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Eric Kuhn

Eric Kuhn

Posted: December 22, 2008 05:55 PM

Political-Ish Holiday Stocking Stuffers


As the holidays quickly approach and some are looking for the last minute perfect gift for that politico in your life who was obsessed in the recent presidential campaign, I thought I would go out again and find the best "Political-Ish" holiday reads. Below are three interviews with authors who recently published fictional novels with political overtones. The perfect stocking stuffer!

Candice Proctor and Steven Harris are a happily married writing duo. Before they became authors, Proctor was a partner in an international business consulting firm and Harris is a human resources manager for an industrial equitant manufacturer. I asked them about The Archangel Project.

Q: First, can you give us a very brief summary of your novel?

A: The murder of a psychologist with ties to a secret U.S. Government remote viewing project has a young Iraq war vet with a "psycho" discharge and a dangerous gift running for her life. October ("Tobie") Guinness is the troubled Navy vet who teams up with Jax Alexander, a CIA agent one mistake away from being fired, as the two race to decipher a cryptic set of clues in time to stop a diabolical plot that could devastate the world. Inspired by a very real, top secret U.S. Government program that explored the use of psychic phenomena as an alternate intelligence gathering technique for over two decades, and is reported to still exist today. Read more of the book here.

Q: There are lots of books with Islamic-terrorists-threaten-the-world plots. How is yours different?
A: Well, to begin with, the bad guys in The Archangel Project aren't Islamic terrorists; the evildoers are agents of a powerful oil and defense conglomerate with ties to the President himself. As a result, we've received some pretty irate reactions from neocons. One disgruntled reader suggested the book should carry a warning label about its "offensive political opinion," while another called the story a collection of "ultra left-wing nut-job conspiracy fantasies." All of which is pretty funny, given that Steve did two tours in Vietnam and spent 21 years in Army intelligence. Steve's experience in intelligence -- during which time he actually worked with the Army's real remote viewers -- helps give the book a solid grounding in reality and an accuracy frequently lacking in thrillers, as does Candy's PhD in history and experience of having lived all over the world, including years spent in the Middle East.

Q: Most of the book is set in New Orleans. You started writing 6 months before Hurricane Katrina. Did those events change the story? How?
A: The Archangel Project was half finished when Katrina hit. Given the massive destruction of the city, the only thing we could do at that point was set the book aside. We were spending 18-hour days rebuilding our own house and struggling to survive in a city that had many of the characteristics of a war zone, so there really was no time for writing. Plus we had no idea what the city would look like in a few years; if you'll remember, at one point they were talking about turning great swathes of New Orleans into green space. When we did finally decide to start rewriting, we had to make some risky guesses about how the reconstruction of the city would have progressed by the time the book came out. Would the streetcars be back on St. Charles? (They are.) Would all the restaurants and sites we mention be open again? (Most are; one isn't.) But in the end, we think having this hurricane-ravaged city as a background for much of the book gave it greater depth and resonance. It also inspired us to add a couple of great scenes that weren't part of the original idea.

Q: You also wrote this book as a team, 6 months after you were married. What was that like? Are you guys still happily married?
A: We met in a writers group, so books and writing have always been a big part of our lives together, along with politics and foreign affairs. We actually have a lot of fun writing together, brainstorming story ideas and plot twists, researching background details, and staging chases and fight scenes. Even when we do disagree on something, our disagreements are never serious and are easily resolved -- we simply go with the opinion of whoever is the expert. We've just finished the second in the series and are starting on a third book, so, yeah, both the writing and the marriage are still going strong!

Q: To escape non-fictional politics this holiday season, political wonks should read your fictional book because...?
A: The Archangel Project is both exciting and thought-provoking, since it touches on so many issues that have become critical in the past decade -- the privatization of the military and intelligence communities, the increasingly Orwellian world of government surveillance, the influence of oil and defense conglomerates on Washington, the hidden agendas of a certain segment of the body politic. But at the same time, the book never takes itself too serious. Basically, it's a fast, fun read.

James Grippando finds time to pen fourteen bestselling novels, while his day job is Counsel to Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP, one of the nation's leading litigation law firms headed by David Boies. I spoke with him about Born to Run.

Q: First, can you give us a very brief summary of your novel? A: In Born to Run, the president of the United States has a secret as old as he is--a bombshell that his operatives will stop at nothing to keep from leaking to the public. When the vice president turns up dead on a hunting trip in the Everglades, the former governor of Florida is nominated to replace him. Jack Swyteck -- the governor's son and lawyer -- discovers that the vice president's untimely death is linked to an elaborate cover up, and that his father has been tapped by a president who should never have been elected in the first place. To read an excerpt from my book click HERE.

