Friday, February 17, 2017

Where Do Plots Come From? Guest Post by Seth Margolis

Seth Margolis lives with his wife in New York City and has two grown children. He received a BA in English from the University of Rochester and an MBA in marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business Administration. When not writing fiction, he is a branding consultant for a wide range of companies, primarily in the financial services, technology and pharmaceutical industries. He has written articles for the New York Times and other publications on travel and entertainment. PRESIDENT’S DAY (Diversion Trade Paperback Original, 2017) is a political thriller that watches the presidential race, and the various men all clawing to get to the top.

Where Do Plots Come From?

How did you come up with the idea for the book?

It’s the most frequent question I get asked (right up there with “Who’s your agent?”). I think people are especially curious about my inspiration because I write vastly different types of novels – mysteries, mainstream drama, psychological suspense, satire. Frankly, I have a hard time answering, because the ideas for my books tend to come into focus very gradually, over long periods of time.

My first book, False Faces, was a mystery. The plot came to me – in fact, the idea of writing a mystery came to me – because of a specific place: Fire Island, New York, a summer resort off the south shore of Long Island whose most distinguishing feature is the absence of automobiles. I thought: what an interesting location for a crime, this open, trusting community of walkways and sand dunes and stressed-out New Yorkers trying to unwind by the beach. I knew I wanted to set a mystery on Fire Island, but it was at least a year before the plot and characters were fully formed in my mind and I was ready to bring them to life on the page.

My most recent book, Presidents’ Day, is a political thriller, a genre I’ve never tackled before. It’s about a New York billionaire who, having acquired scores of companies over his storied career, sets his sights on the ultimate prize: the White House. Given recent political developments, the question of how (and when) I came up with this idea arises frequently. And I feel a stronger-than-usual sense of urgency to provide an answer to prove that I thought of the plot for Presidents’ Day long before you-know-who announced his improbably successful run for the White House. 

Here’s the truth: the idea for Presidents’ Day came to me over thirty years ago. Ronald Reagan, another improbably successful candidate with roots in the entertainment business, had just been elected president. In describing the cabinet he was planning to put together, he declared that the people he’d appoint would be so successful in fields outside of politics, particularly in business, that serving in his cabinet would be a step down for them. Serving in the White House cabinet a step down? Clearly we were entering a new world in which government was seen as a lesser calling than private enterprise. Or as the protagonist of Presidents’ Day asserts, “New York is the center of power in this country. Washington is a branch office.”

I couldn’t get this idea out of my mind, that our government was answerable to the money men, not the other way around. I just didn’t know what to do with it. So I filed it away mentally, got on with my life, and wrote a bunch of novels that had nothing to do with politics. Then, several years ago, the “Washington-as-branch-office” file tumbled out of my unconscious and demanded attention. I soon knew what I would do with it: I would write a thriller that put to the test the idea that a successful businessman with unlimited resources could essentially purchase the presidency.

The contours of the plot, and the personalities and motivations of the characters, gradually began to come into focus. I decided that my billionaire wouldn’t actually run for office – why would a financial titan want to head-up a brand office? He would acquire the White House, not occupy it. And I made his motivation personal rather than political: he had an old score to settle, one that required nothing less than the resources of the Commander in Chief. I also knew that he needed an antagonist, with an old score of his own to settle. Thus was born the central conflict at the heart of Presidents’ Day: one man’s need for revenge, via the White House, and another’s need to stop him.

Now that reality appears to have “trumped” fiction, I’m often asked if current events inspired Presidents’ Day. My answer is always the same: the idea came to me over three decades ago, and I finally put pen to paper about a year before the last election cycle. Besides, I often add, I only wish I could write fast enough do dash off a novel this timely.

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