Learn more about the Life Online books and Case Lane by reading this Q&A. If you have more questions, please contact Case.
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The Life Online series
How did you come up with the idea for The Life Online series?
For more than a decade prior to going to law school, I worked on the transition from physical to digital media in the entertainment industry. We were on the operational side of the business, the digital production and distribution activities, not consumer uses. Part of my work included training. Everyone had to learn to use new technologies, the terminology, the functions, and most importantly the capabilities. The process was an incredible learning experience around how to seamlessly make a major transition like that work for a large and varied group of people. But my impetus for going to law school was working with lawyers who were trying to understand how the new media would be protected under the old laws. The lawyers had to comprehend what the digital media files represented, all those bits and bytes, so that they could determine if the legal safeguards still applied, or new rules had to be created. I imagined this conflict was playing out in every industry and profession. For example, in the book series, I completely do away with traditional schools, and everyone learns online. We no longer need teachers who can stand up in front of a mixed class of children, but educator-programmers who can develop immersive, interactive lessons that automatically adapt to each child’s understanding and learning pace. The thought process is completely different, but the base content is the same. That’s the core of the changes now taking place, that become the world we live in for The Life Online Series.
What about the psychological side of our future Life Online? In the books people no longer think or operate without Network instructions, what are you getting at there?
The issue here is that as people become dependent on technology to direct them through their lives, they lose the ability to continue evolving. Take a look at the world we live in now, besides technology we have had continuous social progress that is one hundred percent dependent on the way people think. All the laws negatively affecting women, blacks, Natives, gays and others, had to be repealed and replaced, because society changed the way it thought about people and how they were treated. But if computers do all the thinking in the future, what happens to our progress as human beings? Unfortunately, the civil rights movement has not taken us all the way to utopia. Now I’m concerned about the entrenchment of sexism and racism, due to the computers literally being programmed to maintain the status quo or respond based on stereotypes. The majority of people working in the technology industry fall into two demographics (white and Asian males), there is very little diversity which means it’s possible that the technology will not be forward-thinking. If civil society outside of the tech industry do not keep thinking and improving human brainpower, we will not only lose technological innovation, but also social progress. There is a lot more work to be done, we do not want to be frozen.
What is the meaning of the different colors for the book covers?
At first glance, most people can tell the cover is a computer motherboard (the hardware inside a computer) or a microchip and the lines are connectors. The functioning of a computer network is the impetus for action in all of the stories. But friends of mine pointed out the covers also look like an ethnic rug. You know how in many cultures, people have weavings, patterns and designs in multiple colors demonstrating the stories of their people or significant events in carpets and wall-hangings. Well that idea fits perfectly with the books, which are not only about the digital technology but also its impact on our basic humanity. The pattern of a motherboard is a new way of looking at the foundation of our culture and how it represents our connections. But of course there is a negative side to the idea of technology being fundamental to our cultural practices. As for the color of each book reflecting each story, well I have some ideas but prefer to hear readers’ suggestions.
Why is the time frame so far out, from 2100, won’t these technological developments happen much sooner?
As we sadly learned with the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, there is a big difference between having a technology and using it in the way that we think it’s being used. We have the technology to map the world with satellites, and to crunch all of our personal data, and to fly civilian drones into every alleyway but it’s going to take some time before the functionality is fully deployed. I decided that a hundred years was not too far-fetched in terms of when we will be settled in, with flying transports, skin-layer coms and sensors in every doorway. At that point, we will be using the technology in a way that supersedes our ability to think.
The book takes place all over the world, did you choose the locations for a specific reason?
Travel mode is my favorite personal setting, and I’m interested in the hundreds of places where I’ve been, and the thousands more I want to see. As an adult I have lived and worked for more than a year in Canada, the United States, the Philippines, Colombia, and Chile. And I have lived, studied or interned for more than a month in Mexico, Singapore and Tanzania. In between, I’ve travelled all over every region of the world. When I’m writing, I typically do not have a specific setting for an incident in mind, the locations come out as the writing unfolds.
