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A Rigged Summer


Ross M. Miller
Miller Risk Advisors
September 13, 2004

One way of looking at things is that I just returned from a sixteen-year vacation. I stopped teaching in the spring of 1988 so that I would have time to finish my first book, Computer-Aided Financial Analysis, before packing up the family and going to upstate New York to bring academic finance to General Electric. This "vacation" ended this past summer with the posting of my fourth book (and first novel) to the Internet—the last installment appeared on the same day (August 30, 2004) that I resumed teaching at a university.

It might be odd to consider a time punctuated with long stretches of 80-hour workweeks (and some 100-hour ones) to be a vacation, but with rare exceptions, I had control of the clock. Maybe I could not move mountains, but I could move most meetings. Now, my Outlook calendar is filled with unmovable classes. But, as they say, I'm not complaining. It's great to be teaching again and I never thought that I'd be gone so long or that I'd view the world so differently upon my return.

You might consider Rigged to be a fictional account of what I learned during my sojourn into the "real world." While the book has certain fantasy elements to it, I tried to keep the book as close to reality as possible. In particular, my desire to keep things "believable" precludes the standard plot device of opening the book with a bizarre and sexually suggestive murder of suspicious origins. Then, for inexplicable reasons, my normally brilliant protagonist will make a stupid mistake and spend the rest of the book solving the murder, rectifying the mistake, and having detailed intimate encounters with lots of beautiful women along the way.

In not so many words, that's what Clarence Thomas's agent (via proxy) said that I should do to Rigged before she (or any other self-respecting agent) would be interested in it. When a representative of radical right's family-values battalion says your book does not have enough sex and violence, then you know you are in trouble. One of my test readers, who at least enjoyed the book for what it was, provided me with a helpful tip sheet so that I could bring the book back into compliance with the standard thriller/mystery formula. Another early reader, a hotshot editor, intimated that the book sucked in a way that she could maintain plausible deniability.

My performance evaluations from my days at GE say that I am a "very quick study," so it did not take much feedback for me to conclude that Rigged would be a hard sell to the publishing industry unless I revised it before recognition. In doing some background research, I discovered that many novelists who are now household names were "royally screwed" on the contracts for their first novels. And this was back in the days before media conglomerates owned the major publishing houses and made the standard contracts even more lopsided. And then there are the legions of unfamous, but published, novelists who wander the streets muttering under their breath how their publishers did not do enough to promote their books. Great role models, all of them.

I figured that I had nothing to lose by putting Rigged up on the Internet and seeing what would happen. That way I would not only keep control of the book (including subsidiary rights), but also would get valuable feedback from the pattern of traffic that the book attracted, how it changed over time, and the occasional comments from readers. Furthermore, one gets the satisfaction of knowing that people are actually reading the book.

Book publishers really do not care whether their books are read or not, they just want people to buy them. Even though my Enron book sold tons of copies, it is obvious to me that few of the myriad reviewers of the book actually read it. (And it's not because the reviews were negative; they were, to my knowledge, unanimously positive except for the (London) Times, which slammed the book while simultaneously proclaiming it their business book of the week.) I long ago stopped counting the times that one of my friends or acquaintances would say that they bought one of my books and hoped to get around to reading it "sometime soon."

If book reviewers do not have time to read books, then it is no wonder than few other people do. I even myself among the guilty on that count—I'm struggling to find the time to pick my way through Love in the Ruins, a Walker Percy novel that is guilty of several sins that the "How To Write a Best-selling Novel" books rail against. (Walker Percy is unquestionably not one of my influences. One day, I may write some commentaries on those who were.)

As for Rigged itself, I will let it air out on the Internet for a while and see what (if anything) happens. At least in its current electronic form it will not be lost to the world forever as happens to so many print books. Moreover, I have the freedom to revise it. I just returned from a trip to Boston that included introducing my 14-year-old daughter to the rockhopper penguins (it was love at first sight) and I learned some rockhopper tidbits that I will, once I have a spare moment, incorporate into Chapter 12. Sadly, the queen of the rockhoppers, named Chile, is now dead. Her husband the king, who seemed to be named Eudipides (a bad pun on Euripides, I suppose), looks morbidly alone atop the rock pile. One small hop for penguinkind…

I could provide a multitude of helpful hints to readers of Rigged, but for now I will limit myself to one. Doc is a game theorist through and through, not some journalist or screenwriter's romanticized notion of what a game theorist is. Doc provides his own helpful hint to the game that he is playing when he writes at the beginning of Chapter 3:

Most people think of a code as successful if the sender can get the message through to the recipient without the interceptor cracking it. The famous Navajo code talkers used during World War II are a prime example of this approach to encryption. The problem is that the interceptor knows that something is going on and knows that he doesn't know what it is. I solved this problem by developing codes that allowed the sender to bundle several messages into the same transmission. The recipient would be able to decode the true message and the interceptor, after considerable effort, would receive a misleading message intended for his consumption.

Next week, I will become dangerously entangled with the current political scene and one of America's premier code talkers in a piece entitled "Dan Rather and the Hedonic Age."

Copyright 2004 by Miller Risk Advisors. Permission granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250 words or less provided a citation is made to