From the former Communications Director for the White House and current political media strategist comes a suspenseful and smart commercial novel about the first female president and all dramas and deceptions she faces both in politics and in love.
Eighteen Acres, a description used by political insiders when referring to the White House complex, follows the first female President of the United States, Charlotte Kramer, and her staff as they take on dangerous threats from abroad and within her very own cabinet.
Charlotte Kramer, the 45th US President, Melanie Kingston, the White House chief of staff, and Dale Smith, a White House correspondent for one of the networks are all working tirelessly on Charlotte’s campaign for re-election. At the very moment when they should have been securing success, though, Kramer’s White House implodes under rumors of her husband’s infidelity and grave errors of judgment on the part of her closest national security advisor. In an upheaval that threatens not only the presidency, but the safety of the American people, Charlotte must fight to regain her footing and protect the the country she has given her life to serving.
Eighteen Acres combines political and family drama into one un-put-downable novel. It is a smart, juicy and fast-paced read that we’re sure fans of commercial women’s fiction will fall in total love with.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Nicolle Wallace is a political strategist and former political analyst for CBS Evening News whose recent posts include White House Communications Director under George W. Bush and campaign advisor for John McCain and Sarah Palin. Wallace lives in New York City and Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
Melanie pushed the tissue paper aside and gazed adoringly at the Dior bag she had splurged on for her thirty-seventh birthday. It was a ridiculous extravagance. The second most expensive bag in her closet was a Marc Jacobs she’d purchased on sale years before. The elegance of the two-thousand-dollar Dior purse would be lost on most of Melanie’s colleagues, but its perfection brought her a surprising amount of happiness.
As Melanie pulled the purse out of its protective cloth and removed the paper stuffed inside, she suddenly felt worried that all of her electronics wouldn’t fit into it properly. She looked at the three BlackBerrys—one for the classified e-mail system, one for the normal White House e-mail system, and one for her personal Yahoo account. She considered leaving one of them behind but thought better of it. Gently, she stacked the BlackBerrys, two phones, her ID for the West Wing, an ID and key for the underground command center she’d be evacuated to in case of a terrorist attack, her passes to the Pentagon and the State Department, an ID for the Camp David guard station, a West Wing parking pass, and her wallet and keys inside and closed it.
She stopped in front of the hallway mirror to attach her hard pin to the lapel of her black Armani pantsuit. The small, round pin bearing the presidential seal signaled to the United States Secret Service that she was to be granted full access to the president. Only a dozen White House staffers were given hard pins. She glanced at her reflection and nodded approvingly. Five years on a strict no-carbohydrate diet had banished her full cheeks, and the miracle of chemical straightening had finally tamed her red curls. Melanie’s hair hung in a stylish strawberry-blond bob. She scrunched her nose and leaned in to examine the creases and dark circles that rimmed her eyes. “Those look like the eyes of an old woman,” she said to herself before turning out the lights in her Georgetown condo and walking out.
“Morning guys,” she said to her agents as she hopped into the SUV that would take her less than two miles to the White House. She’d resisted full-time Secret Service protection at first, but on mornings like this, she was glad she’d relented. Snow had been falling since late the night before, and at five-thirty A.M., they would make fresh tracks.
“Happy birthday, Ms. Kingston,” Sherry said. Sherry was one of her regular agents. She turned around, smiled at Melanie, and handed her an envelope. “Open it—it’s from both of us,” she said, gesturing at Walter, Melanie’s other agent.
“Thanks, Sherry, but my birthday is a classified national security event. I didn’t even remind Char—er, President Kramer that it was today.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Walter said, glancing at Melanie in the rearview mirror as he navigated M Street in the snow. “And it’s not like she has the CIA or the FBI to turn to if she wants to find out for herself when her chief of staff’s birthday is, so you should be fine, Melanie.” He smirked. “Your secret is safe with us.”
“Shut up, Walter. Just keep your eyes on the road,” Melanie said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Walter said, still smiling.
A minute later, he pulled the car as close as possible to the entrance of the West Wing and jumped out to open the door for her.
Melanie stepped out of the SUV, holding her Dior bag protectively under her suit jacket so the fresh snow wouldn’t touch the leather. She wished she’d worn a coat, but she’d stopped dressing for the seasons years ago. It could be ninety-seven degrees outside, or minus seven, and the climate was always a cool sixty-six degrees inside the West Wing, where she’d be for the next sixteen hours.
Melanie climbed the single flight of stairs to her office and walked inside. Her assistant, Annie McKay, was already there.
“Happy birthday,” she whispered, even though no one else would have heard her if she’d yelled at the top of her lungs. Melanie always arrived before anyone else on the senior staff.
“Thanks, Annie,” Melanie said.
“Let me see it,” Annie said.
“What?” Melanie replied innocently, opening her suit jacket.
