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Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Interview with Ron Walters, the author of Deep Dive

AUTHOR INFO: Ron Walters is a former journalist, college registrar, and stay-at-home dad who writes science fiction and fantasy for all ages. A native of Savannah, GA, he currently lives in Germany with his wife, two daughters, and two rescue dogs. When he’s not writing he works as a substitute high school teacher, plays video games, and does his best to ignore the judgmental looks his dogs give him for not walking them more often.

Thank you for joining us, Ron, and welcome to Fantasy Book Critic! Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

Thanks for asking to interview me! I’m originally from Savannah, Georgia, but currently live in Germany with my wife, two daughters, and two rescue dogs. I have a deep-seated, totally under control love of fried food, video games, prog rock, and all things science fiction and fantasy. In my younger years, I worked as a lifeguard, ice cream scooper, newspaper reporter, and college registrar. I was a stay-at-home dad when my girls were little, but now I moonlight as a substitute high school teacher when I’m not writing.

Who are some of your favorite writers, and why is their work important to you?

I’m sure I’m going to remember more after the fact, but the ones that immediately spring to mind are Susan Cooper, Anne McCaffrey, Barbara Hamilton, China Miéville, Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton, Kameron Hurley, Joe Abercrombie, Robert Jackson Bennet, Melanie Rawn, Mark Helprin, and Jonathan Stroud. If there’s a common thread between all of them, it’s that they’ve all created unique, memorable, atmospheric fantasy or science fiction worlds, and I am a huge sucker for atmosphere, especially when it’s paired with kick-ass prose.

We loved “Deep Dive”, it’s such a thrilling and fun story. It combines elements of thriller and sci-fi to great effect! What came first, the world or the characters? And how did the story take shape in your head?

The characters for sure came first. I knew early on that the main character was a husband and father who was struggling to balance his career with his family life, mostly because that’s where I was when I started fleshing out the idea that eventually morphed into Deep Dive. I also knew I wanted it to be an intimate, fast-paced story, so the first-person, present-tense voice developed organically from that. But it wasn’t until I read Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter and watched a documentary called Raising Kratos, about the making of 2018’s God of War, that the specifics of what the main character did for a job and what kind of journey I wanted him to take became clear. Once I figured out that he was a video game developer working on a new VR game, the ending immediately fell into place. I don’t meticulously plot my books in advance, but as long as I know who the main character is and where he’s ultimately heading, I’m good to go.

Let’s back up to how you got here. How did you get your first book deal?

I was between literary agents when Angry Robot held an open submission for unagented writers in July 2020, so I submitted a synopsis and the first three chapters of Deep Dive, with the caveat that if I didn’t hear anything after a few months, they weren’t interested. At that point, I’d been writing for over ten years, had burned through two agents, and was no stranger to rejection, so as much as I hoped for the best, I steeled myself for the worst. Much to my utter surprise, right around the end of September 2020 they emailed me and asked to read the rest of the book. The next day, Eleanor Teasdale, editor extraordinaire, wrote back, said she loved the book and was going to present it to the acquisitions team at their next meeting. A week later, she wrote again and offered me a book deal. Even now I can remember getting that email and not really believing what it said. Best, most surreal, day ever.

How would you describe the plot of “Deep Dive” if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

When the beta test of an experimental VR headset goes horribly awry, video game developer Peter Banuk finds himself trapped in a world where his wife exists but his two young daughters were never born.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to Deep Dive's protagonists and antagonists?

The main protagonist, Peter Banuk, is an independent video game developer desperately trying to save his company after their last game flopped commercially. His wife, Alana, and daughters, Cassie and Evie, have always been supportive of his career aspirations but are, in their own ways, frustrated with how absent he’s been because of work. Peter’s business partner, Bradley Moss, is a tech genius whose experimental VR headset is poised to be either Peter’s salvation or his downfall. Initially, Peter serves as his own antagonist, as does the strange new world in which he’s trapped, but as the story progresses he becomes entangled with a clandestine government agency helmed by a calculating, ruthless operative named Shepard and her trigger-happy lackey, Finn.

As I read Deep Dive I couldn’t help but run thought experiments on myself. Like, “What would I do in this situation?” Is playing with that part of your plotting process?

