Before he ever wrote a book, Fletcher Knebel was a political journalist. His inspiration for a newspaper career was drawn from writer H.L. Mencken, whose convention-challenging articles Knebel began reading as a teen. "Thanks to Mencken," Knebel once said, "I decided to become a newspaper man and writer. He had an enormous impact on me."
Knebel was born in Dayton, Ohio, but his family moved many times throughout his school career, and he ended up graduating high school, an excellent student, in Yonkers, New York. He spent a year abroad in France, studying at the Sorbonne, before settling in to college life at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. There, Knebel maintained his excellent grades, along with an active social life and a position as writer/contributor for the Miami University student newspaper. In 1934 -- during the Great Depression -- he received a bachelor's degree and a job offer at the Coatesville Record in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Over the next three years, Knebel worked his way through the ranks via newspaper jobs in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Toledo, Ohio; and finally, Cleveland, Ohio at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In 1937, he moved to Washington as the Plain Dealer's Washington correspondent; he would stay with the job for more than ten years (though he did leave briefly for a stint in the navy during World War II). In 1950, he took a political columnist job with Cowles Publications. Knebel's syndicated daily column was called "Potomac Fever," and "satirized the day's news."
That job -- which Knebel would hold for the next thirteen years -- paired with political feature-writing work for Cowles' Look magazine, earned Knebel a chance to contribute a chapter on John F. Kennedy for the book Candidates 1960. After just one book, Knebel was hooked; he collaborated on two more -- both novels, one of which would make him a famous man. In 1962, Knebel and fellow writer Charles W. Bailey published Seven Days In May, a fictional account wherein the military overthrows the President. "The book became an instant bestseller, running number one on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly a year."
After the success of Seven Days, Knebel left journalism and devoted his life to fiction. "Do you know what the great fun of writing fiction is?" he once mused. "It's the self-surprise. I'll have no idea where the book is going, and then I'll get hipped on a character, and the story will switch…every day there's something new going on." His career spanned fifteen books -- fiction and nonfiction -- over the course of nearly thirty years and earned him four major awards, including the Ohioana Book Award in 1966 for Night of Camp David. Two of his books were made into movies.
Knebel's personal life was unfortunately not nearly as successful as his professional; he was married four times between 1935 and 1985, and succeeded one of his only two children (both from his first marriage) when she died in 1987. He was found dead, apparently by his own hand, at his home in Honolulu, Hawaii in the winter of 1993.