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Likely Candidates for Fiction

Books: In his debut novel, 'Spin,' Dana Point author--and former political operative--Tom Lowe weaves in familiar recent California history.


On the first page of former Republican campaign operative Tom Lowe's debut novel, "Spin," his antihero wakes up amid the shambles of the California Assembly speaker's office and in a pool of his own vomit.

His character, GOP wunderkind Jim Asher, has destroyed an $1,800 Armani suit--and his future in politics.

The Dana Point author probably has done the latter with the novel, which weaves fiction and fact from recent California political history around a cautionary tale of a young man seduced by the twin aphrodisiacs of instant celebrity and unearned power. It was published this month in hardcover by Pocket Books.

Lowe, 26, is quick to caution that it is a work of fiction that merely draws on real events as "backdrops" for the action. For example, both Lowe and his fictional counterpart launched their careers by volunteering for U.S. Senate candidates (Lowe for millionaire Michael Huffington's campaign) and went on to become the youngest communications directors for Assembly speakers.

Despite the disclaimers--similar to those slapped on "Primary Colors," reporter Joe Klein's roman a clef on the 1992 presidential race--it's easy to theorize who's who, and who's going to be mightily miffed at the inevitable guessing games over what really happened amid page after page of booze, sex, sellouts and self-indulgence.

As his book hit stores last week from Orange County to Washington, Lowe was about as far from his former life as possible--holed up in his uncle's cabin at Lake Tahoe working on a rewrite of his third novel, a literary fable set in Africa, in which the main character is a chimpanzee.

He does plan to hit the promotions circuit, though, with an appearance Saturday to sign copies of "Spin" at a Newport Beach bookstore.

State Democratic Party official Bob Mulholland said the book has sold out in Sacramento, where Lowe attended a book signing this week. "I think everyone's curious how close it hits to home," Mulholland said.

Lowe's second novel also borrows on personal experiences--about a soldier in the waning days of the Gulf War. Lowe served four years in the Army and is an Operation Desert Storm veteran. The second novel has yet to be grabbed by a publisher.

Though still a registered Republican, Lowe considers himself a Libertarian. He hasn't voted in two years, he said, because of extended writing sabbaticals in Belize, Africa and Spain.

Like his "Spin" alter ego, Lowe eventually purged himself of politics, walking away in 1996 from his job as communications chief for then-Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove). Lowe said he returned to Orange County, grabbed his laptop computer and wrote the first draft of "Spin" in 23 days.

"Party politics is totally dead for most people, and I don't think it'll change until another party, maybe the Libertarian Party, is driven by my generation," he said. "People my age, the so-called Gen Xers, are just totally not interested in politics at all unless they've been brainwashed by one side or the other. They just want to be left alone. I didn't want to spend the next 20 years . . . worrying about where my place was in any given situation."


Writing has become a replacement obsession for Lowe. He wants to tell stories, important stories, like the ones immortalized in American fiction by great authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and Jack London.

He acknowledged that "Spin"--which Kirkus Reviews called a "frothy, sex- and caffeine-fueled 'How to Exceed in Politics' " in its July edition--was merely a first step toward what he hopes will be a serious writing career.

"There are 297 F-words in the book, about one per page, and that doesn't exactly lend itself to gracefulness," he said. "The lead character is completely screwed up and out of control. But that's the voice of the book. That's what's going to connect with people."

Among the central characters is the wife of the millionaire U.S. Senate candidate for whom young Jim Asher works. Mariella Winston is described as a "shrewd, enchanting, beautiful blonde from Buenos Aires" and the brains behind her husband's campaign.

Other than hair color and birthplace, the character resembles Arianna Huffington, for whom Lowe worked in Michael Huffington's unsuccessful Senate bid in 1994. One scene in the book has Asher and the vivacious Mrs. Edward Winston enjoying a cosmopolitan nude massage.

Arianna Huffington, now divorced and a political commentator, said this week that she hasn't read the book, adding, "I really have nothing to say about it."

Pringle, now the Republican nominee for state treasurer, is equally mum, saying only that it is "a work of fiction."

In the book, youthful Orange County Assemblyman Brett Alexander is maneuvered into the speakership with the help of a decoy Democratic candidate in a crucial special election--a tactic executed by Asher, who hopes to ride Alexander's coattails to the White House.

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