I was able to get a short interview with the author, Rick. He himself was the creative force behind a video-game start-up (and a very successful one too), and much of what happens to Paul is based on Rick’s own life experiences during his stay in Silicon Valley. And as a Florida native, it was natural to set the second book in Key West. So my friend Gilda and I came up with a few questions for Rick…Gilda is definitely the more intellectual one as you can tell, though I wouldn’t say my only interest lies in what tattoos people have and where. I would have definitely asked the question about living off the grid if she hadn’t! It has always been a small dream of mine…that and toppling the system...
Gilda: I loved the bootlegged surveillance system that the characters put together in Mile Zero. It had a lot of veracity. It made me want to try it. So my question is – is that actually possible? Has anyone ever done that? Or is it in the realm of possibility because there is so much surveillance out there?
Rick: My inspiration for the bootlegged surveillance cameras and RFID detectors that the Crew sets up all over Key West in Mile Zero is definitely the modern surveillance state we see in big cities like
London and New York, but which is spreading out across the world. Could someone set up such a network in secret? I'm not sure, but I think on a small scale that it would be absolutely possible. Key West is a dense, small island, full of lights and cameras and other electronics – plenty of places to camouflage your hidden cameras. While it would take a lot of work and commitment and money, I think it is theoretically feasible. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to learn some day that some private or criminal group had done something similar.
Andrea: There was one con in the first Geek Mafia book that I found particularly impressive, from the staging of the fake protest and spraying people with fake blood, to the following manipulation of the right wing media machine. Was this based on any real-world events? Do you see any potential in an actual campaign like this to improve the quality of news or bring attention to issues that are usually forgotten?
Rick: I'm not aware of any particular events that put together all those elements – protest, media manipulation, and flat out conning. Well, the lead up to Iraq maybe... The way the media, especially the so-called new media, but all media in general, runs wild with stories has always fascinated me and I seem to return to it in my writing again and again. I don't know how well something like that would work in the real world, but I'd certainly be very excited to try if anyone's interested. Drop me a line.
Gilda: Your characters live “off the grid” in the spaces that the city allows with underground identities, economies, and values. This too, comes off as really convincing, and its hard not to think that you may have had some experience being unfindable – is that a fact?
Rick: I did my research of course, but I also spent a good part of a year playing a game of “cat and mouse” with a private investigator named Steven Rambam. I tried to hide my digital self and he worked hard to find me. I've also interviewed people who've gone off the grid and changed their whole identities to create new lives. And while it is possible, it's getting harder and harder to do. Let me clarify that. If you go through the effort (often illegal) and spend the time and money, it's definitely feasible to live a false identity. But living entirely off the information grid in this modern era is becoming more and more difficult and will, I think, someday soon be impossible.
Andrea: Do you actually have a tattoo of the logo of your former video game company like Paul?
Rick: Thanks goodness no! I might have considered it at one point, I was so proud of our little company. Lucky for me, the logo, while cool, was not particularly tattoo friendly. Although having said that, one of our artists who worked there did seriously consider getting such a tattoo. In his case it would have been just one of many, but since he doesn't work there anymore either, I hope he never got it.
Gilda: Key West is as much a character in Mile Zero as any humans, and has a layered character of history, forgotten zones, tourism, and gentrification. How did changes to the city, particularly those that people call gentrification, affect your thinking about setting up the story and the characters?
Rick: I've been going to Key West for vacations off and on since I was in high school twenty years ago, and it has changed in significant ways. One of the most important and profound is that it's become almost impossibly expensive to live in. I had a long time resident describe it to me as the “Martha's Vinyardization” of the island, with wealthy out of towners buying third or fourth homes there, driving up the prices. With no industry to speak of besides tourism, it makes for a striking mix of wealthy and service class, and anytime you get that kind of sharp divide condensed into a small space, I think it's a great source for drama. Just wandering Key West and talking to people I had scenes and characters and locations jump out at me and demand to be in the book. For example, talking to a bartender at a fancy restaurant who was renting someone's screened in back porch as a bedroom gave me the idea for the Crew's housing scam. With the Crew having the self-defined goal of doing some good in the world, it seemed to me that striking out against that Martha's Vinyardization while at the same time exploiting the tourist trade was a natural area for them to pull their cons in.
Andrea: What current projects are you working on, and what lies ahead for Chloe and Pauls’ Crew? Shall we see them again?
Rick: I'm finishing up a third novel which has nothing to do with Geek Mafia - a story about someone who becomes obsessed with the stories of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. But I'm jumping back into the next Geek Mafia book very soon, which I've got all outlined and ready to go, so hopefully that will be out early in 2009. So yes, lots more Chloe and Paul, plus some brand new Crew members. And lots of hackers.
Buy books now