Greg Gutfeld sits downs with his Co-Host on The Five, Dana Perino, to discuss her new book And the Good News Is…: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side.
GREG GUTFELD: Since this is your first book, how terrified were you of failing miserably (I have read the book already, and know that it’s really great, and will sell tons). How did you plan it out? Was it hard to get started?
DANA PERINO: Enough that I got cold feet and didn’t send it to a friend who warned me that he was a tough critic. I also hesitated to send it to you. I held my breath for hours after I emailed you and nearly fainted with relief when I got your feedback when you landed in California.
Years ago I was approached about writing a book and the concept for And the Good News Is… was rejected by one publisher as too soft. They wanted a fire-breathing political book from me (they didn’t think a book like the one I just wrote would sell. It appears they were wrong). They kept trying to put words in my mouth, and I said that that’s not the kind of book that I’d ever write. So I abandoned the idea. But then Sean Desmond called from Twelve and he took my crude, handwritten outline and turned it into a proposal that his publisher liked. Fifteen months later, here we are, selling a book.
My outline included subheads like “swallow your sarcasm, be the most prepared, disagree without being a jerk” and a list of stories from my White House days that I wanted to write, so all of that was pretty much mapped out but not organized. Then my editor explained that you couldn’t write a book that was part memoir/part advice and just show up at age 35 as the White House press secretary. He wanted to know how I got to that position, what was my childhood like, how did I become who I am today. And the more I thought about it, I realized that my upbringing and my meeting my husband on an airplane were essential to explaining how a person like me – who grew up in a rural environment with no political connections–ended up working for the President of the United States. And so I had to do some research to make sure I had the family history in Wyoming right, and I even employed my husband to write his version of the story of how we met. I also had guidance from a mutual friend who told me I should write about why I’m a conservative. He was right–the ending of the book wraps it up well.
GREG GUTFELD: Where did you write most of it? I wrote in bars. How about you—in dog parks, nestled in the hollow of a tree?
DANA PERINO: Well, it is hard to balance my laptop on one knee, but I ended up having to do that because I wrote in my rocking chair in my bedroom and Jasper insisted on sitting next to me. I also wrote sitting on my porch swing bed in South Carolina, again with Jasper up against me. I wrote in the mornings and on weekends and holidays. I got distracted a lot by emails and by tweeting pictures of my dog, and I didn’t take any time off of The Five to write.
You have a stronger stomach than mine–I could never write in a bar. I demand silence!
GREG GUTFELD: What’s the best advice you have for writing a book. (Mine is always have a notebook around, and drink red wine while you write. Once you get drunk, you can stop writing). What worked for you?
DANA PERINO: I needed time alone. I didn’t like to be with other people while I was writing (except that I could write a lot on airplanes, surrounded by people. That’s weird). When I turned in the first draft, the editor wanted a lot more detail. And since I’m a good student, I provided him with A LOT MORE DETAIL. So much detail that then the book was way too long and had to be cut back by tens of thousands of words. I realize now something that you told me–that I don’t even miss the material that was cut. So I think I had to over-write in order to get to a better product. Just like gardening!
I’d also try to write just as I’d tell a story. I used parentheses to make a side comment and section breaks to try to let a moment sink in for a bit. Sometimes I’d read a paragraph out loud and realize it didn’t sound good. Often I’d go back to read a previous section that I’d been pleased with and realize it was total crap and delete all of it.
Writing the book was a good experience. It almost felt industrious, which is strange to say since I really sat for many hours and wrote with a hot laptop burning my thighs and not burning any calories. But I really feel like the book is one of my greatest accomplishments. I know a lot of people helped make this book happen, but I actually wrote and wrestled with it on my own, so I’m proud of it.
GREG GUTFELD: When I read the book, I was fascinated by your upbringing—I didn’t expect to find that, and assumed it would be mostly political. But it was my favorite part—the life and times of a farm girl. Was that hard to write, stuff about growing up? How did that inform your life?
DANA PERINO: It was a joy to write down my family history, and I’m so glad that now we all have it (even if it is just my version of it). Around the time I started writing, I got a binder in the mail from a fan of The Five. It was filled with detailed Ancestry.com work about the Perino family. The woman that sent it to me was a seventh cousin, and she’d picked up on my comments on the show about Wyoming. She took a chance that we were related, and her information was helpful.
I also called my mom, dad, aunts, and uncles and texted with my cousin to make sure I had details right, such as the name of my Grandpa’s horse, the original homestead establishment, my grandfathers’ military service, and more. I realized that I had a unique American upbringing, and one thing I wanted to do with the book was make sure that people growing up in flyover country know that they don’t have to go to an Ivy League school or live in a big city to end up advising the President of the United States in the Oval Office.
The more I wrote about my childhood the more I realized I missed it. The early years on the ranch shaped who I am today, and they continue to inform my thinking and commentary on Fox News. I love the line that my great-grandparents walked into one side of the American dream, grew a ranch from the original homestead to over 50,000 acres in the Black Hills, and 100 years later I walk out the other side as the press secretary of the United States. They never would have imagined that would happen, but isn’t that the reason that people seek to come to America? They don’t know what their heirs will do, but they give them the best possible chance by being a part of the most amazing country in the history of the world. “God bless America, indeed” is how I close chapter 1.
GREG GUTFELD: Tell me about the cover. What are you so happy about? I’ve never seen someone so happy to be on a cover.
DANA PERINO: I have a lot to be happy about, for one. And I wanted a book that people would want to pick up, that they’d be drawn to. I wanted to have a different look and feel, so that when people saw my book they’d think, “Oh, I kind of like her…even if she is a Republican.”
