The Big Idea: Ron Walters
Author Ron Walters knows a true thing: that which truly terrifies you can also inspire you, if the stars align correctly. For Deep Dive, they did, and now Walters is here to tell you which fear helped him create his novel.
My daughters terrify me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love them both to death, and would do anything for them, but that’s exactly why they’re so frightening. My greatest fear is that something horrific will happen to one or both of them, some debilitating injury or illness or unpredictable catastrophe, and I’ll be powerless to do anything about it. No doubt that’s a fairly normal worry for a parent, but here’s the thing: I’m not only a parent, I’m also an author. Which means instead of simply gnawing quietly on that worry like a regular stressed out dad, I amplify it a thousand-fold and write a book about it.
As a parent there are few things more distressing to me than thinking my kids are one place only to realize they’re not where they’re supposed to be. A cold, nauseating void opens up inside me, makes my limbs tremble and my stomach cramp and causes the entire world to teeter off balance until I finally lay eyes on them. Except, what if I didn’t? What if my kids just up and vanished? Even worse, what if all the evidence that they’d ever existed was wiped off the face of the earth, and I was the only one who remembered them?
That nightmarish scenario became the big idea behind Deep Dive, my debut sci-fi thriller. The writer’s side of my brain, however, knew it wasn’t quite enough to merit the time I was asking readers to invest in the story. Hooks are great, but readers need to see themselves in the main character, or at least be able to empathize with them on a personal level. In order for that to happen, my main character required some kind of internal conflict, a deep-seated issue that was not only relatable to other people but could also be directly connected to the disappearance of his kids.
As it happened, I was in a bit of a mental hole when I started plotting Deep Dive. Writing is largely a solitary affair, which for the most part is perfectly fine. But I’d been at it for a long time with nothing tangible to show for it—in other words, a book deal—and was beginning to question whether all the effort I’d put into trying to break into publishing was worth the hours and days I’d given up with my family. Truth be told I was close to calling it quits, but I decided to give Deep Dive the same chance I’d given all my other books. So, in true writerly fashion I dumped all my angst into Peter, the main character. I didn’t want to be too autobiographical, though, so instead of an aspiring author I made Peter a struggling video game developer who loves his family but has become so obsessed with professional success that he spends more time working than he does with his wife and daughters.
As soon as I nailed down Peter’s profession, the rest of the story fell into place. After all, what better way is there to make the children of a game dev disappear while simultaneously making him question whether they’d ever existed in the first place than by incorporating virtual reality? That said, I didn’t want the VR element to overshadow Peter’s personal strife. It needed to be integral to the story, but in a way that would serve the intimate character arc I’d planned for him. To that end, the moment he dons the experimental headset that he hopes will save his floundering career, it malfunctions spectacularly and knocks him out. When he regains his senses, he discovers that his life has changed in two significant, disturbing, and all-too-real ways: his daughters are gone, erased from everyone’s minds but his own, and he’s the successful, much-lauded game dev he’s always wanted to be.
Whether Peter decides to accept his success at face value or hold tight to the conviction that his daughters and his experiences as a parent aren’t the byproduct of a work-induced nervous breakdown is up to readers to discover. However, I will say that writing Deep Dive was a hugely cathartic experience for me both as a writer and as a father. I learned a lot about myself, about what I was willing to give up and what I wasn’t willing to concede when it comes to pursuing success. Yes, the book is my worst nightmare brought to fictional life, but it’s also a love letter to my wife and daughters, a story I never could have written if I hadn’t become a parent. Seeing it on my shelf is a constant reminder that success, however I define it and however gratifying it might be, means nothing if I lose sight of the three people in my life who matter more than any book I’ll ever write.