Speechwriter Moves From Politics to Fiction
Former Republican Speechwriter Draws on His Experience in the Political World to Inform and Move His Plots
Ben Coes used to write speeches. Now he writes thrillers.
A former campaign manager for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Coes decided to move into the world of fiction, using his political experience as a backdrop.
Coes’ career in politics began when he was an intern in the Reagan administration. Later he was speechwriter to the secretary of Energy in the George H.W. Bush administration. For the past decade, Coes has been a partner at a private equity firm in Boston. He divides his time between the firm and writing. His new book, “Coup d’État,” is a political thriller that involves a dispute between Pakistan and India, with former Army Ranger Dewey Andreas as the central character. With a radical Islamist president in charge of Pakistan, the American government ends up staging a coup there. Coes talked with Roll Call about his novel and its political message.
Why fiction over a nonfiction premise?
The only reason my books are fiction is because it hasn’t happened yet. In other words, I wanted them to be very authentic. I worked at the White House and I worked in politics, so I understand that world. I think I have the capability to write a very authentic story, but at the same time, you know, to me, fiction is fun and you can create scenarios and have endings and characters that don’t really exist in the real world.
What things translated from your experience in politics?
In “Coup d’État,” you see the intelligence and political infrastructure present in the national security team dealing with a threat that could draw America into a near nuclear war.
I remember when I was an intern at the White House under President Ronald Reagan and Colin Powell was the national security adviser. I was standing there one day, and as he walks over to me, I look down on his suit and he had this big stain on his pants. I was 18 or 19 years old and was like ‘oh my god’ and I realized wow he’s just like anybody else.
I think that a lot of people who are my fans, of course they love the action and the hero duty, but I think they also like the authenticity around the characters — especially the characters that are in politics and government.
Tell me a little about your main character.
He’s a former Delta. His name is Dewey, he’s from Maine, grew up on a farm, went to Boston College. He joined the Army and then was recruited into the Rangers, and as a very select few Rangers are, he was recruited into Delta.
He was a Delta soldier and was falsely accused of killing his wife. He was tried and acquitted; he didn’t do it but was kicked out of the military. He’s a pretty cool guy and tough as nails.
Why an Army Delta over other branches?
My godfather was in the field, and originally, because I knew so much about my godfather, I was going to make him be in the field, but the more I studied it and the more I got to know [Dewey] as a character, I realized that he wasn’t a field. Fields are very team-oriented and Deltas are pretty individualistic, and the more research I did and talking to people, it’s very clear that this personality that I built is much more of a Delta. He’s much more of a loner, completely self-sufficient.
Why did you choose Pakistan and India as the countries for this situation?
When I started to write the book, the main thing I was interested in was neither country. I was interested in what occurs during a coup d’état, and I had started a study of different coups and what you realize is that a coup has a way of changing government. It’s much more violent than a revolution.
In the library you find all these books about revolutions but only a handful on coups. So I wanted to write a book that brings the reader inside a national coup. I was interested in that phenomenon, that event, and wanted to take my reader inside.
I’m interested in what I think is a growing tide of radical Islam, and I realized as I was reading about Pakistan, it has a combination of factors that really make it a uniquely dangerous place. The existence of nuclear weapons and that it’s 97 percent Muslim and a democracy and I think that once I really understood that, I wanted to write about it because it’s the kind of situation that could happen.
You know, I could have written about a coup in Russia or Brazil but the truth is Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world for America because of the scenario I write about in my book. What happens if a jihadist or a radical Islamist has nuclear weapons — and I guarantee I am not alone in thinking that it’s a potential problem for America.
What are you hoping your readers will take away from the book? What is your political message, if you have one?
The America I paint in my books is one where America is not afraid to take action, to stop radical Islam from triumphing. I definitely want my readers to have fun reading it, but No. 1, I also want them to feel good about the country they live in, not just America, but the people who are protecting it. The picture I paint of the people who are protecting America is a good one.
No. 2: I want people to be aware of the very real threats that are out there. In the case of “Coup d’État,” that the situation in Pakistan is not going well and it’s not getting better. If you look at the situation in the past two weeks, the head of the Joint Special Operations Command over there says that Pakistan has been helping and coordinating with the Taliban.
You know, the country of Pakistan is not our friend. I’ve gotten several notes from people who are within the intelligence structure inside the U.S. I have a lot of sources, and those sources call me and tell me, ‘I’m going to make everyone in my office read this.’ I love hearing that. It’s not an anti-American book; it’s pro-American.
I want them to be educated about different parts of the world, and I want to take them there.
Do you think you will ever go back into the field of politics?
That’s a good question; I think there are a few really close friends of mine who are interested in running for office. I would probably be willing to help them out if it works with my family. You know, I’m really good friends with Mitt and I did not go back in and you think that would be the ideal situation. But politics is all-consuming and it’s a blast and people are fun and smart and it’s very addictive, and pretty soon, you know, when you’re on a campaign you are sitting there alone after working 18 hours in a row. All my kids are under the age of 12, and if I worked on a campaign, I would never see my kids and I wasn’t willing to do that.