I have a complicated relationship with wealth. Instead of being intrigued by characters who are cool or sexy or likeable because of their money, power, and social status, I love characters who are awesome in spite of it.
For books with wealthy characters or celebrities, my catnip is when they are utterly flawed. Give me a billionaire with a tragic past who has some hang-ups but isn’t a total coldhearted jerk, and you have me. I don’t want to read about what money can do for people. I want to read about what it’s done to people.
That’s the route I tried to go when writing about Ashton Townsend in Concourse, the next standalone novel in the Five Boroughs series. Ashton is the queer son of the wealthy family who runs Townsend Telecom—the AT&T of the Five Boroughs Universe. His stunning androgyny put him on the runway for as long as he could stand it as a teen, and now he’s primarily known for being a party boy with a sex tape who has a famous Instagram account full of designer clothes. He’s also a philanthropist, but he keeps that part of himself quiet. He’s also very lonely and doesn’t trust easily.
Trust issues and wealth go hand-in-hand in my mind. Money buys material things, attracts friends, and can earn you attention if you’re in “right” the circles (Page Six, the long-time gossip column dedicated to celebrities and NYC’s socialites, makes several appearances in Concourse), but that also leads to people latching onto celebs for those reasons. How can they know who’s really interested in them as a person and who has more interest in partying on their tab while edging into some Instagram shots? And if a celebrity is so jaded that they can’t tell the difference anymore…. Well, that’s where the fun begins in a rich hero’s journey.
Do they shut down and view sex as an outlet with people they’ll never keep around for long enough to get Ideas? Do they avoid dating new people and instead fall for the friend they’ve always trusted? Or do they keep their hearts open despite the past pitfalls and dangers? Whatever the case is, the self-awareness of what money can buy but also how it can create barriers for genuine interaction is a pretty serious obstacle to overcome.
For Ashton, he tries to overcome it by falling for a friend—Valdrin Leka, an amateur boxer and the son of his former nanny. However, he’s going to soon find out that even the person he trusted most still has secrets. And it always goes back to the money.
Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.
Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.