Just over a year after Jessica Cutler’s salacious online diary prompted her firing from the office of Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), the former staffer was back in D.C. last week for a book signing and her first public reading of her new novel, “The Washingtonienne.”
Cutler said she was nervous. After going on a local radio show that morning and getting a few nasty calls, she said she was worried about getting heckled by someone in the crowd of 70 or 80 people who had gathered at Olsson’s Books on Seventh Street Northwest for the event. And her anxiousness wasn’t helped by the fact that about 15 minutes before she was scheduled to begin her reading, Cutler was served with papers for a lawsuit brought by a DeWine committee counsel that charges her with emotional distress and invasion of privacy for what she posted in her now-defunct Web log.
But as she began her steamy reading, which oddly was held in the open area in front of Olsson’s family and children’s books section, the only interruption came in the form of embarrassed chuckles from the crowd and a rousing round of applause when Cutler finally looked up at the end of the chapter.
“The Washingtonienne,” which follows Jacqueline Turner, a New York to Washington transplant who works in a Capitol Hill office and finds her list of lovers growing so complicated that her friends ask her to start a blog so they can keep up, is fiction, at least according to the legal text across from the book’s title page which reads in part, “names characters and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.”
In reality, Cutler’s blog, called Washingtonienne, became the subject of much buzz on the Hill in May 2004 when its contents were made public. In the blog, Cutler gave detailed accounts of her sexual exploits, some of which she claimed to have accepted money for. Cutler was ultimately fired from DeWine’s office for “unacceptable use” of Senate computers.
“My editors said, ‘Don’t do a memoir — people know your story already. Do a novel’” Cutler explained when asked about the “fiction” label. And while she said she did go back to her infamous blog when she wrote her first couple drafts of the novel, “it was all so convoluted, because real life is so much stranger than fiction anyway.”
But fiction or fact or somewhere in between, booksellers around Capitol Hill say “The Washingtonienne” is selling well.
After about a month in stores, the book has consistently hit somewhere between No. 2 and No. 7 on the bestselling hardback fiction list of the Trover Shop on Capitol Hill. At the B. Dalton Bookseller at Union Station, one assistant manager said that sales have been brisk with most coming after a positive review by Jonathan Yardley in the May 24 edition of The Washington Post. Yardley called the book “juicy and occasionally amusing Washington gossip as told through the anti-litigious filter of fiction.”
“It’s got a great cover, people notice it,” Olsson’s assistant manager Lansing Sexton said of the eye-catching photo of a woman from neck to navel wearing nothing but a lacy pink bra and a necklace with a silver pendant in the shape of the Capitol.
The Olsson’s at Seventh Street Northwest has sold 44 copies of the book since it came out, with about 30 copies coming at last week’s reading. “It’s sold well at all the Olsson’s stores. Why wouldn’t it? It’s a fun story, everybody loved it,” Sexton said. “It’s scandalous but it’s not horrifying, it’s cute.”
“Sales are amazing” in D.C., Cutler said after her signing last week. “Some places are sold out. In New York, it depends on which stores you go to.”
Cutler said a second run of “The Washingtonienne” is already scheduled, and proposals are on the table for her to write a second book.
And while the controversial book certainly isn’t for everyone — DeWine Press Secretary Jeff Sadosky said he was “hesitant to comment” on the novel — some on the Hill seem OK with giving Cutler an extra 15 minutes of fame.
Or, as one House staffer said last week, “I don’t think that people should judge Washingtonienne for wanting to get some buck for her bang.”