Name W. T. Fallon
Where are you from The middle of nowhere. Fayetteville, Arkansas, to be exact. We don’t have a Macy’s, a Nordstrom’s, or any other signs of civilization.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I have two college degrees, one in Broadcast Journalism and one in Advertising/Public Relations with a minor in Marketing. Neither has proven financially rewarding. I now work for myself, running an online reselling business.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My book, Fail to the Chief, a political satire, was published on October 7. In it, I imagine the current U.S. presidential election as a reality show to find the next president. I pictured it like any other reality show, where all the contestants are given challenges. The first one the candidates are given is to work at a real job, with no aides hanging around helping them. So I had presidential candidates working in coffee shops, fast food places, digging ditches, working on a pig farm. I tried to make it something fitting for each candidate.
Then in later challenges the candidates have to do things like answer questions while hooked up to a polygraph, or play a debate drinking game where the contestants take a drink whenever someone uses a tired phrase.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I wrote for newspapers and magazines, but I never really liked that, for several reasons. Most of those papers didn’t pay anything. Worse, someone was always telling me what to write and how to write it, and I hated that. I just wanted to write about what interested me, in a way that interested me.
I started trying to write books many years later, after college. I have a lot of bad half-written novels on a hard drive somewhere.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t know, I guess when I started trying to write books.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
That’s an interesting story. I was running on the treadmill and watching a 24/7 news channel, and I started thinking how the election was really a lot like a reality show. You have cameras following the candidates around all the time, pundits judging their every move, why not just let people vote from their couches like any other reality show?
So then I thought that was a good idea for a short story, and I started writing it. I didn’t know how to finish it, so I thought I’d share it with my critique group. No one really gave a suggestion for an ending, but someone said it should be a book, then everyone else agreed. Before I knew it, I had a whole room full of people who wanted me to write this book.
At first I wasn’t sure I had enough for a whole book, but when I started thinking about it, I realized that did kind of solve my problem. I couldn’t finish the story because there wasn’t a twenty-page resolution. It needed to be longer. Once I started seeing the story as a book, it became much easier to write and finish.
I would probably still be writing it if I hadn’t lost my job in February. Got fired and replaced with a couple (much cheaper) interns. Then I said, “The hell with it, I’m going to finish my novel now that I have some time.” So that’s what I did. I got fired on February 12th—two days before my birthday, because nothing says happy birthday like a pink slip, am I right?—and finished the book on March 4th.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Well, I’m very sarcastic. Sarcasm and satire would be it, I guess.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The short story I started in January was Reality Show. Then I decided the book should be Reality Nation. I really liked that title until I found out there was already a book with that title. I didn’t want readers to be confused, since that book was very different from mine. My publisher suggested Fail to the Chief, and I thought that was a good title. It’s a play on Hail to the Chief, and perfectly sums up the election. The one in the book, I mean. Obviously.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
One is that while the presidential election is important, we should focus less on the people vying for that job and more on the bigger problems. For one thing, we have people in Congress who spend decades there. Unlike the president, they don’t have term limits. Worse, big corporations, lobbyists, SuperPACs all throw money at congresspeople, essentially buying their votes in a lot of cases. That’s a problem with both parties, no one is immune. So while it is important to vote for president, we should also be concerned with Congress.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I’ve never run for office and I don’t know any real politicians. I do watch a lot of TV though, and I spend a lot of time on Facebook. I’ve been writing political satire for my local Gridiron Show for four years.
I’ve never been on a reality show, but I did audition for American Idol twice. Those idiot judges don’t know talent when they see it, but anyway…
I did sort of base the show in my book, American President, on reality shows I’ve watched. The story is narrated by the affable host, Bryan Seafoam, who has to ask the candidates questions while still being impartial. It’s hard for him, especially since he wants to be a hard-hitting journalist and his producer wants him to be the nice guy who hands people tissues on a singing show. I have one degree in Broadcast Journalism and worked at a TV station for five years, so I used some of my experiences there to shape the book.
