Q. Why did you decide to write books about cybercrime?
A. Cybercrime is mysterious because it takes place invisibly, electronically, inside black boxes. I liked the challenge of investigating how a huge fortune was stolen when all the clues are digitized inside the boxes. Writing about such matters in a way that keeps readers turning the pages is difficult, but it’s the kind of writing challenge I enjoy.
Q. Why did you decide to write a book from a hacker’s perspective?
A. The line between “hacker” and “security specialist” is vague. In order to protect systems, you have to think like a criminal. It’s a matter of what you do with the skills and the knowledge. There are thieves called “black hat” hackers and there are those defending against them who are called “white hats”. Both kinds, being human, sometimes wish to be on the other side. Both kinds are in PHISHED, a mystery solved by a “gray hat”, and it’s up to the reader to decide whether it’s a dark or light-colored one.
Q. Were there any personal experiences that informed the book?
A. I had a foundation in the I.T. industry before I turned to full time writing. I started out as a programmer at a bank, and PHISHED is a book about bank fraud. For a while after my coding days, I was a systems analyst, the job of understanding a business well enough to describe how to satisfy its requirements with technology. Then I worked as a consultant for several years. My last client was a government agency, an experience that was helpful in writing a story that involves several government agencies. I traveled some when I was in the business, so I’ve been to the places where the story is set. On the other hand, I have only a user’s experience with technologies that have evolved since the mid-2010s. So the foundation was there, but I had to research the parts of the story about the internet, artificial intelligence, and other pieces of the cyber ecosystem that were only dreamt of in my day.
Q. You said that you “borrowed” your protagonist, Roy Landis, from someone else. What does that mean?
A. John D. McDonald wrote a terrific series about a character named Travis McGee, a “knight in tarnished armor” who recovered stolen fortunes and kept half as a salvage fee. That’s basically Roy Landis, a “gray hat” who tracks stolen money in the cyber realm and keeps half of whatever he can recover. Like McGee, Roy lives in an interesting place, has interesting friends and female clients (damsels in distress) who have been victimized by nefarious villains. One of the traits that made McGee lovable was his tendency to reflect on social issues as he discovered minutia in the course of his investigations. These were the fictional elements I “borrowed” from the late, great John D. McDonald.
Q. Why did you set the book in Philadelphia, New York and Connecticut?
A. Only because they are locations I know. The accountant victim could have been working in any city. I live in Philadelphia, so that’s where Roy and the victim live. The villains could have lived anywhere, but still had global reach because of the internet. Even New York is interchangeable with any city with a stock exchange. The financial systems through which billions flow every day are accessible anywhere on earth. PHISHED is a story about those systems; about digitized rivers of money and the predators lurking on the bottom.