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My Interview with Jason Heller
Jason Heller, author of Taft 2012, agreed to answer some questions for me. With his permission, I share those answers with you. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.
William Howard Taft was a reluctant President. Why did you choose him instead of Roosevelt, Lincoln, or Jefferson?
My editor, Stephen H. Segal, came up with the original idea to do a contemporary political satire starring William Howard Taft. Not to speak for Stephen, but I believe he’s long had a soft spot for Taft—mostly because, at least as U.S. presidents go, Taft is such an underdog. After showing me his idea, Stephen and I threw around a good many ideas about plot, theme, and characterization—and the character of Taft, at least as I have imagined and written him, stemmed mainly from his reluctance to be president. In many ways, he was prodded into the White House, and once he was there, he was open about expressing his distaste for the office. That kind of honesty from any politician, let alone the president, seems inconceivable to us now. But why? Wasn’t this country founded on the idea of the citizen politician, rather than the career politician? That’s an idealistic way to look at it, but I felt Taft would be a great vessel to explore why that ideal has changed so much in the past hundred years.
Taft was an amazingly rotund individual. Is this why you chose to highlight a processed foods industry as a sort of villain?
Definitely. I was faced with a couple choices: either make Taft the butt of a bunch of fat jokes or tackle his obesity head-on. As I found out while researching for the book, Taft wasn’t always as large as we seem to think he was. He gained a vast amount of weight when he became president, and he lost much of it as soon as he left. He was, in today’s terms, a stress eater. That said, the poor dietary choices available in America today—particularly those that are aggressively marketed to us by corporations—cast Taft’s personal eating issues in a new light. It seemed especially appropriate to take a satirical look at agribusiness, seeing as how in the real world, corporate farming spills over into so many other social and political hot-buttons: health care, regulation, and so on.
What message where you trying to get across to people in Taft 2012?
There were a few messages I was hoping might shine through, but this was the main one: The world is too complex to be boiled down into a left/right, black/white dichotomy. Also: And furthermore: Presidents should go back to having mustaches. Unless they're women, of course. Actually, I take that back: I would seriously love to see America led by a woman with a mustache.
This country is rather close to a Presidential election right now. Do you think the American people are as hungry for an honest President as they were in this book?
Honesty might be a bit too much to ask. We are talking about politics, after all. But integrity? Yes, definitely.
How do you think people today would react if someone like Taft were to enter the election as a candidate?
At the risk of sounding totally cynical: He or she wouldn’t stand a chance.
When did you realize that you were meant to write?
I was first published in a national magazine when I was eight years old (it was a poem about alligators—my literary zenith). After that, though, it took me many years to dive into writing full-time; I spent a long time drawing comics, playing in bands, and anything else I could think of to avoid putting my put in a chair and writing. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties when I finally settled down enough to get anything accomplished. And that’s when I realized whatever natural talent I had might barely get a toe through the door. After that, hard work and desperation were absolutely necessary.
Content copyright © 2013 by Lisa Binion. All rights reserved.
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