We recently had the pleasure of interviewing author Jeffrey Marshall about his latest novel, “Squeeze Plays.” With a background in financial journalism, Marshall expertly weaves a tale of power, wealth, and corruption in the high stakes world of New York finance. His ability to create complex characters and craft compelling storylines makes Marshall’s work a must-read for fans of suspenseful fiction.
1. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Observant, insightful, pragmatic
2. Your novel “Undetected” was named a “Notable 100” indie book by ShelfUnbound for 2020. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the book, and how you felt about receiving this recognition?
I wanted to write a psychological thriller, a genre that has been a favorite of mine for many years. None of the characters is truly based on someone I know, but on composites, and I felt I wanted to make a damaged woman the central figure – and villain – in the book. I was delighted to receive this recognition, which serves as some validation for a novelist. Squeeze Plays, my latest novel, received a similar award for 2022.
3. You have two rambunctious dogs, Maggie and Blaze. Do they ever make an appearance in your writing, and if so, in what ways?
No, I haven’t found a place for them yet!
4. You have traveled extensively throughout the United States. Can you tell us about any memorable experiences or places that have inspired your writing?
I wouldn’t say that places have been an inspiration, but they have figured as color and setting for the action in both Undetected and Squeeze Plays. I’m thinking particularly of Cape Cod and Nantucket in Massachusetts and Manhattan, where I worked for many years.
5. You are also inclined towards environmental subjects. Why do you choose it—out of interest or to work with the two national boards of Trout Unlimited?
I have been an amateur naturalist of sorts since childhood, with a particular interest in birds and trees wherever I travel. Climate change and habitat loss threaten wildlife everywhere, I am a donor to many environmental causes around the world. My involvement in Trout Unlimited stems from my interest in fly fishing (often for trout), which dates back to late childhood. The organization is the premier group in the US trying to preserve and enhance cold-water fishing.
6. History and journalism have been your disciplines. Would you like to share what practical experiences students should have despite their theoretical studies in these disciplines?
It’s hard to talk about history as anything but theoretical, in a way, because it’s about the past, though clearly students of history can make assumptions about its influence in the present. Journalism, however, is very much about practical experience and the present: what are you seeing and hearing, and what would you say or write to convey that to readers or viewers so they can understand it? Experience and learning how to present context can be tremendously valuable in journalism.
7. Writing books or even short stories demands patience and self-introspection, which ultimately leads to family isolation. What do you think an author can write with or without family cooperation?
In a way, yes – many writers have studios or rooms where they sequester themselves as they write, away from family. In that sense, the family is not really a concern. Ultimately, however, the notion of family approval is important; it sustains a writer and hopefully provides encouragement and support.
8. Your book interests are towards historical novels and biographies. Would you like to share a few of your favourite shelf books
One of my all-time favorite books is Nicholas and Alexandra, Robert Massie’s epic biography of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his doomed family, murdered during the Russian Revolution. It was a fascinating depiction of a close family torn apart by forces beyond their control.
I’d also mention historical novels like The Alienist, which featured prominent figure like Theodore Roosevelt and JP Morgan is depicting horrible crimes in New York around the turn of the 20th Century, and USA by John dos Passos, which provided a fascinating, kaleidoscopic view of the 1920s and 1930s in the US.
9. In contemporary times, independent media powers rest on elite interests. Do you think business journalism is also influenced by big players ?
Absolutely. Look at Rupert Murdoch’s control of The Wall Street Journal, which has backed conservatives and conservative ideas for decades. The same is true to a lesser degree of Forbes magazine, which remains in the Forbes family. And Thomson, a Canadian firm, has a major role in publishing financial news in the US.
10. In Squeeze Plays, you have chosen tremendous characters that showcase not just their subjective experiments but the social context around them. How do you frame such characters?
I think you need to give the characters space and a voice so that readers can begin to understand them and their motivations. In Squeeze Plays, I tried hard to develop the characters over a series of chapters – who are they, how do they live, what challenges do they face? All of this needs to be within the context of where they live and work. My biggest complaint about some novels is that there is too little character development. I want to understand who they are and what motivates them.
11. The book also touches on sexual blackmail. What made you want to include this topic in your story, and how did you go about addressing it in a sensitive and respectful manner?
I felt it was something that would intrigue readers and go beyond simple financial pressures. One of my characters is essentially a tool in the blackmail created by a Russian oligarch, and she, in turn, secretly assists a blackmail scheme that deflects back to him. The subject is handled without a lot of direct action – though there is some – and is implied more than depicted, and certainly not described graphically.
12. Your writings are beyond the circle of romanticism and fantasy, which leads to organic writing, but do you think you have a risk of a short audience?
I take it that by “short” you mean limited. It’s true that romance, fantasy and science fiction novels often have a built-in audience that my books – Undetected, a psychological thriller, and Squeeze Plays, a financial thriller, don’t have. So, there is that risk, and it has proven somewhat true, but I have to write the books that are in me and not try to write to a preconfigured audience with the intent of selling more books. Incidentally, I don’t read those genres and would have a very hard time writing in those fields.
13. Squeeze Plays is a financial thriller that attracts attention to not just loss and profit but institutions themselves. Do you think it’s important for citizens to be aware of economic issues in their country?
I do, but that’s not easy for many people who are working day to day and experience financial issues only in the sense of what impacts them directly: food costs, loan rates, mortgages, etc. I don’t begrudge the fact that the average American doesn’t really care or pay attention to banks and brokerage houses, mergers and acquisitions, and antitrust issues. I do think we would be better off if more people did, but I understand; to countless millions, institutions and the language of business are boring and don’t have immediate impact on their lives.
