Joe Rothstein has been at the center of U.S. politics through over two hundred campaigns over the past thirty years. This experience inspired him to write a very believable political thriller about a Latina president who sets out to fight corruption, but meets great resistance in the form of an international conspiracy to impeach her. As our Author of the Day, Rothstein gives us a look behind the scenes of political campaigns, talks about the world's financial stability and a lot more.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Latina President is about.
My protagonist, Isabel Aragon Tennyson, discovers that her family's fortune is built on corruption, a corruption particularly oppressive to poor Mexican people. Though her family, and its heritage are deeply rooted in Mexico, she is a U.S. citizen by virtue of being born in the U.S. As penance for her family's sins she volunteers and contributes to the immigrant poor in Los Angeles, where she grew up. Then, through a series of circumstances, over a span of a dozen years, "Tenny," as she is popularly known, wins election to Congress, is appointed to an open seat in the U.S. Senate, and runs for, and is elected president. As president she takes on as a mission the defeat of corrupt companies, like her family's, not only in the U.S., but in Mexico and worldwide. A cabal of the rich and powerful meet her challenge by organizing a conspiracy to impeach her before she succeeds. This is the conflict central to the story.
What inspired you to write about a Latina U.S. President who is threatened by an international conspiracy?
The vast gap in the the distribution of wealth is one of the defining issues of current life in the U.S., Mexico and, in fact, worldwide. It influenced the result of the 2016 elections in the U.S. and has been a major factor in Brexit and the recent French elections. I wanted to frame the issue in a fictional setting that skimmed the surface of that reality, while making it entertaining and compelling for readers.
In which ways have your experience with U.S. politics shaped your world view and influenced your writing?
Pretty much all ways. For more than 30 years I worked in political elections for candidates and causes. Hundreds of campaigns. I've had some incredible experiences and I've been involved with many remarkable people. I have a lot of stories in me just begging to be told.
You used to be a media producer for several high-profile politicians. How big a role do you think does the media play in shaping public views on a candidate?
It depends on the candidate and the campaign. In low profile races, where few voters have heard of the candidates, any type of media, good or bad, has a big influence. In presidential races there's so much attention by news media that paid media generally has just a marginal role.
The stability of our global financial system is a prominent theme in the book. Why?
A better question is why isn't this a more prominent theme in more publications. When the top tenth of one percent of U.S. households has as much wealth as the bottom 90% that tells you that something is radically out of whack with our wealth distribution system. It's not just a question of fairness. With such an unbalanced system, markets can't function. Fewer dollars means fewer buyers, fewer sales, fewer jobs for making products, and so on. This is a crisis, and it's getting worse.
Tell us more about Isabel Aragon "Tenny" Tennyson's character. What makes her so special?
Tenny begins life as privileged as a person can be. Wealthy family. The best of everything. Even taking on wealth management as a career, embracing the good life and others in it. Then she discovers the reality of her background. A vague sense of wanting to do right leads her into a world she had never seen, the real world of hunger, joblessness, families working around the clock to make ends meet. She transforms from a dilettante into a crusader. All along, even as a crusading president, she demonstrates both her strengths and weaknesses. In other words, she's human.
The characters in your book are portrayed vividly and are very believable. Were any of them inspired by real people?
Yes, they were. But you have to match body parts to identify them. No one character mirrors a person I could name. All arise from multiple backgrounds and experiences.
Do you think that the scenarios you describe in the book could actually happen?
Lawrence Demaria, the well-known and successful writer of the Jake Scarne detective series, and an author who I much admire, wrote this review after reading The Latina President: "It wasn't that long ago when a plot like this would seem far-fetched. No more." I think that sums it up.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Horse race handicapping. I find it as challenging and exciting as political handicapping.
Does your book contain an underlying message - what do you hope readers will take from this?
The world of modern fiction has many compelling works featuring detectives, science fiction heroes, even vampires. But there is little on the shelf fictionalizing with real world accuracy, the political process and today's most important issues. A common feedback I get from readers is how much they learned about campaigns and the importance of elections. That's really rewarding to me. It's a genre that could use a lot more attention by legacy publishers and self-publishers.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? Best time of day to write, favorite writing spot etc.?
I wish I did. I tend to write a lot in my head when I take walks and have no other distractions. Then I rush to the keyboard and can work for long hours without noticing meal times or body aches.
This is your debut novel - what has the experience been like so far?
It's been a revelation. I actually began The Latina President thinking a fictional me, the political strategist, consultant and media producer, would be the main protagonist, the way fictional detectives are. But the more I wrote the less of a role the fictional me played. Oh, I'm still there as a major supporting character. But almost from the beginning the story strayed from original perception and sort of wrote itself. I was happy to go along for the ride.
What are you working on right now?
A sequel. I can't say more without giving away too much of the original story to those who haven't yet read it.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Two places. http://www.thelatinapresident.com has more detail about the novel and my background. I write weekly opinion columns for www.uspoliticstoday.com. They can be found here---http://uspolitics.einnews.com/blog/archive_uspolitics_einnews_columnists