Around the White House, this season's naughty boy is former Carter speechwriter Patrick Anderson whose new novel, First Family , contains characters you may have read about elsewhere. Like on the front page of your newspaper.
For example: name the handsome young White House aide from the South who masterminded the campaign of a presidential candidate (also from the South) who ran against the Washington establishment and, against all odds, won.
Need more clues? This aide plays rock music on a record player in his White House office and has difficulty keepting his antics at bars and parties out of the gossip columns. Correct answer: Bud Langston.
"Bud is a fictional character," protests Anderson, who faces a couple months of publicity appearances during which he'll repeat the same argument. "He is not Ham Jordan. I say he's not, Hamilton says he's not, so he's not!"
Anderson, 42, is a softspoken writer who lives with his wife and two children in a neat, yellow brick house in Waterford, Va. Until last August his wife Ann worked as Rosalynn Carter's deputy press secretary. That was when word about the book Anderson -- who wrote speeches for Jimmy Carter during his campaign -- was writing began to make the gossip rounds. In September Eleanor Randolph of the Chicago Tribune chronicled the reaction of some White House staffers to First Family .
"It's irresponsible," Greg Schneiders said. Unnamed staffers used words like "trash," "sleazy," "cheap" and Randolph quoted a reference to Anderson as a "dirty rat."
The controversy apparently didn't help Ann Anderson keep her job; although the White House claimed her job was eliminated because of a staff "reorganization," no one missed the coincidental timing. Ann, who now works as director of information for the Appalachian Regional Commission, declines to discuss her departure.
Anderson's last novel, The President's Mistress , brought a paperback sale of $250,000 and began speculation that Anderson's president was really John Kennedy. With First Family the likely candidates for fictional fame are Hamilton Jordan and, to some extent, Jimmy Carter (as the presidential character) and Betty Ford as the first lady who gets hooked on sedatives after a nervous breakdown.
"I'd finished the book when Betty Ford came forward," says Anderson. "I don't know what they're mad about over there [at the White House]. In my mind Bud is a wonderful character who has very little resemblance to Ham Jordan.
"If you want to think of him as a Hamilton or a Haldeman or Sherman Adams, that's all right with me. My job is to write the books, not to explain them. People see what they want to see. And I'm often surprised by what they see."
Of course Anderson's is hardly the first political novel to bear more than a coincidental resemblance to real persons or incidents; All the King's Men, The Last Hurrah and Advise and Consent are of the same genre. Anderson is friends with some Washington public figures such as Peter Bourne, Mary King and Keith Stroup. But he lives the country life and says when he reads newspaper stories about society or political figures, "They're like messages from another planet."
He began writing First Family in 1977 after a brainstorming session with his editor at Simon & Schuster, Michael Korda. Both men thought a novel about the wife of a president was ripe for the writing.
"Sinclair Lewis said that after he wrote Elmer Gantry , all over the country clergymen were saying, 'He based that on me but it's not true,'" says Anderson. He says of his critics, "Maybe they were trying to help me sell some books."