One of the first things I asked Nicole Sexton just before the party celebrating the publication of her debut novel, Party Favors, was why the former Republican fundraiser had decided to transform her experiences into fiction rather than writing a memoir. “It was important for me to hold true to the integrity of the work that I did and to not expose people’s personal secrets,” she told me, “and I felt that the only way to do that was to tell a story based on the reality of what that world is like without divulging the characters who were actually in those situations or their reactions. The other thing is that I spent fifteen years in fundraising. That’s a lot of people; it would’ve been A Man in Full,” she said, holding her thumb and index finger as far apart as she could stretch them. “If we wanted to keep it down to a light beach read, which is what I was focused on at the time, I had to compile a lot of my characters together.”
(On that front, Sexton has succeeded; her novel—cowritten with playwright Susan Johnston—reads like a Southern woman’s coming-of-age novel with elements of big city chick lit mixed in.)
So then I wondered what prompted her to abandon GOP fundraising and want to tell her story? “The 2004 elections left me a little cold,” she recalled; at the time, she was the finance director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “We were on the heels of great victory… and I felt very alienated from that success, very distant from my colleagues. As I became more successful and began fundraising for larger groups of people, I became more anonymous in the process, and I didn’t like that.” The Bush administration’s lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina brought the Louisiana native to a moment of clarity: “The reaction to that, and my disillusionment with the amount of money I was pouring into these candidates’ races when there were people who were suffering so horribly was really the straw that broke the camel’s back.” These days, she’s working with The One Campaign, combatting poverty worldwide.
As Sexton prepared to sign several stacks of books, I joked about how, after raising all that money for Republicans, she was having a book party at Michael’s, the watering hole for the liberal media elite. She countered that the situations she described taking place in the fundraising community were bipartisan in scope. “This is a book for Republicans, it’s a book for Democrats, it’s a book for libertarians,” she smiled. “For me, this book plays as well in New York as it does in California as it does in Washington as it does in Indiana.”