, who emerged from the case to advocate on behalf of gays and lesbians, refused to talk to Jones. Her attorney and spokesman, Michael Cardoza, says Jones would approach Smith during breaks in the trial, when Smith, after listening to more grisly testimony about her lover's death, was usually sobbing. "Aphrodite would come up at very inappropriate times and ask Sharon if she could talk," Cardoza says. "And I would say, 'No, Aphrodite. Go away.' Aphrodite alienated herself from the get-go."

It may be no coincidence, then, that Jones goes out of her way to strike an anti-Smith note throughout the book. Near the end, she writes: "No one who visited [Smith's] Tiburon home ever bothered to notice whether Diane Alexis Whipple's green marble urn was present ... or if anyone had noticed, they certainly made no mention of it in the press."

Cardoza sighs. "If you read that paragraph carefully, it says nobody mentioned the urn was there, and it gives the impression it wasn't." He sighs again. "Well, I've talked to five people who saw it. Why is Aphrodite saying this? She's just upset because Sharon wouldn't talk to her, and she's taking a cheap shot."

Jones has continued her incongruous anti-Smith tirades in interviews during her book tour. Because Smith is now pregnant and in a new relationship, Jones openly questions her prior commitment to Whipple; Cardoza calls those questions "offensive." But perhaps most tellingly, Jones aims her harshest criticism at Smith for her comments to the San Francisco Chronicle that she wouldn't read Red Zone because she had already "lived the story."

"What did she live?" Jones fumes from South Florida. "She didn't live any of this. Did she live in Pelican Bay Prison? I'm not trying to bash Sharon Smith, but she has no idea what this story is about."

On other points, Cardoza confirms much of what Jones wrote. She re-creates a private conversation between Cardoza and Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, wherein Cardoza urges Guilfoyle Newsom to step aside for a more experienced lead prosecutor. Cardoza says the re-creation is accurate, give or take "a few minor points." But he disputes Jones' claim that Smith fired her PR agent, who Jones writes was "so calculating and pushy that he reduced more than one news anchor to tears." In fact, Cardoza says, the publicist wasn't fired, and the only reporter he reduced to tears -- to the applause of daily journalists watching in a courtroom hallway -- was Aphrodite Jones.


Despite Jones' leaden, nonrhythmic writing ("Noel's act was really quite good, so the prosecutor decided to pull out all the ammunition, to wipe Noel's charming smile away," she writes on Page 259), some national publications have given Red Zone decent reviews. Certain reader comments on Amazon.com, however, are perhaps more perceptive:

"[I]t reads like a literary version of the Jerry Springer Show," writes one customer. "It's no wonder that none of Diane Whipple's friends or family members would cooperate with Jones. They probably smelled her coming a mile away." Says another: "There is nothing new in this book that wasn't already written about in the newspapers. The author devotes her whole 'career' to capitalizing on other people's tragedies. Disgraceful, self-serving trash."

On July 7, the Chronicle devoted its entire Datebook cover to a story about the release of Red Zone. The article, which plugged a book-signing by Jones that very evening, was headlined, "Dog-mauling author reveals world of lust in which attorneys lost control." The Chronicle published some photographs and excerpts from letters that Jones' publishers did not; otherwise, the story, by Chronicle Magazine writer Marianne Costantinou, may be most notable for its breathless, can-you-believe-it tone. After verifying the authenticity of pictures and letters Jones gave her with a law enforcement source, Costantinou presented Jones' conclusions and evidence as if they were gospel, never once mentioning the author's penchant for "dramatization" or her admission, in her own author's note, that she re-creates scenes and dialogue for the sake of narrative.

In an interview a few weeks after the story ran, Costantinou admitted she had misgivings about the reporting in the book, but didn't think her story was the place to raise them. "One of the things that did piss me off as a reporter was that there was no attribution, you never knew who the source was for all this stuff," said Costantinou, who somehow found herself in the four-page acknowledgement at the end of Red Zone, alongside Joan Didion, Norma Jean, and "the legacy of Lewis and Clark." "I don't read much nonfiction, but apparently that's a common device -- the re-creating of scenes."

Maybe, but perhaps a bit more detached skepticism on the part of the Chronicle would have spared it the wrath of its readers, who can clearly distinguish thinly sourced dramatization from real journalism.

"On the prurient-interest scale, I consider myself average," wrote Greta Heinemeier of Mountain View, one of several who sent letters to Datebook the week following the Red Zone story. "However, after reading a couple of paragraphs of your article about Knoller and Noel, I quit in profound disgust, not wanting to participate one more second in such utter trash. I have absolute disdain for everyone involved, from the prisoners, to the 'author,' to those involved at the Chronicle.

"Comparatively, the dogs started looking benign."


About The Author

Matt Palmquist

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