Luke E. Fellows
Independently Published (2020)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (05/20)
Luke Fellows is a forty-something recovering hedge fund manager. Born in London, and educated at St. Paul’s School and Oxford University, he sacrificed his love of Classics for a Wall Street career, moving to New York City in 2000. After a sojourn at Harvard Business School, he made the leap to Silicon Valley, where he co-founded a technology-focused hedge fund, retiring as soon as his partners could practicably get rid of him. Despite his best efforts to escape the bubble, he still lives with his wife and three daughters near Palo Alto, CA. Snatch 2&20 is the first novel he is admitting to.
Hi Luke, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views. What is Snatch 2&20 about?
Snatch 2&20 is about a financial analyst called Giles Goodenough and his journey to self-discovery as he navigates the corrupt, shallow, and, frankly, bizarre worlds of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. It’s about the people he meets on the way, in particular Peter Silver, a sociopathic hedge fund billionaire, and Egon Crump, a desperately needy tech entrepreneur who hides his self-hate behind his bravado. And it’s also about Giles’ relationships with his father, a cold, arrogant man, who has never shown him the love he needs, and with his wife, a sweet ex-stripper named Cherry, who keeps him sane and ultimately shows him there’s more to life than just fame and fortune.
What was your motivation for writing this story?
At the deepest level, I wanted to make a point about how broken our financial system has become. It’s a system that encourages greed, speculation, and immoral behavior. Over the last thirty years, hedge funds (but also private equity and venture capital) have created multibillion dollar fortunes for people who in aggregate haven’t performed that well, all based on a dysfunctional incentive system that allows them to gamble in a heads-we-win tails-you-lose casino. The direct result of all this has been the creation of a corrupt plutocracy that controls the political agenda in its favor, silences complaints, and has left America with the greatest disparities in income and wealth since the Gilded Age. That’s not to say there aren’t good people who are investors. It’s just that there aren’t that many of them. I wanted to let people know what’s going on out there by creating a satire funny enough to engage an audience in what otherwise is a pretty dry conversation. My point is that even if just a shred of what you read in the book is true, everything has gone badly wrong. My suggestion is that far more than a thread could be true. I hope people come away amused but shocked.
I love the title. What does the saying, “Snatch 2&20” mean?
It’s homage to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, the satire that inspired me to try satire. In the context of my novel, it relates to the “2&20” fee structure that predominates amongst almost all hedge, private equity, and venture capital funds: 2% management fee and 20% of profits. That’s a lot of fees they’ve “snatched” (i.e. undeservedly taken) from their investors!
If you have room to go deeper, let me run some numbers for you. Let’s take a hedge fund manager who runs a pretty average $2B fund. To run a fund that size most of them will hire around 10 investment professionals. Let’s take a year when the market is up 20%. If they do no better than the market, no better than your basic S&P 500 index fund, they will take home $40M + $80M = $120M! In one year. For performing in line with the market! And their expenses are minimal…an office, some research costs, legal fees, support staff. Maybe $20M at the absolute maximum. So that leaves $100M in pure profit. The head guy takes home half of that, and the rest goes to the analysts depending on how “well” they’ve done. Just think about it. $50M in take-home pay for doing nothing better than most people did in their retirement accounts. And what’s worse most of that is taxed at just 20% federally because of a loophole that allows them to regard their winnings from gambling with other people’s money as “capital gains”, even though they had none of their own capital at risk in the fees they took. There’s more complexity than that, of course, but that’s the basic scam. As Holton, Peter’s COO, says in the book: “It’s jerry-rigged extortion, and all the one-percenters are in on the game. It’s a brilliant con to be honest.”
How does your experience in the financial world translate into your fictional stories through the characters and/or events?
Well, let me say from the outset that the on most dimensions Snatch 2&20 is obviously a gross exaggeration of what is actually happening. There probably aren’t too many hedge fund titans running orgies in the dungeons of their castles…though who knows? It’s not meant to be a tell-all, just a reductio ad absurdum of the kind of behavior I’ve witnessed and the kind of people I’ve met. In the same way, Giles is only partly based on me. I actually had a wonderful father who died recently, for example. Giles’ father bears no similarity. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a bit of me in Giles. As with the rest of the story, I leave it to the readers imagination to guess how much is true. There’s more than a kernel to be sure.