Then I have the candidate characters, who are, of course, nothing at all like any real people running for president. (I have a wild imagination. It’s a side effect of spending most of my life around chronic liars.) Anyway, these candidates are nothing like any real people who ever ran for president. There’s a billionaire named Ronald Chump who decides to run after finding out he can’t direct-purchase the White House…and suing because he swears he pays more in taxes than it’s worth. There’s the congressman who’s always whining about America’s declining moral values, the one you know is headed for a scandal. There’s the congresswoman who promises to help the poor, but ends up helping a lot of large corporations and rich donors instead. There’s the third-party candidate whose solution to every problem is to legalize pot…and sit around the White House and smoke it, because he doesn’t know how to do anything else.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
It’s hard to say, because I read a LOT. I probably learned a lot about writing humor from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books. I read those as a teenager and loved them.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
It’s hard to pick a favorite. I have too many. I read everything from Stephen King to John Grisham to Andy Borowitz. They all have a unique style that I think is important as a writer. No matter what it is, you need a style that’s unique to you.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Definitely not the Unemployment Department. There’s a scene in Fail to the Chief where an average American describes what happened to him at the Unemployment office. A dour, personality-free public employee tells him, “Go pick up that phone over there, and you’ll be connected with someone, somewhere in the state, who’s just sitting around doing nothing, and they can try to help you.”
That happened to me in real life. It’s good to know I pay taxes so government employees can sit around and do nothing all day. Sadly, my unemployment claim was rejected (employer claimed they fired me for misconduct, instead of admitting they gave my job to interns to save money), so I never collected a dime.
Seriously though, I did get support from my writing group. Not only did they encourage me to turn Fail to the Chief into a book, but they’ve given me a lot of good advice about my writing. I recommend everyone who wants to write find a good critique group (or two), whether it’s in person or online.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I hope to one day make money at it and consider it a career, but at the moment my career is buying cheap junk on the clearance rack and reselling it online. At least, that’s how I attempt to eke out something resembling a living.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Well, I sent it to my publisher for editing in April, so a lot of funny things have happened with real politicians since then. It would have been nice if I could have used some of those things for inspiration in my totally fictional world of totally fictional politicians. But other than the opportunity to make fun of real world events, no, there’s nothing I would change.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve enjoyed making up stories since I was little. When I was a kid, before I learned to read, I would pick up the books my parents read to me and walk around, telling stories, pretending like I was reading out of the book. Oddly, I didn’t stop doing that after I learned to read. I guess I always wanted to rewrite the stories I read in my own head.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
This is the first chapter.
“Ten seconds!” Bryan’s producer Shanda shrieked, which was completely unnecessary because he had no less than three assistants flashing ten fingers each at him. At his first reporting job in Nowhereville, Oklahoma, he’d been lucky if anyone in the control room was awake enough at five AM to turn his mic on, let alone cue him. The camera ops were usually asleep in their chairs behind the camera.
But after ten years, he’d finally made it to the big leagues, hosting what was sure to be the most popular prime-time reality show in history.
Shanda continued her shrill countdown. She didn’t have a regular voice, at least not one he’d ever heard her use. “Five, four, three, two….”
The network’s choice of insipid theme songs boomed into his IFB, the tiny device in his ear that allowed him to hear both the network… and Shanda. While the show’s slate flashed on the monitor beneath Bryan’s camera, he adjusted his tie for the millionth time, then gave up and stood, hands sweaty as they gripped his mic. He had another clipped to his lapel and dozens more surrounded the set, but the producers wanted him to have something to do with his hands.
“Standby!” Shanda shouted in his ear as the music faded and the pink-haired camera op raised her hand in Bryan’s direction. He popped up on the monitor and she pointed at him.
“Cue!” Shanda screamed, and he made a mental note to adjust his IFB volume as soon as they rolled the first package.
“Hello, and welcome to a night that will change all our lives forever,” he read off the prompter. The script was corny as hell, but every time he complained Shanda told him he got paid to look good in a $5,000 suit, not write his own lines. “As you know, there have been many popular reality shows, but none with the serious impact of what you are going to see tonight. Contrary to the rumors you may have read on social media, this show is not a joke. It is legally binding, and the winner will get the job. I’m your host Bryan Seafoam, and this is your next American President.
“Now, the contestants” —he waved behind him at the green screen. On the monitor, it looked like all ten contenders were seated behind him in a U-shaped auditorium— “have been briefed on and agreed to the rules, but we’ll go over them again for you folks at home.”
Also unnecessary, given the massive amount of publicity the show had received in the last few months, but also something the producers made him do anyway.
Bryan moved off the set, walking slowly and keeping his head turned to the side so the camera op could follow him easily. She kept pace with him, the big black eye of the camera never straying from his face as she steered the enormous rolling tripod with one foot, pushing off the floor with the other, like a kid riding a skateboard.
“Many of you had questions about how this presidential election would work.” Bryan ambled down the red carpeted hallway and through a large archway, chosen because there was ample room for the cameras to follow him. “As you probably know, due to rising concerns about a number of problems—campaign spending, the fact that more Americans vote for the worst-rated reality show than vote for president, and the disastrous voter fraud scandal of two years ago—Congress proposed the Twenty-eighth Amendment, more commonly known as the By the People, For the People Act, to completely overhaul our election system. When it was ratified, it repealed the Twelfth Amendment, which had given us our electoral system since eighteen oh four.”