“Oh, my God, it is amazing—totally worth the splurge. It has elegant and expensive and woman of substance written all over it,” Annie exclaimed, standing to get a better look at the bag.
Melanie smiled. She settled in at her desk, casting an admiring glance at the fire that had already been lit in the fireplace. Cozy, Melanie thought. Maybe today won’t be so bad.
She looked around her spacious office on the main floor of the West Wing and wondered if it was her elevation to this most lonely job on the White House staff or growing fatigue from so many years in the political trenches that had made her reflective to the point of distraction.
Every room in the White House brought back a memory of a time when she had felt fortunate to be there. These days, she usually found herself standing in these rooms, asking—sometimes begging—the walls to talk to her. Sometimes the history that she and Charlotte were making struck her as embarrassingly overdue—many other countries had been ruled by women. And at other time, it was exhilarating to think that a new generation of women would grow up knowing that the glass ceiling had been shattered once and for all. But the vast majority of the time, Melanie’s life was exhausting, her assignments unseemly, and the rewards nonexistent.
She read the intelligence reports from the overnight, a memo from the national security advisor about troop reductions that would go to the president that morning, and the jobs report number that would be kept secret until eight-thirty A.M. She finished the front sections of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Washington’s first official tabloid, the Washington Journal.
When she noticed that the sun had come up and brightened her office with an orange glow, she glanced up at one of her five televisions. She unmuted one of the stations just as it was teasing its lead story: “Coming up at seven A.M.: Is President Kramer AWOL on the economy? We’ll have some surprising reactions from our viewers to that very question.”
“The president is on her way to the Oval,” Annie said, appearing in Melanie’s door. “You should probably walk over. She’ll want to see you about the speech, I’m sure.”
“I’ll head over in a couple minutes,” Melanie said.
Melanie had been given a desktop device that told her where the president was at all times. “Wayfarer” was the president’s Secret Service code name, and whenever the president moved anywhere—other than the bathroom—an automated voice would announce her whereabouts: “Wayfarer departing residence. Wayfarer arriving Oval Office. Wayfarer departing Oval Office. Wayfarer arriving Cabinet Room.” The voice had driven Melanie crazy, so she’d moved the box to Annie’s desk, and it fell to Annie to inform her of the president’s movements.
Annie reappeared one minute later. “Sam just called. The president wants to see you,” she said. Samantha Cohen was the president’s assistant.
“Tell her I’m coming,” Melanie said. She stood up and walked the twenty-five feet to the Oval Office, stopping briefly at Sam’s desk.
“Morning, Samantha. Is anyone else in there?” Melanie asked, even though she knew no one would be.
“Nope, she’s waiting for you,” Sam said.
Melanie walked into the Oval Office and stood a few feet away from the president’s desk.
“Good morning, Madam President,” Melanie said.
“Good morning, Melanie,” the president said.
“How are we doing today?” Melanie asked.
“Crappy. Did you see the jobs number?” the president asked.
“Yes. One hundred thousand is better than they predicted. The markets might hold up,” Melanie said.
“I don’t think so. We’re going to get killed today. The story writes itself: ‘President Proves She Is Tone-deaf on Economy.’ I don’t know why I’m giving this speech in Detroit. Why couldn’t we go to Silicon Valley or New York or somewhere with an economy that isn’t in the toilet?” the president asked as she took her black Sharpie to the speech text and started slashing huge sections—a tactic she employed to show her displeasure and make staffers nervous.
Melanie’s head started to throb.
“Sam, get the boys from speechwriting down here,” Charlotte ordered. “This speech was either written by an idiot or someone got drunk last night and wrote it as a joke. The press will kill me if I say the economy has turned a corner. Tell that to the unemployed mother of four. Who writes this garbage, Melanie?”
Melanie sighed. She had told Ralph Giacamo, the White House political director and Melanie’s nemesis, that the president wouldn’t like the spin. He’d launched into a tirade about how he was in charge of getting her reelected and needed to have his voice heard on message matters. Melanie didn’t have the energy to fight with him, so his language remained in the draft that went to the president.
“Earth to Melanie? Did you even look at this?” the president snapped, tapping her perfect bone-colored high heel—a Manolo Blahnik, for sure—on the floor under her desk. The president always dressed in the same color from head to toe. Today she was in a crème skirt and matching belted jacket. She wore a silk camisole underneath and a single strand of tiny pearls. Her thick blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she didn’t have any makeup on yet. Her hair and makeup team came in at seven forty-five. From a distance, she could easily pass for someone fifteen years younger than her forty-seven years.
“Of course I did, Madam President, and I’m sorry it isn’t to your liking, Madam President. We’ll write you a new speech, my lady,” Melanie said, bowing her head down toward the president in an exaggerated act of deference. She stayed in that position until the president spoke.
“Oh, shut up, and stop with the bowing,” the president said, stifling a smile. She rose from her desk and walked over to one of the sofas. A fire burned in her fireplace. “This fire is a little much, don’t you think?” she said.
