1. This is your first novel? Why did you wait so long to write fiction?
I always longed to write, and I’ve always used stories to communicate. As an undergraduate at Harvard I wrote a screen play that people told me was really good. But then life got busy: career, marriage, children etc. I just never found the time and space to settle back into writing.
But, year after year on Wall St. I had so many “you can’t make this stuff up” experiences. The stories bubbled over. They looped in my head. I had to get them on paper. Now I’m racing to catch up with all of the funny, stunning, touching things I’ve lived and observed over the last 30 years.
---Broker who took a client to a strip club only to learn about his au pair’s moonlighting activities
---Incoming calls from organized crime. How would you feel about managing a mobster’s money during 2008?
---Boss who bit off his employee’s ear
2. Does the reader have to understand high finance to enjoy TOP PRODUCER?
Absolutely not. Top Producer is first and foremost a story about friendship and redemption. Wall Street is just the context. I don’t indulge in financial mumbo jumbo. I worked hard to convey financial complexity in simple everyday terms that move the story forward for all readers.
But Top Producer does offer lots of insights into the culture of Wall Street that will surprise even sophisticated investors. I think Top Producer should be required reading for anyone who works with or is considering becoming a financial adviser.
3. Publishers Weekly used the words “labyrinth of deceit” to describe your hero’s world in Top Producer. It seems like there is a new scandal every day on Wall Street. How much of the story did you pluck from today’s business headlines?
On December 11, 2008, Bernard Madoff confessed to the biggest financial fraud the world has ever known. With his confession, the dam broke. And now, we’re reading about people with names like Stanford or Pang.
I finished 99% of my edits on Top Producer before December 11, 2008. I “plucked” the story from my experiences as a stockbroker and wealth management adviser. For years, I advised clients how lack of transparency can affect their wealth. These discussions provided a foundation for the story I tell in Top Producer which answers one question: What happens when two bad guys on Wall Street find each other?
4. In these tough economic times, can anyone truly care about a stockbroker like Grove, your fictional hero?
There’s a little bit of Grove O’Rourke in all of us. He worked hard. Kept his head down. Played by the rules and tried to do the right thing. Then, his world blew up as he discovered his friends weren’t who he thought they were.
Since 2008, we all understand what it means to have our lives turned upside down by forces beyond our control. I hope my readers cheer as Grove puts his life back together.
And by the way, there are plenty of good people working on Wall Street.
5. Who should read this book?
Top Producer will appeal to anyone who enjoys a story about friendship, betrayal, and redemption. And you’ll learn a little something about Wall Street through anecdotes, some shocking, some funny, all drawn from my career on Wall Street, filtered through my imagination.
If you wonder why so many things went wrong on Wall Street, read the book. There’s plenty of insight about the SEC, FINRA, and uneven regulation in financial services—told in an amusing, anecdotal fashion that won’t make your eyes glaze over.
If your spouse works in financial services, read the book. You’ll understand more about their world and gain some insight into why they come home in a bad mood.
If you are considering a career as a stockbroker, read the book. You’ll understand more about the hours and obsessive dedication necessary to succeed. And you’ll learn what happens once you build your book of business.
6. There are pranks throughout Top Producer. Does Wall Street really behave like that?
You’re referring to:
---The gift of 100 nasty pizzas
---Catch and release fruit flies
---The union rat outside one investment bank’s headquarters
Yes. Wall Street behaves “like that.” Pranks are one example. Bets, physical bets where loss brings public humiliation, are another. Every so often, for example, traders bet the “milk bet.” Can you drink one gallon of milk in one hour and not throw up. A friend once bet me on a tennis match. If I lost, I agreed to wear my wife’s tennis skirt and parade across the trading floor.
7. What happened?
We’re not going there.
But let me say this. If Top Producer hits number one on The New York Times bestseller’s list, I’ll wear Mary’s tennis skirt on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
8. Have you had any unusual experiences as an author?
While working at home, I heard an odd, semi-rhythmic clicking. It sounded like dripping water, and I feared our roof was leaking. There was only one problem. No rain. I tapped the wallboard just above my desk, gently at first, nothing too aggressive. To my surprise, a thin fissure spread through the wall. Scores of insect legs poked through the crack. I thought they were flies.
I retrieved our vacuum cleaner, determined to suck them up. To my horror, a chunk of wall gave way under the suction’s force. And "bald-faced hornets" swarmed into the office. I learned later these yellow jackets sting repeatedly, not just once. They're vicious. Their attacks leave a scent, a homing device, for bald-faced brethren to savage the same spot on the victim. Sheer luck saved me from a trip to the emergency room. The hornets failed to sting me even once.
With the colony of pissed-off yellow jackets buzzing everywhere, I ran from the room and slammed the office door shut. Using a rolled-up towel, I sealed the crack at the floor so the hornets could not strafe the rest of the house. An exterminator, with breathing apparatus and body armor, later ventured into the office. There was a pitched battle, knight versus yellow jackets, winged carnage everywhere. And a three-by-three section of wallboard collapsed over my desk, exposing the mother lode of all nests.
There is no word in the English language that adequately describes the substance from the fallout. I'll go with "gak." Hornet gak – writhing wasps, wriggling slugs, and grey catacombs oozing with larvae and fat, white maggoty things – crashed onto Top Producer. The gak buried Scott Hoffman's redlined edits, his meticulous markings and thoughtful suggestions for improving the story. The gak obscured Grove's efforts to find his way amid the chaos of New York City and the confusion of capital markets.
Of course, I fished my be-gakked novel from the rubble. Rolled up my sleeves and reached into the slime. As a 50-ish rookie, a fledgling author trying to break into the big leagues, it was a task I had not anticipated. Good news: you won't suffer similar ignominies. The novel will ship in the fall of 2009 free from all trace elements of baldfaced hornets. But a word of warning – there are plenty of sharks cruising the pages.