My Book Is Out Today.

“The American Spellbound” is available in digital and paperback on Amazon.

I wanted to write a brief summary of what this book is about, but it was difficult to nail it down, it has too many themes: the immigrant story, the hard work, the futility of hard work, the death of the American Dream, the hubris of the elites. I covered many of these themes in my blog many times. Somehow I managed to fit it all in a novella.

So it’s not a chick lit, God forbid, not a “women’s fiction” genre.

Here’s one more small passage about poker:

A poker table is a distilled Darwinian preserve. It’s a modern-day Wild West, where a hand can either strike gold or deteriorate into an OK Corral shootout. “The gunfight is in the head, not in the hands,” a gunslinger once said, and he was right. In the long run, the best mind wins, not the hands that have been dealt.

Poker awards us a luxurious clarity. It spares us from misjudging others’ intentions. Everyone at the table has the sole goal of taking our stack. This simple axiom is liberating. It invites us to check our hubris and identity at the door and focus on the game; whether we decide to accept the invitation is up to us. In realm of poker, there are no men, women, straights, gays, Republicans, Democrats, religious, atheists. It’s a free-membership club with no agenda and no tolerance for illusions, biases or morality tales — just the rules, ordained and enforced by the Poker Gods.

The rules are strict but simple: Poker asks, nay, commands all its adherents to cut the bullshit and embrace reality. It will toy with the deluded — those who have everything figured out — with the playful cruelty of a cat toying with a mouse. Bring all of your convictions and credentials, your anger and insecurities to the poker table and the Poker Gods will tease you and mock you and fill you with false hopes and send you to the ATM a few times before releasing you, broke and steaming, at 5am.

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Book Excerpt # 3

Note: I make a ton of pop-culture references in the book. Led Zeppelin makes several appearances. Vika is a big fan.

Vika looked for thrills by traveling to exotic destinations during her mandatory two-week vacations.[1] While traveling through Cambodia and Vietnam, Vika, wearing white silk pants and Tod’s moccasins she purchased for $400 during the layover in Hong Kong, fancied herself to be a sort of female Captain Willard. Locals didn’t cooperate. On a boat tour of the Mekong Delta, she tried to entertain her local guide and a couple of hippie German tourists by quoting Apocalypse Now, only to be met with blank stares.

“Charlie don’t surf,” she said in frustration, as no one around seemed to appreciate her wit.

“Who is Charlie?” her confused guide inquired.

On a tour through Scottish castles, Vika’s plans to enjoy the pastoral scenery and contemplate on medieval culture and epic battles by listening to the Lord of The Rings soundtrack were ruined by her accompanying girlfriends, who insisted on playing Russian pop songs nonstop in the car. She attempted to deal with this grating dichotomy by enlightening them on the narrative and significance of the book, its powerful allegories, and how it’s not about elves and orcs at all. Despite her best rhetorical efforts, her words didn’t have the desired effect.

“They just walk and fight, walk and fight. Where’s the sex? And maybe shit wouldn’t get out of hand if they all just stayed home,” was the overwhelming verdict.

She eventually managed to talk her girlfriends into letting her play the “Battle of Evermore.”[2] “A good gateway drug,” she thought of her choice. Given the chance and hoping for greater effect, Vika sang along — about the Queen of Light and the Dark Lord  — missing the notes, but compensating for it in passion. Still, she failed to generate any interest, just a lot of giggles.

“Let’s find Vika some nice Scottish goblin for tonight,” someone suggested. “Let them play Mordor!” Everyone burst into cackle.

“Fuck you guys!” Vika gave up. “I should have just brought my headphones,” she brooded.

[1] A trader must take an uninterrupted two-week vacation once a year for compliance purposes.

[2] A Led Zeppelin song from album IV that makes references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Ruminations on Trading (Book Excerpt #2)

The biggest secret that traders don’t want the world to know is that anyone with a more or less sane disposition can do what they’re doing. The trick is getting access to the trough, to the P&L, to the “book.” The road toward it is tough, treacherous and crowded. On the way there, you will be misled into believing that in order to be a trader you must have a physics PhD, or know how to write code and build models, or have a top-school MBA, or, when all else fails, just be a young Caucasian male. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who made it to the top. In the end, it all comes down to merely placing a bet. The ideas of those who made it become validated by the platform on which they stand, by the levers they can pull.

Becoming a trader is like reaching a craps table on your twenty-first birthday with your rich uncle’s money in your hand; without that craps table and without that money, you are a nobody. Without a seat and a desk and a Bloomberg terminal, your ideas aren’t worth shit. Whatever you do at home with your 401(k) doesn’t matter; your trades have to be big and visible to everyone or, at the very least, to those who dispense your reward at the end of the year. If you know how to drive but don’t have a fancy car to demonstrate your prowess, no one cares about your prowess. The platform becomes a powerful communication tool: One should have great ideas and only act on them using a big podium.

The “book” is the medium through which you can communicate your entire worldview and let fools know that they’re fools without needing to actually say anything. If you’re right on your trades, you will become rich; you can then fancy yourself to be Bruce Wayne or John Pierpont Morgan or James Bond. You can establish scholarships in your name and start foundations to spread your gospel — conservative, liberal, libertarian, whatever floats your boat. If you’re wrong, well, you won’t get more money from your uncle, but you will gain an invaluable experience. You will earn your bona fides to speak about the irrational players and stupid monetary policies and dysfunctional government, and still insist that your general strategy was correct and would most likely work next year. And you’ll probably be right, too, at some point. You can’t lose! Becoming a trader is the greatest trade of all.

