Karin Tanabe is a former reporter for Politico. Her first novel is The List. She lives in Washington, D.C.
Q: Your website describes The List as "inspired by" your time as a Politico reporter. How similar are the two publications, the real and the fictional?
A: A very good question! Well, I’d say what Politico and The Capitolist, my fictional newspaper, have the most in common are the pace and the drive of the employees. The hours at Politico are Long with a capital L and the reporters and editors are very intelligent and work their butts off. In both real life and in my fictional portrayal, the employees are young and smart and competitive. Also, The Capitolist is a pretty male-dominated newsroom and I’d have to say that Politico is too. But my main character, Adrienne Brown, becomes a much better reporter because of how cutthroat The Capitolist is and the same thing happened to me at Politico.
Q: What makes Washington journalism such a good subject for a novel?
A: Washington, D.C., is a great place to be a journalist because you have access to the most powerful people in the country. I remember when I first became a reporter in my early twenties, I was floored by the access I had. From Sting and Richard Gere to Newt Gingrich and John Kerry, having my media credentials around my neck allowed me to chat with the bigwigs in informal settings. Washington is where the power is and power is always a good subject for a novel!
Q: What has been the reaction to the novel from your former colleagues at Politico?
A: Well, I haven’t heard anything negative except a murmur that a few reporters there refuse to read my book and chastise others for doing so! Fair enough. But I’ve also heard that two editors were spotted reading it inside the newsroom and I’ve had wonderful support from friends who are still there and friends who have gone on to other media jobs. I had a D.C. book party and a D.C. book reading and I was thrilled to see so many former colleagues at both.
Q: Do you have any favorite novels (in addition to The List, of course) that are set in Washington?
A: I just love D.C. novels and movies. Whenever I’m abroad and homesick I always watch The Pelican Brief and All The President’s Men, which are also good books. As for novels, Gore Vidal’s Washington ,D.C. and Ward Just’s Echo House take a very educated look at power and corruption in the political system. More recently, I really enjoyed Nicolle Wallace’s Eighteen Acres, which follows the first female American president, and Kristin Gore’s Sammy’s House.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently working on a book about the auction industry. I really love antiques and history so this book has been fascinating to write! My protagonist works at Christie’s in New York and at 29 is already a star in her field. But throw in some art world mystery and a professional disaster and she’s left trying to rebuild her career, her life and her own identity.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: A lot of the places in The List are real places and worth a visit! If you ever have time to go to Middleburg, Virginia, I promise you won’t regret it. The Kennedys loved it and it really is one of the quaintest towns in America. Also the Freer and Sackler Museums are in the book and are two of my personal favorites. Check them out next time you’re in Washington, D.C., and see where Adrienne had her mini meltdown!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb