Fledgling authors are generally counseled to write about what they know -- but if there's anyone with an incentive to ignore that advice, it's Kristen Gore. The second daughter of former veep/failed 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore and his wife Tipper, she bears a lot of baggage simply by virtue of her parentage, and she suspected that getting political in print would only make her load heavier. "That's why I did the opposite for years," she says, referring to her time as a staffer for Futurama, a goofy sci-fi cartoon created by Simpsons mastermind Matt Groening. "I wrote about robots and aliens, which is pretty far removed."
So why did Gore decide to use Washington, D.C., as the primary setting for Sammy's Hill, her first novel, and build its narrative around an aide to a senator who winds up running for vice president? She says this philosophical shift was inspired by a job penning gags for Saturday Night Live, which needles elected officials on a regular basis, and a briefer stint on Charlie Lawrence, a short-lived 2003 sitcom in which Broadway star Nathan Lane played a congressman. "That's what made me consider making those kinds of jokes," Gore notes. "Once I let my imagination move toward that topic, it flowed so naturally, and I didn't feel restrained at all, because it was completely fiction."
Nevertheless, many readers will find it tough not to draw a correlation between the characters in Sammy's Hill and persons living and dead. For instance, the U.S. president, a lousy leader with a brother who's a governor, is saddled with the name "Pile." When she's asked why she chose to spell this moniker with an "i," as in "pile of shit," rather than a "y," à la Gomer Pyle, Gore laughs as she points out that "neither connotation is great."
Pile, though, plays only a minor role in the novel compared with Sammy Joyce, a klutzy but cuddly health-care wonkette who splits her time between looking for love and trying to make a difference in the lives of her fellow citizens. "She has this penchant for things that most people kick to the curb a little bit, and I like that about her," Gore says. "She's passionate about her work, and she really cares, even though caring too much about anything can be perceived to be very uncool."
Sammy's story meanders more often than is strictly necessary, and her romantic complications couldn't be more plainly telegraphed if they were in Morse code. Still, Gore, a Harvard grad who got her start in comedy with the Harvard Lampoon, keeps the tale light and amusing via some enjoyable set pieces, like the fallout from a flirty e-mail that is mistakenly sent to hundreds of big shots, and witty observations about the city where she spent her formative years. At one point, for instance, Sammy describes a speechwriter with whom she'll have a tumultuous affair as "undeniably hot, and not just D.C. hot, but actual real world hot."
From a career standpoint, Gore is, too. Sammy's Hill was published by Miramax Books, an offshoot of the indie-movie powerhouse, but the film rights were sold to Red Wagon Entertainment, which has a deal with Columbia Pictures. "It's nice that people completely separate from Miramax responded really positively and wanted to do something with it," says Gore, who's currently writing a screenplay based on her book.
Gore, who will sign her book on Thursday at the Tattered Cover, realizes that her notoriety has helped her leap over obstacles that stop most first novelists cold. "It's great to have people pay attention, because I know how difficult it is to get published and get a book noticed," she says. On the other hand, she must deal with myriad preconceptions spurred by current events, not to mention her choice of subject matter.
"I know there are different reactions to my last name that are good and bad and in between," Gore acknowledges. "But that comes with the territory."