In this newfound realm, Vika had developed a new moral compass. Indecisiveness was an especially grievous offense according to her new standards. One should do the analysis, pick a side and stick with it — not question it afterward, not wring hands and second-guess. But those who overanalyzed and became paralyzed by the weight of their knowledge as a result immediately made it into Vika’s mental black book. Those chin-stroking pointy-heads who can argue both sides just don’t have the stones to take the plunge. They mask their fear and inaction with perpetual pettifoggery.

“If my grandma had balls, she would have been my grandpa,” Vika liked to say, mocking the absurd mental contortions of someone complaining about the way a trade had gone. “Take a loss and move on. What use is it to dwell?” Stepping into the abyss requires a certain skill, a special mental disposition, an ability to let go. This philosophy of letting go, of abandon, fascinated Vika. Once she’d decided on a trade, she would fight off the doubts. And with shaky, sweaty hands, Vika would pick up the phone and make a trade. And then… the weightlessness, the fall.

Why is it that we claim to want certainty? Only fools and cowards seek certainty. Certainty is a dead end; it’s a rich old widow living out the rest of her days on the Upper East Side with a little dog and big memories. Unless you are a senior citizen, you’ll go nuts after a few weeks of knowing what the rest of your life will bring. You’ll die of boredom. But uncertainty is what keeps us alive. It is that flip of a coin, that brief moment when it’s in the air or spinning on its side, that snaps us out of our daily stasis. Some invisible Odds Gods are giving you a chance to become better, smarter, richer. What fun it is to get paid if you earned it by the skin of your teeth, by the close call. And how dreadful it is to shoot fish in a barrel. Exposure to uncertainty earns you membership in a select tribe: You are a Padawan mastering the Force.  Once the trade is on, once the die has been cast, you’re in a parallel, auspicious universe. There’s only one way forward and there are only two ways out: Take it off at a loss or take it off at a profit.

My Book Has a Website.

TAS_cover_beta1 (2)

The American Spellbound will be released on Nov 11th in both paperback and as an e-book.

For now here’s a website with the info, full first chapter and some of my thoughts on the book’s themes. Katya G. Cohen is my penname.

I’m especially fond of the cover that Chicago artist Kevin Loesch has created. It depicts a corrupt superhero (in this case Wonder Woman-like character) playing with dice. Obviously, it’s a metaphor for our corrupt elites who are confused about their place in society.

Excerpt #1 from my upcoming book “The American Spellbound”

My book is set to be released on November 11th. It’s fiction based on real-life events. I will be posting random excerpts between now and November.

Here’s the first sample.

In the fall of 2006, everyone flew down to Florida for the 12th Annual Mortgage Industry Conference.  Over the years, the industry’s annual soiree became the hottest ticket for every player, big and small, attracting inevitable hordes of private lenders, regional banks, broker-dealers, government agencies, media, and various vendors pushing analytics software. The outing was the place to be for Who’s Who of the industry. Manhattan and Greenwich, Conn., became ghost towns during these three-day bashes in the warmer climates. Trading desks were left to be tended by younger aspirants. But no major market moves were expected during those days, as all the rainmakers were busy drinking and schmoozing on yachts’ decks and at nightclubs down in Miami.

The biggest parties were headlined by the Doobie Brothers and ZZ Top — darlings of the middle-aged white men. The men assumed a relaxed, giddy mood, donning print shorts and worn-out boat shoes without socks, the kind of fashion statement intended to evoke their boyhood of forty years ago — a time when things were simpler and carefree, when their major daily preoccupations consisted of smoking weed and playing in a garage band. In their minds, in those moments, they were still those young boys. What a great venue to show the world their playful, human side, a side carefully and deliberately buried under the suit and tie and shoptalk during the usual business conduct back in New York.

For the industry women, a younger, prettier and less numerous lot, it was a time to shine. They wore their cocktail dresses and high heels, and danced to classic rock hits as if it were disco, hoisting drinks in the air. The drunken conversations were a much-needed break — the escape from the office, the chance to get out of the suffocating suits — a pseudo liberation, an attempt at playing up their humanity and normalcy.

Vika had attended this annual gathering for several years. During her first conference, she made sure to audit all of the relevant panels, studiously scribbling bits of wisdom from industry bigwigs. But the real intel, the kind that would make one fly to Miami and endure the small talk face-to-face, always floated at private parties by the pool or at the bar, where each side tried to gauge what the other was up to. The buy side tried to figure out where to get yield, and the sell side tried to figure out what the buy side was interested in and how much money they were prepared to spend.

Nascent concerns about the “frothy” mortgage market were squashed by the optimism of big-name economists associated with big investment houses. They pulled out their graphs and charts and assured everyone that, given the historical data, there was nothing to worry about. Whatever small disruptions may occur would be over rather quickly and should be viewed as an opportunity to buy.

If the fancy charts weren’t enough to convince the skeptics, the forever-elated salesmen — the professional carriers of good news — came in to finish the job: “You worry too much,” they would say to the deep-pocketed fence-sitters. A good salesman knows you better than you know yourself. If you are Chinese, they will sell you yield. If you’re European, they will stroke your sense of superiority. If you’re an ambitious manager of an American pension fund, sitting on piles of money but bound by rules and regulations, they will find a kosher way for you to become the big swinging dick you always knew you were. And if you are an American hedge fund — a serious fund, not two guys and a Bloomberg — a smart salesman cuts the bullshit and both of you reach an understanding.

The big fish out there — pension funds, the cash-rich Chinese, the dumb Europeans, the assortment of late-to-the-party bottom-feeders with cash — are there to be used as a buffer if things go wrong for both of you. And it’s not like the clients put up much resistance. Throw in a couple of steak dinners at Peter Luger, and any concern evaporates.

“Eightee percen yier! I rike!” Vika overheard a salesman describe his Chinese client’s investment strategies to the delight of the group of bankers having drinks, who then burst into a smug, loud laughter. “That’s all it takes, man!”