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Le Renard Argenté is for Dodgers and Chase Utley (and probably Phillies) fans - interview and book review

Gritty and whimsical “illustrated microfiction” by author Amanda Smith, “Le Renard Argenté: The Silver Fox at War” entertains through the strange and unlikely juxtaposition of veteran ballplayer, who is not Chase Utley, and World War II hero.

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“Le Renard Argenté: The Silver Fox at War” by Amanda Smith

Every year sees books published that involve the Los Angeles Dodgers, but author Amanda Smith and a team of talented illustrators have brought what may be the most wonderfully unique volume ever to involve the Dodgers, Le Renard Argenté: The Silver Fox at War. (See my review in the sidebar to this article.)

Recently I conducted an e-mail interview with Smith, a Los Angeles native, to discuss the book and how she came to concoct the delightfully absurd combination of (not) Chase Utley and World War II vignettes. My questions appear first, in bold italics.

How did you become a Dodgers fan?

It’s genetic - I’m a third generation fan. My grandfather moved from New York to LA about fifteen years before the Dodgers did. As soon as the Dodgers came to LA, he bought season tickets. My family’s been lucky enough to be season ticket holders ever since. I’ve asked my dad how my grandfather, a Bronx native, wound up a Dodgers fan and he didn’t have a solid answer, but I suspect Sandy Koufax is a big part of the reason. I grew up going to Dodgers games, but after Mike Piazza was traded (a week before my 13th birthday - he debuted with the Mets during my bat mitzvah) I lost interest for a while. It wasn’t until after college that I became a serious fan.

In your preface, you touch on the inspiration that led to the first tweets, but how did it evolve to the idea that this could be a book?

When I was writing the tweets, sometimes people would ask if I was going to make it a book. I always dismissed it because the idea of turning tweets into a book was ridiculous. Then, before Spring Training in 2019, I put all the tweets together with photos and screenshots I had found - I thought it would be fun to try to get this book of my writing signed. Being ... well, me, I tweeted about my quest for signatures. People replied asking for copies, but I couldn’t sell the one I’d made because I didn’t have rights to [official Dodgers photographer] Jon SooHoo’s photos. So I decided to find some artists and make it a real thing.

How do you think having written the vignettes, as you accurately called them, initially as tweets helped shape the text?

Twitter has always been a really great writing exercise for me. The character limit forces me to find the quickest, clearest route to a joke. Being on Twitter has made a huge difference in the quality of my writing. One thing that’s interesting, from a nerdy technical standpoint, is that you can see in the book when Twitter’s character count increased from 140 to 280. There are times when the 280 character tweets feel a little flabby to me, like I was using more words because I could and not because I needed to.

Ultimately, writing the vignettes as tweets shaped the book because without the tweets, it wouldn’t exist. So many of the vignettes came directly from things I saw on the timeline or that people sent me. Without that input, I wouldn’t have written nearly enough of these stories to create a book.

The book is quite visually stimulating, creating additional anticipation as the reader turns the page. How did you decide to work with several different illustrators and styles?

The art is absolutely what makes this book work. Without the art, it’s the insane ramblings of a woman with an unlimited data plan.

The first artist I contacted was Ang Choi from DrawAWalk (AKA acceptably drawn baseball) because I am a huge fan of her work. Her ability to capture the essence of a moment with a few lines is so special. But I knew this book was going to be at minimum 50 images, and that was too much to put on her plate.

I tweeted a request for Dodgers fans who were artists, and between followers suggesting people and being directly contacted, I was lucky enough to connect with Rebecca Mills, Bill Bushman, and Kendall Caroline Avery. As soon as I saw each of their styles, it just made sense. I thought it would help to break up the text and give certain stories a different feel - using Bill’s graphic novel style for the flashbacks, Kendall Caroline’s pinup aesthetic for the lost love arc, and Rebecca’s photorealism when the story really needed the context of an image. I also took advantage of the magic of Twitter and asked Paul Briggs if he’d be willing to contribute, because sometimes he posted quick sketches of players and the style was so cool. His schedule was full, but he sent me two Chase drawings he had done.

I can’t remember if Claudia L. Letonja was recommended to me or if I reached out to her after seeing her artwork, but when I was trying to find a cover artist, I knew how the cover should make you feel. Her style had that perfect dreamy feeling, like you’re trying to remember something that happened when you were eight. I love the work she did for the cover.

The insertion of press quotes, visually as telegrams, provides a complementary context for the reader without being obtrusive. How did you come to the decision to include these?

Some of the tweets needed context because they so clearly were echoing language that had been used or it was something that couldn’t be depicted visually. As soon as I decided to include tweets from beat writers, I knew they had to be telegrams. Telegrams were the tweets of the day - short, concise, and of the moment. It just made sense.

I’m very proud of the Western Division Union joke on the header of the images.

How much research did you have to do to brush up on specific World War II references, or did they just spring forth from memory?

Every tweet was accompanied by furious googling. I know nothing about military history, let alone specifics of World War 2. Sometimes it was as simple as just pulling up a map of Poland to pick a town I hadn’t used yet, and sometimes it was doing a Wikipedia deep-dive to find the rank of the Nazi Chase would be killing in that episode. It was all done very on the fly and I doubt it would hold up to much scrutiny.

How many folks connected with the Dodgers, if any, have seen “Le Renard Argenté”?

That’s a tough one, because the answer is “I’m not sure.” During Spring Training, I gave Andrew Friedman a copy of the prototype and briefly explained what it was. I made an Instagram to promote the book (@SilverFoxAtWar) and Jen Utley followed it a few weeks ago. I freaked out when that happened, but she’s never liked a post or commented so I don’t know if she actually knows what it is. Or maybe she does, and she’s just following the account to figure out when to send me a Cease & Desist letter.

[And apparently the Dodgers main broadcaster who photographed the prototype.]

What’s next? Another book? And anything else you want to share with us?

No more books for now! This was a labor of love, but it was definitely tough to put together and promote. I’m not ready yet to jump back into another project - plus, it has to be as special as Le Renard Argenté. For now, I’m just waiting for off-season roster movement and counting down the days til pitchers and catchers report. I’m also obsessively checking the book sales and the ratings, because that’s a healthy obsession.

In non-baseball news, I’ve finally successfully kept a podcast alive past 10 episodes. My friend and I just finished our first season of Disaster Girls, a podcast about disaster movies. It’s probably my favorite genre of movie, and I absolutely love the “what is it really about” segment when we go off the rails connecting the subtext of the movie.

Le Renard Argenté: The Silver Fox at War is available on Amazon. You can follow Amanda Smith on Twitter @AmandaRTubbs , which is how I met her in the first place.