Monday, September 9, 2019

Brian Finney, Author of Detective Fiction Novel “Money Matters"

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Today we are interviewing Brian Finney about his detective fiction novel Money Matters.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I spent the first half of my life in England and immigrated to Southern California when I was 52 years old. I’ve been a writer and university professor most of my life (though I initially spent five years in industrial management positions). Until I recently retired I wrote non-fiction books and essays, almost all of them about twentieth and twenty-first century novelists. Once I stopped full-time teaching I eagerly turned to fiction, a genre I loved and had been writing about for so long. 

Describe the plot of your new book, Money Matters, in a few sentences.
The main story is narrated by its protagonist Jenny, 27-years-old and a little lost in life.  She is still just getting by with two part-time jobs. 

Asked to look into the disappearance of the CEO’s girlfriend, Jenny reluctantly turns amateur detective and soon finds herself up against a range of powerful and sinister forces, including big money, a corrupt politician, and a Mexican drug cartel. 

So the novel is part (late) coming-of-age, part amateur sleuth fiction, part social issues. Illegal immigration, one such issue, permeates both the main plot and a subplot featuring an undocumented young Mexican-American.

Jenny’s search leads to her meeting the young, handsome director of an immigrants’ rights organization to whom she is strongly attracted. So the novel also is part romance.

Who do you think would most appreciate this book?
There is something for most readers in this novel. Its main protagonist is a young woman turned amateur sleuth, whose late coming of age will interest literary fiction readers, and those looking for family tension will not be disappointed since Jenny and Tricia are sisters; detective mystery novel lovers will, of course, enjoy it, too. The book’s portrayal of American society facing particular social issues should capture the interest of readers who like to be challenged intellectually.

Tell us about the protagonist, Jenny.
Jenny is a millennial, 27 years old. She hasn’t really got her life together, partly because she resists America’s money fixation. She rents a room in her financially successful sister Tricia’s apartment and has to put up with her constant criticisms and opposing political views. She has two part-time jobs, one in plant maintenance for the CEO of a big mutual fund company, the other as a video reviewer for a large LA detective agency. As she attempts to unravel the disappearance of the girlfriend of the CEO she grows in confidence and self-knowledge.

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Author Brian Finney.
In addition to its thriller / detective plot, the novel deals with complex social issues, such as immigration and wealth disparity. Did you always know you wanted to address these themes in your book? Or is it something that arose as you began writing the story?
I’ve always felt strongly about these two issues. But I didn’t start writing the novel intending it to be a book about income inequality or illegal immigrant fiction. At the same time I am an immigrant to the US myself and naturally empathize with other immigrants. It took me a long time as a freeway flier (since the campuses are mostly an hour’s drive apart) before landing a tenured position at California State University Long Beach. So that theme entered the novel early and struck a chord with me. As for income inequality, I have always been appalled by the way the wealthy and corporations have managed to distort the tax code to pay less (rather than more) than everyone else. 

The novel is set in Los Angeles during the 2010 mid-term election. For people not familiar with what Los Angeles was like then, could you set the scene for us?
2010 was perhaps the year that California established itself as a radical ideological alternative to the majority of the remainder of the country. The contrast was startling: the country swung dramatically Republican (Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and a majority of governorships), while California defied national trends by returning a Democrat to the Senate, voting for a Democrat for governor and expanding the Democrats’ majority in the state legislature. We Californians began to feel cut off from the mainstream while remaining proud of our stance. So this is a Los Angeles fiction, more specifically a Venice California novel. Or you could describe it as an election mystery novel.

Are there any authors who have influenced your writing style?
I began life admiring Virginia Woolf’s command of complex sentences. Then I fell under the spell of Samuel Beckett who cultivated the brief but loaded sentence. Now I try to employ a conversational style, which may explain why there is a lot of dialogue in Money Matters.

What attracts you to the detective / thriller genre?
This genre automatically gives a  drive and shape to a book. It helps naturally carry the reader through it and it offers a satisfying closure of sorts. It makes a great vehicle for other themes to achieve dramatic expression. And it encourages development not just of the plot but of characters as well.

Who was your favorite character to write?
William Blake said that the true hero of Paradise Lost was Satan, because he was so much more interesting than any other character. I found Tricia, Jenny’s abrasive sister, the most enjoyable character to develop. She’s right about things at the material level of life, even in her use of sex for monetary gain. But, as Jenny points out, she’s blind to the non-monetary aspects of life, including love, which she reads as a dangerous distraction from the business of acquiring wealth.

How do you think you've evolved as a writer since when you first started?
My first major book was my biography of Christopher Isherwood, which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Non-fiction. It taught me to deeply research a subject and then subordinate my findings to a through-narrative. I think I spent much of my writing career improving on that insight, in other words on concentrating on how to improve narrative interest through sequence, form and style.

What are your goals as a writer for the next ten years?
I’ve learned that I am fooling myself whenever I plan that far ahead. Thankfully life is full of surprises. Just as I find myself taken over by the fictional world and the characters I create which demand I proceed in totally unexpected ways, so in life I find myself led in unforeseen directions. So I have no ten-year plan. Just think of what happened to those ten-year plans of the Soviet Union.

How have your readers responded to the book so far?
So far mostly friends have read the novel, as it is being published on August 23. They have all been very complementary My favorite review came from a bookseller friend who wrote: “The writing was layered, beautiful and draws an emotional response from the reader. I was in tears at the end and I cannot say enough good things about this novel. It is incredibly smart, current, witty, lively and well-paced.” Another friend, who is a self-proclaimed illegal immigrant romance connoisseur said she found the book tender and touching. Most recently I learned that I was a Finalist in the Best New Fiction category of the 2019 American Fiction Awards. So hopefully many readers other than my friends will find the book enjoyable.

Is there any aspect of writing you don't like?
I can’t say there is. I thoroughly enjoyed writing this novel, and couldn’t wait to return to writing it each day I was free to do so. 

Have you ever had writer's block? If yes, how'd you deal with it? If you have not had writer's block, why do you think you haven't?
When I started writing non-fiction there was always something other than writing - research, interpretation, plotting, etc. - needing to be done. So I never came up against writer’s block. If I couldn’t decide what to write next I would turn to one of the other tasks that needed doing.”

What do you have in mind for your next project?
I am not sure yet. Either I will produce a sequel to Money Matters, or I might try a fictionalized autobiography as my own childhood in wartime England was unusual yet representative of my generation.

Is there anything else you'd like potential readers to know about your book?
Money Matters is available as a paperback, ebook and audiobook online and in select local stores. I’m looking forward to hearing what readers think about it.

More Information
Buy the book on Amazon. 
Follow the author on Twitter. 
Follow the author on Instagram.

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