Building on a novel approach
Ex-contractor uses work experience to write fiction
By Kimberly Atkins
Weymouth – It would seem difficult to build a novel on residential remodeling. But a Weymouth man hopes the seedy side of his former industry will attract readers.
Richard Connolly, a former general contractor and home building and remodeling consultant, has published his first novel, The Independent Contractor. Set on the South Shore, the book is about a contractor who uses inside knowledge of his clients to seek revenge.
“It’s a story about love, lust, and loss, compounded by greed and revenge, all set in the residential remodeling business,” Connolly said.
He chose the subject not just because of his background, he said, but because he thought many people could relate to the subject. There are more than 95,000 general contractors and 800,000 remodeling contractors, and millions of remodeling-related businesses in the country, he said. And building or remodeling projects affect about 40 million households per year.
“I was aware of the fact that residential construction at large had never been considered in literature,” he said. “at least not without the stereotypes.” He mentioned overweight, sloppy contractors with droopy work pants.
He said other writers have tapped into construction background: S. J. Rozan used her background as a New York architect in her series of detective novels, and Aileen Schumacher, author of the Tory Travers mystery series, is an engineer.
But in their books, Connolly said, the protagonist sleuths are construction-related, not the crime perpetrator, like Kevin Sweeney, the main character of The Independent Contractor.
The plot centers around Sweeney, a remodeling contractor who is a scrupulous family man until he is done wrong by three clients.
Believing that to seek justice through the normal channels against such rich and powerful figures would prove futile, Sweeney plots a plan of revenge. He has uncovered intimate details about the lives of the three men from spending so much time in their homes and by poking around in the computer files. He tries to run their businesses and their lives.
While he did not take the plot of revenge from his own life experience, his past career did inspire the methods of the main character’s revenge.
“You can get so much information about a person just from looking at the things they leave lying around the house,” from medication containers to business papers, Connolly said. “You would not believe things that people leave out in the open.”
The concept inspired the cover of the 306-page book. It shows a bedroom with several items – a negligee, a blueprint, and a tool belt.
The novel has a feel for the Boston area and the South Shore. There are references to everything from the Big Dig cost overruns to the Boston Harbor cleanup. Connolly also includes descriptions of South Boston and Dorchester, the South Shore’s picturesque coastal neighborhoods, and Cape Cod.
But most noticeable is the attention paid to home design and layout. Though Connolly chose not to provide physical descriptions of some characters – including Sweeney – to avoid stereotyping in the construction industry, he describes the characters’ homes in detail, right down to whether their floors are made with hard or soft wood.
In real life, Connolly lives the life of residential remodeling only through his fiction. His remodeling consultant business folded shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, when the slowing economy made jobs much scarcer.
“I thought 2001 would be my best year and it turned out to be my last,” he said. He is a substitute teacher and MCAS tutor at Plymouth North High School.
Though he has written articles on residential remodeling, and a nonfiction book, How To Avoid Building or Remodeling Hell, he had never thought of trying his hand at fiction writing. Though the process was grueling – he said he worked at least eight hours a day for 16 months – it was worth the investment.
“It was more liberating” than writing nonfiction, Connolly said. “If I wanted to say something, I could put it in the mouth of someone else.”