Today I welcome Hallie Ephron as Guest Blogger. I knew I had to invite Hallie after reading an advance copy of her latest suspense novel, COME AND FIND ME (HarperCollins; March 22). I was fascinated with Second Life and the whole other world. I wanted to know more about how Hallie became involved and how she 'did her research.' Come and Find Me tells the story of a recluse who works and lives online and must brave the “real world” when her sister goes missing.
Win a signed copy of Come and Find Me by entering a comment at the end of this blog. Just mention why you want to read the book. Winner will be chosen by random number selection and announced on this post with an update on March 21, so be sure and stop back by.
3/21/11: And the winner is: CPatLarge (Cyndi Pauwels). Thank you all for entering!
Hallie Ephron wrote her first mystery novel Amnesia with a good friend, neuropsychologist Donald Davidoff, and together they penned a series of five “Dr. Peter Zak” mystery novels for St. Martin’s Minotaur under the shared pen name G. H. Ephron. She made a splash writing solo when she turned to psychological suspense. Never Tell a Lie was published by HarperCollins in 2009. It was nominated for multiple awards, including the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and won the David Award for Best Mystery Novel of 2010. Never Tell a Lie was also made into the Lifetime film And Baby Will Fall.
Hallie combined writing talent with a love of teaching in Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock ‘Em Dead with Style (Writers Digest Books). The book was nominated for Edgar and for Anthony awards. She also wrote The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel. Hallie is also is an award-winning book reviewer for the Boston Globe where her column "On Crime" appears every month. She lives near Boston with her husband and has two wonderful daughters. Hallie can be found at her website or blogging at Jungle Red.
For my new suspense novel "Come and Find Me" I created Diana Highsmith, a young woman so traumatized by loss that she's afraid to leave her home. She's a former hacker who was about to go legit, using her experience to help companies protect themselves, when the man she loved was killed in a climbing accident.
I knew just what Diana would do--she'd create a life for herself on the Internet while barricading herself behind locked doors, fire walls, and security systems. What I didn't know was whether that was possible. Did the world which I envisioned as 3-D virtual reality exist?
Like most everyone else who lives in Massachusetts, I'd worked in high tech and had tons of friends who still did. So I started asking around and I quickly discovered that there were a number of virtual worlds out there, and the one called Second Life seemed to fit the bill.
Could Diana make a living as a computer consultant, operating in the virtual world of Second Life, while remaining safely barricaded in her own house? Absolutely. She would have created her alter ego, an avatar to represent herself. She could have bought an "island" in Second Life, as have real companies like Coca-Cola and IBM, where her avatar could meet with the avatars of real clients in virtual conference rooms. She could hang out with other avatars--friends she's never met in person. And she could shop for virtual clothes for her avatar or real clothes for herself--which immediately suggested to me the idea that she might buy herself the same outfit her avatar wears, and maybe, just maybe, wearing them would help her step out into the real world.
To create a world that felt authentic, I had to try it out myself. Armed with enough information to be dangerous, I created an account and logged into Second Life. First, I created an avatar. That was easy. Moving her around was not.
I'm not a gamer, so I'm pathetically ineffept at the fine art of using a mouse and arrow keys. I knew my avatar could walk, run, fly, sit, and teleport, but I couldn't keep her from bumping into furniture. Once I got her sitting on a chair I had to access HELP to figure out how to get her up again.
It was exhilarating when I finally got her aloft, watching like I was perched on her shoulder as she soared over the island at the entrance to Second Life. Not so exhilarating seconds later when she plunged into the ocean. I actually found myself gasping for breath, then panicking when I couldn't quickly get her out.
So most of what I learned about Second Life (in the book I call a similar place OtherWorld) was gleaned by talking to folks who play and work there, generous souls who let me ride shotgun while they went about their business in 3-D virtual reality. Among other things, I learned that a good percentage of men with accounts on SecondLife have female avatars. I learned that even bucolic corners of the virtual world could be infested by "griefers," mischief-makers who enjoy raining down toasters or flying phalluses or dropping cages to trap the avatars of unsuspecting players. The first time I experienced a griefer, even though I wasn't at the controls, I was genuinely terrified.
While in most places in Second Life, avatars can't get hurt, other places are "damage enabled." In combat sims, avatars compete against one another with awe-inspiring weapons. It's hard, but not impossible, for an avatar to get completely destroyed, but while I was writing the book I found a news article about a wife who managed to kill her ex-husband's avatar after he divorced her. I definitely had to use that. Somehow.
The more I learned about Second Life, the more I started to feel like a kid in a playground loaded with new toys. I had to pick and choose (falling toasters or flying phalluses?) among them. I also had to sand down my geeky edges, realizing that most of my readers are not nearly as fascinated by technology as I am.
Incidentally, when I started writing the book, its working title was "Avatar."
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