However, it isn’t a political book, or just a book with some advice–it’s a story with some politics, advice, and romance all mixed together. I knew I’d be looking at that book for the rest of my life, so I wanted the photograph to capture me at my happiest. Melanie Dunea was the photographer. She’s photographed a lot of cookbooks and country music stars, so I said “sign her up!” She and I knew exactly what we were looking for, and I’m really pleased with it.
GREG GUTFELD: This book is essentially an advice book that reads like a real book. Which is a rarity. Most advice books don’t tell stories, and the advice is trite and worn out. But your memoir functions as entertainment and service—did you intend that?
DANA PERINO: Since I left the White House, I’ve been invited to give a lot of speeches (so for anyone bummed that Hillary Clinton is off the speaking circuit, call me) and I found that no matter how many times I tried to write a new speech with fresh material and statistics and political analysis, the only thing that really moved an audience was my story telling about what it was like to work in the White House.
I have self-deprecating stories about humility, such as when I got hit in the eye socket by the steel arm of the boom mic in Iraq when the shoes were thrown at the President and I finished the last six weeks of the Bush administration with a black eye (I know, I know). I witnessed moments of presidential strength when he stuck up for America when no cameras were rolling, and how he cupped a wounded Marine’s face in his hands, tears running down his face onto the wounded, as he told the military aide to present him with the Purple Heart.
I got to laugh with the President on Marine One, to conspire with him to stick up for a female reporter who was big footed by a guy who had been on the job for about 10 minutes, and to give him frank assessments such as when the McCain-Palin campaign intended to insult him by making it impossible for him to travel in time for the GOP convention in 2008. President Bush was more than my boss–he became a friend, a second father, and a lifetime confidant. The best way for me to explain that to people, to give them advice on how to conduct themselves graciously and honorably, is to tell them stories that illustrate my points.
I break down the advice sections into things that people can do immediately at the office, throughout their careers, and for their lives. My best advice is that “Choosing to be loved is not a career limiting decision,” and I explain how I could have talked myself out of quitting my great Capitol Hill job and moving to England to be with a man 18 years older than me that had been married twice before and had children who weren’t that much younger than me. But I was given advice not to walk away from a chance to be loved, and that was the best advice I ever received. Because of Peter, I’ve been able to take more risks with confidence that I would be ok if it didn’t work out.
And one of the best stories in the book is how I got caught in between the director of communications and the President over an interview, and President Bush basically told me I wasn’t needed in the Oval Office at that time. I tiptoed out of the Oval and when I got to the desk I called Peter, totally mortified, and told him what happened. He immediately knew how to make me feel better. He said, “Just think — for the rest of your life you can say, ‘I’ve been kicked out of better places than this,’ and just like that, I was restored.
GREG GUTFELD: Did anyone give you sound or helpful advice about how to boost your writing skills (this is where you can mention me).
DANA PERINO: Oh, like someone named Reg Rutfeld? Yes, he was quite helpful. Before I wrote this book, I had never written anything longer than a speech. Short press statements are my specialty. I had worked on a lot of other books–providing initial ideas, editorial direction, publicity suggestions, but I have never been an author. What I appreciated so much about your advice and support is that you knew that I was a reader and that I love books, and so when I started the process you treated me like an author from the beginning, not as just another press secretary writing a book.
Early drafts showed my timidity, and you suggested I punch up the language, that I use one word or phrase to start a paragraph, so that it popped. I tried that a couple of times and it worked. And after I got used to that, I realized that my writing started to sound more conversational, and one of the best compliments I’ve received is that my book sounds like I’m talking to them, that I’m telling the reader the story directly. I didn’t know that was the goal of writing a book, but it turned out that way and I thank you for your help.
Now do you feel sorry for being so mean to me all the time?
GREG GUTFELD: I commend you on the fine balancing act you attained with Jasper. You had enough of him in there to please dog fans, but not a whole lot to make people like me throw up. Was that also intentional?
DANA PERINO: Not at first. In fact, when the second pass edits came back and the book was way too long, there was much gnashing of teeth, but I sacrificed the entire chapter I’d written about dogs. But I saved the material to use at a later date. That book will probably outsell any of the books we’ll ever write combined.
One thing I cut but that I’ll share here is that you were one of the first people I told that my elderly dog Henry had died. We had been emailing about something else and it caught you by surprise. And you were kind to me that day. That one day. I’ll never forget it!
GREG GUTFELD: As you know I hate positive things, abhor optimists. Yet I get along with you. What is your philosophy?
DANA PERINO: I mean, come on–who couldn’t get along with America’s sweetheart?
GREG GUTFELD: I deem you a positive pessimist—in that you don’t expect things to go as ideally planned, but you’re happily prepared to meet such challenges. Is that a fair assessment?
DANA PERINO: OK, I’ve never heard that phrase before. And I think you’re right. That’s what I am. I am a positive pessimist. I think I need to sit down. No, seriously, that’s true. In the chapter where I explain why I’m a conservative I explain it is because I look to facts, logic, and science to inform my thinking, and then I figure out what I can do from there to deal with the situation. You’re right, I’m not all sunshine and light, but I look for the positive. It’s like the Serenity Prayer says (bear with me)–it helps me sort out what I can change, what I can’t change, and how to tell the difference. I think you’re onto something, Greg. You could start a new movement (except you’re a Pessimist Pessimist). You certainly could shorten that to “pest,” however.
GREG GUTFELD: Who is your favorite person on The Five?
DANA PERINO: Allison DeBois, the stage manager. She always laughs at my jokes. She sees where I’m headed before anyone else (sort of how I start laughing before you finish a joke…I get you).