An Interview with Tom Grace, author of The Liberty Intrigue [Audio]
JOHN J. MILLER: This is John J. Miller of National Review Online. Thank you for listening. Our guest is Tom Grace, author of The Liberty Intrigue. Tom, what is this novel about?
TOM GRACE: The Liberty Intrigue is a political thriller set in an election, a presidential election.
JOHN J. MILLER: What happens in the story?
TOM GRACE: In the story I have a brilliant engineer from fly-over country, the northern area of Michigan, and he’s been away in Africa since basically the end of the Reagan administration, and he comes back to the United States a fairly well-acclaimed, renowned figure, and he’s drafted into running for President against a very divisive, leftist President who is very charismatic, a great campaigner, who has a lot of money and all the media backing him up.
JOHN J. MILLER: How is this a thriller? What makes that story thrill?
TOM GRACE: I think it’s all of the things that happen, it’s sort of a chess match. It’s a fairly intellectual thriller in that regard. You have the two opposing political systems, parties fighting against each other in order to try and win an election.
JOHN J. MILLER: Now tell us, you call it a political thriller. Is it a partisan thriller?
TOM GRACE: I don’t know if it’s a partisan thriller as such In an election thriller, you have to pick a good guy and a bad guy, and in my case I have chosen the conservative side to be the protagonist and the more leftist side to be the antagonist.
JOHN J. MILLER: A lot of political thrillers are studiously nonpartisan, as you know, presumably because they don’t want to offend potential readers. Your book though takes a different approach. Why did you choose that?
TOM GRACE: I chose that because I certainly believe in the conservative system and a conservative method of thought, the idea of the original intent of the Constitution. And I wanted to have a candidate who firmly believes that and presents a very Reaganesque point of view. Reagan was undoubtedly highly successful at what he did and a lot of that came from his belief system. So rather than be agnostic about it, I decided to have [protagonist Ross Egan] project fairly strongly what he felt, and that his belief system was not just in his head but in his heart. And conversely, the President feels the same way about his belief system. I wanted them both to be strongly partisan in what they were doing rather than having both of them sort of meet in the middle of the road and have the adventure be something that was agnostic.
JOHN J. MILLER: What makes fiction a good medium for discussing ideas? Why not just write op eds?
TOM GRACE: Op eds tend to speak to the head. They tend to be fairly intellectual. If you look at books that are aimed conservatives today, they are basically that, pieces that are written by former politicians, or they are pieces that are written by media people who are on the conservative side. But there is no fiction. Fiction draws you in to the story, creates that human connection. When you look at the Constitution, the people who wrote it felt every word that’s in it. Today we’re two hundred years from the tyranny that caused those words to come into existence, so we don’t have the same feeling for them. We know that intellectually, but we don’t have it in our hearts why these words are important, the way they were put together. A story will allow you to do that. One of the great classic cases was Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She wrote a book about slavery, a novel that got people into the feeling of it. It was so poignant that when she met with President Lincoln, it is said that he walked up to her and said, “So you’re the little lady who wrote the book the book that started this great war.” And that was the impact of that novel at the time. It wasn’t a treatise on slavery—it drew the reader right into it and made you feel like you were a slave. The importance of fiction is that good storytelling that draws the reader into the story, makes them empathize with the hero and understand the plight of what’s going on.
JOHN J. MILLER: Are there enough conservative writers of fiction?
TOM GRACE: I think the issue is whether there are enough conservative publishers of fiction. I think there are writers who would write to a more conservative audience if they thought they could sell it. One of the issues is a lot of the media—the ownership of the publishing houses, the television studios, that kind of thing—is 90 percent liberal and they donate to liberal causes. This doesn’t reflect the population of the country. According to most polling right now, 40 percent of the people identify themselves as conservative and 60 percent of the people in this country have conservative leanings. The conservative point of view is definitely held by a majority of the country; it’s just that the media that creates the stories and writes the narratives has the opposite view. So they don’t prepare anything that has a positive impact on conservatism.
JOHN J. MILLER: There are of course conservatives who have very successful careers as novelists. I’m thinking of Dean Koontz and Brad Thor and Vince Flynn. These guys are right of center.
TOM GRACE: But they keep their political views in their own heads, they don’t really show up that much in their books. Their books are just great thrillers—these are phenomenal writers. If you can tell a good story, you’re going to be able to sell a book. I have sold a lot of books, just telling my story through my characters. Certainly my worldview is framed through a conservative lens, but for the stories that I’ve told, it really wasn’t important to bring that out. I mean, there may be hints at it, but it wasn’t a central element of the story. In writing an election thriller, and politics is a central element of the story, it had to come out. It’s almost a character, it’s that important.
