Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dark Digital Sky: Pulpy techno-thriller

I had the chance to read Dark Digital Sky by Carac Allison and to ask him some questions about writing. Dark Digital Sky is one of those novels that unfolds as you go along reading it, that seems fluid in its movements, solid in its muscle. It clearly falls into the slot of “high-tech thriller” and carries itself along through its action-filled plot, while gripping you with its troubled main character.  The premise is straightforward, though the promise is a bit more complicated. Anyway, here’s what the pros say about the book --

A gripping high-tech crime novel mixing the pulpy spirit of the past and the security threats of today
Chalk is an ex-FBI agent whose specializations are cults and computer forensics. The tools of his trade as a PI are a Porsche 911, an unregistered Glock, modified cellphones, radios, and an eclectic collection of computers. He suffers from bipolar disorder, lives alone and hopes, one day, to be able to see his son without the constraints placed on him by the courts. 
Chalk’s mission is simple: find three biological sons of one of Hollywood’s sleazy successes whose origins lie in a sperm bank donation he made decades ago. Chalk finds all three, each as twisted as the father in very different ways. It seems his task is complete when Chalk discovers all three are being recruited by a demented General who is looting vast pharmaceutical warehouses and planning a major domestic terror attack.As Chalk digs further into the brothers’ plot, he uncovers a secret military weapons program embedded deep in the Hollywood special effects and technology industry. It will take every bit of techno savvy he has to strip away the illusions and the politics and find the real source of the threat.

Now, on to the show:

DSD: You've got a background in plays, yeah? Does that help writing dialog?

Carac Allison: I hope so. Playwriting is about structuring action. The language is performative. Characters talk themselves into problems and try to talk themselves out again. They are created on the stage as they interact with each other.
When you’re writing a play you have to make it happen instead of just describing it. And I’ve always heard the voices of my characters.

DSD: This book is part techno-thriller and part noir mystery. Were you consciously balancing this as you went?

CA: No, not really. I wanted to create a hardboiled PI that followed in the tradition of the great pulp detectives. The technology is just a product of our time. Chalk needs to crack into computers and use modified cellphones to get the job done. 

DSD: How do you go about creating a damaged character still worth rooting for?

CA: Chalk’s worst enemy is himself. His control of his emotions and his thoughts are tenuous at best. Readers empathize with his anguish. Because they’ve struggled with mental illness themselves or they’ve supported family and friends who have.
A lot of PIs and Detectives talk about being alone. Chalk is totally isolated in his own head. And he is going to live through a lot of pain in the coming books.

DSD: With the technical advances in getting words down, do you feel you're in a better position to write than, say, Mary Shelley or James Joyce? Does technology make the writing easier? What's your process like?

CA: Technology makes it easier to get words down—to be sure. This is why there are so many bad novels. Almost anyone can type 60,000 words now.
But I don’t believe technology has made it any easier to become a writer. To find your voice. To learn the discipline. To pound out the 20 bad novels you need to get through to write your debut book.
I can’t speak to my process. No one would believe me.

DSD: You've written elsewhere about how technology impacts our learning, especially in higher education. What is that impact?

CA: We are assaulted with information every moment of every day. We’re forced to passively learn about celebrities, climate fears, politics. It takes an effort of will to learn actively. To block out the noise and focus on something.
When you do block out the nonsense, technology makes it possible to learn anything. You just need the time and the drive. 
So Universities and colleges no longer have a monopoly on learning. They offer an opportunity to meet people with similar interests. Beyond that you pay for the paper—the diploma. 

DSD: As this book is structured with mini-mysteries leading into a bigger story -- solve this and get to the next step -- can you explain your thoughts on pacing? How do you keep the reader moving forward?

CA: Action on every page, brother.

Dark Digital Sky is now available on, Google Play, Barnes & Noble, the iBooks Store and the Kobo Store.

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