Q: I have to ask, your 1998 novel The Abduction focused on a hotly contested bid for the presidency between a white woman and an African American man. So what do you think this book is projecting that might come true in a few years?
A: It took ten years for the premise of The Abduction to play out in real life politics. With Born to Run, it took only a few days. The reading line on the jacket of Born to Run is "A long buried secret; the run of his life," and the entire premise of the story is "Do we ever really know our elected officials?" In this world of information overload, it seems that we should know everything there is to know. But then just a week after the release of the Born to Run, along comes Governor Blagojevich and a scandal that has even Chicago politicians appalled. Uncanny, isn't it?

Q: Your main character Jack leaves his comfort zone for the Washington, D.C. world of politics. What does he find most surprising and what does he learn in this new atmosphere?
A: "No one is indispensible." Jack learns that Washington maxim quickly in Born to Run. His father is nominated to be the next vice president, hires his son Jack to represent him in the confirmation hearings -- and then fires Jack a week later. It's Rule No. 2, however, that surprises Jack most. When it appears that the vice president's death may be linked to an overdose of ED medication, Jack learns that Washington politcos experiencing an erection that lasts longer than four hours don't call their doctor. They call their girlfriend's girlfriends.

Q: Was the book influenced at all by this two year election process?
A: No way. Not at all. Not one bit. However, that two year election process did turn me into a compulsive liar.

A: To escape non-fictional politics this holiday season, political wonks should read your fictional book because...?
A: Born to Run is a highly entertaining page-turner that--just as The Abduction triggered discussion about the first presidential election in which neither candidate is a white male--will have readers talking about an issue that is sure to someday rock presidential politics: whether in today's world the requirement that the president be a "natural born Citizen" even belongs in our Constitution.


Bart Schneider is the founding editor of the Hungry Mind Review (later Ruminator Review) and edited Speakeasy Magazine. I spoke with him about The Man in the Blizzard.


Q: First, can you give us a very brief summary of your novel?
A: Pothead Minneapolis P.I. Augie Boyer, an amateur cellist, who's licking his wounds after his therapist wife has left him for another therapist, uncovers a plot to kill three abortion doctors against the backdrop of the recent Republican convention in St. Paul. The unfolding of the complex case involves Neo Nazi violin collectors, mind control specialists, and a massive anti-abortion rally on the state capitol grounds, designed to coincide with the Republican convention.

Q: The main political issue in your book is abortion. Why did you choose that topic for your novel to center around?
A: Abortion is a wonderful topic to write about, because it is filled with contradictions and people have such passionate feelings about it on all sides. Passion and contradiction are qualities writers love to work with.

In real life, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty had sanctioned a Christian revival on the state capitol grounds during his first term, so I didn't think it was much of a stretch to have the fictive guv host a huge anti-abortion rally on the capitol grounds. I set the rally for Labor Day so that the anti-abortion folks could bring in pregnant partisans at full term who would be willing to give birth in medical tents around the capitol grounds, thus their side could appropriate the term "Labor Day" for their own uses.

Q: The story takes place in Minnesota, actually in Minneapolis. Did the plot change when you found out the Republican National Committee would be arriving while you were writing?
A: It was serendipitous that the convention was scheduled to open on Labor Day, less than a mile from the capitol ground setting of my climactic scenes. The plot was already pretty much set by the time RNC handed me this gift. I tweaked the novel to include some topical political banter re the convention. I had to turn the novel in roughly six months before the convention so I saw myself writing, "alternative present" instead of the "alternative history," as in recent books by Philip Roth and Michael Chabon.

Q: Any guest appearances from Jesse Ventura, Roberty Bly, Garrison Keillor or Al Franken!?
A: All four make appearances, and the novel reveals Franken's October surprise. Unfortunately, Al didn't follow through with the strategy (which was to have a second Bar Mitzvah, just before the election, to out Jew former Jew Norm Coleman), or he wouldn't be waiting through this infernal recount to find out if he's won.

Q: To escape non-fictional politics this holiday season, political wonks should read your fictional book because...?
A: In this season, when we're all trying to recover our equilibrium after becoming addicted to every shifting nuance during our election cycle/sweepstakes, an intelligent romp through the territory, which The Man in the Blizzard provides, may be our only corrective.

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