How Does Jake Tapper Find Time to Write So Many Books?

From a story on by Michael Sebastian headlined “How Does Jake Tapper Find Time to Write So Many Books?”

Jake Tapper was bellied up to the bar at his good friend Jimmy Kimmel’s Idaho lodge with the late-night host and another pal, P.J. Clapp, aka Johnny Knoxville, shooting the shit. Tapper noticed that all around them were images of Evel Knievel. There were posters, an Evel-themed pinball machine, an autographed picture of his Rolling Stone cover, and, hanging above the urinal in the men’s room, a New York Daily News cover from 1974 touting Knievel’s failed attempt to jump Snake River Canyon.

Kind of weird, he thought. Of course, Tapper knew about Knievel—a motorcycle-riding daredevil who’d made a living jumping over stuff, often unsuccessfully—but he didn’t share in the fandom. So he turned to the pair and asked: “What gives?”

“They had a boyhood adulation for him,” Tapper says, recounting the conversation. “They’re fully aware today of all of Evel Knievel’s personal foibles and his less than exemplary moral code. But they retained their childhood joy at his salesmanship, his showmanship, his outrageousness.”

Kimmel urged Tapper to see the documentary Clapp had made about Knievel, who died in 2007, called Being Evel. And then the two friends regaled Tapper with stories about the man. Now, Knievel is a character in Tapper’s latest novel, All The Demons Are Here, the third installment in his series about Senator Charlie Marder and his family.

It’s a smart page-turner, set in 1977, where one character starts working at a newspaper owned by someone who seems a lot like Rupert Murdoch and another character falls in with Knievel, a bellicose demigod who seems a lot like a certain former president—which is very much by design. “He is a quintessential American character in the tradition of P. T. Barnum or Jesse James or Donald Trump,” Tapper says of Knievel. “People who capture the attention of the country, for good or for ill, with their ability to make news, attract attention, garner fans.”

The conversation in Idaho happened two years ago. That means Tapper—who hosts CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper five days a week, co-hosts State of the Union every Sunday, tweets prolifically, writes nonfiction books, and raises two teenage kids with his wife—researched and wrote a 336-page novel in 24 months. How the hell did he do it? Tapper, 54, who’s working on two books right now, breaks it all down in a discussion we had last month.

ESQUIRE: How does a CNN anchor find time to write six books?

JAKE TAPPER: That’s six books over decades. I give myself assignments and work on them every day for at least 15 minutes. Literally every day, including Saturday and Sunday.

When are you doing this work?

Before the workday, at lunch sometimes, after the workday, on weekends, whenever I can grab the time. I write on Google Docs, so I have access to what I’m working on whenever I want, whether I’m home or at work. If I’m traveling, I have my laptop with me. And I’m always doing it. I love it. And I get bored very easily. When I’m in a hotel room, I don’t turn on the TV, I’ll do some writing.

Sounds like it’s as much a leisure activity as it is work.

It’s work that I do because it gives me pleasure.

Do you schedule time or are you just finding these moments as they come?

I find it when I can. I love traveling by train because it’s easier to write than if you’re on a plane or driving. I can’t really explain how driven I am. My staff doesn’t understand, so I once told them I feel like I’m a thirty-three-and-a-third record played at forty-five. I’m just wound a little tighter. Or I find I can’t veg the way that other people do. I’m not saying that’s a positive attribute. It’s probably not. That’s just how I am.

Is there anything you feel you’re sacrificing to do that much writing?

Probably rest and maybe peace of mind. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about stuff, and I have the nerdiest dreams known to man. So it probably would be better for my psyche if I were wired differently. But I don’t know how one fixes such a thing.

Will you ever get out of bed and start writing?

No, but if I have an idea for something, I will make notes on my iPhone and email it to myself.

Do you have any sort of ritual before you sit down to write: pour yourself a cup of coffee, a drink, anything like that?

It depends on what time of day. Coffee in the morning, absolutely. And then usually bourbon if I’m writing at night.

Is bourbon your drink of choice?

My wife has been steering me towards white wine because it’s a little bit more civilized and a little bit less of a kick in the head. But yes, a glass of bourbon.

What’s your best advice for an aspiring writer?

My best advice is 15 minutes a day, and writers write. Even if you’re having writer’s block, sit down and force yourself to write something. If it’s shit, you can throw it out tomorrow. But it’s also possible that there’s at least something in there that’s worth saving. And if it’s something not worth saving, then at least you’re walking through the woods and you tried one path and that didn’t work. Now you’re going to try another path.

