Ashland writer Morgan Hunt has written mystery novels, poetry, screenplays, short stories, and magazine articles, including Writer’s Digest. Her Tess Camillo mystery series won a Best Books Award (USA Book News) and a National Indie Excellence Award. Her poems have been published in the California Quarterly, San Diego Mensan, and she’s considered one of the Oregon Poetic Voices. Hunt’s short story, “The Answer Box,” placed as a Finalist in the 2014 Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction contest.
Morgan Hunt grew up on the Jersey shore. She is a Navy veteran and a licensed ultralight pilot. She has lived with an aggressive form of breast cancer for more than 15 years.
We sat down to talk about her recently published novel We the Peeps, her first political novel.
EB: You’ve written in a variety of genres, mystery, poetry, short story and more. What prompted you to try your hand at “a political caper and wish fulfillment”?
MH: Well, I’ve been a political junkie for the past 20 years. In 2011 I was weighing whether to write a fourth book in my mystery series or to stretch myself as an author and attempt something more challenging. That summer the House of Representatives let their Stooges off-leash, and the “most powerful nation on earth” wound up with the nonsensical sequestration budget. I wanted to understand the causes of this political chaos. I read 17 text books on political science, civics, the history of the American Revolution, the Beltway insider game, etc. Rightly or wrongly, I convinced myself that by writing a political novel with appealing humor, I’d encourage Americans to think about their government, and thus I’d be part of the solution instead of the problem.
EB: I have to admit, I didn’t see the ending coming. Did you have it in mind all along?
MH: Glad I surprised you, Ed. I’m sure that’s not easy to do! The main concept behind the ending was in my outline all along, although certain details eluded me until I wrote the final chapters.
EB: You had several ordinary – or not so ordinary –folks as protagonists. How did you choose your ensemble?
MH: I wanted to balance the political leanings and geographic backgrounds of the revolutionaries. I also wanted an ethnically diverse cadre to reflect current American culture. A friend suggested I make each character a different Enneagram personality type. When I began the novel, I did so, but that was a launching point, a guideline. By mid-book the characters knew who they were and expressed themselves freely.
EB: You managed to make the story funny without devolving to slapstick and to have a message without being preachy. As a writer, how does one find that sweet spot?
MH: I’m both humbled and happy to hear that the balance I tried to achieve worked. As for finding that sweet spot– a dowsing stick or Geiger counter might help.
EB: Tell us about the title. I notice that the cover has a little yellow peep on it. What’s the symbolism?
MH: The title is simply a pun that stretches (much like marshmallow) between a popular American candy and the familiar phrase “We the People.” After I finished the first two chapters, I took a short break. Using PhotoShop I modified the Presidential seal by substituting a yellow Peep for the American eagle. The resulting image conveyed whimsy, humor, and politics, so it felt right. I asked the graphic artist to incorporate it into the cover design.
EB: What was the hardest part about writing We the Peeps?
MH: Trying to nail down my plot before the news cycle stole it! Several times I’d put something in the plot outline that then happened in real life. It’s nerve-wracking to turn on TV and realize you have to rewrite several chapters because what was previously confined to your imagination has just been reported on cable news!
EB: Have you sent the book to any local or national politicians?
MH: I’ve sent it to several political organizations such as No Labels and Represent.us. I figured actual politicians would be too busy to read anything other than position papers and polls for a while.
EB: What are some of your favorite political novels?
MH: I’m a huge fan of Christopher Buckley. I particularly enjoyed They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, Supreme Courtship, and Boomsday. I also liked a novel called The Woody by Peter Lefcourt. If we open the question to favorite political fiction (v. novels), I’d include the films Dave, American President, and Wag the Dog.
EB: Thanks for talking with us. Don’t forget to vote.
MH: Thank you for this opportunity. And as Peeps revolutionary Glenda would say, “Vote? Hell, yes! That’s what empowered democracy is all about.”