Some things you didn't know about Jennifer Government, and may not have wanted to.
Writers often get asked how they come up with their ideas. You would think that when you write a novel based on one of the more obvious premises of our time, you would be spared this, but no: I still get it. I almost feel embarrassed to call it an idea. Corporations taking over the world; it's not exactly a stretch.
The First Draft
The first draft was 130,000 words long and climaxed in an ear-splitting, artillery-shelling military conflict in Washington DC. Why I thought this was a good idea I'm still not sure. But I got feedback from my early readers that they didn't like the book's second half. The idea of throwing out so much work was too horrifying to contemplate, so I started reworking little bits and pieces: a chapter here, a character there. Nine months later I realized I had thrown out the last three-quarters. The final book is 80,000 words long, and in total I cut 100,000 words from it. I don't like to think about this too much.
George Clooney & Changing Publishers
Syrup, my first novel, was published in North America by Viking (an imprint of Penguin). It didn't sell as well as we'd all hoped, so when I offered up Jennifer Government, I braced myself for a small advance. But I should have braced harder, because I got no advance at all: they didn't want to publish me any more. I was convinced that my career was over and thought about crawling back to my sales job at Hewlett-Packard. ("Of course I didn't base that character on you.") Then, the same morning, I heard that George Clooney and Steve Soderbergh wanted to buy the film rights.
The Missing Character
The book's Acknowledgements say a major character was cut from an early draft. This was Miranda Hewlett-Packard, a sales rep who gets sucked into the upper echelons of Team Advantage -- kind of a female John Nike. Miranda was a fantastic character and I loved every scene she was in, but she just wouldn't satisfyingly intersect the other characters. It felt like a different story set in the same world. So I had to cut her. It was terrible; I still feel guilty.
Until the final draft, Violet's surname was Vyolet. She's self-employed, so her surname can be whatever she likes; I thought Vyolet was a cool choice. In Part One, each chapter is named after a company that features in it; in chapter 8 this is Violet's company, and thus was titled "Vyolet." Every single person who read the manuscript said, "You misspelled Violet." I finally caved. After a dalliance with Violet Violet, I ended up with the less exciting but blindingly clear "Violet Enterprises."
Back to the Future
Most editions of Jennifer Government bill it as a "near future" story. (The British one goes all the way and claims it's set in the far future.) This is because "near future" is a handy way to abbreviate, "in a world that's mostly like the real one but has a few changes." In truth, Jennifer Government is an alternate present story. I wanted to write a book set in an ultra-capitalist world, but didn't want to be saddled with laser guns and flying cars. So I simply took the present-day world and tweaked the social structure.
In my head, it's a world that took those 1980s supply-side economic principles and just kept running with them. But in practice, the exact nature of the fictional world doesn't matter -- and is, in fact, distracting if you stop and think about it, which is why I don't mention any dates. (Almost. Chapter 71 has a reference to a reasonably recent "'96 Pepsi" campaign.)
On Writing Political Satire
Writing a political satire, I have discovered, is a good way to get a lot of people to write to you and argue about politics. Most of these are fun, but I get a disturbing number of e-mails from people who think I am a hardcore communist and demand I explain the actions of Stalin. It makes me wonder if they're nuts, or if I am that muddled a writer. No, you're right, it's them. But just for the record: I'm not especially anti-capitalist. I don't think that abolishing the government would be a good move, but I don't want it running my life, either. Someone called me a "militant moderate" recently, and that's probably pretty close. I hope that was meant as a compliment.
Dissing George Orwell
There are a couple of places in the book that make reference to Orwell's 1984 and Pohl & Kornbluth's The Space Merchants. These are either loving tributes or insolent jibes from a literary pygmy who should respect his betters, depending on which review you read. In truth I didn't mean to pass judgment on either of these novels; they just struck me as relevant. I've since realized that linking real companies and mass murder in fiction is nowhere near as offensive as appearing to take a dig at George.
People often ask how I get away with using real company names in my fiction. I'm not completely sure; all I know is I keep using real company names and they keep not suing me. But I can think of two possible explanations. One is that my novels are protected free speech, since they're clearly parodies and don't allege actual misdeeds. That is, when I use a real company name, it's just like using a real place name -- and the City of Los Angeles has yet to sue James Elroy. The other explanation is that I always use highly visible, brand-name companies, and suing a comedy writer would be terrible PR.