The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across a keyboard

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Using Technology in Your Plot with Frederick Wysocki

WARNING: The interviewee is a recovering serial technology CEO.

Fiona -
Hi there. Today on Thrillwriting we have Rick Wysocki. Rick can you start us off by giving the readers a little of your background?

Rick -
I started my first computer software company in 1975 and stayed in it until recently when I was inspired to try writing. My first novel was inspired by my experiences in the business. I have done five start-ups, was hired by VCs to turn around 2 start-ups, was a SVP for Computer Associates (now CA) for 14 years as a result of being acquired by them.

Fiona -
Let's talk about one of the perils I see in writing a novel in this day and age. Very quickly, it will be a historical and not a modern read.

Can you talk about how a writer can include technology and not become dated within six months? 

Rick - 
Fiona, in your blog Digital Footprints (LINK) you state that, “If you're writing a contemporary suspense/thriller/crime novel, then digital information is an important angle to consider.”

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I would say that unless a writer embraces the possibilities technology affords us, we could appear to be out of touch. When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 it started a wave of change that writers need to utilize if they want to connect with readers, especially younger readers.

There is a fun book by Jeffery Deaver from 2008 called the Broken Window that lays out the kind of mayhem that a techno genius can have with identity theft and manipulation. Those technologies exist and are used by business today to help market goods and services to you. Twisting the use of the tech was brilliant.

For thriller and mystery writers the possibilities are endless. As I play out in The Startup the differences between science fiction and reality are shrinking incredibly fast. As technology takes over our lives, the possibilities for writers are phenomenal. The boundaries of genre will be disrupted. What was science fiction a few years ago is hard reality today.


Fiona - I am almost finished with your novel The Start-up can you use your own work for demonstrating your point?





Rick - 
In The Start-up a traditional PC company purchases a mobile app firm which has the first retinal app for the iPhone. Apple just brought out a finger print reader. The technology for a retinal app will take a few more years. But it doesn't matter. If you ignore technology as a writer you run the risk of being old school - out of touch. Technology is only going to become more common in our day to day lives. If you look at wearable tech like the iWatch or what they are calling "The Internet of Things" they are a cause for inspired creativity for a writer.

Do you think that including tech limits or dates a writer too quickly?

Fiona - 
When you asked, my immediate thought went to the Stephanie Plum By the Numbers books by Janet Evanovich. Evanovich started writing her novels back when people used beepers and a select few had car phones. For those of us old enough to remember, one spent as little time on the phone as possible because those calls were incredibly expensive. At .30 a minute a ten minute call cost $3.00. People would think it was insane to pay that now. In her most recent Stephanie Plum books, Evanovich has kept the technology modern and even has a digitally encrypted photograph that causes her heroine some pains. The issue? The character doesn't age. She has been the same age for about 20 yrs. And so yes, that is pretty weird. And her first books are rather dated.

Rick - 
Do you have a smartphone? Are you using Facebook, Twitter etc? When you read a modern writer who is writing set present day, and they do not mention using them, do you wonder? I think that the use of technology makes a writer current. I understand your question about change. There is an old adage in tech that, "if you are bored you're not paying attention."

Fiona - 
I think you used that in your book...

Rick - 
Were you okay with the technology angle?

Fiona - 
So far I am able to follow it without any problems - but I didn't actually have to implement the technology, I just had to get the concepts.

Rick -
Exactly. When you finish, I hope you see what I was going for. The story of a young man who strives to earn his wealth in the tech business, and the story of a young man who discovers that he becomes increasingly corrupt as he faces difficult decisions.Remember when you said in a post "If you're writing a contemporary suspense thriller story, the digital info is an important angle? That's where we are in total agreement.

Fiona -
There are a lot of plot twists that can take place because of technology.

Rick -
For most everyone, the benefits of mobile technology have made it compelling and a necessity to own and carry them. How else do we know what our schedule is, get directions on where to go, find the best restaurant for lunch or take that once in a lifetime picture with an old friend and immediately share it. 

The downside is that everything you do, where you go, who you see, write and talk about is recorded and available for discovery.

Everyone has now heard about whistleblower Edward Snowden and the NSA. So it is no secret that the NSA is spying on us. The technologies are there for our federal governments as well as foreign governments and eventually State and local law enforcement to aid in the profiling, monitoring and capture of suspected wrong doers.

