Today, Norm Goldman Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is excited to have as our guest, successful businessman and engineer Dan Ronco, who is also the author PeaceMaker and Unholy Domain.
Good day Dan and thanks for participating in our interview.†
My pleasure, Norm.
When did you first consider yourself a writer and how did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
If you ask that question to most writers, they will tell you about their first short story written at age eleven. Or nine. How they always knew they would become writers. Not me. Although I loved reading fiction beginning at age eight at the local library, the thought of writing novels never crossed my mind. I spent an entire career in the IT business and I loved it, but as the years went by the work turned stale. And when your career becomes boring, itís time to do something else.
Anyway, I was sitting in my office at Microsoft one night, frustrated by a couple of emerging problems: the increasing number of virus attacks on my clientís systems and the ongoing litigation with the Department of Justice. The more I thought about these problems, the more frustrated I became. Suddenly the solution hit me Ė get out of this business and write a novel.
What if a great (fictional) software company lost an anti-trust lawsuit and was ripped apart by the DOJ? What if the leaders of this once-great company decided to have their revenge by building an intelligent, deadly software predator into their flagship software product? Thatís the premise of PeaceMaker, my first novel.
What keeps me going?† Thatís easy --- I love everything about the writing process: research, developing the concept, creating that first draft, and then the rewriting and polishing until the story just hums. Then the feedback from reviewers and, best of all, regular readers.† Whatís not to like?†
I noticed that you are drawn to writing techno-thrillers. For our readers who are not quite sure what is a techno-thriller, perhaps you can enlighten us and why have you become interested in this genre?†
I love thrillers.
Every once in a while you read a novel or see a movie that keeps you glued to the story with such excitement that you canít turn away until you know how it turns out. Everything is moving so fast, and youíre so swept up in rapidly unfolding events that you donít dare leave the story for even a moment. The tension builds; you feel every jolt until a breathtaking climax leaves you exhausted.
That, Norm, is a thriller.
How did that movie grab you by the neck and take control? Why that novel and not a hundred other novels?
There isnít a simple answer. There never is when youíre examining a work of art. I donít pretend to know all the secrets of a great thriller, but Iíve learned a few things Iíll share with you.
First, I consider my novels to be speculative thrillers, rather than techno-thrillers.† Techno-thrillers focus on hi-tech gadgets in the present time, while speculative thrillers peer into the future, usually to extrapolate a barely noticeable developing condition.† Tom Clancy writes techno-thrillers, Philip K. Dick wrote speculative thrillers, Michael Crichton is somewhere in between.
The first and most important ingredient of any thriller is emotion. If you donít feel the story in your gut, itís not a thriller. And not just any type of emotion. A great romance can break your heart, but thatís not the emotion that fuels a thriller. Not that romance canít be part of a thriller, but itís not the whatís-going-to- happen-next excitement of a thriller.
A great thriller builds up to an emotional high that lifts you up and takes you along for the ride. Consider Rick Deckard ďretiringĒ androids in Blade Runner or Clarice Starling hunting Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. At first we tag along with Rick or Clarice, then gradually bond with them and feel every emotion they experience. They are both vulnerable, flawed characters, but we can feel for them, and ultimately, feel with them. Their highs and lows become ours.
A great thriller is unpredictable going forward and completely logical looking backward. Who would have guessed that a creature would burst out of a guyís chest in Alien? Or that the FBI agent in charge of the investigation would be the killer in The Poet? On the other hand, as you look back, itís believable that this alien creature could be so dangerous or that an FBI agent was the killer.
The plot usually features deadlines. If they donít capture the villain soon, something terrible ó an assassination, a virus outbreak, a nuclear explosion - is going to take place. You can almost hear the clock ticking. Or is that your pulse?
A great villain is a necessary part of a first-rate thriller. Perhaps a charming psychopath such as Dr. Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs or megalomaniac Dianne Morgan from Unholy Domain. The villain must be more than a match for the protagonist, who battles overwhelming odds while in constant danger. A great villain will stir feelings of hatred, fear, revulsion and maybe a little admiration in the reader or moviegoer.
The setting and all the action must be believable. For example, if the action takes place in a specific locale, then all the details (streets, landmarks, major buildings) had better be correct. If bad writing forces the reader to stop believing, then all the air comes out of the story.
In a speculative thriller, the authorís extrapolation must seem believable and entirely possible.† The PeaceMaker virus is quite intelligent in defending itself, but the actions it initiates stay within the capabilities of a near-future artificial intelligence.
And, of course, there is the climax. It must be exciting, unpredictable, resolve the major issues and yet remain consistent with the storyline. Fatal Attraction and Jaws have terrific climaxes that bring the story to a thrilling conclusion.
