Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Exclusive Interview with Peter Stone, Author of The Perfect Candidate + Giveaway (US only)

I'd like to welcome Peter Stone to the blog today to celebrate the exciting release of his debut novel, The Perfect Candidate from Simon & Schuster!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Peter! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief introduction with us?

Peter Stone is a lifelong fan of thrillers on the big screen, small screen, and page. He started early, writing a 5th grade book report on John Grisham’s The Firm. But his work as an author was sparked in earnest many years later at his wedding, where a bestselling author guest approached him after hearing his vows and urged “You have a book in you.” (This made Stone think that there were probably some really good drinks being served at the bar.)

That book is Stone’s debut young adult novel, The Perfect Candidate, is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. The story is inspired by his experience working in Washington, D.C. as a Spanish tutor for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and as an intern for Congressman Gary A. Condit just after he graduated from high school. Having majored in political science, Stone managed a Congressional primary campaign and is a Harry S. Truman Scholar. He is also a high school speech and debate national champion and maintains that speech and debate tournaments are the best thing any teenager could do with their Saturdays.

Stone has worked for ten years as a marketing executive for TV and film and is currently based in Tokyo, Japan, where he lives with his wife and two children. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University (BA, 2004) and Harvard Business School (MBA, 2008). He has lived in California, Utah, Boston, Israel, and El Salvador; and traveled to over sixty countries.

It's amazing to get to feature you today! Readers, here's a bit about the book, which hit shelves yesterday:

From debut author Peter Stone comes a heart-stopping, pulse-pounding political thriller that’s perfect for fans of Ally Carter and House of Cards.

When recent high school graduate Cameron Carter lands an internship with Congressman Billy Beck in Washington, DC, he thinks it is his ticket out of small town captivity. What he lacks in connections and Beltway polish he makes up in smarts, and he soon finds a friend and mentor in fellow staffer Ariel Lancaster.

That is, until she winds up dead.

As rumors and accusations about her death fly around Capitol Hill, Cameron’s low profile makes him the perfect candidate for an FBI investigation that he wants no part of. Before he knows it—and with his family’s future at stake—he discovers DC’s darkest secrets as he races to expose a deadly conspiracy.

If it doesn’t get him killed first.

As a huge fan of first lines, I’d love to hear the first line of The Perfect Candidate. Could you give us a brief commentary on it?

The first line of The Perfect Candidate finds protagonist Cameron Carter analyzing a summer intern portrait with his Congressman, with whom he’s just worked for the summer:

“You don’t notice it at first.”
Cameron is referring to a number of unnerving details in the image, which only become visible after some inspection. But the sentiment applies to his whole experience in Washington, D.C. Newcomers to the nation’s capital are rightfully awed by the power, the politician sightings, and the majesty of the monuments. What they don’t immediately see the are the hidden abuses; the corruption veiled by soundbites and smiles; and the dirt and grime coating the white stone of the notable memorials in the city. Throughout the story, Cameron will encounter all of these and worse—usually when he (and the reader) least expect it. (Bonus: the intern photo is the inspiration for the killer cover artwork!)

Tell us about your road to publication, such as how you first queried, unexpected challenges, and things you picked up along the way.

My road to publication started at my wedding reception. One of the guests (friends of my in-laws) approached me after hearing the wedding vows I’d spoken. Apparently impressed with my speech, she asked me if I was a writer. I told her that I wrote emails at my job. She then urged me to write a book. I attributed her generous assessment to her probably having had a couple drinks from the bar. When I later learned that this wedding guest was bestselling author Margaret Stohl, I took the advice a little more seriously and began to write The Perfect Candidate.

As always seems to be the case, finding the right agent was a combination of work and luck. One of the first agents I spoke with was actually more excited about a separate idea, and urged me to write that different story—so I actually wrote an entirely new book, which that agent eventually passed on (this was not fun news to receive!). I later met the team who would represent me (Richard Abate and Rachel Kim at 3 Arts), who agreed that my second manuscript book had some limitations. That’s when I pulled out The Perfect Candidate from my proverbial back pocket. They soon sparked to it, citing a surge of political curiosity and engagement among young adults living in America today. They are awesome creative partners and helped me revise the manuscript so that it was the best version to share with publishers. The wait to hear back from potential editors was just a few weeks, but it felt excruciating—and soon I was on the phone with David Gale who welcomed me into the fold at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. I just got chills writing that sentence—it was surreal and terribly exciting.

