WELCOME KEN GOLDSTEIN
Ken Goldstein advises start-ups and established corporations in technology, entertainment, media, and e-commerce. He served as Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of SHOP.COM, a market leader in online consumer commerce acquired by Market America. He previously served as executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online, and as vice president of entertainment at Broderbund Software. Earlier in his career, he developed computer games for Philips Interactive Media and Cinemaware Corporation, and also worked as a television executive. He is active in children’s welfare issues and has served on the boards of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, and Full Circle Programs, and is currently actively in local government. He speaks and teaches frequently on topics of management, leadership, and creative destruction. He and his wife Shelley, who teaches English as a Second Language, make their home in Southern California. He received his BA in Theater Studies and Philosophy from Yale. THIS IS RAGE is his first novel.
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Q&A with Ken Goldstein
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
My first novel, This is Rage, is purely a work of fiction, but it is both intensely personal and drawn from current events. The entire plot is made up, as are all the characters, but the events are extracted from my experiences on the front lines of managing teams through creative and technical innovation and some awfully nasty conflict. I use references to existing companies in the competitive arena today, but only to set a tone of realism, which I then take license to stretch to the absurd. It’s meant to be plausible, but exceedingly outrageous, a form of grounded satire which is essentially the way I talk. Creative destruction is a force I know well and acknowledge as tangible, essential, but unruly. And then the question becomes, could it happen? My answer is – well, you know, I’ve seen stranger.
Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
I started with a premise – what if the unlikely collision of a failed radio talk show host and a voracious venture capitalist resulted in extraordinary impact on the economy at large? I thought I knew how I wanted it to end, but then character development took over and pushed me to a different place. Dialogue comes easier for me than expository, and plot is more fun for me than inner monologue, so I am always challenged balancing what I want to write with what I need to write. About half way through the first draft I got a bit stuck holding story and character development in balance, and a wonderful friend referred me back to Anne Lamott’s inspirational Bird by Bird. Anne joyfully reminded me it was okay to keep writing only as far as the headlights illuminated. That was a lifesaver, albeit the cause of tossing out and replacing about 50,000 words, a lot of rough months.
Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
I wish I had a routine. I am working on that. As a former CEO and now board member I am very structured about my calendar, but just because I block several hours of writing time doesn’t mean any decent words emerge. I am now doing my calendar backwards, when I do write, I enter the block of what I did on the calendar as if I planned to do it, so reading forward, it looks like I blocked out all the time perfectly. Yeah, sure. A bit of self-delusion isn’t all that bad, is it?
Is writing your full time job? If not, may I ask what you do by day?
Writing is now what I consider my main job, but it’s not my only job. I tried that for a year and I just couldn’t make all the time work hard enough, although our dog did get to listen to a lot of dialogue read aloud. I love to be with people, and I love business, so I stay attached by teaching an executive coaching workshop, sitting on a few company boards, and consulting for several start-ups. I’d say I have one and a half full time jobs, and writing is about half of that, so ¾ of one full-time job, fully mathematically sound.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Tom Wolfe has been a voice for me since I was in junior high school, the whole New Journalism thing resonated with me out of the gate. I think Michael Lewis is consistently brilliant and engaging. Hunter S. Thompson will always be an influence. I mentioned Anne Lamott and I adore her style. I came up through the theater so I’m penetrated by Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and most of the crumpled notes scribbled by Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. I’m also a philosophy geek to the core so there are regular revisits with Plato, Aristotle, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre. There are a few top executives turned business writers I admire like Andy Grove, whose concepts I include in the workshop I teach. And when I am most lost, I often wander back to Mark Twain.
What are you reading now?
I am re-reading Bonfire of the Vanities because it’s just so well-written and resonant for me. I am just about finished with Mark Leibovich’s This Town, and about half way through Kurt Andersen’s True Believers. Also the Wall Street Journal, six days a week, 52 weeks a year, source material for several lifetime.
Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
“Working on” is too strong a description. I have agreed with my publisher on my next two titles, if all goes according to plan the next book will be non-fiction, and the next novel behind that based on a screenplay I wrote in my 20s that has a remote setting and an interesting main character who is unconventionally heroic, deeply flawed, and in big trouble.