If I had a particular type of place in mind, like a big tech city, I used today’s trends to determine where a location could be in a hundred years. It’s part of my process, and I hope readers are just as surprised by the destinations the book travels as I am. All of the geographic locations are real, but described as they could be in the future. For example, The Motion Clue begins in the Canadian province of Manitoba where I grew up. The first time I saw the town of Grand Rapids, I was surprised it was a hydro town. In the book, the dam is significantly larger than the construction there today, and part of a continent wide electrical grid infrastructure supporting tens of millions of people. But I’m guessing that a hundred years from now, northern Manitoba will still be covered in ice and snow in January.
Tell us about your characters, you feature strong women in positions of power or authority?
Kadie Laltanca is the head of UN Special Command, which is an organization established by the United Nations Security Council to maintain peace in Cyberspace. At some point, the world will get together to cooperate in the prevention and recovery from cyber attacks, Kadie’s group aids that process. She is at heart a diplomat, trying to implement solutions that move people forward but she is also well aware of The Network’s negative impact, and the need to be an individual thinker and only use the computers as a separate tool. On the other hand in The Motion Clue, Lyra Ellis, the Captain of The Omaha which is a civilian subvee, a sort-of submarine cruise ship for industrial works, is a leader who always uses The Network. She has to rise up and figure out how to think around the system, and convince the people around her to also take this risk. Kadie recognizes Lyra is battling this limitation, but at the same time is a natural thinker who just needs confidence to take action. Janna Marric, in The Unbroken Line, also faces Lyra’s challenge of trying to learn to work around The Network. Many people recognize they could be thinking on their own but do not have the courage or support to disentangle from The Network. Janna is forced to do it in an emergency when other people’s inertia may allow the world to proceed to war rather than act against Network instructions. Those conflicts are at the heart of the protagonists’ struggles in The Life Online series.
The Origin Point novella is a little different because the characters are based in today’s world and they are setting up the foundation for the creation of The Network. So we have Julia Davenport who is the U.S. Secretary of State and set in her mission, which she believes, is national security. And Apex, our clandestine rogue technologist who absolutely believes Davenport is wrong and we are being set up to lose our basic human rights. And the woman in the middle is Dallas Winter, a throwback journalist who is trying to find a way to tell the story and let the public decide.
What or who are the inspirations for the characters?
No character is directly inspired by someone I know. But the thinkers on Kadie’s team are the group I want to come over for dinner, share a few bottles of red wine and talk all night about international affairs, travel, business, media, technology and of course, books.
The adversaries in the Life Online books, Kadie and Zylen, seem to be conflicted about what they’re doing, was that on purpose?
Yes, this will be the essential issue with omnipresent technology and digital privacy going forward. A lot of people will champion personal data crunching because the practices might result in more targeted discount coupons for shopping, others will hate the idea because of the intrusion into privacy. The idea of online-only education from elementary school will no doubt be controversial, but I personally would have loved it. I thought that most of my teachers were biased and always picked favorites, it would be fantastic if that never happened anymore. But at the same time, accepting a completely online education means The Network would know all of my likes and dislikes from the time I was four years old, and there would be no way to erase or suppress the information. That’s pretty scary too.
What is the order for reading the books?
All the books can be read independently. But if you want to read in order, start with The Origin Point, which is the first prequel to the whole series. I have a few different prequels in mind so I’m calling this one number 01 (zero one). Follow with Book One – The Motion Clue, Book Two – The Unbroken Line, and Book Three – The Probable Cause which will be released in November 2016. I have the idea for Book Four but no title yet so I’ll update that one when it’s ready.
About The Probable Cause
The Probable Cause is your most action-oriented book in the series so far, why did you decide to go with this type of story?
The Life Online series has focused on a world where gifted rogue technologists with advanced skill are able to use the technology for future tech crimes. This time I wanted to demonstrate that crimes that are familiar to us today like kidnapping and murder may also be the outcome of Network manipulation. In The Probable Cause, a criminal, Rafer Acton, has the resources to use technology to execute on an ancient revenge plan. Rafer’s ideas are medieval but he recognizes he can make his point by turning the technology against people who thought it was used to support them. This book is demonstrating that the future tech advances will fall into all hands not just benign rogue techs or governments, but every level of criminal will have access to the same tools.
