Thursday, November 8, 2012

DAY FOUR - THE DAY EIGHT SERIES WEEK

DAY FOUR.
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As you know I'm having a special week in honor to THE DAY EIGHT SERIES by Ray Mazza.
Today I have a special interview with the author of this amazing series.


Here are the links to the other posts, I have a review for each book.
PART I: HERE.
PART II: HERE.
PART III: HERE.


FIND OUT MORE ABOUT RAY MAZZA AND THE DAY EIGHT SERIES. GO HERE!
*****
INTERVIEW WITH RAY MAZZA,
AUTHOR OF THE DAY EIGHT SERIES.


ME: Why did you decide to write THE DAY EIGHT SERIES?
RAY: In high school, almost 20 years ago, I read George Orwell’s 1984. The main character, Winston, decides to keep a journal, “For the future, for the unborn,” when the mere act of even thinking about keeping a journal in his world was punishable by death. I was so moved that I began keeping a daily journal myself. This was an important moment for me because it’s when I got used to putting pen to paper not because someone told me to, but because I enjoyed it, because there were words in me that needed to be on a page.
I decided to write The Day Eight Series because I had a deep desire to share an engaging story with the world, but also to share ideas – ideas that might have the power to alter the way readers think about their world.
ME: What was your inspiration to write the story? And, how long did it take you to write it?
RAY: In college, I took an artificial intelligence class called “Cognitive Science.” I remember learning about an array of approaches to A.I., and thinking, “None of these approaches will ever create real intelligence.” They were like trying to recreate our world by painting it on a flat canvas. So I asked myself, “How would I go about creating true artificial intelligence? A.I. that is actually smart?” And that was the foundation for my story. (I have a longer blog post about it here, but it has spoilers.)

That was back in about 2000 when I had the idea. I started writing in November, 2005, for the NaNoWriMo. That got me 34,000 words into the story – enough that my wife could read it and tell me that I should keep writing when I’d been doubting myself (interestingly, she had been expecting not to like it). The entire series is over 186,000 words. It took me 5 years to write the full first draft, then another 18 months to get feedback, edit, and revise. It took me so long to write it because I had to juggle it with my full time job (as a video game designer on The Sims games) and also because I was learning how to organize and write a compelling novel at the same time.
ME: Why did you decided to divide the stroy into three parts? (A great decision if you ask me).
RAY: I’d originally written the series as one complete book, Day Eight. At 186K words, Day Eight was long – just slightly longer than Dickens’ Great Expectations. So the first reason I decided to break it up was to make it a more casual read, something that felt like it was moving quickly, and on Kindle the progress bar would tick-up fast. And the paperbacks are easier to hold.
The second reason was price. This let me charge very little for each part – especially the first part, which is $0.99, but also which I’ve given away for free on many occasions (over 10,000 people have downloaded it free, and it was the #1 Free Amazon Kindle Technothriller during Labor Day weekend). I want to be able to suck in as many readers as possible.
ME: Was it easy to imagine the kind of technology and resources that exist in the books?
RAY:
It wasn’t easy, but it was fun! The technology is grounded in reality. Most of it stemmed from research I’d read about (like optical & quantum computers), current physics knowledge (string theory, Planck’s constant), or just cool/scary technology that already exists (MKVs or eavesdropping by listening to interference from key presses on keyboards). Other aspects, like how Ezra’s world functioned and how she was able to manipulate it, or the bio-neural connectors – that was more pure imagination and daydreaming, sometimes me lying on my couch thinking for half an hour. Thinking about the bio-neural connectors and what it would be like for Nicole, the hit-woman, to experience super-fast brain activity – that was a delightful thought experiment.
One of the experiences I used from my own life was an interview I had with the NSA in college. I was interviewing for a computer science position. They told me, “People don’t work for us because of the salaries. They work for us because of the technology. Our computers are 10 years ahead of the industry.” That idea alone got me imagining what else might be out there already, and you’ll remember a similar line from near the end of Part 1, The Reborn.
ME: Did you find it hard to find the words to make it easy for the readers to understand the laws of physics and all the technological argument in the story?
RAY:
I was already picky about my wording of normal phrases. I was even more careful explaining the details of technology and physics. Sometimes a single, short paragraph would take me an hour to write, rearrange, and ultimately craft into what’s there now. One of my goals for The Day Eight Series was to introduce The Technological Singularity to the mass market. I wanted the average reader to have fun with these concepts of physics, computers, and AI without having to be a science geek (like me) or a Sci-Fi fan.
Some of the heaviest revision after getting draft readers was focused on the longer technical sections. I revised a lot and cut large chunks that went too deep into detail. And I mostly pulled it off – I’ve had readers telling me they never knew they’d like this kind of story. But the few pages where Ezra creates a bubble in her universe that begins to break down physics… that is still too detailed for some readers, but I was too in love with that section to chop it, and it makes the story and world much deeper for those who follow it.
ME: How was creating Ezra? How was the process of creating a super -intelligent being?
RAY: Creating Ezra was one of the aspects of Day Eight where I was most uncomfortable with my abilities as a writer. I mean, how do you write dialog for a being who’s 1000x smarter than anyone else? And how does she feel about being in a computer? And how does it feel to be at the mercy of us? What gave me hope was that she was ultimately human, and I wanted this human side to come through so that we could all relate to her and feel for her. 

