A conversation with 'Hope Never Dies' ('An Obama Biden Mystery') author Andrew Shaff
Andrew Shaffer signing copies of "Hope Never Dies" at BookExpo
Monday’s surprise lunch visit by Barack Obama and Joe Biden at Washington, D.C.’s nonprofit Dog Tag Bakery, where veterans, military spouses and caregivers are taught about business, was a huge hit, not only for the trainees (all of whom received quality selfie time with the former president and veep) and the attending media, but for all those who dearly miss both men and their enduring friendship.
That unique relationship, meanwhile, is at the heart of Hope Never Dies, the “part noir thriller and part bromance [that is] essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fiction,” according to publisher Quirk Books’ website. Penned by New York Times best-selling author Andrew Shaffer (humorous mysteries and parodies including The Day of the Donald: Trump Trumps America, Fifty Shames of Earl Grey: A Parody, How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters), the just-issued Quirk Books title, written in Biden’s voice, presents the pair as a sort of grown-up Hardy Boys, reteaming a few months after leaving office (and to Biden’s annoyance, growing apart) to take on the mysterious death of Biden’s favorite Amtrak conductor.
“Deeply weird and very funny” (The Wall Street Journal), Hope Never Dies, says The New York Times’ Alexandra Alter, appeals to liberals “pining for the previous administration, longing for the Obama-Biden team to emerge from political retirement as action heroes.”
But Alter rightly adds that Hope Never Dies is “a surprisingly earnest story about estranged friends who are reunited under strange circumstances.”
Now on his “Ridin’ with Biden Tour” of bookstores, Shaffer found time yesterday to answer questions about what his book’s jacket calls “An Obama Biden Mystery.” By coincidence he was in Biden’s home state of Delaware, where he appeared at to two sold-out discussion/book signings at Hockessin Bookshelf in Hockessin.
How did you come up with the concept for “An Obama Biden Mystery”?
I always thought that Joe Biden looked like an action hero! People joke about how the vice president doesn’t do very much, but I thought that behind those aviator shades Biden could be doing a “Walter Mitty” thing as the world’s greatest secret agent while he was just sitting around his vice president’s office doing meet-and-greets.
Was it easy to find a publisher?
There was no interest from publishers in doing a Joe Biden standalone mystery spoof, especially during the second Obama-Biden term when everybody was turning against them—the typical “over-promised/under-delivered thing,” even though so much of that was due to being stonewalled.
But then the last month or two that they were in office, it became “the [Obama-Biden] friendship, the friendship, the friendship”—and that was the missing ingredient: I just put that in, and as soon as my agent pitched it to Quirk—which published Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and other crazy books—they said, “This is a Quirk book!”
The title is the perfect play on “Keep hope alive!”
That and [James Bond movie title] Tomorrow Never Dies. The book is almost a James Bond parody at first—though it’s more like an Austin Powers type of story. But as I started writing it, the stuff that connected with me and my editor was the emotional stuff—the bromance stuff. That was more fun and a more interesting angle, and the book follows not only a mystery novel structure but almost a romance novel plot structure where jilted lovers are apart at the beginning and are then brought together and have to work together--but they’re still not on board together and have to talk out their differences and become friends again.
One of the wonderful things about it is the attention to detail—even down to Obama’s brand of cigarettes.
I read all their memoirs and books to the point where it became procrastination on my part, and finally sat down and started writing. Some of the things like the cigarettes brand [Marlboro Reds] and nicotine patches are all pretty much real. I even asked a specialist on the Secret Service if an ex-president ever ditched his detail—and he just rolled his eyes and said that maybe LBJ drove his golf cart away from them.
What about Biden’s car?
He’s had the same Stingray that he got 40 years ago, that he drove in an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage. But in the book I decided that he was going to go off as his own man—a midlife crisis at 74—and buy a Dodge Challenger, which in reality I looked at in a car show. But he’s driving a Firebird on the cover, which he never had.
What about the descriptions of his house?
It’s his real house, as far as location—but I fudged the details. There’s just not a lot about Biden out there other than one bio and two memoirs, so I was free to make up details.
What’s it like doing readings and signings in his home state?
Everybody comes up with their own Joe Biden story—how they worked on his campaign, how he goes to their grocery store, how he did this or that.
So were you a Hardy Boys fan?
I never read any of them, but I am a fan of mysteries—Elmore Leonard,Thomas Block. Funny, comic thrillers and mysteries. Hope Never Dies is my tenth book, but the first like the ones I mostly read. I also read a lot of horror, but I don’t see myself writing it.
Calling the book “An Obama Biden Mystery” suggests that it’s part of a series. Will there be more?
Yeah, I’m working on the second one—Hope Rides Again. It takes place in Chicago--on Obama’s territory--but it’s still from Biden’s point-of-view: I can’t get into Obama’s head! He’s too cerebral.
Anything else you can say about it?
Chicago is nothing like Delaware! It might have [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel in it, but I’m keeping the cameos down because then you start to lose focus—which is what happened with Sharknado.
And the obvious question, Will there be a movie?
I’ve actually been on the phone with Hollywood. They asked who I thought should star in it and I said Nicholas Cage—for both roles. There was a stunned silence, then, “I could see that....,” and then my agent broke in and said, “You’re joking, aren’t you?” and I said yes.
Have you been surprised by the positive response to the book?
Of course! When I pitched it, it was, “Are you kidding?” “Is this a joke?” “Is it for mystery fans, or this or that fans?” I said, “It’s for whomever wants the book.”
The great thing is that it’s paired with such a great cover: As soon as people see it they want to read it. And thank God they did that cover, because my way was to have more of a noir cover like the Hard Case Crime books that are some of my favorites.
Any thoughts about the audience for Hope Never Dies?
It’s mainly appealing right now to the Obama and Biden fans. I’ve heard from a lot of readers that they don’t read many mysteries or a whole lot of books, and any time you reach people who aren’t normally readers you tap into a wider readership than those who read six books a week.
But I think at this point that the book’s characters are sort of “stand-ins” for the readers: People want to see that Joe and Barack are going through the same things we are. Most of the country did not vote for Donald Trump, and it’s like they’re saying, “We’re just as confused as any of you. We didn’t expect this, and it’s all difficult to take in.” And they actually do that in the book, without mentioning Trump by name. But to be honest, I didn’t think he’d still be president, and didn’t want to date the book.
What about Obama and Biden now?
It’s so weird. When I started writing, I wondered, “Will they still be relevant in 18 months, or will people turn on them?” Now it’s “I can’t believe they left us!” So in the book they become stand-ins for what people want to project on them—especially since they won’t be getting Barack’s own book for a long time.
And how about the timing of their lunch date yesterday?
They got together to film a scene from the book! But you saw how crazy people went, just over them ordering sandwiches? It’s like they’ve come back to save us.
"Hope Never Dies" trailer