Friday, September 11, 2009

TAKE TEN: Author Jason Kays

Ever think that your life is stranger than any fiction novel you could ever read or write? If so, then you know what it feels like to be author Jason Kays. In his book VIRTUAL VICE he gives us a snapshot into experiences that none of us should have to experience in our profession, but he also let's us see what it takes to overcome any adverse situation we might face. For aspiring writers he also tells what it takes to make it in the business and how readers can always tell when an author is giving them their all.

Here is our conversation:

Hello, Jason, and thanks for talking with us. Before we get into the book VIRTUAL VICE, tell us a little about yourself.
I'm an intellectual property attorney. I work in the Information Technology sector, primarily with software developers, performing trademark and copyright review, licensing agreements and related transactional matters. Essentially, the objective is to protect the original work product of an engineer from theft by a third party. The same body of law protects an author's writing from plagiarism. Prior to that I worked in the field of entertainment law doing IP work, contract review and putting together deals. I have been around computers and technology since my childhood in the 1970's, and have always had a passion for the cutting edge of IT. That enthusiasm is reflected in my writing and will be a focal point in my next book, Mainstream. Regardless of topic or genre, I believe that in order to maintain relevance, it's essential for writers to stay current with social and technology trends. If one doesn't, the exercise becomes one of narcissism and not one of art or utility.

If I had met you some five years ago, would I have expected then that you were interested in writing a book?
Yes, because I would have muttered under my breath from time to time, "If I survive this, I'll write a book about it." My eight plus years as an entertainment law attorney exposed me to an unscrupulous collection of "suits": egocentric entrepreneurs, amoral angel investors, and elements of organized crime. When I switched market sectors from show business to IT, it was with the intent to leave that chaos and sliding ethic behind. As you can see from the machinations of the book's protagonist, a Colombian drug kingpin turned IT CEO, that was not to be the case. As fantastical as certain episodes in Virtual Vice appear, they pale in comparison to the reality. 85% of the book is factual. The portion of the book documenting the build out of a hybrid brothel/church is the fictional component. Even that bit of gonzo literary styling proved more fact than fiction: the book's protagonist recently partnered with a Santa Monica real estate developer to establish a new age, religious themed Hawaii resort as a church in order to dodge taxes. No doubt the brothel is soon to follow. Pastor Petey has a real world counterpart, as well.

What about reading? Have you always enjoyed it, or is it something you came to later in life?
Reading has been a passion throughout my life. The first memorable book I read as a child was Bram Stoker's Dracula. I was six or seven years of age, so wasn't attuned to the book's nuance as metaphor for the Victorian era's repressed sexuality and hypocrisy, but it was the first book that I found completely immersive. To this day I think Stoker is one of the best at conveying atmosphere, both environmental and that of social dynamic. His rendition of the human psyche under siege is nothing short of sublime.

The book VIRTUAL VICE is based on actual events. What led you to write it, and tell our readers a little about it.
The book was inspired by my representation of a most unpleasant client during an eighteen month period, Gregg Scott Luce. The client, a former drug trafficker, allegedly laundered drug money through the IT startup, Millennium III Corporation (MIII), after the DEA shut down his previous venture.

MIII was a Seattle based broadband content provider, streaming audio and video from live rock concerts to subscribers over the Internet. Although business was thriving, its CEO soon fell back on old habits, structuring MIII as a Ponzi scheme. Aggravating the problem, Luce embezzled money.

Seven years after the founding of MIII, I was retained as counsel to review intellectual property issues August of 2001. Approximately twelve months into my work, original note holders began contacting me, expressing concern that they had received no annual statements from MIII -- for that matter, no communication at all from the board of directors or corporate officers for several years. More troubling, to a man, every investor had demanded buyback upon maturation of their convertible note loan agreements in 1997. Luce refused to honor the promissory notes. The paper trail showed Luce used money from the non-accredited investor pool to line his own pockets, and money from new investors to pay contracted employees that held stock options; thereby, perpetuating the ruse. A textbook definition of the classic Ponzi scheme: using money from new investors to pay dividends to original investors.

I approached the CEO with my concerns. He was non-responsive, as was the board. In addition to confronting shareholders with Luce's malfeasance, I reported his actions to attorney general offices in two states. Formal investigations into Millennium III and its CEO commenced.

Luce fled Washington State and setup shop in Arizona. He laid the groundwork for a second Ponzi scheme, this time focusing on holistic cures, naturopathy and controversial quasi-medical procedures. Con men will often select a market where product and performance are difficult to quantify and grade. The New Age racket lent itself perfectly to this model. After his last remaining anchor investor pulled funding in 2007, Luce relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He had now reinvented himself as a sort of schizoid renaissance man: part shaman, fitness guru and self-proclaimed "Internet genius". As surety in case his genius fell short of the mark, Luce misappropriated the intellectual property of a group of Santa Fe and German technologists to defraud a Los Angeles music industry venture capitalist out of $500,000. He was ultimately found out and relocated to Huntington Beach.

Were you in any way worried about what the response would be from those who knew you?
No. Friends and family were aware of all that is chronicled in the book -- any event of any consequence. I was very circumspect in disclosing details that related specifically to loved ones. Since the book is partially autobiographical, I clearly took some hits. I think readers know if an author is being disingenuous and has attempted a revisionist history. The writer must be candid about what he sees in the mirror before he can be candid about what he sees out the window.

At the end of the day, what do you hope that readers get from VIRTUAL VICE?
How easily the fine line between "legitimate" enterprise and criminal enterprise can be blurred. Legitimate business can be more toxic than underworld activity because it operates unchecked. There is a presumption of innocence. A veil of propriety. Protagonist Scott White arguably inflicts more damage upon society through his boardroom duplicity than he does through past drug deals. Pastor Peter Huckalby yields a higher body count as evangelical preacher using fear and emotional manipulation to extort tithings from his cybergation than Clarice Westwater does as brothel madam. The Benny Hinn's and Joyce Meyer's who preach the "prosperity gospel" in order to line their own pockets pose a far greater threat to the nation's social fabric than does a literal pimp.

Jason, a lot of people may read your book and see it as pages from a journal that someone would keep. Would you agree it was that personal, and was it easy to be that open with the world?
The book, while stylized reality, is autobiographical. Metropoleis III attorney and antagonist, Ian McKenzie, represents my personal misadventures during the period chronicled. A self-portrait with so little artifice as buffer leaves one vulnerable to an extent. It's all a matter of how comfortable and accepting one is of that state of vulnerability. I made errors in judgment along the way, the gravest of which was agreeing to representation of Metropoleis III as a client. The flip side is that I exercised honorable intent, judgment and action in how I went about shutting down White and extricating myself from the dilemma. To the best of my ability, I attempted to do the right thing, including blowing the whistle on a Ponzi scheme that bled investors of millions. In the past, I would trouble myself over appearances and perception, but that is a folly of youth I've long since retired. The most trying aspect of writing about the experience wasn't exposure or accepting my missteps, but retracing and reliving those missteps. In the end, it was a very cathartic and meditative stroll.

Writing a book is one thing. It is totally different to get it published and promoted. What has been the hardest step for you so far?
Mastery of SEO techniques. There are countless self-proclaimed SEO gurus out there that are nothing more than affiliate scam marketers (MLM). Hucksters far outnumber genuine experts. It takes a good deal of time to find legitimate SEO references, tools and consultants. Michael Santoro's Authorpreneur program is a good place to start. I understand that mid-September he will be launching a new SEO program for authors. All a Twitter (Tee Morris. Indianapolis, IN: Que, 2009) is a great Twitter resource hot off the press by an author and experienced podcaster. The New Rules of Marketing and PR (David Merman Scott. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007, 2009) provides a comprehensive overview of new trends in Net-centric marketing.

You have done what many aspire to do, Jason, and that is get a book published. What advice would you give to aspiring writers about the process?
Writing process: Write what you must; not what you think you should or is expected. Don't seek input by family and friends along the way. That will either inflate or emaciate your ego and neither is healthy. Finish the book then hire the best editor you can afford, heed her advice and let the self-flagellation begin. If you are a first time novelist, forget about finding a literary agent. Short of nepotism, it's highly unlikely you will land one, regardless of the merit of your book or skill as an author. I would highly encourage looking into print on demand publishing, as that minimizes your overhead; namely, you do not have to warehouse books. POD also allows you much greater control over marketing and product placement. The bricks and mortar sales model is an antiquated and highly inefficient business paradigm. It's also rigged in favor of the conglomerate publishers. Books that are unsold must be bought back by the distributor (that would be you). With books now the number one commodity sold on the Internet, marketing and sales are moving online.

Publication and marketing: Plan on spending as much on marketing the book as you did getting the book to market. In today's world with the inundation of information and entertainment in all its forms, for any author to attract and hold an audience is exceedingly difficult. I suggest both new and established authors embrace technology in exploring alternate and inventive ways to connect with their readers. Become fluent in SEO techniques. Exploit social media networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Entire books have been written about marketing on each of these platforms. Offer a sample chapter or two via audiobook format or downloadable Adobe Acrobat file. Use the Internet to brand your name and your new title by setting up a book dedicated website and Wordpress blog.

Thanks again for answering our questions. How can our readers get in touch with you and find out more about you online?
Readers can reach me at the book's website: I have additional writings under the musings section of the website and on my blog: Readers can purchase Virtual Vice directly from Amazon at the following URL:

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