In the avalanche of podcasts out there about fiction and writing, A.C. Fuller’s WRITER 2.0 podcast has been a strong beacon for a long time. The series is now at 120 episodes (after a brief, recent hiatus) and counting.
A.C. has hosted some heavyweights including Lawrence Block, Smashwords founder Mark Coker and sportswriter Bob Ryan, among others. I was a guest way back on Episode 27 when Trapline was published back in 2015.
A.C. hosts in-depth talks about a wide range of subjects related to writing and publishing—and everything in-between. And anyone who listens knows about his thriller The Anonymous Source. The podcast started long before its release and A.C. has kept everyone in the loop as it was published and started finding (lots and lots of) readers and then many more listeners when the Audible version came out. In fact, I listened. And I discovered big, sweeping book dealing with some heavy issues about mega corporations and their role in journalism today.
A full review follows. First, A.C. answered some questions about his first novel (and podcasting, too) by email.
Question: What came first, the idea of a plot involving a big media merger or a plot that somehow revolved around the day of 9-11? And what inspired you to combine them? Where were you on 9-11?
A.C. Fuller: I lived on the Upper West Side on 9/11. The book started with the idea of a journalist as protagonist, and I knew I wanted something set in the early 2000s because that’s around the time everyone I knew got Internet access. Of course, many people had it before then, but around that time it really exploded. So, I had the idea of a journalist working for a paper involved in a big merger, then I went looking for a great way to cover up a murder. Since 9/11 was already a bit of a backdrop in the book, I ended up opening the book on the morning of 9/11.
Question: This is one of those books where readers know the name of one key villain right up front. What’s appealing to you about that approach to the storytelling?
A.C. Fuller: I grew up reading more thrillers than mysteries. And often in thrillers the question isn’t “who is the villain?” but “will the hero defeat the villain” or “how will the hero defeat the villain?” To me, this is the biggest difference between mysteries and thrillers or suspense. In the former, you see a bomb go off but don’t know who put it there. In the latter, you see the villain put it there but don’t know if the hero will find it before he gets blown up.
Question: The Anonymous Source jumps back in time a mere 15 years or so yet lots has changed about how reporters work and how the web has changed—and what is getting published online now (versus then). How did you go about researching such recent history?
A.C. Fuller: It was tougher than I expected. I honestly couldn’t remember what cell phones were like back that, what percentage of reporters were filing stories from laptops instead of going to a newsroom. So I went back and created timelines about Internet usage, cell phone usage, web-search engines, and so on. I researched circulation of physical newspapers, how ad-clicks were working back then for stories on websites, even where payphone booths were located in NYC.
Question: Can major corporations and truly independent reporting ever co-exist? Was there a particular mega-media situation that sparked this? How many old-fashioned reporters and newspapers will be left when the dust settles? Do you get a newspaper delivered every morning?
A.C. Fuller: The distinction I like to make is this: many reporters feel independent in that they don’t have someone telling them what to write. Many reporters try to be unbiased, fair, and impartial. The issue is that the central aim of corporate media is the same as any other corporate endeavor, to make money and perpetuate the existence of the corporation. So, even though there are many well-intentioned people at all levels of media, the landscape is such that commercial decisions rule. So, I would say that independent reports often sometimes squeak out, but, taken as a whole, the mainstream media doesn’t do much serious journalism.
When the dust settles, there will still be some reporters and some “newspapers,” most of which will be read online. But there will also be more small, independent news sources such as websites and podcasts.
I stopped getting home delivery of all newspapers in 2004 and never looked back. I read a lot online, though.
Question: You’ve been producing your own podcast for a long time now, 100 episodes and counting. As a writer, what’s been the benefit to you?
