Q & A – Lost In America


Out of all the potential stories you could have told, why did you choose to tell this one?

It’s every writer’s dilemma. We’re blessed/cursed with active imaginations, which leave us with more story ideas than we’ll ever have time to write. Before I start a novel, I find a question or issue I want to explore that can hold my interest for the year or longer it will take to write it. I then build the plot around that question.

My burning issue these days is privacy. I hate that in order to use technology to the everyday degree I do, I have to surrender my right to privacy––and it is a right. The Fourth Amendment says in very clear language, “The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Just because we don’t see them doing it doesn’t mean our private information isn’t being seized without our consent.

For instance … my smart TV can record every conversation that happens in the privacy of my home. My cell phone provider knows where I am at all times. My email provider sells information about me to the highest bidder. Why should I have to pay that price just to go about my everyday life?

It’s not just companies. Every telephone conversation, email, online chat, Facebook post is automatically recorded, stored, and accessible to the government now and forevermore. The NSA captures something like 1.7 billion pieces of communication every single day, not necessarily just those of known or suspected bad guys, but also those of ordinary, every day citizens––people like you and me.

When she reads this, my teenage daughter will roll her eyes. (Commence eye-rolling, Carly!) “I have nothing to hide,” she always says. “Why should it matter if all this information is collected?” People who say that are people who don’t understand their history, plain and simple, and it’s a highly frustrating comment to hear so often.

Lost In America was born out of that frustration. The question I’m exploring is this: What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen as a result of our privacy being lost, stolen, or carelessly given away? It’s been a fascinating question and has a truly terrifying answer.

You’re writing this as a serial novel, publishing new episodes almost immediately after you write them. Do you have the whole story plotted out, or are you making it up as you go along?

I know absolutely how the story ends, very specifically, scene by scene. I know who lives and who dies. Sadly, several good people must die throughout the course of the story. Other things I’m far less clear on. For instance, I know where Kendra needs to arrive now that she’s fled her hometown, but I’m not sure how she’s going to get there or what’s going to happen along the way except in a very general sense.

The first three episodes took a long time to write, edit, and polish to make sure the story is set up properly. All three episodes were done before the first one was released. From Episode Four on, it’s a race to the finish. I’m committed to have a new (E-book) episode out every two weeks, so the story is going to have to be carried by the strength of the plot, not by the beauty of the language (which isn’t a strong suit of mine in any case). It’s a scary and invigorating way to write.

I used to be a newspaper reporter, so I’m used to publishing stories minutes after writing them. Newspapers are thought to be the first draft of history, while a book feels like such a permanent thing … but it’s fiction. Must we take ourselves so seriously? (Having said that, I’ll definitely do a proper cleaning up and editing before the paperback version of Book Two comes out!)

In the end, all I’m shooting for is to present a great story, told well enough.

Several aspects of Lost In America have a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to them. Is that deliberate?

Definitely! The story takes place in the near-future, which gives me license to think ahead and invent things and not use the names of real people or real companies, but readers should be able to read about my near-future story almost as if it was taking place in real-time. The capability of Butler watches, for example, isn’t too far ahead of where smart watches are today. The mysterious outbreak and the role the fear surrounding it is going to play is similar to the recent outbreak of Ebola in the U.S.

I wanted all the surface things to feel disconcertingly familiar so the below-the-surface things do, too. The plot is so evil and so diabolical, but it’s not too far from the realm of possibility. Giving the story a ripped-from-the-headlines feel helps make the conspiracy that much more real and scary.

What are we supposed to think of Daemon Godwin? What does Kendra think about him?

For the most part, Kendra represents us, the common person. She is everywoman, someone who just wants to live her life but gets caught up in something larger than herself. Throughout the novel, she struggles to understand whom can she trust. The bad guys are charismatic, well-respected people that society has largely judged to be good guys. Visionary. Even heroic.

Not only does Kendra have to contend with that, but also she’s forced to wonder: Are the good guys really good? They kill people, after all. Daemon killed her boyfriend, so how can she ever think well of him? At the same time, he’s fighting a heroic fight knowing he’s going to die at the end of it, which is unquestionably admirable. Not to mention, he’s older and handsome and mysterious, which is a potent combination. Kendra is definitely attracted to him at the same time she’s repulsed by him, something Matt has quite rightly picked up on.

In future episodes, we’re going to learn a lot more about Daemon. Life was not destined to be easy for him, but he acts honorably in spite of that.

So … what happens next? (Give us a hint, anyway!)

We’ve got Kendra on the run being hunted by people who want her dead. We’ve got a terrible disease about to be let loose on an unprepared and unsuspecting population. We’ve got a conspiracy yet to be figured out. As the hero of the story, Kendra’s got to be the one who figures it out and stops it, and yet at the end of Book One, she largely still wishes she could just run away and hide. She’s not as committed to the cause as Daemon and the others are, so something’s got to happen that gets her to commit.

You’ll just have to check out future episodes to find out what that is.

What I’ve enjoyed the most writing beyond Episode Three is how I’ve been able to expand the scope of how the story is told. In the first three episodes, it’s mostly told through Kendra’s eyes, with the occasional bad-guy point-of-view so the reader gets a sense of the true stakes of what’s going on. Going forward, however, we’ll hear some of the story from Daemon’s point of view, Matt’s point of view, Lacy Rhodes’ point of view, and Maddie Meyers’ point of view. Not only has this been fun to write, but I feel it’s going to deepen how the reader experiences the story.

That’s the hope, anyway! Please tell me if I’m right or wrong, because since I’m writing and publishing this story in real-time, I can be influenced by what people say and potentially even change the course of the story. Who should Kendra end up with, Daemon or Matt?

(Just kidding. I already know the answer to that question.)

Anything else you want to say?

Yes! I’d like to thank my loyal readers for being willing to stick with me as I write a new sort of story, and to invite people who like my work to get in touch with me in one or more of the ways listed below. I have several new creative ideas I intend to explore in the next couple years, and some of them will be shaped by the involvement of my readers, fans, and friends.

Oh! And if you’re enjoying the story, please take a moment and review it on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Reviews help tremendously when people are deciding whether or not to give a book a chance.

Thank you in advance!