Z-Tech Chronicles - Writing Wonders June 2023

My collected answers for Writing Wonders, June 2023, which in honor of Pride Month focuses on The Z-Tech Chronicles.

"June #WritingWonders." A list of questions for every day of the month. See post for questions.

In honor of Pride Month, my Writing Wonders post for June were about The Z-Tech Chronicles. I’m currently editing Angels Strike (Book 6), which is the exciting series conclusion.

"Save the waitress, save the world."

The Z-Tech Chronicles is an epic science fiction / urban fantasy saga set in the SF Bay Area starring an LGBTQ+ MC who also suffers PTSD.

You’re transported into your WIP world. Where is the 1st place you’re going? Why?

The series is primarily set in San Francisco—my stomping grounds! So I’m heading to one of the best restaurants in town: Gary Danko's (a real restaurant). Not only is the cuisine outstanding, but one of Anne’s suitors takes her there for the date of her life, which gives it a special place in my heart. (No spoilers on WHO takes her!)

Were any of your settings inspired by real world locations?

Absolutely! One scene takes place in a fictional data center, which might sound boring, but the first time I ever set foot in a real one blew my mind. The staggering amount of white noise made me feel as if I’d just dunked my head underwater. Combined with the extreme hot and cold isles, it was an unforgettable sensory experience, which I tried to capture in the story.

Share art, pics, and/or mood boards of your WIP world.

Lombard Street. San Francisco, CA

Lombard Street at night. Books 1-3 are primarily set in San Francisco. Vampires are prominent, so many of the scenes occur at night, and the characters tend to walk. This pic captures an unusually clear night when a friend and I were out walking. One of my favorites.

House art. Mission District, San Francisco, CA

Zima: Origins (Book 1.5) takes place in the Mission District. After emancipating herself from a militant organization, Zima takes to San Francisco to find herself, and ends up with a hispanic family who need her unique talents as much as she needs them.

This picture was taken during an excursion in the Mission District in one of many alleys where every house is a work of art. The Mission is a wonderfully diverse an artistic part of SF.

Arleigh-Burke class missile destroyers. San Francisco, CA

Part of Book 5 takes place on one of these behemoths. After doing a ton of online research, I finally had the chance to tour one myself, and oh my gosh were they impressive. Added a dash of realism in my descriptions.

Original, unpublished cover art for Angels Wrath (Book 3), by Ricky Gunawan

This is another scene from Book 4 that I had made into a cover. When I decided to go through a publisher instead of self-publishing, the publisher found the artwork too cartoonish, so I had other artwork made. I still love this pic because it captures the essence of a very tense scene.

MC POV: When was the last time you traveled? Where did you go? Why?

ANNE: Traveled? *laughs* I can’t even remember. Hal’s Diner barely pays enough to cover rent, let alone vacation. I don’t drive, either, so I mostly stick around San Francisco, which is fine by me. I guess the last time I traveled any distance was when I moved here from Indiana eighteen years ago.

Why did I move? Oh, um… C-can we please talk about something else?

What is the meaning of your MC’s name? Does it fit their personality?

“Anne” means “grace” according to the interwebs, and “Perrin” means “rock.” (Grace Rock. I should have just named her that!)

Anne is graceful not in body, but in spirit. She deftly navigates conversations with empathy and genuine caring. She also becomes the center of her found family—their rock. So yes, I think the meaning fits her beautifully.

Does your MC have any nicknames? If so, how’d they come by them?

Yes, Anne has a few. Her little brother called her Annie when they were young. She hasn’t seen him in eighteen years, but she still gets uncomfortable when anyone else calls her that and asks to be addressed as Anne.

Other nicknames are Mother and All Mother. Not saying why because *extreme spoilers*.

MC POV: Name one place in your world you try to avoid. Why?

ANNE: Um… everywhere except home and work? And an occasional pizza at Giovessi’s. The best way I’ve found to manage my PTSD is to stick to familiar places and routines, so I don’t get out much.

The place I absolutely won’t go is to my parents’ house in Indiana. Sorry to be rude, but I’d rather not say why. Here, let me bring you another scoop of ice cream to make up for it, on me!

How are weddings celebrated in your world?

