The Campaign Business

That Was Then features a fictional campaign for Governor of Massachusetts. What goes on in a campaign? Who are the people behind the scenes? What behind-the-scenes scandals can occur?

In Hit Lit, the author James W. Hall examines blockbuster novels of the 20th century – think Gone With the Wind or The Da Vinci Code. If he were to add 21st century blockbusters, he might include Gone Girl or Where the Crawdads Sing. Hall’s analysis resulted in 12 features those novels possess, beginning with an offer you can’t refuse, which, he says, means that a novel must:

  • entertain
  • engage readers in a compelling, simple and dramatic premise
  • offer an unfolding story with “one complication after another”
  • include characters “of deep conviction and fervent, stubborn resolve, capable of passions that rise well beyond the normal range of human experience”
  • make the story worth the readers’ time by forging a “powerful emotional bond … composed of one part pity, one part fear”
  • minimize backstory
  • create “some form of serious peril” very early on
  • enhance the tension with “the power of the ticking clock”

Hall notes that all of the bestsellers he examined expose the inner workings of at least one secret society. The Godfather exposes the mafia. Jaws exposes the secrets of the sea. The Da Vince Code – Opus Dei. The Bridges of Madison County – the secret world of adultery. To Kill a Mockingbird – the KKK. And here’s the punchline – simple, everyday heroes triumph over these secret societies. Good over evil.

The ‘secret society’ in That Was Then is a high stakes political campaign with backers who have ulterior motives. I needed to understand today’s campaign world in order to bring that aspect of the story to life in an authentic fashion.

So, what’s a campaign all about? Fascinating stuff. I looked at images of various campaigns to get a sense of the physical setting for a campaign. I looked at campaign teams to understand the organization and people involved. This led to certain characters: Ted Jefferson – communications director; Jim Noble – digital media manager; Jess Sanchez – communications manager; Bob Diotte – polling and public policy research; Ryan Polanski – policy director; Rose Talbot – operations director. Plus a few more. Andrea Larson, disguised as Sara Lynch, joins the campaign to help with communications and digital media.

Like most real campaigns, I created a campaign board of directors consisting of senior advisors. These were the heavy hitters in terms of influence and fundraising. The kind of people who could raise millions of dollars with a few phone calls. The kind of people who might have more than one reason to support a candidate.

Then there’s the matter of timeline. For example, what sort of debates might go on within the campaign cycle at the governor level. When would the primaries take place? As for issues and focus, what might a candidate for governor say about gun control, education, economic development, abortion, climate change and so on? How would a candidate rally support? Would there be significant fundraising events?

Now, what would Andrea/Sara be asked to do after she’s hired? I decided that she would help create the digital media strategy. That decision meant researching the contents of a digital media strategy, the software and social media tools involved, how to reach different market segments, strategies deployed by campaigns in earlier American elections as well as some used in countries like UK and India. The task reminded me of my consulting days and I got quite excited and probably a little nerdy about it all. Nerdy enough to put way too much detail into the novel, which my editor kindly pointed out.

Here’s a scene (now significantly condensed) where Andrea/Sara does her research:

I read about a custom-built database called Project Target that held identifying information for 220 million Americans, and how the prime minister of India used Google Hangouts to connect with members of the Indian diaspora. I read about big data, data mining, data analytics, micro-targeting, and downloadable apps to collect voter data, track their activities, and mobilize them at voting time. I learned how candidates in the UK used peer-to-peer texting campaigns to connect with voters and volunteers and to get out the vote.

For the rest of the day and well into the night, I read article after article, stopping only to snatch a quick bite or to stretch for a few moments and ease the tension in my neck and back. By 11:00 p.m., I thought I understood the complex world of campaigning and social media. The findings were both fascinating and alarming.

I discovered all sorts of acronyms and reams of information on the use of technology for campaign purposes: peer-to-peer texting using apps like Hustle and Relay; relational organizing with apps like VoteWithMe, OutVote, and VoterCircle; i365 for data management and analysis. Technology covered every aspect of campaigning—canvassing, CRM, telephoning, texting, fundraising, relational organizing, voter analytics, event management, voter file management. My head was spinning. Techniques for using social media to influence voter opinion had grown rapidly in the last ten years. The right combination could catapult one candidate ahead of another regardless of talent or qualifications.

Nerdy, right?

Given that my intent was to create a compelling thriller, you can understand why I eliminated most of that!

What underhanded, corrupt activities might go on in such a campaign? Who’s pulling the strings in behind the scene? Are all candidates altruistic, upstanding individuals? What might happen if someone presents a serious threat to a given candidate? I’ll leave these questions to your imagination.


M.K. Tod’s first five novels are historical fiction. Her soon-to-release novel, That Was Then, is a contemporary thriller. Her 2022 novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website

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Meet M.K.Tod

The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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