10 Questions with Ted Scofield
1. Mr. Scofield, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your debut financial thriller, EAT WHAT YOU KILL, came out today. Tell us a bit more about this book.
Thank you. It’s an honor. As a first-time novelist, it’s exciting and new to be asked about my book.
EAT WHAT YOU KILL has been described as American Psycho meets Wall Street. On the surface, it’s a fast-paced, (hopefully) entertaining story about an intriguing young man obsessed with money – and the material possessions, both animate and inanimate, money can provide.
But lurking just below the surface is a morality tale and anti-objectivist polemic. The book examines what I believe is the logical – and inevitable – endpoint of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.
2. Where did the inspiration for this story come from, and how much of it is true and how much is fiction?
Sometime around my eighteenth birthday, I shorted a stock for the first time; that is, I bet the stock’s price would fall. I had about two grand riding on it, and I was nervous. I thought to myself, What would I be willing to do to make the stock go down if it insisted on going up? What if my entire net worth or reputation were riding on the bet?
At that moment, the seed was planted.
Over the next fifteen years I went to college, worked in politics, went to both business and law school, and toiled in the trenches as an attorney for a multi-national law firm representing “Wall Street” clients.
And the story grew, around a character I feared I knew too well.
I didn’t realize until years later, after I had finished the novel, that the protagonist, Evan, and I share initials (my real name is Edward).
3. Why do you write? Why thrillers?
I write because it is the most challenging, gut-wrenching, terrifying yet rewarding experience I have ever endured/enjoyed. With EAT WHAT YOU KILL, I contemplated every single sentence, and often every single word in the sentence. I hope part of that pathology was due to inexperience. I pray I can shorten the process with the sequel.
Honestly I never intended to write this type of novel we call a “thriller” and did not realize EAT WHAT YOU KILL was a thriller until my agent put a label on it. I set out to write down the story in my head. It spread out like a spider’s web, but all of the major plot points were there all along.
4. What are your writing habits? Outline or not?
With EAT WHAT YOU KILL, the notion of “habit” is far too generous. I didn’t have one. When the story had advanced in my head, not in general terms but the actual wording, I would write it down, longhand. Once again, this process, or lack thereof, must change with the sequel, and I must discover a more disciplined approach, but for the life of me I can’t predict what it will be.
I did not outline EAT WHAT YOU KILL and I don’t plan to outline the sequel. I know many of the major plot points and I’ll just see what happens along the way.
I must add, I am a life-long, super-organized non-fiction outliner. I sought out university classes with term papers because I enjoyed the research, outlining and writing. But, so far, with fiction, that process just doesn’t seem to work for me. For me, it hasn’t translated to creative writing.
5. What kind of research did you do for EAT WHAT YOU KILL?
I did quite a bit of very specific research, primarily on locations, products and industries. I also re-read Rand, Camus, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Conrad, and Eliot, among others. And I had the incredible experience of visiting the New York Public Library’s Rare Books Division to review an antique translation of Leon Battista Alberti’s Della Famiglia. Why? Alberti was a fascinating 15th century Florentine and, I insist, a proto-objectivist. Near the end of EAT WHAT YOU KILL, our protagonist quotes him: “To those of noble and liberal spirit, no occupations seem less brilliant than those whose purpose is to make money.”
That being said, I feel like everything I experience and read – from the quotidian to the sublime, from the daily newspaper to some odd theological treatise to today’s bestselling novel – is research. I kept a running list, pages and pages, of interesting things that I wanted to include. I read about a fancy shoe in GQ and it’s in the book. I met the owner of a new tequila brand and it’s in the book. A tour guide in Italy explained campanilismo, and it’s in the book. You get the picture. With EAT WHAT YOU KILL, about ninety percent of my list of items made it in.
6. What is the single most important thing you have learned during the writing process of crafting a novel?
A good writer is not necessarily a good storyteller, and a good storyteller is not necessarily a good writer. A certain level of technical skill is of course required, but that alone does not a novel make. A well-crafted novel must balance story and skill.
7. A word of advice for new writers?
Isn’t it always the same? “Don’t quit your day job.” But seriously, achieving the balance of story and skill takes time and patience. You must write well, and you must have something – story – to write well. If you’re in a rush, you’ll be disappointed.
And, besides, the process is incredibly slow-moving. You’ll finish your novel, jump for joy, and then the agent query process begins. Hopefully months, if not years, later, you’ll secure your literary agent. Then your agent starts querying publishers. Certainly weeks will pass, if not months or even years, and your book will find a home. You will rejoice. Eventually your editor will pick a publication date, most likely anywhere from twelve to thirty months after the ink dried on your contract. From first word to bookshelf? Ouch, I don’t even want to think about it.
8. What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of the self-publishing? Did you ever consider it or might you consider it in the future?
I never considered self-publishing and can not foresee circumstances under which I would. I certainly don’t oppose it and I wish the best of luck to those writers who go for it, but I personally need the institutional screens to improve my work. Starting with several agents, most notably my own, and then moving to Charlie Spicer, my talented editor at St. Martin’s, EAT WHAT YOU KILL is a far better book than it would have been had I self-published.
(Certainly I understand that a writer can hire an editor to critique an unpublished work, but I wonder if the incentives are the same, and therefore the results.)
9. What are your favorite pastimes?
My wife, Christi, and I live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a short walk to Central Park, any I love to run on the bridal path. It’s the only time of day I’m disconnected. I don’t run out of obligation or because my doctor tells me I should; I run out of pure joy.
Like most all writers, I’m an avid reader. At any given moment I’m reading a novel, a non-fiction book, something with a theological or philosophical angle, and a New Yorker.
Christi is a talented contemporary artist, and, fortunately, I have always enjoyed visiting art museums and galleries. Now, having seen it created in our NYC apartment, my appreciation for fine art has increased exponentially, and we spend a lot of time absorbing it.
I’m also a scuba diver, but sadly I have far too few opportunities to indulge my passion for breathing underwater. That will change in the future, I tell myself year after year.
Finally, Christi and I enjoy exploring New York City and traveling the globe. Over the past couple of years we’ve lived in Paris for three months, and in May we’re going on a tour of Germany and Austria to study Martin Luther, stopping at biergärtens along the way. We call it our “Bible and Beers” tour.
10. What is your next book going to be about?
I’ve started to write the sequel to EAT WHAT YOU KILL and it’s absolutely invigorating to be back in the story again.