When I’m writing I consider the setting as a character. After all, places have distinct personalities. Think of a small, honky-tonk amusement park. Or a hospital. A university. A large corporation. Each one has (sometimes contradictory) traits, just like a person does. A hospital, for example, is both a place of great sadness and great hope. Think of the law office in John Grisham’s The Firm – the paranoia and control of that law office are palpable on the page. Steve Berry’s The Lincoln Myth takes us from the dry plains of Mormon Utah to the eerie catacombs of Salzburg – both are vivid presences in the novel. And the incomparable Linda Fairstein makes New York City, in all its grit and glory, a full-blown character in her police procedurals.
Places have rhythms, smells, sounds, sights, textures, and hearts and souls (or lack there of). The author’s job is to highlight the most interesting, entertaining, and relevant aspects of a place’s personality, just the way we do with our flesh-and-blood characters. To make characters come to life, we have to spend some time with them in our imaginations and on the page. With settings, whenever possible, we should spend time with the real thing. In capturing a setting’s distinct character there’s no substitute for experiencing it first hand.
So it was only natural that I would use a cable news network as the setting for my new action-thriller The Newsmakers. After all, I’ve worked at FOX News for fifteen years. I integrated the key aspects of a 24-hour news station’s personality into the book. The rhythms are ever-changing. If it’s a quiet news period, things slow down a bit, people relax, catch up on paperwork and social media. Then there’s a terrorist attack or a climate-related disaster and it’s all hands on deck, adrenaline shoots through the place like a drug, the focus becomes laser sharp, food and sleep are forgotten, everyone gives 110 percent. It’s always a thrilling time, albeit one too often darkened by the tragic elements of the breaking story. But for a writer this complexity of emotion only adds to the depth of the narrative.
A cable news network is a rich field indeed. You have stars, famous and making millions a year, who can behave like screaming divas (or not). You have competition for which ruthless is an inadequate description. Climbing to the top of the greasy pole sometimes means shoving the people above you out of the way. It’s a hotbed of subterfuge and intrigue and backstabbing. There are the hair and makeup people who overhear gossip and insider info – tidbits that they may or may not pass along to their favorite personalities. You have handsome men and beautiful women, some of them married, for who the hothouse atmosphere incubates steamy romance. Brilliant researchers and writers, IT wizards and social media gurus understand the power of all the digital tools – and how they can be manipulated and hacked for good or evil (guess which is more fun for a thriller writer?). People from all backgrounds and classes, all races, religions, and sexual orientations – everyone working cheek-to-jowl and pretty much getting along — except when they don’t (again, guess which is more fun). There’s the fact that a 24-news network has its finger on the world’s pulse. For a writer, this is manna from heaven. It allows us to give the narrative ripped-from-the-headlines propulsion. Cable news networks are in fierce competition with each other, and the fight to stay on top of a story, to get a scoop, to break news, keeps things racing along at a fevered pitch. And last, but hardly (hardly) least you have men (and they are all men) who own and run the networks. These men have extraordinary power to shape and manipulate how the news is reported. Why they even have the power to engineer the news, sometimes with nefarious and even evil motives. For more on that, you’ll have to read The Newsmakers.
© 2015 Lis Wiehl, author of The Newsmakers
Author Bio: Lis Wiehl, author of The Newsmakers, is the New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen novels. She is a Harvard Law School graduate and has served as a federal prosecutor in the state of Washington and as a tenured faculty member at The University Washington School of Law. She is currently a popular legal analyst and commentator for the Fox News Channel. For more information please visit www.liswiehlbooks.com, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter