When I wrote PWNED in 2011, I imagined something pretty outlandish for a premise: That the National Security Agency (or NSA) could spy on a private American citizen and in so doing uncover something that would bury that citizen in bureaucratic red tape until Kingdom come.
Why is that outlandish? Because that’s illegal. Well, it should be, anyway. Put succinctly, the idea of the NSA spying on an American citizen who then ends up in trouble should have been elaborate, well-imagined poppycock.
Enter Edward Snowden, and the whole PRISM debacle, and suddenly my self-published novel about a professional Starcraft 2 gamer doesn’t seem quite so crazy. It almost sounds eerily prescient, though I do wish it weren’t so.
The premise of my book is that Sean, a pro gamer who’s poised to dominate the biggest Starcraft 2 tournament in the world, is a serious threat to Norman, who needs to win the tournament to keep his team, his house, and his dream of quitting his job and gaming full time. Norman writes search string logarithms for the NSA, and uses his position to point the nation’s most powerful snoops right at poor Sean. Sean is a murder mystery author and, as such, has a browser history full of precisely the kind of gory, homicidal research material that makes federal agents twitchy and nervous.
Just when Sean looks to spend the next few years either in jail or in court, he flees the country with the help of a hot gamer girl and gives Norman a heart attack when he shows up in South Korea anyway despite Norman’s best efforts.
As tickled as I am to be on this site, where authors who saw the shape of things to come can brag about how they saw it coming, I really do wish my version of an NSA that abuses its power and oversteps its bounds could have remained fiction. Especially since I’m a thriller writer and have done plenty of searches that would certainly raise eyebrows if the NSA decided to start paying close attention to me. Here’s hoping for a future where all this is an unpleasant memory and the NSA leaves curious thriller writers well enough alone.
Remember this if you want to sound impressive at your next dinner party: The NSA was founded in 1952 for the express purpose of collecting and monitoring foreign counterintelligence. All those satellites and baffles and extra-large microphones are supposed to be pointed away from American citizens, ostensibly because it’s the FBI’s job to spy on us. Executive Order 12333 states that the NSA is to collect, “foreign intelligence or counterintelligence” while not “acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons.” The agency’s activities are supposed to be restricted by the Fourth Amendment (you know that one, it’s the unreasonable searches and seizures one).
Guest Blogger Erika Mitchell
Erika Mitchell showed early promise as a writer, winning the Beverly Cleary writing contest in 1995. The winning stories were printed into a book. Erika’s mother is the only person alive with a copy of that book.
She wrote her first novel (a really horrible chick-lit thing) that she promptly relegated to the back of her hard drive. A couple years later she tried again, this time writing a thriller novel. She had way too much fun writing it, and a couple months later wrote another one.
Erika lives in Seattle with her wonderfully geeky husband and their two children. When she isn’t reading and writing she’s been known to indulge in an eclectic range of interests.