Jackie Disaster

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  • About Jackie Disaster

    She’s Sally Naturale, America’s deliciously loathsome doyenne of good taste and wholesome living… and everybody wants to kill her. He’s Giovanni “Jackie Disaster” De Sesto, former South Jersey welterweight boxing champ, ex-flack for the Atlantic City Police Department, and founder of Allegation Sciences, a crisis management firm.

    Hired by Sally after a media-hungry South Jersey woman accuses her of peddling genetically engineered soy milk that the woman says caused her miscarriage, Jackie doesn’t buy the accuser’s story. However, he also thinks his crunchier-than-thou client is selling more than funky milk, and his suspicions are confirmed when assassins from the Jersey Pine Barrens try to kill him one night as he sleeps. So how does a spin doctor make a scandalous client look good? Sometimes, the answer is to make her critics look really bad, and that takes a special kind of image guru. Besides, what kind of wuss can’t handle a little fraud?

    As Martha Stewart emerges fresh from the clink, blue chip corporations collapse from deceit, and politicians bob and weave though minefields of scandal, they’ve all got one thing in common: They want a guy like Jackie Disaster to make their problems go away, any way he can.

    In a fresh take on the mystery genre, the treacherous and comic “inside game” of damage control in the era of media witch hunts is the subject of Eric Dezenhall’s new novel, Jackie Disaster. For this tale of schadenfreude at its nastiest, set in the author’s native South Jersey, Dezenhall draws on his own experience as one of the country’s top media and damage control experts, as well as his boyhood growing up among the rogues and racketeers who populated Atlantic City’s infamous boardwalk.

    Jackie Disaster - Eric DezenhallAs Sally Naturale battles media-hungry trial lawyers, cyber-rumors, and protests of “baby killer,” her stock tanks. Claiming that despite the rumors she’s as wholesome as the milk she endorses, she hires Jackie to vindicate her. Although he doubts the truth of both the accuser and his own client, he nevertheless embarks on a Machiavellian damage control campaign, conducting a team of Jersey Shore con artists (“The Imps”), rogue cops, stock manipulators, avaricious clergymen, ratings-obsessed reporters and Sopranos wannabes (Jackie calls them “Falsettos”) to clear Sally’s good name and catch the folks who are trying to drag him down with her. As Jackie puts it, he spends his life in pursuit of “a lower truth.”

    During the stressful campaign, forty-year-old Jackie has to balance his profession with a cantankerous aging father who wields guilt like a revolver, a strong-willed girlfriend (the Ivy League-educated daughter of the local crime boss), and his deeply adored ten-year-old niece whom he raised from birth after her parents died.

    In Jackie Disaster, Eric Dezenhall takes readers on a nail-biting tour of modern day damage control, providing a clear-eyed, behind-the-headlines view of what caught-in-the-headlights celebrities deal with on a daily basis. One of its leading practitioners, Dezenhall examines hot-button issues including the role of reality television programming, the Internet and spread of disinformation, the role of consumer illusion in the popular culture, and the less-than-holy motives of those who would justify attacks on celebrities in moral terms.

    Suspenseful, insightful and hilariously funny, Jackie Disaster is a spin-til-you’re-dizzy dance through the dark alleys of media manipulation and, of course, the “star” of the novel, the author’s beloved South Jersey.

    Author Q&A >
  • Q&A with Author Eric Dezenhall

    Q. What is the basic plot of Jackie Disaster?

    A. Jackie De Sesto is a former champion prizefighter who fought under the name Jackie Disaster. Later he became a spokesman for the Atlantic City Police Department. He now runs a firm called Allegation Sciences, which makes him part spin doctor, part private eye. He’s hired by a famous domestic diva who has been accused in the national media of manufacturing genetically engineered milk that causes miscarriages. After taking the case, assassins from the Pine Barrens try to kill Jackie, which gets him wondering how domesticated his favorite diva really is.

    Q. You are the CEO and founding partner of a Washington, D.C.-based crisis management firm, Dezenhall Resources. What does a real life damage control consultant actually do?

    A. We are the trauma surgeons of the public relations world. We are hired when a client — say a corporation or public figure — is accused of doing something awful: manufacturing a faulty product, committing a crime, being a U.S. President that has had sex with an intern. Our job is to make the bad news go away so that our client can get back to business-as-usual. If the client is guilty, we attempt to set them on a path of redemption so that the public forgives them and recovers its lost affection. If the client is innocent, we often try to discredit his accuser. After sportscaster Marv Albert pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault charges associated with a sex scandal, he vanished from the news for several years afterward, which was almost certainly a decision he made with the help of some kind of damage control consultant. When Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was accused of sexual molestation by a former altar boy, his defense team was able to prove — and get into the media — the fact that his accuser was lying.

