How did you come up with the idea for your novel Six Clicks Away?
I’d been thinking for some time about how the world is getting smaller; with people increasingly linked to each other in social networks, businesses connected by global links and whole economies dependent on one another. And it was obvious that practically anything – a rumor, a virus, a financial crisis – could cascade throughout the world in record time. I began reading about computer networks and, specifically, what happens in very highly connected networks. One thing I read about was a winner-takes-all network, where the fittest node suddenly grabs all the links, causing it to develop a star topology, and all the nodes end up connected to a central hub.
I thought immediately of what would happen to Facebook if someone could go beyond the current restraints of 5,000 friends, and get a half a billion friends. Poof! Facebook reconfigures to form a star, and everyone has to go through one person to get to anyone else.
That’s what gave me the idea for the central plot. As for the six degrees of separation idea, it inspired me to write about people in disparate places. I had lived and worked in New York, New Jersey, Seattle, and Toronto, so it was natural to set four of the stories there. I really had fun with that.
The book features a diverse and extensive cast of characters. Are any of them based on people you know (in real life or online)?
The only character based on a real person is Raj, whom I had read about online. A mortgage broker much like Raj did, indeed, bilk a lot of people in just the way Raj does, putting the profits into his Bollywood productions and his over-the-top mega-mansion with fountains of elephants spouting water into the air. He had a wife and children he doted on, just as Raj did, but I filled in all the personalities with my imagination, and once I did, they seemed to react as real people would.
I find that most of my characters are concocted of bits and pieces of real people, but very rarely is anyone based on a particular person. Julia, the writer, has a number of my experiences, but even there, her scenes are filtered through my imagination (e.g., the Amazon sequence, which really happened but not in that way and not in a coffee shop.) But Julia is definitely not me, thank God.
Likewise, I had been to the Pike Place Market many times when I worked in Seattle and always loved the bustle and the noise, especially of the fish mongers. But Kevin is very much a made-up character, as is Antara (I read a lot about Bangalore and its call operators.) Same for Matthew and Mabel. To be honest, I don’t know where these characters come from. They more or less write themselves. When I first started writing SIX CLICKS AWAY, I had worried whether I could create a character like Antara, about whom I knew so little. As I began to write her story (or as she wrote herself), however, she became this universal caring character in a sometimes uncaring world, someone who seemed very real to me.
Which character is most like you, or to which one do you most relate?
Gender aside, I think Kevin is the one most like me. He so wants to find his bliss, but family obligations always seem to pull him back to reality.
As an avid Facebook user, I'm often surprised when friends that I know from different circles - schools, jobs, activities - are already connected to each other. Have you had any similar experiences in the world of social networking? What's the most random connection you or someone you know has discovered?
Funny you should say that. I don’t believe that any network connection is random. Networks have this deep underlying order and operate according to simple but powerful rules. For instance, there’s the tendency of people to congregate with people they like; and the general rule that people who like you have a greater probability of liking each other. Both of these simple non-random rules, executed over and over, are at work in generating a complex network.
That said, I’m still puzzling over the odds of my meeting my husband at a college mixer.
How long have you been writing professionally? Tell us a bit about some of your other works.
Uh-oh, I’m already stuck on your question. What is the meaning of “professionally”? The moment I got published? And where does that leave the writers who are self-published?
The fact is I’ve written most of my life. As a child I wrote poetry and short stories. In my mid-twenties I finished my first novel (it shall remain nameless). When it was rejected by Viking, I decided that I needed some life experience before I could produce anything worthwhile. So, I worked in business for quite a few years, raised my son, collecting a few academic degrees along the way. Finally, when I finished my last degree, a MS in Computer Science, I decided that what I really wanted to do was not to go back into computers but to write. That was twelve years ago. But I wasn’t published until six years later, and that was actually the fifth book I had written.
Currently, I have two traditionally published books, BANANA KISS and BORDERLINE, both by Porcupine’s Quill, a small but fine literary press in Ontario, Canada. BANANA KISS is narrated by a young woman with schizophrenia who lives in a psychiatric institution and thinks she is God. The Toronto Globe and Mail called it “powerful, compelling storytelling and a unique reading experience.” It’s also funny, believe it or not. BORDERLINE, a story about a boy, his autistic brother and a wolf was shortlisted for Foreword's Book of the Year Award in 2008 and received a silver medal at the Independent Publishers' Book Awards in the same year.
Y is a sci-fi thriller about what would happen if a microbe infected women of child-bearing age, and in its wake women were to find they were no longer able to give birth to male children. How would society cope in a mostly female world?
RIGHT SIDE TALKING is a psychological thriller about Anna, a young girl with epilepsy who undergoes an operation to sever the connection between the two sides of her brain (this is a real procedure for relieving epilepsy but don’t try it at home!) In the hospital she is then witness to a murder. Unfortunately, her left brain cannot recognize unfamiliar faces, and so is unable to identify the killer. Her right brain can, but is unable to speak. Only by painstakingly spelling out its thoughts in scrabble letters can Anna describe the killer. But then….
TODD THE DREAMER is another psychological thriller about lucid dreaming, the rare state in which a dreamer knows he’s in a dream. This is probably the most surreal of all my books.
What authors would you say have inspired or influenced you?
I’ve always been very eclectic in my literary tastes. I remember when I was growing up, loving Pearl S. Buck, A. J. Cronin, James Hilton and Sinclair Lewis. More contemporary loves are Phillip Roth, Michael Chabon, Anne Patchett and Mordecai Richler. I’m sure they inspired me by their capacity to paint wondrous universes out of what is essentially our own, realistic world.
I also loved anything medical or scientific. I know this is going to surprise you, but the one who actually inspired me most was Michael Crichton. I love science, but up till Jurassic Park, I had rarely seen it incorporated so effectively into contemporary fiction. I think Crichton actually inspired a lot of people, because since the late seventies, there has been an explosion of real science in fiction.
What projects are you currently working on?
You’d be surprised how much time goes into marketing your own books. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few months.
However, when I am finally done marketing my e-books (if I am ever done marketing my e-books) I’m planning to go back and rewrite book #7, which has yet to see the light of day. The story is based on newspaper reports of zombiish behavior in people who have taken the sleeping drug called Ambien. These people get up in the middle of the night to walk, eat, and drive cars in their sleep. The next day, sometimes finding themselves in jail, they have no memory of what they’ve done. And then (!) there are the patients who wake up after years in a vegetative state – ten minutes after they’ve been given Ambien. You’ve got to admit there’s something intriguing about all this.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
My Author Central page at Amazon.com:
Porcupine’s Quill for my print books:
BANANA KISS: http://porcupinesquill.ca/bookinfo3.php?index=199
And BORDERLINE: http://porcupinesquill.ca/bookinfo3.php?index=213
Red Adept Annual Indie Awards site where SIX CLICKS AWAY won a 2010 award for top drama: http://redadeptreviews.com/?page_id=4166
I am also a playwright:
Thanks so much!
Six Clicks Away and Bonnie's other works are available now!