About False Light
False Light is a thrilling tale of revenge set against the vibrant backdrop of sensationalist modern media.
Seasoned reporter Sanford “Fuse” Petty is old-school in every way—anti-technology, anti-Millennial (don’t even mention Gen-Z), and anti-“gotcha” journalism. After Fuse is asked to leave his paper pending a disciplinary investigation, he has plenty of time on his hands. So when his oldest friend approaches him for advice after the man’s daughter says she was sexually assaulted by her boss, a prominent media star, Fuse gives his buddy the only options he feels are available: report the incident to the police and risk a huge “he said/she said” smear campaign against the girl, or plan something even better—revenge. As a journalist, Fuse has a colorful background investigating criminals, politicians, gangsters, drug lords, and all-around shysters—and knows plenty of sketchy sources—so he’s the perfect person to enact a complex (and ultimately, entertaining) plan to bring the popular media personality down in the court of public opinion . . . and make him pay.Praise >
Praise for False Light
“Eric Dezenhall is a genius writer, and False Light is a masterwork—smart, funny, unpredictable, freewheeling and start-to-finish entertaining. The plotting is brilliant, the dialogue always sharp. Better yet, perhaps, this novel is a good-news reminder that we can always find measures of virtue and fairness and hard truth in justice’s difficult alchemy.”
— Martin Clark, author of The Substitution Order
“False Light is The Big Chill of the #MeToo era—I want the soundtrack of this terrific, timely book! I also want a buddy like the hilarious, loyal Sandy Petty. On probation either because he’s too old or too good, Sandy has the press chops to help his friend’s daughter when her internship with a celebrity goes south. All he wants is justice, and for his teenage daughter to laugh at his jokes. ”
— Mary Kay Zuravleff, author of Man Alive!
“No one knows the world of damage control better than Eric Dezenhall. His portrait of what a savvy operator can do in a crisis is as real as this vehicle for talking about the battles between good and evil. You’ll feel like you’re reading or watching an expose on national television – or getting to see the whole truth of what our real world doesn’t tell you. Highly entertaining and informative.”
— James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor
“For any parent who spends sleepless nights worrying about what could happen when the universe gets ahold of their child, False Light is an acerbic tale of revenge in the form of reputation obliteration, the only currency a certain type of climber understands. Eric Dezenhall mixes the serious topics of our times with a riotous look at middle-aged crushes, long marriages, insane relatives, and fears of professional obsolescence.”
— Lee Woodruff, author of Those We Love Most
“In False Light, Eric Dezenhall combines a wickedly funny take on the demise of journalism and the fragility of reputation in the Internet era, with a clear-eyed view of the complex costs of sexual predation, despite the best efforts of the #MeToo movement. A grown-up fantasy for our troubled times.”
— David O. Stewart, author of The Lincoln Deception< Plot SummaryReviews >
Reviews for False Light
City Lifestyle, April 2021
“I was quickly intrigued and soon after, hooked, as protagonist Sanford “Fuse” Petty, a crusty old newsie not unlike some I’ve worked with in my time, systematically pulls out every journalistic trick in the book to turn a sleazy New Age reporter’s unethical tactics back around to bite him, in a deft bit of revenge after the jerk sexually assaulted a good friend’s daughter. It’s a sting operation worthy of Newman and Redford in the classic movie of the same name, and I found it completely engrossing, and, ultimately, entirely satisfying.”
The Georgetowner, March 2021
“The story is full of sympathetic characters: the about-to-be-tossed journalist, his wealthy friend from school days, their wives and daughters. There is also an easy-to-like crowd of friends, colleagues and old and new contacts and an array of underworld characters. They all play crucial roles in the clever plot, set in very recognizable places in Georgetown, downtown D.C. and Bethesda, Maryland.”
Man of la Book, March 2021
“This is a smart book and gives the reader a lot to think about. . . [with] astute observations.”
The Dartmouth, March 2021
Dezenhall speaks to The Dartmouth about his novel “False Light,” his consulting work and his thoughts on the #MeToo movement.
Washington Examiner, February 2021
“False Light is a page-turning thriller that media consumers will devour because it features out-of-favor, old-school journalists, new-style gotcha reporters interested in getting on TV at any cost, and an abusive big shot editor that needs to go down. And the type of character assassination that Dezenhall has been charting for years in the Washington P.R. business gave him the perfect plot to do that.”
