Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with thriller writer Romina Wilcox. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Romina. Please tell us something about yourself.
Romina: I’m an administrative assistant at one of the major Silicon Valley corporations, a wife and mother of three children. In every minute I have to spare, I enjoy writing and, especially, creating exciting novels that make use of my imagination and the acquired knowledge of how corporations work. I like to share some of the insider information about what goes on behind the scenes, about technology and the capabilities of the software created by my friends in the industry. I hope I’ve been successful in creating characters readers care about and want to succeed despite all the twists and turns and crises I throw in their way through the villain
Morgen: What specifically inspired you to write The Calendar and what does the title refer to?
Romina: Both my husband and I have worked in the Silicon Valley for many years. Our particular companies and many others are the corporations that produce most of the innovative software products private citizens and businesses use for computers and the Internet (Cisco, Apple, Intel, IBM, Adobe, Symantec, and so forth). Exciting things happen in these companies every day. Everyone is highly motivated and creative. As a writer, I see these people as interesting “characters” who have to juggle their sometimes mundane private lives with the highly competitive environment that makes up their work lives. They want to contribute. They want to earn promotions and personal accolades. They want to make a name for themselves as well as for their company products. It’s exciting, but also stressful. And in working toward the fulfilling of their personal goals, they are bound to clash with others sharing their passions and goals.
Unfortunately, these days, when such companies are successful, others want to steal their ideas or cause problems. Technology has changed our lives and changed the way every company of every size operates and does business. It has also made the world smaller in that we can communicate with anyone with a computer and an email system these days. Worldwide.
The Calendar, by the way, is the way in which the characters in the book communicate with each other at work. They can organize meetings and group conferences on it without ever leaving their desk. It’s possible for a manager to examine the calendar and know if the people he needs to attend are free at a particular hour on a particular day. This is usually a convenient tool . . . BUT, if someone needs to know that information in order to conduct maliciousness . . . well, it can become an unsafe tool. The antagonist (I call him Mr. Bad when I’m writing!) uses the company calendar to send people to places that put them in peril. On the other hand, the protagonist uses the calendar to check up on the whereabouts of those she suspects may be Mr. Bad. You can’t be in two places at the same time.
Morgen: What is The Calendar about? How is it related to today’s current events?
Romina: THE CALENDAR is a suspense-thriller that involves the spiteful theft of a company’s intellectual matter by someone who secretly hacks into their system. This is critically important, because the company is in the business of creating cybersecurity software and is already known internationally for its premier software called COLD EYES, which is, by the way, the title of my first book in this series. The company is being considered for a long-term contract with the Homeland Security Department of our government. After a bomb planted by the antagonist completely blows up an annex to the company, with the intention of killing all the major players who’d work with the government, the officers and workers alike wonder if they are automatically out of the running. Why should the government, or any of their clients for that matter, believe they are capable of protecting their Internet systems if they weren’t able to protect their own? Both the company and the protagonist use several high-tech tools to learn the identity of the villain. These same tools are used by the FBI and the cybersecurity companies hired by corporations to learn the identification of the hackers into their own systems. It’s becoming an increasingly serious problem worldwide. Everyone wonders if Mr. Bad is a foreign terrorist, a competing company for the Homeland Security Department contract, or a disgruntled employee. Everyone knows time is of the essence. The bomb killed three people. Other unexpected events kill a few more. Not only the company’s sterling reputation is at risk. Lives are at risk. And everyone knows the primary target is Joanne Gravitz, the protagonist.
Morgen: What would you like your readers learn in reading your book?
Romina: First of all, I want them to be entertained. Because it’s a thriller, I hope they find THE CALENDAR keeps them turning the pages and unable to put the book down until the last page. I wanted to create a large-scale situation with dire consequences at stake. If the heroine doesn’t figure out who the villain is in time, more innocent people will perish. The heroine is an ordinary woman who’s been placed in extraordinary circumstance by accident. The goal of the plot is for her to thwart the plans of the villain and in a fast-paced, action-packed format. October, in America, is Cyber Security Awareness Month. This year, the theme is Cybersecurity: Our Shared Responsibility. It is a national campaign designed to increase the public’s awareness of cyber security and crime issues, so that users can take precaution to avoid these threats on the Internet. The month will feature public relations activities, educational programs, events and initiatives that targets home users, small businesses, education audiences and child safety online.
