Andrew Shaffer had to research where one might bury a body at the White House. A New York Times reporter had just fallen off the roof and he wasn’t quite sure where to hide the corpse. After digging for a bit — not literally, of course — he decided that the Rose Garden made the most sense. So, 18 months into Donald Trump’s first term, the Rose Garden is where the protagonist of Shaffer’s satirical novel, The Day of the Donald: Trump Trumps America, found a 1993 Pulitzer winner’s finger. This book was one of the first Trump-inspired bits of fiction to come out this election cycle. It was definitely not the last.
Our new commander-in-chief is a copy rig; stick him in a news cycle and headlines trickle out. Trump might not be known for reading books, but he has always proved gifted at getting his name on every empty surface known to man. Reporters break news every other minute. The fountain of post-election analysis of Trump, his voters, and the rest of the ensemble that churned this election cycle into daytime suds have called forth book deals from the earth, heavily fertilized by daily doses of people yelling “THIS ISN’T NORMAL” into the void. A bewildering amount of mostly self-published Trump-themed fiction has appeared on Amazon since Trump announced his bid in June 2015 — and even more timely ebooks seem to have proliferated in the months since he won the election.
There is Redacted in the Butt by Redacted Under the Tromp Administration, penned by the award-winning author of Butt Butt Land. It was published shortly after Trump’s inauguration, and all proceeds from its sale reportedly go to the ACLU. At least a few people have read it; one five-star reviewer claimed that it was “as if Elie Wiesel or Viktor Frankl had written sci fi erotica … ‘You’re filling my ass like you fill my head with misinformation’ has got to be the rallying call of our times.” A writer going by the name of Doctor Conservative has published 12 Trump-themed children’s books since the year began; the most recent is titled, “The Amazing Story of Steve Bannon: A Positive and Fun Book for Kids!” There are books in which Trump and Vladimir Putin fall in love, and books in which Adolf Hitler is the romantic interest.
The only thing one Amazon reviewer could think to say about a 2016 time-travel suspense novel that appeared on the website last month was “It’s definitely a book that was written.” But, written well or not, it’s unclear why anyone would ever want to wax fictional about someone who has already been infiltrating our lives for months without pause and without welcome in the first place — or why anyone would pay money to read Trump fantasies when you can find fake news online for free.
Mostly, it seems like using the election as a creative writing prompt is serving as cheap therapy. Jeannette Kantzalis, a punk rocker with a literary bent from the Inland Empire, tells MTV News she was never political before the election. In its aftermath, she found herself at a march, “which totally shocked me. I am not that girl.” Her first novel took about six years to write. The Murder of Donald Trump, 10 pages long, took a week. “I wanted to humanize him to make me feel better,” she says, adding that her attention-grabbing title led one person to tell her that he hoped the Secret Service figured out her plan. (He apologized after reading the story.)
[Spoilers ahead for anyone who wanted to go read a trove of self-published e-books about Trump after they finish this article.]
The protagonist of the story is Trump’s long-lost daughter, the product of a relationship he had with a black waitress while attending the Wharton School in Philadelphia. He goes to see his former girlfriend on her deathbed, where they both end up dying (just stay with me here). “What if it was just one stupid thing,” Kantzalis says. “He couldn’t get the girl he loved. And that would explain his behavior toward women, maybe. He swore that he’d never lose again.”
It was a possibility more comforting to imagine than the more likely scenario (that Trump is cruel because he thinks all relationships have an expiration date, and that the human experience exists merely as a tally of transactions). “You wonder, wouldn’t that happen with every other woman?” he told New York Magazine as his marriage to Ivana was falling apart in 1990. “After a period of time … doesn’t this happen with everybody? … I’m not the world’s happiest person.”
