Hard Work can be Murder

Hearing a word, or a combination of words, can sometimes spark a writer’s imagination. This occurred to me when I first encountered the term ‘side hustle.’

Someone mentioned it on a podcast, and the way they uttered it made it seem commonplace. How they used the words made a side hustle easily understandable. It was a second job, an additional gig, or some other way to make money.

Of course, after I heard it, it seemed liked the term was everywhere.

Was I experiencing frequency illusion—the combination of selective attention followed by confirmation bias? Not really.

I had simply learned something new after diving into the world of personal finance. A lot of folks were already using the phrase. I was late to the party.

Regardless, the words triggered something inside me.

Side hustle, I thought. It just sounded cool.


For years, I battled financial problems.

Let me restate that. Because of my poor choices, I had financial problems for many years. The issue was with me, not with money.

It seemed as if I spent my twenties and thirties buying every silly thing that caught my fancy.

Comic books? Yes, please.

Video game collection? I had one.

Home arcade? I built one.

Massive DVD collection. That was this guy.

I looked around at other people who had money and couldn’t understand what they were doing different. It irked me that they seemed to have it so easy when I was busting my ass to make a dollar.

Then I went out and bought football cards with a credit card.

When I decided to clean up my financial act, it was painful. It took a lot of failing before I figured some things out. Once I did, boy, did things change fast.

Suddenly, I had a savings account, some investments, and a little bit of cash flow. Life was pretty good.

I decided to create a blog—Building-Income—to share some of the things I learned. You can read about most of my financial trials and tribulations over there.


Writers are weird people.

I mean, what do you call a person who encourages a good portion of their headspace to play games of ‘what if?”


And writers.

As I move through my day, there are no less than a dozen scenarios of ‘what if?’

What if… the van parked in front of the hardware store wasn’t there to shop, but was there to make a swap of a rope-bound prisoner held in the back?

Could we build a story around that?

Or what if… the cashier at the small-town convenience store—you know the one I’m talking about, the woman with the dead eyes and wispy gray hair—what if she was actually a former contract killer hiding out after a job gone wrong?

Could we build a story around that?

And what if… a minor fender bender occurs at a busy intersection. After trading information, the two parties involved go their separate ways. The next morning, one of the parties ends up dead, the victim of a serial killer.

Could we build a story around that?

That’s what I did with The Side Hustle.

One day I thought, what if someone killed an up-and-coming personal finance blogger?


There are some incredibly successful personal finance bloggers. It blew (and still blows) my mind when I learned how much money some bloggers are make.

Some of them earn over $100,000/month.

A month!

Want proof? Check out this income report from Michelle over at Making Sense of Cents. Crazy, huh?

The way people can make money on the internet will trip you out.

There are social media influencers out there making a ton of money. Some make more than a million a year. You didn’t know that? Check out this article about the top YouTubers. Here’s an article on the top Instagram influencers.

So, what have we learned about the internet? There’s a lot of ways to make money on it.

And what is always a good motive for murder?

Bread. Scrilla. The cheese.

In other words, cash. Cash money, baby!


There are some overused clichés in crime fiction.

One of the most common, but still used, is the alcoholic cop/detective. As a reader, we follow along with our hero as they struggle with their disease. It may affect their personal life. It may affect their work.

But always affects the story.

Occasionally, the hero finds the road to recovery like Lawrence’s Block Matthew Scudder.

Other troubles protagonists have faced include gambling addictions (like Gregg Olsen’s Nicole Foster), sex addiction (Stephen Jay Schwartz’s Hayden Glass) drug addictions (Barbara Sarenella’s Munch Mancini), and health problems (Frank Zafiro and Lawrence Kelter’s John “Mocha” Moccia). However, I never encountered a single novel where a hero battles a problem with soul-crushing debt.