    Q. Is Sally Naturale, the embattled domestic diva in Jackie Disaster, based on Martha Stewart?

    A. The book was written before Martha Stewart’s troubles, but she’s one of the figures in American culture that I’ve been following for a long time. Martha personified corporate malfeasance. People knew that what happened at WorldCom was bad but didn’t really understand the mechanics of the bad behavior. Everybody understood charges of insider trading. People like Martha Stewart and Kathie Lee Gifford are fascinating because they beg the questions “What is it about them that makes the public want them to fail? What is it that possesses us to want to see them fail?” I think it comes down to our desire for the lives of outrageously successful people to be the same messes that ours are. We resent the way Martha and Kathie Lee seem to taunt us with their perfection. When they screw up, it restores order to our world because we’re given permission to go on with our flawed lives. It goes deeper than resentment of success. After all, Oprah Winfrey is extremely successful, but with her personal life and her weight problems, we like it when she succeeds because it means that we can, too.

    Q. What inspired you to write Jackie Disaster?

    A. The spin doctor is seen as an American Merlin; he’s a pixie with transforming powers. He’s also a figment of our imaginations. As a consultant, I’m constrained by the law, ethics, my client’s wishes, good judgment, and reality. As a writer, I have no such constraints, and can do anything to save anybody’s reputation. In real life, not all my clients get saved, which upsets me. Sometimes, clients are unwilling to take the risks needed to be saved and the news media side with their critics because it makes for a better story. Jackie Disaster is my “id.” He’s all of the rotten and fantastic things I think about doing in my job when I’m frustrated but can’t because I have to operate in a civilized society where certain realities cannot be changed. Jackie does whatever it takes to get the job done. He’s no angel, but he’s effective because he knows what motivates people.

    Q. How does the popularity of reality television play in Jackie Disaster?

    A. Reality television is now demonstrating what folks in my business have known for years: People will do anything to achieve notoriety, which they usually mistake for fame. In the novel, Jackie engineers an adversary’s downfall by appealing to her desperate need to be noticed on television at any cost. It’s diabolical, but sadly, realistic. The most powerful drive in America is the desire to be recognized for who we are not. Notoriety is like double fudge ice cream — it tastes great but it’s bad for you.

    Q. What’s the difference between notoriety and fame?

    A. True fame implies some form of achievement. Notoriety is being well-known for reasons other than having made a positive contribution.

    Q. In your novel, Jackie takes brutal steps to defend a client accused of wrongdoing. Do guys in your business get this nasty in real life?

    A. Things can get ugly, but murder-and-torture confessions aren’t part of the service package. When somebody’s getting smeared or sued, working with private investigators and cooperating with law enforcement is commonplace, as is finding creative ways to get your client’s message into the news media. We often find that our clients’ accusers have agendas other than the public welfare.

    Q. Have you ever had a guilty client?

    A. With most damage control clients there are shades of gray as opposed to absolute guilt or innocence. A drug company may make a product that really has hurt people, but they’re not guilty in the sense that the injury was intentional. A politician like Gary Condit may be guilty of being involved with something sordid, but he’s probably not a killer. Still, lawyers, the media, and the public like to play every disaster as an example of total evil, total guilt. If a client is guilty and willing to take steps to make the situation right, he could be a good client, and I have no ethical problem with work like that.

    Q. Have you ever turned away business because you suspected a client was bad news?

    A. You bet. I’ve refused plenty of business when my gut told me that the client was bad to the bone. Set morality aside, with a dirty client, there’s nothing in it for me. If you take on a dirty client just for the money, you’ll end up paying it back in lost revenue — or legal fees — somewhere else.

    Q. Can you identify the worst client that ever approached you?

    A. Not by name, but it was a foreign entity that we suspected might be tied to organized crime overseas. We were never sure, but I politely declined. Very politely.

    Q. The “client” characters in your books — Sally Naturale in Jackie Disaster, gangster Mario Vanni in Money Wanders — are damaged people. What do they have in common?

    A. They’re both self-deluded, which is the fuel for success in America. Sally Naturale is a poor, scrawny ethnic girl from New Jersey who wants people to think she’s an Auchincloss from Newport, Rhode Island. Mario Vanni is a gangster from Atlantic City who wants to be respected as a pillar of society. They falsely believe that a spin doctor can make them into something that they’re not, and have been adept at finding sycophants who’ll tell them that it’s possible. On one hand, the joke is on them. On the other, their delusions did give them a better lot in life than they had when they started out.

    Q. Why are your novels, such as Jackie Disaster, set in Philadelphia, South Jersey, and the Jersey Shore?

    A. I grew up in the area, which is a colorful corner of America because it actually has its own personality. One reviewer said that in my books; the region itself is a character. Philly and South Jersey have their own accent, which I call “Phlersey.” Water is pronounced “wudder.” The region has its own scents, a combination of roasted peanuts, sautéed onions, steam, and sea air. It smells like raw hope. There is a mix of ambition and attitude in South Jersey in particular that makes for volatile plot lines. South Jersey isn’t quite Philadelphia and it’s definitely not New York, and we’re very touchy about that. That is why my characters sometimes have to drag somebody under the boardwalk or take them to the Pine Barrens to convince them of a thing or two.

