Leslie Pietrzyk’s latest novel “Admit This to No One” holds nothing back about the District’s hunger for power. Through fiction, the Drue Heinz Literature Prize winning author examines the inner workings and dynamics of D.C.’s powerful political families.
Set to release on November 9 and available for pre-order, the novel comprises of short stories focused on a group of flawed women all linked to the Speaker of the House — a man whose political career is tainted in multiple extra-marital affairs. “Admit This to No One” takes deep character dives, while looking at the racism and misogyny permeating our social structures.
Living in the DMV area for roughly 30 years, Pietrzyk also provides a unique and authentic portrayal of D.C. and its multi-faceted culture beyond politics. We had a chance to speak with Pietrzyk on what to expect from her upcoming novel, how it came to be, and how many of the characters and events are based in reality.
District Fray: When did you first come up with the idea for “Admit This to No One?”
Leslie Pietrzyk: Originally, I thought I was going to write a full-fledged political novel about the tangled family we meet in these stories. Then when Trump was elected, I couldn’t imagine immersing myself in a political novel, so I set aside what I’d written. I worked on other projects and in January  before the pandemic started, I had a long conversation with my editor and agent about these chapters and some other stories I had — and I saw everything anew and got excited about figuring out the way to write this book.
Did any major political event or meeting spur the idea?
Not the project as a whole, but many stories are based on modern life: for example, social justice protests inform [the novel’s short story] “Every Man in History”; #MeToo informs “I Believe in Mary Worth”; and I was at a Caps game where someone yelled into a moment of silence those exact words heard in “Hat Trick.”
Are any characters, like the Speaker or his “fixer” Mary-Grace, based on real-life public figures?
What I tried to do was take the best (by “best,” of course I mean “worst”) stories and lore about famous politicians and combine them into the world of my characters. The only real-life person in mind was Lee Atwater, the Republican political operative who died in 1991, though I gave him a pseudonym. The Dealmaker, mentioned briefly as being “despised for tornadoing through custom and norms to get what he thinks he wants, attracting sycophants and voters with his big man impression,” may or may not be a dig at you-know-who.
Taking on the topic of power can be a sensitive topic, especially with its inextricable link to politics, race and sex. What drew you to want to explore these topics for this book?
Probably that very idea of discomfort. I like to write in a way that challenges established lines of thinking. I like to take a broad subject—say, power—and examine the tricky angles, the truths we don’t always want to acknowledge. When I was writing and felt stuck, I always asked myself, “How can this character’s plight be made more uncomfortable, either for them or for the reader or—especially—for me, the writer?” Ultimately, I wanted the rigor of examining my own hypocrisy.
Why do you think it is important to write about these issues through fiction?
I think a fake “story” about “other people” can allow us to see those hard truths more clearly, since a story avoids direct accusations. As poet Emily Dickinson famously said, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” which I think is a good definition for fiction as well.
What would you like readers to take away from “Admit This to No One,” about D.C. culture and politics?
I would love readers to understand that real, live, complicated people populate this town and those blocky buildings seen on CNN. The common D.C. stereotypes are boring compared to what really exists here amid this culture of unwritten rules and posturing. Something unexpected lurks behind each agenda. And, of course, I want to remind readers that my book is about one singular side of D.C. — white, political. Real D.C. is a kaleidoscope of experiences and lives.
“Admit This to No One” will be released on November 9. To preorder the book, visit here. To learn more about Pietrzyk and her work, visit her site lesliepietrzyk.com or follow her on Instagram at @lesliepwriter.
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