The Million Dollar Girl
A Novel

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 11, 2008

The Making of The Million Dollar Girl

It seems that all the films that come out on DVD now include extra bonus features, often including “The Making Of” material. So, if print is going to have any chance at all of competing with video, why shouldn’t novels have bonus features, too? Therefore, here is my contribution.

The Million Dollar Girl was written in 2002. I had always wanted to be a writer and I had written a few abruptly-short short stories as well as a couple of non-fiction books. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to try a novel. I once wrote a satire about college life, so this is not my first work of extended fiction, but it is my first novel, with a plot or two and some characters.

 There were 150,000 different books published in 2002 by 10,000 publishers. The Million Dollar Girl was not one of them. Sales by famous novelists were under pressure because of so many new novels. (Check out the bargain books at any large bookstore.) Makes a great excuse to say, “That’s why no literary agent would touch this book.” Whatever. So it slept on the shelf and on the hard drive until 2005, when I decided to have a few copies printed for friends. Most of my friends really liked it, or at least said they did. And now in 2008, my vanity has expanded to such an extent that I am gracing the entire Web with it.

Look at this book as just a fun read. I wanted it to be more successful thematically, but just couldn’t quite pull it off on a first try. One literary agent criticized the book for not having high enough stakes (which explains why all those thrillers have world domination or global disaster at the heart of their plots). And a couple of readers were mildly disappointed that Amy's problems are essentially solved by others or by themselves ("prevenient grace" one reader graciously replied for me). It would have been better if Amy had taken an Uzi in each hand and wreaked equity across the campus, I suppose.


The plot involving Professor Miller was suggested by the book, The Big Con, by David W. Maurer, which describes the operation of this particular type of scheme, from the nineteenth century forward (the book was written in 1940). Those who have seen the movie The Sting will recognize the outlines of the big con. When I read the Maurer book, I thought how fun it would be to use this con scheme as a plot to show the limits of reason accompanied by pride instead of by good values. I also probably drew upon Jay Robert Nash’s Hustlers and Con Men (1976). At any rate, astute readers will recognize that some of the characters’ names are appropriate to their roles (Professor Miller’s first name, Gina’s last name, and of course Larson E. Trimmer).

The opening film scenario shown by Professor Miller comes from the famous crash of Turkish Airlines Flight 96, near Detroit on June 11, 1972. The main source was the NTSB report, though I am also indebted to the book Air Disasters, by Leo Marriott, Stanley Stewart, and Michael Sharpe.

The restaurant fire was suggested and informed by Blaze: The Forensics of Fire, by Nicholas Faith.

The plot involving Tina was suggested by my own experience over many years with a mentally ill friend and my reading about mental illness. The details (buying several radios, the value of green, the strange questions about killing one’s children) all are real examples from a paranoid schizophrenic man. Fortunately, he has never jumped off a roof.

Many of the details of student behavior and comments are taken from life examples, also. Since I have taught at the college level for many years, picking up student attitudes, comments, and actions has supplied me with plenty of material. Amy’s diving under the dashboard of Matt’s car to help him install a brake booster is a real event, for example. Markayla is based on a composite of three students from Kenya who graced my classroom in the past. The Swahili comes from another student. The incident about students studying the wrong test in an effort to cheat is also historical. (In the actual case, a chemistry professor left a fake test on his desk where the students found it.)

There are also a few allusions to (or, if you’re cruel, jokes stolen from) sources, particularly films. For example, the comment about “waking up dead” alludes to the film Charade, while the comment about there being many sugar free drinks on the market (to prevent hyperactivity) is an altered reference to the film Real Genius (where the comment refers to decaffeinated coffee). Quotation or allusion is common in films, where a famous scene or comment is repeated in many subsequent films. So I did a little of that here, too.

Read the Deleted Scenes
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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com