I’m honored today to interview author EJ Simon. Simon is the author Death Logs In, Death Never Sleeps and the upcoming Death Logs Out. The fast-paced novels feature A.I., adventure and lots of great meals (you may come away from these books a bit hungry and ready to visit some of the restaurants that Simon’s hero Michael visits).
Simon has also written two true-crime books. He is a world traveler and food enthusiast who lives in Connecticut with his wife.
He joins here in Nashville Book Worm today to talk about his books and his upcoming visit to Nashville. Simon will be signed books this Saturday (April 18) at Parnassus Books (Hillsboro Plaza shopping Center. 3900 Hillsboro Pike. Nashville Tennessee). The event starts at 2 pm CST.
Nashville Book Worm: How did you get the idea for Death Logs In and Death Never Sleeps? Did you always intend for the books to be an on-going series?
EJ Simon: The idea for the books originated from two great – and very different – movies that I saw many years ago: The Godfather and 2001 Space Odyssey. In the Godfather, I was impressed with Francis Ford Coppola’s treatment of the character of Michael Corleone – his evolution and his relationship with his brothers and the rest of the family. In the case of 2001 Space Odyssey, I was fascinated with the computer character, Hal, who guided the spacecraft until the astronauts decided to disconnect him – at which point he refused to go. This movie represented the popularization of artificial intelligence.
The concepts from these movies are translated into two of the central themes for both of my books. First, the relationship between two brothers, Alex and Michael Nicholas and how Michael evolves from a very straight arrow executive into something closer to his murdered underworld brother. The second theme is the use of artificial intelligence to duplicate a real person onto a computer – and bring him back after he is dead.
NBW: How many books do you have planned for the series?
ES: Although I don’t yet have a set number in mind, I feel that I have enough material in my head or imagination to produce at least six or seven quality books in this series. It’s hard to tell since, as I write, new stories, characters and challenges evolve. Also, the real world of events and technology is moving so quickly that it provides verification of much of what started out in my novels as fiction. Artificial intelligence, in the last few years alone, has almost become a part of our daily lives, often in ways we don’t even realize. That’s not always good for those of us who live here.
NBW: How much of your own personality is in Michael?
ES: Probably more than I care to admit. He’s not a natural hero figure. At best, he’s a reluctant one. He is thrust into a life requiring a tough aggressiveness if he and his family are to survive. There are differing aspects of his personality that seem to be having an internal tug of war. Certainly, Michael Nicholas’ love of food and restaurants, and his reverence for the ritual of dinner is very much me.
NBW: Of all the meals that your characters enjoy in the book, do you have a favorite? Or a favorite restaurant?
ES: This has got to be your toughest question. My favorite may be the beef bourguignon at Chez Dumonet in Paris. It’s an old but thriving bistro on the Left Bank. Michael dines there in both Death Never Sleeps and Death Logs In. It’s hard to have a favorite restaurant – it would be like a having a favorite child, even if you did, you hesitate to say so.
NBW: You’ve talked a lot about how meals bring people together. Could you elaborate on that a bit more and tell us why it’s so important to your novels.
ES: I grew up in New York but my parents were both from Greece. Dinner was the time the whole family sat down together. It was the focal point of the day. Thinking back, I learned so much by just observing – my parents, my brother and sister, grandmother – and then guests. Watching the interactions and seeing how people responded to or announced news – weddings, divorces, illnesses, deaths and births. Even today, we learn about so many important things at dinnertime. Often, even with instant social media communication, we save major news for our dinner conversation. In our frenetic world today, it’s a rare time of intimate, personal communication. For many of us restaurants have replaced the home dinner table on many evenings. This adds an element of theatre – and sometimes spectacle – to the meal.
NBW: There could be some who would look at the A.I. portions of the novel and say — oh, that’s just his imagination. But do you see something like that becoming a growing reality for people?