The US is in an undeclared cyber war, and other governments and groups are doing their very best to beat us.

Anytime data lives on a third-party system, it can be decrypted and examined by company employees, the government and lawyers with subpoenas. This is how so many tech companies were able to give up data to the NSA upon request.

There is no such thing as privacy and surveillance and data recording will only accelerate. It is not just the USA. It is China, Russia and everyone else.

I am not an expert on cyber identities, but I’ve been interested in the topic for years. In my new novel The Start-up the hero is confronted and told he must abandon technology in order to protect his benefactor, his uncle who a is mob raised venture capitalist. As I state in The Start-up -

If twenty years ago you had asked an FBI agent for the ideal tool they could use for tracking and capturing criminals, it would have been a smart device. They’d probably have said they would love a suspect to be carrying a hidden GPS tracking device to track them. A hidden microphone so they could turn it on and hear everything that was said. Oh, and a camera to see where and who you are with. The bottom line is that your smartphone is the ideal tracking device.
Fiona- 
How would an intrepid heroine protect herself?

Rick -
These days it is virtually impossible. You can take steps to partially erase yourself from the web. Unless you want to live alone in a cave you can’t. There are a lot of tools and applications that might lull you into feeling secure. Personally, I don’t trust any of them. No data is safe.

You have to assume that nothing is safe. You have heard of Bitcoin, which was supposedly an unhackable digital medium. Well guess what - it got hacked.

Fiona - 
What are some ways that a hacker could get your private info that you have no control over - ex. I read about the sale of copy machines that held the printed data from dentist offices with the social security
numbers etc. 

Rick - 
Wherever data is stored, it can be accessed and taken. Your character could stay off the internet. Cut up credit cards – pay cash. Go off the grid. Which is not likely. And it is only going to get worse. We will only get more dependent on our devices. We will become digital identities, and we will increasingly have our lives run by software.

Fiona - 
I imagine that going off grid is far easier for the older generation.

Rick - 
For most of the younger generation, it is an impossible dilemma. The benefits far outweigh the downside –If they are not involved in questionable activities. If they are, they are being tracked and their data is becoming their digital identity. Privacy is an outdated concept. It is gone. If someone wants to get your information they will. Having said all that, there is still time until all law enforcement have access.

Fiona - Rick has graciously put together some research sites that might help you:

RESEARCH SITES
For writers who want to research what is happening, here are a few web sites that might provide inspiration:

FBI.gov 
SEC.gov
BusinessInsider.com
TechCrunch.com
JDSupra for legal and compliance viewpoints

I also try to use real world points I hear from the experts. For example in talking with the head of police for a major US city he told me his biggest peeve was continual budget cuts. I used that tidbit in The Start-up.

HOW TO USE THE INFORMATION / TWISTS

1. Use the technology to spy on, steal identity of/or murder someone. 
    A TWIST - Use technology to steal identity of a bad person and end up accused of their crimes.

2. Use the technology to find victim, find where they have been and what they have done

3. Commit crime and try to erase themselves, to get off the grid

4. Use the technology to find culprit
    A TWIST - Use the technology to falsely accuse someone.

When you have data overload, it’s easy to weave the data into a narrative that substantiates what they already believe. There is an interesting article by Criminologist D. Kim Rossmo, a retired detective inspector of the Vancouver Police Department, was so concerned about confirmation bias and the investigative failures it causes that he warned police officers in Police Chief Magazine to always be on guard against it. “The components of confirmation bias,” he wrote, “include failure to seek evidence that would disprove the theory, not utilizing such evidence if found, refusing to consider alternative hypotheses and not evaluating evidence diagnosticity.”

Fiona - 
Those are some pretty fun plotting ideas. Okay, traditional ThrillWriting question - can you tell us about your favorite scar?

Rick - 
I am scar free. Before we go, let me tell you that I think your blog is fantastic. I have already gleaned a few points that I am including in my next book.

Fiona - 
Hooray!  I love flattery!

Thank you Rick, and thank you Readers for stopping by. As you know, I welcome comments or questions below. I am grateful to you for sharing this resource with your friends. To facilitate this, I have handy-dandy buttons below so you can easily +1, Tweet, or FB. Your effort is much appreciated.
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