You released the Prologue for this book as a podcast, why did you decide on that approach?
When I see a disaster movie, I often jokingly wonder how the media would cover the story that takes place in the film. My first career was as a reporter so the thinking is instinctive. Hovering in the background of the events in The Probable Cause is the Natchez massacre, the crime that gets Rafer Acton thrown in jail. I did not want to focus on the killings in the novel, but I thought it would be interesting for readers to know about the incident and to have a sense of who Rafer is before the book begins.
Listening to the podcast is not critical to understanding the book, it’s extra, but I hope readers enjoy it.
For the first time you have an antagonist who is not a technologist but has ordered and bought the programs he needs for his plans, who is Rafer Acton and how is he able to use technology so effectively?
Rafer is a very resourceful young man. He had been having an idle life before he decided to embark on his revenge plan. To enact a 22nd century revenge against a Bronze Age (26th century BC) crime, he knew he would need to creatively use technology. He could design the program but his challenge was to find someone who could complete the coding for him. This means techs-for-hire are writing code but may not necessarily know the actual intentions of the person who hires them. But, regardless of their knowledge the work will go to the highest bidder.
You have a new character, Kadie’s ex Drake Mountaine, who uses unorthodox methods to achieve his goals.
Yes Drake is a fun character, both wonderfully loyal, dangerous and independent. Kadie knows he can achieve any objective but she cannot trust his methods. And just like Rafer Acton, Drake is not a technologist but he knows how to use technology and how to have people help him get what he wants.
Is ‘the probable cause’ a technology question about what went wrong in The Network or a psychological question about what went wrong with Rafer Acton?
Readers could ask whether human error or a machine reaction was responsible for the Network problems that set off the action in the book. At the same time, you can ask whether Rafer is a created or natural criminal based on his background history and behavior. I would be interested to hear comments going either way.
About The Origin Point
Why did you decide to write a prequel novella for the series?
People have asked, and I’ve been thinking, about how The Network, the omnipresent cyber tracking system in the series, came into being. As told in the story, the world we live in today with complete dysfunction in Washington, and a lack of solid leadership in other countries, super billionaires with lots of money to spend, the end of investigative journalism and serious media, and technology moving forward without regulation – all of these forces are perfect for the creation of an omnipresent cyber surveillance network. Honestly if a group had the money and could organize the tech talent, the story that plays out in the book could really happen today. There is no force capable of stopping people from just going ahead and setting the project up. So I wanted to demonstrate that The Network could be built and people could complacently come to rely on the system because of circumstances existing here and now.
This novella is more of a political story about certain issues in American society and how they could be influenced by technology, what was your idea for setting the novella up that way?
Yes a major part of the story is based around the discussion the characters have about technology’s use in discrimination, law enforcement, education and consumer debt. I wrote the “mystery files” from the novella years ago as part of the introduction to The Motion Clue. Then I decided I could use those documents as the foundation for a separate story about the origins of The Network. Discussing these issues was important to setting the context for the story and establishing how some of these technological solutions become part of the fabric of everyday life in the book series.
Also my books crossover into non-fiction because these issues are playing out in real time in our world today. For readers, I hope the book situations become more realistic because they can relate the topics to current news headlines and policy debates.
The novella has a new set of characters, will we see them again?
Yes there will be some more prequels. The Origin Point leads directly into the beginning of Chapter One of The Motion Clue. I want to do another prequel that will lead into a later part of Chapter One when Kadie and Roman are together in Aspen. Also I’m thinking about a book maybe a fiction/non-fiction crossover that covers the economic, education and technology gaps that will open up in our society over the next 100 years.
About The Unbroken Line
Now you have entered the world where hologram technology is interfering with The Network, where did the idea for The Unbroken Line come from?
Two concepts came together for this story. One was holograms – the concerts featuring Tupac and Michael Jackson – I thought that was amazing in the sense that you would always be able to see a “live” performance by an artist even after death. I thought about the implications of the technology and how it would change the way people thought about a person passing. Elvis sightings would not be so fantastical anymore. The second part came when I read the line in Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” that is quoted at the beginning of the book. In summary, the idea is that if you are alive today it means that your genetic line has survived every war, plague, genocide, famine, natural disaster and random accident that has ever happened in the history of all humankind – and you’re still here. So if you die without producing biological children, you end that line irrevocably. But what if that idea is no longer true, what if your line can continue unbroken forever? What are the questions that possibility would raise? And why is it important?
