OTTUMWA — It's a story of political campaigning, dark secrets and the painful glare of the national spotlight — and Ottumwa plays a cameo role.
In J. Mark Powell's new novel "Tell It Like Tupper," several southern Iowa towns provide much of the story's backdrop. The bulk of the story takes place in Creston and other Iowa cities and towns, such as Des Moines, Council Bluffs and Ottumwa.
The tale begins on a snowy stretch of Highway 34 outside Creston at the start of the presidential primary season. A car breaks down, a passerby offers a ride and a friendship is formed. With that chance meeting, fate intertwines the lives of Glenn Tupper, a small engine repairman from Creston, with Sen. Phil Granby, a presidential candidate whose campaign is a spectacular flop. When Granby departs from his prepackaged message and starts using Tupper’s practical sayings, his political fortunes make a dramatic turnaround.
After growing up in small-town Missouri, Powell connected with small-town Iowa immediately.
“When I visited Creston in 2005, I instantly knew it was the ideal setting for this novel,” Powell explained. “Glenn Tupper is a middle-class, middle-age guy in Middle America, and Creston’s quiet charm perfectly reflects this good and decent man’s character. After driving around town, it only took five minutes for me to say, ‘I’ve found Glenn Tupper’s hometown!’”
While no scene is set here, Ottumwa's speaking engagement is the one Granby misses that snowy night.
Powell is a Missouri native who serves as communications director for South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. Before that, he was communications director for former New Hampshire Congressman Frank Guinta and previously worked for 12 years as a journalist for CNN in Atlanta. Powell drew heavily on his experience in writing the book.