Why Findependence Day isn’t just another knockoff of The Wealthy Barber
Back in 2008, when Findependence Day was originally launched, I conducted an “Interview with Myself” posted on the Wealthy Boomer blog. This is a little trick I learned from British writer Malcolm Muggeridge when he was the writer in residence at Western’s Journalism School in 1978-1979.
I’d planned simply to repost that interview here but couldn’t find it on the web. Then I thought it was probably time for a followup interview anyway. So here goes:
Interviewer Jon [IJ henceforth]. So, Jon, isn’t it a bit late to launch a web site three years after the book was originally published?
Author Jon [AJ henceforth]. Always with the muckraking, aren’t you journalists?
IJ: It seems a logical question.
AJ: There was a web site associated with the then-publisher, Power Publishers, which was also available as part of FinancialPost.com. But it was a static site and not much changed from month to month. This one is much more dynamic and of course you can buy books from it directly via PayPal, which means most major credit cards.
IJ: That’s about the only way you can get it now?
AJ: Almost. It used to be in Chapters, its web site and Amazon.com. You may still be able to get used copies via those sites but not new ones like this site is making available. The other way is a special offer from the Financial Post, which is giving the book to new and lapsed subscribers if they sign up for a certain period of time.
IJ: What happened to Power Publishers?
AJ: They withdrew from book publishing around February of this year. That’s when I bought the remaining inventory.
IJ: How many?
AJ: Enough to make a decent dent in the financial literacy of our children and young adults if they were all sold and distributed across the country. Want to buy a case?
IJ: I was about to ask you the same thing! I notice on the back cover of David Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber Returns that you say it’s the kind of book the Task Force on Financial Literacy should distribute. Did you mean his book specifically, or yours?
AJ: Well, both. I don’t view sales of competing financial books as a zero-sum game. Take a look at the Reviews elsewhere on this site and you’ll see several comparisons to The Wealthy Barber.
IJ: Except his sequel is non-fiction.
AJ: Right, but he really started something with the financial fiction format of the original. It’s been widely imitated.
IJ: Including by you.
AJ: I don’t consider Findependence Day yet another Barber knockoff. I tried to advance the art in a way that’s never really been done before, to my knowledge.
IJ: How so?
AJ: Take a look at Jim Daw’s review flagged in the review section here or in the book itself. He talked about the “twig of literature” of the personal finance novel.
IJ: Twig, as opposed to branch?
AJ: Right, that was very witty on Jim’s part and almost went over my head the first time I read it. But his point was that all those Chilton knock0ffs had what he termed “an aggravating sameness” to them. Most were “financial dumps” with a thin storyline and characterization. I agree with Jim: those kind of books are still coming out and I really had no intention of adding to them.
IJ: But you did.
AJ: With a significant new twist. I’d come up with the title and for a year was considering making it non-fiction. But like many journalists, there’s part of me that always wanted to try what I’d call a “real novel.” I’d written a practice novel right to the end and know more or less how it works: protagonists and villains, constant setbacks along the path to an overarching goal, setting, description, all of that. So I tried to weave the financial information into what I call “classic fictional structure.”
IJ: So you’d term Findependence Day a “real” novel?
AJ: I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a hybrid of a real novel and a financial primer. In effect, it’s a financial love story. There’s conflict between the saver, Jamie, and his spender wife, Sheena. They disagree about having a monster home in the burbs or an affordable one downtown. Sheena wants investment real estate, Jamie wants to build a business. Eventually Sheena serves Jamie with divorce papers and he’s challenged with trying to reconcile these conflicting goals and desperately trying to save their marriage.
IJ: Does he?
AJ: If I told you, I’d have to kill us.
IJ: You feel that financial conflict is a major cause of marital breakups?
AJ: Sadly, yes, as Patricia Lovett Reid writes in the foreword.
IJ: It must have been challenging mixing genres.
AJ: Yes, which is why most traditional publishers avoid it. In fact, David Chilton himself told me he thought my story was “too good” in the sense that it took away from the financial content. But he’s been very supportive, as he generally is with other authors.
IJ: What do you mean by “classic fiction structure?”
AJ: Conflict is what keeps readers reading a regular novel. You have a protagonist, in this case Jamie, who has a long-range goal: his Findependence Day which is 22 years away when the book begins.
IJ: That’s a long time horizon for a novel.
AJ: Yes, which is why one reviewer called it a “Financial Pilgrim’s Progress.” But instead of being weighed down by sin like Bunyan’s character, Christian, Jamie and Sheena are weighed down by debt.
IJ: And you have a bad guy, Al Peters.
AJ: That too is demanded by traditional fiction structure. Because the hero can’t just get what he wants every time a scene opens or the reader would stop reading. So Al frequently thwarts Jamie, especially when they become business partners. When you break down the book, you’ll find maybe 60 sections. In each one, someone has to have a goal and — here’s the key — he or she must FAIL to achieve that mini-goal by the end of the section. Then they have to have a new goal in the next section.
IJ: Give us an example.
AJ: Sure. Early in the book, right after the TV show where the host badgers Sheena into tearing up her credit cards, there’s a scene where Jamie goes down the elevator with the financial advisor he met during the show, Theo. Jamie’s goal in that scene is to convince Theo to help him by becoming their financial advisor. But the fiction format demands that Theo refuse his request, which is what he does. He says “come back in a few years when you’ve eliminated your debt.”
IJ: And so his next goal is to find someone else who will be his advisor while he’s still in debt.
AJ: Right, which is how he comes upon the old hippie in the vinyl record store, which ultimately sets the plot moving in a new direction.
IJ: All this while trying to insert financial tips.
AJ: Yes, which is why the financial bits are always short: the moment I feel the reader may get bored, or myself as the writer, it’s time to move away from the financial instruction and on to the next aspect of the story. The result is that even if you’re already pretty financially literate, you may keep reading. Check the review from financial blogger Michael James, who could probably write all the financial bits himself in his blog. But even he admits the story got him “hooked” after the first third, and then he read the last two thirds all at one sitting some lazy Sunday morning.
IJ: There’s room for a sequel?
AJ: Maybe. I’d thought of following the daughter, Michaela, by doing a “next generation” followup. But I won’t attempt it while I’m still working full time.
IJ: So when you reach your own Findependence Day?
IJ: Guess that’s all the time and space we have, Jon.
AJ: I know the drill, JC. Always a pleasure.
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