A.C. Fuller: Four main benefits, in order of importance. 1) I learn a ton about writing—process, business, and craft—from the guests. Staying educated about the industry is important to me and the podcast gives me a broad view of all aspects of it. 2) Writing can be a lonely endeavor. Talking with other writers every week helps keep me sane. 3) Networking: I’ve made a lot of contacts through the podcast that have helped get my book out into the world. 4) Sales: This is minor, but some people have gotten to know me through the podcast and taken a chance on my book even though it’s not a genre they typically read. I tried to write a thriller that would appeal to people who don’t read thrillers, so it’s been heartening to hear from a lot of these folks that they liked the book.
Question: Coolest guests you booked? And one person you’re dying to book on Writer 2.0?
A.C. Fuller: Well, you were one of the coolest, of course. I loved your long and winding relationship with literary agents. And the audience loved that as well. I always love chatting with Deb Caletti about writing, and Drew Chapman was a lot of fun because of his long TV-writing career.
I’d love to speak with Walter Mosley because not only does he write great novels, but he did an excellent book on writing: This Year Your Write Your Novel. I think WRITER 2.0 listeners would love him.
Question: Favorite mysteries or thrillers featuring reporters—go. And while you’re at it, favorite writers regardless of genre. What writers inspired you the most?
A.C. Fuller: I’ve been inspired by a strange set of writers. John Steinbeck, Herman Hesse, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright, Virginia Woolf, all come to mind as writers who had big impacts on me at different stages of my life. I’ve had phases where I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries as well: Lee Child, John Grisham, Michael Connelly, Roger Hobbs, J.A. Jance.
Favorite books featuring reporters: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Poet, All the President’s Men (it’s non-fiction, of course, but still a thriller).
Question: What’s next?
A.C. Fuller: My next book is called The Inverted Pyramid, and it will be released July 13, 2017 (pre-orders May 1). Set during the 2004 Presidential election, it will follow some of the characters introduced in The Anonymous Source as they investigate an FCC bribery scandal that leads all the way to the top of the political ladder.
In The Anonymous Source, A.C. Fuller gives us the antagonist right up front. The bad guy is taking full advantage of mayhem and misery of 9-11 to take out an enemy for reasons we are not yet told. Something about a merger. Something about a deal. Something about a newspaper. And something about a threat via voice mail.
After the prologue, we leap ahead twelve months and meet newspaper reporter Alex Vane, who is hopping out of an unfamiliar bed where he’d been sleeping with an unfamiliar woman. It takes a yoga mat and an empty bottle of sake to remind him where he is. He does thirty push-ups on the porch of the woman’s brownstone in the West Village before grabbing a copy of a newspaper–his newspaper–form the corner cart. Vane is dismayed at the cutting of his latest story, but not the placement “above the fold” on page one. Vane, who really wants to work in television news, is covering the start of a trial of an NYU student accused of murdering a professor.
But Vane also reads a story in the same edition about the pending merger between the media conglomerate that owns his newspaper and a company that is a top internet service and cable provider.
Getting ready for the day’s courtroom proceedings, Vane gets a call. The voice is scrambled and references the bible but is quite certain that the NYU student is not the professor’s killer. Inside the courtroom, there’s a “mystery woman” who so captivates Alex Vane he follows her out at the lunch break, down the street and into the subway.
And, as they say, we’re off.
The mystery woman turns out to be a professor named Camila and she’s got expertise in media and communications. Told from multiple perspectives, The Anonymous Source captures a wide sweep of issues as Alex and Camila start to put the pieces together, from New York to Hawaii and back.
I’ve seen other references to this novel as a page-turner, suggesting the pace is rip-roaring. I don’t think that was Fuller’s goal. There are long Alex-Camila walks on the beach and lots of nitty-gritty figuring-things-out, down to the New York Yankees’ schedule a month before 9-11. (Yes, it’s relevant.) Some of the fuel is supplied by the anonymous source. Some is found by Camila and Alex through digging and determination.
The Anonymous Source is part thriller and part amateur-sleuth reporter procedural. It’s big-picture stuff. We know who did it. The question is, how is Alex Vane going to figure it all out?
Final note: I listened to this on Audible and the narration by Jeff Hays is excellent.