The New York Post, February 2021
False Light listed as a top new release by the NY Post.
Washington Independent Review of Books, February 2021
“Eric Dezenhall has created in Fuse a likably incompetent character whom the reader roots for, and he maintains enough suspense that the final dénouement is both surprising and satisfying.”
The Dispatch, February 2021
“False Light is a propulsive story, with plenty of wit and crackling dialogue, but Dezenhall also delivers a fully realized character in Fuse, revealed through interactions with friends, his wife and daughter, and especially his father.”
Pastrami Nation, February 2021
“False Light is captivating within the first chapter. The characters are incredibly likable; Sandy, exceptionally.”
O’Dwyer’s, February 2021
“If Mark David Chapman had social media, he wouldn’t have shot John Lennon—he would have tweeted about him.”
Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, January – February 2021
“Boy, does Sandy “Fuse” Petty have lots of scores to settle. The pugnacious protagonist of False Light, Dezenhall’s semi-comic thriller set in an alternately grimy and glamorous world of Washington, D.C., journalism, is something of a dinosaur in the business…”< PraiseAuthor Q+A >
Questions & Answers with Eric Dezenhall
Q: In addition to being an author, you’re one of the top crisis management experts in the country. What does that job entail? How did you draw upon that background when writing False Light?
A: Crisis management is the business of navigating character assassination, and I really wanted the plot of False Light, which is a term from defamation law, to deal with that. I work with companies, institutions, and sometimes individuals under attack. I’m basically a campaign manager specifically focused on stopping reputation attacks, which are sometimes deserved and sometimes not. Much of the plot of False Light involves character assassination (and I’m a character-driven writer): potential reputational damage to Samantha, Fuse, Guido Reni, Oliver Shackley and, of course, Pacho.
Q: Why did you want to include the #MeToo movement as a theme in the novel?
A: Character assassination is one of the fault lines of #MeToo. One reason why women haven’t come forward is the fear of their reputations being dragged through the mud. Victims also come to question their own characters, wondering if they may be crazy or invited bad behavior. Then there are the reputation concerns of those who are accused. I’ve found that some of the worst people out there want to be respected even if they don’t deserve it. And people who feel they have been wrongly accused have no intention of passively accepting having their lives ruined.
Q: What research did you do to dive into the dynamics of the #MeToo movement, from the perspectives of both the victim and the accused?
A: I was extremely anxious about the subject and wanted to acknowledge the phenomenon without editorializing about it. I spoke to a friend who is a rape survivor and activist, and in addition to telling me her story, she pointed me toward powerful and relevant literature, interviews, and documentaries. She also warned me strongly against my impulse to come to Samantha’s rescue in a perfect way; her ordeal could not be neatly solved with everybody living happily ever after. In addition, she said, “Don’t try to be the ‘cool guy who gets it’ because you can’t possibly get it.”
I interviewed experts including law enforcement people, sex crime investigators, mental health professionals, and criminal profilers. I’ve always been lucky to have good women friends whom I could talk to about these kinds of things without them thinking I was crossing a line. I also took into account decades of experience with crisis management during which I’ve had cases where organizations and individuals have been rightly accused, wrongly accused, and cases where it’s been hard to tell.
Q: How did you make the leap from crisis management expert to published author?
A: I can’t write down much in my business because of confidentiality and the potential for things to show up in court and in the media. And I can’t talk about my clients. Nevertheless, there are so many things I’ve learned that I want to put out there—lessons on how the world works—without betraying confidences. Most of my non-fiction books deal with my business. My novels incorporate what I’ve learned along the way about the media, celebrities, and the powerful.
Q: Are any of the characters in False Light based on your real-life friends or experiences?
I borrowed a little from people I’ve known and fabricated others. Kurt Rossiter is a guy I made up in college. My mom once asked me whether anything romantic was happening with a girl I knew, and I blurted out, “No, she’s going out with Kurt Rossiter.” The name just popped out. He didn’t exist, but he became my nemesis; an excuse for frustration and dashed hopes. He’s the guy who gets away with everything, like Rollo Tomassi in the movie version of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. It’s amazing how over the course of my career, people have thought certain characters were based on other people when, in fact, novelists have always been known to make things up.
