sA Conversation with Douglas Brunt

Q: You are the former CEO of a private venture-backed Internet security company. What inspired you to start writing?

DB: I’ve always loved literature. I was very shy as a kid and for shy people, literature is a great thing.  It’s a safe place to go. I’m a bit less shy now, but still love to lose myself in both reading and writing. The writing has generally been something I did as a hobby.  During a fairly stressful career as a CEO, sometimes in order to relax—usually on an airplane or on the weekend—I would choose to write rather than read. That’s how this novel began.

Q: This is your debut novel. Can you describe this experience? What was the most challenging part of the process? The most rewarding?

DB: I had an idea for the big picture of the novel from the beginning. Writing the first draft was a pleasure, and as I mentioned, became a way to relax. The hard stages were the many iterations of edits and refinements when I hadn’t yet made writing a career and didn’t have a clear path to anyone other than family ever reading it. The most rewarding part was seeing how much better the novel became after those many iterations.

Q: Ghosts of Manhattan centers around the now-defunct Bear Stearns. What kind of research did you do before writing Ghosts of Manhattan? Why did you choose to base Nick’s story in the year 2005

DB: I read a number of books about the financial crisis, including Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin and The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, to name two. I worked as a money markets broker for two years in my first job out of college. I also have many friends and acquaintances who work in sales and trading in New York.  Many of my friends sat with me to help create a credible backdrop for the novel.

I picked 2005 because the ensuing financial crisis allowed me to address the themes of greed and hypocrisy that I was so interested in. It also let me examine the ignorance of and disregard for the catastrophes that people with little apparent power can create.

Q: How did you come to the title Ghosts of Manhattan? Were there any other titles you considered?

DB: It came to me while I was sitting on an airplane writing the second chapter, though at that time I had a vision for the complete novel. So, I knew the message I wanted to convey with the title. It was the only title I considered.

Q: How closely are characters—like Jerry Cavanagh, Dale Brown, and Jack Wilson—modeled or inspired by people you’ve encountered in the financial world?

DB: The characters are amalgamations of people I know, have read about, or have heard stories about from friends. Fortunately, or by subconscious design, none of my friends is a match for these characters, though every sales and trading floor has them

Q: The novel ends before the financial meltdown that Freddie predicts actually occurs. What do you think Nick’s reaction would have been?

DB: When Bear collapsed, he may have briefly considered that Karma exists.

Q: You evoke New York City vividly in this novel, and the particular time in which this book is set. How did writing about such a controversial, hot button current event influence your writing? Was it difficult to develop this fictional story within that accurate historical context?

DB: Living in New York is a great advantage for a writer. For a person who naturally makes observations, there is no richer place. The financial crisis is also a great source of material to work with. Taken together, I had plenty of places to go.

Q: Do you see any part of yourself in Nick’s character?

DB: Had I continued to work in sales and trading as a career, I may have resembled Nick in some way. That’s all I’ll admit to.

Q: What kind of conversations do you hope Ghosts of Manhattan will spark?

DB: I hope it will spark a conversation about the choices we make in the pursuit of happiness and about the cost of pursuing a false goal.  It takes awareness and courage to make the kind of changes that Nick, and many of us, need to make.