Do you have an excerpt I can publish on the site?
Your novel will be a movie.
Who would you cast?I don’t want to say because what if it happens and I say the wrong people, don’t want to upset anyone who might want to get onboard.
Notes: hand written or keyboard?
Handwritten notes are everywhere, on post-its, in notebooks, I keep lists of lists and then stick them in steno pads. But composition is always at the keyboard so I can generously DELETE!
Anything, anywhere, as long as I am sitting across from my incredible wife.
Pizza, the geek inside lives on. No question. And no meat!
Red wine. But I repeat myself. If it’s wine, it ought to be red, no?
ABOUT THE BOOK
This is the story of Investors, Bankers, and Operators in Silicon Valley and the variation on real they’re creating for our consumption.
This is the story of a disgraced shock jock turned Internet radio phenomenon and how he becomes the catalyst he never imagined being.
This is the story of two entrepreneurs-turned kidnappers-turned anti-heroes.
This is business in the Twenty-first Century.
This is the unpredictability of the human element.
This is rage.
Read an excerpt
From Chapter 1.7 – The House Checks and Raises
Steyer’s temper had been worsening as the clock ticked. It was only a few hours to the 6:00 p.m. ultimatum, and he had no idea what might happen next. He had been told by Hussaini, Henderson, and every subject matter expert he trusted that the board made the correct decision not to negotiate, that Ben and Jerry would inevitably break down with no other alternatives. As soon as they showed weakness, the FBI would pounce. Of course all that was before Balthazer had made the location public, welcoming the media circus that arrived on cue.
Steyer was in his understated but refined garden office suite at SugarSpring Ventures, two blocks off University Avenue in Palo Alto, about half an hour from EnvisionInk’s offices in Santa Clara. Most of the Silicon Valley Investor Class made camp in a renowned axis of low rise clusters along Sand Hill Road in adjacent Menlo Park, but Steyer always wanted SugarSpring to be a little different, physically annexed to Stanford’s academia, a less traceable place for entrepreneurs to be seen coming and going with their endless pitches. Sitting across his new world composite desk when the Balthazer advisory notice came from Hussaini was Atom Heart Entertainment CEO Sol Seidelmeyer. Steyer had not planned on Seidelmeyer’s visit, he just happened to drop by a few minutes after the studio’s Falcon 2000 landed in San Jose and a town car delivered him unannounced to SugarSpring’s beveled glass door. Steyer knew that to turn him away upon his unscheduled visit would not have made for a more productive dialogue—full service private jets these days, with operating costs above $5,000 per hour, had to be justified, even by CEOs—but he needed to consider what lines he might be crossing having Seidelmeyer on his sofa when the call came from Hussaini.
“We share this mishegas, put him on speakerphone,” said Seidelmeyer, gazing around Steyer’s unadorned working space, likely looking for anything that might be useful. “I promise to stay quiet.”
Steyer looked past his own bruises at Seidelmeyer’s primal, piercing eyes. What else could he do? He took the call with Hussaini live, but did not announce Seidelmeyer’s presence.
“So a fully masked worker bee blurts out the location on internet radio, just like that?” continued Steyer into the polycom. “Aren’t there laws that stop that sort of thing?”
“You know the internet as well as I do, Mr. Steyer,” said the special agent, his tone of displeasure professionally ambiguous. “You’re aware we can’t enforce laws if people are anonymous. That caller is long gone from Best Buy, which is as far as we could trace the IP.”
“What about the moron host, Balthazer, where was he?” asked Steyer.
“As far as we can tell, at a McDonald’s in Stockton,” answered Hussaini. “We haven’t completely tied down that piece, but we’re working on it. We do know he was fired from his last radio job in Fresno over a month ago. He burned his landlord for the rent, has a hearing pending with the FCC, and drives an Infiniti M. But he hasn’t really broken any law, certainly no federal statute that would let us bring him in. According to our lawyers, he’s safely within his First Amendment rights, particularly as a journalist.”
