Jeffery Deaver

Jeffery Deaver after lunch at Il Fornaio in San Jose on May 16, before a speaking engagement later that day.

The King
of Scary Propositions

Author Jeffery Deaver talks about his amazing productivity,
including his latest novel, "The Blue Nowhere,"
which takes place in Silicon Valley and cyberspace

Story and photographs by John Orr
May 2001

A couple of years ago writer Jeffery Deaver was working at his computer -- as he does about 10 hours a day, almost every day -- when he noticed something was wrong.

"My keyboard wasn't working quite right and I don't -- even to this day I don't know quite what the problem was," Deaver recalled by phone the other day. "But I thought, 'You know, it's almost as if somebody is in my computer and looking at all my files right now.'

"And I thought, 'That's quite a scary proposition.' "

Being in the scary propositions business, Deaver was fairly happy to have the idea.

My chat
with Jeff

This story was written to appear in a newspaper, so it is shorter than it could have been after the long talk Jeffery Deaver had with John Orr by phone in April 2001. To read an edited but almost complete transcript of that talk, click here.

"I'm always looking for scenarios that will engage readers as emotionally as possible," Deaver explained, "Like in 'The Bone Collector,' the people getting into the cab and being unable to get out, and in 'The Devil's Teardrop,' the crazy guy just showing up and killing people for no particular reason."

In that grisly vein, thought the butcher king of modern crime thrillers, "'Well, let's have a villain who gets the information he needs to know by simply slipping inside each person's computer and going from there.'"

And that's what happens in "The Blue Nowhere," which has already been picked up by Hollywood -- producer Joel Silver ("The Matrix" series) managed to get a script written even as the screenwriters were threatening to strike -- and will undoubtedly land Deaver back on the bestseller lists.

It should be of special interest to his fans here in Silicon Valley, because that's where his computer cracker hunts his prey, using a phalanx of computers for the research and approach part, and a military Ka-bar knife for the final "Access" -- a computer game gone 3-D in the worst way.

People drop dead and are otherwise injured in Cupertino, Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, San Jose and other Silicon Valley locations. And computers are not just the route to the victims, in some ways they become the tools of destruction, such as when all the traffic lights in San Jose are forced to turn green, all at the same time.

Why did he set "The Blue Nowhere" in Silicon Valley?

Jeffery Deaver "I thought it was such an homage to our society, nowadays. Your turf right there, that is really Ground Zero of the tech world in America. Silicon Valley, you know, goes way back to the '50s. ... I started to research the area, the history of it, and it was just so fascinating. But beyond the technology it became such an economic phenomenon, and such a breeding ground for innovative thinking. And that's kind of rare to find in a limited geographic area.

"Silicon Valley was Ground Zero that has affected all of our lives."

One of Deaver's heroes in the book is a hacker wizard currently doing time in a federal pen for computer crimes. Another hero pulls strings to get the hacker out, so he can do battle in the electronic arena against the bad guy. There are as many twists and turns as a circuit board, and the reader -- like in most of Deaver's books -- is in for a world of surprises.

For the novel, Deaver immersed himself in computer research -- He even wrote some little programs in Basic, and "I took apart my computer, to look at all these things I was writing about. And I would talk to programmers, and talk to some people who were involved in the earlier days, you know, what they call 'the elder days' of computers -- and, uh, that was my life for eight months.

Including the month he made Printers Inc. in Palo Alto his field HQ, eating a lot of sprouts and cheese sandwiches just blocks from Hewlett Packard, Xerox's PARC and Stanford. "Then I wrote the book. Now, meanwhile, I put that aside, published it, and I'm on to researching my Lincoln Rhyme book for 2002, and so, the computer stuff has kind of fallen by the wayside -- so I will say I was truly an up-to-date, state-of-the-art expert as of about a year ago."

He does stay busy.

"I guess, if you want to look 12-month period, that was 'Empty Chair,' 'Speaking in Tongues,' 'Hell's Kitchen' and now 'The Blue Nowhere,' although 'Hell's Kitchen' had been written before, so in fairness, that was not generated, although I did revise the earlier Rune books ('Manhattan is My Beat,' 'Death of a Blue Movie Star' and 'Hard News'), and I just spent about two months revising an earlier book called 'Mistress of Justice,' and that was a complete re-write of a book."

To keep himself, presumably, from getting bored, Deaver also wrote a "rather lengthy introduction" to a new edition of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" for the Oxford University Press, a Shakespearian short story for an anthology being put together by Anne Perry, a short "fiction-non-fiction" story for Esquire about convicted killers Sante and Kenneth Kime, and went to Hollywood to advise Fox on a new reality-based crime series about which he's been sworn to secrecy.

Jeffery DeaverHe is also pretty tight-lipped about his new Lincoln Rhyme book, only saying it will be called "The Stone Monkey," will be set in New York, is about immigration, and will be out in 2002.

"I get a great deal of pleasure out of writing," said Deaver. "I look for time to write. People often ask me where do I find the discipline? Well, it's not a question of discipline. Discipline, for me, is doing the laundry, doing the dishes, things like that.

"I kind of fight to carve out time so that I can write. And I'm very fortunate in that regard. To me, telling stories is a very exhilarating thing."