First there was the fall of the dot-coms. Then there was the fall of Enron. Yesterday, there was the sentencing of Bernard Madoff to 150 years in prison. But now, it's time for the fall of Core Communications: the fictionalized big-business scam at the heart of Memphian Eric Barnes' debut novel, Shimmer (Unbridled Books).
Barnes is discussing and signing copies of Shimmer at Davis-Kidd Booksellers today, June 30th, starting at 6 p.m. Just don't expect the author to be quitting his day job anytime soon. (He's publisher of the Memphis Daily News and the Memphis News.) And don't think of Shimmer as another corporate thriller. Barnes doesn't see it that way. Here's why. And here's more.
On the very idea:
"I wrote the original draft of Shimmer back when the dot-coms were still going strong. The company I was working for was trying to raise venture capital in that environment. The venture capitalists always wanted the financial information presented a new way. And so, as I'd put the spreadsheets together one way or another, as they requested, my mind started thinking about how one could completely manipulate the information in the files. It was all fundamentally a matter of trust. And if you violated that trust, just by changing one number or another, who would know?
"I didn't manipulate the numbers. Instead, I wrote Shimmer.
"As I was writing it, though, I had thoughts that the lie at the heart of the book was just too much. Too unbelievable. I thought I'd pushed too far. Then Enron exploded. And I thought, Oh, great, you didn't push far enough.
"But now I realize it is its own story, this book. There are similarities to Enron, to a thousand failed dot-coms, and, lately, to scams like those by Bernard Madoff and (allegedly) Allen Stanford. The coincidence of that is, I guess, nice for the book — although sometimes people look at Shimmer like it's a quick ripoff of recent events. I have to explain how long ago I wrote it.
"And although the marketing of the book — the jacket copy, for instance — makes a big deal of it being a 'corporate thriller,' Shimmer is ultimately a book about the characters, the people who work at the company. People tell me it's a page turner, which is great, but to me it's a fundamentally dark and sad book about the ethical, even moral, consequences of the choices the narrator is making."
On early reaction to the book:
"It's been great. Bookstores around the country have been getting copies, and there have been many very nice comments from them. It's gratifying and slightly humbling to have these people I've never seen or met read the book and take the time to write up a review. They're here, if you want to see them.
"The book is also an IndieNext Pick for July, which is great. It's a list of featured books from Indiebound, the marketing arm of the American Booksellers Association. They send the list of IndieNext Picks to all the independent bookstores nationwide. It's great publicity."
On the chances of another novel:
"I'm finishing edits on a manuscript about a bankrupt bill collector hiding out in Alaska. Apparently, I have a thing for lying narrators and financial malfeasance."
And on the chances that Barnes might one day quit his day job:
"I certainly wish I had more time to write. But work, especially work in journalism, exposes me to all kinds of people and ideas. Being locked away at my desk, writing for eight hours a day, would, I think, get to be a little isolating. Plus, writing's no way to put food on the table (let alone kids through college)."