Monday, October 19, 2009

C.J.'s Question for Keith Raffel

What’s special about Silicon Valley that makes it a good setting for crime fiction? If it is so good, why isn’t more crime fiction set there?

C.J., you got me. I just don't know why Silicon Valley isn't the setting for more crime fiction. There have been plenty of mysteries and thrillers set in New York, the capital of world finance and L.A., the capital of the world entertainment industry, so why not the capital of world high tech? Are writers afraid of that technology sounds boring or is it the people, the software geeks, who seem boring?

The exact location of Silicon Valley is hard to pinpoint, but I'd say its locus runs from Palo Alto down Highway 101 to San Jose. No doubt, though, that the Valley is a bubbling cauldron of ambition, envy, technology breakthroughs, and big bucks. There are industrial secrets to be stolen, spies from almost every foreign power, corporate shenanigans galore. A couple of years ago, a member of the board of the world’s largest high tech company, hired a private investigator to get the dirt on a rival member. CEO's are being sent up the river for backdating stock options and allegedly stealing hundreds of millions or more from stockholders. Two engineers are on trial right now for selling secrets to China. Holy mackerel!

In my latest, Smasher, we have a billionaire taking advantage of depressed market conditions to try to steal away our hero’s high-tech company. At the same time, Stanford professors are stealing credit for breakthroughs in particle physics. (I know it sounds technical, but it’s not. I’m a history major for Pete’s sake.) Good crime fiction is about people and what motivates them, how they react to extraordinary circumstances. Of course, in writing about the Valley, I want to throw in enough insider stuff to make it interesting, but not so much to turn it into a textbook.

Still, writing crime fiction set in the Valley is not quite as lonesome as it once was. Maybe it’s because we live in a world where so many of us use products from Google, Apple, Facebook, and other Valley companies. Readers are starting to wonder about the folks who come up with this stuff. What's the story behind those nerds and billionaires? I’m glad to see my amigo Barry Eisler started the action in his latest, Fault Line, here in Palo Alto before he moved it up to San Francisco. Maybe one day we can have a Silicon Valley chapter of International Thriller Writers that will take up more than a single booth at Peninsula Creamery in downtown Palo Alto.

As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at


Alan Orloff said...

Good question: why aren't there more mysteries/thrillers set in Silicon Valley. Plenty of people, plenty of back-stabbing. Nice to see you setting the trend, Keith.

CJ Lyons said...

Very cool, Keith! I had no idea there were such shenanigans going on there in Silicon Valley!!!

Sounds like a great place to find some interesting crime, lol!

Jen Forbus said...

Maybe that's the key, CJ...folks don't KNOW about the shenanigans going on there. It may be an undiscovered gem right now.

Shane Gericke said...

Keith, you used to watch over the CIA? Can we blame you for all the shenanigans they caused :-)

Very nice blog item. I'm looking forward to the rest of the week, and hope to see you in your hometown sometime, as Jerrle and I get out to S.F. from time to time. Congrats on the new book!

Unknown said...

I think the Valley managed to avoid conflict on a major scale for many years (and on a micro scale, coding 8 hours a day doesn't lend itself to High Anxiety). You have to get to the external consequences of all that "internal" or abstract/intellectual material.

One might just as easily ask why there aren't more MoTown mysteries, or Pennsylvania coal mining mysteries -- because an industry is not all by itself a sexy thing (I write this while on a research trip in Las Vegas, so my perspective may be skewed).

However, now that Google is a player in human rights conflict in China, and as software of one kind or another creeps into every aspect of our lives, the opportunities for interesting and entertaining crime fiction are unfolding.

I can't write high tech mysteries, even though I'm a technical writer in the SaaS space, because my tech writer hat just won't come off whenever I write about the industry. It's frustrating, but true. So my hat's off to Keith for making it exciting!

Keith Raffel said...

CJ -- almost as much murder and mayhem as at Angels of Mercy Medical Center? Shane -- yes. Hard-boiled -- be great to compare notes on SaaS some time. Alan -- I like the way you seem to relish the back-stabbing. Jen -- let me know if I have come up with something new. Thanks, everyone.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Just off the plane! Silicon Valley is a great setting! Terrific weather. Lots of single guys with nothing to do but figure out how to sell secrets to China. Many people with more money than sense or more sense than money. Plus people who can speak Klingon. What's not to like?

I got SMASHER at Bouchercon, I think (that book bazaar quickly turned into a blur) and am looking forward to it.
"See" you tomorrow, Keith! Thanks for stopping by!