I’ve started a new book. For lack of any better ideas, I went back to a project I last worked on in about 2006—the adventures of my genius computer hacker and the FBI agent who arrested her.
I wrote two books of these characters before I switched to lighter storylines—there’s just something about your hero sending your heroine to prison that tends to get dark pretty fast. And it’s hard to write genius, too, if you’re not genius yourself. Using Sheldon Cooper as a role model, especially for a female character, has its limitations.
The reception I got for these books after I’d finished them was lukewarm. The first book is about stealing an election, a topic that every agent and editor I talked to said would be stale in months. And we all know how that turned out.
The second book is about internet child porn, which turned out to be too gruesome for some. It’s gruesome, all right. For both of these books, I cried all the way through, so at least I think I got emotion on the page.
I’m rereading these books now, refamiliarizing myself with all the characters as I feel my way through the opening of the current book. I’m surprised at how good the stories are. All that weeping I did—I wasn’t wrong there.
I decided to go back to these characters now, partly because there are so many interesting computer crimes out there these days and partly because there’s a particular crime I want to explore. Unlike the first two plots, this crime is ripped from the headlines—of seven years ago.
The editors and agents who said computer stories get stale before they hit the shelves aren’t wrong. We all know from real life how quickly our devices and operating systems become obsolete, and if your characters are using specific phone models or computer operating systems—and if that information is important to the book—you’re in trouble, unless you’re writing a historical. As I researched this case, I worried that the techniques and systems the criminal used to create his empire—and the techniques the FBI used to crack it—would be outdated. What would I do then? The case is too interesting to give up.
However, computer systems don’t turn over that fast. Even if all the hardware is replaced regularly, software might not be updated that quickly. And even if all the software is updated every couple of months, its basic architecture might not change radically. I held out hope.
I’ve discovered that some of the techniques used to commit (and solve) this crime seven years ago are, in fact, outdated, but some of the technology is still in play today. That’s a relief, because even though I don’t particularly want this crime to be recognizable to those who follow such things, and I want to take liberties with how it evolved, having the plot and outcome worked out for you in advance by real-life people is handy. Thank you, crooks and law enforcement!
Moreover, I don’t want to get too far into the weeds with computer geekhood. For one thing, I know next to nothing about computer programming. For another, that’s not where the story juice is, unless you’re Sheldon Cooper. I just want to have the story and the applicable techniques be plausible enough that the book isn’t laughable to the reasonably knowledgeable among us.
So I’m barely underway, trying to figure out my antagonist. You’d think it would be the evil computer hacker, but maybe not. However, that’s a post for another day.
How about you? Have you ever had to worry about dating yourself in your books?