Ted Scofield Explores Wall Street’s Dark Politics in 'Eat What You Kill'
Eat What You Kill’s Evan Stoess grew up in a trailer park, but he isn’t ever going back. A Wall Street analyst who has experienced first-hand how easy it is to rise and fall, he takes every opportunity to chase down what he wants. As his hunger for success heightens, his morals begin dropping at an alarming rate. Ted Scofield’s debut novel is a tale of the greed, envy, and the dangers of giving in to the alluring temptress that is Wall Street. Is Stoess a singular case, just a fictional Wolf of Wall Street? Scofield doesn’t think so, in fact, he thinks there’s a bit of Stoess in all of us.
Bookish: Your protagonist, Evan Stoess, is a small-time Wall Street analyst who violently resents the new rules that have been put in place by the federal government to prevent a repeat of the 2008 collapse. You lived in that world as a securities attorney. Do you think we have enough safeguards in place now?
Ted Scofield: Our economy, and our financial markets, always have and always will “boom” and “bust.” No amount of regulation will prevent it.
I certainly do not oppose the various regulations put in place since the Great Recession. Imperfect humans with agendas created them, and imperfect humans with agendas will circumvent them.
Bookish: Evan is so driven by bitterness and anger that he can’t seem to fully enjoy anything in his own life, no matter how good it gets. Did you draw this character from people you knew in real life?
TS: Evan is a character I believe just about anyone could be, if forced to endure his circumstances, including me. Regarding money, Eat What You Kill’s mystery man says to Evan, “It’s never enough.” If people are truly honest with themselves, how many would disagree?
The bottom line is, envy is omnipresent at every level of economic status, and I don’t believe 99.9% of Americans are ever satisfied with what they have in life.
Bookish: Eat What You Kill tends to portray hedge fund managers, and short-sellers especially, as truly without any conscience beyond the bottom line. Is this how you feel?
TS: Greed is a human condition, across the board. Wall Street attracts some of the brightest and most highly motivated people on our planet, and of course they’re going to do it bigger than the average person.
So do I feel that hedge-funders and short-sellers are any less scrupulous than the rest of us? No. They’re just better at it.
Bookish: For your first novel, you’ve plotted out a complex storyline.How much did you have to plot out beforehand and how much did you just wing it?
TS: The major plot points were in my head, a story I needed to write down. I didn’t outline or plan anything in between; I just let the story run. And when it runs someplace unexpected and fun, it’s an awesome feeling.
Bookish: You took a risk going with a protagonist that’s hard to identify with. Did anyone you showed the early drafts to try to dissuade you—ask you to go with a hero who was fighting the 1% instead of dying to join it?
TS: Indeed, Evan is a challenging protagonist. But I didn’t realize it, or think about it, while writing the book. He is who he is. I don’t believe I could have changed him anymore than I can change you or me.
To help readers understand him, I did move some of his backstory up in the book, so readers learn about his troubled background earlier.
Reactions to Evan have been truly remarkable. Some readers loathe him and can’t get past his behavior. Other readers pity him, understand his pathology, and, while not cheering for him, identify with him. Some other readers absolutely root for him. More than one person has said to me, “Evan does what we all want to do but don’t have the guts to actually do.” That is wonderfully disturbing.
Bookish: This novel tackles the idea of economic inequality in America on every page. Do you think the 1% are paying their share?
TS: I worry when I hear indefinable terms like “fair share,” and I don’t presume to have an acceptable definition. I do know the data. The top 1% earn about 19% of all the income in the US and pay about 38% of income taxes. The top 10% earn 45% of all income and pay 71% of income taxes.
What would the inimitable Bill Maher say? He addressed the question in March 2013: “Rich people actually do pay the freight in this country. I just saw the statistics. It’s something like 70%. And here in California—I just want to say, liberals, you could actually lose me—it’s outrageous what we’re paying. Over 50%. I’m willing to pay my fair share, but yeah, I mean, it’s ridiculous.”
Bookish: Ayn Rand is Evan’s religion; he quotes her like a mantra. Are you a fan?
TS: Like all “-isms,” objectivism, when taken to an extreme by a self-interested human, is dangerous. Rand was a category-buster, a fact that is conveniently ignored by both her fans and her detractors. She was anti-tax, pro-choice, anti-altruism, anti-collectivism, and an atheist. Like everyone who studies her work and philosophy, I agree with some of her positions, and I reject many more. I’ve never met a person who agrees with all of the tenets of objectivism.
Bookish: Do you have a favorite indie bookstore?
TS: I have several favorites [in New York City]! Of course there’s no better place to spend a few hours than the Strand. The art and international books at Rizzoli in Midtown are incredible. In Tribeca, I love the Mysterious Bookshop, and in Brooklyn it doesn’t get any better than Greenlight. Finally, no visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is complete without a long visit to its bookshop.
Ted Scofield earned his BA, JD, and MBA at Vanderbilt University before beginning his career as a securities attorney. He now serves as the Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel of Icebreaker Entertainment. Scofield lives in Manhattan with his wife. Eat What You Kill is his first novel.
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