Friday, July 3, 2015

Author inspiration - The Rockefellers and me

When I read chick-lit or romances that involve billionaires, 
many times the family doesn't seem real to me.    

I write about the Brannon family, a fictional family in Memphis, Tennessee that's based on old cotton money.  I want them to be real and not a fantasy.

So, what's my insight?  What's my inspiration in creating the Brannon family?

Mainly, the Rockefeller family.  
I was a live-in nanny for a branch of the Rockefeller family one summer. 

No, no Nanny Diaries type novel from me.  The Rockefeller family was lovely to me in every way.

But, F. Scott Fitzgerald is right:
"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me."

Money is not a thought in the same way it is for the rest of us.  In my experience, the stereotype of old money holds.  I dated several men with significant trust funds (and even one with a title).  People with generational money tend not to be as showy.  They drive nice cards, have nice homes, but it isn't about impressing anyone.  It's about what they like and what they want.  Their lineage along carries significance.  Doors open for them without request.  There isn't the same need to make and impression as those who are still striving to join the "right" clubs, be invited to the "right" parties, or get their kids into the "right" schools.

Oftentimes the very rich depicted in novels don't reflect the people whose compounds I was in and out of, whose seaplanes ferried me and children around to house parties, and who allowed me to burn out the clutch on a new Volvo without batting an eye.   I tried to be faithful to my experience with generational wealth in creating the Brannon family.

The biggest difference for me was in the treatments of things.  Things were meant to be used.  And if things broke, they were fixed without complaint.  For example, the matriarch of the family was surprised I couldn't drive a manual transmission, so she decided to spend a day teaching me.  We climbed into her new Volvo.  She could have had any car in the world, but a Volvo sedan fit her needs.  She patiently talked me through the steps and I ground the clutch, driving through back roads around the family's compound. I felt horrible.  I knew I might be damaging the car and knew repairs would eat into my generous paycheck.  Over my profuse apologies, she told me to stop.  Stop apologizing and drive.  She sat patiently and let me figure it out, offering kind guidance when I needed it and not caring that someone would later be tasked with taking the car in for repairs (thankfully not within my job duties) and that she'd write a check.  

I'll write more about my time with the Rockefellers and how that's influenced the world I've created in the Give Me Memphis series.   One quirky way -- In the series, one of Trip Brannon's random and short-lived business ventures is a mushroom farm.   One of the sons in the family owned a mushroom farm. It seemed like an odd choice for me, a girl whose family had found success through professional degrees, but when you grow up in a world with few limits, being a mushroom farmer is just as valid a life choice as any other career.

What do you want to know about my summer with the Rockefellers? Comment or email me and I'll respond in a later post.  

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