DIAN: Hello Dan: Great read! I’ve found some of your biography online, and I know you are well-versed in software design and implementation and hold not one, but two Masters’ Degrees: Nuclear Engineering and Computer Science. I read you once designed submarine nuclear reactors, but then moved on to the world of software design, research and development. What prompted the change?
DAN RONCO: I discovered that I enjoyed software development much more than reactor engineering. I was hooked the first time I wrote a computer program. I’m still hooked.
DIAN: What was the seed that planted the story of “PeaceMaker” in your imagination?
DAN RONCO: The inspiration for the story came from the rapid growth of worms and viruses throughout the 1990’s. As you may know, Microsoft was and continues to be the primary target of virus writers due to the popularity of its software. My mind focused one day on worst case possibilities and I realized the danger of a sophisticated virus to Windows, which is the platform for much of the information processing across the globe.
DIAN: The story that unfolds in “PeaceMaker” is one that I can see coming to fruition as technology continues to advance. What are your thoughts? Do you see terrorism by software as an impending threat?
DAN RONCO: Yes, software terrorism is already a threat, and it will become even worse over time. When a virus attacks Windows, someone has to detect and report the problem, other people have to develop and distribute a fix, and millions of users have to apply the fix. A relatively slow process, but it works as long as the virus isn’t too destructive, doesn’t spread too fast (or secretly) and doesn’t evolve too rapidly (the fix won’t work if the virus can change tactics). In “PeaceMaker”, I envisioned a fictional virus attack that exceeded these parameters. At some point within the next decade, a terrorist may be capable of launching such a sophisticated attack.
DIAN: How much of Ray Brown’s character is that of your own?
DAN RONCO: I share Ray’s love for technology and his sometimes quirky sense of humor. The rest – the intellectual brilliance, hard-edged intolerance, alcoholism, and infidelity – is not uncommon in such a high pressure occupation as information technology. Ray is a composite of several people I’ve worked with in the industry, with just a dash of myself.
DIAN: “PeaceMaker” is your first novel. How did you go from technology guru to writing a book, and what process did you use to get into the heads of the characters?
DAN RONCO: After more than two decades in the IT business, I felt that it was time to do something else. Although I loved the work, 70 hour weeks and heavy travel take a toll. Besides, I had been thinking about writing a novel for years, but hadn’t made much progress. It was time to choose. So I quit my job and concentrated on writing.
The characters are composites of people I’ve met over the years, often taken to the extreme. As a consultant, I have had the opportunity to work with all types of people – from CEO’s to IT professionals to assembly workers in the line. I began “PeaceMaker” by defining the core characteristics and motivations of the lead characters, then let them drive the story.
DIAN: As part of the story in “PeaceMaker,” some pretty evil villains surface with advanced weapons and they aren’t afraid of killing. Your background lies mainly in intellectual expertise, including technology. How did you research or determine how the violence would play out?
DAN RONCO: I had an advantage – if you want to call it that – growing up in Newark, NJ. Violence was all around. Understanding the motivation, capabilities and limits of the more violent characters was a survival skill. This may be surprising, but violence is not unknown among IT professionals. I’ve seen fights break out and chairs tossed through windows! I supplemented my experience with research into terrorism, since Dianne and her group were, at core, software terrorists.
DIAN: How long did it take to write “PeaceMaker?”
DAN RONCO: Approximately four years, although not on a full-time basis. During that time period, I developed a fairly detailed outline for all three books in the series and prepared a preliminary draft of the second book, in addition to completing “PeaceMaker”.
DIAN: With the success of this first novel, what lessons have you learned as a writer, and what changes would you make if you could start over?
DAN RONCO: When I started, I had no idea how difficult it is to write well. I thought that once you had the concept for the story, the words would just tumble out of your mind onto the page. Man, was I wrong. I just went over to my bookshelf and counted the number of books on writing that I own. Thirty-seven books! Add to that the countless hours I’ve spent analyzing other writers’ work, attending my writer’s group and rewriting my own work. Extremely difficult, but what a feeling of satisfaction when you get it right.
DIAN: “PeaceMaker” has been touted as the first of a trilogy. Will the characters from this book also be in the others? What are the next books about?
DAN RONCO: The “PeaceMaker” trilogy dramatizes the question: how much technology is too much? The first novel, as you know, illustrates the consequences of a runaway, lethal computer virus. “The Army of God,” set in 2022, considers the meaning of being human as artificial intelligence begins to approach human intelligence. The last of the trilogy, set in 2025 and tentatively titled “Tomorrow’s Children,” considers the risks and benefits of genetic engineering. The lead characters – Dianne Morgan, Ray Brown and his son David – appear in all three books. New characters also populate in each book.
DIAN: My only complaint with “PeaceMaker” was the graphic depiction of the female characters as immoral, Penthouse-type figures. In my review, I make brief mention of that, and I re-read over those sections of the book with those parts concealed to see if they were necessary. I found they were not necessary to the plot movement, and they tended to slow the story down. As a female reader, I felt insulted and let down that no ordinary, moral women played a part in the story. Why did you include those devices in the story?
DAN RONCO: I assume you’re referring primarily to Dianne Morgan. Although she has many admirable qualities, Dianne is the chief villain of the trilogy. Ray is attracted to her because of her intelligence, determination, charisma and, yes, her sexuality. Although Dianne admires Ray, her feelings for him are a distant second to her drive for power. The twisted attraction between these two is not resolved until the last page.
The supporting female characters vary in character. Among the more honorable are Nancy, Ray’s former wife, and Linda Tidesco, a top software developer.
DIAN: Can we look forward to a likeable female character in future books?
DAN RONCO: I believe you’ll like Kathy Bauman, as well as her lover, David Brown. Kathy and David swim through a sea of predators, both male and female, in “The Army of God.”
DIAN: I’m definitely hooked on Ray Brown and techno-wars, and overall I give this book a 3½ out of 5 stars rating. I feel, with very little effort, your next book(s) has great potential to succeed in both the science fiction and thriller genres, and that “PeaceMaker” would be adaptable to the big-screen. Are there movie plans?
DAN RONCO: I’d love to see “PeaceMaker” on the big screen, but nothing is in the works yet.
DIAN: Thank you for your time.