- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

In Montana, a group of powerful men including the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is planning nuclear blackmail against the U.S. government.Meanwhile, in Tennessee, a disgraced ex-White House press secretary (and grandson of a New Jersey gangster) is trying to start a second Civil War as part of scheme to help save the ancestral plantation home of an old flame.

These troubling scenarios are purely fictional, the literary products of two Washington insiders who have turned their real-world knowledge into new novels.

“America’s Last Days” is Douglas MacKinnon’s tale of “The 1776 Command,” a rogue group of patriots who are determined to turn Montana and Wyoming into an independent republic in a bid to restore the vision of the Founding Fathers.

“Spinning Dixie” is Eric Dezenhall’s story of a down-on-his-luck presidential spokesman who was fired after an outburst of political incorrectness who takes on the federal government in order to defend the Polk plantation in Maury County, Tenn.

Both authors are veterans of political combat in the nation’s capital.

Mr. Dezenhall, a veteran public-relations executive who worked in the Reagan White House, is president of Dezenhall Resources, a Washington communications firm specializing in crisis management.

Mr. MacKinnon is a Washington communications consultant who has worked as spokesman for former Sen. Bob Dole, Kansas Republican, and whose resume also includes stints at the Pentagon and as a speechwriter for President Reagan and the first President Bush.

Their books are quite different. Mr. Dezenhall’s comic style “Spinning Dixie” is his fifth novel has drawn comparisons to the writing of novelist Carl Hiassen, and his latest work has been likened to an episode of “The Sopranos” set in “Gone With the Wind” territory. Mr. MacKinnon’s novel, his second work of fiction, is a provocative “ripped-from-the-headlines” political thriller somewhat in the tradition of Allen Drury’s classic 1960 novel, “Advise and Consent.”

Yet despite their different styles and themes, both authors say that writing novels provides a way to put their real-world experiences to work.

“In fiction, you can take a character very much like yourself and exaggerate his role in the cosmos,” said Mr. Dezenhall, a man sometimes described as a “spin doctor,” whose job often involves helping clients fight back against negative publicity.

“The business that I’m in is so brutal, I think if I didn’t write I’d be getting electroshock therapy. Novel writing is a way for me to control my world because in reality I’m at the whim of events, and many times those events don’t turn out very well,” he said.

Mr. MacKinnon says he learned to love fiction while growing up as the son of alcoholic parents.

“I just sort of fell in love with the written word at a young age,” he said. “It provided a needed escape for me. The books would take me anywhere I wanted to go. So when I got older, I was grateful for the escape they provided and wanted to provide an escape for others.”

A columnist at Townhall.com and frequent guest on television and talk-radio programs, Mr. MacKinnon says the revolutionary plot of “America’s Last Days” was inspired in part by his conversations with ordinary people who are disillusioned by the failure of Washington to address the nation’s problems.

“I think so many Americans believe this United States of America is broken beyond repair,” he said. “In their minds, they have run out of options. Clearly, I’m not advocating a revolution from within, but as an author, you insert yourself into the point of view of the characters.”

Since publishing the novel in January, Mr. MacKinnon said, he has heard from “a number of Americans think a revolution may be the only thing that can save the country. It’s sort of a wake-up call.”

Mr. Dezenhall says “Spinning Dixie” was inspired by a teenage visit to a Tennessee plantation called “Rattle and Snap” that was home to a girl he met at a high school workshop in Washington.

“I’m a Jersey boy. We didn’t have plantations in New Jersey,” he said. “The combination of this beautiful Southern woman against the backdrop of this regal plantation burned into my mind, and I vowed to write about it one day.”

The novel, he says, provides insight into the world of public relations which is also the subject of a forthcoming nonfiction book Mr. Dezenhall co-authored with John Weber, “Damage Control: Why Everything You Know About Crisis Management Is Wrong.”

The imaginative world of fiction, however, offers special advantages. The novelist’s art allows Mr. Dezenhall to alter the outcome of his teen romance: “In fiction, you can make it go as far as you want,” he said.

“Spinning Dixie,” he said, “shows how media manipulators attempt to exploit visceral antagonisms to accomplish their own goals.”

The novel is “a satire of the power of mass manipulation,” he said. “A lot of what it does is exploit American cultural divides red states versus blue states, North versus South, New York Times versus NASCAR, Fox versus CNN.”

A divided nation is also the essential theme of Mr. MacKinnon’s “America’s Last Days,” which has apparently struck a chord with so-called “Lou Dobbs voters,” who share the popular CNN newsman’s concerns with issues of trade and immigration.

“That’s one of the things that I keep hearing from callers on talk radio,” said Mr. MacKinnon, who has been a frequent radio guest while promoting his novel. “They keep thinking the government is going to sell out, and we’re going to become the North American Union. For those people, this novel was very timely.”

Now working as a political consultant “I’m trying to fail at all careers before I retire,” he jokes Mr. MacKinnon says the characters in “America’s Last Days” are based on real people and that some of the settings in the novel are so realistic that, after allowing FBI and CIA officials to read the manuscript, he was asked to alter details for national security reasons.

Though a longtime Republican himself, Mr. MacKinnon says much of the public disillusionment explored in “America’s Last Days” can be blamed on the failures of Republican leadership during the 12 years the party controlled Congress.

“They became what they defeated in 1994,” he said. “They morphed the elitism, the corruption, not looking out for their constituents and because of that, they were rightfully booted out of power.”

Democratic control of Congress, however, doesn’t seem to have solved the problem, he says.

“I think what’s been happening is that both parties are putting their party before their country,” Mr. MacKinnon said. “Most Americans now recognize that and are fed up.”

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