After reading accounts of what the subprime crisis had meant to ordinary people, I was tempted, or perhaps even inspired to write a story about it.
I imagined someone who’d been abroad on military service, with little knowledge of what was actually happening in his home country (the USA), coming home and discovering what had happened to his family and friends, and taking revenge. Since the subprime crisis largely affected people of colour, I decided that the protagonist should be African-American and the family should come from suburban Ohio. [note: although the book is written using US spellings such as ‘color‘, this article uses UK spellings; ‘colour‘.]
For an opposite number, out to stop the revenge killings, I chose a financial journalist working in New York City. And they would be female and gay.
Now, I had saddled myself with a lot of what is often terms “cultural appropriation” there:
- I am not American – I have never even lived in America for more than a couple of weeks at a time
- I am not a person of colour
- I have never served in the USMC, or any branch of any military, other than as an RAF cadet at school
- I’ve never been to Ohio
- I’ve only been in NYC for an afternoon
- I am not female
- I am not gay
- And though I do have experience of working with large news organisations, I’ve never been employed by one
But even so, I wanted to write this book. I do have friends, both in the USA and also from the USA living in Japan, whose brains I could pick, and use to check dialogue and general flavour (and American spellings). One of those who provided the most assistance was Bev Thomas, a Facebook friend, who also wrote a short guide to assist those who are in danger of losing their homes, which I included in the book as an appendix.
Balance of Powers features an African-American Afghan vet, Major Henry Powers, USMC, who comes home to find his sister’s house repossessed by the bank which sold her the mortgage, and his sister and her children out on the streets – somewhere. While searching for them, he meets Jeanine and her children, who have likewise been made homeless. What he finds sends him into a killing rage, and bodies pile up in his wake as he discovers the corruption and sleaze that surrounds the whole business, from mortgage salesmen up to traders in international financial houses.
Meanwhile in New York, Kendra Hampton, financial journalist, finds out more about the Wall Street murders that have spooked the trading floors. She finds herself on a collision course with Powers, which ends dramatically in New York City.
Now all of this is quite a feat of imagination, when you’re writing from Japan. I was somewhat nervous when I first put it out with an American publisher, but judging from the reviews, no one seems to have noticed my British accent.
The book also includes some relatively explicit sex scenes and sexual references, a lot of four-letter words, and quite a lot of violence – way out of my usual comfort zone. Against which, I think I produced at least three well-rounded characters:
- Major Henry Gillette Powers: ex-USMC Afghan vet. An intelligent compassionate man moved to acts of extreme violence by what he sees around him.
- Jeanine (other name unknown): mother of three children, now single, and made homeless through the repossession of her house.
- Kendra Hampton: financial journalist living and working in NYC. Partner with Liz.
And some dialogue that I enjoyed writing:
“Hey! Where are you going? Downtown’s the other way.”Balance of Powers: Ch 11
“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.”
And also some writing of interactions that I feel pleased with:
He was more than a little intimidating – a tall, well-built black man in a beautifully-cut suit and a military air about him. He introduced himself only as “Henry”, without a last name. She noticed a Marine Corps ring on one hand, but refrained from asking any questions about it.Balance of Powers Ch 22
“Did you know Mr. Reichman?” she asked him.
“Yes, ma’am, I did.” Very cool and correct, not giving away more than he had to.
There was something vaguely familiar about his face. “Have we met?”
“I’m sure I would remember you, ma’am.” A smile which ickered briey and then vanished as if it had never been.
“Strange,” she mused. “Pardon my curiosity, but may I ask how you met Mr. Reichman?”
“We met at a social event.” This guy wasn’t going to give anything away. Something told her that uttering her eyelashes at him and using her feminine charms was going to have as much effect on him as it would do on the coffee machine in the corner.
So all in all, it’s a book I’m pleased with. It has good characters, a decent plot, a message that doesn’t beat you over the head, and a style that perhaps disguises the origin of its author.