14. The critical elements of Squeeze Plays are about the character of Crumm’s lavish lifestyle and temptations. What do you think a luxurious life is—an outcome of your class or social conditioning?
It often is. In Crumm’s case, he is the privileged heir to a publishing empire, so it is clearly an issue of class. Another main character, the banker Corbin van Sloot, gets rich through merit, rising through the ranks. One great thing that is always said of America is that anyone can become wealthy; unlike in so many countries where elites or aristocrats are at the top of the heap, there is effectively no barrier to becoming rich in the US.
15. Temptations lead to rash decisions. The trap of the Russian deal was an outcome of Crumm misunderstandings or excessive desires?
There really isn’t any misunderstanding. Crumm takes the bait of the Russian’s investment in his newspaper company because it is losing money and is in bad financial straits that the Russian’s money would improve greatly. And Crumm, always thinking of himself, realizes that continuing losses at the company would crimp his lifestyle.
16. Squeeze Plays has identified the dominant conspicuous consumption of New York City. Why did you place so much emphasis on the presentation of Crumm’s lavish dinners, black-tie soirées, and lifestyle?
The lifestyle for elites in New York is shaped in part by such lavish dinners, social mingling and the trappings of wealth. It’s been that way for generations going back to the Gilded Age of the late 1800s. These social functions are the lubricant for a lot of business and social interactions, and I felt that I needed to show Crumm and his designer wife at these functions.
17. Whitehall Bank CEO, Corbin van Sloot, is showcasing the economic fallacies where loan recovery is a big deal. How would you distinguish between the relationships of banks with the leisure class and the middle class?
There is a clear distinction at most banks in the US between the retail, middle-class market and catering to the wealthy –many create a separate product class that caters to the well-heeled. Banks often operate by an “80-20” rule – 80 percent of their income comes from 20 percent of the client base, and they nurture that base as best they can. Investment banks aim solidly at the leisure class – a recent push by Goldman Sachs into a middle-class product set apparently did poorly.
18. Riposky is simply a portrayal of power and manipulation. Why did you choose to label the Russian oligarch system a threat?
I firmly believe that many Russian oligarachs are shady if not criminal players, laundering money and engaging in bribery and corruption wherever they operate. Many flaunt their wealth with purchases of mega-yachts or sports teams, with those teams often outside Russia. It made perfect sense to me to portray Ripovsky as a player in that system.
19. How do you think readers will relate to the financial reporter character who uncovers the Russian oligarch’s gambit?
I hope they see him as a hero. He sees something potentially nefarious, and he tries to get to the bottom of it. That involves a good bit of courage, including interviewing Ripovsky directly. I like to think that good investigative reporters are critical to shining a light on things that are problems in society or business and cry out to be reformed. In that, they are doing a true public service.
20. What are the most important financial concerns in contemporary times all over the world?
Bankruptcy, corruption, sovereign debt spring quickly to mind. Another major problem is the control in many lesser developed countries of a business elite, often aristocrats, who control vast assets and funnel money to overseas accounts – avoiding taxes and payments that would help those countries do more for the poorer classes. Access to capital is a huge problem for underclasses around the world.
21. Everybody wants to know how to earn money, but nobody wants to understand the embedded nature of money. Do you think people reading the books of financial advisors is helpful or not?
It can be helpful, but a great deal depends on the nature of the advice and the theories behind it. No one advisor has all the answers, and many focus on some narrow ideas that may work at one point in the economic cycle but not another. These books have to be eyed skeptically.
22. According to you, does journalism need to prioritise women’s intellect more than women’s beauty and presentation ?
I think so. Society around the world has moved a great deal in the past century in terms of promoting women to positions of power – even to heads of state. That notion prizes intellect and talent, and women are being educated at a rate greater, in some cases, than men. Journalism has been a pioneer in boosting women in the past few generations. But you still have backward nations like Afghanistan, where women are essentially placed in a form of servitude.
23. In Squeeze Plays, you have also contributed to the visibility of women as not mere secretaries of bosses but powerful characters. What is the rationale and inspiration behind these characters ?
I’m inspired by professional women who are as capable as men, whatever the field – though one of my characters, a famous clothing designer, is in a field dominated by women.
24. You have critically exposed the reality of corruption, power, elite hegemony, and business behind the curtains. What lessons should a layperson take away from your book?
This is first and foremost an entertainment for the reader, but the novel is a cautionary tale about the pitfalls that can come with wealth and power – becoming the targets of financial pressure, blackmail and even sabotage. At the highest levels, money brings power and influence, but those can be used for good or evil.
25. What advice would you give to aspiring writers, particularly those who may be struggling to find their own voice or develop their own unique style?
Be patient, and read as much as you can. Writing is an art that is learned; great literature and poetry can be inspirational. It helps to have a certain degree of self-confidence, but get advice from others – other writers, if possible – and use that feedback to develop your craft. And if your style and approach are different, keep at it – you may indeed have a voice that is worth hearing.
26. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)
That a plot can take shape without an outline, except in the vaguest sense of the word. My last two novels developed “organically,” as I put it, with the plot spooling out as I developed the characters and decided what I wanted them to face. I don’t recommend that to every novelist, and some clearly have careful outlines in which the characters are essentially plugged in. To me, that can leave short shrift for the characters, whom I consider essential to a good novel.
“Squeeze Plays” by Jeffrey Marshall is a thrilling novel that takes readers on a wild ride through the cutthroat world of high finance in New York City. With a cast of intriguing characters and a plot full of unexpected twists, this page-turner is a must-read for fans of suspenseful fiction. Buy it now on Amazon and experience the excitement for yourself.