Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How did I create the dynamic between the women in The Bloody Mary Club? How did I keep each personality different and exciting amidst the trouble they get in?

The Bloody Mary Club lead character is Gina Van Story and her three girlfriends: Sarah, Vivi and Joanie. It was easy to create the dynamic between the characters because history, starting from college, carried through to their adult life and now in ‘business’ together. It works well because they have a long history of pet peeves and simmering slights, which allows for fireworks ready to go off at any time. The three friends find themselves with no financial security and desperately rely on Gina Van Story to save them from a dead end retirement. All she demands is that the investment earrings stay put in the club until retirement age. This of course is a constant source of tension because Gina has all the toys and is fast approaching the 1% club. The friends want to spend their club profits as soon as they are realized and Gina won’t allow it. It’s the classic battle of the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have not’s’. Mix in tension with boyfriends, ex-husbands, career difficulties, disappointments in life and it makes for a complex, rich story.

All the women are strongly defined. Gina Van Story is the Alpha of the pack. She’s not perfect although she’d like her friends to think she is, but has major flaws as do each of the women in the investment club. The ensemble cast is believable. I paid close attention to creating a specific voice for each character. All have unique patterns in their dialog and character traits that should identify each one. Here’s a trick that I used while writing, I imagined taking away the dialog tags for each of the ladies so that when I read it back I could easily tell who was speaking. If I couldn’t identify the character instantly, I would know that the dialog wasn’t working.

With an ensemble cast, you have to set each one apart. Each of my characters wants something different. Love. Power. Courage. Revenge. They also want to avoid things. Fear. Pain. Bankruptcy. Humiliation. Each lady is given something to overcome. Something that keeps them awake at night. They must individually face their fears. This makes them rich, complex characters. In addition, I created character arcs and just like in our own lives, we change and grow, the same happens to the ladies in the investment club.

They’re a band of misfits. They probably wouldn’t be friends today if it weren’t for their history as military brats and having met in college overseas. Their personalities clash, their lifestyles are polar opposites and yet they are a band of loyal ladies because of their unique history. In moments of despair and fear, love holds them together. This range of emotions provides me a juicy slate to create an elaborate but ticking clock financial thriller.

The personalities clash from very beginning. From head to toe, they are four distinct characters, with lots of baggage, disappointments but ultimately they care for each other. I get each one involved in the plot and have them react to the unfolding crises. The reaction varies from, let’s given them what they want, to ‘hell no we won’t give in, to let’s fight them mano-a-mano. The reactions become more distinct as the danger increases and the tension rises. Gina has the task of bringing them together to take part in the sting to uncover the financial scam. Each has distinct ways of speaking, physical traits and tics. It’s a lush cast, a kaleidoscope of characters, with distinct agendas from the way they deal with the intrigue down to the Bloody Mary drink garnishes.

Let me introduce you to Gina and her three long time pals and you will see immediately how different they are from one another.

My lead character, Gina, a savvy stockbroker, is always on the hunt for one final big score. Aching for the top 1% salary bracket she’ll do anything to get there, even moonlight as a venture capitalist and doing off the book deals. The proceeds are wired into a sheltered off shore retirement account away from the IRS’s prying eyes. Illegal? She’s not worried, money solves any problem. She dreams of grabbing the bull by the horns so she can retire on a Caribbean island and lead a pampered life with her soon-to-be millionaire girlfriends. This dark haired blue-eyed beauty takes her best friends under her wing and teaches them the ins and outs of the stock market. From her tightly coiled French twist, designer suit, down to her stiletto heel, she’s arrived in more ways than can be counted. She has all the toys. As you get to know her, you find out that she has a tight circle of friends, but no husband, no children, not even a pet and a dysfunctional relationship with her widowed mother. Her greed and love of money-making exacts a toll. She needs to come down a peg and find her humanity and look beyond the closing bell of NYSE. She likes her made-to-order Bloody Mary garnished with shrimp.

Vivienne, an aging Pamela Lee with a heart of gold, is a loud party gal living in the now, married several times. A legal secretary by day and barfly at night, Vivi’s ready with a mischievous smile, dirty joke and lit cigarette. She’s dragged into the investment club kicking and fighting. Scared that she’ll be the dummy in the club, she agrees because she knows Gina will never lead her astray and there’ll be plenty of Bloody Marys with her usual two shots of cheap vodka and two fat olives.