“It’s a little more robust than the one they lit in my fireplace,” Melanie said.
“Looks like a goddamn bonfire,” the president said, gesturing toward the sofa across from her for Melanie to sit.
Melanie laughed and sat down, relieved that Charlotte’s dark mood had passed. The president needed to be “on” for the trip to Detroit. Half a dozen small-business owners and a handful of members of Congress were flying on Air Force One with her for the speech, and if Charlotte were brooding the whole time, the trip would be a waste.
“Sam—will you please bring Melanie’s present in here?” Charlotte yelled. “And two cups of coffee with cream.” She turned to Melanie and broke into a full smile for the first time that morning. “Happy birthday, smart-ass,” Charlotte said.
“Oh, God, no presents, please. I’m trying to go to a happy place in my mind—a place where I’m not thirty-seven years old, single, childless, and working steps away from the office where I sat when I was twenty-three years old,” Melanie said, sinking into the couch and looking up at the ceiling.
“Oh, your life is so awful. You’re just the White House chief of staff, that’s all. What an underachiever you are. Open your present,” Charlotte said, smirking and pushing the gift toward Melanie. She let the speech scatter on the carpet beneath them.
Melanie picked up the carefully wrapped box. As she slowly untied the bow and removed the tape from the wrapping paper, Charlotte grew impatient.
“Hurry up, the speechwriters will be here soon,” the president said, grabbing the box from Melanie and removing the wrapping paper herself.
Melanie stared at the black Bulgari box and said softly, “Charlotte, what did you do?”
“You’ve been so depressed lately, I thought you needed to be cheered up,” Charlotte said. “Open it, already. This Hallmark moment has gone on too long.”
Melanie stood up to give her a hug.
“Open it first,” Charlotte squawked, pushing Melanie aside. “I have to go to Detroit in this damned blizzard to console the inconsolable about the crappy economy in a few minutes.”
Inside was a thin white-gold chain dotted with diamonds—the most tasteful and beautiful thing Melanie had ever seen and, by a factor of one million, the most elegant piece of jewelry she owned.
“Thank you so much. I love it,” Melanie said, sliding it over her head and admiring the way the long chain sparked against her black silk blouse.
She knew she was lucky to work for Charlotte, and it almost hadn’t happened. She had been planning to move back to Colorado with Charlotte’s predecessor, President Martin, to head up his presidential library. But then she’d agreed to meet with Charlotte two weeks after she’d won the election.
When she’d walked into the room for their first meeting, she’d been struck by how small Charlotte was. She was a natural blonde, but her hair looked like straw. It was her one feature that actually looked better on television than in person. The toll of the long, nasty campaign was apparent on Charlotte’s face. Her blue eyes looked gray, and the lines around her mouth that usually disappeared behind her campaign smile were deep. She was so thin that the black slacks and jacket she wore looked as if they belonged to someone else several sizes larger. She wore low heels that almost passed as sensible, but when she crossed her legs, Melanie noticed the red soles that gave away both the price tag and Charlotte’s commitment to fashion.
Melanie hadn’t wanted to like her enough to be tempted to say yes. She really hadn’t wanted to like her at all. There was a cushy job waiting for her in Colorado with “nine to five” and “private jet” written all over it if she agreed to take President Martin up on his offer. There was nothing tying her to D.C. She could have easily flipped her condo to someone in the new administration—even in a down economy, people would be looking for places to live close to the White House. But something had nagged at her. She felt a sense of obligation at least to go through the motions and meet with the president-elect during the transition.
Melanie had been told that President-elect Kramer had made a special trip to Washington to meet with her.
“Please call me Charlotte,” she’d said. “It took me two years to get used to ‘governor,’ and now all this ‘president-elect,’ and then ‘Madam President,’ who can keep track of it? Call me Charlotte—I insist,” she’d said.
She was smart and funny and self-deprecating. She’d seemed to have been handed a briefing paper so detailed about Melanie’s career that Melanie wondered if the FBI had been involved. After some small talk about the current unusually cold temperatures for Washington, Charlotte had told Melanie that she’d seen her on the Today show years earlier and that she had admired and tried to emulate her cheerful toughness in her own television appearances. She’d praised Melanie’s decision to have the president do weekly press conferences in media markets around the country instead of from the White House. She’d said she agreed with the outgoing president’s decision not to campaign on her behalf because of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which she must have known had been Melanie’s advice to the president.
Melanie’s defenses had been down. She was feeling more and more flattered by the minute. And the idea of being the highest-ranking staff person for the first female president in America’s history did capture her imagination. Despite the fact that in the recesses of her mind, she understood that it was all part of an elaborate scheme to entice her, she’d said yes on the spot to serving as chief of staff to the nation’s forty-fifth president.
That was three years ago. Melanie fingered the smooth gold chain around her neck and stared at the reflection that the diamonds made on the wall of the Oval Office.