I liked imagining how someone would live if they had total control over their environment and could change it with their mind – how would they have fun? What would they aspire to? And what would they think of us?
I also wanted to foreshadow Ezra’s eventual fate so that reading Day Eight a second time would be enjoyable in new ways as readers picked up on some her layers. For example, even her very first line of dialog in the prologue is significant.  

ME: Do you relate to Trevor in any level?
RAY:
Trevor is just a normal guy with a desk job. He’s pretty good at his job, but it’s not his lifelong dream. His personal life has its holes, down to the bonsai tree he can’t seem to keep alive in his apartment. He’s also no hero in the beginning – he’s definitely not a Jack Reacher type, but he wishes he were. And he’s searching for the meaning in life. I think this makes for a character that a lot of people can relate to.
And then he does something stupid and is thrown into the middle of an epic adventure that helps him become that hero, and also helps him understand what life means to him – it’s something we all fantasize about: being awesome and understanding life!
Personally, I used Trevor as a channel to explore my (somewhat absurd) desire to understand the meaning of life. Both externally – What is the meaning of existence? – and also internally – What is the meaning of *my* life?  And Trevor’s life reflects mine in small ways, too. Trevor shares my penchant for computers and programming. He lives in an NYC apartment roughly at the location I lived one summer. He listens to music I enjoy. And he can’t kill a spider.

ME: Allison is one of my favorite characters. How was it to write about a girl that is not completely human?
RAY: I loved it. I have a stronger emotional bond with Allison than any other character in the story. Sometimes I regret not writing more about her; I think there’s a completely great story that could have been told if I’d focused all three parts on her alone rather than diverging to Ezra and hitmen and conspiracies. In a way, I feel like I’ve neglected her like a parent neglecting a child. Near the end, when Trevor finally talks to her again and apologizes for not being around, that’s also me apologizing, channeling through Trevor.
My biggest challenge was to make her feel like a real child – particularly, a curious, timid, adorable child who the reader would worry about even though she’s “just a computer simulation.” One way I accomplished this was that I tried to make her more human than simulation. For example, when Trevor challenges her to a breath-holding contest, it becomes apparent that she can’t just stop breathing and be okay. She doesn’t know how to alter her simulation to, say, create oxygen in her lungs. So if she didn’t breathe, she would die. In fact, Allison behaves very much like a real girl.
And then to emphasize the simulation aspect of her and her limited world, I included details like the stylus that her father uses on the touchscreen to tuck her into bed at night.