The Z-Tech Chronicles is based in modern-day San Francisco, so weddings are US-style (Chapel / Licensed Minister / Honeymoon in Hawaii). Two off-screen weddings happen in the series, but I'm not saying who.

Do natural calamities play a role in your story?

Not in The Z-Tech Chronicles. Unnatural calamities ruin their day on the regular, but no natural ones.

How would you describe your story: fun, epic, dark, sad, etc.? Why?

Overall, I’d say “fun” and “heartwarming.” The series tackles some dark topics, such as Anne’s PTSD, which I render with due respect to friends who’ve suffered similar. It also has action, danger, humor, romance, and mystery. But at the end of the day, I wanted to tell a story of hope, even through the darkest of times, and the strength and joy of found family. Hopefully I succeeded.

How do you feel about killing characters?

Just like the reader: Sad. Hurt. Wondering how I and the other characters will cope.

But death happens. When it’s truly a character’s time to go, I can feel it. I let it happen—let it become part of the story. Let myself become immersed in the grief, and channel it into words the reader can share.

Because, like any tragedy that knocks you flat, the only way to go from there is up.

MC POV: How do you feel about marriage?

ANNE: It’s so romantic! Two people, desperately in love, pledging to spend the rest of their lives together. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have someone who you care about more than anything in the world, and who cares about you just as much? Who accepts all your flaws and loves you anyway?

Sadly, that last bit is the reason I’ll probably never find my soul mate, but I can still dream, right?

Is there a corruption arc in your story?

Three in the first book alone. More in others, but I’d need to inventory for a count.

One arc revolves around the antagonist, William, who’s a sadistic misogynist to begin with. Making him even worse was a fun exercise. One reader commented that the book generally has a light, airy feeling (mostly because of the protagonist, Anne), except for his chapters, where they suddenly felt dark clouds all around. Love it!

What kinds of character arcs do you like writing?

Two jump out at me:

  1. Zero to Hero. The protagonist starts out with no chance at all and ends up with ultimate cosmic power.
  2. True Love vs The World. Characters who believe themselves unlovable find their soul mates. Instead of a typical romance arc, where they have their doubts and come together at the end, it’s the world that challenges them, and their commitment to each other that gives them strength.

What’s your setting?

Mostly urban. The Z-Tech Chronicles 1-3 take place in San Francisco. #4 wanders to another town, but the series doesn’t really depart from urban until #5, which partly happens on a US missile destroyer. #6 is the only story that takes place entirely outside of a city.

Why urban? I’m a nature lover, so I honestly don’t know. I guess it’s where the story needed to be. I did make up for it in Enigma.

What was your process to create this setting and make it realistic?

I worked in San Francisco for 7 years, and have lived in the Bay Area since 1992, so rendering that onto paper was easy.

For the part of Book 5 that takes place on an Arleigh Burke missile destroyer… I spent months researching online, watched all 5 seasons of The Last Ship, had an E6 Navy friend proofread, and ultimately booked a tour on one of the ships. I take realism seriously.

MC POV: Someone threatens your loved one’s life. How do you respond?

ANNE (beginning of series): Seriously? I scream for help, or maybe… I-I honestly don’t know. What could I do? It’s such a horrible thought.

ANNE (later in series): I calmly try to talk them down. If that fails, then I make them not a threat. No one hurts my family. Never again.

Have your friends and/or family read your books? Why/why not?

They have, bless them. Almost all my close family have read at least one book, and my friends as well, even if it wasn’t necessarily their genre. That isn’t easy. I’ll always be grateful because I know not every author has that level of support. Thank you, fam!

Why? Firstly to show support, but I’m also the only one among them who’s written a full novel, which gives it a mystical quality, I think.

Who was your MC’s first friend and how did they meet?

Anne’s first true friend was Doris. Anne struggled with alcohol abuse when she first moved out to San Francisco. She was about to lose her 20th job, but her coworker Doris stepped in, asked the restaurant owner to give her another chance, then helped her get clean by taking her in and reintroducing her to the fun side of life.

That was 18 years ago. They’re best friends to this day.

Do you have any LGBTQIA+ characters in your story?