So are these books tech thrillers or deep socio-psychological discussions about the future?
(Laughs) Both. The Life Online series asks the questions about where we are going as a society, but puts the story in a thriller context where our characters do not have much time to think about how to get out of a dangerous situation. The majority of people who are going to have to run the world and cope with the future are not technologists. This book series is about all of us and how we are going to manage with machines we do not understand.
The Unbroken Line has more of the tension between the characters, why did you emphasize these relationships?
The Life Online series is about the future world where technology is dominant, but my hope is we do not let go of our essence as human beings. We will love and hate, struggle for dominance, fight for our ideals, laugh, cry, especially for the group that lives around The Network, life is about the core interactions with humans. The tone is set in the beginning which I cannot describe because that would be a spoiler. But this is a story about loved ones’ desire to preserve a person through her simcon. The technology is the facilitator for the deeply personal relationships that were created in the physical world. So this story focuses more on human nature and the daily battles people still have to endure despite the conveniences provided by technology. The characters have a lot of conflicts, but they are also highly trained professionals who have been tasked to solve a global problem. Despite their grave responsibilities, they are still people struggling with romance, rivalries and office politics.
Who are these characters we find in The Unbroken Line?
The story begins with our beloved rogue technologist Zylen Blain, still fighting the good fight to elude Special Command’s Global Intelligence forces. Kadie Laltanca is the leader of a team of thinkers focused on finding thought-driven solutions to issues with The Network. The government has technologists but never ones as smart as Zylen and his cohorts. Kadie’s global team includes her volatile boyfriend Roman Francon who is a lone wolf executing on his own agenda; her right hand Slater James, who considers his position as her top advisor to be a mark of privilege; newcomer Hagen Writstone who has both a secret past with Kadie and a questionable service background, and takes struggling satellite team leader Janna Marric under his not-so-stable wings; no-nonsense U.S. Ambassador Isabella Martinez who runs two projects at once; and the questionable loyalty of Maltine Krann, another newcomer who is essentially a double-agent rogue tech who is working for Special Command. In this book, there are a lot of back stories, these agents have crossed paths in the past, which fuels the tension among them.
So The Unbroken Line is the ability to have a simcon let you live forever, correct?
Yes that’s correct. The Unbroken Line refers to the ability to never end your existence on earth. Technology will make this possible. You can exist physically by freezing your DNA and making sure someone ends up using it, or digitally through your simcon, or as we suspect Zylen wants…both.
About The Motion Clue
Did you get freaked out by a privacy breach on The Internet or trailed by a civilian drone? Where did the idea for The Motion Clue come from?
The idea has been building in my head for years. Let me take you back to The Matrix movies. When I first saw those movies, I thought the premise was that we had programmed computers to do every task, so the code became circular and the computers started programming us. But then I saw the origin DVD, The Animatrix and the backstory turned out to be another man versus machine storyline like The Terminator. That bothered me for years, I decided I would write the story I had originally envisioned during that era. I then had another idea that the global team in charge of figuring out what went wrong with The Network would be looking for a solution in human nature and would go to Africa to try to find people who did not live with omnipresent technology. But thank goodness Africa is developing rapidly with smartphones everywhere, so I ended up only giving a shout-out to that idea in the book, and not making it the whole story. The story finally came together in 2014 as I saw how quickly The Internet was being co-opted to end our concept of privacy, and how the use of commercial drones would make it even more impossible to be left alone. But I still wanted to tell the story about what could happen if we remained complacent about these developments and defaulted computers to make our decisions for us.
Did you do any special research?
