Fictionally Factual – featuring authors who are letting you in on all the ‘facts’ that go into their fiction works
The Surprising Truth in Fiction by Elizabeth Goddard
The thought of all the research that goes into writing a historical novel had always intimidated me. In writing a contemporary novel at least the basics are in place—like which utensils my character would use to eat, what clothes they would wear, or words they would use, right? But research for a contemporary suspense novel comes with an increased threat level, if you will, including technology that might be invented before your novel even releases. Since Critical Alliance is a novel involving cybercriminals, I knew I had my work cut out for me. Not only did I have to research every aspect of cybercrime, I also had to make the novel interesting. Let’s face it, my characters can’t stare at the computer through the entire book.
To make the novel action-packed and adventurous I tried to consider every possibility and devoted a lot of time and a huge portion of my Scrivener binder to that exploration.
One of my biggest questions involved what a cybercriminal could actually do to harm someone in the physical world, you know, something besides identity theft or a depleted bank account. I worked with a cybersecurity expert to find the answers, and honestly, I was surprised and a little scared about what I learned. Our world has become so intensely tied to technology and to the internet, that nothing is off limits. For example, automakers employee ethical hackers (also known as penetration or pen testers or assurance validators) to break into systems to see what they can damage or control, or rather find the weaknesses in a digital system. It’s true that your older vehicle without a “brain” was safe from hackers whereas your newer model is vulnerable.
The same cybersecurity weaknesses are true for medical companies—devices, hospital systems, records can all be tampered with. Medical devices have been interfered with to cause harm. After the fact, companies then work to remedy the failures, but cybercriminals are always on the hunt for new ways to threaten individuals or the world at large. The reasons vary—geopolitical, environmental, just pure evil, the list goes on. Sounds disturbing, doesn’t it? The cybercrime dilemmas we think only happen in movies can happen in real life.
I also took a deep dive into the cybercriminal mind. We hear about hackers every day in the news or experience the violation personally when a hacker breaks into our social media account to wreak havoc. Why do they do it? In Critical Alliance, I explore the psychology behind those reasons, but an interesting fact is that, yes, ethical hackers or pen testers are hired to breach systems legally, but they do it for many of the same psychological reasons as criminal hackers—they are two sides of the same cyberworld coin.
Another aspect of the story that required extensive research was drone technology—everything drones can do now that we know about along with uses we don’t know about plus everything drones could potentially do in the future. I had no idea how extensively they’re already being used in law enforcement and within the military. Drone technology is utilized for good—to prevent fires, to help in emergencies and disasters, searching for survivors, etc., but a dark side to drones exists. Bad people put technology to evil uses—and drones can now be found in swarms.
Add this fact to that picture in your mind—the world of artificial intelligence is exploding in every aspect of our lives, but also being injected into drones. Maybe it’s just me, but I keep thinking about that movie franchise, Terminator. Anybody else?
I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a scene in the story about tiny robots working with drones in a pseudo military exercise conducted by DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. I thought I was reading something from a science fiction novel. Nope—this swarm of autonomous drones and ground robots working together was a real event that played out in small-town America.
Not nearly as elegant as drones and cybersecurity is the world of ziplining. Have you ever wondered about the zipline safety? Maybe not, but plenty of people have used ziplines, probably oblivious to safety issues. According to sources approximately 70 million people ride ziplines every year, and companies must follow stringent standards. But if someone died due to falling from a zipline, you might scratch your head and wonder—is that a thing? Yes, yes it is. So I was surprised to learn federal oversight doesn’t exist and accidents, injuries or fatalities are not recorded in a public database. After reading about the many mishaps, including death due to falls, I found the fact that no one is really keeping track (outside of a few state agencies, that is) disturbing. But maybe that’s just me.
Next, I looked into elevator integrity. I’ll stop there. I don’t want to scare you—but hello, I write suspense and that’s my job, so of course I investigate all these over-looked details and potential dangers of daily living. Ask my family—I was born to this! Ha!
On a fun and less threatening note, I needed a model home for my Hanstech cabin, and I found Tom Cruise’s Colorado estate. At the time of writing Critical Alliance, the property was on the market for almost $49 million. The estate includes huge acreage focused on activities including snowmobile and hiking trails, which was perfect for the home I needed nestled in the side of a mountain in Montana.
Yes, I make a lot of stuff up, but most of it is based in fact. Now, I’m off to wreak havoc in the lives of my characters in my current writing project! Stay safe out there in this beautiful but dangerous world.
Here’s a look at Elizabeth’s latest release CRITICAL ALLIANCE:
Mackenzie Hanson’s special set of skills opened the door to a successful career as a professor of cybersecurity at a Michigan university, allowing her to put her criminal past behind her. But when a long-ago partner in crime delivers a cryptic message about her father’s tech company being under cyberattack, she heads for Montana to secure exposed assets, close security breaches, and hopefully save lives.
Diplomatic Security Services special agent Alex Knight is back home in Montana to decompress from a mission gone wrong. But even as he’s trying to relax, he’s drawn into another mystery, complete with suspicious deaths, lethal threats, and whispers of espionage that all have one thing in common–a beautiful cybersecurity expert with a dark past.
When the situation turns deadly, Alex and Mackenzie will have to work together to find the answers they need–before someone silences Mackenzie for good.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Elizabeth Goddard is the USA Today bestselling and award- winning author of more than fifty novels, including Present Danger and the Uncommon Justice series. Her books have sold over one million copies. She is a Carol Award winner and a Daphne du Maurier Award finalist. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, traveling to find inspiration for her next book, and serving with her husband in ministry. For more information about her books, visit her website at www.ElizabethGoddard.com.