    Q. The casinos and the Mob play a big role in Jackie Disaster. Why is that?

    A. The Mob has long been a spectator sport in Philly and South Jersey. Even though its actual influence on the casinos is negligible, people want desperately to believe the Mob is still running things. I take a hard look at the myths versus realities of the underworld as well as the phenomenon of Mob wannabes, which is comedy at its best. You got a problem with that?

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    Reviews >
  • Reviews for Jackie Disaster

    “Barbed and cruelly witty, Jackie Disaster is the best thing to come out of Atlantic City since saltwater taffy.”

    “Normally I have enough words at my command that I don’t need to borrow any from the author, but there is an introductory paragraph from our hero that tells it succinctly, so I’m establishing a new policy. ‘My job is to make bad news go away, which in the age of the fabled spin doctor, was thought to be eminently doable, with the right trick. To pull off disappearing acts, I needed to prove the allegations against my corporate clients were false and something other than justice motivated their charge.’ He continues, ‘I accomplish these things with the help of a merry band of middle-aged adolescents who decided to work for me instead of going to prison after I nailed them in mid-con.'”

    “Jackie, whom one could picture being played by Bruce Willis in a movie, will do anything to get the job done for a client… Dezenhall has created lots of colorful characters in the book… As a crisis management PR pro, Dezenhall provides insight into what it is like to take on difficult clients facing bad publicity.”

    “Eric Dezenhall’s new novel, Jackie Disaster, is like a South Jersey diner. It has more than a little bit of everything on the menu and serves it all up with plenty of attitude… A lively and entertaining story of spin doctors, gangsters, reporters and a Martha Stewart-like figure named Sally Naturalle, Jackie Disaster features the same shore, suburbs and wise guy milieu Dezenhall (who grew up in Cherry Hill) skewered with exactitude in his 2002 debut book, Money Wanders… Dezenhall, a respected private spin doctor based in Washington, D.C., is a witty and skillful writer. He tells his complicated (and occasionally, convoluted) story well and his familiarity with the book’s geographic, professional and emotional territory adds ballast to what might seem like facile observations… Fast, funny and stylish, Jackie Disaster is the perfect book to take to the beach. Or “downashore,” as they say in Phlersey-speak.”

    “Dezenhall’s second novel shows the author growing as a storyteller…the story itself, concerning a lawsuit over a miscarriage that may have been caused by an organic milk product, is serious and delicately handled. It’s almost as if, having tested the waters in Money Wanders, Dezenhall (himself a crisis management expert) has decided to plunge into the deep end. Highly recommended for fans of the first book and for those who like their comic mysteries to possess serious undercurrents.”

    “Jackie Disaster is a little like combining the movies ‘Wag the Dog’ and ‘Analyse This’ with corporate America and class action lawsuits… Dezenhall provides no mercy in his assessment of modern America. The cynical subtext is clear, everyone wants something, most ‘victims’ aren’t innocent, crisis managers will do what they have to, and even the community activists have some seriously dirty laundry. Throw in some aging overweight gangsters and you have recipe for a successful satire. Dezenhall displays a deft touch in knitting together the disparate strands of American society – the worlds of the class-action-happy unhappy consumer, the large ‘local’ company, the crusading investigative journalist, the outdated local mobsters, the extremist campaign groups and the murky world of the damage control and PR consultant are all revealed to be almost as bad as each other in their search for glory and greenbacks. You can’t fault his research – as a native of Jersey, a former White House aide and a corporate crisis consultant with a personal penchant for Italian and Jewish mob history, Dezenhall knows his stuff.”

    “Dezenhall, author of the exciting new novel “Jackie Disaster,” writes with precision about South Jersey… In the process, the novel leads readers through the equally dramatic worlds of politics, business and organized crime… Dezenhall’s novel is a post-9/11 reminder about the worth of courage and honesty; and Jackie Disaster is himself an icon of righteous defiance and unrelenting strength. Even better, Dezenhall includes a supporting cast of nefarious gangsters and colorful politicians. These characters read like a veritable listing of beloved cinema stars, cigars and other necessary accouterments duly included. The final result is a particular brand of mob literature that combines style and gritty substance. So, take the next exit off the turnpike. Pass the crowded diner. Park alongside the casino’s roadside sign… and enter a different world. The world of criminal mischief and political communications. The literary imagination of Eric Dezenhall. The home of Jackie Disaster.”

    “Jackie Disaster is a superb satire that showcases a professional who uses any means including dirty tricks to provide counter cover for the rich and famous. The story line stuns the audience with its relative simplicity that paints a dirty image making game by the in crowd to protect their reputation. A cast, starting with the antihero and his cohorts including his father, niece, girlfriend, and new client make for a wild ride down the Jersey shore. To protect the image of Eric Dezenhall, a sequel is required.”

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Jackie Disaster - Eric Dezenhall
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