Saturday, January 15, 2011

Backing It Up

Reece Hirsch

When you’re writing a first novel, you tend to live with your characters for a long time before they ever see the light of day. Like houseguests who's overstayed their welcome, you get to know them a little too well. For example, I know much more about my lawyer protagonist Will Connelly than I could ever put down on the page. Well, actually, I could have put it on the page, but I don’t think any reader who enjoys fast-paced thrillers would have wanted to read it.

Here are a few things that readers do and don’t know about the backstories of a few of the primary characters in THE INSIDER:

Will Connelly, the protagonist. When the book opens, Will is in full-tilt pursuit of partnership at a large San Francisco law firm. To call him a workaholic would be an understatement. Will is driven to succeed in part because he wants a life that is as different as possible from that of George, his wife-beating father. Will confronted George with a golf club when he was only 15 and ran him out of the house for good. Will has also immersed himself in his work to forget about a bad breakup with his longtime girlfriend Dana Houseman, another attorney who is now dating a prosecutor in the D.A.’s office who is the favorite to be San Francisco’s next mayor.

What you don’t know: Will is a music geek. You can see it a bit when he scrutinizes the CD collection of Katya, a Russian girl whom he picks up in a club. Katya rises in Will’s estimation when he sees that she has a copy of Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” in a stack of CDs next to her bed. Will’s favorite bands are Yo La Tengo and Teenage Fanclub. Could Will have a relationship with someone who listened to Celine Dion? Will would be reluctant to admit it, but the answer is probably no.

Yuri, the wannabe Russian mobster. Yuri is not quite a patsani, or foot soldier, in the Russianmafiya, but he hangs in those circles looking for an opportunity to prove himself. In some ways, he’s every bit as ambitious as Will. Yuri’s father was a low-level bureaucrat in Moscow’s city government who watched as the mafiya pillaged state resources without ever getting an opportunity to share in the loot. Yuri is determined not to stand on the sidelines like his father did.

What you don’t know: Yuri, who seems to have formed his worldview from repeated viewings of “The Godfather,” secretly dreams of financing a crime film if he ever makes enough money as a gangster.

Nikolai, the Russian thug in career transition. A recent émigré, Nikolai is a Chechen who was known as “the Grocer” because he started a profitable American-style supermarket in the Arbat district of Moscow. But running a successful business in Russia is not easy when you have to contend with crooked suppliers and the demands from the local mafiya to pay the dan, or taxes. Nikolai hired an army of goons to defend his business and refused to pay graft to themafiya. The result – the mafiya burned down the supermarket and Nikolai fled the country.That was a formative experience for Nikolai, who decides that it’s easier to be a gangster than a businessman. Nikolai is just smart and brutal enough to one day become a vor, the highest rank in the Russian mob’s caste system.

What you don’t know: As I’ve imagined it, the story of Nikolai’s rise and fall in the Moscow grocery business would make a crime novel in its own right. Nikolai’s disastrous confrontation with some potential American investors in Moscow is a scene that is not depicted in the book, but I’ve imagined it in some detail and it ultimately sets much of the book’s plot in motion. Although it’s never explicitly stated by Nikolai, I always imagined that the fact that he was a Chechen trying to get ahead in the Russian mob gave him a very large chip on his shoulder that motivated many of his actions.

Maybe one day some new form of e-book will include DVD-like “special features” where this sort of backstory trivia can be dredged up by authors for anyone who’s interested. But I doubt it.


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Very intriguing back stories, Reese!

Reece said...

Thanks, Sue Ann!