I am personally acquainted with two people who have been tried and jailed for absurd “hacking” charges because corporations and the government want to make a point. One of them is still there right now. So I really loved “Unauthorized Access.” Were you inspired by any particular cases or people?
I’d say not so much specific cases as the overall zeitgeist. We’re in a time when the internet and all its data and patterns of interaction are powerful, ubiquitous, extremely contentious—and often poorly understood, both by the people making the laws which regulate it and by the people using it as consumers.
Drastic legislative initiatives like SOPA/PIPA (and the vast scope of the backlash against those), governmental and corporate ambivalence about whistleblowers, social movements from Anonymous to Occupy, Twitter-powered revolutions, the explosion of FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) resources and communities, hackerspaces, the claiming and reclaiming of the word “hacker”. . . all of these paint a world much different from the one I grew up in, and I’m still rather young. It’s fascinating to watch. I wanted to play in some corner or other of that emerging culture.
I attended Clarion West 2008 with Douglas Lucas, among many other excellent people, and I know that when I was writing Unauthorized Access, he was putting out a lot of news articles (bit.ly/2bJxPRx) on hacking cases. So that was certainly in my awareness, as well.
I know you have a background in computers, but did you do any additional research for this story?
Nothing really specifically tailored. I do a lot of desultory reading about whatever I’m writing about, and I’ll cast about to answer specific questions and untangle plot snarls, but often the shape of the story takes place after I’ve run into some article or story which provides the seed and most of the information I need. Then, most of the things I need to research are background details—for some reason, I find myself looking up cricket flour any time I write anything in this universe.
(Cricket flour is, for the curious, readily available on Amazon [amzn.to/2bcjw9o], as well as being made into new protein bar products such as Exo bars. I have not personally tried any of these products, as I have yet to convince myself that this is really what I ought to be spending my money on, but I find it vaguely reassuring to know that they exist.)
You don’t mention the actual secret that Cadares is interested in. Did you have something in mind?
. . . I’m sure I did at some point.
Energy distribution, though—in a world in which energy is used for everything from autocabs to lighting and information access—could be used to systematically advantage or disadvantage all manner of people, companies, and neighborhoods. I know I layered in the plot seeds of corruption of some sort. The exact parameters of that corruption may best be left as a sequel hook for myself.
Do you have other stories set in this future, or any planned? I’d like to see what happens with Aedo next!
I do, in fact! I’m working on a story which loops back around to check in on Jace and Culin, from the earlier story set in this universe, Undermarket Data. The plan is to crash the two of them into Aedo and LogicalOR, and watch as hijinks ensue. (These hijinks will probably be somewhat amusing to Jace, and less than amusing to everyone else in the equation.)
I’d also like to explore more of the Undercity, as well as the relationship between Upcity and Undercity and the history of the city in whole. And possibly also figure out if the rest of the world, you know, exists.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
Sure! It’s rather haphazard, but it works for me when it works for me.
I get ideas from all sorts of random minutiae. A few of the more recent ones I’ve been toying with—which may or may not go anywhere—include a riddle-based urban fantasy (because I was curious as to how an early speech syntheziser would read out the initials of the months, “J F M A M J J A S O N D”, because there’s a credible ma’am and Jason in there), and some kind of space opera or something exploring the idea of people raised from a young age to be soldiers or assassins who aren’t brainwashed or terribly abused. (Because brainwashed and terribly-abused supersoldiers and assassins seems like a trope that keeps coming up in my media osmosis, and I can’t help but feel that someone has to have looked at that and thought, “That sure seems like it’s set up to backfire spectacularly,” and come up with a safer way to do things.)
Once I have an idea, I’ll usually toss down a few lines either describing the idea or sketching out a scene, an interaction, a bit of setting detail, or whatever catches my eye in either a new sub-folder of my massive Scrivener “short story scratch” document, or in a running Gmail conversation I have with myself. Gradually, the idea bounces off other compatible story seeds or ideas or pieces of implication or subversion (for example, with the month thing, it’d be so much more creepy if one of people finding this old computer was named Jason or had a significant Jason in their past—maybe in her past, because I like female main characters, because why not like female main characters; could be a boyfriend or a brother, but those relationships are frequently overplayed, so what else could I do with that name, hmm . . . ), and those lines of reasoning stick to it and accrete into something resembling a plot. If I’m lucky. Sometimes they just accrete into something resembling a stringy mess of half-finished scenes connected by tenuous threads of implication.
Eventually, either I’ll decide that the proto-story is viable and that I enjoy it. Or an editor will ask me for something. (Frequently, when an editor asks me for something, I’ll jump-start the accretion process by going back through my old Gmail conversation or feeding a bunch of prompts into a Bingo-card generator I built. That can be found at bit.ly/2bcBPgf, and a lot of people who use Bingo cards for creative fun can be found at allbingo.dreamwidth.org if anyone else is interested.) Once I’ve decided to work on something, I’ll hop around in it, writing snippets here and there in no real chronological order, until I get to about sixty percent finished with it and decide that it’s terrible and broken beyond all repair. Then I’ll go and work on something else for a while.
Occasionally, I’ll poke my head back into my terrible, broken story, and add a line here or change a paragraph there, and poke and prod, and then retreat again, grumbling all the while. And then a few days later I’ll do the same thing, until somehow it’ll get to about the eighty-percent-done mark. At that point, I usually decide that if it’s come this far it had better well just become finished, and I’ll bull my way through the writing until it can be read from beginning to end with no giant pits or gaps in the middle.
And at that point, I have a completed short story!
I may go back and re-read and revise it then, but usually by the time I get there I’ve gone back and forth over it so many times in my haphazard, non-linear writing style that it’s effectively had a series of internal revisions during the writing process. So then I usually send it out into the world as-is, which works for me, because I generally don’t want to look at it any more.
And that’s my writing process, in a nutshell.
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