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Peter recently ran a giveaway for a signed copy of his Sci-Fi. Novel Zero Echo Shadow Prime. I have an insane amount of luck working in my favor because I actually won! I already had a signed copy, though, so I felt guilty, like I was being greedy. So in order to assuage my conscience, I’m offering that same copy in a new giveaway (with Peter’s permission), along with two other prizes. Bear with me just a moment while I tell you about the prizes. I’ll be brief so we can get on with the interview.

FREE signed print copy of Zero Echo Shadow Prime by Peter Samet

View Zero Echo Shadow Prime at Amazon

     18-year old Charlie Nobunaga creates the world’s first sentient A.I. and becomes an overnight sensation. But amid the red carpet galas and T.V. interviews, Charlie is diagnosed with cancer, and her promising future grinds to a halt.

Enter Jude Adler, a tech mogul with dreams of changing history. She presents Charlie with an opportunity that’s at once insane and irresistible: a second chance at life inside a new robotic body. But as Charlie soon discovers, Jude’s motivations are far from pure.

Charlie’s brain is scanned, and four distinct copies of her emerge:

Zero Echo Shadow Prime

OR

FREE e-book Red River Rangers by Jessica West

View Red River Rangers at Amazon

      Three days after Sheriff Roberts hanged her for the brutal massacre of a group of teens, Catherine Cartwright rose from a shallow grave. She and Jesse – the only survivor of an undead attack on their hometown after her death – set out to find a safe place and some answers. They find allies at a local reservation and a long-standing threat the likes of which neither of them had ever heard of before. Cat’s hopes of finding a cure for herself are surmounted by the urgent desire of finding one for Jesse when he’s bitten by one of the mindless, infectious creatures wandering the frontier. Her last hope is to kill the monster who started it all before Jesse turns, and even that isn’t a sure bet.

OR

$10 Amazon gift card

To be delivered via e-mail and used to purchase anything you’d like from Amazon.com.

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Note: Peter and I may or may not have been a bit tipsy when answering these questions. But what fun is an interview with inhibitions?

… Onward, to the Interview!

Peter Samet: What is one thing you wish people knew about you?

Jess:

I’ve always been a “social butterfly” (big surprise, I know), happy to flit from one group to the next. Not popular, per se, but friendly with pretty much everyone. But from 9th grade through 11th grade I had one group of “best friends” and we were inseparable. When two of those friends started dating, I turned into a threat. Some of it was due to my behavior (notorious flirt), and some to teenage insecurities. Each for their own reasons turned against me, and “kicked me out” of the group as a whole. I still had friends to sit with during breaks between classes and such, but I grieved my loss. No one knew how badly it hurt because I hid it from everyone, always keeping a smile on my face. That situation – and a few others that occurred outside of high school during that time – destroyed my trust in people in general. It’s something I struggle with to this day. It’s really hard for me to trust completely, and there are few people I do place my trust in fully. And nine times out of ten, if you’ve hurt me, you’ll never know because I won’t let you see it. One thing I wish people knew about me is that even though I seem to take everything lightly, if I place my trust in you, it’s a big deal for me.

Jessica West: Can you tell me about one particular event that changed you as a person?

Peter:

I was a very socially awkward* kid (I suppose “was” should be in quotation marks). I lost my entire group of friends, not once but twice, during my adolescence. The first time occurred during 7th grade, when I was deemed too geeky to continue hanging out with my grammar school friends. That was devastating, but not as devastating as the second loss.

In 8th grade, I started hanging out with a group of kids who would ultimately become my best friends throughout high school. We were pretty cliquish, though we didn’t fall into any predefined category. We weren’t geeks, nor goths, nor counterculture misfits, and certainly not popular or jocks. We were just us, and we were inseparable.

One day during the summer before high school, we decided to make a no-budget movie with my parents’ camcorder, and we discovered that filmmaking is ridiculously fun. That’s how my friends continued to see it over the next few years—a source of fun. But I got more and more serious about it, becoming somewhat of an insufferable control freak. Looking back, I can recognize how obsessed and self-absorbed I had gotten, but I was totally oblivious to it at the time. So when my friends suddenly (and permanently) stopped talking to me, I was shocked and heartbroken. The estrangement came at the worst time too—in the second half of 12th grade. As a result, I didn’t go to prom, or the senior play after-parties, or any graduation parties. For 6 months, I shuffled through the halls of my school, friendless and in a state of near catatonia.