With this in mind, I’d like my readers to become more aware of all the threats from hackers that put even their own PCs, notebooks, iPads, cellphones and email systems at risk every day. Hackers use today’s technology to their advantage. We don’t have time to discuss all the techniques used in THE CALENDAR that our listeners need to know about, but, briefly, they include the hacking by cyber criminals into personal e-mail accounts to retrieve bank and other financial information; email spoofing that allows anyone to send an email to anyone and make it appear to have come from someone else. Hackers can get anyone’s IP address. Hackers can disguise texts, email messages and even change your phone number on someone else’s caller ID to make it look like it came from someone else.
Caller ID spoofing is the practice of causing the telephone network to display a number on someone’s caller ID display that isn’t that of the actual originating station. Just as e-mail spoofing can make it appear that a message came from any e-mail address other than your own, caller ID spoofing can make a call appear to have come from any phone number the caller wishes. All these calls are untraceable. Now, you can even send untraceable text messages to just about any cellular and paging carrier.
Fortunately, a cybersecurity company, like the one featured in my two thrillers, has the knowhow to conduct a complete network penetration testing and learn about a company’s network vulnerability to determine if the security has any holes or vulnerabilities that will allows a hacker to get at intellectual property. Why is this important? Cyber attacks have been occurring at a record pace in 2011 with the likes of the FBI, the CIA, NATO, and Citigroup among their victims. A recent study found three companies that spent more than $29 million to resolve cyber attacks, and a large attack on Sony earlier this year is expected to cost the company more than $170 million. Last month, the institute reported that cyber crimes in the first half of this year cost U.S. companies nearly as much as they did in all of 2010.
Morgen: How did you select your characters? Was it difficult to avoid modeling them after people you know?
Romina: I work with men and women who are all professionals, from the department management level to directors and executive officers, and have seen and heard them at their best and their worst. I write fiction and while fiction is always interspersed with truth, the goal of authors is to ensure that no character can be identified as a real life person. In THE CALENDAR, my characters are a conglomerate of characteristics from many people. I may have a male character exhibit the ethics and personality of a woman and visa versa. Every character has flaws. In my long career, I’ve met and worked with literally hundreds of people. No one who knows me should see himself or herself in one of my characters. They are figments of my imagination. In a thriller, it’s important to create the potential for any one of several characters to be the antagonist I like to call Mr. Bad. I hope I’ve been successful and Mr. Bad’s identity cannot be determined until the big reveal in the climax scene.
Morgen: What else have you written?
Romina: My first book was titled COLD EYES. It uses the same cybersecurity company, the same protagonist and a few other characters readers will find in THE CALENDAR. It’s also a high-tech thriller with fast-paced action and murder. It received Honorable Mention at the 2007 New York Book Festival. Readers who find themselves interested may wish to read COLD EYES first to learn more about the protagonist, Joanne Gravitz, who is the creator of the software called COLD EYES. I’ve also written a chick lit novel titled The P.I.G. Mantras. It’s a story about a working girl trying to make it in the corporate world without a degree and experience. Just like my first two cyber-thrillers its setting is also in Silicon Valley. You can read more about my work by visiting my website at www.RominaWilcox.com
Morgen: What advice would you give other writers?
Romina: Read, read, read. Especially books in the genre you enjoy and have interest in writing yourself. Then, learn everything you can about the craft of writing. Join a writer’s group. Be persistent. Stay focused. Set a daily goal. When you think you’re finished, send your manuscript off to a professional copy editor. As writers, we tend to see things we expect to be there, not what’s really in print. These days, competition is stiff. You want to present your very best effort from page one.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Romina: The quickest and easiest way is to shop online through amazon.com books. It’s also available in amazon.uk.com and available on both print and kindle version.
Morgen: Thank you, Romina.
Romina: Thank you so much, Morgen. I have thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to share something about the increase in cybersecurity problems this year and to, hopefully, entice your readers to know more about it in THE CALENDAR and COLD EYES.
ROMINA WILCOX has enjoyed a 15-year career working for giant semiconductor companies supporting top Silicon Valley executives. She is the author of The P.I.G. Mantras—a chick lit novel, and two high-tech cybercrime thrillers, Cold Eyes and The Calendar. Her books are based in Silicon Valley, where she lives with her husband and their three children.
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