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Friday 11 November 2016

ℚ Escape Velocity - Susan Wolfe

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author to talk about Escape Velocity (, Steelkilt Press, 407 pages), a Legal Crime Thriller.

“Escape Velocity is that rare thing: a page-turner about business. Susan Wolfe has achieved something extraordinary with this book: a thriller in which financial and legal suspense keeps you as breathless with anticipation as the rich character development. An absolutely compelling stay-up-all-night read.” — Alice La Plante, Award-winning author of Turn of Mind

|| Synopsis || Teaser: KCR Preview || Author Q&A || About the Author || Giveaway & Tour Stops ||

A very warm welcome to Susan Wolfe; thank you for joining us on BooksChatter!

What was the inspiration for Escape Velocity?

" My inspiration for Escape Velocity comes from my own work as a lawyer. I graduated from Stanford law school and have spent most of my adult life practicing law here in Silicon Valley. I started out at a high-tech law firm, then did criminal defense at another law firm, and then was an in-house lawyer at several Silicon Valley high-tech companies.

I liked working in-house a lot, but I sometimes got frustrated that a few people who worked for the company - from accounts payable clerks to highly paid executives - seemed unable or uninterested in doing their jobs. Due to incompetence or egotism or out-and-out self-dealing, some people just seem to burrow into a company like ticks on a tormented dog, and no amount of damage they cause ever seems to dislodge them. When you get several thousand people in a company it’s like a little city: You’ve pretty much got one of everything. As the head in-house lawyer I was sort of the town constable, so I saw most of it. And I will tell you that after a couple of years in my job I realized it really is a miracle we put a man on the moon!

So I thought the malfeasance and nonfeasance (as we say in the law) were interesting, and even entertaining in a nice black kind of way. I thought other people might like to know about the chaos, or if they already knew about it, they might like to know that somebody else had experienced it, too. After all, as C.S. Lewis said, we read to know we are not alone.

But then I needed a main character, and along came Georgia Griffin. She is young, inexperienced and from a completely alien environment, so she experiences the wonder that is Silicon Valley high tech right along with the reader. She is also highly intuitive and a little bit tougher than people around her might expect. She is blessed with a job that makes people underestimate her. She badly needs the company to succeed in order to realize her personal goal of achieving escape velocity from the life she was born to, and she reluctantly decides to use her con artist training - sparingly - to help the company succeed.

The surprise to me was that Georgia’s moral and psychological complexities gradually became central to my story. Georgia wants to be a good person, but she does a few sketchy things. At one point I wrote out the fifteen points of Georgia’s moral code. She adheres strictly to her moral code, but it’s a little bit different from other people’s. (For example, “Point #13: Cause the least harm necessary to be effective.”) So I ended up being interested in the question of whether Georgia achieves escape velocity from the life she was born to. I don’t think that’s easy to do.

I am scheduled to meet with some book groups who have chosen to read and discuss Escape Velocity. I plan to listen to their thoughts and answer their questions first, of course, but then I have one question of my own: Do you think Georgia has achieved escape velocity by the end of the book? I will be so interested in their answers."
How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?
"Both of my books are firmly grounded in my career as a Silicon Valley lawyer. I want my readers to experience the inner workings of a Silicon Valley law firm (in The Last Billable Hour, my Edgar Award winning mystery) and then the inner workings of a high tech corporation (in Escape Velocity, my new Silicon Valley thriller.) This includes the politics, the banter, the in-fighting, and even the speech patterns of the different characters, along with some authentic crises the organizations might face. I hope I convey a powerful sense of place, because I don’t think the books could be set anywhere else.

I think believable characters are always “based on” the author herself or people she knows, because the author consults her personal beliefs about human nature to determine how her character will behave in a given situation. For example, in the opening scene of Escape Velocity, Georgia Griffin tricks a competitor in order to land a job she desperately needs. That doesn’t mean I would personally behave that way, or even that I know somebody who actually behaved that way. Part of the fun of writing (and reading) is having characters do things I might want to do, and can imagine doing, but wouldn’t actually do myself.

So is Georgia based on me? Yes, because she issues from my own impulses and desires and beliefs about human nature. But then I transform her with my imagination.

One note: In the short time Georgia has been out in public, I have had two different acquaintances recount doing something very similar to what Georgia does in that opening chapter. I love that. It tells me my beliefs about human nature are in this case spot on!"
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover. Can you tell us about your cover for Escape Velocity - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"Let’s start with the title. In physics, escape velocity is the minimum speed a rocket ship needs to escape the earth’s gravitational pull. Here in Silicon Valley the term is used as a metaphor to describe the amount of money a start-up company needs in order to stop taking money from venture capitalists. The company’s founders try to achieve escape velocity from outside interference by becoming self-sustaining.

In my book, Georgia’s upbringing with her con artist father exerts tremendous pull over her, first because it’s the life she knows and feels competent to navigate, and second because she loves her father. But she doesn’t want a con artist life. So a central question of the novel is whether she has the strength of character to achieve escape velocity from the only life she knows.

