Quite a bit, actually, though rarely exactly as they happened. In a campaign several years ago, one of the issues that came up was that for a certain neighborhood, the fire company assigned to it was actually further away than one that would have made much more sense. I pulled that idea into my current work-in-progress. Campaign tactics and issues that I’ve come across often play a role, but with enough spin on them to separate from the real situation.
No characters are based on specific people, but certainly aspects of people I’ve had the privilege of working with (or the challenge of working against). One gentleman I worked with, who has since passed away, was an absolute artist with voter data – he once predicted one of our elections to within 11 votes. I had tremendous admiration for him, so some of his abilities pop up from time-to-time, as an example. But no character is specifically based on someone from real-life.
Elmore Leonard is my most important role model, for his dialogue and ability to scene set without getting too into the weeds – let the characters’ interaction with their surroundings paint the picture. I’ve been a fan of Michael Crichton forever, and I appreciate how he breaks down difficult topics for anyone to understand. Writing politics, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff happening that is essential to the realism of the story, but not for dramatic effect (gathering petitions, etc.). these things need to be worked in with an easy-to-understand approach, but not overwhelm. I am a big Clive Cussler fan for pacing and action.
I could obviously name a number of people in the spotlight either for cheap pop or to aggravate half the people reading this, but I’d prefer to highlight someone from who I learned so much of the business of politics. Early in my career, I worked for a county legislator named Chuck Swanick – interestingly, enough, at times I worked for him, and at times I worked against him, but that’s a whole story… Chuck served our county as legislator for 28 years, which is 14 elections. He was the master. He knew his neighborhoods intimately, kept personalized and relevant data on every votes, and worked harder than any politician I have ever seen. But, despite his “man of the people” persona, in government when he closed the door behind him for a meeting, you knew no one was leaving until something got done. I’ve never seen anyone who married campaigns, politics and government better, to actually produce results for the people who supported him. Subconsciously, I am well aware that my writing drips of Chuck’s education of me.
I started my political career in the trenches of Republican politics in a Democratic area of a blue state. When I left politics, I worked for the chamber of commerce, which meant that I had to work with, and get along with, everyone. Very quickly, I learned how to do so, and over time transitioned from someone known as a Republican operative to someone with relationships on both sides of the aisle, that could get things done. I’ve worked on Republican campaigns and Democrat campaigns. My characters come from various walks of life, and diverse political persuasions, and from my experiences I feel as comfortable writing an urban, union organizing Democrat as I do a rural, oil drilling Republican, and everything in between.
With real-life politics as crazy as they are, how do you write fiction that’s even more compelling to compete?
It’s crazy out there, isn’t it? Yes, it’s difficult to come up with things that are as sensational as what’s really happening in the world. For me, the difference is character development. There’s an old saying: “Politics are like sausage… You don’t want to see how either is made.” Well, in fiction, we can dig in and see what’s making people tick, and the things they do to reach their goals. In real life, having worked in the trenches of politics and having a different kind of eye than most voters, you’re not going to get that, and you might not want to.