Yes! The MC, Anne Perrin, is courted by a man and a woman at the same time. She had never acknowledged those “other” feelings before, and so Book 1 triggers a realization for her that blossoms throughout the series. I hadn’t intended her to be bisexual, but as the first book progressed, it became increasingly clear that she was, which drove the story to unexpected and wonderful places.

How does your day job or life affect what you write?

The fictional Z-Tech factory is located 4 blocks from where I used to work in SoMa.

I’ve been a CTO, software developer, scrum coach, radiation therapist, am a father of 2 children, and husband to a wonderful wife, living happily in the Bay Area. You’ll find aspects of all these in my writing, from leadership styles to coaching habits to realistic technologies to healthcare mindsets.

What sort of transportation or vehicles does your MC use?

Busses, BART, and her feet. Like most San Franciscans, Anne doesn’t own a car because parking is way too expensive for her waitress salary; a dedicated parking spot would cost half her rent. Public transportation in the City is good enough that she’s never needed one. Neither does she have a driver’s license.

Would your MC stand out in our world?

In the first book, not really. The Z-Tech Chronicles takes place in modern-day San Francisco. Anne dresses in earthy colors, preferring a modest look over anything flashy, and generally keeps her head down. She’s perky and friendly on the job, which draws attention from restaurant patrons. A particularly bad flashback might make her scream, which… yeah.

In later books? Yes, she stands out a lot. Not saying why.

Antagonist POV: What do you think about the MC?

WILLIAM: She’s a useless, manipulative bitch, just like all the rest. I can’t wait to make her scream.

Do you have any characters over 50 in your book(s)?

Only one. Master Wung is the foremost chi expert in the world. He is of “unknown age,” although definitely over 50, with white hair and a long, wispy beard. He features prominently in Book 3, then has repeated appearances and an important role through the end of the series.

Does your book pass the Bechdel Test?

Yes. Screamingly, unequivocally yes. Three of Anne’s friends (also major characters) in the story are women. They have a bajillion 1-on-1 scenes and talk about many things other than men.

Antagonist POV: What do you care about?

WILLIAM (realistic answer): None of your fucking business.

WILLIAM (candid answer): I want to feel something other than contempt. The only way to do that is to hurt the people I disdain. Their screams are my only relief. My only joy. So I will make every last one of them scream, beg for their lives like the pathetic bitches they are.

If your MC could live anywhere in our world, where would they choose?

Exactly where she is. Would Anne like to visit other places? Sure, somewhere tropical would be nice. But at the end of the day, San Francisco is where she feels most comfortable. Her home is exactly the way she wants it. She knows the bus schedule. Knows her workplace. Has her best friend, Doris. And most importantly, her established routine minimizes her triggers.

How would you feel if your book got banned?

Upset because… oh boy, this is going to be a long one.

First, I don’t believe in book banning. Social media is a different beast that requires different measures to keep from becoming a rabid hate monster, but that’s a separate topic I’d be happy to debate elsewhere. Bringing it back, I’d be just as angry about my book being banned as I would anyone else’s.

Second, what started as a fun technology-versus-vampire story evolved into so much more. The Z-Tech Chronicles addresses some heavy topics, such as: sexual assault; PTSD; stalking; grief; sexual orientation insecurity; gender confusion; forced adoption; fostering; suicide; abandonment; alcohol abuse; domestic abuse; discrimination; addiction; neurodivergence; and others.

It doesn’t diminish or dilute the serious nature of these subjects, BUT IT DOES WRAP THEM IN HOPE.

Several people have told me they found Angels in the Mist “powerful” and “inspiring.” Banning it would rob others suffering from one or more of the topics it addresses from some small, much-needed relief, or perhaps the inspiration they need to move forward.

That would make me upset.

Do you have a playlist for your work or MCs that you’d like to share?

Yes! Here are a few songs that really inspired The Z-Tech Chronicles and/or resonate with the series:

Shock – Brother Firetribe
1000 Doves – Lady Gaga
Holding Out For a Hero – Bonnie Tyler
Running Up That Hill – Kate Bush
Don't Let Me Go – Raign
Jenny – Studio Killers
Titanium – David Guetta
Somewhere Out There – Linda Ronstadt

Playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzE3Ve0RCReV9smT5xj53FxiNaI44kN3n