Jake Tapper on How to Write a Book in 15 Minutes a Day

From a Wall Street Journal story by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg headlined “Jake Tapper on How to Write a Book in 15 Minutes a Day”:

To escape the relentless stream of breaking news in his day job, Jake Tapper turned to fiction.

As CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent, Mr. Tapper, 52, is also a novelist. On May 11, Little, Brown & Co. will publish Mr. Tapper’s second novel, “The Devil May Dance,” a thriller set in Hollywood in the early 1960s. The book, his fifth, is a follow-up to “The Hellfire Club,” a New York Times hardcover bestseller that also featured Congressman Charlie Marder and his wife Margaret, a zoologist. Mr. Tapper’s three earlier works were nonfiction.

Congressman Marder, a WWII veteran, leads an interesting fictional life. In “The Hellfire Club” he stumbles upon a conspiracy as he rubs shoulders with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, attorney Roy Cohn and Sen. John F. Kennedy—and that’s at just one reception in 1954 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. The novel is an inside-the-room look at one of the country’s most challenging eras. Publishers Weekly wrote that fans of “well-researched historicals will be rewarded.”

In “The Devil May Dance,” the Marders pal around with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, a Hollywood gossip writer and one of the country’s most notorious gangsters. Attorney General Robert Kennedy hovers in the background as a complex plot unfolds involving murder, a religious organization and assorted bad guys. That Congressman Marder drinks too much may not be his fault.

Mr. Tapper talked to the Journal about turning to fiction, breathing life into many historical figures, and how he makes time.

You have a day job; why did you want to write a thriller series?

It was enjoyable to enter a different universe and also to be able to control everything—which is the exact opposite of the situation I was facing at the time. I did most of the writing in 2020 and it was very enjoyable to step away from the pandemic and a very ugly presidential race and hang out with the Rat Pack in 1962.

Where do you find the time?

I write every day. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes. If you write 15 minutes a day for a week it adds up. Wherever I was I had a laptop and I worked on the book when I had free time. From April through August 2020 I had no commute. I worked from home. That was two hours I would normally have spent driving and parking. The 15 minutes a day rule really works, even if it turns out to be garbage, it takes you somewhere….

Journalists from Frederick Forsyth to Stieg Larsson turned their hand to thrillers. Why tell these stories as fiction?

The most meaningful experience as a journalist I’ve ever had was writing “The Outpost” about Afghanistan. I’ve not been able to find another project that grabbed me like that. Everything I cover every day is nonfiction, be it the pandemic or issues of violence. It’s more wanting to escape the world of nonfiction.

What are the key challenges in writing historical fiction?

When you want to capture a real life figure like Joe McCarthy in “Hellfire” or Frank Sinatra in “The Devil May Dance” the challenge is to bring that person to life without them being a caricature. People already think they know them. How do you reveal parts of them that make them feel more like people?…You try to provide little notes and peeks into their world. The vanity and insecurity and dependency he had on George Jacobs [a former valet] and the fact that he ruled like a king….

Do you have any plans to turn “The Hellfire Club” into a television or movie project?

We’re trying to develop it into a series. We’re having Zoom and FaceTime meetings with various producers. Everything with Hollywood takes forever.

More attention is now being paid to diversity in all areas of entertainment. Do you want to write about a diverse range of characters or do you feel constrained by concerns over “authenticity?”

It’s less of a concern for these two books, which have a diverse set of characters including fictional Black Congressman Isaiah Street, and more of a concern about whether I would ever take on a writing project focused entirely about Street’s time as a Tuskegee Airman. Because that’s a topic that interests me a great deal, though I understand many people might think it’s not appropriate for me to write such a book.

Now that the second book in this series is about to be published, are you working on a new one?

I have a third one in the works about Charlie and Margaret’s son Ike; he was a little boy named Dwight Marder in “The Devil May Dance.” He’ll be the main character, and it will take place in the early 1980s in Washington during the very early Reagan years. Charlie and Margaret age with time. I wanted a younger main character.

Speak Your Mind