coming of age

The Girlfriend Experience

The Girlfriend Experience - Charles O'Donnell

Although The Girlfriend Experience has all the characteristics of a classic thriller, I felt that it went even deeper with one of its underlying plots.

I walked away sensing that I had just read a coming of age story. Does it fit in with the young adult genre? No. This is definitely a book for adults, but Matt's transformation from your typical "computer nerd" who has the naive belief that life is fair and that trouble could never come looking for him into someone who can take care of himself and is prepared to handle whatever life throws at him, is really quite stunning. 

Applying the young adult theme to an adult fiction is a rather intriguing concept. Sure, lots of books feature adults who go through some form of personal growth, but I've never seen such a dramatic change handled so gracefully by an author. Whether or not this was intentional, I'm not sure. I chose not to ask the author because I'd like to believe that Matt's character matured on his own as the plot progressed. 

One of the classic attributes of a young adult coming of age story, is the child's return to his or her home at the end of the book. It's a rule that I battle on a daily basis in my writing. In real life the child doesn't always return home. However, after all that Matt has been through The Girlfriend Experience, how does O'Donnell end the story? With Matt meeting a nice Italian girl -- just like his momma would want him to! He goes home. 

I very much enjoyed this work and had a hard time putting it down once I started reading it. Each new chapter throws a different twist that I didn't see coming. The characters had so much life to them that it was hard to believe that they don't really exist somewhere. They probably do -- it's a big world out there. 

Some Bio Information

Charles O'Donnell was born in Ames, Iowa in 1955, the eighth of fifteen children. He attended college at Iowa State and graduate school at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he studied engineering. His career led to a position leading product development for a global company with teams in the United States, the Philippines, and China. He makes frequent trips to China, Italy, and other potential settings for his high-tech thrillers.

Charles lives with his wife Helen in Westerville, Ohio.



1. How did you choose your title? (This side of the book, although important to Matt, seems quite insignificant compared to the espionage side of the work -- unless I missed something)

My whole career has been in the world of high-tech. This is a high-stakes, fast-paced environment where decisions are made on the fly, often without regard for the consequences. Some leaders actually pride themselves on their disregard for risk. I’ve seen some decisions that make the hairbrained schemes in The Girlfriend Experience seem like the height of responsibility.

But the idea for the story didn't start with technology. I got the idea while reading about Allie the Escort in the book Superfreakonomics.

Here was my premise: What if the leader of a high-tech product development team who needed to keep his star player happy decided to hire a call girl to pose as his girlfriend?

I discovered the phrase "girlfriend experience" with a little research. (If you want to know what that research was like you can get an idea from Jon's tour of the Internet described in Chapter 8.) I knew then what the title of the book would be.

2. Is Matt's story over?

Absolutely not! Matt shows up again, a few years older, in Moment of Conception, a political thriller set in Washington, D.C., and Bologna, Italy. Moment of Conception is due out this summer. And I’m working on the outline for a third book, Satoshi, in which Matt appears—forty years in the future.

3. What's your method for keeping all the twists and subplots straight and in order as you write?

There are two types of writers, gardeners and architects. Architects design, plan and build. Gardeners plant seeds and see what sprouts. I subscribe to the architecture school. I start with a general premise and then outline the story as I go along. But strange to say, the finished product always deviates from the plan. I guess I can’t keep a few weeds from sprouting.

4. Why do you write?

I’m an engineer. I used to design things, and that was great, but my career has “progressed” beyond that. I miss it. Writing fiction is a purely creative act. It fills a hole in my life. The writing process is also a learning experience. I like how The Girlfriend Experience turned out, but I know I can do better. I’m sure I’ll be writing for the rest of my life.

5. If you could write anywhere, the perfect workspace, what would it look like?

I’m almost there:

If I could only magically transport this space from Westerville, Ohio, to Raleigh, North Carolina, it would be perfect.





6. What would you like your readers to take away from this book?

The amount of control you have over your destiny is your own choice, but think: how many of us have ended up in a bad spot at the end of a long chain of reasonable choices?

7. What's your favorite character that you've created?

Ask me to choose from among my children, why don’t you!

Seriously, I resonate with Matt at so many levels that he’s a natural choice. And Anson is such a cheerful figure that he’s whom I’d want to have a beer with. But I had the most fun inventing Gina. She’s my favorite.