JOHN J. MILLER: Is this book, The Liberty Intrigue, is it written for Republicans or for Tea Party members?
TOM GRACE: I think they will enjoy it. I think it’s for every American citizen. It’s an interesting take on the political process and the concept to go behind the scenes in both campaigns. You see the campaigns waging this war against each other. I think everyone can learn something from it.
JOHN J. MILLER: Let me read a passage from the book. This is, you’re describing a presidential debate, and there’s a lot of dialogue. You’re quoting speeches essentially, big chunks of speeches. Here’s something the Republican candidate says, “Abraham Lincoln put it best when he said: We all declare for liberty, but in using the name — but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor, while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two not only different but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of these things is by the respective party called by two different and incompatible names, liberty and tyranny.” How do you take speeches like that or paragraphs like that and insert them into a thriller and make it compelling?
TOM GRACE: It’s in the nature of defining the character. You watch the back and forth in a debate—and my debates are a little more compelling, I think, than the ones that you see on television—it’s just the back and forth of ideas and philosophy. It’s a small part of the book.
JOHN J. MILLER: You put out several previous novels with big mainstream publishers. With this title you have chosen to go with a brand new publishing outfit called Dunlap Goddard. What is Dunlap Goddard and why did you choose them for this book?
TOM GRACE: Dunlap Goddard is a brand new publisher—this [The Liberty Intrigue] is their first title fiction coming out. And part of it was because they believed in the story enough that they wanted to do it, and they could react quickly enough to bring The Liberty Intrigue out during an election year. That’s one of the problems with writing books, particularly novels, is the publisher usually has a year to handle it after the book is written, to generate the book, to get the sales force out there, to get it in the catalogue, prime the pump and do all the things they need to do in order to have a marketing plan in place so the book actually gets in stores. But a year from now, I think a book about an election would be worth about ten percent of what it is worth during an election. There’s a ten-month news story that’s tied to my novel. So it’s best to bring The Liberty Intrigue out during an election year.
JOHN J. MILLER: When did you finish the manuscript? When was it ready to go?
TOM GRACE: I sent it off to my agent about this time last year, and that’s when she started shopping it. And in order to keep things moving I actually hired a freelance editor, to work on it, to polish the book up, to have it ready to go to press as soon as we had a publisher who was ready to pull the trigger.
JOHN J. MILLER: Were mainstream publishers reluctant to do it because of the politics?
TOM GRACE: I talked to my agent about this book and the next few books that I have in my series. My previous five novels are all part of a series, and they feature recurring characters. And they [the publishers] like those books. They were ready to talk about the next two in that series, but this one they were very reluctant on. The reaction I got, even from some freelance editors, was sort of the same way. One of them thought the writing was just as good and the characters were as good as my previous novels, but he couldn’t suspend his disbelief to accept the premise of a conservative good guy and conservatism as a force for good. His own personal political beliefs prevented him from accepting that, even in a fictional world, as a possibility. Another editor said he was just too liberal to do it, and that he would like to point me to a conservative editor but he didn’t know any. So there is just a certain bias in publishing world against presenting conservatives in a positive light.
JOHN J. MILLER: One last question. The cover of The Liberty Intrigue says that you’re an internationally best selling author. One of your books had a pretty interesting experience in Venezuela. Could you describe that?
TOM GRACE: Yes. A little over a year after my fifth novel, The Secret Cardinal, was published, I received an e-mail from a gentleman from Panama who picked up a copy in North America of the book and loved it so much that he wanted to give it to his family in Panama but wondered if it was available in Spanish. And it was—the Spanish version of the book came out first. I did a quick Google search on it as I knew there were a few bookstores actually carrying it in the States. And to my surprise, I got a thousand hits back that turned out to be Associated Press’s Best Seller list for every country in the Western hemisphere. And I was listed there at Number One in Venezuela and Number Eight in Uruguay. As I tracked it through, I had been on Venezuela’s list for over a year at Number One. I ended up doing a hundred weeks on AP’s Best Seller list in Latin America, and the book had been pirated. My Spanish publisher was completely unaware that this was going on in Latin America. They had sent books out the first week it came out in 2007 and never got another order.
JOHN J. MILLER: So you were a victim of international intellectual property rights theft.
TOM GRACE: Exactly. I think Rush Limbaugh put it best when he said, “Hugo Chavez nationalized my book.”
JOHN J. MILLER: The author is Tom Grace, the book is The Liberty Intrigue. Thanks for listening.