Which was an interesting revelation since…

  • According to a Nitro survey, the majority of Americans are in debt, roughly 80% by age bracket;
  • Nationally, 31% of the country has some debt in delinquency. Check out how your state is doing with the Interactive Map of Debt in America;
  • The average credit card debt stands at $5,700 in January 2020, but the average for “balance-carrying households” is $9,333. Check out the report here. Yipes;
  • A 2019 Bankrate survey reported that roughly 40% of Americans could pay an unexpected expense of $1,000. In other words, 60% of us were screwed.

    With all this bad financial news, how is it that more of our fictional characters aren’t struggling with debt?

    Oh, they have money problems (that’s why they work and get into trouble), but I’ve never seen an honest discussion of just how the heck someone got themselves there.

    One purchase at a time.

    Not paying attention.

    And suddenly, a collection notice comes in the mail.


    Meet Detective Quinn Delaney.

    He’s a smart detective. He took care of his health. He loved his wife.

    But he didn’t pay attention to his finances.

    When his wife decided it was time for them to clean up their financial picture, he refused. He didn’t want to change. His views on money were immature, short-sighted, and selfish.

    This outlook led to marital woes and finally a divorce.

    Money is never the reason for a divorce. A couple’s incompatibility with finances is. A saver will frustrate a spender and vice versa. It creates a volatile relationship.

    Following the divorce, Quinn inherits all the toys he had purchased during the marriage. He also got the associated debt. Unfortunately, he doesn’t realize he’s slipped the albatross around his neck.

    Creditors don’t care why a person gets into debt.

    They don’t care about a lack of understanding about money.

    They don’t care about any personal motivations behind one’s spending.

    Creditors only care about repayment—with interest.

    And when that doesn’t happen, they’re going to start calling.


    Detective Quinn Delaney’s life gets turned upside down when he receives a notice of foreclosure on his house.

    The creditors have already been calling about past due balances on credit cards and vehicle loans. However, ignoring these calls is the only thing he knows how to do.

    Quinn isn’t afraid of anything on the street, but this isn’t the street.

    This is personal finance and, as the name indicates, it’s personal.

    Which means it comes with all sorts of emotional baggage.


    If a writer is going to paint their hero into a corner, they must give them an avenue of escape.

    I hadn’t planned on leaving Quinn to suffer in debt for a series of books. No one would want to read along with that. Therefore, I needed to show him a path to get free.

    Enter Kirby Willis, a friend of the murder victim, and a personal finance blogger in his own right. He filled the role of amateur sleuth. Kirby bumbles his way through the investigation until he meets Quinn.

    Once they meet, the murder investigation really hums along.

    Regarding Quinn’s battle with debt, Kirby allowed the detective someone to talk with about his problems. It gave him a voice of experience, albeit younger, who could guide him toward better habits.

    In creating Quinn and Kirby, I shared both sides of my financial journey.

    With the detective, I showed the impulsive side of me who refused to take responsibility for my spending. I wanted to enjoy life.

    With the amateur sleuth, there was the side who wanted to build something in life and worked toward it every day.


    I knew I had to be careful sharing financial lessons inside a mystery.

    Whatever I did, it had to be subtle, like Lawrence Block teaching readers about Rudyard Kipling in THE BURGLAR WHO LIKED TO QUOTE KIPLING. Block also taught readers about stamp collecting in his HIT MAN series.

    But those are fun diversions. Finances are serious matters.

    I had to treat it in a way that was interesting but wouldn’t insult the reader. It also had to add to the mystery of why a personal-finance blogger was killed.

    With the feedback I’ve received, it seems to have worked. There are some readers that don’t really notice the personal finance stuff. They are more focused on the crime and its resolution. To them I say, awesome! I’m glad the story was entertaining.

    For some, they liked the finance angle as it provided additional realism. Again, I’m glad the story worked.

    Finally, there are some who have read the book and were motivated by the stories of Quinn and Kirby. They have made a change in their lives because of this book.

    And when that happens, I couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out.


    Read The Side Hustle today.

    Back to blog

    Leave a comment