The story’s a bit more complicated than how I’ve just described it, and it involved a fleeting romantic relationship, but the primarily reason for split was my ever-expanding ego.

What did I learn from this?

First of all, the experience gave me a huge dose of humility, which I think is not only essential for being a good human being, but also essential for being an artist. Without humility, you tend not to look at your own work with a critical eye. You tend not to ask the vital question: “How can this be better?” Without asking that question, it is difficult to grow and improve as an artist.

Second, I learned that maintaining a healthy relationship with creative partners is so much more important than the particulars of a product. It’s important to have a strong vision, but so what if everything isn’t exactly the way you want it. It’s not worth destroying relationships over it. And if you close yourself off to the input of others, you risk missing out on truly great ideas that you would never have thought of.

*[Editor’s note: I’m a fan of Peter Samet, so I may be just a little biased. He is intelligent, funny, kind, confident but humble, respectful but irreverently humorous at the best moments. If he is socially awkward, awkward + his qualities = hot! Sorry, ladies, he’s already taken.]

Peter: If you could have a dinner date with any writer (living or dead), who would it be?

Jess:

I enjoy the Gunslinger series from Stephen King and the Seeker series from Terry Goodkind, but there are several stories by Richard Matheson that I love. It’s hard to gain that level of devotion from a reader from a single work of fiction, or even from a few stand alone works, but Matheson does it for me. Stir of Echoes, I am Legend and What Dreams May Come are my favorite books. If my house burned down tomorrow and I lost my entire collection of books (the ones not in my fire safe), those three and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood would be the first I would replace. If I could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, my first choice would be Richard Matheson.

Jessica: Aside from writing, what do you do (jobs and hobbies)?

Peter:

I guess I’m a collector at heart. In addition to collecting ideas, I also collect hobbies. Most of them I’ve given up on, but a few (like fiction writing) have stuck around.

Film editing: This is what I do for a living. I’ve worked on a bunch of indie feature films, most notably a sci-fi romantic comedy named TiMER [Editor’s note: Saw it. Loved it. Am now an even bigger fan of Peter Samet.] (which is available on Netflix.) I’ve also interned at Pixar, the most amazing place to work in the world, which taught me a lot about the storytelling process. Most of my work is in reality television, which I find strangely satisfying as an editor. It’s no hidden secret, but reality television is definitely not “real.” But that’s what makes it so interesting to edit—it’s almost like being a writer, crafting stories out of footage that does not possess any inherent narrative. To be honest, I find it much more enjoyable to edit reality TV than to watch it.

Reading: I love reading science fiction and science non-fiction, and I’m particularly obsessed with the subject of consciousness.

Web Development / Graphic Design: I learned Flash during a 5-month period of unemployment during “The Great Recession.” I got paranoid that I wouldn’t be able to find editing work again, and I wanted to learn new skills. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize at the time that Flash was on its way out as a web development platform and much of my education would soon become obsolete. But thankfully, I did pick up some graphic design and typography skills that have proved to be universal, and I still enjoy dabbling in Photoshop.

Piano: As a kid, my parents enrolled me in tons of things I had expressed zero interest in (i.e. sports) and precious few things I had expressed great interest in (art & science). To be fair, they did eventually catch on and enroll me in a painting class. But I still feel like a lot of my youth was wasted doing things I didn’t enjoy. I’ve tried to compensate for this as an adult, but I think certain activities are easier learned as a kid. Piano, perhaps, is one of those activities. After 6 months of rigorous practice (and not getting very far), I gave up. But to this day, my piano sits right behind my writing desk, albeit gathering dust.

Calculus: I got into this strange math kick a few years ago. I have no idea what prompted it. I would fill most of my spare time doing workbook problems. I figure I must have a masochistic side.

