Arts & Life

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

For those who can't wait to see how the next presidential campaign unfolds, a new book offers a fictional take. It's called "O: A Presidential Novel."

And for now, the author is remaining anonymous. All we've been told is that he or she has been in the room with Barack Obama, and that he or she is not doing interviews. So instead, we have what they call in the political world a surrogate.

We're joined by the editor of "O," Jonathan Karp, from Simon & Schuster. And so glad to be with you.

Mr. JONATHAN KARP (Editor, "O: A Presidential Novel"): Thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you.

NORRIS: So I'm curious about something. Did the author come to you and say I have this book proposal for what I think is going to be a really interesting presidential novel, but I don't want you to put my name on it, or did you decide to take his or her name off the book for marketing purposes or some other reason?

Mr. KARP: It was mutually agreed upon. We had three reasons for publishing this book anonymously. First of all, the author felt that there would be more creative freedom, more of an ability to put it all out there. The second reason is that we didn't want people to approach the book with any kind of preconceptions about the author's ideology. We didn't want to lose half of the Republicans or half of the Democrats, and this is such a partisan environment into which the book is being published. And finally, yeah, it's more fun. It's more fun, and we think more people will be interested without knowing.

NORRIS: Readers, I think, are very interested in suspense but usually within the pages, not as part of the marketing plan.

Mr. KARP: Well, there is a long tradition of this, from Benjamin Disraeli to Henry Adams, all the way up to "Primary Colors." And there are certainly some people who really want to know who wrote it. On the other hand, it shouldn't matter, in the end, and I hope that people will enjoy the book for what it is.

NORRIS: I mean, I just, I have this picture of folks in the marketing department sort of rubbing their hands together, thinking about how to roll this out. But it's probably a bit of a logistical challenge for you also because how do you mount a book tour with an anonymous author?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: I mean, are you going to take to the road and do all the interviews?

Mr. KARP: No, I'm not. We're just going to let people come to the book on their own. We certainly think President Obama is enough in the news, and the 2012 campaign is going to go on for a very long time, and we're just hoping that this book will be one of the many frames of reference.

NORRIS: Do me a favor and spell out the basic plotline for the reader, very quickly.

Mr. KARP: The novel, it's about people working on both sides of the 2012 campaign. It's about the things people do in the course of an election. It's about the press. It's about the people working on these campaigns. And yes, it's about O and his opponent for the presidency, what they're thinking, some of the decisions they make and how some of those decisions are not necessarily in the best interest of voters.

NORRIS: Given that this is a book about a groundbreaking administration, the book is still, like so many other political books, largely about white guys and their ambitions for power.

And reading the book, it seemed that the author, whoever he or she is, was sort of afraid to take on the racial dimensions of this administration.

Mr. KARP: You know, I have to tell you that's the first time this particular question has come up, and even in the editing of the novel, it's not something that I ever discussed with the author.

There is a part of the book at the very beginning where O says that people will want change, and his race is part of the change. That's how he, the fictional character, views it.

NORRIS: See, I wasn't talking about the vernacular, you know, that he speaks in. I was talking about actually, you know, sort of a textured view of Washington in this moment. I mean, it is a groundbreaking presidency, and I was curious just why that wasn't explored a little bit more in the pages of the book.

Mr. KARP: Well, I will ask the author and try to get back to you. I think that the author...

NORRIS: The author can call us any time. We'd love to talk to him or her.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: I mean, there's a microphone waiting for whoever that might be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KARP: I think that the author was really viewing the election through the prism of whether or not Barack Obama is going to have to abandon the hopeful message that he communicated last time. I mean, to the author, the dramatic question is: In order to get re-elected, is President Obama going to have to be a different kind of candidate? This election will be a referendum on Barack Obama and the policies that he has asserted. Therefore, he may have to run more negatively, and that's part of what the novel's about.

NORRIS: Jonathan, it's been great to talk to you.

Mr. KARP: Well, it's been great to talk to you, too. Thank you.

NORRIS: We've been speaking with Jonathan Karp. He is the editor of "O: A Presidential Novel."

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