Rhys Bowen: Today our guest on Jungle Red is a good friend and neighbor of mine from the Bay Area, Susan Shea. I have been following Susan's career with delight since I was her mentor at a Book Passage Mystery Writers conference a few years ago. I was intrigued then with her world of million dollar fund raising and so pleased that THE KING'S JAR, the new book in her series, is getting good reviews now. So take it away, Susan.
SUSAN SHEA :Sister, Can You Spare a Dime?
Well, actually, a lot of dimes. Say a million dimes, which is only $100,000, which is enough to get you dinner with the head of the computer science department but not with the president of the university. If you have ten million dimes just sitting around, I’ve got a place at the head table with Sarah Jessica Parker and a newly-minted Nobel Prize winner, plus the president, who intends to attach himself to Ms. Parker for the evening.
See? This is the life of a fundraiser, always asking, always promising, always sucking up – I didn’t say that! – making nice with people who have many more dimes than she does. These people, called millionaires and billionaires, are different from you and me in large and small ways. They do not shop for their own toilet paper, for one thing.
The first time I asked someone for a million dollars, I rehearsed the excellent case I was making for the college’s project, spent time beforehand preparing a mental script that would keep the Big Question on the table (you never pose the question in a form that can be answered with a straight no), and reminded myself not to order any food at the lunch meeting that might stick to my teeth and distract me, or her. But the biggest prep was standing in front of my bathroom mirror and saying “We would like you to consider a gift of a million dollars.” I made sure my eyes didn't go into a frantic blinking spasm and that I could get the words out without going, “a mi-mi-mi-mi…”
In my previous life as a fundraiser, which, by the way, is what my protagonist, Dani O’Rourke is, because they say you should always write what you know, I have had the pleasure and pain of meeting a handful of billionaires. I found them all to be fascinating, and half of them to be quite nice. The most delightful of them is a self-made man, once a scholarship student at a prestigious university, who developed an idea into an exceptionally robust, international service business. When he allowed another Big B Billionaire to buy him out, he was like a kid in a candy store. He told me gleefully he planned to give it all away before he died, after giving his kids a million each. “They should have the joy of making something themselves,” he told me. He’s established too many scholarships to count, schools within universities, libraries, you name it. And always with a big grin on his face. I adore him.
Then there’s the fellow who inherited massive wealth at an early age. He plays at one career after another and really believes the world revolves around his wants and opinions. (No, not the current ruler of North Korea although minus nuclear warheads, not all that different, and about the same age emotionally.) My hypothesis is that no one has ever – since he was a toddler and his nannies saw dollar signs when they looked at him – told him his behavior is not acceptable.
Jungle Red writers, a question: Do you ever wonder if someone you know will recognize their annoying tic that you built into your villain’s character, or see a distant echo of something that happened to her or him in your story? While it is the absolute truth that the characters in my books are purely fictional, bits and pieces of the people I have met pop up in my stories, mashed into new forms and suitably disguised, I hope. The work of fundraising, which lends itself to high comedy and deep despair on occasion, is pretty much for real, however, in The King’s Jar and its predecessor, Murder in the Abstract.
SUSAN C. SHEA spent more than two decades as a non-profit executive before beginning her best-selling mystery series featuring a professional fundraiser for a fictional museum. Susan is on the board of the northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime and is a past board member of Norcal’s chapter of Mystery Writers of America. She lives in Marin County, California. www.susancshea.com
Susan will be giving away a copy of THE KING'S JAR to the best comment of the day.