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Iain Grant and Heide Goody also wrote about Trump for therapeutic purposes. The two Brits already have a popular series of comedic novels, and when they woke up on November 9, they decided to add a 2016-themed book centered on Brexit and the election. After a month, Clovenhoof and the Trump of Doom was ready for publication. “It’s the fastest thing we’ve ever written. Some of our critics would say it shows,” Grant joked. The series’ protagonist, a retired and somewhat hapless Satan now based in the U.K., heads to the U.S. to stop Trump’s election, mostly because he doesn’t want the world to end before the Game of Thrones finale. Meanwhile, his friends rush to Eurovision to try to stop Brexit from happening.
The pair of authors realized quickly that trying to sensationalize Trump was just as hard as trying to excavate his unexplored emotional depths. They tried to think up outrageous events that could have happened during the election cycle. After a quick Google search, they learned that some pretty shocking incidents did occur. A long list of which parts of the story are true and which parts are made up is included at the end of the book. Yes, an elephant did appear at a Republican rally. Yes, some people do believe that Hillary Clinton murdered someone’s cat. Yes, Donald Trump did brag that one of his buildings was now the tallest in lower Manhattan on 9/11.
Thriller novelist and publisher Jason Pinter wrote his story, Donald Trump, P.I.: The Case of the Missing Mexican Wall, because he needed something to share at the “Noir at the Bar” reading he regularly attends in Manhattan. Shortly before the election, the group held a Trump-themed night and asked him to contribute. It took him about three days to cook up a hard-boiled fantasy, the proceeds of which were donated to a local literacy nonprofit. “There’s this trope of the private detective who is this shabby guy in a shabby office behind a crummy desk waiting for the girl to walk in and give him a job,” he says. “And I thought, What if that guy were Trump?” In his version, Chris Christie is the secretary, and “Ivanka is the girl who walks in.” It’s clear that Trump’s detective career wouldn’t last much longer than the span of the story. “If he would have to go find a missing husband, he’d be like, what’s in it for me?” Pinter says.
There’s also the fact that Trump never casts himself as the hero of a tale for very long, Pinter says, always preferring to be the damsel in distress. “For a billionaire born rich with all the advantages in the world,” he adds, “he manages to portray himself as a victim more than anyone in the entire world.” This probably won’t mark the last time Pinter is inspired by our president; he is currently working on a thriller with a main character loosely based on Trump. Coming up with fanciful plots when you’re competing with reality is hard work at the moment. Surrendering to its charms seems like the path of least resistance — although it does make it hard to attract readers looking for some much-needed escapism. Apparently, though, people who want to spend their time reading about a world so terrifyingly close to their own that it still includes Donald Trump Jr. do exist.
Shaffer wrote about Trump for the most prosaic reason — a publisher was willing to pay him for his efforts. He’s written parodies before — including Fifty Shames of Earl Grey — and was contracted for a thriller about the Trump candidacy last spring, back when the reality-TV host still seemed like the election’s amusing B plot. He finished the first draft in March after steeping himself in The Art of the Deal, unauthorized biographies, and books about how the White House works while listening to podcasts about the election. Shaffer was eager to finish the manuscript as quickly as possible, assuming at the time that any parody of Trump would have a short shelf life.
That book, which involves a ghostwriter protagonist infiltrating the Trump Gold House, a Ted Cruz sex tape, Putin getting murdered by pandas, and a Ritz Cracker Barrel on the National Mall run by Guy Fieri, was published in June 2016. Looking at it now, the chief problem of writing Trump fiction is made clear — everything we know about politics is changing so rapidly that any attempt to satirize the ensemble that surrounds Trump dates itself almost instantly. Shaffer’s book is populated by Chris Christie, Corey Lewandowski, and other characters who were killed off the Trump soap seasons ago. “If you were writing it in real time,” Shaffer says, “you’d just have to keep revising the book endlessly. It would never be a finished product.” So Day of the Donald exists as an artifact in the Trumpian literary sediment accumulating on Amazon, a metaphorical #MAGA hat trapped in amber under layers of pages that grow increasingly dark as his presidency goes on. Shaffer’s currently working on a proposal for another political satire. This one, however, has nothing to do with Trump. “That field,” he says, “has gotten very crowded now.”