Last week, we posted a review of Douglas Wynne’s exceptional and haunting techno thriller, His Own Devices.
This week, I got a chance to sit down with one of my favorite authors and pick his brain a bit about how he came up with the story along with some of its real world implications. There will be some very minor spoilers for the book, but nothing that should ruin all the crazy twists and turns the story takes.
AIPT: How did you first come up with the idea for His Own Devices?
Douglas Wynne: My son is thirteen now and watching him grow up as a digital native gave me the usual set of concerns about how much screen time kids get these days, what effects it might have on the developing brain, and also the need to keep an eye on the anonymous social interactions kids can have from a pretty early age via game related chats.
Some of this stuff comes up at the pediatrician wellness visits and some of it you just have to figure out on your own as a parent. In reality, I feel pretty good about my tech savvy kid and his ability to navigate that space in a way that’s mostly healthy. But as a writer of horror and thrillers, I’m always imagining worst case paranoid scenarios. So it wasn’t much of a leap when he started binge watching these Minecraft YouTubers to speculate about how some psycho could secretly manipulate an enormous audience of kids whose parents are also too digitally distracted to know what’s going on until it’s too late.
AIPT: Many of your works (like the SPECTRA Files series) are steeped in Lovecraftian lore. What made you decide to move away from that a bit to tell this story?
DW: Lovecraft was one of my early influences and I always knew I wanted to write some fiction related to his mythos because it’s just so cool and full of possibilities. But the thing about that sub genre is that it’s hungry. So, after writing my first mythos novel, Red Equinox, I started getting invited to write Lovecraftian stories for anthologies while the SPECTRA Files also grew into a series of books.
It’s a nice problem to have when people keep wanting to pay you to write in a niche, but my earlier novels weren’t pigeon-holed in that way, and I didn’t want to get painted into a corner where I was thought of as only a Lovecraftian writer. I like to keep trying new things and that would have been boring to me.
This is my first full length novel in a while that’s more of a mainstream thriller, even while it continues to explore the themes I found most interesting in my earlier books, like the intersection of technology and the supernatural.
AIPT: For folks who don’t play video games much, why is His Own Devices still a great (and terrifying) read?
I have heard from other early readers that they were surprised the story grabbed them because they don’t have an interest in gaming. I think the main thing is that it’s about a family navigating secrets, fears, desperate desires, and all of the ways in which technology keeps them connected, but also alienated.
I hope the story touches a nerve that’s more universal than the gaming subculture that inspired it. One thing the past few years have made clear is that we all have to deal with digital threats and conspiracies now.
AIPT: Although things quickly move from being steeped in the world of Minecraft, you still needed to understand it enough to tell your story and concisely explain the game to people who don’t play. Did that take a lot of research on your part, or do you secretly craft blocky marvels of engineering in the wee hours of the morning?
DW: Haha. I’ve never played Minecraft but my son was a big resource for that and similar games. I fact-checked details with him and absorbed a lot from watching him play. I even took him to a live event by Minecraft YouTuber Dan TDM, which had a big influence on my depiction of Rainbow Dave in the book.
Dan seems like a great guy, by the way, and I would never suggest he’s a psychopath.
AIPT: Aside from when the first draft of His Own Devices was written, what made you want to keep the story set in the year 2016?
It was funny how the book evolved in relation to real time events.
On the one hand, while I was rewriting multiple drafts and pitching the book to publishers, I had this anxious sense of a ticking clock—that the cultural and technical details would eventually expire like a carton of milk before it was published.
But I also noticed that so many of the themes in the book were coming true in the news through things like social media election interference, the QAnon cult, and even kids eventually spending almost all of their time online because of the pandemic.
So I eventually realized there was a special resonance in keeping the story set in 2016 because in many ways, that was the beginning of all of this digital chaos we’re now grappling with. That enabled me to steer the later drafts in a way that feels like the events of my story are setting the stage for every horrible thing that we now know in hindsight comes next.
AIPT: Do you think terrorist or even occult groups would ever try to take advantage of our society’s device addiction on the same scale we see in His Own Devices?
Yes. And that’s what I think makes the book truly scary.
I think QAnon exists in the borderland between a terror group and a religious cult, but it also functions like a game. It’s a frightening example of that kind of manipulation by both cynical influencers with an agenda and organic followers who took the ball and ran with it for the same rewards you get out of an augmented reality game.
AIPT: The book’s conclusion (which was awesome) feels pretty definitive, but there was still a little bit of wiggle room. Is there any chance you’ll revisit these characters again at some point?
DW: As usual, I never say never, but I don’t have any specific plans. That kind of thing usually happens when readers surprise me by suggesting there’s a potential for it–or eventually the right idea comes along that makes me think of a certain character I haven’t seen in a while.
AIPT: What music was in heavy rotation on your playlist while you wrote His Own Devices?
DW: I can’t tell you how many times I listened to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack for The Social Network. They do a dark techno thing with the theme from ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ that really captured the vibe of His Own Devices.
I also listened to a song called ‘We Prick You’ by David Bowie on an endless loop.
AIPT: Does His Own Devices connect to any of your SPECTRA novels?
Not really, but there is one reference to the agency for attentive readers. What it does connect to is a prequel novella (Random Access) you can download for free from my website, which may be even more rewarding for people who have already read His Own Devices.
*AIPT Side Note: Random Access is exceptionally good, but it’s our humble opinion that the story is best experienced/enjoyed after reading His Own Devices.
AIPT: Final question, which I hope you won’t mind is a bit personal: Why did you think it was okay to use me as a character in Cthulhu Blues that dies such a horrific death?
DW: *Call ends after 10 minutes of maniacal laughter*
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