So thatís it ó a few insights regarding thrillers. A speculative thriller must follow the rules just like any thriller, even though the story takes place a few decades in the future.† Difficult to describe, but when you see a great thriller, you know it.†
Did your writing career ever conflict with your career as a scientist?
Yes, Iím not a Renaissance Man.† As a professional, Iíve learned that I only do one thing at a time really well.† Being a top flight engineer/consultant is a demanding, seventy plus hours a week job.† If you want to be the best consultant you can be, then dedication is a requirement.† The same is true for writing, athletics, business management, whatever.† I left consulting several years ago to become a full-time writer.† I hope readers enjoy my work, but rest assured, whether they do or not, Iím working hard to produce the best work I can.† No way I could be a nine-to-five consultant and then write a few hours at night.† I would have been mediocre in both areas.† Others might be able to do that and become excellent writers, but it wasnít in my DNA.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books? How much of your books are realistic? Dan:
All of my writing is realistic; otherwise, the reader puts aside my book.† I work hard to place my reader in a world set a few decades in the future, so it must be consistent with current technology and culture.† In other words, the reader should find the world of Unholy Domain believable as an outgrowth of our current environment. This requires a great deal of research.†† As a result, I read constantly in subjects such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, robotics and other advanced technologies. I have a passion for technology, so reading isnít a chore, itís a gift. I am equally fascinated by human values and culture, such as economics, terrorism, politics and religion. Searching for stress points, I attempt to project current technologies and trends two or three decades into the future, then find the crossover points of the trend lines.. Unholy Domain, for example, explores the potential for conflict between religious fundamentalists and scientists on the leading edge of artificial intelligence. My stories exist at the point advanced technologies threaten our institutions, beliefs and even our survival.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The complexity of the storylines, without a doubt.† My stories include multiple plots and several POV characters, all meshed together in a spiderís web.† Make a significant change anywhere and it ripples across the story like a pebble dropped into a pond.† I have learned to develop a detailed outline and a scene flowchart before I write a word.†† These tools enable me to gain control of my novels. I can follow all the interrelationships in my mind, and track any change through the chart.† Not that I donít make many changes as I write, but at least I have the tools to manage my story.
Could you briefly tell us about your latest novel, Unholy Domain?
Unholy Domain delivers all the excitement of a great thriller while also delving into provocative themes: the bioethics of genetic engineering, the question of what limit (if any) should be placed on technology, the problem of reconciling faith in God and respect for his creation with the technological promises of artificial intelligence, and the age-old issue of family ties and the loyalty of a son to his father.
Itís 2022, a decade after a devastating computer virus was unleashed upon America and the world. Civilization has crumbled in an economic collapse that rivals the Great Depression of the previous century. During this harsh decade, the schism between those who think technology will save the world and those who believe it to be the tool of Lucifer has reached a boiling point. The Church of Natural Humans, led by the charismatic Adam Jordan, is determined to roll civilization back to a pre-computer era. His beautiful African-American lover, Moesha Jefferson, leads the Army of God, a cult of fanatics within the Church, in a series of murders of anyone they consider a technologist.
David Brown, the gifted but troubled son of one of the most hated of criminals, receives a delayed email from his long dead father, the software genius Ray Brown. The world believes that Davidís father unleashed the computer virus that caused the death of more than a million people and led to the global depression, but the email suggests that his father was on the trail of the real criminals. David has grown up in a hostile atmosphere due to his fatherís crimes, so he resolves to discover who his father was, and if he really was to blame for the virus. His only memories are of a man made erratic by too much alcohol and driven by his passion for technology.
Dianne Morgan is a ruthless woman. She leads the Domain, a secret society of technologists developing Sentinel, an artificial intelligence with the ability to seize control of the Internet and all other computers. Needing money and muscle to achieve her obsession for power, Dianne enters into a partnership with organized crime, led by Maria Vitullo. Vitullo, it is rumored, seized power within the Families by murdering her uncle, the former Don. Vitullo controls the technology black market for the Domain, as well as providing soldiers in the war against the Army of God.
As David tracks through his fatherís startling history, he stumbles into this hidden war. Fearing that he will expose the Domain, Dianne orders Vitullo to kill him. However, Moesha has her own plan: to keep David alive so she can follow his trail to the Domain and then eliminate all the technologists. Hunted by killers from both organizations, David unravels his fatherís secrets, comes to terms with his own life, and then falls in love with a woman from his fatherís past.
In Unholy Domain how did you develop the plot and characters? Did you use any set formula?
