At a time when much of the country says it hates Washington D.C., politics, power brokers, spin doctors, and compromise — not to mention the press — the executive director of the American Press Institute has written a novel that combines all of those features into a thriller. Oh, there's the tiniest bit of sex, too.
Shining City is the first novel from Tom Rosenstiel, who tells NPR's Scott Simon that he really can't explain how he arranged for the book — which revolves around the nomination of a Supreme Court justice — to come out at such a relevant moment. "It's classified," he jokes. "It'll be leaked to The New York Times, however."
On his fictional nominee
The president in the story, a guy named Jim Nash, believes that everything about the judiciary is off the rails, and that the court has become politicized, and that it's eroded faith in the country and the idea of a country of laws and not men. And so he decides he's going to try and set the ball in the other direction by picking an iconoclast, someone who supports some conservative positions and someone who supports some liberal positions, he's not really beloved by any faction. This president thinks this is close to what the Founders had in mind, but he also knows that a nominee like that is going to have very soft support from anybody.
On making a political fixer the hero of the novel
Actually, that was one of the first things that set in my mind. I thought the irony of having someone who's derided because they lack ideology as the hero, even before I realized that I wanted to tell a story about a Supreme Court nomination, I knew that the hero was going to be somebody who in the public eye is often viewed as amoral, or immoral.
On writing novels as a journalist
If a journalist writes a novel, there's a couple of itches that you're trying to scratch. One of them, I think, is to tell the truth about things that's very hard to get at as a journalist. As journalists we live in the world of evidence and proof — you write what you can prove, but you can't write everything you believe. So the hidden motivations of people are very hard to get at, and if you're trying to tell the story of "Why does our politics not work?" you need to be in the hearts of people who are talented and make decisions that turn out badly. These are not evil people who populate our city, they're people who've found themselves in a situation where doing what they think is right keeps ending up in the wrong place.
I think I also felt like there was a part of me that, as journalism has changed and become disrupted, you don't have the ability to go out and tell stories contemplatively, with enough time to get into character. Things move very swiftly. So I think the speed of journalism actually pushed me to a, shall we say, a much older medium.