Things I picked up:

  1. At the end of the day, the publishing market will decide what works. Getting a book picked up by a publisher is about creative value, but also very much about commercial viability. I thought my second manuscript was going to be my debut, but the market decided otherwise. 
  2. There are no guarantees (just because agent #1 suggested that I explore a different idea doesn’t mean they would represent it). And try not to take agent rejections personally, because it probably means another agent is more of a fit (which was the case when my actual agents saw promise in The Perfect Candidate). 
  3. Invite Margaret Stohl to your wedding.

Are the characters from your book based off anyone you know in real life? How much else of your actual life gets written into your fiction?  

Most of the places and people in The Perfect Candidate are based on my real experiences, though there aren’t any 1:1 inspirations for the characters in the book. I was an intern for two notable government leaders (Congressman Gary Condit and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich), and my interactions with them factor heavily into the characterization of the elected officials in the book. But the descriptions of politicians in the story were also influenced by speeches and TV interviews I’ve seen. Other characters are kind of like “smoothies” of the colorful people in my life—I took elements from each (phrases, fashion, attitude, preferences) and mixed them together to create the various players in the story. My own experience as an intern is probably the strongest influence for Cameron’s character (in addition to restocking the supply closet like Cameron does, I was once had to don an apron and scoop ice cream for a whole office as part of a summer internship!).


Out of all the fantastic books out there, what makes The Perfect Candidate stand out from the rest?

The Perfect Candidate is like House of Cards or Scandal, except from the point of view of the youngest staffers on the political scene. I’ve joked that you could call it “Apartment of Cards.” I’ve seen and read so many exciting stories about Washington from the point of view of adult power brokers and senior leaders—but I’d never read a Capitol Hill thriller from the perspective of someone I could truly relate to. This is Washington, D.C., from the front lines and the lowest ranks—because sometimes the people with the smallest titles end up having the most power.

Give aspiring writers a piece of advice you wish you had known before getting published.

If you want to write a book, you have to write a book. It sounds silly, but it’s true. You have to write when you are inspired (which is as awesome as it is rare). But more importantly: You have to write when you are tired; when you’d really rather binge a Netflix show all night; when it feels so good to say you’ll write tomorrow instead (it always feels good to say you’ll write tomorrow instead); when a gorgeous Saturday beckons from the outside; when some other mindless project seems more appealing; when you’re feeling an itch in your throat and you’re tempted to postpone because maybe you’re getting sick and you should sleep instead, but deep down you know it’s an excuse; and on and on forever. There will always be something else to do. But you need to nuke those excuses and open a Word file and get. the. words. on. the. page. Final note: prepare for the negative voices in your head to have a full-on protest march in your brain. But that’s when you need to start your own march, because the first person who needs to believe you can write is you.

Now give us your best personal advice—something you wish you had known when you were younger and would offer to your own kids.

The more activities you expose yourself to, the sooner you’ll discover the magical intersection of 1) what you love and 2) what you’re kinda good at. When I was a kid, trying new things sometimes freaked me out. Maybe it was a fear of failure. Maybe it was because the video game Mega Man was more fun. But I resisted the unknown, which probably delayed the own discovery of my own skills and abilities. So: jump in and test the waters. If you hate something, move on. But the thing you’ll love could look just as scary as the thing you’ll hate—you just won’t know it until you give it a try. That thing that freaked you out just might become a lifelong passion or even a career.

Also: wear sunscreen.

Where can you be found on the web?


It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you better today, Peter! Thank you again for dropping by, and best of luck with future endeavors!

Giveaway!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of The Perfect Candidatewoohoo! To enter, all you have to do is tell me in the comments below:
If you could intern at the White House during any time period in American history, which year or presidency would you choose?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Peter and I really want to hear your thoughts! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publicist—a huge thank you to the lovely folks over at Megan Beatie Communications!
Giveaway ends October 17th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US residents only. Sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar on the right for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!