Sarah is a semi-neurotic bitter ball of energy. Bitter spice. Hell bent on revenge on her ex who dumped her for another woman and is now forced to live below her station as the privileged General’s daughter. Having married into a family with lineage dating back to the Mayflower, then divorced, the only listing she’s in today is the phone book. Dumped and duped this whiz accountant, spends her money on lawyers trying to track down her ex’s impenetrable trust fund. Money for Sarah is a means to collect retribution on her ex and climb back onto the social ‘A’ list. She covets Gina’s boyfriend, Johnny, and dreams of being in the upper crust of Alexandria society. The thin, jumpy gal with paranoid eyes lives out her neurosis but is forgiven because of her doggedness with numbers and loyalty to the group. She garnished her drink with --- of course--- a pickle.

Joanie is a self-centered, ex-chunky towering buffed know-it-all computer genius. Naughty spice. A firecracker ready to pop, she’s sexually uninhibited. Having hit the glass ceiling at work she starts a software computer design company that’s always in the black. Cold and calculating, she spends hours plotting where to bump into a sugar daddy that won’t utter the words, “pre-nuptial agreement.” Joanie was voted Most Likely to Succeed in High School and she’s still waiting close that deal. Joanie likes her Bloody Mary drink stiff with a stalk of celery.

Here’s a passage from The Bloody Mary Club that reveals the nature of each character:

“You’ve all grown up thinking you can’t handle this stuff and if you’re a good girl, some big strong man will come along and take care of it for you. Wake up. It’s not going to happen. Without this club, you’ll be greeters at Wal-Mart when you’re seventy,”
Gina plucked a shrimp from her drink and jiggled it at Vivi. “Your legal secretary job isn’t secure.” Vivi picked imaginary lint off her slinky top.
“What happens when your on-man-shop lawyer is thrown in jail for tax evasion? You’re pushing fifty, who’s going to hire a legal secretary who types on an electric typewriter and uses shorthand?” Vivi pouted.
Gina moved onto Sarah busy snacking on peanuts: “And you can’t stretch your paycheck. You’re floating your bills. If mommy and daddy didn’t help out, you’d have no phone service, electricity or water. What are you going to do when they aren’t around? You think you’ll inherit their money? Statistics aren’t on your side. Mom and the General will need that money for their nursing home care. Your ex will get the last laugh as he skis down the slopes in Zermatt after having a wine and raclette meal paid for from his impenetrable trust fund.”
Sarah picked at her cuticles with one eye stuck in a half blink. “You forgot Joanie, she’s a mess”

When threatened they become a unifying force. Each brings a special skill to the job of taking down the predatory bank. Under Gina’s direction, Joanie must use her tech skills while Vivi employs her paralegal hat, and Sarah’s account skills are used to crack the bank accounting mystery. Their collaboration, although testy at times, helps them to become a strong force that ultimately succeeds.

Here’s a passage that captures their reaction when Sarah, Vivi and Joanie finally pay attention to their investment account when they have to vote on the purchase of private shares in a bank but then realize that by doing so, they are millionaires.

“Today’s price is….”Gina’s eyes fell to her lap. Odd that more of the club members had ever asked her this before. Although she’d been reluctant to share this information, she would have if asked…”one thousand dollars a share.”
Sarah tapped in the numbers. Her face lit up, she let out a series of peeps then tossed the calculator to Joanie.
“Holy shit!” Joanie’s jaw dropped. She held onto the bottom of her chair and rocked forward.
“Almost a half a million dollars.”
Cha-cha. Ching. Big Bucks.
“We’re loaded.” Vivi jumped up so fast her boobs almost spilled out of her top. “I’m a rich bitch.”
“Eat my shorts! I should have paid more attention to our account,” Joanie said cracking her knuckles. “I just assumed we had about one hundred thousand together, well, we, I man, with just hat one stock? Flipping amazing.”
“Gina, you stinker.” Sarah squirmed in her seat with both eyes in a tic pattern. “ Attenzione tutti, first time in my career that I’ve been out to lunch on an account and now I’m psyched to the max.”
Vivi beat her chest with her hands.
“Hush my puppies. I’m switching to Haagen-Dazs tonight. I’ll get front row tickets to see Jimmy Buffet. I’ll get my lips pumped up and lipo on my ass. Dangit, my list is long”
Gina squeezed Joanie’s shoulder. “Are you in?”
“Do snakes have both sex organs? Does a naval orange have a navel? Does our flag have stars and stripes?” Joanie shot both arms in the air. “Freaking yes!”
Everyone agreed. Unanimous.
With the air around them crackling with electricity, the ladies joined hands and shared a moment of financial rah-rah gal power.