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Interview: Michael Charney, Author of Chasing Glenn Beck: A Personal Experiment in Reclaiming Our Hijacked Political Conversation

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Michael Charney is an award-winning author and publisher from Bedford, New Hampshire, where he lives with his wife and two dogs. He enjoys a bit of surrealism now and then, and counts among his friends several people who can quote extensive passages from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Red Dwarf. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, he has managed to become a Republican anyway.

In previous lives he has worked in high technology start-up companies and as an adjunct professor of English. He continues to write and converse with others on politics, political dialogue, and political marketing at his website and blog.

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His latest book is Chasing Glenn Beck: A Personal Experiment in Reclaiming Our Hijacked Political Conversation.

Please tell us a bit about your book and what you hope readers take away from reading it.

After Glenn Beck’s tasteless comments following the disasters in Japan, I found myself thinking about the power and impact of entertainers and pundits on the way we converse with each other about politics. Politics, to me, is important and fundamental to our way of life, and the idea that we’re manipulated by those with agendas and carefully wrought marketing messages bothers me. I wondered what it might be like to turn the tables, to use the same kind of mass marketing techniques to create an equally absurd idea, and then to see if it would take hold.

So I created a Twitter persona and started tweeting odd things about Glenn Beck: his liberal tendencies, his love for the environment, his disdain for big business and Wall Street. Things got interesting rather quickly, as you might imagine. There was a lot of virtual shouting (MORON! SCUMSUCKER!).

Shortly after I began, I realized that there was more to say: logic had left our conversations and it was time to put it back. Working in real time, I wrote about what I and other “tweeps” were discussing: the death of Bin Laden, the GOP primary campaigns, the push to end bullying — even the status of the Senate Candy Desk.

What I found was that, despite the fact that people like Glenn Beck turn everything up to a Spinal-Tap-like “eleven” whenever they speak, there is room for reasoned conversation and, if we all just start to pay attention, we can repaint our country’s political landscape as it should be: with regular people in the foreground, people like you and me.

I had a lot of fun along the way, too, and learned some things about myself. The book reflects that, peppered as it is with humor, sarcasm and embarrassing anecdotes from my own life. Hey: I’m not proud.

Who are your favorite characters in the story? 

The most inspiring “characters” in my book are all of the many Tweeps who conversed with me during the time I was working on the book. While there are certainly people out there you might not want to hang out with, those people are very much the minority. The vast political Twitterverse is filled with kind, thoughtful, intelligent people, many of whom have very interesting things to say and are quite willing to listen to other points of view. It was truly eye-opening, and, frankly, not what I expected… which says more about me than about them, I suppose…

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt from your book?

My personal favorite comes, oddly enough, from a footnote. (I peppered quite a bit of humor throughout those footnotes, so I hope everyone reads them!) This particular footnote describes Rush Limbaugh:

“Limbaugh claims to have his ‘talent on loan from God.’ The statement strikes me as odd since I usually think of God as a Being of infinite gifts, not loans. Limbaugh makes God sound too much like the neighbor that wants to borrow my hedge trimmer. However, if Limbaugh is right and God did loan him talent, then he should have asked for a bigger loan.”

If your current release were to be turned into a movie, who would you love to see play what characters and why?

Can’t imagine that watching a guy spend hours and hours online every day would make a good movie but… I’d love to be played by Jason Bateman; he has that subtle glint of snark that I like to think I have, yet at the same time he manages to convince everybody that he’s a pretty nice guy. Glenn Beck would have to be played by a digital re-creation of Curly from The Three Stooges.

What are your favorite aspects of writing?

Oddly enough, I’m not all that sure I like to write. I do, however, feel compelled to write. I often find myself procrastinating (or, as my wife calls it, “counting loose change”) and I sometimes have to trick myself by making an appointment to write for an hour or two — and actually putting it on my calendar. But when a phrase just rolls off my fingers and onto the keyboard, something just perfect, words drawn to each other like magnets, inseparable… Well, that’s a beautiful feeling.

Your least favorite aspects of writing?

The third draft. Always and forever. The second draft is usually a pretty sizeable re-write, and the fourth, fifth, and (maybe) sixth drafts are largely dealing with particulate matter. But the third draft is where I have to make tough decisions, where I have to perhaps throw out something I really want to keep after realizing it doesn’t fit the narrative or the voice, and where I may have to do major structural work. That’s hard and painful.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

I have very eclectic tastes, so it often depends on what mood I’m in at the time, but there are a few that stand out for me. Jose Saramago’s books are both brilliant and funny, and one in particular, Seeing, triggered many of the thoughts that are in my own book. I rarely miss anything by Margaret Atwood or Joan Didion, and when I’m in the mood for poetry I turn to Wislawa Szymborska, an absolutely brilliant writer from Poland. And then there are the classics: I love Jane Austen and William Faulkner. Oh: and David Foster Wallace — absolutely anything by David Foster Wallace.

What are you reading right now?

Currently I have several books going. I’ve started a non-fiction book entitled Goffstown Reborn by a local writer named Elizabeth Dubrulle. I’m also reading Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. It’s one of many classics I never got around to. I’ve also just recently finished a book of poems by Nobel Prize winner Tomas Transtromer. I have a bit of an obsession with Nobel Prize winners; I’ve read at least one book from every winner.

If you could have a dinner party and invite five authors — dead or alive — who would they be and what would you serve them?

The first would definitely be David Foster Wallace, a brilliant writer we lost a few years back and whose mind worked in such interesting and intricate ways. Second on my list would be Annie Dillard, followed by Philip K. Dick and Umberto Eco. Finally, I’d want to invite the author who first penned the Book of Revelation, just so I could ask him where all that imagery really came from.

As far as a menu, I think I’d make it a potluck and ask everyone to bring their favorites. I’d supply the wine and beer.

What is a book that you wish you could say that you had written and why?

Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. Every child who has ever heard it has laughed out loud. What could be better in life than hearing children laugh out loud?

What is the greatest piece of advice (for writing and/or just living) that you have heard?

If you’re passionate about it — whatever it is — find a place for it in your life. Without passion, life is just a series of days.

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