Recently, Ruty of Reading…Dreaming interviewed me. She’s an avid reader from Uruguay who wanted to learn more about my approach to The Day Eight Series. She asked some great questions. Here is the first half of the interview:
Ruty: 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 readers, but also to share ideas – ideas that might have the power to alter the way readers think about their world.
Ruty: What was your inspiration? 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 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 -- thanks hon!). 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 because I had to juggle it with my full time job (as a designer on The Sims games) and also because I was learning how to organize and write a compelling novel at the same time.
Ruty: Why did you decide to divide the story 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.
Ruty: 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.
Ruty: 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.
Ruty: What was it like 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 of her deeper layers. For example, even her very first line of dialog in the prologue is significant.