For the launch of my third novel, I thought it would be fun to have the story editor, Patrick J. LoBrutto, ask some questions. He’s not only conversant with the novel; he made it better.
Pat, who worked in-house at Bantam and at half a dozen other major imprints, has edited more books than most people read in a lifetime. Over a career spanning three decades, he’s worked with Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Eric Van Lustbader, Walter Tevis, the Louis L’Amour Estate, Don Coldsmith, Jack Dann, F. Paul Wilson, Joe R. Lansdale, Brian Herbert, and hundreds of others.
Obviously, if any of my answers come across as incoherent, it’s all Pat’s fault.
Q: Gee…no pressure, huh?
A: Is that your question?
Q: No. Here goes. The Dark Pool is the third of your novels that I’ve edited, and one thing I find interesting about your work is how strong the themes come through without being heavy-handed. Do you begin with an abstract idea or with something more concrete?
A: In Primacy I started with a premise, which led to the apparent theme of animal rights, although the hidden themes of that novel, I think, are more interesting: love and the supremacy of the individual. In Cadaver Blues, the theme of prejudice evolved from the character of Phuoc Goldberg.
With regard to The Dark Pool, I definitely started with a theme. Like many people I’ve been pretty outraged by the behavior of participants in our financial markets. In the media a lot of attention has gone to bonuses and financial incentives, regulation, fairness—those sorts of things. But there’s not very much emphasis on the human element, which is where novelists live. What interests me most is that these traders press a button and it’s just a trade to them, but real people somewhere else down the line can get hurt—even have their lives destroyed. It took me awhile to figure out how to dramatize that concept.
Q: Some years ago I was sitting next to Tony Hillerman at an awards dinner and we got to talking about how he had the idea for one of his novels. Specifically he was inspired by an image that he’d seen driving down the road, which he then filtered through what he knew about American Indian customs and his writer’s brain. Beyond the fact of traders pressing buttons, how much of the central premise of The Dark Pool comes from your experiences?
A: Up until a few years ago, I lived for two decades in northern Westchester County, where many of Wall Street’s top players have farms and estates. I rode the train with some of the mere millionaires. I played tennis several times at a billionaire’s house. My wife and I owned a saddle shop for a decade, and more than a few of these people maintained house accounts with us. So I saw what makes many of them tick. It’s a game to them, but it’s a game they’re dead serious about winning. Really it’s a very small step from their relentlessness—or should I say, ruthlessness—to the plot of a thriller.
Q: So they’re bad people?
A: Interestingly enough, I wouldn’t say that. My oldest friend manages a hedge fund and I don’t think he has a bad bone in his body. But these guys are as detached from the folks whose lives they affect as any king named Louis. Yet, unlike Louis XVI, they underestimate their own power. Every time they sneeze on a trading floor in Greenwich, a guy working at some Ohio factory comes down with the plague.
Q: Some of the locations in the novel are made up, while others are real and specific. How do you make that choice?
A: There’s a tradeoff. The closer to reality you get, the more handcuffed you are. But real places help ground the reader. In real life, the locus of much hedge fund activity is Greenwich, Connecticut, and most people know that. So I placed the main character who’s a hedge fund manager there. If I’d put him in some made-up place, that would’ve taken too many readers out of the story. And Greenwich, let’s face it, has a distinct reputation. So I’m trading a bit on that sexiness.
Q: What’s your favorite quote from the book?
A: You read it, Pat. What’s yours?
Q: I’ll tell you. At one point, as the mystery starts to reveal itself, Antwon, the poor kid from the Bronx who’s in way over his head, ends up sitting in this nice clean office. He’s twelve hours past having seen two guys murdered, and he thinks: “Here in the fancy well-heated office, everything seemed calm. But out in the cold real world, blood ran in the streets.”
A: I like that myself. And we’re back to theme, aren’t we? That’s Antwon’s realization that he’s a pawn in a much bigger game. Not even a pawn, really—just collateral damage in the machinations of the rich.
Q: Finally, I’ll pretend not to know what your next project is—even though I’ll be editing it soon—and ask what your next project is.
A: Brilliant, man. I’m working on a series of police procedural thrillers about a very particular group in New York City. Three dozen highly trained cops fighting to keep the City safe. My agent won’t let me tell the public more about the series yet, but I’ll say that I have a dream duo of two technical consultants. One is a former top FBI agent and the other is the current commander of the NYPD group that I’m talking about. Big medicine, both of them. I only hope I can do them justice.
Q: If you screw it up, I’ll fix it.
A: I’m counting on that.