Peter: Why do you write? (What’s the driving force?)

Jess:

I thought I knew. For a while I thought I had to write in order to remain sane, but I could live even if I couldn’t write. Then I thought I simply wanted to, but I have never wanted anything more (or anything more consistently) in my life. I’ve been calling myself a writer for about a year and a half, and now that I’m here, I can’t go back. It’s like I’ve passed through a diaphanous shield that only allows passage in one direction. I could go back to life without writing, physically, but my soul would remain on the other side of that barrier.

Jessica: How did you get the idea for ZESP?

Peter:

The primary reason I write fiction is to explore ideas that fascinate me. I try to keep abreast of the latest breakthroughs in science and philosophy, and I run those ideas through elaborate thought experiments. In that way, ZERO ECHO SHADOW PRIME represents a virtual laboratory.

ZESP features one central character that splits into four variations: a human (ZERO), a robot (PRIME), a virtual assistant (SHADOW), and a mysterious four-armed woman who’s trapped in a virtual simulation (ECHO). Each of these variations popped into my head (and thus, into existence) at different points during a 10-year span.

ZERO and PRIME came first, after I read Ray Kurzweil’s “Age of Spiritual Machines” in 2004. If you haven’t read this book, you should—it will change the way you envision your own future. Kurzweil is an engineer and futurist, and he makes several big predictions about how the 21st century will progress in terms of technological development. Because technology is improving at an exponential rate, he argues, the human species will reach a “singularity” (a moment when man and machine become indistinguishable from one another) during the middle of this century.

Of course, I’ve heard this concept expressed in science fiction before. But I’ve never heard of anyone making the case for it happening in reality. Although I still have my doubts (we would first have to solve the mystery of consciousness before we could hope to invent conscious machines), Kurzweil’s book really got my imagination churning. What would happen if we could upload our minds into robots? How would it feel to have a digital brain? How would it feel, alternatively, to be the original human, knowing you now have a superior robotic twin? The story of ZERO and PRIME addresses these questions.

The story of ECHO came as a dream (I love when that happens—free material!) In the dream, I found myself in a simulated urban environment, where I was forced to kill several clones of myself. After each kill, I would multiple into two more clones, driving a sort of artificial evolution in the clone population. I incorporated this scenario into the ZERO/PRIME storyline I had been developing, and later added the idea that each clone would possess a special trait (like machine gun hands or extra-long legs).

The story of SHADOW came last. In ZESP, “Shadows” are virtual assistants, like Apple’s Siri but with full holographic avatars. Maybe I was lonely at the time (it was 2009 by this point), but the idea for SHADOW started taking up more and more of my daily mental life. As a kid, I always wanted an imaginary best friend (I was jealous of kids who had them), and I guess SHADOW is my technological answer to this childhood desire. I wrote the tale of SHADOW as a short story before I later decided to incorporate her into ZESP. I also added the best-friend character of Alan at this point, since he is also a “Shadow.”

A novel is a many-layered product—sandwiching style, tone, setting, character, & multiple plot arcs. It’s hard for a “plotter” like me to progress until all the elements are accounted for. Such was the case with ZESP. The late arrival of SHADOW and Alan turned out to be the key that made the whole novel work. I had been struggling to draft an outline with just ZERO, PRIME, & ECHO, but it wasn’t until SHADOW and Alan came along that everything fell into place. I immediately figured out how the four stories should weave in and out of each other, and in January of 2011, I wrote a 30-page outline. Three years later (and ten years after I first started thinking about the concept), I finally published the novel.

Peter: What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?

Jess:

I don’t have one big thing I feel compelled to do, or have, or be. I try to be a good wife, a good mother, a good writer, a good friend and a good person. For my 40th birthday, I hope I’m able to buy myself a Ford Mustang and a small building. I’d like to run a coffee shop/book store where I’d spend my days writing between customers. I don’t really feel the need to be great, I just want to be happy, and it doesn’t take much to make me happy.

And as for the Dare …

Peter has issued a writing challenge to me, and I’m thinking of a good prompt for him as well. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for Interview Truth or Dare with Peter Samet II; Dare.

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