Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Alzheimer's, Forty-billion missing dollars, and Russian Gangsters: An interview with thriller author Helen Hanson

Today, I'm welcoming back thriller author Helen Hanson. After reviewing and enjoying her book 3 Lies at Good Book Alert, I previously invited her over for an interview. She just released a new thriller, Dark Pool, and I've invited her back again for another interview.


1) Tell us about your book.

To me, DARK POOL is a novel about the expectations we make in life. We tend to gauge our happiness or success by how well those expectations are met.  But we don’t always get a vote regarding our circumstances.

Here’s the official pixel-and-dust jacket blurb:

~ Forty Billion Reasons to Kill

By this time in her life, Maggie Fender expected to be on her way to law school. Instead she’s far from any degree, waiting tables to support her teenage half-brother and their ailing father. With early onset Alzheimer’s, her father’s lucid moments are few and unpredictable.

Her brother’s legal defense for felony hacking charges strained their finances to a snap. In spite of the conviction, he claims he was framed. But now that he’s on parole, he also claims their father is sending them messages.

Maggie’s tired of the struggle, but she’s everybody’s legal guardian. Slowing down will lead to disaster. She can hustle. Or face financial ruin.

This isn’t the life she envisioned.

In the news, disgraced hedge fund manager Patty O’Mara awaits trial for bilking investors out of forty billion dollars. The legendary dark pool wizard offered phenomenal profits until the SEC examined his books. Then they discovered O’Mara didn’t make any legitimate trades on the market.

O’Mara ran his hedge fund the way Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff ran theirs. It was all a fraud.

One wealthy investor rallies the troop of irate victims by hiring a noted private investigator to find the missing pot of gold. A Russian mobster, out thirty million in cash, prefers to search for the money alone and without witnesses. Their competing efforts sift the same set of facts.

So why are they interested in Maggie Fender’s incoherent father?

While SEC officials try to rebuild credibility for allowing the financial scandal to rage unchecked, the private investigator and the Russian mobster vie to answer a solitary question:

What happened to all that money? 

2) Your last book was a twist on fears of terrorism. This book is more a twist on the fear of Wall Street "fat cats" as it were. Anyone reading the book can't escape the parallels to Bernie Madoff. Was this book directly inspired by Madoff's Ponzi scheme or did you already have a similar idea when the Madoff scandal broke?

I was pondering a plot with a financial element when the Bernie Madoff scandal hit the wires.  His incredible story certainly fueled mine.  I liken his offense to that of a poisoner.  Poisoners are typically women and are often wives who murder their husbands over a long period of time.  She’ll feed him a little arsenic every day with his breakfast burrito, and then scurry to the store for Maalox when his tummy is upset.  She’s right by his side simmering with evil as his life slowly bleeds.  

How does a human do that to another?  I get shooting someone in the head.  Blam! It’s quick and requires little aforethought.  Regret may or may not follow.

But Bernie Madoff assumed a fiduciary responsibility to protect the financial assets of his clients.  As such, he bore a legal and moral obligation to be faithful to his client’s trust, to the point of putting their needs above his own. Instead, it was an investment travesty.  There were some high-profile victims, such as Steven Spielberg, but not all of his victims were able to absorb such a stunning loss.  Entire life savings were wiped out because of one man’s megalomaniacal greed. Positively egregious and, yet, fascinating.

Whether through gross incompetence or outright corruption, the SEC let him continue the slaughter for years.  They failed abysmally to uphold their duty to the people.  I think they should have cells adjoining Madoff’s. 

3) You have an appearance of a character from your previous novel, 3 Lies, in this book. Why do you choose to have the cross-over?

I view my story world as contiguous from one work to the next.  While timelines and locations shift, the people from one novel exist in the realm of the others.   For instance, Travis from Dark Pool was arrested for hacking about the time that Beth from 3 Lies started dialysis. 

If I ever write a science fiction novel, I may have to change this practice.  I don’t envision Maggie Fender battling Nausicaans on Risa.  But if she did, I suspect she would kick butt.

4) One thing that struck me about Dark Pool is the primary protagonists are on the younger side compared to what we saw in 3 Lies. Why did you choose to go that route? Plot-wise you could have told the same story focusing on say, a thirty-something sister and brother.

The “failure to launch” syndrome intrigues me because we typically bear some level of responsibility by the time we hit thirty. It’s the anomalous bloke who finds a way ‘round that fact. This isn’t the case with newly-minted adults.  For them it’s a stage of introspection and self-interest.  It’s a time to figure out their role in life or at least decide which step to take next.  Plus their experience in managing their environment is usually limited.  With Maggie at 22 and Travis at 15, they haven’t had an opportunity to launch.  Caring for their ailing father requires them to step up their game in ways they never expected.

5) Did you find it more difficult to write Dark Pool? The nature of the tension is rather different than what we saw in 3 Lies.

Dark Pool is a more personal story for me in many ways because I lost my father to Alzheimer’s. After my mother passed on, his condition spiraled, and his timeline ceased to be linear.  He’d want to visit people who were long gone.  One time, he asked my sister, “Who was that woman?” after I left the room.  I often wondered what he experienced from his side of the chasm.

Some of us get a glimpse of our future. But not everyone who does so is of the mindset to exploit the advantage.   I liked the idea of Martin Fender preparing for his own demise. 

6) Is there anything you learned from writing 3 Lies that you applied to Dark Pool?

I’m a planner by nature, so my systems for keeping track of storylines, characters, locations, et cetera are much cleaner now.  I know what works and what makes my head spin.  When editing 3 Lies, I compiled a list of my obvious personal excesses as a writer.  I tried to keep these in mind when I wrote my first draft of Dark Pool and used them as a filter on my last.

As an indie writer, the book isn’t finished when you type the final word.  After writing 3 Lies, I still had to deliver it to readers somehow, so I figured out how to format four different editions, and I put them up for sale at five different venues.  I even learned how to prep a cover for the paperback edition.  Each step was another curve to negotiate. With Dark Pool, it took very little time to actually publish.  And I no longer feared the process. 

Except marketing.  I still fear marketing.  Sometimes I feel like I’m standing under the lamp post wearing a halter and a mini yelling, “Hey, sailor. Wanna buy my book?”

7) You have financial/legal conspiracy and international espionage covered. What's next for you? Will anyone from 3 Lies and Dark Pool make it into your next book?

I suspect someone from 3 Lies or Dark Pool will make an appearance in my next novel.  I’m not certain who that might be, yet.  The protagonist of my current project isn’t a pillar of any community.  Baxter Cruise is a perpetual college student who makes his living by filling your in-box with spam.  Well someone has to do it.


Thanks, Helen.

If you'd like to see more from Helen, please visit her website at

Dark Pool can be purchased at a variety of vendors but here at the links Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and here are the Amazon and Barnes and Noble for 3 Lies.


Helen Hanson said...

Thanks, J.A. I appreciate you sharing your pixels with me today. Plus, it's my birthday~ All the best!

J.A. Beard said...

Happy birthday.