An Interview with Nate Kenyon, Author of of the Techno-Apocalyptic Thriller DAY ONE

Nate Kenyon writes thrillers, suspense and horror for Thomas Dunne Books. He also writes video game novelizations for Blizzard Entertainment in the worlds of StarCraft and Diablo. His novel, Bloodstone, was a Bram Stoker Award finalist and winner of the P&E Horror Novel of the Year. His novel, The Reach, was a Bram Stoker Award Finalist. His latest novel is the techno-thriller Day One (Thomas Dunne/St. Martins Press). Booklist gave it a starred review, calling it “exciting and inventive.” Library Journal called it a “must” and Kenyon’s “scariest to date.” Day One was also recently optioned for a film. Visit him at NateKenyon.com.


Tim Ward: DAY ONE is almost like 24‘s Jack Bauer fights Skynet, except Hawke is a reporter instead of a trained killer. Why is this story better for having Hawke not be as skilled in tactical fighting?

Nate Kenyon: From the beginning, it was very important to me that Hawke NOT be a superhero. I wanted this novel to seem as realistic as possible, considering the subject matter. Hawke needs to be resilient, but not a trained killer. That’s not his role–he’s a hacker, and those skills are tremendously important. In fact, they are far more important in this particular situation than a trained killer’s skills would be. He’s fighting a virtual enemy, not one he can wrestle into submission. That said, I wanted him to be vulnerable in other ways.

TW: In spite of some very exciting action scenes, DAY ONE left its biggest impact through Hawke’s struggles between ambition and providing for his family. Tell us about his internal struggles and why his story would be enjoyed by just about anyone.

NK: Again, another tremendously important focus for me in this (and all my novels) is character. You need to identify with the lead in order to feel for them, root for them, be frightened for them. Otherwise you’re just rubbernecking at a car wreck. I wanted Hawke to be driven by two things: his ambition to succeed, to get to the bottom of the mystery, and also to be a protector for his family. I wanted those to be in conflict for much of the story. Ultimately, he has to get home. That’s the driver, and something pretty much anyone can identify with in his/her own life. In a catastrophe, you need to be with your loved ones and protect them from harm.

TW: Returning to the 24 and Terminator analogy, what elements that people enjoy in those franchises did you incorporate into DAY ONE, and how did you make it your own?

NK: For 24, I think it’s the element of the ticking clock–there’s an urgency and immediacy in something unfolding in “real time,” tracking someone’s movements moment to moment. Of course, you have to take liberties with that concept (no bathroom or snack breaks) but the overall tension is there. I thought that worked well for this particular plot too–I wanted to keep it focused and moving fast. I wanted to explore the AI evolution in real time. And in terms of Terminator, my editors and I spoke about that very early on–we wanted to stay away from the “Skynet” concept as much as possible. So we decided to focus on consumer machines, rather than robots and the military, as the thing that brings our society to its knees. That lent itself to all sorts of fun concepts to play with–how connected (and yet disconnected) we all are, how dependent we have become on our devices, our connected society. What happens when the connection comes loose, and the machines revolt? Are we prepared for that?

TW: Who do you think the ideal audience is for this story?

NK: Anyone who enjoys thrillers will like DAY ONE. You don’t have to be a tech nut, I don’t think, to enjoy the story. It’s not really science fiction, it’s a present day thriller that happens to deal with a technological meltdown. The drama is very intentionally focused for a wide thriller audience, although there’s plenty there for sci fi, horror, and mystery fans–and certainly for those who enjoy owning the latest devices and know a little something about technology!

TW: What do you think it says that part of the adventure in your book is not only taking those gadgets away, but creating an AI that uses them to torment, kill and enslave the human race? Are you trying to tell me Facebook is bad? Don’t make me block you.

NK: I think those sorts of readers will certainly enjoy DAY ONE, but (as I wrote earlier) I don’t think they are the only audience for the novel. I do think there’s something to this idea that we may be becoming too dependent on our gadgets these days (although I’ll freely admit I’m one of those people). I think the larger driver for the plot, though, was simply imagining HOW an actual sentient artificial intelligence would attack us these days. I did a lot of research into the future of AI, and I think that this is, in fact, how it might come at us–through our devices, finding places to hide and corrupt data and take advantage of weaknesses in our systems. And certainly an AI would use our human emotions against us, instilling fear, confusion, exhaustion and panic to weaken us–it’s an advantage a machine intelligence would have in the war.

TW: How will DAY ONE win over people who would rather watch TV or scroll Facebook than read a book?

NK: Well, I don’t know if any book can do that. But It’s a very fast read, and I hope it’s compelling. I hope that those who give it a chance will be hooked pretty quickly!

TW: How is DAY ONE better than similar options on television?

NK: I think reading in general offers a more immersive and ultimately satisfying experience in entertainment than TV. It’s a much more interactive experience, in that you are in the characters’ heads and hearts in a way I don’t think you can be when watching something on screen. Personally, I’d take DAY ONE over TV any day!