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How a D.C. scandal and interning for a congressman inspired this BYU alumnus' new spy novel

SALT LAKE CITY — BYU alumnus Peter Stone was always more interested in politics than writing, until best-selling author Margaret Stohl approached him at his wedding and said he had a book in him.

Stohl, who lives part time in Park City, based this opinion off the speech Stone had just given to his wife at his wedding reception. At the time, Stone dismissed Stohl's compliment as exaggerated flattery, perhaps brought on by the romantic atmosphere of his nuptials. But, as he continued to meet Stohl throughout the next few months, she kept asking when he was going to write a book. So, finally, Stone decided to give it a try.

"The Perfect Candidate" is by Peter Stone.
"The Perfect Candidate" is by Peter Stone.
Simon & Schuster

"I would have never seen this potential in myself or taken myself seriously had she not done it first," he said.

When Stone tried to come up with an idea for a book, he remembered his Washington, D.C., internship with California Congressman Gary Condit as "one of the most vivid chapters" of his life. So he pulled from these experiences to write his debut young adult spy novel, "The Perfect Candidate" (Simon & Schuster, 384 pages, ages 12 and up), which hits shelves Oct. 2.

"The Perfect Candidate" tells the story of Cameron Carter, who leaves behind his inland California town to intern in Washington, D.C., for his congressman, who's expected to be the next speaker of the House.

Cameron anticipates this internship will propel his career out of his small hometown, but instead he gets wrapped up in a scandal involving murder and corruption. Putting his own life in danger, Cameron strives to solve a mystery that will upend everything he thought he knew about American politics before the summer ends.

Stone loosely based "The Perfect Candidate" on Condit's real-life scandal with Chandra Levy, a 24-year-old D.C. intern from Stone's California hometown. In the summer of 2001, Levy was found dead near a D.C. running trail and it quickly became clear that her death was not an accident. As authorities looked into her relationships they discovered evidence that indicated she and Condit were having an affair, thus placing Condit under suspicion. Condit firmly denied having any involvement with Levy's death, and Stone said he's inclined to believe him, but still the experience was disillusioning for him.

FILE - In this May 28, 2002 file photo, photographs of Chandra Levy are on display as musicians, right, stand by at the memorial service for Levy at the Modesto Centre Plaza in Modesto, Calif. BYU alumnus Peter Stone's new book "The Perfect Candidate" wer
FILE - In this May 28, 2002 file photo, photographs of Chandra Levy are on display as musicians, right, stand by at the memorial service for Levy at the Modesto Centre Plaza in Modesto, Calif. BYU alumnus Peter Stone's new book "The Perfect Candidate" were partly inspired by Levy's murder.

"Gary Condit was a hero of mine for many years," Stone said. "Someone that you have such confidence in and such respect for, who is then cast in a very negative light by the media — you get to a point where you don't know what to believe and you start to question your own confidence."

This negative experience is also part of why Stone has since left politics and is now a marketing executive for Netflix, currently based out of Tokyo. After earning his bachelor's degree in political science from Brigham Young University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, Stone switched from political campaigns to marketing campaigns for television and film in Los Angeles.

"I feel like politics and Hollywood are sister industries," he said. "Political campaigns are not that unlike campaigns for movies. You are getting people to show up for something that happens on a particular day; you are up against competition. To me, it's that bootstrapping and entrepreneurial spirit that is the same for both."

Stone even included an oft-quoted platitude in his book that Washington, D.C., is "Hollywood for the ugly," where politicians are the celebrities.

"That's what I love about D.C., is that it is such a youthful city with people who are trying to change the world," he said. "There's this hum and energy and electricity that I just found to be so exciting."

It's the contrast of a city filled with people who are trying to improve the country, sometimes at the expense of their own morals, that is the theme behind "The Perfect Candidate."

The book is coming out at a unique time in politics, Stone said, when parties are deeply divided and emotionally charged, and polarizing issues are getting young people more involved. He hopes "The Perfect Candidate" will inspire young adults to learn more about how they can make a difference in the country.

"As disillusioning as government may seem, there are really exciting ways to get involved," he said, "whether it's political campaigns or with your congressman or maybe even spending some time in the nation's capital. It's exciting and it'll change your life."

If you go …

What: Peter Stone book signing in conversation with Natalie Hill Jensen

When: Friday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East


Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.