Help! The Paranoids Are After Me

Books don’t write themselves, but there are occasions where books take a turn – during writing – that you as a writer didn’t expect, such as a minor character insisting on being front and center or a subplot taking steroids to become A Major Plot. In some cases, this is a welcome development, particularly where you are stuck for minutes, hours – OK, days – wondering “Why did Colonel Mustard use a lead pipe in the library when untraceable poison in the garden (where you could use the body for mulch) would have been so much tidier – and you’d get points for recycling?” It’s often a relief when a minor subplot bulldozes an unknown and previously unthought-of trail. Through a minefield. Without anyone losing any really important body parts.  Good riddance, lead pipe, hello untraceable poison (especially when lead is so environmentally harmful, eew).

We’ve recently experienced this whilst chugging along in Book 3, With Murder You Get Sushi. One of our characters (Edvard-the-crazy-Belgian, who made his appearance in a previous book) is a Designated Eccentric. His job as a minor character and Professional Paranoid is to espouse wild conspiracy theories, which get even wilder in Book 3 because he is working on a consulting engagement for a government customer (creates automatic dramatic tension when THEY are in the cubicle next to you and THEY are using the new darling of the tech world, Big Data).  When we began Book 3, the entire issue of government surveillance (which Edward is obsessed with) was background noise but has recently become front page news. 

We should add, “not merely government surveillance” because, it turns out, everybody wants a digital piece of you and me. Retailers want to use your cell phone to a) triangulate your position (in front of the lingerie counter, the shoe section, etc.) to determine b) exactly what you are looking at buying and c) target ads your way – and they are willing to trick your cell phone into coughing up that location information to do it.  Real-time, salacious (or should that be “solicitous”) advertising – a new market segment. (Except one of us really does not want to see a real time ad featuring someone younger and thinner whilst in the bathing suit department – way to pressure the customer, you idjits!)  The medical community is looking at having patients swallow pills that are really digital transmitters relaying the state of your gastro-intestinal tract. (Begging the question, “Does my colon look fat in this picture? Tell me the truth!”) No, we aren’t making this up.  Not only is truth stranger than fiction, it is more imaginative (depressingly so in many cases) than fiction.

Our paranoia began echoing Edvard’s once we began researching all the ways THEY (THEY being pretty much anybody you don’t want to know your business) can – and are – tracking you. The surveillance cameras that oversee so many doors, stores, intersections, ATMs and more. The collection of massive amounts of data – often without knowledge or consent – to try to slice, dice, parse and predict your life.  The dumbness of Connecting Stuff to the Internet that has no goldurn business being there (like, I dunno, putting household appliances on a network so THEY know when you open the refrigerator at 1 am to finish up the rest of the red velvet cupcakes which, as everyone knows, go bad if they are in the fridge overnight, so there).  So many people are willingly making their lives digital and therefore hackable – it’s news, but it is a surprise? Heck no – one of us has been predicting headlines like “family of five starves to death: locked out of their refrigerator by geeky neighbor” for years. Alas, it is all coming true.

And thus, one of the unintended consequences of technology is all the ways we can get digitally screwed. One of the unintended benefits – at least for us – is that we see no end to Edvard’s paranoia and the delightful and demented lengths he will go to so THEY can’t track him (fake ears, tin foil hats – in attractive styles, of course).  And, by-the-way, if you are reading this, “WE know where you are.” (Somewhere in the digital ozone, of course; what did you think we meant?)

Lest you think that Edvard is merely a clown in the proceedings, hopping into chapters to give the readers a laugh before the real action continues, let us assure you he is not. As a complete character, Edvard demands a more substantial role in the story. He may be a crazy Belgian, but Edvard comes through for his friends in the clutch. You’ll have to read the book to find out more.

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