02/04/2013 08:49 pm ET Updated Apr 06, 2013

Creating The Capitolist

There's nothing that gets me to close a book faster than a non-expert pretending to be an expert. Want to write about Mean Girls? I hope you know your Regina Georges from your Janises. Penning a book about food? Please don't be that person who orders iceberg lettuce with a side of starvation. On that note, when I decided to write my first fiction book, The List, out February 5 with Atria Books, I followed the old adage "write what you know." While for me that could have meant writing about being kicked out of Sephora for over-sample use, I went with new media instead.

I was a reporter for Politico from 2010 to 2012 and while I had the chance to work with great editors and really grew as a writer there, I also got to know what it means to be a reporter in the new media age -- aka five hours of sleep a night, a caffeine addiction, dealing with emotionally cutting emails from anonymous readers, an unnatural fear of typos (I once forgot the L in "public"...) and a celebratory dance all prepared if you get a Drudge hit. In just a few short years, media has gone from a profession where you could have leisurely lunches with sources while wearing Armani Collezioni to an industry where you're more obsessed with racking up web hits than good quotes and you're lucky if you can afford to wear Ann Taylor Loft while lunching with
your computer screen.

The New Republic's Molly Fischer recently wrote about The List and said that the Carrie Bradshaws of the world are fizzling out and being replaced by women like my protagonist, Adrienne Brown. A print and web reporter for The Capitolist, Washington D.C.'s must cutthroat newspaper, Adrienne is far more concerned with working her tail off to make a name for herself than she is with chasing glitz and glamour. She also has to deal with sexism in the newsroom, blatant favoritism and the stereotypes that come with being a style reporter.

When news first broke about The List, the words roman à clef weren't very far behind and it goes without saying that anyone who has worked for Politico will find plenty of similarities between my fictional paper The Capitolist and Politico. For starters, I write about the pace, which has Adrienne writing 10 stories a day. The Usain Bolt-inspired speeds at Politico are no secret and while a reporter there, I was told that 10 blog posts a day should be my goal. I also write about what Adrienne calls "awkward cake," the uncomfortable gathering of troops around a cake which translates into a staff member sendoff. Awkward cake used to be a regular thing at Politico and my former colleague came up with that gem of an expression.

There's also a big scene in The List about Adrienne covering The White House Correspondents' Dinner, which is something I had done multiple times as a magazine editor and Politico reporter. In 2011 I was almost thrown out by a few irate security guards for seriously stalking Matthew Morrison and a lot of my celeb-chasing experiences went into the book. Adrienne does everything but curl up like a human straightjacket around Ben Affleck, and that's something I did during President Obama's inauguration in 2008 (I also spilled coffee on Ben's
tux, but we'll save that story for another day).

As for writing about real life, I'm glad I learned early that even a roman à clef is not the place to covertly write about your enemies or that girl you just couldn't stand because she always smelled like peanut butter sandwiches. Instead, it's a fun platform to take real life and give it a big martini shake with a large twist of imagination, and I hope to do it again very soon.