My dear friend, Jennie Liu, just finished a book she wanted to share with oops50. I asked her to interview the author, Elizabeth Russell, and voila, here’s that interview.
Betsey, give us a brief synopsis of Other People’s Money please.
Sure! Other People’s Money is the story of Katie Nelson, a program officer in Atlanta’s largest foundation. She really wants the foundation to fund a Latina health clinic, but meets strong opposition from the board. She begins to work closely with one particular younger board member (yes, romantic interest) to help revamp the clinic’s proposal, but then the whole clinic burns to the ground, killing a woman who was trapped inside. Everyone thinks it was a hate crime, but Katie senses something different. The more she explores, the more she realizes that many of the people she trusts are not who they seem. Eventually, she finds her own life in danger.
I wonder about your protagonist, Katie. She’s 28 and seems very much 28 to me. How did you come to creating and developing her character?
I wanted Katie to be young enough so that I could understand both where she is in her life and how she might mature as she grows. The funny thing is, I didn’t really like her in my original draft. She was too goody-goody, too much like the façade that many foundation employees put forth in public situations. I needed her to be more real, so I began to give her some flaws and more emotion. After I finished, I realized that she now behaves and thinks like I probably would have if I had been a foundation program officer at 28.
I was interested in the foundation world in which the novel is set, and I know you are a communications consultant for foundations, but how did you get the idea to start a novel?
I’ve been writing for foundations for 25 years, but always in the nonfiction/professional communications vein. It got to be kind of frustrating having to put the squeaky-clean, perfect image out there all the time when the stories behind the veils are sometimes so much more fun. I got my first taste of foundation fiction when I wrote some hypothetical ethics case studies for one of my clients, probably about 10 years ago. One reader complained that the case studies read too much like a novel, and that sparked the idea for Other People’s Money.
Had you ever had it in your mind before then to write a novel? And how did you go about actually getting it done?
I’ve always loved reading fiction, and ever since I was a girl the idea of “someday I’ll write a book” was in my head. This one took me 10 years from start to finish – a lot of coffee shop hours here and there, and sneaking time away from my paying jobs. My husband and kids cut me a lot of slack when I needed it. The process itself is rather jerky for me. A lot of time thinking, then a clump of very intense hours getting words on the page, then back to a big block of thinking. I really got serious once I turned 48, because I wanted it published before I turned 50. I worked with Mark Bloom, a fabulous editor in Asheville, to polish it up. Once that was done, I sent it to indie publishers and had a contract within 3 months.
What have you learned about the publishing world? Anything you would have done differently?
When I was shopping for agents and publishers, I told myself all I needed was an imprint and I would take care of everything else. I got exactly what I asked for. Publishing fiction nowadays seems to be all about getting someone to give you a stamp of approval and then doing all the marketing work yourself. My little indie publisher gave me much needed entry into the market, but their print-on-demand business model is not very friendly for indie bookstores. Next time around, I’d like to find a slightly bigger house that will accommodate store-based sales more easily.
Will there be more murder in your future?
Absolutely! I actually thought there might be some over the recent holidays, but then my relatives went home. But seriously, Other People’s Money is the first installment in a three-part series, and I’m working on the second book now. I know it won’t take me nearly as long the second time around, so stay tuned and visit my website and blog at elizabethrussellfiction.com for updates.
Elizabeth Russell has been telling the stories of foundation and nonprofit clients for twenty years as a marketing and communications consultant dedicated to the field of philanthropy. Her fiction is drawn from her insider’s knowledge of the good and the bad of the foundation world, and woven with a creativity that makes the field intriguing and engaging to all.
Jennie Liu is an Occupational Therapist, struggling writer, and dedicated member of a novel writing group. She is not yet fifty but has been long debating herself as to whether or not to color her fast graying hair.