Kit Foster is the artist who created my cover. He asked for a synopsis of the book and any design ideas. He then created two covers that I loved, the perpetual motion desk toy that I chose and a very beautiful bullet shooting straight up from a gun barrel like a rocket ship, all wreathed in pink smoke. Very different concepts, one visceral (the gun) and one cerebral and witty (the desk toy.) I had so much trouble choosing between them that I did a 50-person poll of fiction readers using a site called PickFu Instant Market Feedback. When the poll came back, the 50 respondents were 25 for the desk toy and 25 for the bullet/rocket! What were the odds of that? In the end, I chose the desk toy because it better fit the tone of my book, which is more witty (I hope) than violent. Also, from the poll respondents’ comments, it seemed the respondents who preferred the desk toy were more likely to enjoy my book."
Why should we read Escape Velocity and what sets it apart from the rest? What makes your book unique?
"From the early feedback I’ve gotten, people appreciate this book for several different reasons:
  1. They like my bold and quirky main character, Georgia Griffin, and want to find out if she’ll succeed or fail;
  2. They love to see some extremely annoying people they’ve had to put up with at work get their just deserts;
  3. They like learning what it’s like to work in a Silicon Valley high tech company; and/or
  4. they think it is “wickedly hilarious” as one of my reviewers so kindly said.
I do think the book operates on several levels, and hope readers can enjoy all these aspects of the book at once."
Can you tell us something quirky about Escape Velocity, its story and characters?
"My daughter, Catherine Wolfe DeVoe, makes a cameo appearance in this book, sort of like Hitchcock making cameo appearances in his movies. In real life she’s a doctor, but in her cameo she tries out a different profession."
Who would you recommend Escape Velocity to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?
"I recommend it to people who like laugh-out-loud dialogue and a smart, determined, morally complex main character. I recommend it to people who have been frustrated at times by difficult, destructive people at work and would like to imagine them meeting the fate they deserve. I recommend it to people who are curious about the inner workings of Silicon Valley’s unique culture. I recommend to people who want to see legal and finance issues accurately portrayed in their fiction in ways that are easy to understand. I recommend it to people who have struggled to free themselves from unwanted aspects of their backgrounds.

Readers should be aware that there is a small amount of special knowledge that the reader will need to follow in order fully to appreciate the plot. The reader learns this special knowledge right along with Georgia, and some people have told me it’s their favorite part of the book."
If you could / wished to turn Escape Velocity and the SERIESNAME series into a movie, who would be your dream team?
"My cast:
Saoirse Ronan or Nina Arianda for Georgia
Kyle Chandler or Matt Damon for Ken Madigan
Alec Baldwin or John Hurd for CEO
Anna Gunn or Tilda Swinton for HR person

My directors:
The Coen Brothers

My location:
Silicon Valley!"
What do you like to write and read about? Do you stick to a particular genre or do you like to explore different ones?
"So far, all of my books are in the mystery/thriller category, because those seem to be the plots that take hold in my imagination. I like mysteries and thrillers (Tana French and William Boyd are favorites) but I read just about every type of fiction. Books I’ve read recently that I loved: Wolfe Hall by Hilary Mantel; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; Moby Dick (yet again. Can’t get enough of the whale!) The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. The Outline by Rachel Cusk."
What is your writing process?
"I have a pretty specific writing routine which I love.

I get up at 5:30, then “commute” four blocks to Peets Coffee at 5:50 or so, then return home and go straight into my writing room, which is my converted free-standing garage. This is how I signal my transition from home to work, and I suppose it could be considered an idiosyncrasy. I commuted every day for thirty-odd years and it did signal the transition, so I’ve just kept it up.

I try to start writing by 6:15 and do three 90-minute sessions each morning. (Some flexibility if I’m in the middle of a great scene.) On my two breaks between sessions I go for a jog, do a 20-minute meditation, eat and shower. Then I’m done for the day at 12:45 or 1. In the afternoons I try to be sure to see at least one friend to balance the solitude of writing, and then do everything else that needs to get done just to live my life: errands, reading, planning social events, hanging out with my two cats."
What is in store next?
"My next novel is set in San Bernardino, California. San Bernardino was a working class town when I grew up in it, and is now the second poorest large city in the country (after Detroit.)

The story begins when my protagonist is at the vet for a routine visit with his cat. A woman brings in a cat that has been badly mistreated and then races out the door before anybody can ask her about it. The terror in the woman’s eyes triggers memories from the protagonist’s childhood, and he is convinced the person who hurt the cat is an imminent danger to people as well. He decides to right an old wrong by finding the wrongdoer before it’s too late.

He manages to enlist the (somewhat skeptical) help of an animal control person and a forensics person in his unorthodox effort, because both of them have strong personal reasons for becoming involved. We now have four people (including the wrongdoer) who all badly want to succeed with conflicting goals in a race against the clock."
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?
"This is Cleopatra. She’s a Siamese mix rescue cat who keeps me company while I write. She loves my writing room, which is my free-standing former garage. That’s my Edgar Award for The Last Billable Hour there in the background."
Beautiful picture, thank you :-)
Hello Cleopatra, you are beautiful with gorgeous blue eyes! Lots of head scratches and belly rubs to you from all of us at BooksChatter!

Escape Velocity
Available NOW!

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1 comment:

CMash said...

Phenomenal interview. Since I read this book, I truly enjoyed this interview. And so happy to hear another book is in the works....looking forward to that one! Thank you for sharing.