Are there certain parts of the story where you took more creative liberties than others? Perhaps some things readers will laugh at in the book but if they thought too hard about, they just might cry? Can you share an instance or two?
The story is teeming with creative liberty. I stuffed myself on it. But you are right that the extent of my deviation from reality varies scene by scene. The description of the tech conference, for example, is pretty close to the truth, sadly. As is the description of what a lot of these funds do. But orgies, violence, and Silicon Valley shenanigans are mostly just figments of my very warped imagination!
Your characters are amazing, I had so much fun with them! Which one of your characters did you take the most pleasure in creating? Is there a certain character you relate to most?
Thanks! I really enjoyed creating them. They aren’t very deep because it’s satire, and I think you can lose your readers if you try to be funny and profound at the same time. Character exploration requires focus on the small moments in life, and I wanted to concentrate on the big moments. You won’t be surprised to hear I relate the most to Giles- a privileged guy that has been lucky in life and isn’t really sure he deserves any of it. Like Giles, I quit the industry in part because I just found the endless pursuit of money so soul-destroying. That said, like him, I’m not a saint nor a particularly virtuous person. I wish I were.
How did you create your characters? They seem awfully familiar…
Yes, I guess I can’t claim to have hidden them that well! They aren’t quite anyone in particular, but they aren’t quite no one in particular either. They are stereotypes of people I’ve met, people you’ve heard of, and people we all know.
You say that Snatch 2&20 is the first novel you are admitting to – is that true? Do you have other work out in the world you aren’t owning up to? When did you decide to take the leap and become a published author?
Luke Fellows is a pseudonym, as you might have guessed. I have written a couple of other novels under different names, but never published them because they seemed to take themselves a little too seriously, and, as you can tell from Snatch 2&20, I hate things (especially people) that take themselves too seriously. I guess I decided that with Snatch 2&20 I’d found a way to write something that meant a little, without claiming to mean a lot. In a way, the author himself is a bit of a hypocrite in the background. After all, he (me) has been part of the world he describes and has benefited from its corruption to some degree. Any novel in which I come out as a pretty lousy individual is a novel I can get behind.
How long did it take you to write Snatch 2&20?
Longer than I’d have liked, shorter than it should have, probably. Six months, including iterations. I’m pretty quick once I’ve got the basic structure in place. If I had an agent, who knew me and the genre well, I could probably have come up with a better finished product. There are definitely improvements that could have been made, no doubt. But I felt it stood by itself “warts and all”, and apart from basic editing I never changed it much, which is why it didn’t take me too long. That and the fact that most of it takes place in a world I’ve inhabited.
What was the most challenging part of your story in terms of research?
I fortunately didn’t need to do much research because I’ve lived a less outrageous version of it for the last fifteen years! That said, I did have to research things like Cherry’s Iowan idiom, and some of the places that feature in the book. Hopefully, I didn’t completely mess it all up, though I’m sure I did!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
A couple of things. First, how much I love to write. I always knew I enjoyed telling stories and have read a lot of great novels. But I never guessed how much dopamine you can generate in creating something of your own. It’s like having a baby- no matter what reality says, you are sure that it is just the most perfect little creature in the world, and you love every blemish and bad smell. Second, how much I’ve come to despise the world of finance. I knew that I was in recovery when I left, but only by writing the book did I realize how rotten the addiction had been. It has made me a lot more progressive, a lot more cynical, and a lot more introverted, which is impressive because I always scored pretty high on all those dimensions.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you started out?
How much it would take out of me. I live and breathe Snatch 2&20. And it can be pretty exhausting, especially dealing with criticism, which has never been a strong suit of mine. I just want to be loved, okay? How much is that to ask? Please, go and buy a copy and make my day!
What do you like to read and which authors have inspired your own work as a writer?
Ok, this is a fun question, because everyone loves to talk about what has inspired them, and I’m no different. So, I’m going to sound like a misanthrope, but in novels I’ve always loved anything that has a cynical take on people’s motivations and the human condition, satire or otherwise. Crime and Punishment has always been my favorite “great” novel, just because it goes so deep into the dark side of the human psyche. I love Conrad and Hardy for the same reason, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald too. In Satire, I already mentioned the influence that Catch-22 had on me. It’s no coincidence Snatch 2&20 starts in a hospital. Then all the Vonnegut novels are brilliant and hilarious. But some are really dark too- like Slaughterhouse-Five, which is probably my favorite. Among contemporary authors, I love stuff by Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk. They are so unredeemingly jaundiced and sardonic.
