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How Two High-Powered DC Executives Found Time to Write Genre Novels

Constance Sayers and Tom Rosenstiel have written about witches and detectives, respectively. They're keeping their day jobs.

Photograph of Constance Sayers (left) by Julie Ann Pixler. Photograph of Tom Rosenstiel Courtesy of American Press Institute

Constance Sayers and Tom Rosenstiel already have impressive jobs, but each has managed to do something many Washingtonians secretly dream about: write a genre novel. In February, Sayers—a top executive at Atlantic Media—will publish her debut novel, A Witch in Timeabout a DC magazine executive battling a centuries-old witch’s curse. Rosenstiel—a journalist and executive director of the American Press Institute—recently published his third mystery, Oppo, in which a hard-boiled investigator plunges into the shadowy world of Washington’s opposition-research industry. We talked to both about how they did it.

Where They Found Time to Write

Sayers: “It’s been a slog. Working all day, then writing 1,000 words a day. The time is there. Where I learned this was I juggled a full-time job and grad school.”

Rosenstiel: “You have to be very jealous about your time—you have to do it every day. Seven days a week, my mornings are dedicated to this. I don’t do breakfast meetings. I don’t do phone calls early in the morning.”

Why They Went for It

Sayers: “When I turned 40, I said, ‘You’re either going to do this or you’re not.’ I got an agent with my first [nonfiction] book, but that failed to sell. I needed to kind of mourn that first book, but my agent called and said, ‘Where is the next book?’ ”

Rosenstiel: “I wrote a terrible novel when I was about 30, and my best friend said, ‘I’ve read worse.’ Once my kids were in high school and I had more time, I needed an outlet. I was in Iowa in a hotel room, about to do a training for young political journalists about the [presidential] campaign, and I sat down and wrote the first scene of the first book [of this series]. I just kept going.”

What Their Coworkers Think

Sayers: “Managing [my day job] is not easy, and then I basically go home and write books. My colleagues have believed in this book from the beginning. I think they’re excited about it, too.”

Rosenstiel: “I keep my two lives pretty separate. At my day job, I am fully at work. My colleagues, both in my office and in the field, are enormously supportive. They’re also often curious about the process and what other writers are like. But they are different worlds.”

This article appears in the January 2020 issue of Washingtonian.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.