Sort of? Deep Dive is probably my most autobiographical book. I tapped into a lot of my own writing and parenting angst when I wrote it. So in that regard, yes, I definitely put myself in Peter’s shoes, at least emotionally, as I drafted the book. In terms of the actual plot, though, I try and let my characters dictate where the story goes. I have major plot points in mind, but their reactions and decisions are what fill in the spaces and connect those dots, so they’ll always handle situations differently than I would if I was in their position. Which, honestly, is one of the coolest things about writing, getting to experience the world as someone else.

Deep Dive concerns some pretty nuanced concepts. How concerned were you with the science in Deep Dive being sound?

I hope the science in the book is at least somewhat sound, but while I’m a pretty avid gamer, I’m in no way an expert on game development, let alone virtual reality or all the other stuff I threw in. That said, I think modern readers do expect a certain amount of technical accuracy, so I spent some time researching current and theoretical VR rigs before I started writing the book. Ultimately though, the science has to serve the story, and the story is science fiction, so I definitely took liberties and made up whatever I needed when it came to the tech in the book.

The story has lots of action and moves quickly--is that intentional?

Absolutely. My favorite scenes to write are action scenes, and the nature of the plot dictated that the story could really only take place over the course of a few days. At the same time I did my best to intersperse plenty of quiet, more personal moments to break up the action and get us deeper into Peter’s psyche.

It’s a spoilery question but I’ll ask it anyway - Do you think that multiple universes exist, and do you like this idea?

To paraphrase Matthew McConaughey in Contact, one of my favorite movies ever, if there aren’t multiple universes, it sure seems like an awful waste of space. I love the idea that there could be an infinite number of ourselves populating infinite versions of our world. I don’t think it’s clichéd to say that everyone wonders sometimes what their lives would be like if they’d made different decisions, or if different intentional or random events had or hadn’t happened to them.

You wrote the book in the first-person present tense. Why?

First-person allows an intimacy that third-person can but doesn’t always hit, especially when there’s only one main character, and above all else I wanted readers inside Peter’s head, to really feel what he felt. Strangely enough, though, Deep Dive is the first time I’ve ever written a book in present tense. I tried a couple of scenes in past, but present just added a level of intensity and desperation that I wasn’t getting with past.

What do you think characterizes your writing style in general?

I’d say that my writing style is user-friendly with occasional hints of flowery prose. I love sentences that sort of fold back in on themselves, and I love wordplay—I definitely have a thing for alliteration, and the thesaurus is my best friend—but over the years I’ve learned to tone down my more ornate impulses. Similar to what I said about science earlier, the prose has to serve the story, and while dense, sumptuous sentences (see, alliteration!) have their place, a thriller like Deep Dive demands more straightforward writing.

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Deep Dive?

I swoon every time I look at the cover. The artist who designed it, Kieryn Tyler, is a genius. She 100% captured what the book is about, and those colors make it absolutely pop. Most authors don’t have much say in their covers, especially debut authors, so for my part, all I did was send my publisher a bunch of images I found online that I thought matched the book’s plot and themes. I do know that covers tend to go through a lot of iterations, and often take months to get right, but in the case of Deep Dive, Kieryn nailed the cover in the first round of options she designed. As soon as everyone saw it we were like, YES!

Have you written Deep Dive with a particular audience in mind?

As much as I think anyone can (and should!) read and enjoy Deep Dive, I definitely wrote it hoping that parents in particular would connect to it. I also wanted people who are iffy about sci-fi, or who like their sci-fi elements fairly light, to give it a chance, because really, the bulk of the book is essentially a psychological thriller.

What are you currently working on that readers might be interested in learning more about, and when can we expect to see it released?

I’m not contracted for another adult novel yet, though I’m almost done writing the first draft of one that has a couple of baseline similarities with Deep Dive but goes in a totally opposite direction that straddles sci-fi and fantasy. I’d go into more detail but I’m superstitious when it comes to talking about unfinished projects! That said, I do have a middle-grade novel coming out from Owl Hollow Press in the fall of 2022. It’s called Calix and the Fire Demon, and it’s about a 12-year-old boy named Calix who, after releasing an ancient Irish fire demon from the statue where she was imprisoned 1,500 years ago, learns that he’s an heir to St. Patrick, tasked with ridding the world of supernatural threats. It was super fun to write, and I cannot wait for kids and adults alike to read it.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

Thank you for such amazing questions! I had tons of fun answering them. I hope that a wide audience of readers finds and enjoys Deep Dive. As much as it’s a sci-fi thriller, it’s also a love letter to my family, and very much the book of my heart.



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