Dan Ronco's latest novel is a suspenseful techno-thriller filled with adventure, romance and greed. A former successful engineer and businessman, he used his knowledge and experience to craft Unholy Domain, a story that delves into controversial, provocative themes like the ethics of genetic engineering, the question of what limit to put on technology, and the reconciling of religion and science. The novel also focuses on the relationship between a father and a son. With issues of such magnitude, Unholy Domain promises to be a thrilling, entertaining read. Ronco was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time to answer my questions.
Thanks for being here today. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
Born into a tough neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, I learned powerful lessons about family, friendship and violence. My escape was fiction, and I spent many hours reading in the local library. Nurturing a passion for technology, I went on to gain a BS in Chemical Engineering from NJIT. Not enough challenge. Always fascinated by new technologies, I was awarded a full fellowship at Columbia University and gained a MS in Nuclear Engineering. Although I designed submarine nuclear reactors for three years, I discovered I enjoyed software development more than reactor design, so I changed career direction and achieved a second MS; this one in Computer Science from RPI.
Fascinated by virtually all areas of software development, my expertise grew to include coding, design, project management, quality improvement and finally, general management. My niche was software consulting and my team assisted many large corporations and governmental organizations. Always looking for the latest challenge, I built and managed several consulting practices. I'm especially proud of two accomplishments – assisting AT&T greatly improve the quality of the first commercial UNIX release and helping Microsoft to create a world class consulting organization. Positions held during my consulting years included Senior Principal with an international accounting/consulting firm, President, Software Technology Management Inc. and General Manager with Microsoft.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
Eight years ago I decided to leave consulting and concentrate on a long-held desire to write fiction. A successful engineer and businessman, I had the breadth of experience to understand and synthesize rapidly evolving strands of technology. It became clear that fundamental change would turn our society upside down within the next few decades. Humans will have to adapt rapidly to gain the advantages of these changing social and technological innovations. Indeed, we will have to adapt rapidly just to survive.
I scoped out a trilogy of novels to expose three oncoming challenges: computer viruses enhanced with artificial intelligence (set in 2012), the oncoming clash between religion and technology concerning what it means to be human (2022), and the beginnings of the integration of human and artificial intelligence into a network entity (2032). Each novel is written as a thriller — packed with adventure, sex, greed and romance — as well as realistic science and technology. The three leading characters – Dianne Morgan, a female mega-billionaire obsessed with power; Ray Brown, her onetime lover and a brilliant software architect; and David Brown, Ray’s genetically gifted son – are fascinating and all too human.
Peacemaker, my first novel, was released in August, 2004 with outstanding feedback by critics, authors, and most importantly, by customers. My next novel, Unholy Domain, was released April 2, 2008 by Kunati Books, with an excellent response. The final novel of the trilogy, tentatively entitled Tomorrow's Children, should be released next year.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
Unholy Domain delivers all the excitement of a great thriller while also delving into provocative themes: the bioethics of genetic engineering, the question of what limit (if any) should be placed on technology, the problem of reconciling faith in God and respect for his creation with the technological promises of artificial intelligence, and the age-old issue of family ties and the loyalty of a son to his father. How could anyone not be inspired by issues of such magnitude?
Unholy Domain features David Brown, a brilliant but troubled young man raised in the dark shadow of his long-dead father, a software genius who unleashed a computer virus that murdered more than a million innocents. When David receives a decade-old email that indicates his father may have been framed, he plunges into a gut-wrenching race with the real killers to discover the truth about his father… and himself. As David tracks through his father's startling history, he stumbles into a war between the Domain, a secret society of technologists, and the Army of God, a murderous cult with a sacred mission to curtail the spread of technology and roll civilization back to a simpler era. Hunted by killers from both organizations, David unravels his father’s secrets, comes to terms with his own life, and then falls in love with a woman from his father’s past.
Did your book require a lot of research?
My novels are set in the near future, so it’s my responsibility to bring the reader into a world that is realistic, compelling and consistent with existing trends in science and culture. My stories exist at the point advanced technologies threaten our institutions, beliefs and even our survival.
As a result, I read constantly in subjects such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, robotics and other advanced technologies. I have a passion for technology, so reading isn’t a chore, it’s a gift. I am equally fascinated by human values and culture, such as economics, politics and religion. Searching for stress points, I attempt to project current technologies and trends two or three decades into the future. Unholy Domain, for example, explores the potential for conflict between religious fundamentalists and scientists on the leading edge of artificial intelligence.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
I have been in a critique group for seven years, and it has been a positive experience. The five of us meet once a week and we each read our most recent compositions, usually about ten pages. Each reviewer provides feedback describing good and bad aspects of the writing. We offer advice with the intent of helping the author; nobody shows off. The author considers the feedback and decides what, if anything, should be modified.
Actually it’s more than just a critique group. Our coach and group leader begins each session with a twenty minute discussion of a writing topic. While the coach leads the discussion, we all participate. I’d have to say we are many things: a critique group, a workshop, and a gathering of friends.
The secret of our success is compatibility and talent. We keep the group small and invite an occasional new member only if she gets along well with the existing members. It is also important that her writing skills are at a reasonably good level. Bringing a novice into the group wouldn’t be fair to anyone.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
One of the biggest mistakes I made with PeaceMaker, my first novel, was to not check out the publisher thoroughly. When he called me, I was thrilled, and it seemed that everything was working out. Wrong. The publisher was a nice guy, he was very enthusiastic about my novel and we seemed to hit it off. However, he had a couple of problems: he had been in business less than a year and really didn't know much about book marketing; and he was underfunded, so he couldn't hire talented, experienced professionals. As a result, his business went underwater and all his authors were left scrambling. That's why I had to become the publisher for PeaceMaker, which consumed a great deal of my time.
So the lesson is to not become dreamy-eyed when a publisher offers to pick up your book. Treat it like making an investment. Check out the size, experience, financial resources, number of employees, references from other authors, bookstores that carry his works, etc. Better to walk away than sign up with someone who doesn't have a good track record. I checked out Kunati carefully, and they have been an excellent publisher for Unholy Domain.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Yes, please stop by www.danronco.com to say hello, read an excerpt of Unholy Domain, read my blog or view the incredible trailer for the book. And there’s much more: the complete PeaceMaker novel, cool videos, book reviews and articles by guest authors. If you enjoy science fiction or technology thrillers, this is a great place to visit.
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!