Through the archway, he walked to the center of the room and sat at a large, intricately carved wooden desk. A sea of blue carpet spread out around him, interrupted only by the fifteen-foot diameter seal of the United States. Each room in this building—the candidates’ home until they were voted off—was an exact replica of a room in the White House. He was in the “Oval Office,” which was built to scale larger than the real thing’s 816 square feet, in order to accommodate all ten contestants, plus cameras, crew members, aides, and assistants.
“The By the People, For the People Act did away with our old system of electing a president. The ten contestants you see filing in right now” —he paused while the control room cut away from him to show the suited men and women marching into the room— “will live in this building until they are voted off the show. They will eat, sleep, and work here, unless directed to leave for a competition. They will be recorded twenty-four seven, and viewers are encouraged to log onto the Candidate Cam—the address is on your screen there, or you can visit our website and follow the link—to watch our live feed.
“After each episode, we’ll open up the website for voting. When you vote, you’ll be asked to enter your voter registration number, password, and answer three secret questions you chose when registering—also a requirement of the By the People, For the People Act—and you will not be able to vote more than once. Online voting will remain open for exactly thirty minutes, and results will be announced at the end of American President: Aftermath, which will air immediately after this show.
“The Candidate Cams will be live twenty-four seven, and will be archived, as will our live show. So that you can make an informed decision, you can go back and watch anything any candidate does at any time during this competition. If you are looking for a particular piece of video, our website archives come with an interactive assistant, Artie, who can help you find what you’d like to watch.
“No, there will not be an election day this year. There will be no traditional campaigning or voting. The person who receives the least votes after each voting episode will be eliminated, and the last candidate standing will be your next American President. The second runner-up will be vice president, and the person in third place will be Secretary of State. All other cabinet positions will be appointed using the existing guidelines.
“The inauguration process has also changed. On our final voting night, the winner will be announced and the inauguration will happen immediately, in a three-hour, star-studded spectacle.” Bryan suppressed a wince. He’d tried to talk Shanda out of it, pointing out star-studded spectacle sounded like a magic act in Vegas, but as usual, she didn’t care about his opinion. “Now, let’s meet the contestants!”
He breathed a sigh of relief as Shanda shrieked “Clear!” and the monitor rolled a lengthy package introducing the candidates. As pre-recorded bullshit flooded the screen, he looked at the actual people, glad-handing and beaming false smiles at each other. Senators, congresspeople, governors, people who were just rich and bored—all about to get a big surprise.
The package ended and Shanda shouted “Cue!” in his ear, just seconds after he remembered to turn down the volume on his mic pack. He got up, walked around the desk, and marched straight into the crowd of candidates. They all shut up and stepped aside, faux smiles tattooed on their faces.
“Thank you all for agreeing to participate in this historic occasion.” He gestured to the rows of red-and-white striped couches to either side of the group. “Please have a seat, and I’ll explain your first challenge.”
The presidential hopefuls looked first at the couches, then each other. Leave it to the leaders of our country to waste an hour analyzing who sits where and who’s next to who and what will NASCAR dads think if I sit next to a member of the other party?
“Sit directly behind where you’re standing,” Bryan said. “We need to move quickly, as you have limited time for your first assignment. You’ll see why in a moment.”
Reluctantly, the candidates sat, stiff as statues. Bryan turned and walked back toward the desk, stopping at the end of the couches. He was directly between Phil Willard, a Californian who had been in Congress longer than Bryan had been on Twitter, and Sara Finnegan, a former tech CEO who claimed her business expertise would help fix the country’s economic problems.
“Now, as you all know, the By the People, For the People Act says that all challenges must be selected by the voters. So in the previous weeks, we opened up our Facebook page to suggestions, and compiled a list of the ones with the most likes. Then we distributed the list to all of you” —he swept a hand backward, toward the candidates— “and asked which challenges you’d most like to participate in. We will be using the twenty challenges that were least popular among your group.”
“What?” Willard sputtered, slapping the knees of his jeans, which he wore every day with a suit jacket and tie, to show the people of his state he was just like them. Just richer and more powerful.
“Why did you ask our opinions?” demanded Martin Morganstern, a former Wall Street banker and current senator from New York who, like Finnegan, claimed he could fix the economy if elected.
“We asked which assignments you wanted to see which ones you hoped to avoid,” Bryan explained. “Obviously those are the ones that stand the best chance of making you look less like your carefully-crafted images and more like yourselves. By doing those challenges, we believe we’ll get a more accurate representation of what you’re all really like.