Writers write, and that’s just the truism. You have to keep doing it. I wrote a novel in my 20s and I got an agent out of it, but the novel never went anywhere. That was the ’90s. I didn’t really sit down and write a completed work of fiction until 2016.

Do you take edits well?

I lust for edits. I hired three editors in addition to the editor at Little, Brown. The more eyes, the better. Person number four who looks at it will notice things that person number two didn’t see. When somebody tells me they’re writing a book, I say, “Get nine, ten friends and make them read the book and take them out to dinner and tell them to be brutal.” You can reject their edits. But more eyes, the better.

The next time I’m working with a writer who bucks against edits I’m going to tell them Jake Tapper says he “lusts” for edits.

They’ll probably say, “Oh, that corporate sellout.” But I’m telling you, there are things that I wish had been edited in my life that I still regret decades later, or I wish had been edited more heavily. Edits are largely a force for good.

What have you read recently that you’ve really liked?

Because I’m so nuts, I’m usually in the middle of four books at once. So there’s usually a book that I’m reading on my phone. Right now that is Bob Odenkirk’s memoir, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama. On Audible, I’m listening to Paul Newman’s posthumous memoir read by Jeff Daniels. In print, I’m reading Don DeLillo’s White Noise. And then I usually have a graphic novel that I’m reading; I’m reading one of the Sin City books by Frank Miller.

I walked away from your book feeling good about family and personal heroism, but not about the state of the country. Are you optimistic about America?

I am a believer in what America can be and very worried about it. Very worried about the American experiment, very worried about how powerful people are treating this experiment. One of the themes in all three of my books is family—at the end of the day that’s the most important thing. The rest of the world is a very complicated and potentially dangerous place. Everyone has to keep fighting to preserve the democracy we have. I’m concerned. I wouldn’t say I’m pessimistic. Ultimately, I’m optimistic, but with a lot of caveats.

Do you think that we’re still capable of having free and fair elections here?

I think we’re capable of having free and fair elections. What I’m concerned about is people who have a financial and power incentive to lie about those free and fair elections. Fox had to pay a record-setting financial settlement, $787.5 million, because of their lies about one company, Dominion. And yet, I do not see corrective behavior suggesting that any of the executives or the most prominent anchors or hosts recognize the damage that they did to the United States.

Have you ever spent time with Rupert Murdoch?

No. I met Roger Ailes once, but I’ve never spent any time with Rupert Murdoch.

The Max Lyon character in All The Demons Are Here is the biggest villain in the book and that’s modeled after Rupert Murdoch, right?

Very directly based on Rupert Murdoch. Obviously he does things that I would never accuse Rupert Murdoch of having done in terms of the plot of the book. But there are lines that I gave to Max Lyon in the book that are quotes from Rupert Murdoch.

Your boss’s boss, David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, has also become a bit of a media villain lately. What’s your relationship like with him?

I talked to him on the phone after he took over CNN. I invited him and Chris Licht and David Levy to the Gridiron Dinner. I occasionally text with him. But I don’t talk to him all that often. He’s a busy guy; he’s got a huge media empire to run. He doesn’t weigh in on editorial decisions. He called me after Chris Licht left the company and just reassured me and talked about the way forward and all that. That was nice to get that call. I would never compare him to Max Lyon. He’s very clearly based on a different media figure, and it’s not David Zaslav.

What do you think CNN needs to do to win viewers back? Is there still a significant audience out there for relatively neutral news and analysis?

I think so. The mission that Chris Licht embraced as chairman and CEO of CNN was one that I agreed with then and agreed with now. I don’t think there’s any change in the mission. The mission is for CNN to be a news organization that welcomes different points of view and opinions—Democrats, Republicans, independents, whatever—calls out lies and covers the news. Obviously, there are companies that have made a business decision to be more ideological. There’s always been a place for that in American news. But I do think the 20th century invention of at least attempting to be a neutral news organization is achievable and is important, because there have to be places that are not rooting for Democrats or Republicans.

I’m curious what you learned from covering Trump for eight years and how you’re going to apply those as the 2024 election continues to heat up?

One of the biggest lessons is the importance of asserting facts and calling out lies. That is very, very important for people who are in positions of credibility and news anchors to do. It’s equally as important not to squander that by using it inaccurately. I think Democrats lie too, and Republicans tell the truth. It’s important to be allegiant to the truth and not let anything knock you off course.

Michael Sebastian is editor in chief of Esquire.

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