A couple of years or so ago, I started an experiment. I wanted to write a novel in a place I had never visited, and about people I have never been, and never will be.
The result was Balance of Powers – which came out much better than I expected, to my mind, anyway. I am sure there are some flaws in it, though – but no-one has pointed them out to me yet. Perhaps you can help me here.
First of all, let’s look at the main characters:
- Henry Powers, Major USMC (retd): he’s many things I am not – a former US Marine, muscular, African-American, capable of acts of extreme violence. On the other hand, he, like me, is male and heterosexual, and we have a few things in common as regards personality.
- Kendra Hampton, journalist: she’s female, gay, and a full-time journalist (ethnicity unspecified). But like me, she has worked in a financial news agency and knows the jargon and the people.
- Jeanine (other name unknown): she’s female, African-American, and has kids. I don’t fit into any of those categories. But in some ways, her personality is most like mine.
The supporting characters (Kendra’s editor, and some of the Wall Street characters, etc.) are based on people I have known or I have read about, but none of them are really familiar to me.
So these really were a leap into the unknown. I do know a lot of Americans – one of the joys of living as a migrant in another country is that you meet people from other countries and cultures (I was living in Japan when I wrote this), and I was able to get some of the voices in my head right, sometimes translating from British English to American (the spellings, etc. in the book are American – this piece you are reading now is British). I also have friends who have been in the US military, whose experiences formed the basis for the Henry character (the experiences themselves never made their way there). In any event, I asked my American friends, both white and African-American, to check the book for the rhythms and vocabulary. It appears I got it right.
“I know. I’ve been thinking.”
“Uh-oh. Every time a man says that, it means he’s thinking of dumping you.”
“Not exactly, but…”
“And that’s another one that means the same thing. Been nice knowing you, Henry. Stop the car now, so’s I can get out? Pop the trunk, let me get my things? Okay?”
“It’s not that.” He felt helpless, but he stopped the car. “Just listen a minute, would you? I said I was going to get mad, didn’t I?” She nodded. “Well, maybe it’s not showing, but I really am mad right now. What I did last night to those two, I’m not proud of what I did, but it had to be done. Same as I don’t really like squashing bugs, but you gotta do it sometimes.”
“You’ve told me this.”
“And there’s more bugs to be squashed.”
“By me, like I said. And I don’t want you to get mixed up in this, Jeanine.”
And the places…
My US experience is limited to California (LA and Bay Area), the Hudson Valley (NY) and Lincoln NE. I have visited NYC for an afternoon/evening.
However, I chose to set this in a friend‘s hometown, Columbus OH, and areas round that way. This allowed me to ask questions and to get things right, but it took some doing. Google Maps and Street View were my friends, as was basic Internet research.
For example, I wanted the characters to stop at a diner to get something to eat. What sort of diners exist along the road that they were travelling along, and what sort of food do they serve? I found a place for them to stop, downloaded the diner’s menu, and picked their meals for them.
According to my Columbus friend, he recognised the places where I put the characters, and felt that I had got the feel of things.
So – perhaps I got it right…
But did I?
Despite my hopes for the book, and the help of Percival Constantine, a successful pulp fiction author in designing the cover, it didn’t sell well at all. It’s currently a free Amazon download (also available at Smashwords as a free download), and it’s doing OK in that regard – solid midlist stuff.
Anyway, I’d be interested to see your reactions to it. Please do download it, read it, and post your comments here, and on the Amazon and Smashwords sites, as well as the review sites. Thanks.