“Now, let’s get started. This first challenge was number three on the list of top twenty competitions you didn’t want to do.” Bryan walked over to the desk and picked up a six-inch binder. “Your assignment will be to balance the Congressional budget. Those of you who have served in Congress may be familiar with this process, but you’ll be doing things a little differently today. You will not have the option of shutting down the government if you can’t agree. You will arrive at a balanced budget within the next twelve hours, or you will all be disqualified.”
“Outrageous!” Milton Buckshaw was the morbidly obese, booming-voiced governor of Texas, known more for his bluster than his accomplishments. “You can’t expect us to do in twelve hours what Congress can’t do in two months.”
“And you can’t disqualify all of us.” Sara Finnegan stared daggers at Bryan. “Who’s going to run this country if you disqualify every single candidate running for president?”
Bryan smiled. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the prompter on the nearest camera blink, a sure sign the network’s automaton, Artie, had updated it with an answer to the question she’d asked. It was a reasonably accurate program, but he didn’t need a script to handle this one. In fact, he’d been waiting for someone to ask.
“That won’t be a problem, Ms. Finnegan. You lot are just the A team. We’ve got a B team ready to go if you all wash out by episode two. There’s also a C team.”
The candidates gawked at him.
“This is exactly why I voted against the By the People, For the People Act,” said Fred Haverty, an Ohio senator who had earned an early advantage in the presidential race by naming every one of his mistresses before the press could dig them up, thus, in his words, proving he was honest. “This country could wind up being run by someone who didn’t even make the first cut.”
“We were all top contenders in our parties before the act passed.” Buckshaw yanked his belt buckle up higher on his massive midsection. “What did you do, ask the cleaning staff at your hotel if they’d like to run for president?”
“Yeah, I’d like to know who’s on this B team,” Willard said.
“All sorts of people who have wanted to be president at least as long as you all have. In some cases, much longer.” Bryan leaned against the carved desk and scratched his head, trying to look deep in thought. ACT NATURAL AND TRY TO SOUND LIKE YOU’RE ADLIBBING, prompted the prompter. “Let’s see, several people from the Green Party, besides the one who made it onto the A team” —he nodded at Bob Fuller, who was only on the show because Shanda thought adding a “no-chancer” would make things more interesting— “a bunch of Libertarians, Kanye West, some guy named Ross Perot who says he’s been running since before my parents were born, guy who goes by the name of Joe the Plumber—”
“This is ridiculous!” Buckshaw hefted his considerable girth off the couch, causing Finnegan and Willard to scramble for higher ground. Rumor had it he was in talks with the network to appear on the next season of Lose the Lard if he didn’t win this show. “You can’t possibly think one of those clowns would make a better president than one of us.”
“It’s not up to me.” Bryan flashed the smile he used to reserve for people who had just been voted off Sing Your Heart Out and weren’t going quietly. “These are the rules the network decided on, all approved by the American people through Facebook polls.”
“Then the American voter is failing to grasp the gravity of this situation,” Haverty said. “Surely the voters didn’t think some guy with a plumbing show would be better equipped to run our country than me.”
“I think the American voter is tired of taking crap from politicians.” He was supposed to sound like he was adlibbing. “The idea is not to elect an inexperienced unknown, but to force all of you to do the job Congress keeps failing to do. So if you think anyone in this room would make a better president than Joe the Plumber—who does not have a TV show by the way—then I suggest you all work together and balance that budget. Because if you don’t, you’re proving that you care more about your own egos than you do about America having a capable leader.”
With that, he walked off the set, leaving the candidates squabbling in the background.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Everything? Getting started? Figuring out how to finish a story when you have no idea how to finish a story? The thing that has helped me the most is giving myself permission to write crap until I figure out where I’m going with a story. I know I can always delete or edit later after I have a better idea. Sometimes I just have to write something I know isn’t great for a few pages until I figure out where I’m going with the story.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I do a few signings locally, but I don’t travel too much. Traveling is expensive, and sadly I’m not one of the one percent. I always wanted to be, but I screwed that up by not being born rich.
Last month I did a library signing, and in November I’m going to be at the Rogers Public Library in Rogers, AR, for their author day.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My publisher designed the cover for Fail to the Chief, with input from me. I really wanted the candidates and the host on the cover, and I think that part looks really great. I also wanted the audience holding signs, and I think that worked out well, too. Several of them have quotes from actual protest signs or political protesters in the book.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
It was stressful being unemployed, not knowing what I was going to do, feeling so angry at the lack of jobs and the money I wasted on a college degree just to find that the only jobs I could get were low-paying retail jobs. But I found I could channel my stress and anger into my book.