“A journalist, are you kidding me, where’d he study, the WikiLeaks School of Ethics?” blurted Steyer.
“Talk show hosts have the same halo,” qualified Hussaini. “As long as he doesn’t incite violent action, he is within legal bounds.”
“Outstanding,” proclaimed Steyer. “When they bring out Choy and Finkelman sideways on a stretcher, you can tell their moms all about the First Amendment. What happens now?”
“It’s their move, they set the deadline. If we don’t hear from them by 6:00 p.m., the Director should give us the order to move in. We are readying for position on that. We have a well-trained team on the ground and will do what we can to keep civilian impact at a minimum, including your guys. My crew is tight and will be ready to do what they’re good at. If we go in, it will be quick. Hopefully Ben and Jerry will negotiate and we’ll talk them out, but that’s their call. If they want to negotiate, they’ll let someone know.”
“Keep us apprised,” said Steyer as he clicked off the polycom. He probably had not noticed that he had said “us” instead of “me,” but then, Hussaini likely presumed others were listening in, though not corporate competitors bound by SEC regulations. Steyer shook his head in derision after another unneeded jolt, looking to the sun-worn Seidelmeyer for anything encouraging.
“You got a tough situation on your hands,” offered Seidelmeyer. “I’m not sure what I would do if I were you.”
“After this deal, you are me,” said Steyer. “Isn’t that why you’re here?”
“We don’t have a deal,” replied Seidelmeyer. “Last I looked we were about $6 billion apart, which I know in your world is not big money. Heck, you got almost half that on the lift this morning. My offer is still above market. The stock’s adjusted to a price the Street can swallow. I’m doing better than that, the deal should be easy for you. If you want to tell me the gap is closed, we can talk about what happens next.”
“Sol, don’t try to use this string of events to tell me you’re not paying the expected premium. That’s unbecoming, even for you.”
“I’m a showman, what do I know about asking for the wrong thing?” quipped Seidelmeyer. “You have a point of view and I have a point of view. The difference is, you have a problem and I really don’t.”
“Sol, you do have a problem. You’re old, and your company is old. Without EnvisionInk, you have no growth story. Your board tosses you out, sells to someone else and blames you for blowing the deal. Your legacy will be that of a failed Neanderthal. No one will remember what you did to put that company on the map, all those movie openings, all those shows and networks, all those dividends. All they will remember is that you were brushed aside, bitter and dusty, because you missed the shift to digital. No one remembers obsolete.”
“You’re a putz,” said Seidelmeyer. “You may have more money in the steel vault than me, but you haven’t created anything lasting. Dollars come, dollars go, who remembers, who cares? My company touches lives and we make a fine profit.”
“Sol, we can agree to disagree, or we can piss on each other, which isn’t going to win you another Academy Award. You want an Act Three, we’re your Act Three. You become chairman of a goliath industrial, my partners get liquidity and I go away, everyone’s happy. You want to retire as a goat, walk out the door and leave me to figure this out on my own. Right now I can’t even think about price. If I don’t get those kids back alive, we have nothing.”
“Funny, the Street doesn’t see it that way,” said Seidelmeyer, regaining an even tone. “The kids are tied to a bomb, you leaked our deal, and the Street is sending up balloons.”
“That’s because they’re confident we will get them back, and get a deal. That’s what we hinted. For big institutional holders to dump volume with Choy and Finkelman an unknown, and a clear path to a combination viable, that leaves money on the table, so arbitrage is indulging us. But we only have a few hours.”
“Those bumpkin punks are bluffing,” said Seidelmeyer. “The special agent has a mirror on the crown moldings behind their cards. They don’t even know what game they’re playing. This is ours to lose. You hold tight, they’ll cave. I’ve played at this table before.”
“You’ve had top executives kidnapped?” asked Steyer.
“I’ve been held hostage by the likes of you, not a lot different. We just have to figure how to get out.”
Paperback: 530 pages
Publisher: Story Plant, The
Publicatiom Date: October 8, 2013
THANKS TO MARIA AT MARIAN BROWN PR,
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