Constantly. These issues are around us all day, so once you are aware of what to look for, you see the ideas playing out in real time. Also I was taking privacy law during the writing of The Motion Clue so I was learning about the current global legal regime for civilian drones and network data integration. But I always checked other facts for information that I did not have. That said, this is not a technical book. The whole point is that I am not a professional technologist. This story is for the, ‘liberal arts majors,’ who are going to have to manage with technology they do not quite understand. I wanted readers to approach the story the same way the characters have to approach the situation with The Network. Most of them actually do not know how the system works and can only use their knowledge, experience and sense of right and wrong to come up with a solution.
What exactly is The Motion Clue?
The answer is in the book. I look forward to hearing everyone’s guess.
About A Better Plan
A Better Plan is a non-fiction book about financial planning, how did you sneak that one in?
As part of my overall theme to “prepare for the future,” I started Ready Entrepreneur which is a website and online course for people who want to start a business. While I was working on that I remembered A Better Plan, a book I wrote way back in 2009 when online tools for self-publishing were being, I guess, initially thought about. I never got any traction in publishing the book but was able to virtually dust it off and make it available on all the booksites and do the promotions connected to the Ready Entrepreneur message.
When you say your overall theme is to “prepare for the future” what does that mean?
The entire Case Lane World is a unified ecosystem that incorporates my ideas around helping you tap the power you have to be independent and self-sufficient in a changing technological and global world. I define complications in my non-fiction work, illustrate through my fiction novels and present solutions through my business development and entrepreneurial training with Ready Entrepreneur. All my work is connected.
Tell us about yourself?
I am living the best life that I can possibly have, maximizing every second. I love to learn, by reading, listening, watching, I’m curious about everything. I was born in England, to Nigerian and Jamaican parents, grew up in Canada, joined the Foreign Service and lived in The Philippines, Colombia and Chile. Then I went to graduate school in the US where I completed an MBA and settled in California. All that to say, I’m a global citizen. After working in consulting and business operations in the entertainment industry, I decided to pursue a law degree and a Masters in economics, and to launch my fiction-writing career (yes all at the same time). In summary, I am a writer with a self-publishing and information business who also happens to be a lawyer, trained economist, experienced digital media executive, management consultant and diplomat who speaks three languages and still loves to learn.
What is your writing and revision process? How do you manage your time?
For me, time is like money, you have to manage it, account for every minute, and use it to your advantage. I wrote The Motion Clue during the spring semester of my second year in law school. I would get up at 5 am and write until 8 am, and in the first half of the semester I also wrote from 8 pm to around 11 pm but that tapered off as I got closer to exams. Once I have a story idea I just sit down and write. The story usually appears like scenes from a movie running through my mind. I typically start out hand writing for about 20 to 50 pages on a yellow legal notepad. Hand-writing allows me to rapidly put down story bullet-points all the way to the end. Then I get the laptop and write the novel out completely. I revise a lot because once I’ve got the story, I literally type really fast and end up leaving details out because the main story just has to be told. I have to come back and fix the details later. I’ll write “someone walked into the room and Kadie stopped talking.” The main point was that she stopped talking, but I still have to go back and figure out who “someone” was. I’m always worried that I missed a continuity step, like in a movie when there’s a bottle on the table in one scene and in the next shot it’s missing. I try to check for that, but readers can let me know if I missed anything.
Who are your favorite writers? What are your favorite books?
I’m a fan of so many but the British writer Susan Howatch is my favorite, and her book Penmarric is always on my top ten list. I also love the big sweeping international sagas of a James Clavell or George R.R. Martin, the multidimensional epics of Isabelle Allende, the stunning voice of Kazuo Ishiguro, and re-reading Jane Austen again and again. There are many more but I think for these writers, I’ve tried to read everything they have published.
What…no science fiction writers?
I know, I know my books are considered speculative science fiction because of the use of technology in future world settings. And I am a fan of science fiction. But I really wanted to focus on the human side of our rising dependency on technology. I’m interested in how our adaptation to machines will affect our ability to function as people. So the human conflicts around trying to manage the machine are the core of my novels.
How long is The Life Online Series Series? What will be in the future books?
For book three, The Probable Cause, a new Network command, maybe human or machine created, ignites a global crisis with an ongoing war crimes type trial and a criminal facing multiple charges. Kadie and the team will reconvene, maybe with the help of our favorite rogue techs, and fight to save the world again.