“If you’re still in there, Melanie, you’re welcome,” the president said, waving her hand in front of Melanie’s face. “I’ll see you tonight. We need to talk about the campaign. I’m sorry I’m missing your party, but at least I’m taking Ralph off your hands.”
“Party? What party?” Melanie groaned.
“I told them you’d hate it, but as usual, nobody listened to me. Act surprised. Sam and Annie have been working on it for weeks.” The president turned back to her desk. “Sam, please tell the speechwriters to get on the helicopter. We have to write a new speech.”
Melanie turned to leave and smiled sympathetically at the speechwriters who were huddled in front of Samantha’s desk.
“Good luck, guys,” Melanie said. “I’ll throw Ralph under the bus later. She’s just being melodramatic. Roll with it.”
Melanie endured the senior staff singing “Happy Birthday” to her at their seven-thirty meeting. She took calls from most of the Cabinet members, wishing her a happy birthday and from many of the reporters she’d known from her eight years as press secretary for the previous president. Her parents sent a dozen white roses mixed with white tulips, her favorite flowers. But nothing could have prepared her for her own reaction to the slide show that the White House staff assembled to pay tribute to her fifteen years of service.
Thank God the lights were dimmed and the music blaring. Against a soundtrack of depressing spinster ballads from Natalie Merchant and Tori Amos, the images flooded the room. There she was at twenty-three—in the group photo of all the White House interns—smiling and oblivious to the three chins she’d had in those days. President Phil Harlow was the first president Melanie had worked for. She’d lied about being a student to get the internship, since the White House intern program was only available to college students earning credit for their free labor. When a spot opened up for a junior press aide, she’d confessed about graduating the year before, and they’d given her the job. She spent nearly three years in the same cramped fourth-floor office in the Old Executive Office Building, across the driveway from the West Wing.
The next images were from her days as a campaign aide to President Harlow’s nephew, Christopher Martin. He’d surprised everyone when he announced a run for the presidential nomination during President Harlow’s last year in office. Melanie had signed on as his campaign press secretary. Everyone was shocked when he won the nomination and, eventually, the presidency. President Martin made Melanie his first press secretary, and at twenty-six, she’d been the youngest White House press secretary in history. The pictures of Melanie as President Martin’s press secretary made her cringe. Fortunately, her clothes, hair, and figure improved with age. There were pictures of her sleeping with her mouth wide open on Air Force One, plenty of shots of her fielding questions from the podium in the White House briefing room, and images she recognized as having been Photoshopped to remove all evidence of Matthew, her husband for a brief period during the Martin administration.
Photos of Melanie as Charlotte’s chief of staff made up the last and longest part of the slide show. She’d been around the photographers so long that she didn’t notice them anymore, but there she was: speaking to Charlotte as they walked across the South Lawn to board Marine One, being summoned by Charlotte as she stepped off Air Force One, whispering in her ear in meetings with foreign leaders, hiking with her at Camp David with the dogs, and laughing with her in the Oval Office over one of their many inside jokes.
Melanie stood and applauded when the slide show finally came to an end.
“Thank you so much. It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve this president alongside all of you. Thank you for this great surprise. I don’t know what to say, other than thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
She stayed and thanked everyone for coming and asked the stewards to bring the leftover cake to the residence. She and Charlotte would eat it for dessert.
Fifteen years, three presidents, and seven executive assistants later, Melanie thought to herself as she walked back to her office. “And all I’ve done is move forty feet.”
Around eight P.M., Melanie heard the sound of Marine One as it neared the South Lawn. She loaded her BlackBerrys and phones into her purse and walked down the hall toward the residence where she and Charlotte would have dinner. Charlotte had been bugging her for an answer about running her reelection campaign for weeks.
As the chopper came closer, her mind flashed back to her first ride on Marine One. It fell on her twenty-sixth birthday, and she had been nervous and excited about joining the elite group of top staffers who rode on the presidential helicopter instead of driving the short distance to Andrews Air Force Base. They’d been traveling to Detroit that day to talk about the economy, and President Martin’s poll numbers were almost as battered as Charlotte’s. More than a decade later, Melanie still remembered how her stomach had churned and the sweat from her underarms had soaked her blouse that day. She had heard the sound of the helicopter as it neared the South Lawn, and she’d raced down the hall to the Oval Office. President Martin had looked at her, clearly enjoying her anticipation.
“You ready?” he’d asked.
“I’m ready,” she’d said with a grin.
He’d flung his arm around her and walked out to the South Lawn, where the helicopter was parked. He’d waved to the cameras and the crowds and mouthed “Thank you” to the friends and staffers who had gathered to see him off. Melanie had walked on her toes to keep her heels from getting stuck in the muddy grass, but it wasn’t enough. She lost one of her Stuart Weitzman pumps in the mud and was too afraid to stop and pick it up with the cameras rolling. She’d boarded Marine One and taken a seat across from the president.
