Wilmington financial advisor Paul Dorsey has decided to try his hand at something new: writing fiction thrillers. It’s a significant departure for the Salesianum and Villanova graduate who owns Barley Mill Asset Management, a private investment firm that works with families, trusts and non-profit foundations.
Dorsey’s maiden effort, the newly-released Forbidden Inheritance – set in Hockessin – is already garnering strong reviews and a growing buzz in fiction circles, mentioned alongside heavyweights like David Baldacci. The “character-driven debut” tells the saga of a family riven by a father’s mysterious past.
We caught up with the Brandywine Hundred resident to learn about his literary foray, and his new book’s sometimes complex connections to his life and business.
TSD: You’ve spent a career as a financial advisor – what inspired you to sit down and write a suspense novel?
Paul Dorsey: I read a quote, “For me, the challenge of middle age was not to stand still.” At that time I had my own business, but I had been working in trusts and investments for twenty five years. It struck me that our job defines who we are.
I remembered a writing class from college when an engaging professor challenged my creativity. Felt much different than numbers.
So, I went back to school to learn how to write. Spent the last few years working at night and on weekends to finish a Masters in English and Creative Writing.
TSD: Your book draws, loosely, from some stories you’ve encountered over the years, working closely with families that sometimes had complex, interesting situations –
PD: Hey, when people trust you with their money, they also confide their closest secrets. You become as much a psychologist as their “investment guy.”
We are often called on to help our clients through life changes. And that’s when the family dynamics change and real personalities emerge.
For example… A father gets sick. The son thinks he should go to a home. The daughter wants to pay for an aide. And the parents would rather stay independent at their own peril.
As an advisor, you can distance yourself from the emotion. But it’s different when it’s your family and you’re in the mix. Isn’t it? Everybody wants to do the right thing, but that can tear the family apart if you’re not careful.
One of my first readers called me after she finished the book. “Did you interview my family before you wrote this?” That goes to show the commonality of family struggles.
TSD: Why did you choose to set the book in the early 1990s?
PD: I spent the First Gulf War on a US Navy ship in the yards in Boston. I disagreed with the war at the time, but I also had NROTC classmates with their lives at risk closer to the front. And many of them went back for the next war. The moral implications tore at me from all sides.
Forbidden Inheritance begins on the day after Iraq invaded Kuwait when the main character remembers something about his past. As tensions build between the U.S. and Iraq, friction increases between family members as they face the challenges of an aging parent. All of them are correct, perhaps, until one crosses the line. And that’s when the war starts.
TSD: The book is set in Hockessin – how did you choose that venue?
PD: When I grew up in the suburbs of North Wilmington, we would visit my grandparents in Hockessin. Great memories. Back when fields and woods surrounded a small town for miles. But then, in the early 90’s with the success of MBNA and the rest of the credit card companies, the suburbs started to eat away at the countryside.
I think the small town setting allows me to show how the truth can be hidden, even among people that know each other well.
Family struggles happen in both small towns and big cities. They don’t discriminate between rich and poor either. We all experience them.
TSD: Are there writers you particularly admire and have even modeled your own style after in any way?
PD: James Scott Bell is not only a great writer, but also a teacher of writing. He’s written a whole series of crime thrillers and another dozen writing books. He analyzes the story, piece by piece, from structure, conflict and suspense to the first ten pages or the last fifty. I had the opportunity to drink a beer with him as his Dodgers lost a World Series Game a few years ago at a writer’s conference.
TSD: What advice would you give others with a hankering to try their hand at writing?
PD: One time a friend introduced me to a writer at lunch. I said I always wanted to be a writer, especially with all that I have seen as an advisor. He told me everybody wants to be a writer, then said, “You want to know how to become a writer? Sit down and write.”
Sit down, put on some instrumental music, turn off your phone and start writing. You’ll be surprised what comes out.
TSD: What have you learned about the business of publishing – it is a competitive field and hard to break through we’d imagine-
PD: The best way to learn the business is to attend writing conferences. You meet other authors, agents, and editors. They’re all cooperative and I’ve learned so much from being present.
Writing is like owning your own business. You build the product, then you deliver the product. As with anything in life, the path is there, but nobody is going to show you how to cut away the vines and weeds. You have to forge your own way.
And give yourself a deadline. If you don’t have a deadline, you’ll never finish.
TSD: What’s next – you already have a second book underway … is that a sequel and what’s the timing on release?
PD: I’m about halfway through the next one. Probably the second part of a three-story arc. Has some of the same characters and a few new ones, with a real inheritance. In Forbidden the “Inheritance” is more symbolic.
I’m hoping to have the first draft done right around the time the state lifts its restrictions. So I’ve given myself a moving deadline.