Q: Throughout the novel, Fuse has serious issues mastering (or even using) technology. He coins an acronym, TICU, for “Things I Can’t Use.” Is this something you also face, and if so, what do you find the most frustrating aspect about technology and what is the most useful?
A: I’m not quite as bad as Fuse, but I’m pretty bad. A physical therapist once told me that she could sense that my “ions are reversed” and that I could shut down electronic objects by just being near them. I thought that was great, however ridiculous, and I used that in the book. I actually have a “tech nanny” on call, it’s so bad. God bless Casey.
I feel that social media has wreaked havoc upon humanity and altered crisis management forever, but it is here to stay. Yes, I use it, but I still handwrite first drafts of my books. I have had to master my iPhone because my kids use it to text and send photos. Plus, I need to see every second of my grandson’s development, and technology helps me do that. However, I don’t understand how civilization has become dependent on satellites in outer space but can’t make a TV remote control that I can use.
Q: You clearly have plenty of knowledge about the realities of media and its “stars” today. What experiences did you draw upon from your own life for that insight?
A: I’ve been teaming with and doing battle with the media for almost four decades. I believe in the First Amendment and the press’s watchdog role. I also believe there is corruption in the media, supported by our laws, that allow them to become assassins and ideological warriors versus reporters of news.
Journalists have threatened me with ruin on several occasions by virtue of the controversial cases I’ve worked on, and I have seen how the press has free reign legally to take down whomever they don’t like. Some of the #MeToo cases that have snagged big media figures are a direct consequence of unchecked power on a broader level. There has been a backfire effect in the last few years that has been interesting to watch and participate in.
Q: What was your favorite chapter to write in False Light and why?
A: I love the sections when the junior high friends are together in middle age. It’s amazing how adolescence—the people, the songs, the humiliations, the mischief—looms large in our lives no matter how old we get. I’m fifty-seven years old and can still hear the jukebox songs, smell the lip gloss, and hear the lockers clanging shut.
Q: Like Fuse, do you also have a great love of history, especially twentieth-century politics? If so, when did this begin for you? Have you always been fascinated by famous yet flawed characters, such as Kennedy and Nixon? Did this influence your initial interest in crisis management?
A: I once thought I wanted to run for office. The first book I ever got was about US presidents. I worked in the Reagan White House in my early twenties and quickly learned I had no idea what politics really was. I had thought it was about being charismatic and inspirational. I didn’t have a clue about policy or the mechanics of advancing in politics. I was ideologically moderate and was unprepared for the meanness of it all.
Crisis management became interesting to me because I saw that it came down to storytelling and the devices to get around the people that wanted to prevent you from telling that story. This happens on both sides of the ideological spectrum. We tend to only support free speech for our side; we want the other side silenced. I took what I learned in politics into the business sector.
Q: Do you have a favorite character in the story? If so, what is it about this character that you most appreciate?
A: I was very intrigued writing about Eddie Fontaine, the gangster. He’s loosely based on a friend who was a leader in a violent organized crime ring. He got out of that life; one of the few who did. He’s bright, caring, tough, and aspirational, and he just couldn’t stand the brutality. He was just born in a rough environment. In False Light, I reflected his anxieties about being in the crime business and the challenges in transitioning out of that life.
Q: What are some of your favorite books and authors?
A: Joan Didion is a favorite. I share her perpetual sense of dread and her ability to turn it into haunting literature. I grew up on Philip Roth, another Jersey boy. When I want to get lost, I go for Daniel Silva, Michael Connelly, or Elmore Leonard. I write a lot about crime and I think Leonard understands the triviality of it. Contrary to what you see in the movies, banal human impulses move the world, not grand conspiracies.
Q: You’ve also written several successful non-fiction books. Do you enjoy writing novels or non-fiction more, and why?
A: I lean toward fiction because of the liberties I can take. With non-fiction you must verify everything. Also, non-fiction involves real people and real people tend to see themselves in cinematic terms and often have expectations about how they’ll be portrayed that don’t pan out in the writing.< ReviewsOrder >
Where to Order False Light
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