“You sit here—you won’t bump into me the way these thugs would,” President Martin had ordered, referring to the male staffers who would bump into his knees if they sat in the seat across from him.
“Yes, sir,” Melanie had agreed as she sat across from the president and peered out the window of the helicopter. Melanie had no idea what to do about her shoe. She hoped that no one would notice. She’d send someone to buy her a new pair in Detroit. Ernie Upshaw, President Martin’s deputy chief of staff, noticed her bare muddy foot first.
“Where is your shoe, Melanie?” he’d asked.
“Uh, it fell off.”
“Where?” the president had asked.
“Somewhere between the Oval Office and the helicopter,” she’d admitted, her cheeks and neck turning hot.
The president had howled with laughter and sent Buckey, his personal aide, out to find her missing shoe. The shoe was wedged so deep in the mud that it took Buckey about five minutes to find it. The helicopter pilots had eventually powered down Marine One, and all three of the cable news networks had carried the shoe hunt live.
Melanie’s BlackBerry had filled with new messages.
Her assistant: “They aren’t looking for your shoe, are they?”
Her mother: “All the news stations are calling you Cinderella. Why didn’t you wear flats?”
The White House chief of staff: “Way to go—the president will be late, but you will have your shoes.”
He is such a jerk, Melanie had thought.
Buckey had finally returned to Marine One with Melanie’s muddy black pump in his hand. The president thought the whole episode was hilarious. As they lifted off from the South Lawn of the White House and flew over the Washington Mall, Melanie had felt as if she’d been transported to a different world. The Tidal Basin glistened in the morning sun, and the Washington Monument jutted out of the ground. The flags that surrounded it flapped in the wind below her window, and the tops of the buildings on the mall looked like doll houses.
“It’s pretty spectacular, isn’t it?” the president had said.
“Amazing,” Melanie had replied, not moving her eyes from the sights below.
“How could that have been eleven years ago?” Melanie thought, not realizing she’d muttered to herself until one of Charlotte’s agents spoke to her.
“Ms. Kingston, is everything all right?”
“I’m sorry; I’m fine. Losing it, perhaps, but fine. Is she upstairs yet?”
“Yes. She said to tell you to come on in.”
Melanie walked past the table that had been set for two with fancy china and flatware and out to the Truman balcony. Charlotte had installed heaters so they could sit out there year-round. Melanie sat in her usual spot and pulled a blanket over her lap. She took in the view and tried to work herself into a positive frame of mind for Charlotte’s benefit. The Washington Monument was directly in front of her, lit to perfection by carefully placed spotlights and brightened by the full moon reflecting off a blanket of fresh snow. The Lincoln Memorial could be seen off to her right, and if she leaned forward, she could make out the top of the Capitol to her left.
One of the president’s dogs put her two front paws in Melanie’s lap and started kissing her face. She leaned back and let the dog lick her.
Melanie had never planned to spend her entire adult life working for the president. When people gazed at the wall of presidential commissions that hung in her West Wing office, she used to feel proud. Now, they embarrassed her.
With the thirty-five-pound dog now sitting in her lap, Melanie practiced what she would say to Charlotte that night: “Charlotte, I can’t run your reelection campaign, because you can’t run for reelection.”
© 2010 Nicolle Wallace
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Eighteen Acres includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Nicolle Wallace. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Eighteen Acres follows three powerful women in Washington, D.C.: Charlotte Kramer, the first female President of the United States; Melanie Kingston, the White House Chief of Staff; and Dale Smith, a White House correspondent for one of the top national networks. All three women struggle to balance their high-powered careers with their personal lives and relationships, to varying degrees of success. Charlotte and her staff must combat dangerous threats from abroad as well as from her very own cabinet, and even her husband. Melanie questions whether completely devoting her life to her job is really what she wants. And when Dale becomes the biggest news story of the campaign, she’s suddenly on the other side of the news media.
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
- With all the risks Dale and Peter take for their relationship, even when they’re trying to keep their affair a secret, it is still fairly obvious to those close to them what is going on. Do they almost want to get caught? Why doesn’t Charlotte confront Peter until she does? If not for Dale’s accident, do you think their relationship would have ever surfaced publicly? If so, by whom?
- Why is Charlotte committed to fighting what everyone believes is a losing battle for her campaign? Does she make the right choice to continue? What do you think ultimately got her the win? Could they have won without Tara?
- It’s mentioned in passing that Charlotte is a Democrat, but although the story is set against a political backdrop, politics are hardly ever discussed. How did this impact the novel? Does it matter what political party the characters belonged to?
- Discuss Roger’s role in the story. Did he do the right thing by switching the helicopters? What motivated his actions? Did Charlotte do the right thing, as his employer? As his friend?