Being an author is a full-time job these days. What do you enjoy most about the process?
That’s a tough one. I’ve enjoyed being my own boss and thinking about the business side of writing more than I expected- the advantage of self-publishing is that you really have to learn the process from beginning to end. Someday it might be nice to have someone do all the heavy lifting for me, but at the moment I’m still getting a kick out of thinking about cover designs and click-through rates. I’ll soon be itching to get back to the creative process no doubt, when I’ve chased every last potential reader out of their hiding places.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Self-doubt, 100%. When I’ve laid out the plot, the characters, and the settings, and started to fold them together, it’s all sheer joy. The batter tastes great. But then I have to take it out of the oven, and it usually doesn’t look quite right, smell quite right, or taste quite right. Then self-doubt takes over. Did I get the measurements wrong? Did I mix it wrong? Or does nobody even want my lousy carrot cake? Who puts nuts in a carrot cake anyway? Or do they? Actually, maybe the nuts are the best bit and the rest is awful. Should I have made a red velvet sponge cake? You get the idea. I’m not sure that fear of failure will ever completely go away. But perhaps that’s the healthiest part of the exercise.
Describe how you felt when you first held a copy of your novel in your hands.
Like I did when I held my first finished carrot cake. Proud and hungry to make my next one. Convinced that it was pretty cool, even if everyone hated it.
How does your family support your writing career?
I’m not sure they do yet- mostly my fault, as I’ve been hiding it from them. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I’m scared the little ones will read some of the filthy jokes and insalubrious scenes I’ve thrown in there and be permanently scarred. Perhaps I’m worried my wife will think I need to up my dose of antidepressants, or realize she’s been sold a bill of goods. Wasn’t I supposed to be making a ton of money rather than spending it on a hobby I’m now calling a career? How selfish! If I do get a readership, I guess I’ll have to come out more openly. For now, I’m still at risk of my being frogmarched into conversion therapy.
What do you like to do outside of writing? What are some of your other passions?
Generally, I spend most of my time in an obviously futile quest to find something that I’m not dangerously mediocre at. So far, no luck. I play guitar and bridge, do crosswords, play golf and swim, read, grumble, and complain. Actually, on second thoughts, I’m scratch at the latter two. It’s just hard to build a passion out of them. Perhaps I should take up tiddlywinks? I’m going to buy a set tomorrow.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, as a writer or regarding life in general?
My grandma always told me not to take life too seriously. She should have added “or people.” It’s so true. Life is a joke, not always a funny one. So are most humans, yet so many are convinced they actually matter. I’m determined never to think I am anything more than an irrelevant cog in an irrelevant wheel. Fortunately, I’ve never done anything to disprove that assumption, so I have that going for me, which is nice.
So, what’s next? Are there more novels in your future?
For sure. The good thing about writing is that it’s between you and the screen. If you want to open up your relationship to others you can, but you don’t have to. At the very least, the screen and I will be spending more quality time with each other. Whether anyone else gets to see our copulation is very much tbd. I’d first have to see significantly more evidence that people can stand my flippant cynicism for more than a handful of pages. If they can, they may want to keep it to themselves, or risk being swamped in a deluge of hyperbolic invective against all the other hypocrites and frauds out there. Politicians, activists, religious leaders, and TikTokers beware! You might be about to get swamped in slander unless people stop reading this nonsense. Your only hope lies in the fact that they’d have to start first to stop.
What advice can you give to aspiring authors?
Don’t take advice from anyone who is basically just an aspiring author themselves. That’s most authors by the way. Myself, obviously, included.
Do you have a website? Where can readers connect with you on social media?
Lukefellows.com will tell you what you already know. I wish I could tell you more about me, but you’d find me less interesting that way and it might hurt sales. To have a social media presence would require me to come out. I’m still very deep in my own closet. Perhaps I’ll have one sometime soon, but I’m already taking a Xanax just envisaging the hypothetical comments section.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only if there were still someone reading.
Luke, thank you so much for joining us today on Reader Views – it’s been amazing getting to know more about you and your work!