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Crime Writer Spotlight - Robin Spano

Robin Spano joins us for this month's Crime Writer spotlight. She is the author of the Clare Vengel Undercover Novels. Today she talks about money and personal values...

Money fascinates me. How people spend it, how they hoard it, how they'll manipulate things to get a bit more in their own wallet – it's one of the most revealing tells about a person's character.

I was at a crime writing conference where two agents were invited.

There was a cocktail party with a cash bar. Agent #1 rolled his eyes when he was asked to pay for his drink, flashed his badge to the bartender like the hotel employee was supposed to know the conference was hosting him. He was annoyed that he'd have to wait for the manager's permission to charge the drink to the host. He said, “Oh, don't worry about it then. I'll have water.”

Later in the hotel bar, Agent #2 was in a much easier position to have her drinks bought for her. But when the waiter asked if she'd like to charge her bar tab to her room, she said, “No, this is an expensive Scotch, I don't want the conference to have to pay for it.”

Who would I trust with my career? The one who's not petty, not thinking of herself first, but takes an overview of the situation and makes a call based on what she sees as fair.

In fiction, I use similar scenarios to portray character.

In Dead Politician Society, a university professor is extremely cheap, unable to part with his money though he has more than enough for his bachelor needs. As the novel moves forward, he starts making awkward gestures of generosity. For me, this a clear sign that he's opening up, starting to think about other people than himself.

In Death Plays Poker, money is at the heart of the story. Poker is all about cold, hard cash. Different players want it for different reasons – security, status, lifestyle, independence – but they're all in the game to win money. Some are even willing to cheat in order to line their pockets quicker, at the expense of their friends and colleagues. The climax of the novel wouldn't work if money was not a central theme.

It used to bother me how money-conscious most people are. I felt it subtracted from the human experience, distracted us from experiencing the earth and each other as fully as we otherwise could. But over time I'm realizing that materialism is part of humans' social nature – if not dollars and euros and yuan, we'd be just as obsessed with livestock and spices and gems.

We each have a unique and complex relationship with money. So as a writer crafting character, money is one of my favorite tools.

For more about Robin, visit her website at, or find her on twitter at @robin_spano.  You can also check out her books on Amazon.