- Charlotte seems to have less emotion than the other characters. She is very stoic, and always makes selfless, rational decisions. Discuss her resigned acceptance of her husband’s affair. Do you think this trait was what made her a good president?
- Brooke and Mark seem to have the only happy, balanced marriage in the book. Why is this? Do you think it’s possible for couples in the spotlight to maintain a healthy relationship?
- Why do you think Peter is consistently drawn to powerful, career-driven women? Will his relationship with Dale deteriorate as her career strengthens, as it did with Charlotte, or do you think it will be different this time?
- Compare and contrast the romantic relationships in the book and main character’s views on love. Think about Charlotte and Peter, Dale and Peter, Melanie and Brian. Who is happiest? How does success impact their relationships?
- Discuss how each character balances their priorities. What is most important to each woman? How do their personal and professional lives compete? Talk about the sacrifices they make for their careers, and the sacrifices they make for their relationships. Would you make the same choices?
- Whose perspective did you enjoy reading from most? Which woman did you relate to? Who did you sympathize with?
- Why does Melanie take the job as Charlotte’s Secretary of Defense? She seemed ready to resign her post and excited to lead a less high-powered life—is she simply obligated to obey the wishes of her President and friend? Do you think she will be happy and fulfilled with this change in position, or do you think work will continue to suck the life out of her?
- What do you think Roger’s last note says?
- The novel ends on an almost bittersweet note, with Charlotte saying “Well, tonight, we celebrate your new job, and tomorrow we get up and start all over again.” (p. 391) Were you happy with how the story ended for each character? Would you have wanted anything to turn out differently? What do you imagine happens to Charlotte, Melanie, and Dale next?
- If you live nearby, take a trip to Washington D.C. and tour the area where Charlotte, Melanie and Dale live and work. Eat at the Caucus Room, a “D.C. establishment restaurant” Melanie and Michael frequent, or Bistro Lepic, where Melanie and Brian have their first date. Take a tour of the White House, and visit Melanie’s favorite D.C. landmark, the Jefferson Memorial. Or take a virtual tour of the White House online—visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/white-house-101.
- Discuss Charlotte’s leadership capabilities as the first female President of the United States. Do you see the U.S. having a female president in the near future? What obstacles do you think women in politics still have to overcome? Do you think the gender of the president matters, or just their ideas?
You’re the former Communications Director for the White House and currently a political media strategist. How much of Eighteen Acres is based on your real life, and the lives of those around you in Washington? Which of your three protagonists are you most like?
The story is about three women who are entirely fictional, but they work in a place I know very well. To the extent that their jobs force them to make difficult trade-offs between their personal lives and their professional responsibilities, I can relate quite well, as can most women I knew in politics. Melanie’s life as a “staffer” is the most similar to my experience in the White House, but she stayed much longer than I did and accomplished more—rising to the post of White House Chief of Staff.
What inspired you to write a novel, and this one in particular? Have you always been a writer at heart?
I first thought about writing a novel about the White House after I’d worked there long enough to realize that people had no idea what life is really like for those who live and work there. I never met anyone who wasn’t fascinated by the place, regardless of their personal political views. Writing about the first woman president was an idea that came to me after the 2008 campaign. Everywhere I went, people wanted to talk about Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. It struck me that while their candidacies were unsuccessful; they had touched off a conversation about women in politics that was long overdue.
In a high powered job such as yours, or the women in Eighteen Acres, it seems difficult to maintain a balance with a personal life. How do you manage to do so?
It’s one of the most difficult things about life in the White House for everyone who works there—men and women. I was very fortunate in that my husband also worked in high level positions in the Bush administration and on the Bush and McCain campaigns, so we shared most of our professional experiences.
You largely leave politics out of the story, though it’s set against an intense political backdrop. Why did you decide to write a relatively bipartisan story?
I wanted to write a story about the distance that Charlotte, Melanie and Dale traveled personally and professionally, and I didn’t want the reader to care about which political party they belonged to. It makes me happy when people say to me “I couldn’t figure out for the longest time if Charlotte was a democrat or a republican.”
The White House in Eighteen Acres is run by women. Do you think there will be a female US President in the near future? Why do you think there hasn’t been one yet?
I believe that the first female president is alive today. Women are coming into their own politically all over the country, in senate races and gubernatorial races. The sorts of intractable problems we face as a country are well suited for the intuitive diplomacy and learned patience of many women leaders.
Charlotte ultimately wins the election because she chooses a running mate from the opposing party. Is that a strategy you would advocate for politicians? Do you think such an arrangement would work?
People hold conventional politics in such low regard that it would seem to me that anything “outside the box” would be worth a try.
Tara seems to have a lot in common with Sarah Palin—they’re both fiery stump speakers with an everyman appeal who aren’t afraid to be blunt. Was this intentional?
I spent enough time in Washington to understand that Washington politicians have a limited appeal to voters. For the campaign section of the story, it was important that the story reflect the public’s hunger for candidates who are plain-spoken, direct and relatable. Tara and Sarah Palin share those traits, but they are two very different women with different stories.