ES: If you listen to people like Stephen Hawking and Steve Wozniak (the co-founder of Apple), you could believe that it will one day be possible for us to create and duplicate people on a computer. Both Hawking and Wozniak have recently been quoted saying that computers with artificial intelligence will soon be more powerful than humans and will even have a conscience. Every day, I see more evidence of computers taking on the roles we only thought humans and the human mind could do. There is also an amazing site called LifeNaut where you can basically replicate yourself on a computer and others you invite can have conversations with the virtual you.
NBW: How much of the A.I. is influenced by how much of ourselves people are willing to share on line these days? Sure, we can’t yet upload our intelligence onto the Net, but people can share just about every thought, feeling or otherwise in almost real time with various social media. What do you see as the pros and cons of that?
ES: The huge increase in the parts of our lives that we input on line certainly adds to the power of computers and technology to emulate our lives. I was traveling several weeks ago and had made my hotel reservation on line and then, on a different site, secured my dinner reservation somewhere else. I remember wondering when exactly I would need to leave for dinner in order to be on time. I’d never been to that area before. A few minutes later, I received an instant message telling me that my hotel was 15 minutes away from the restaurant and that I needed to leave then to be on time – and then even gave me the driving directions from my hotel to the restaurant. Somehow, the unrelated sites had communicated together to bring this to me. It’s a small example of the power of the cyberworld.
The more information and history we load onto the Internet, the easier it will be for a person to be replicated on a computer. I believe we have only begun to scratch the surface. Just like most other advances or inventions, there will be pros and cons. Just looking at social media today, for me, it has allowed me to connect with many new friends – and reconnect with many old and treasured ones. At the same time, it has opened my life to hackers and others with whom I’d prefer to stay private.
The power of all of this technology – when combined with the interconnections of the Internet – is breathtaking to contemplate. It goes further than most of our imaginations can even take us.
NBW: Did you draw any inspiration from A.I. from other pop culture depictions of A.I.s?
ES: Not really, I have yet to see a great or insightful use of artificial intelligence on television or the movies. I suspect that when my books are turned into a television series or a movie, it will be a breakthrough
NBW: What’s ahead for Michael and Alex in the next installment in the series? Can you give us some hints about what’s to come (without spoiling too much, of course!)
ES: Okay, here a few hints of what’s to come in Death Logs Out (due to be released this Fall) – first, Alex’s widow is increasingly suspicious that her husband may not be dead. Also, Alex’s online presence may not be a total secret.
NBW: What brings you to Nashville and Parnassus Books this week? Have you been to Music City before?
ES: Besides being owned by Ann Patchett, Parnassus Books is at the forefront of the battle to preserve independent book stores. It’s a privilege to be asked to come for a signing. Even other bookshop owners have asked me to send them some pictures of the event. Yes, I have been to Nashville before, in my business life. I was involved in the move of Nissan to the area from Los Angeles. This will be more fun.
NBW: What’s one thing you’d like to visit in Music City if you had the time to do so?
ES: That’s easy, it would be to go to the Grand Ole Opry. I’m landing in Nashville on Friday evening – and going straight there, I have my tickets! I’ll be seeing Mel Tillis, Lindsay Ell, and the Del McCoury Band. I’d have loved to see Johnny Cash’s old farm in Franklin too, but I understand that burned down a few years ago.
NBW: And what restaurant would you like to dine at as research for your next book?
ES: I’m planning on revisiting Delmonico’s in lower Manhattan. It’s an iconic restaurant with tons of history. I had my first business dinner there in the 70’s and haven’t returned since then. Many well-known dished were created there – Lobster Newberg, eggs benedict, chicken a la king and, of course, the Delmonico steak. Presidents, world leaders, actors and criminals have all frequented this beautiful place – and even had affairs in the rooms above! Often, you can taste history.
NBW: I’d like to thank EJ Simon for taking the time to talk to me and I hope that you’ll find time to come out and get a signed copy of one of his books this weekend. If you can’t make it out to Parnassus Books on Saturday, April 18th at 2 p.m. CST, you can connect with Simon on social media or you can purchase one of his books at various on-line retailers.