Author Interview – Steve Piacente
February 28, 2012
Steve Piacente is the author of the political thriller Bella and a forthcoming prequel titled Bootlicker. Steve is a native New Yorker who spent 25 years in Southern journalism, including 15 years as Washington Correspondent for the newspapers in Tampa, FL and Charleston, SC.
Q – So how did a New Yorker wind up in the Deep South?
A – I was an undergrad American University in Washington during Watergate. That fired my desire to be a reporter. Alas, the only job I could find after college was as a high school sportswriter in Naples, FL. I worked my way up from there, putting in several years at papers in Lakeland and Tampa, FL, before returning to D.C. as the Trib’s national reporter.
Q – Why did you leave journalism, and what are you doing now?
A – I was an early victim of the current economic woes that have forced massive layoffs and buyouts at papers around the country. About 10 years ago, my editor called and said there was no more money for a Washington bureau. I considered several options and wound up as a speechwriter in the government. Today I manage the websites and social media properties for a major federal agency in Washington, D.C. I also teach communications at my alma mater in classrooms where I once took classes, and I write fiction.
Q – How did fiction enter the picture?
Critics would say that fiction was frequently sprinkled throughout my news stories. In fact, I eventually became frustrated with news-writing and went back to school (Johns Hopkins University) for a Masters in Fiction. That led to some short stories, and eventually to Bella.
Q – Bella, in a nutshell?
Married reporter Dan Patragno violates journalism’s most sacred tenet by becoming entangled with a widow trying to uncover the secret behind her husband’s death in Afghanistan. Old-fashioned detective work leads Dan and Bella into the high-tech world of modern military surveillance. The truths they expose in Bella speak to the futility of revenge, the power of temptation, and the consequences of yielding to either.
Q – And now there’s a prequel?
A – Yes, Dan will be back this Spring as a rookie reporter in Bootlicker. The year is 1959, the setting, rural South Carolina. Poor, black teenager Ike Washington stumbles on a Klan lynching led by a white judge. Caught, he must choose: join the dead man or begin hustling black support the ambitious judge needs to advance. In trade, Ike is handed a life of comfort and power. Decades later, as he is poised to become the first black S.C. congressman since Reconstruction, guilt-wracked Ike winds up alone in the same forest, a long rope in his fist. Dan uncovers the truth just before Election Day.
Q – Bootlicker is an unusual title. Where did it come from?
A – The story takes place in 1992. The man favored to become South Carolina’s first black congressman since the Civil War – Ike Washington – works backstage for a veteran Senator with a racist past. Competition in this historic race is fierce. During a debate, one of Ike’s opponents says the seat is too important to go to any old bootlicker. Ike worries this is how voters view him. In truth, it is how he views himself.
Q – Why does Ike work for the Senator?
A – A terrible secret links the two. Some 30 years earlier, the Senator was a local judge by day, and a Klansman by night. When blacks began registering to vote, Judge “Mac” McCauley decided to set an example. Young Ike and his friend were in the woods sneaking beers when they came upon a lynching orchestrated by McCauley. The other boy ran, but Ike froze, and was given a choice: Join the dead man, or begin hustling black support the judge needed to advance in politics. In return, Ike was given a life of power and privilege.
Q – Is there any truth to the story?
A – South Carolina did elect its first black congressman in 1992, and the state did have a veteran U.S. Senator with a racist past. That, however, is where fact ends and fiction begins. The story is entirely imagined. I began conceiving the plot during my time as Washington Correspondent for the Charleston, SC, newspaper.
Q – What will readers take away from your novel?
In a year of heightened political sensitivities, Booklicker goes where C-SPAN is never invited – to back rooms where deals are cut, futures are plotted, and where right and wrong are not so easily defined. I’d say that Bootlicker is for: women intrigued by powerful men; men intrigued by the path to power; and all who thought they understood politics.
Steve’s Links follow:
Author site: www.stevepiacente.com