You were a spokesperson for John McCain’s 2008 campaign and served as a campaign advisor to Sarah Palin. What role do you see yourself playing in the next election?
I traveled the country with two candidates for President—George W. Bush in 2003 and 2004 and John McCain in 2008. I treasure both experiences and the opportunity I had to visit every corner of this country and meet people from nearly every state, but it’s a grueling job best left to people who are as eager now as I was then.
What writers and novels have had an impact on you? What are you reading now?
Run and The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, and The Help by Kathryn Stockett have stayed with me like few other novels I’ve read in recent years. The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger, inspired me to tell a story that was as much about the place, and its limitations and allure, as it was about the characters. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld was the book I gave to everyone I knew for a couple years because I loved it so much. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger were the first books that changed how I felt about the world. Right now, I’m reading The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake, Persuasion by Jane Austen, and I have been planning to start the Steig Larsson trilogy for months, but my deadlines keep getting in the way.
Do you see yourself writing another book? You have a very interesting life yourself, would you ever write nonfiction?
I’m working on the sequel to Eighteen Acres now. In it, Tara has her own voice, and we get to take the ride from the New York Attorney General‘s office to the Vice Presidency with her. Dale, Charlotte and Melanie also return. We get to know them better by spending more time with them. I’m enjoying their stories so much, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Eighteen Acres" is the story of three women: Charlotte Kramer, the 45th President of the United States, her White House Chief of Staff, Melanie Kingston, and TV network White House Correspondent, Dale Smith. All are powerful, smart and savvy. They are living on the edge of an explosive world. One mistake or scandal will bring chaos to them personally as well as to citizens globally. Rumors of infidelity within the White House threaten to expose questionable weaknesses in the President's judgment. Mishandling of the situation when an attack on the President's helicopter causes further concerns about her judgment regarding the people she's put in powerful positions, people whose mistakes could cost the American people their security. As President Kramer struggles to ignite her re-election campaign, forces are in motion to keep this from happening. "Eighteen acres" is a term politicos use when speaking of the White House complex. As a former communications director for President Bush and a political media strategist and a campaign advisor for John McCain and Sarah Palin, author Nicolle Wallace certainly knows her way around those eighteen acres very well. She's given us an insider's view of what it's like on the other side of the security fences as we look into the private areas in the White House and at the presidential get-away, Camp David. Wallace's behind- the-scenes action also takes us into the back-stabbing manipulation that happens within the media and print news arena. While I expected more of a political thriller, I found the story compelling and an interesting read. Ms. Wallace writes characters that the reader can care about and become invested in. I did find the heavy focus on expensive designer name products a bit off putting coming from people in such high power positions. Am I nitpicking? Maybe. But such name dropping is both distracting and unnecessary in a book of this genre. I do recommend Eighteen Acres. It's a fun fast read, with a nice flow through story about what it would be like to have the first woman president. I expected a bit more conflict and complexity, but all in all, Ms. Wallace has written a great first novel. I'll look forward to what she does next!
Three women and the their lives within the most powerful 18 acres on earth! This is not something the mainstream media will promote as Wallace does not do enough conservative or liberal bashing to warrant their 15 seconds, however, as an avid reader, I could not put this book down, and I am a 50 plus year-old male. She tells a great story about life's triumphs and the sometime consequences that go along with power and money. Although Wallace allows us to experience pain and sorrow, she never really paints a character as evil or hateful, they all are flawed to some extent, and you end up cheering for each one to find their true happiness and as in real life, some do and some don't. In conclusion, I only wish I had two friends like Brooke and Mark!
Story plot ok but didn't have the depth of details to make one feel any real suspense or appreciation of the complexity of the president and her staff. Needs help from Aaron Sorkin.
I expected a more interesting book.
Could not put this book down - a must read for anyone interested in a great political drama!
Weak story line and poorly written including the many grammatical mistakes.
I enjoyed reading this. A light read. Entertainment for a lazy day.
I enjoyed reading this book because it was entertaining with a touch of politics. It's a great book for a lazy day at the beach or day off work. Women will like it more than men and I really enjoyed the character of Melanie.
This is one of the few eBooks I would buy at a price above $9.99 and it was well worth it. It started out a little slow as most character development was in the first chapter or two. But after that it really takes off and was hard to put down. I was disappointed when it came to an end, and I would love to read a sequel.
I found it was one I did not want to lay down. Well written and Nicolle write on please!!!!!!!!!!!
This insider novel about life in the White House is hard to put down. Follow the first woman President in this authors first novel which is full of love, betrayal, family and politics. Can she win a second term?
Pretty good first novel from a former Washington insider in the Bush administration. Enjoyable.
