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Hemovore by Jordan Castillo Pricemoney's more fun in real life than fiction

The first novel an author writes is usually not fit for publication. I'm no exception! I have three novels that are never going to end up in anyone's shopping cart, and probably about six novels-worth of fanfic that I practiced on before I came up with Among the Living.

One of those long ago novels was about a woman whose estranged father owned a factory. He'd had a stroke, and she had to come home and handle his business because her brother was too self-centered to deal with it. The intention was to have dirty business partners employing zombies. The novel never quite got there, though I did use the zombie employee concept in Body & Soul.

Reflecting back on the many ways in which the novel failed, I realized something. I had the brother, sister and dad in a big house with a private nurse. The factory (I don't even remember what it manufactured) was doing well. But as I pondered how flat the story was, I thought to myself...what if things weren't so easy? What if the house was too small for all of them and falling apart at the seams because the dad couldn't afford repairs? What if the business had been failing for a while, and he'd stopped cashing his own paychecks a year ago to ensure that he could pay his employees. And what if the daughter walked into THAT?

I'll tell you what: so much juicy conflict the story would fly right off the page.

I decided that money was the key.

A lot of fiction I read features well-to-do characters. Lawyers. Businessmen. The perennial favorite: nightclub owners. Unless we're talking lawyers written by real life lawyers like James Buchanan or John Grisham, the characters don't typically rise above what any of us could glean from watching a few episodes of Law & Order. And have many of the authors run a large company? Unlikely. How about a nightclub? I knew a nightclub owner, and her job seemed a heck of a lot more tedious, dirty and exhausting than the nightclub owners I read about in fiction, who all have secret luxury rooms in the basement and sex patners out the wazoo.

And then there's the money.

All these protagonists have so much money. So whenever there is a conflict in the story, I think to myself, "Can't you just pay someone to deal with that?" If it's an emotional conflict, and the character can afford a therapist, you have to wonder why they don't have one. And I'll be honest: a protagonist buying and selling companies is so abstract to me, as a person, that I get more involved with characters buying and selling used underwear on eBay. At least I'd be able to empathize with some poor sap trying to get lucky and have his online auction take off! The guy who just bought a third world country? Not so much. In fact, I'm more likely to assume he's a douchebag.

So how does that relate to Hemovore?

First, instead of making Jonathan a bazillionaire, as I did originally, I decided that he had enough money to hire an assistant, but not enough for that assistant to lounge around and look pretty all day. I wanted Mark to feel like he had to work to sell those black paintings he couldn't even see. I wanted Mark to be uncomfortable about carrying around that fat roll of twenties so he could pay the cat blood dealer. (This detail was inspired by real life. I used to live in a neighborhood so bad that my landlady wanted the rent in small bills because no local store would break a hundred. I finally negotiated paying her via check a week early so I didn't have to walk home from the bus stop waiting for someone to mug me with that money wad in my pocket. )

Once Jonathan's money reserves were finite, suddenly the first meeting with the art buyer at Beacon gallery became more important. It wasn't just an, "Oh, who likes my paintings?" artistic curiosity. Instead, it felt more like, "Holy crap, this sale is a big honking deal."

And when they get the news that the paintings sell, the joy and excitement become more palpable, because it's a really huge deal. It's like winning the lottery. Maybe not the Powerball, but definitely like a nice Pick-4.

Even Mark originally had more money than he knew what to do with. It seemed like a good way to show that he didn't really have much of a life, outside work. (Remember...show, don't tell.) But come on. How many of us really have MONEY lying around that we can't think of perfectly legitimate uses for? Not me, that's for sure.

So when I took away Mark's financial security net, I could then do things like shut his cable TV off. That shows how neglected his apartment had become much better than a mountain of "extra money" in his savings account. I also think it humanized him as a character to have a taste for clothes and shoes that were well above his price range, but that he bought anyway. We all know people like this. Maybe we are people like this. Maybe I personally can take or leave clothing, but my Achilles' heel is computer equipment. We've all got our weaknesses. And I'd bet that weakness isn't "letting that pesky money accumulate."

One thing to be aware of. Just because your character has an actual job to do that doesn't involve personal jets and vague business mergers does not mean the tedious details of his day-to-day job are interesting. I think that many people try to write what they know--another well-worn writing adage--and they end up including job details that weigh down the story. If you find yourself writing about your own profession and explaining some inner working, and if that inner working isn't relevant to the plot, take a good look at it and be honest with yourself. Is it boring? Does it matter?

Hint: if you are wanking on about your real life job, chances are you're doing it in an expository way and the yellow highlighter will catch it for you. You DID go grab yourself a yellow highlighter, right???


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 10th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
Very interesting! I have a question, though. In Criss Cross (I think), Jacob tells Vic that the reason Roger et al. didn't try to bribe him was because of the huge amount of money is his bank account. And yet, when we get to Camp Hell, it sounds like Vic and Jacob have a heck of a mortgage and not much extra cash lying around (as if they did, I'm assuming they would have renovated the washroom).

So how much money does one need to have not to be considered a good candidate to bribe, yet also not be enough to afford property in Chicago? (I should note, though, that apart from those real estate shows on HGTV I have no clue from real estate in Chicago costs!)
Aug. 10th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
This is a prime example of the way I automatically made everyone well-do-do a few years ago, where I wouldn't dream of doing it now. (Criss Cross was written...let's see, maybe four years ago.)

The type of industrial property Vic and Jacob bought could easily have been 3 million or so, which gave me a good excuse to make Vic's unrealistic accumulation of money disappear. I figure that between moving expenses, untangling the tax nightmare of a vacant property and bringing it up to code, Vic kissed his "spare" money goodbye.

Still, realistically his paycheck would likely be about 6x what mine is, based only on what real Chicago detectives make, so it's not like he's hurting for money. But I also show him as being somewhat careless with money, using things like a laundry service, or being just as likely to toss something he bought incorrectly rather than taking it back and exchanging it.

I always figured Jacob spent his money on stuff like clothes, electronics, furniture and things like that. Plus his old condo could've ran 2-3k/mo. So he bought the cannery without having a big down payment saved up.
Aug. 10th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
In Camp Hell, it sounded like they were buying a very large building, a cannery in fact.

Even run down, these buildings are solidly built on large tracts of city land + past due taxes + the real estate agent's fee + taxes + Insurance = large down payment and a big mortgages. Thinking about it, I think the total would be more than a million dollars. It's the back taxes that get you on these abandoned pieces of property.

Though, really, you have a good point. How much money is too much money to be considered a candidate for bribery?
Aug. 11th, 2009 10:11 am (UTC)
The cannery purchase was a really great way to sop up all that "extra" money! A regular house is half a mil to a million, so the cannery would've been quite a bit more. I think they bought before the market went kaput, too, so it was a pricey property.

I'm thinking also that Burke and Chance didn't have a lot of money to bribe someone with, because they sunk their money into all those safehouses and GhosTVs. Fifty grand might bribe someone with a gambling problem, but not someone with a few hundred grand in the bank and a lot to lose.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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