By Ethan Cross
Mike Cooper is an award-winning author whose newest work, CLAWBACK, has been described by #1 NYT Bestselling Author Brad Thor as “fantastic” and “my kind of thriller.” It delves into the heart of America’s economic system, exposing a small part of the corruption and villainy that have thrown the world into economic turmoil.
America might be slogging through its worst recession in seventy years, but Wall Street is back in glory – until the killing starts.
As CLAWBACK opens, an assassin has begun shooting the country’s worst-performing financiers. A bottom-ranked investment manager; a hedge fund partner down ninety percent; a rotten banker. Someone’s slogan seems to be, “Don’t bail them out, take them out!”
A coalition of banksters hires a fixer, the sort of contractor whose job description opens with “total deniability” and ends with “unlicensed machine guns.” As bodies fall and markets plunge, he ranges the Greenwich-Midtown axis with an equalizer and an attitude – only to realize he’s become a target himself.
I had the opportunity to converse with Mike Cooper about his newest work, how he manages a writing career and personal life, and what’s to come next for an author whose writing has been described as “sharp, invigorating and remarkably assured.”
What aspects of CLAWBACK do you feel set it apart from other thrillers on the market today?
In a way, I’m surprised there aren’t more thrillers that address Wall Street’s recent demolition of the world’s economy. It seems to offer everything: venal deeds and rotten villains, vast criminal enterprise and gilded corruption. CLAWBACK’s contribution is to treat these themes somewhat playfully, with the same sort of cynicism and dark humor that suffuses bankster culture itself.
Under a different name, your work has received wide recognition, including a Shamus Award and a Thriller nomination. But now you’ve chosen to use a pseudonym. Can you explain some of the reasoning behind that decision?
Well, my other name is an East European agglomeration of consonants that no one can ever spell, remember, look up on the internet or find in a bookstore – at the very end of the alphabet, too. It’s a branding thing: Cooper sticks so much more easily in people’s mental space.
In addition to writing, you also manage a household as a stay-at-home dad. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in balancing your writing career and your other responsibilities?
“Manage a household” – yes! I’m CEO of this family! If only the children recognized that … seriously, it’s worked out great, ever since our daughter was born and we decided that I’d be the at-home parent. It was a little tough when the second child arrived and my free time totally evaporated, but now that they’re in grade school I do have a few hours to write every morning.
What does a typical writing day look like for Mike Cooper? Do you have any tips or wisdom in regard to finding the time to write?
Only the obvious suggestion: stay the hell off Facebook and Twitter! Between wasting time online and general sloth and procrastination, it’s a wonder I ever finish anything at all. I do try to ask for deadlines on every project, and that helps a little.
Is CLAWBACK the first in a new series?
Indeed. I’m wrapping up the sequel now, which Viking will publish in 2013, and I’m hopeful there will be further books beyond that.
What kind of research did you conduct for CLAWBACK?
Oh, the usual – poking around on Street View and Google, various background material, and talking to people in the industry. But mostly it’s just reading the news every day – two newspapers (the old-fashioned paper kind), a dozen magazines, plus about forty RSS feeds and other online sources. I tend not to research specific questions until after I’ve finished a first draft; that way I know exactly what I need to look up, which I find more efficient.
Was there anything particularly interesting that you discovered during your research that didn’t make it into the novel or something that you’d like to highlight?
Hmm. I’ll say this: the world’s financial elite, the billionaire hedge fund managers and financiers, live on an utterly different plane of existence. I literally cannot imagine what life is like on an eight-figure annual income – when every material whim can be instantly gratified. Of course, people are people, and all the usual base emotions and drives are still there. Which is fortunate, because writing about them would otherwise become a mere catalog of very expensive trinkets.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books/authors and who has had the greatest influence upon your work?
As it happens, I’m in the middle of Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, an extraordinary “narrative non-fiction” account of life in a desperately poor Mumbai slum. What I just said about the lives of the plutocratic elite applies equally well at the other end of the economic spectrum: even in the most appalling poverty imaginable, people have dreams and hopes and resentments and jealousies, like everyone else. It’s a lesson we would all do well to remember.
What’s something that you’ve learned about the publishing business that you weren’t expecting?
How tiring it is to write 90,000 words on deadline. Man, that’s work, even if no one who isn’t a writer believes it!
Do you have any advice for aspiring (or struggling) writers out there?
I’m going to push back against current wisdom, which suggests that volume is all-important. Go slow. Revise. A good set of readers is important; a great editor is even more important. No matter how good I think my second or third draft is, it’s always much better after someone’s helped me go through it again (and again).
Can we get a sneak peek at what’s to come next for Mike Cooper?
Look for a Silas Cade story in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine very soon! I’m also in the new MWA anthology Vengeance, which will be released in April. And as I mentioned, the sequel to CLAWBACK will be published next year.
Mike Cooper is the pseudonym of a former jack-of-all-trades. Under a different name his work has received wide recognition, including a Shamus Award, a Thriller nomination, and inclusion in BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES. Mike lives outside Boston with his family.
To learn more about Mike, please visit his website.