ME: The story moves really fast. There’s only two weeks between the start and the end of the events. Was it something planed, something that just happened? And how was it to write events and turns that suit the timing?
RAY: The only pacing that was planned was once President Paxton gave the world his ultimatum, I knew I wanted there to be precisely 7 days until the climax, and resolve the story on the 8th day. This is where the title, The Day Eight Series comes from. It’s a biblical reference to the creation of Earth and life in 7 days, and the question is – what happens on the 8th day? Symbolically, what happens next, after humans?
It just so happens that the first half of the story fits into a similar timeframe as well, but this timing “just happened.” When I started writing, I’d been reading a lot of Dan Brown and Crichton, and it rubbed off on me. I wanted each chapter to be short and to move the story in a significant way – each chapter in my outline was based on an exciting event or discovery of knowledge. And I tried to end each chapter on an event that would leave readers eager to dive into the next one. My writing style also tends to show the moment-to-moment story rather than stepping back and telling the broader strokes. The combination of these things means that many pages add up to a short time span.
There were also many times when the story was just too slow, and I had to sit back and ask myself, What can I do right here to make it more exciting? For example, in Part 1, I previously had a scene where Hillary called Trevor and they spoke for the first time. There wasn’t a great reason for the phone call other than that I had wanted both of those characters to meet each other. So the phone call was boring, and even a bit awkward. In the rewrite, Trevor nearly destroys Allison by accident, and needs to call Hillary for help – so Trevor and Hillary’s first conversation is in the midst of havoc as they try to fix Allison’s program before she’s wiped out permanently. It’s much faster, much more interesting, and it serves the story well. That’s the difference between my early writing and my late writing.

ME: Did you have to do a lot of research to write a believable “world domination”  conspiracy?
RAY: Most of my research was for the chapters where Nicole, the hit lady, is planning to assassinate the president. I researched the Secret Service and how they handle presidential travel, standard issue weaponry, security details and protocols, what the agents wear, and so on. I’m sure I got myself on a few government watch lists. A lot of my other research was geographical, and I actually used Google Earth to get a good visual understanding of Florence.
ME: While I was reading the story I could imagine it as a movie. Do you feel the same? Have you ever thought about your books turned into movies?
RAY: Readers keep asking me, When is the movie coming out? So it’s funny that I don’t think it would be a good movie. The problem is that the climax is fought entirely in Trevor’s head, and I’m not sure how to show that on the silver screen in a serious, understandable way. And there are plenty of other cerebral parts which wouldn’t translate, like Ezra’s mental battle to understand Planck’s Constant and String Theory. On the other hand, it would be a great opportunity to get Jeff Goldblum or Morgan Freeman in a scientist role to explain everything. And if a studio approached me about movie rights, I’d definitely be interested.

ME: Are you happy with the result? I know that is important to you that the reader feels different after reading your book. Do you think that you have achieved that goal?
RAY: I’m very happy – it’s one of my most satisfying accomplishments. The reviews have been strong, and the comments have been better than I had ever expected. If I can entertain people, I’m happy. The times when I can get readers excited for the future or help them look at the world of science with a fresh perspective – those are the times I’m most satisfied. And I love it when a reader says, It blew my mind!
Oh, and I also have a crazy dream that if enough people read Day Eight, eventually when computers are powerful enough, someone will figure out the logistics of creating an A.I. with the approach in Day Eight… and then do it.
Of course, not everyone likes it. One reader was disappointed by the end of the series, calling it thinly-disguised religious propaganda. It hurts when someone misunderstands my book in a negative way, but it comes with the territory of exploring such ideas. I’m actually not religious. I use plenty of religious themes and symbolism in Day Eight, but it’s to deify computers and technology, to explore the doubts I personally have about God (through the eyes of Trevor), and to try to reconcile the eternal conflict between Religion and Science.
ME: Are you currently working on a new book? Can we know about what it is about?
RAY: It will be a while before I’m writing again. I need to concentrate on getting The Day Eight Series in more hands. But I’ve been collecting my thoughts for an idea I’m excited about. It might take place at a point in time where humans have become immortal. But it’s important to me that the average person can relate to my writing, so the setting would have to be familiar. I can’t say much more than that because I don’t know too much about it – but I do already know how it’s going to end. I know the twist that will hopefully spread an additional layer of meaning across the entire story.
*****


I want to thank Ray Mazza for such a fun interview :)

P.S.: Check out the other post to find out more about his books.

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