Thursday, 1 August 2013

Wall Street's Black Fridays!

Today’s guest blog is by Michael Sears who spent over two decades on Wall Street, rising to become a managing director at Paine Webber and Jeffries & Co., before leaving the business in 2005. He now lives in Sea Cliff, New York, where he is at work on a second book featuring Jason Stafford and his son. BLACK FRIDAYS was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel and A Thriller Award by the ITW. It is also nominated for a Barry Award and Shamus Award for Best First Novel.

The idea for BLACK FRIDAYS came to me via the front page of the Wall Street Journal in the fall of 2003.  Fifty traders and brokers in the foreign exchange market, including some from the world’s most prominent banks, had been arrested in a sweep, the culmination of an eighteen month undercover investigation by the FBI.  I recognized some of the names.

Twenty-one years earlier I had begun my career on the Street working for a foreign exchange brokerage firm in lower Manhattan.  It was an entertaining place to work.  Big trades were celebrated with long afternoons downstairs at the bar at Mikaku, birthdays for the big hitters often meant strippers, and I remember one hot summer week when some of the lads opened the windows and fired bottle rockets at the New York Federal Reserve Bank across the street. 

I wasn’t there long, but it was an eye-opening experience.  Soon after I planted myself in the comparatively tame bond market and stayed there until I left for good in late 2005.  I’d had a good run and it was time to move on and finally get on with what I had wanted to do for a very long time – write.

Though BLACK FRIDAYS is the first thing I have had published, it was not the first I wrote.  I took classes, tried short fiction, began and almost finished a very different novel.  All that time, the story of those foreign exchange traders was rattling around in the back of my head. 

I am not a journalist.  I knew that I couldn’t write a non-fiction account and do it justice.  But an idea for a book about a man – a Wall Streeter – who gets out of prison and has to rebuild his life from the ground up was beginning to gel.  In one of those incidences of synchronicity that happen all too infrequently, I had the idea for combining a fictionalized account of a fraud similar to the one that I had read about with the story of the rehabilitation of the ex-convict. One moment I would never have considered melding the two, the next I could only wonder why it had taken me so long to see their perfection together.

The Kid was not merely an add-on.  I knew from the beginning that the man would have a son with a truly challenging disability.  A five year old on the Autism spectrum is as challenging as I thought my guy could handle.  The Kid teaches Jason how to love, something that most of us learn before we turn forty-five. 
I will admit that at some point, as the thriller aspects of the story began to absorb much of my attention, I came into my writers’ workshop one week and announced that I had decided to take out the whole Kid subplot because it was slowing things down too much.  Mayhem ensued.  I was informed by my peers that the Kid was what the book was about and that I was not allowed to cut one scene.

Autism is finally getting the attention it needs in the media, but there’s still miles to go.  One of the fascinating things about this disorder, for a novelist, is that, while it manifests in so many different ways, it is also quite identifiable.  The range of abilities in communication, creativity, and cognition are quite extraordinary.  These children have a need for love and emotional support just as strong as with the rest of us Neuro-Typicals -- they just express it very differently.  The surest way to strike pure terror into the heart of someone on the Spectrum, is to rush up to them booming a warm HELLO, look them square in the eye, and give them a big hug. 

BLACK FRIDAYS also expresses my love affair with New York.  I live in a charming village near the water and I love it here, but I miss the city all the time.  I was born there and though I left before I turned two, something of it must have stuck.  When I returned I lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for twenty years.  My children were both born there.  I know, I know.  It’s loud and dirty and expensive and everybody’s rude.  Only they’re not, really.  They’re just in a hurry.

And I raised many a glass at the old P&G, my protagonist’s favorite watering hole.
The book has been nominated for five awards so far, and that is certainly gratifying.  But the greatest thing is to have been welcomed so warmly into this community of mystery and thriller writers and readers.  It’s a great group.

I remember the exact moment that I had fully accepted this new career and become a true member of the tribe.  I was in the dermatologists office having two little spots removed from my forehead – the result of too much time on or near the water – and the doctor was explaining how he was going to freeze them with liquid nitrogen and they would fall right off.  He wore an insulated mitt and handled the canister as gently as if it was a grenade.  196 degrees below zero.  Centigrade.  The real degrees.  And he said, “You could kill someone with this stuff.”  And I heard myself respond, “Really?  How would that work?”

More information about Michael can be found on his website and you can also follow him on Twitter  @MSearsAuthor or on Facebook.


Black Fridays -

Jason Stafford, once a well-respected – and well paid – trader, is released from prison after serving two years for fraud.  Virtually unemployable, he takes a job investigating what appears to be a small, isolated case of fraud at another firm.  He soon discovers that the case is much bigger, and the men behind the scam are even willing to kill to protect their interests.

He also finds himself a single parent to his five-year-old autistic son, ‘The Kid’, after reclaiming him from his unstable ex-wife.  With his life in jeopardy and his son threatened, Jason has to make some decisions about who he is and what he really wants.

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