Obama, Biden fight crime
A conversation with New York Times best-selling author Andrew Shaffer who visits Magic City Books on July 27
"Hope Rides Again" finds former Vice President Joe Biden mulling a presidential run when his buddy Barack Obama's blackberry is stolen, creating a new case for the amateur detectives.
Shaffer took time during his national book tour to discuss writing fictional versions of the popular Democratic duo and how the 2020 race is impacting the future of the series.
Last year when you published the first book, "Hope Never Dies," it came on the heels of a lot of meme love for the former president and VP. Now you're releasing a sequel at a time when your main character, in real life, is running for president. How is that impacting things?
It's definitely a different environment with Joe Biden now in the race. I'm waiting to see what type of effect that has on people, either being excited for the series or you know, what their attitude is toward that. I mean, he's leading in the polls still. But I talked to a lot of people that are of different political persuasions that are like "we're waiting to see if he's still lovable Uncle Joe here," or, you know, how the next debate goes, and that sort of thing. It's definitely a different environment here. But the response to the book itself has been pretty great. People can separate that there's a real Joe Biden and a fictional one.
Is there a part of you that hopes that he doesn't get the nomination? Would that make it easier on you for future books?
Well, yeah, I have to separate what makes a great story from what makes a great story for our country. And what my personal thoughts are on all of that, I have to really separate that because right now I'm trying to figure out how to do a third book, and it definitely complicates it because I don't know where things are going to shake out a year from now. It could be a very different book depending on which way it goes. So right now, I don't have any sort idea, it's up in the air. The one thing about writing books with politicians and stuff in them is there's not much certainty.
So the heroes of book one return for "Hope Rides Again." I thought it was clever that you have that kind of meta in-joke at the beginning of the book with the Amtrak story from book one being published and how Joe Biden reacts to it by purchasing a copy. To me it was one of the funniest things to read that at the very beginning of "Hope Rides Again."
I wanted to include that because I had actually met Joe Biden last year. And he actually said, like, "great job with the book." And I said, "Well, did you read it?" He said, "Oh, no, I haven't read it yet." (Laughs) So I said, "OK, well get back to me after you read it." I haven't heard from him.
I wanted to put a little joke in there about how I imagined his real response was, but I'm sure he enjoyed it. But I know also that his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, mentioned it in her recent memoir. She added, "I haven't read it either." I was like, "Oh, OK." (Laughs) I thought it would be a fun little Easter egg for those who have read the first book.
Something with these books you're able to do is tackle real life social issues, whether it's opioid addiction or it's gun violence in Chicago. What does it mean to you to be able to do that and disguise it within a kind of humorous take on buddy presidents?
I could have gone one direction and made them deal with a dognapping or some other light crime, but I think if you're writing a mystery, it helps to have a real sort of crime at the heart of it to make it hook. And to make it an interesting read, you want to have real stakes at play. Since I didn't want them tackling like, "Oh, we're going to go defeat the Russians who interfered in the election or whatever," you know, I didn't I didn't want it to be too far in the in that direction. So I kind of met in the middle, where it's a serious topic that I think they both would have serious personal stakes, whether it's the opioid crisis or the violence in Chicago.
What has it been like creating these characters because they are fictional versions of these guys? The scene in the first book with Joe Biden and the papa stoppers line nearly had me on the floor I was laughing so hard. Joe Tingler. That was perfect. What’s it been like creating a fake Biden and Obama?
It's been a lot of fun. I did a lot of research. And at the end of the day, I had this go with almost sort of caricature versions of them so I tried to model Barack Obama more on Sherlock and Joe Biden more on Watson and kind of exaggerate those characteristics of them. Because, you know, in real life Joe Biden is kind of wonky. He was known for just droning on and on in the Senate about topics, so he can really get into it. And, and he's actually, you know, been talking on like stage and had to be, you know, dragged off at events and such because he won't shut up.
Yeah. So, so he, he could definitely, you know, talk policy and stuff. But, but for the books I wanted it to be to make it seem like Obama was the more cerebral one and Joe was that more down to Earth because that's also how I think the general public kind of sees it. There's the idea of them from those internet memes, where Biden is playing with the laser pointer in the White House and Obama is like, "put it away, Joe. Put it away."
It's a lot of fun. But, but yeah, it is. It is strange when I see Joe Biden up there on a stage in a debate or something, and I'm like "My Joe Biden wouldn't say that. My Joe Biden would blah, blah, blah..." (Laughs)
It seems like everything gets kind of option to the Netflix, Amazon or anything. Do you hope for that for this series? And if so, do you have actors a play in mind that you'd like to see play those parts?
Yeah, I have optioned the books for a TV series, and they just haven't done anything with it just yet. I think they might be waiting to see what happens with Joe as far as 2020 goes, or it could just be dying on that Hollywood shelf like a lot of Hollywood projects do.
When I took like a bunch of Hollywood meetings, the first thing they asked me who I wanted to see play these characters? And I said, "Nicolas Cage." They said, "Oh for Biden. That's amazing" and I said "No, for Biden and Obama."
This executive was like, "OK, I can see it. I can see it right now." My agent quickly jumped in and was like, "Please say you're joking. Andrew, please say you're joking." And I was like, "I'm clearly joking." So we did not go with that studio. We went with a different one. (Laughs)
But you know, hey, Nicolas Cage's Joe Biden would be fun, but I said, "Who you going to have play Barack Obama? You can't have anybody but Barack Obama." You don't want to see just anyone do a caricature. Jordan Peele played a pretty good one on "Key and Peele."
In real life you're just always conscious of someone playing an impression of Obama. I said it'd be best if he played himself.
This going to be your first visit to Tulsa?
It is. I've never been to Tulsa. I from Ohio originally. On my first book tour last year, for the first book, the publishers sent me to the coasts and then Chicago. I said for this one I wanted to go through the heartland and to the Midwest and to some places that I hadn't been. so yeah, so I'm going to Kansas as well. Wisconsin. Just because I think the readers there don't always get them. I know Tulsa has some has had some wonderful visits from authors at Magic City Books. They have just a really great program. I always see great authors coming through there. I said I want to definitely go through some places considered off the beaten path as far as author tours go.
Have you looked up anything about Tulsa? Do you know much about it? Are you just coming in blind?
Yeah, I don't actually know much about Tulsa. But I what I like to do when I get to town is I'll learn a little bit about it, so I can at least make local references for the first couple minutes of my presentation. (Laughs) I'm in Philadelphia today going around buying Eagles shirts so I can make a great impression on my buddies.