The authors behind Congress's authors

Meet Mary-Rose Hayes and Joshua Green. Hayes, a novelist, co-wrote Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) new work of fiction, Blind Trust (as well as A Time to Run in 2005). And Green, a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine, co-authored Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) nonfiction The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works, which came out in July.

Hayes and Green spoke to The Hill about their experiences working with their congressional collaborators.


Joshua Green

(Editor’s note: Green spoke to The Hill on the phone.)

What got you interested in working with Rep. Waxman?

I had always wanted to do a long profile of Waxman because he is a fascinating guy and a master legislator … and had never sold an editor on that concept.

So how did the arrangement come about?
I was in Waxman’s office around the time the Oversight and Government Reform Committee was doing the Roger Clemens steroids stuff.

I told Phil Schiliro, [then] the chief of staff, that I wanted to do a profile on his boss, and he said a book project was already in the works and suggested I be the writer.

When I started, my job was sort of to come in as a reporter. I would meet with Waxman, Schiliro and the relevant staffers, depending on the chapter. And then it was up to me to go and polish that into a compelling legislative narrative.

How was the project different from what you do every day?
Really, the challenge was in kind of writing in someone else’s voice.

How’d you do that?
By listening to, like, 30 hours of the collective interviews. He becomes the kind of voice in your head. It’s kind of like trying to write with your left hand if you’re right-handed. It is a little odd, trying to write in someone else’s voice. I think the fact that he had so much interesting stuff to say, it made it a lot easier.

What else was difficult about this project?
When I do my own writing, the world stops, and that’s the only focus — is kind of charging through whatever huge Atlantic piece I’m working on. And that’s just how the world works. This was written literally in the final stages of the 2008 presidential campaign. Schiliro had decamped for the presidential campaign.

Once the new Congress started, it got even harder because Waxman was chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. It was a somewhat chastening experience, having to leave a message for a staffer. The irony is that of everyone that I dealt with on the book, Waxman himself was always the easiest guy to get ahold of.

How long did the project take?
From start to end, from March or April 2008 to January of 2009.

Did Waxman tell you he’d be challenging Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) for the Energy and Commerce chairmanship?
You can embarrass me on the record; I don’t think I felt worse about myself … I didn’t have any clue that that was happening. And I was on the phone with Waxman every day.

And you didn’t take book leave to do this project? How’d you do it?
First by misleading my wife and myself, to be honest, about the amount of time and effort this would take. And by spending every effort every weekend, getting up at 5 a.m. on weekdays to do book stuff before work.

It was not the greatest lifestyle, but on the other hand, it’s what I cover for my day job, and I can’t even describe how helpful it was in that sense. If I had any clue what I was getting into, I would’ve asked for book leave, but I didn’t.


Mary-Rose Hayes

(Editor’s note: Hayes answered these questions via e-mail.)

Why did you decide to work with Sen. Boxer?
Blind Trust was my second collaboration on a book with Sen. Boxer, the first, A Time to Run, having been a good experience and a fascinating insight into the political world.
 
What was your writing process like? What was the division of labor? (i.e., Who did what?)

Sen. Boxer and I worked together to develop the storylines, major characters and chapter outlines. When we reached agreement, we accepted advice from our editor.
 
What’s Sen. Boxer’s writing style like?
Sen. Boxer’s writing style is clear and concise, with a firm grasp of dialogue in locations and between characters [that] would have been inaccessible to a political outsider such as myself.

How would you describe your writing style?
I published six novels in different genres, including suspense and romance, before my first collaboration with Sen. Boxer. My writing style varies accordingly.
 
How did you merge your writing style with hers? What was your creative process like?
The merging of styles was seamless on the whole, with the editor having final approval. The actual creative process involved mutual brainstorming sessions, with a significant plot breakthrough during a trip to Washington, D.C. There were numerous weekend telephone calls and e-mails.
 
How would you describe this book?
I would describe this book as a political thriller, with an exploration of current “hot-button” political issues.

What inspired this book?
This book was inspired by Sen. Boxer’s beliefs regarding such issues as individual rights, illegal surveillance, and potential subversion of the country by political extremists. Sen. Boxer also wanted our readers to see how tough politics can get and how important staff and family are to the officeholder.
 
Had you co-written a novel before? What did you take into consideration before agreeing to this project?
I joined the first project (A Time to Run) because of my admiration for Sen. Boxer and the opportunity to work with her. In due course I welcomed the chance to work on a second novel.
 
Would you work with Sen. Boxer again — or any other member of Congress, for that matter?
I would certainly work with Sen. Boxer again. Any other potential collaboration, with or without a member of Congress, would be considered on an individual basis.

I see Sen. Boxer nearly every day as a politician and legislator. What’s she like as an author? What was it like working with her?
As a co-author, Sen. Boxer has always displayed flexibility and generosity.
 
What were some of the challenges of this project? What are the general difficulties of co-writing a novel?
A major challenge in the writing of Blind Trust was the severe economic downturn in the fall of 2008, while the book was in the final stages, which required adjustments throughout the text to keep the story relevant. The only potential difficulty in co-writing this book concerned my recent move to Arizona from San Francisco and the subsequent lack of face-to-face meetings with Sen. Boxer; however, this was solved mostly by e-mail and phone.