November 15, 2003
His Conservative Connections Help to Put Novelist on Best-Seller List
ASHINGTON, Nov. 13 ó This is a Washington success story.
A year ago at this time, Joel C. Rosenberg was a conservative Republican political operative with a deep evangelical faith, three small children, no connections in the Bush White House or the Congressional leadership and no particular prospects for a steady job.
Just before Thanksgiving last year, his first novel, "The Last Jihad," was published. It begins with a suicide pilot crashing his private plane into the president's motorcade and ends with the president saying a silent prayer as the nuclear bombs he ordered are dropped on Iraq. By December, it was on The New York Times best-seller list, where it stayed for 11 weeks.
Based on those sales, Mr. Rosenberg, 36, received an advance of more than $1 million for a sequel, "The Last Days," which also involves terrorism in the United States and mayhem in the Middle East. It went on sale three weeks ago and is already No. 24 on The Times's expanded best-seller list.
"No one had ever heard of me," Mr. Rosenberg said over lunch the other day. "Now I feel like I'm playing in the major league with the Yankees."
By conventional standards, these are not very good novels. The plots streak along at breakneck speed. But there is no subtlety and no attempt at character development.
The Washington Post review of "The Last Jihad" called the writing "an act of terrorism on the reader's brain."
Publishers Weekly said of "The Last Days," "The author singularly fails to suspend readers' disbelief."
But Mr. Rosenthal has an advantage few writers of fiction enjoy ó his friendships in the conservative political network.
The day "The Last Jihad" was published, he was on Sean Hannity's radio and television shows. The next week he appeared on Rush Limbaugh's radio program. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, Mr. Rosenberg said, he was on 160 radio and television programs.
Among those who wrote blurbs for his books were Oliver L. North and G. Gordon Liddy. Last week, Pat Robertson had Mr. Rosenberg on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club."
World Magazine, an evangelical publication based in North Carolina for which Mr. Rosenberg once wrote political columns, said "The Last Jihad" was a book "of which Christians can be proud."
"It was almost like one of the family doing well," Mr. Rosenberg said. His books are published by Forge, a division of St. Martin's Press that specializes in thrillers.
Most authors try to sell their books by going on tours and speaking to small audiences at colleges and bookstores. But why do that, Mr. Rosenberg's publicist, Peter R. Robbio, asked, when millions will see you on television or hear you on the radio?
"We decided to go to the same outlets we would to promote a political campaign," Mr. Robbio said.
When the unfavorable review in The Washington Post came out, Mr. Robbio quickly e-mailed it as a badge of honor to his list of conservative commentators.
Mr. Rosenberg grew up outside of Rochester. His father, an architect, was an Orthodox Jew. His mother, an English teacher, was a Methodist. Both became born-again Christians when he was a small boy, Mr. Rosenberg said. He himself "kind of wrestled through it and became a follower of Christ when I was 17," he said.
He majored in film at Syracuse University and voted for Michael S. Dukakis for president in 1988. But by the time he graduated from college, he was a committed conservative, he said.
He came to Washington right out of college to work for conservative research institutes, first the Heritage Foundation and then Empower America. Then he went to work for Mr. Limbaugh as the broadcaster's eyes and ears in Washington with the title of research director.
After two years with Mr. Limbaugh, he joined Steve Forbes's campaign as a policy adviser and speech writer in the 1996 Republican presidential primaries. Then he opened a political consulting business and worked briefly to spread around Washington the message of the conservative Israeli politicians Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky.
By the end of 2000, Mr. Rosenberg said, "I had signed up with the wrong horse for president, Forbes, I wasn't going to work in the Bush White House, and I wasn't going to be the political adviser to the prime minister of Israel. So I decided that maybe now was the time to sit down and write the political thriller that I had always wanted to write."
Nonfiction conservative books seemed to do well, Mr. Rosenberg said, but there was little in the way of conservative fiction. "I figured," he said, "if I could pull off a novel that some of my friends who are conservative luminaries would enjoy, I might have a shot at getting people to hear about it."