Today we welcome author Ron Felber to the comfy confines of the Gazalapalooza Author Spotlight. Understandably, Felber’s been a busy man since the recent release of his new thriller, A Man of Indeterminate Value. We’re pleased our guest was able to carve out some time from his full schedule to visit with us for a while and share some thoughts about his new book, and writing generally.
Many of you recognize Felber’s name from his association with the popular Fox television program, "The Mob Doctor." His 2004 nonfiction book, Il Dottore: The Double Life of a Mafia Doctor, tells the story about a kid from the Bronx who grew up to become a Mafia insider and physician to top New York Mafia dons such as John Gotti, Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano, and Joe Bonanno. Il Dottore was the inspiration for that show.
Gelber’s follow-up to Il Dottore was 2011’s The Hunt for Kuhn Sa, the true story of American authorities’ battle against an international heroin kingpin whose misanthropic reign at the end of the 20th century had the U.S. State Department calling him "the most evil man in the world." American law and drug enforcement needed to take down this drug lord, as much to rid the world of his trade as because Kuhn Sa’s savage rise to power couldn’t have happened without an assist from the CIA.
Felber brings the same hard-nosed research and meticulous attention to detail that make Il Dottore and The Hunt for Kuhn Sa enthralling reads to his brand new novel. A Man of Indeterminate Value is as much a gripping contemporary thriller as it is a riveting exposé of brutal American corporate greed, corruption and myopia. Felber draws on some of his own experiences as CEO of a U.S. manufacturing company, a former deputy sheriff, and a competitive boxer, to bring to life his new book’s main character, an anti-hero Jack Madson. Madson learns the hard way that despite what he thought he knew, happiness and money have little to do with one another, and quite often more of one inevitably equals less of the other.
Now that our guest’s deep background has been laid bare for your education and entertainment, it’s time to strap Felber tightly into the Spotlight’s hard wooden chair, flare up our battery of unforgiving klieg lights, and get this interview underway. Felber seems like a pretty tough guy. He should come through this Spotlight with flying colors. Without further ado, let’s rev this Spotlight up and see.
Gazala: In my omnipotence, I've sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I've decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I'll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you'd choose to take with you, and why you choose them.
Felber: Tough question, Richard. For fiction, I think it would be All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy. For someone who's never read the novel or is unfamiliar with McCarthy's writing, the title might be a little off-putting, even prissy sounding. But make no mistake about it, this book is as terse and gritty as anything you'll ever read, with prose that seeps through your pores and into your soul. Also, I'm very fond of the themes that he writes about—truly American themes that capture what it means to be an American in its most ideal sense. The simple justice and intense honor of his protagonist, John Grady, captures something very special about the American experience, something I delve into deeply with Jack Madson, the main character in A Man of Indeterminate Value.
So far as non-fiction, I'm very partial to Norman Mailer's books, like Armies of the Night, and Of a Fire on the Moon. But I would go with Mailer’s The Executioner's Song, if forced to pick just one. Just as McCarthy shows us the American ideal in his character, John Grady, Mailer in his novelistic non-fiction rendering of murderer and death-row inmate Gary Gilmore, explores the American dream gone awry. Like Frankenstein's monster, we see Gilmore’s dark rise and death, with wires and shorted-out electrodes set sputtering out from the sides of his head. Eerie and surreal, it's about as close as most of us will ever get to understanding the mind of a killer and his interactions with the society we live in.
Gazala: Your latest book is an excellent and gripping novel titled A Man of Indeterminate Value, featuring ex-cop Jack Madson, a disgraced Wall Street take-over artist and target of a failed suicide scam that leaves him the "most wanted" man in New Jersey. I've read it. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about A Man of Indeterminate Value, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.
