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August 31, 2003

An Accidental Novelist: From non-fiction to fiction and back again. Does art imitate life?

By Gregory Bresiger

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  • An Accidental Novelist: From non-fiction to fiction and back again. Does art imitate life?

Ken Morris, a former Wall Street trading executive, has made the transition to a second career.

Morris, 50, began on Wall Street in 1979, a time when "no one wanted to go to Wall Street" and when BusinessWeek was pronouncing "The Death of Equities."

Morris was the one time head of international sales and trading at Morgan Stanley and a trading executive at the infamous Drexel Burnham Lambert. He spent almost 20 years trading, supervising and consulting at and for various firms.

He says when he began at Drexel in 1986, having been recruited from Morgan Stanley, he was "in awe of what the firm had done" and Milken, whom he still calls "a genius." He initially thought the charges against the firm and Milken were unfounded. He left Drexel "very disillusioned," believing "there is no question they violated a lot of securities laws."

But, by the mid-1990s, Morris, a Del Mar, California resident, thought that his experience as a trained executive might help him make it as a novelist.

How did Morris make the transition from Wall Street to fiction? It all happened accidentally.

When Morris stopped trading, he started consulting for mutual funds and also spending more time with his wife - who is a fund manager - and four children, coaching various youth league teams. However, because he had spent years as a high profile trader - and had been a trading executive who worked at the same firm as the infamous Michael Milken - he was approached to write his memoirs.

"I found that I didn't want to do my memoirs, but I wanted to find out if I had a novel in me," Morris said. "And, being the type A kind of personality that is typical of a trader, once I started I didn't want to leave it unfinished." He said that, in trying to learn the craft of fiction, he wrote three novels over two years.

"They weren't published, but I did learn the craft," he said. "Then I wrote more novels, becoming compulsive about writing."

"Man in the Middle" was the first novel that was finally good enough for Morris to break through into another field. The novel, which was recently reviewed in these pages [See Traders Magazine Book Review, August 2003], depicted the rise of a master trader, a trader who found himself caught in a dirty firm that laundered money for a drug cartel. Morris has two other novels, which are close to completion. He expects them to be published soon.

Morris views John Grisham as his model. With each rejection, Morris redoubled his efforts.

"I pretty much withdrew from the consulting business," Morris said. "If I had known how hard it would be to get a novel published, I think I would have quit. It is a very hard process when you're working on your first novel."

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