Hello, my bookish peeps. I’m excited to introduce you to today’s guest, Seth Margolis, author of the political suspense thriller Presidents’ Day. Mr. Margolies will be discussing a host of things with us today, but namely how our current reality seems a bit stranger than fiction.
Another 2016 Election Loser: Novelists?
I’m reluctant to pile onto the collective anxiety in the air since the inauguration. Believe me. But I feel I must point out that, in addition to Hillary Clinton, political norms and overall decorum, there may have been another victim of the 2016 election: fiction.
I mean, can you make this stuff up? A thrice-married, thrice-bankrupt real estate tycoon/reality-TV star with an itchy Twitter finger got elected president with the help of Vladimir Putin. What editor would agree to publish such nonsense? And even if one did, surely they’d take a blue pencil to a few of the less credible plot twists (Ok, the three marriages can stay, but kill the bankruptcies) and demand a less clichéd name for the candidate’s evil Russian sponsor (Vladimir? Really?)
Reality may have (sorry) trumped fiction once and for all, at least as far as thrillers are concerned. I feel this quite keenly because my latest novel, Presidents’ Day, is about a billionaire New Yorker who, having swallowed up many of the largest corporations in America, decides to purchase one more trophy: the White House. My protagonist doesn’t want to be president. He believes that Washington is the back office of New York, where the real power lies. He just wants to own the president.
I thought I’d pushed the plot of Presidents’ Day as far as it could go. There’s murder, a trumped-up (ugh, see? There’s no avoiding it) drug scandal, and financial shenanigans aplenty. But then along came PizzaGate, a widely-tweeted conspiracy theory about a child pornography ring run by Hillary Clinton that was apparently believed by quite a few people, including one idiot who showed up at Comet Ping Pong with a gun. (Even the pizzeria’s name—no novelist would dare go there.) What’s a few murders compared to a former first lady running a child-porn ring? Fake news is fiction without editorial intervention, and it doesn’t seem to matter how outlandish it is—enough people will buy seemingly any story and potentially swing an election. What’s left for us novelists?
As a teenager, I was quite taken with Jerzy Kosiński’s 1970 novel Being There. The hero, Chauncey Gardiner, is a simpleton who knows only what he’s seen on television and speaks in monosyllabic words that are widely misinterpreted as profound. Miraculously, he becomes an advisor to the president and, ultimately, is chosen to succeed him. A TV-obsessed simpleton with a fifth-grade vocabulary who ends up running the country—outrageous! Lucky for Kosinski he didn’t publish the book in 2017.
Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate, written in 1959, is about the son of a prominent U.S. political family who is brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin for a Communist conspiracy. The novel was adapted into two major motion pictures. Do you think anyone’s interested in a third adaptation these days, when “brainwashing” a president to do the bidding of a foreign power is no more difficult, apparently, than heaping praise on him?
Is there anything on Netflix’s House of Cards that approaches the surreality of the past year in politics? Yes, Frank Underwood pushed a young reporter into an oncoming subway train on his way to the Oval Office. But at least he never corralled the entire press corps covering his rallies into a fenced-in holding pen, calling them “disgusting” and “horrible people.”
I wrote Presidents’ Day before Donald Trump announced his candidacy. I swear I did. But I don’t know what worries me more, being accused of pumping out a quickie novel to capitalize on the political upheaval we’re undergoing, or having the novel greeted with a sort of “been there, done that” shrug: A billionaire who buys his way into the White House? No biggie.
If a candidate claims he didn’t support the invasion of Iraq, despite the existence of a tape recording of him doing just that, and if millions of people see no problem with this contradiction, then what’s the future for those of us who make a legitimate living by … well, making things up? When seemingly everything is made up, what’s left for us?
Then again, Donald Trump may not be the most serious threat to fiction writers. That would be fake news itself – actual fake news, if that’s not an oxymoron, stories deliberately made up to mislead and misinform. To some extent, it’s the job of a novelist to make even outlandish stories credible. This is particularly important for writers of thrillers, who must work extra hard to convince readers to willingly suspend disbelief. But it seems our country has, collectively, decided to suspend all disbelief. How else to explain the fact that, after someone tweeted that he enjoyed working for the post office in Ohio because he could rip up absentee ballots for Trump, the story was picked up by Matt Drudge and by Rush Limbaugh? An analysis by the news site Vox found that the top 20 fake news stories, including one about Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump and another about the murder of an FBI agent investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails, “outperformed” real news stories at the end of the election as measured by online shares, reactions, and comments.
Maybe in an era of fake news and a Twitter-happy president, we novelists just have to raise the stakes. A billionaire buys the White House? Meh. How about he targets the Kremlin, Elysee Palace, Number 10 Downing Street, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue all at once? Or here’s something even more outrageous: a Manhattan billionaire goes after the presidency solely to enhance the value of his brand and manages to enrich himself and his family while the whole world watches, powerless to do anything about it.
Oh, wait, too late for that one. Sad.
Presidents’ Day by Seth Margolis
ISBN: 9781682306970 (paperback)
ASIN: B01N9144FR (Kindle version)
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
For readers of David Baldacci and Brad Meltzer comes a timely political thriller from the bestselling author of Losing Isaiah.
In this twisting, ferocious novel of suspense, the presidential race has a number of men all clawing to get to the top. Each man has a locked closet of secrets. And one man holds every key.
Julian Mellow has spent his life amassing a fortune out of low-risk / high-reward investments. But the one time in his life he got in over his head, he left another man holding the bag, and made an enemy for life, one who has nothing to lose. Now, Mellow has an even greater ambition—to select the next President of the United States—and to make that man do his bidding, in business and beyond.
It all ties to an African nation where his son died years before, where a brutal dictator still rules supreme, and where a resistance movement lurks in the alleys, waiting for the right time to strike. Margolis spans the globe to weave together a brilliant story of politics at its most venal, where murder is a part of the political process, where anyone’s life is up for sale, and where one man—that bad penny of an enemy—could bring the whole kingdom toppling.
As the new President is inaugurated, Seth Margolis has penned a perfect thriller for the voting public, one that asks who really puts the next person in the White House—and at what cost?
Meet the author:
Seth Margolis lives with his wife in New York City and has two grown children. He received a BA in English from the University of Rochester and an MBA in marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business Administration. When not writing fiction, he is a branding consultant for a wide range of companies, primarily in the financial services, technology, and pharmaceutical industries. He has written articles for the New York Times and other publications on travel and entertainment.
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