New York Times Bestselling Author

The Penny Jumper (a collection of short works)

The Penny Jumper (a collection of short works)

THE PENNY JUMPER is a 160-page novella by famed New York Times bestselling author James Grippando. It also includes a collection of three other short stories.

THE PENNY JUMPER introduces, Ainsley Grace, brilliant young astrophysicist at MIT who has always dreamed big. Her current passion, “Project Cosmic Company,” will integrate strategic observatories around the globe to build the world’s largest and most powerful telescope.

Things haven’t come easy for Ainsley. Her mother, an equally brilliant young astrophysicist, died when Ainsley was just a child. Ainsley struggled to fi t in as the “brainiac” who started college at age sixteen, earning her Ph.D. before most people her age had even settled on a major. Everything seems to be falling into place when Ainsley teams up with her mother’s former colleague at MIT to finish Project Cosmic Company, a project on which her mother had been working when she died.

Then the dream unravels.

Encouraged by her mother’s former colleague, Ainsley takes a short-term opportunity to pay off her mountain of college debt by writing stock trading codes for a high-frequency trading firm on Wall Street. Her job is to make sure that her firm’s supercomputers are faster than any others on Wall Street.

Because she is able to draw on the same algorithms she’s been writing for Project Cosmic Company, it’s a snap. And because astrophysicists are Wall Street’s new whiz kids, it pays well. But there is a hidden price that comes with Ainsley’s work. The world of high-frequency trading is “survival of the quickest,” and the difference between making a billion and losing a billion dollars could be less than a nanosecond. With stakes this high, Ainsley finds herself caught in the middle of a secret and deadly battle for speed. When Ainsley is framed and indicted for stealing Wall Street trade secrets, her personal life, her career dreams, and even her groundbreaking research at MIT are turned upside down…and the terrible truth about people she trusted most is revealed. 


The Story Behind Ainsley Grace


Photo:  The real Ainsley Grace proofreading Chapter 1 of "The Penny Jumper" in manuscript:

The real Ainsley Grace proofreading the manuscript

What would you say about a three year old who wanted to grow up to build the world’s largest telescope? First off, you’d probably guess that child was a boy. That would be your first mistake.

Early on, we knew Ainsley was special. Three months before her third birthday, we were at a Thanksgiving gathering at a friend’s house. The host offered the kids cupcakes. The decorative icing on each cupcake was unique: a pilgrim, a turkey, or some other symbol of the holiday. The host bent over and presented the tray to Ainsley. “Sweetie, would you like the CHOC—OH—LIT, or the VAH—NIL—LAH?” she asked, thinking that her overworked enunciation might help Ainsley understand.

“I’ll have the cornucopia,” said Ainsley, using a five-syllable word that the older children had never heard in their lives.

Ainsley is now in 6th grade, and she’s already in pursuit of “the world’s largest telescope.” The Energetic Ray Global Observatory is a coordinated effort by school children around the globe to collect data from cosmic rays (Think of each school as a “pixel” in a giant camera that stretches around the world and snaps photos of outer space).   It’s Ainsley’s goal to make her science class part of that global observatory—the world’s largest telescope.

But how did Ainsley inspire the lead character in “The Penny Jumper?”   Knowing Ainsley’s interest in science, I decided to check out what it takes to become an astrophysicist. Then something caught my eye: over 2,000 physicists are working on Wall Street. More than seventy percent of trading on stock exchanges is now done by computers, and the big winners are the high speed traders who can buy and sell in the blink of an eye.   This kind of speed and time synchronization, it turns out, is right up the astrophysicist’s alley. They create the algorithms that identify trading patterns and allow Wall Street’s most profitable firms to exploit discrepancies in price that exist for only a matter of mirco-seconds. We’re talking speed well beyond human function—almost beyond human comprehension.   It takes 500,000 microseconds for a human to click a mouse. A high-speed trading algorithm that is just five microseconds too slow is a dead-bang loser.

This backdrop of the secret world of high-speed Wall Street fascinated me. More research led to the discovery of a computer programmer on Wall Street who was indicted for allegedly stealing the secret trading code of Goldman Sachs.   And that was when the story clicked. Fast forward fifteen years, and Ainsley Grace is a 25 year old astrophysicist who pays off her mountain of college debt by taking on a short gig on Wall Street. But that gig turns deadly when Ainsley uncovers the secrets of ruthless power brokers who make billions by gaming the system—and who will stop at nothing to silence Ainsley and her shocking discovery.

It’s a fun ride, and an exciting mixture of fact and fiction. Ainsley’s mentor in The Penny Jumper is Tom Bales, an actual “rocket scientist,” a friend of mine, and the real-life creator of the Energetic Ray Global Observatory. Tom started “ERGO” to inspire kids around the world to join in the search for life in outer space. I’ll let others judge if The Penny Jumper adds to that inspiration, but I will guarantee you this much: it will thrill and entertain you.


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