The early job: Delivering newspapers at 3 am for eight years, 365 days a year. I would never allow my own kids to go riding off in the dark to deliver papers, but it was a great time for me to let my imagination run wild. I came up with a lot of stories while chucking the Richmond Times-Dispatch onto people’s porches.
The piece of advice: Once you think you know what you’re doing as a writer, you’ve lost it. The Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Goldman told me that after he got the commission to write the adaptation of my first novel, Absolute Power. Goldman has said that he’s terrified that one day people will realize he has no idea what he’s doing. But his point was that fear and uncertainty allow a writer to always be right on the edge—fearful, lean and hungry—and that terror can be translated into creative power.
The failure or setback: Having a “sure-fire” screenplay sale blow up. It led me to hunker down and write Absolute Power, which changed my life.
The historical figure he admires: Close tie between Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. They were men from privilege—today’s 1-percenters—who cared about people who would never have the advantages they did. They instilled a national can-do attitude, uniting the country behind a common purpose. My books are filled with themes like that, and in my life I try to see ways to unite people and come up with practical solutions.
This article appears in the November 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.