Felber: Thanks for the compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed A Man of Indeterminate Value. For those who need a nudge to go out and read it themselves, I'd say first, it's one of those novels you read in a sitting and then are disappointed that you've finished and can't spend more time with the characters you've gotten so close to. Jack Madson may not be the nicest fellow you'll ever run into, but he may be the most captivating because once you buddy-up with Jack, you're in for the ride of your life. Trapped in a loveless marriage and in a job at a Wall Street "churn ‛n’ burn" takeover house that guts American companies and spins them at huge profits to Asian firms, all the while drowning in the debt his socialite wife is racking up, Madson wants out. How to do it? Fake your own death in a Jersey Shore boating accident. Let your wife and daughter collect the $4 million in life insurance money. Then leave the east coast; you’re a dead man headed for Queretaro, Mexico, where the Chin Chou Triad has stashed a cool $2.5 million in a bank account for you in return for the intellectual property you've been stealing and secretly selling to them for the past five years. A foolproof plan? Not if you've attracted the interest of Martin Phials, the obsessive insurance investigator who is convinced Jack Madson never really died! Murder, intense drama, and then there’s also Jack's beautiful mistress, Tomi Fabri, from the Head2Toe escort service…
Gazala: What are books for?
Felber: Let me, if I may, Richard, slightly re-phrase the question to, "What are good books for?" I'll start with bad ones, anyway. If the author's intention is to tell a story that is meaningful to readers, even if it's not as entertaining as one would like, I give that author credit for trying. But writing, like anything else—painting, music, soccer, for that matter—requires practice and study in order to cultivate the skills necessary to write a "good" or "great" book. A good or great book in my opinion is both entertaining (riveting is even better!), and tells a story that is pertinent to the lives of readers. By pertinent, I mean the story, or plights of the characters, provide an insight into the way life operates and the consequences/rewards one might expect in living a certain way. Also, I believe good books, fiction or non-fiction, elevate the worth of being human. They inspire people to live a considered life based on choices and a person's own philosophy about how this time we have here on earth can best be lived. Books bring dignity and meaning to us in a world where human dignity seems diminished daily.
Gazala: W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Do you agree, or disagree, and why?
Felber: By the way, if you asked me about my favorite short story, it would be "Rain," by Somerset Maugham. But since you asked about his statement on the three rules of writing a novel, I'd say there are three rules or so. One, write for your audience, not yourself. Two, know how to entertain your reader. Even in tribal days, the tribe's story teller conjured tales that were captivating, not boring. Three, have something to say that means something to your audience. A writer needs to provide insight into the topic he or she has chosen to write about. The work should be in some way instructive while entertaining at the same time. One of the aspects of Rod Serling's work that I admired as a kid growing up was that through his fascinating sci-fi teleplays, he told us something about ourselves and the society we live in.
Gazala: A sketchy Wall Street banker is slinking around my front door, and I best go see what he's up to before something unpleasant happens. Ask yourself a question, and answer it.
Felber: Q: Would I be worried to find a sleazy Wall Street banker slinking around my house? A: Yes, because as we have to lawyers, we have turned over to Wall Street the power to destroy a person's wealth with a phone call or the push of a button. Though I am in business myself and run a large manufacturing company, the dependence of the individual on systematized global computer networks makes anything Orwell envisioned in his novel 1984 appear child's play. Just recently, we learned that IRS audits were made on groups unfriendly to the current administration in order to take them out of operation during key moments of the last election. Of course, this harkens back to the Nixon years; but the capabilities of governments domestic and foreign, not to mention the mafia, for example, to wipe out an individual's wealth and/or identity with the stroke of a computer key has never been more genuine than today. The expression is "speed kills," but they got it wrong. In the end, it is "greed" that kills entire civilizations.
Generally speaking, we concur with Felber that greed is usually bad. At times, though, it’s not necessarily bad. For example, if your greed is to get yourself a copy of Felber’s A Man of Indeterminate Value from Amazon.com, we don’t think that’s bad greed. As a matter of fact, we support that greed, by putting a link to help you feed your greed right here. You're welcome.