Fishbowl5 With Politico’s Ex-Karin Tanabe

Karin Tanabe’s novel The List, heavily based on her experience as a reporter at Politico, publishes Tuesday. She spent the last year in Dubai working for ITP Publishing, a British magazine company.

As of this week, Tanabe’s back in Washington, working on her next fictional book. Today, she completed the Fishbowl5.

1. Why write a type of kiss-and-tell book about Politico in fiction format? And how much of the main character is based on you?

I worked in journalism for a decade, but I was always a journalist who wanted to end up a fiction writer, it just took a little while. I definitely looked to my experiences at Politico for inspiration for The List but newsroom life without a heavy dose of fiction would make a bit of a dull read. Politico is an eerily quiet newsroom and I didn’t want to write a quiet book!

As for Adrienne Brown, my main character, her job as a Style reporter was very much based on mine as a CLICK reporter for Politico and her struggles between ethics and ambition were based on my experiences, but the similarities fizzle from there. When I wrote her character, I pictured a young, stylish woman coming from the glamorous world of New York fashion magazines and I thought about what working as a Washington journalist in new media would be like for her. How would she react to the power culture of D.C? Would she become one of these people who lives and breathes her job? For me, though I did go to Politico from a magazine background, I knew D.C. and the wonk culture very well, so Politico wasn’t a shock to the system.

2. Do you think your book will upset Jim VandeHei or John Harris or anyone else at Politico? What do you think the writers there will think after reading?

I don’t think it will upset VandeHei, Harris or other Politico editors and reporters, honestly. The mile-a-minute culture of Politico is not something the higher-ups have ever tried to keep a secret, nor do they attempt to fight the stereotypes about the office. I think their model works for them and if people don’t agree with it, so be it. Do they lose some good reporters and editors because they don’t fit the Politico mold? I think they have, but Politico attracts some of the brightest and hardest working journalists around and I definitely became a better writer and journalist when I worked there.

In the newsroom I present in The List, I write about sexism, favoritism and plenty of other hot button topics. Was all that inspired by Politico? I’ll leave it to readers to decide.

3. The main character thinks about sex a lot. Is she a complete freak in the sheets?…

Freak in the sheets? Well I can’t promise readers any Anastasia Steele-Christian Grey moments, but Adrienne definitely has sex on the brain, though she doesn’t actually get much action! Her two love interests are pretty sexy though, so hopefully readers will understand why between typing out ten articles a day, she also thinks about the after hours activities she’s not indulging in.

4. What happened in the editing process? Did you have to change a lot? Did anything about the manuscript shock your editors?

The editing process was just your average fiction editing process — tightening copy, fleshing out certain scenes and themes — but luckily I don’t have just your average editor! I worked on edits with the amazing Sarah Cantin from Atria Books for about six months while I was living and working in Dubai. As for shocking, I’m not giving anything away, but I promise some good old fashioned O.M.Gs.

5. If you could give the book to one person in D.C. media to read, who would it be and why? And don’t name someone from Politico.

Instead of going for a wonk, I’m going to pick a Washington grand dame – Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners. She grew up in Washington, went to Wellesley College like my main character did and used to cover D.C. society before she started penning her advice column. I bet she’s seen plenty of scandal in her day, plus, she’s fabulous.