This is the well-constructed story of three women: Charlotte- the President of the United States, her chief of staff, Melanie, and a big network White House reporter Dale. It just so happens that Dale is secretly having an affair with the first husband, who conveniently is living in Connecticut where the first children are in boarding school. None of this is spoiler -it's put right out there in the first 20 or so pages. It could easily have gone right into the trash can at this point as just another political soap-opera. It's NOT.Wallace does an excellent job of fleshing out these characters: their motivations, their emotions, and their aspirations. The plot is also tightly drawn, centering around Charlotte--is she going to win re-election for a 2nd term when her popularity is plummeting? Does she know about her husband's infidelity? Does anyone besides the Secret Service know? What will happen if the affair becomes public knowledge? And what is the nature of her relationship with her Secretary of Defense Roger Taylor? They're always together, and Mrs. Taylor is beginning to resent his absences.As the players jockey for power and presence, and the polls continue to reflect poor numbers, the war in Afghanistan rages on, and Charlotte and Roger make several trips to visit the troops. Dale lands a highly coveted trip with the presidential entourage, and Melanie is trying to decide if she wants to continue her life in the fast lane after 16 years in DC.Past this I really don't want to go because it's a great read and I don't want to spoil it. There are excellent plot twists and surprises, well-written dialogue and realistic DC scenes. This is definitely not Chick-lit. It's a well-written novel written by someone who obviously knows her way around the eighteen acres on which the Executive Branch sits in the middle of Washington D.C.
This was a fun, fast read that I devoured on an airplane. It tells the interconnected stories of three women ¿ the first female President of the United States, her White House Chief of Staff, and a network reporter covering the White House. While some of the plot developments force one to suspend disbelief in order to succeed, it was a surprisingly good page-turner for a debut novel. There is a lot of drama, some humor, and excellent behind the scenes details about working and living on the 18 acres of the White House complex. The author is a former White House and campaign staffer and knows of what she speaks (full disclosure: I worked at the White House at the same time as the author, but I don¿t think we ever met.). There were a few details that were flat-out wrong, but I think Wallace was trying to advance the story in a coherent way. For instance, a WH Chief of Staff would never have the role in a campaign that the character in this book has; it¿s illegal! All in all, though, a good read, especially for a recovering political junkie like me. 3.25 stars
This book is OK, but is not the political thriller I expected. I'm being generous with the 3 stars, because it was an entertaining book to read on a quiet weekend when I'm willing to suspend reality for a while. It's not even all that realistic, and I'm not talking about the concept of a woman as president or women as the nominated candidates of both parties (although that in itself is far-fetched; seriously, does anyone really think that the Republicans would elect a woman as president?). The central "crisis" of the book is unbelievable (the helicopter crash and subsequent investigation) as is the president's reveal of an affair her husband is having with a network news anchor. And then there's the president' Chief of Staff and other staff members, who are very involved with the re-election effort, writing speeches and such, in violation of election laws. I got this at the library because it precedes Wallace's next book, that I picked up at a library book sale. I'm not expecting a great novel, but hoping that it's entertaining on a cold night.
Eighteen Acres by Nicolle Wallace captures the energy and imagination of what the United States would potentially look like (albeit through a fictional lense) if a woman became the next President of the United States (the character of Charlotte Kramer). What also adds intrigue to Eighteen Acres is that the characters are written in a way that a person can easily imagine how the character might be if they were a real life version of what is written in Eighteeen Acres. For instance, the character of Melanie Kingston has been working in the White House for the past 14 years as the book opens (it is listed that she has been working there since she was 23 years old). Melanie Kingston was now White House Chief of Staff in the book and she had previous experience as a press secretary. For some reason, I can easily see her in real-life having both friends from both the political and academic circles within the Washington D.C. area and have friends ranging in backgrounds as diverse as songwriters, authors, and maybe even radio DJ’.s. Last, but not least, I can probably see a character such as Melanie Kingston participate in and eventually run a local Toastmaster’s chapter near wherever she lives (after she is no longer working in the White House). That is an example of how fleshed out the characters are made to be (in a positive way). Pop culture references also abound in the book such as with Dior bag, Tori Amos, Natalie Merchant, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the New York Times, and The Washington Journal.
I enjoyed the interaction of the women in this book. Not usually a daytime TV viewer or The View fan but I have been impressed with Wallace on this show. She is the calm sane one in the mist of all the craziness. Because of this, I bought all of her books and am looking forward to her next ones.
Wonderful characters that come alive. It is great to see a story with women in such powerful government positions taking on problems and dealing with them in realistic ways. "Eighteen Acres" is the first book in this trilogy. If you enjoyed this book then read #2-"It's Classified" and #3 "Madame President".
Heard about the book when Ms. Wallace was on MSNBC. Truly enjoyed the book and Ms. Wallace's ability to tell a great story. Liked it so much, has to read "It's Confidential".
Story of politics~ 18 acres is the White House.....a good simple, love story as well; Nicole write well & gives you some insight into DC