No, my writing is not like painting by the numbers.† I start with one or more themes (such as fear of artificial intelligence) and develop the plot lines and characters to expose the themes.† The characters are portrayed in shades of grey, with complex motivations neither all good nor bad.† I generally work back and forth between the plot and characters, developing the outline and flowchart until I have a story that works.† Then I write the first draft, making sure the story is clear, compelling and credible with lots of emotion.† At least a half-dozen rewrite cycles follow, as I add complexity, engage the readerís senses, sharpen the writing, fix the grammar and make sure the hook and the climax are compelling.
Can you tell us how you found representation for your books? Did you pitch it to an agent, or query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any rejections? Did you self-publish?†
One of the biggest mistakes I made with PeaceMaker, my first novel, was not checking out the publisher thoroughly. When he called me, I was thrilled, and it seemed that everything was working out. Wrong. The publisher was a nice guy, he was very enthusiastic about my novel and we seemed to hit it off. However, he had a couple of problems: he had been in business less than a year and really didnít know much about book marketing; and he was underfunded, so he couldnít hire an experienced editor or cover designer. As a result, his business went underwater and all his authors were left scrambling. Thatís why I had to become the publisher for PeaceMaker, which consumed a great deal of my time. So the lesson is to avoid becoming dreamy-eyed when a publisher offers to pick up your book. Treat it like making an investment. Check out the size, experience, financial resources, number of employees, references from other authors, bookstores that carry his works, etc. Better to walk away than sign up with someone who doesnít have a good track record. I checked out Kunati carefully, and they have been an excellent publisher for Unholy Domain.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
When I decided to leave consulting to become a novelist, I GREATLY underestimated the difficulty of the writing process.† Develop your idea and just key it into the PC, right?† I had no concept of the years required to become a competent writer, let alone a good writer.† Iím putting the finishing touches on my third novel, but eight years have passed to reach this point.
Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us? (We would love to hear all about them!)†
It is clear that technological change will turn our society upside down within the next few decades. Humans will have to adapt rapidly to gain the advantages of evolving social and technological innovations. Indeed, we will have to adapt rapidly just to survive.
Eight years ago, I scoped out a trilogy of novels to expose three oncoming challenges; computer viruses enhanced with artificial intelligence (set in 2012), the oncoming clash between religion and technology concerning what it means to be human (2022), and the beginnings of the integration of human and artificial intelligence into a network entity (2032). Each novel was written as a thriller Ė packed with adventure, sex, greed and romance Ė as well as realistic science, technology, and government intervention. The three leading characters Ė Dianne Morgan, a female mega-billionaire obsessed with power; Ray Brown, her onetime lover and a brilliant software architect; and David Brown, Rayís genetically gifted son Ė were fascinating and all too human.
PeaceMaker was released in August, 2004 and Unholy Domain was published in April, 2008. The final novel of the trilogy, tentatively entitled Tomorrowís Children, should be released in 2009. Although the novels are consistent in world building, character and plot development, each is a stand-alone story, so they may be read in any sequence.
Genetic engineering and artificial intelligence continue to rapidly evolve in Tomorrowís Children, touching off a human uprising based in Africa against the Domain. Ray Brown leads the African tribes in their war against the increasingly human androids of Dianne Morganís Domain. When David Brown evolves to the brink of integration with Sentinel, the most advanced AI developed by the Domain, Ray has one last chance to save his son and maintain humanity as a distinct species.
Where can our readers find out more about your and your books?
Checkout my website and blog at http://danronco.com.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
Since its release, reviews published in Bookpleasures, Midwest Book Review, Amazon and other websites have been very generous in praising Unholy Domain.† However, I have been surprised by how many reviewers have compared my work to such talented writers as Philip K. Dick, George Orwell, William Gibson, Dan Brown and others.†
Iím not sure what readers are finding in Unholy Domain, but something seems to resonate.† Maybe itís the fast pace or the visionary ideas that creates a link to their favorite authors.† Or it could be something that never occurred to me.† Not that Iím complaining.† Being compared to writers such as Philip K. Dick, George Orwell or any of the others is quite an honor for a new writer.††
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
Click Here To Purchase Unholy Domain†Auhor: Dan RoncoPublisher: KunatiISBN: 978-1-60164-021-5For those who read Dan's first novel, "Peacemaker" this will be a must read sequel. For others, it will be a good introduction to Dan's excellent writing skills and an invitation to go and get Peacemaker and look forward to a sequel to Unholy Domain.Dianne Morgan continues her stop-at-nothing attempts to take control of the whole world through her Domain and is being opposed by an equally...
Genre: ThrillerAuthor's Name: Dan RoncoISBN Number: 0975271148
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