~Guest post by author Greg Bardsley
Living on San Francisco peninsula, I’ve often wondered, Where were the people I grew up with? Where were the fellow souls of my Bay Area youth? How could it be that, less than twenty years later, so few of my people—the locals—could be found at my tech company and in my neighborhoods?
Why did I feel like an outsider?
It was no different when I visited my mom and sister in nearby San Francisco. The city had changed. Gone, it seemed, were the values of socioeconomic diversity and tolerance that had made this place so special in my youth. How had we ended up with this new culture of status and affluence? Did anyone else notice how empty some neighborhoods got during the holidays, when people would return to their true hometowns? Was I witnessing that dreaded phenomenon: gentrification?
And then later I wondered: was I gentrifying, too?
In about ten years, I had gone from “starving journalist” to “Silicon Valley speechwriter.” From East Bay everyman to peninsula property owner. And as the years passed, I wondered if I was slowly losing my way. Was I becoming a fancy boy? Hell, no, I decided. I embraced my old Honda, my Chico State sweatshirts, my power tools and flip-flops. I built things with my hands and got dirt under my fingernails. I got back into volleyball, explored coastal towns packed with longtime Californians who seemed to smile back a little more often. Even so, back in the Valley, I couldn’t relax. Had I been sucked slowly into the hyperventilating, overachieving lifestyle of the peninsula, this twenty-first-century magnet for highly educated fortune-seekers? Was I losing this battle with myself?
As I watched a new wave of people strike it rich, I thought about some of the people I was meeting along the way—good people, like a former WD-40 public relations guy who had become one of the first one hundred employees at Google. What would I do if I were in his shoes and could cash out? Would I chase new dreams? Would I try to put balance and moderation and human connections back into my life?
Reflecting on all of this—the changing demographics and culture of the Bay Area, the unprecedented wealth of my surroundings—I wondered if anyone was writing about this. Sure, people were writing about the riches folks were making, and some were noting a new kind of gold rush for California, but was anyone exploring this from a more personal and cultural level? This story, which I felt so deep in my bones, hadn’t been told.
In writing Cash Out, I decided to stick with what I knew best. In some ways, I gave my protagonist, Dan Jordan, some of my own traits and circumstances. Like me, Dan would be a speechwriter in Silicon Valley working with an array of really smart and interesting people. Unlike me, he’d live across the street from a spry older man who saunters about his front yard in a skin-colored Speedo.
I decided to put Dan on a collision course with some of my favorite characters, and then pile on the pressure: put his cash-out money on the line, put his family life in jeopardy. As I wrote, I found a connection to some of those larger themes (the pursuit of balance and meaning) that I think so many of us think about. I drew from my own dreams, added new challenges wherever they would advance the story. Onto Dan’s shoulders I piled motive upon motive, burden upon burden.
I wrote late at night, after my wife and kids had fallen asleep. Some days I wrote at lunch, or when the family was out for an hour. Some nights I couldn’t stop, and I’d write into the very early morning. The first draft of Cash Out was written during a thousand stolen moments over the course of a few years.
But at last I got the story out. I took Dan Jordan right to the edge, to a place where resolution, one way or the other, would be obvious and within reach—if not in our own lives, at least for him.
Greg Bardsley is the author of the novel, Cash Out, which is available on the shelves at BookPeople and via www.bookpeople.com.
Greg has worked as a Silicon Valley speechwriter, a newspaper reporter, a columnist, and a video producer. His ghostwriting for high-profile business executives has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today, and the Financial Times. His short fiction has appeared in Plots with Guns, 3:AM Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Storyglossia, Crime Factory, Thuglit and Pulp Pusher, as well as the anthologies Sex, Thugs And Rock & Roll, Uncage Me, and By Hook or Crook: The Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area.