Riches to rags

April 15, 2012

One of the strangest things I’ve had to research for a book is what it’s like to be really wealthy.

I never wanted to write about a ridiculously well-off character (and I didn’t, not for long), but characters have a way of being pesky, and Parker Welles really wanted a story. Parker comes from old Yankee money and lives a life most of us can’t imagine—the house on the water in Rhode Island, wooden sailboats, exclusive boarding school. Her expenses are paid from the interest on her trust fund, and Parker’s therefore is free to donate her income to charity. She’s not the type who lives to buy shoes and travel by limo; Parker’s a single mom who drives an aging but reliable Volvo Cross Country. She works hard at her job as children’s book author, despite her mixed feelings on her work. But yes, she lives in the mansion built by her great-grandfather, and twice a week, a cleaning and gardening crew descends like magic. She has a personal chef (a Lotto dream of mine, I admit). She doesn’t have to look at price tags.

And then she’s bankrupted.

But still! It was fun to imagine what it’d be like to live that kind of lifestyle, even if it doesn’t last. Lucky for me, I know  people, have been some incredible homes and, as a writer, filed it all away. I Googled Rhode Island mansions and types of boats. My brother, who owns a wine shop, supplied me with names of really elite wine (my tastes run in the $12/bottle range), and I looked at photos of tasting rooms and fabulous kitchens.

Well, all that research only gets into the first chapter or two, because Parker learns that her dear old dad has emptied her trust fund (and her son’s) to cover his losses in an insider trading deal. From there, I got to research fun stuff like hoarding, dry rot and shabby chic décor. And you know what? It was just as interesting as the flip side.

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