Douglas Brunt is the author of a riveting new novel that takes readers inside the worlds of cable news journalism and presidential politics.
The second-time author recently answered questions from The Daily Caller about his latest narrative, “The Means: A Novel,” including whether the book’s lead female character is based on his wife, Fox News host Megyn Kelly.
“Samantha Davis is influenced by Megyn, but also by many other people,” Brunt told TheDC. “She’s a composite. Samantha was a child actress before going into the law and I interviewed Melissa Francis to help develop that aspect of her character. The conversations and events are fictional and the relationships with management are based more on my own corporate background which I infused with the knowledge I have of how news operations run.”
So what did Brunt’s wife think about him creating a character at least partially based on her?
“She was fascinated to see how it would turn out!” he said. “She knows I wasn’t setting out to write another Megyn. I was just using bits of information I’ve had the chance to acquire to help my writing process. Given the subject of the novel, I needed a strong character in the media and I decided a woman would work best. Megyn likes the Samantha character but she doesn’t feel it’s like looking in the mirror. I think she was more interested to see how I wrote about news generally.”
See below TheDC’s full interview with Brunt on his novel, his writing process and whether his book is headed to Hollywood:
So I read the book and found it to be a page-turner – and not just because the book touches on my profession or because it partly takes place where I grew up (Palm Beach Gardens). But let me start by asking what inspired you to follow up your last novel about Wall Street with one about politics and the media?
These are the two best backdrops for a novel. Wall Street was fun and it was interesting to show real lives happening in all the money and crazy nightlife and debauchery. Politics and the media were even better. Less money but more power, more secrets. From a distance, the American political system is a remarkable success. We have accomplished the peaceful transfer of power for more than two hundred years, and that’s unmatched by any civilization in human history. Up close, our political system still has all the ugliness and bad actors that you might suspect.
How closely is the Samantha Davis character modeled after your wife, Fox News host Megyn Kelly? Like your wife, Davis is a lawyer who switched careers to become a journalist for a cable news channel. But beyond the broad strokes, are any of the experiences Davis has, the errors she makes when she first transitions to journalism, the conversation she has with management before coming aboard her fictional cable news network, based on stories from your wife’s experience? [Full disclosure: I have the good fortune of occasionally appearing as a guest on your wife’s show, “The Kelly File.”]
Samantha Davis is influenced by Megyn, but also by many other people. She’s a composite. Samantha was a child actress before going into the law and I interviewed Melissa Francis to help develop that aspect of her character. The conversations and events are fictional and the relationships with management are based more on my own corporate background which I infused with the knowledge I have of how news operations run.
What did your wife think of you creating a character at least loosely based on her?
She was fascinated to see how it would turn out! She knows I wasn’t setting out to write another Megyn. I was just using bits of information I’ve had the chance to acquire to help my writing process. Given the subject of the novel, I needed a strong character in the media and I decided a woman would work best. Megyn likes the Samantha character but she doesn’t feel it’s like looking in the mirror. I think she was more interested to see how I wrote about news generally.
Did you have to do a lot of research for the book? If so, how did you go about it?
I mainly did group and one-on-one interviews for the book. Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt gave me a lot of time. A friend of mine is a congressman and he put together a dinner in D.C. with six other congressmen in a downstairs private room. Wine, bourbon and lots of interesting stories that inspired pieces of the book. In addition to the stories, the time with these people helped me to get the voice right for some characters, as well as the tensions that different groups in D.C. have for one another. As a writer, I naturally observe and I’m happier listening than talking.
I also did some secondary research. “What It Takes” by Richard Ben Cramer is one example.
Did you talk to any other prominent media figures politicians while researching? If so, can you name names and perhaps share some of the insight they gave you?
I sat next to Tim Pawlenty on a plane going to a presidential debate in Iowa that Megyn was moderating. It was coincidence and we didn’t know each other prior, but got to talking. He’s an affable and smart guy. This happened in the early stages of writing the novel, and while I didn’t base any characters on him, it does help me to picture a physical person in my imagination when I write them. It helps me to picture them and hear them speaking when I write dialogue. When I get this right, instead of inventing words, it feels more like eavesdropping on a conversation. Anyway, Tim Pawlenty is the person I pictured when writing the GOP challenger who I named Tom Pauley.
I also met with people who have run presidential campaigns, people with the media who have been embedded with campaigns. They gave me a great feel for life in the last 50 days especially. It comes through well in the novel.
There is a scene in the book where the president is watching cable news in the Oval Office, despite his aides telling him to ignore it. Do you see cable news only increasing in importance in the future?
Yes, provided cable continues to do a good job of taking the news a step further. These days people have multiple access points for news throughout the day. Nobody has to wait around until Peter Jennings comes on anymore. The job for cable is to give the news and then also give the ‘so what.’ Cable can bring in the experts for analysis and perspective and viewers will want a richer format than text or a hand held screen to take in a longer experience like this. Blogs and the Internet have a big audience, but cable drives those channels. They’re all talking about what happened on cable news the night before.
In the book, without spoiling anything, Tom Pauley is a Republican candidate for president who is conservative fiscally but more socially liberal. Did you create his character that way because you foresee the GOP going more in that direction in the near future?
I wasn’t making any political statements in that way. North Carolina is a fairly purple state and so I wrote a character who would be considered moderate.
In many ways the book is deeply cynical about politics. Are you a political cynic? Do you think that people join campaigns in order to pick up girls, as you seem to suggest in the book? Do you believe that politicians must sacrifice their values and the truth in order to win, as you portray in the book? Do you believe that big money donors have too much influence on elections, as they do in the story your book tells?
I’m sure some people get into politics for power and the girls or the boys. Some also get into politics for a cause. The cause-driven ones who stay in for a while and want to win always hit crossroads and after they’ve crossed a few the sacrifices mount up and it would be rare in the extreme for a person’s values not to take a hit. The system has lots of flaws including the influence of money, a vetting process that attracts mostly the wrong people in the first place (you’d have to be a little crazy to want the job at all), but I’m no more a cynic than Winston Churchill whose quote begins the novel: “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”
What is your writing process like? How long did it take you to write the book? How is a day in your life like when you are in writing mode?
I like to write in the mornings so I try to protect 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. for me. I can drop our older two kids at school then write for a few hours. We still have a baby in the house, so writing at home is out of the question. I prefer a change of surroundings anyway and I like to be around some energy and white noise so I usually go to a Barnes & Noble cafe or to the library on 5th and 42nd. In the afternoons I do research, reading, editing and play with the kids.
Who do you count among your writing influences?
Ernest Hemingway, John Irving, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Philip Roth, Ayn Rand, Nelson DeMille. The last book I read before I wrote my first book — “Ghosts of Manhattan” –was “The Gold Coast” by DeMille. I loved it and it gave me a lot of energy to start into my own.
Have you been approached by Hollywood at all about possibly turning the book into a film?
I just signed with a book-to-film agent who is working on this now.
Finally, could we see a sequel to “The Means?” Or are you thinking of your next novel being on a topic altogether different?
Not impossible, but I’m not working on a sequel. My next novel is almost finished and it’s about a writer living in Westchester where we used to live. My research is my self-examination!