10 Questions with Michael Sears
Ethan, thank you for the opportunity to talk with you about my book and to share a bit of it with your readers. BLACK FRIDAYS is my exploration of greed and misdeeds on Wall Street. It features a protagonist, Jason Stafford, who when we first meet him, is being released from prison, after serving two years for fraud. He soon finds that the only work available to him is investigating fraud at other firms – which quickly leads to a larger conspiracy and even murder. Woven into the story is a parallel plot, in which Jason takes on the single parenting of his five year old autistic son. Both plots teach him a lot about himself.
After a long and successful career in Wall Street you are now trying your hand at writing thrillers. How did this change happen?
After twenty-five years on Wall Street, it was time for a change. I have always loved writing and finally decided to take the plunge. I began with a creative writing course at NYU, then another. I began to think about getting an MFA, and looked around for the best way to create a portfolio of writing and in the process took at class at The New School in How to Write a Novel, with best-selling author Jennifer Belle. Things began to click and she invited me to join her private writing workshop. I am finishing up a sequel to BLACK FRIDAYS right now, and I am still a part of that workshop.
How did you turn Black Fridays from an idea in your mind to a book published by Putnam?
The conspiracy at the heart of BLACK FRIDAYS is very loosely based on real events, but it is not an autobiographical novel. But it is a story that I believed I could tell in a realistic manner and make it understandable to readers who might not be familiar with Wall Street terminology and practices. I hope I have done that.
When it was done – or rather, when I thought it was done – I began sending it out to agents and got my fair share of rejections, though there were enough compliments in there to keep my spirits up. A publisher friend suggested that I send it to Nat Sobel and Judith Weber. Magnificent agents. They thought it had a good chance of success and suggested some changes. Less than two months later, I had a two book deal with Putnam and one of the best editors in the business. I’m still walking on air.
A word of advice for new writers?
Treat it like a job. Put in the hours, even if some of them are considerably less productive than others. It all adds up in the end. Staring at a blank page for a day or two may feel like a waste of time, but you’re letting the pieces of the puzzle settle in place.
And have fun.
What is your typical writing day?
I try to put in six to eight hours a day, but don’t always make it. If things are going well and the words are flying onto the page and my characters are all revealing their secrets – a rare event when all this comes together at once – I can go the distance. Other times, I find that I would rather be doing anything else – even going to the gym.
Minor characters. How do you see their role in the development of a storyline?
I use a lot of minor characters and worry sometimes that I am creating a Dickensian array which will leave my readers a bit confused. But Wall Street is full of characters, as are the streets of New York. They have to serve the plot, but if I make them as real as I can, they deserve to be there.
What are your favorite pastimes?
I love music and theater and talking about books while sharing a nice bottle of wine. And to misquote another favorite writer, I believe that there is nothing like “messing about in boats.”
What other books are you working on at the moment?
As I mentioned, I am putting the finishing touches on a sequel to BLACK FRIDAYS, again featuring Jason and his son, “the Kid.” There may be a third in the series. I find that I am not yet done exploring Jason’s redemption or questions of what constitutes true criminal behavior.
What do you like to read and what are you reading now?
I am a very eclectic reader. I recently read Joe Finder’s, PARANOIA, Tom Young’s SILENT ENEMY, Sarah Pinneo’s JULIA’S CHILD, and I’m now on P.G. Wodehouse’s SUMMER MOONSHINE. Eclectic may not cover it. Promiscuous, or even wanton, might be more descriptive of my reading habits. I usually have two to four books going at once.
What can readers expect to find in Black Fridays?
I hope that my readers come away with two things.
The first is an appreciation for the incredible, often heart-rending, difficulties of living with autism. 1 in 88. If there is not someone now in your extended family who is dealing with this condition, odds are that there soon will be.
But I also would like my readers to walk with me a bit as I try to understand the culture of Wall Street, where the temptations – and pressures – to become corrupt are rampant, but where so many still remain honest and upstanding and just try to do well in a tough job – a job where the lines of proscribed behavior are always clearest in hindsight.