Exclusive Interview with David Pepper
David is a lawyer, writer, political activist, former elected official, and adjunct professor. He served as the Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party between 2015 and 2021. David was born and raised in Cincinnati and served on the Cincinnati City Council and Hamilton County Commission before being elected chair of the Ohio Democratic Party in 2014. As a lawyer, he engaged in extensive litigation regarding important issues in Ohio including voter suppression and unjust election laws. David has published four novels that bridge real-world politics and fiction. He just released “A Simple Choice,” which is a thriller that contains striking parallels to American politics. David continues to advocate for the people of Ohio while simultaneously writing and teaching law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today?
So, when I watch the movie, Forrest Gump, - there are these random journeys that kind of add up. I grew up in Ohio and spent a lot of years of my childhood overseas and lived in Belgium and Rome, so I had an interesting international upbringing. After college, I worked in Russia for three years and then I went to law school and came back to Cincinnati. During this time, Cincinnati was sort of falling apart, so I decided to run for City Council and got elected to county commission. That brought me into politics, and I’ve been involved ever since. I did a lot of journalism in college and always was a writer, so I think that’s what led me to write novels and some non-fiction as well. Now, 50 years later, I’m back in Ohio doing a combination of advocacy, writing, public speaking, and teaching.
Can you talk to us a little bit about the beginning of your writing career and how you transitioned from journalism to writing books?
I was the managing editor of my college newspaper and grew up doing campus journalism, so I was always kind of a writer. It was around 2011 that I really got frustrated with the lack of awareness over what a poison gerrymandering is. I had run for office in 2010 and if I had won, we could have stopped gerrymandering in Ohio. Then, I helped campaign for an effort to try to change the Ohio Constitution to end gerrymandering that lost badly, even when Obama won. That’s when I concluded that no one really knows anything about this dominant problem in politics and got the idea to write a novel about how bad gerrymandering is. I soon discovered that that was the worst idea for a novel ever, so I started to add a Russian oligarch based on my time in Russia- all of it was to give life to how bad gerrymandering actually is. I had never written a novel before, so I had to self-teach. When my book came out it did quite well less because of the gerrymandering part and more because I included a Russian oligarch rigging an American election.
Can you tell us a bit about what your writing process looks like?
Normally it starts with an “aha” moment and then I just start writing something. I start with a concept and from the concept I create characters and a plot line and hope it works. So, for my first novel I started with I want to expose the problem of gerrymandering, how can I do that? It took me several years to learn the novel writing process to make it a good book because the concept was not good and a concept itself is not a good book. A good novel has interesting characters and a good plot, so I had to learn all of that. For my second book, it's called The Wingman, which was inspired by one of the many awful debates and I thought to myself, what if a candidate is in a primary just to destroy another candidate? That's what led to The Wingman. So, there all these books kind of start with that, and then I say, okay, I got a concept, let me go run and come up with some characters and some good stories. So that's kind of how I do it. I don't outline. I start writing and I think through the plot and the characters as I write. So, I get that first draft down and then I do a ton of editing to sort of prune it and shorten it and make it tight. But that's kind of the basics of how I write these books.
Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written so far? If so, why?
I think my books get better written every time. My newest book, A Simple Choice, I think is the best written of my books and I just finished a manuscript that I like a lot. But, in a way, the first book is always going to be the most authentic because it’s a story that I think is a good story but it’s also about a guy learning how to write. I think there’s an authenticity to that book so, in one way, it will always be the original favorite. But I think my other books have gotten better in terms of the writing process.
Congrats on the new book! Can you talk a bit about what people would gain if they went ahead and started reading it?
Yeah, so I kind of had the election rigging space covered, and since Donald Trump decided to make it such a hot topic, I thought it's time to not go there. So, this is a book that really asks the simple concept what would you do if you had a loved one who was suffering from a terminal disease, and someone came along and offered you the chance to guarantee that they would be cured? What trade would you make? What would you be willing to do that wasn't ethical? And then think to yourself, what would America's powerful politicians do? So, that’s essentially the book. The choice may feel simple, but it is fraught with consequences. One of the parts about the book that I like is most of the people who face this choice have led a very high integrity life in politics or in other aspects of life. So, for them, it does eat away at them that they're doing something that, feels personally great, but is also fraught with are they giving up an integrity they spent their life fighting for and is this going to ruin them in other ways, etc.?
Do you see any parallels of this plot line in today's American political landscape?
I mean, in a way, it's a story about corruption and how you think about it. But I don't think that there’s currently a whole lot of discussion about dealing with disease but, you know, I hate to say it my books always seemed to be a little bit ahead and then time catches up to them. We did see during the pandemic that some people in politics giving their siblings or relatives a little bit of a head start on vaccines. During this time, my book was already at the publisher being edited when this happened, but I thought, oh my gosh, there we go again.
Thanks David! Lastly, where can folks get in touch with you, find your books, and understand the work that you’re doing?
The easiest way is to follow me at David Pepper on Twitter where I do occasional whiteboards probably two or three a week. I also have a website, davidpepper.com with all my books. And, and then you can also follow me at Facebook as well.
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