There’s another scene in Fail to the Chief where an anti-minimum-wage-hike governor is forced to work at a fast food place. He’s clearly rich and pompous and out of touch. Another employee explains how he works three jobs and still struggles to pay his bills, despite having gone into debt to earn a college degree. A lot of that was based on my experience, although I did manage to work my way through school and avoid going into debt. Many of my friends did not, and they have the additional burden of paying back loans while being unable to find a job that pays better than jobs that don’t require college degrees. This is something that angers and frustrates me a lot, and it felt good to vent my frustrations by writing that scene.
It ends with the pompous politician declaring he’s fixed unemployment in his state, since one person has managed to find three different jobs. He completely misses the bigger point that a college degree no longer means a better salary for most graduates, and the fact that no one can make a living on one minimum wage job, and I think that’s something a lot of politicians don’t get.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I did a lot of research for one scene where the candidates are forced to balance the budget. I Googled “Things the government wastes money on.” While I fictionalized most of them, our government does waste money on some stupid stuff. Some things that stood out were a study of how cocaine consumption affects the sex lives of Japanese Quail, and a soccer field for the detainees at Guantanamo. So I guess I learned that our government wastes even more money than I thought.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
I think I’d like a reality show host to play Bryan Seafoam.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Just keep writing. If you don’t know where you’re going, that’s okay. It may take you a couple pages or chapters to figure it out, but you’ll get there.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I love hearing from my readers. Please visit my Facebook page or Twitter feed or my blog. Tell me what or who you want me to skewer next. I write a lot of satire, both for my blog and for Humor Outcasts, so I’m always open to suggestions.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Right now I’m reading Year Zero by Rob Reid, which is very funny.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Oddly, I don’t remember the name. I think it was some children’s book about a tiger. That’s all I remember.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Mostly I laugh at sarcasm, especially when it makes a really good point, so you laugh but you also kind of admit that’s not far from the truth. I’m not much of a crier. I’m more inclined to get angry. All sorts of things make me angry. People who don’t know how to drive. Clueless politicians. Dealing with dumb people, which was a huge problem for me when I worked in hell—I mean, retail—for years.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
What a good question. Actually I’d like to meet someone from the future so I could ask them important questions like, “What is next week’s winning lotto number?”
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
“She was right.” Because I almost always am.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I like to shop, although that’s now more of a job than a hobby, since I buy stuff to resell. When I’m not doing that, I like to watch TV, run on the treadmill (where I get all my story ideas), and waste time on social media.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I watch all the TGIT shows, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder. I also like Quantico, Secrets and Lies, and Orange is the New Black. I like shows that are funny but also have a well-written plot. I don’t like anything too formulaic.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Chocolate. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, but I also really like chocolate. I love watermelon but it’s hard to find right now because it’s out of season. I wear black all the time so I guess that’s my favorite color. I like music from this century, not all that old retro stuff people my parents’ age like to listen to.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I wanted to be a famous singer and actress, but like I said, American Idol doesn’t know talent when they see it. I worked in retail and never, ever want to do that again.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Please drop by and read my latest sarcastic offering.
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T. Fallon Bio
T. Fallon believes if you can’t say something nice, you should say something funny and totally true. She has few marketable skills, but is highly talented in the areas of sarcasm, satire, and snark. For the past several years, she has written for the local Gridiron Show, and this year she started a blog called Sharable Sarcasm. The 2016 election provided so many opportunities for humor that she decided to write her first novel, a political satire called Fail to the Chief, which will be released in September. She was recently published on The Satirist, and will start writing for Humor Outcasts in September of 2016.
After years of emceeing insipid singing competitions, TV personality Bryan Seafoam can’t wait to host “American President,” the world’s first reality show to elect a president of the United States. Finally, an opportunity to be a real journalist, digging up dirt and playing hardball with the top ten candidates.
But it doesn’t take long for the contestants to start slinging mud at Bryan – literally, when billionaire candidate Ronald Chump is challenged to dig his proposed moat along the Mexican-American border himself. Forced to work in a fast food restaurant, an anti-minimum-wage-hike candidate learns his coworkers are struggling to survive with multiple jobs and claims to have solved the unemployment problem in his state-leaving Bryan to duck ketchup bombs from customers. To make matters worse, Bryan’s producer pressures him to be nicer to the candidates, and his former crush, now an experienced political correspondent, shows up-and shows him up at every turn.
When a cheating scandal rocks the show, Bryan begins to suspect it’s just the tip of a very underhanded iceberg. Will trying to expose a plot to wreck the most hysterical, er, historic election in history cost Bryan his career-and his personal life?