Wednesday, April 16, 2014

PUYB Virtual Book Club Chats with Mystery/Thriller Author Glenn Ogura

Glenn Ogura earned a degree in electrical engineering from Queen’s University in Canada. He is currently the executive vice-president for a New Hampshire-based laser micromachining company. Glenn lives with his wife in California.  In addition to his love of writing and talking technology and the study of business ethics, he plays tennis. Startup is his first novel.

Visit his website at

About the Book:

Set in California’s Silicon Valley, STARTUP follows a young idealist/entrepreneur, Zack Penny, as he strives to achieve his dream of creating a new company that will launch an international revolution in technology through the creation of wallpaper-thin displays that will completely surround a viewer. Zack works for a highly successful company called Display Technik, run by CEO Allen Henley, whose vision is based on a success-at-all-costs philosophy.  Zack sees Henley as a mentor, but Zack’s philosophy favors high morals and values over Henley’s ruthless, end-justifies-the-means model of doing business.

Zack’s dream takes root one morning when he discovers an important paper has been taken from his office. Someone has exposed Zack’s secret plan to break away from Display Technik and start his own company. Henley gives Zack another chance to pledge his loyalty to the firm, but Zack resigns instead, more determined than ever to realize his vision. Soon, the optimistic if naive Zack steps into his new facility with high hopes for success. Henley, however, has already launched a plan to destroy Zack, his company, and Zack’s relationship with Henley’s daughter, Mary Anne.

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Thanks for coming to the book club, Glenn!  You set your book, Startup, in Silicon Valley, California.  Why Silicon Valley?
Glenn:  I worked in Silicon Valley. Everyday I would meet with people in Silicon Valley. You would see the events unfold in front of you. You would see the pain on people’s faces. You would hear them talking on the phone to their families about how they lost their job. You would see a tenured employee being escorted out of the office, dismissed on a trump charge that was not right. You witness meetings of CEOs treating employees as cattle. You listen to conversations in the elevator, after work in a bar about the eroding morals and ethics in Silicon Valley. You could also see the anguish on people’s faces as they faced moral dilemmas of keeping in their job to support their families or to take the high road and quit.
There was a story to be told.

And once I started to research the book, I met lawyers who told me stories of corrupt CEOs and what they did to their clients. And soon it became obvious that for every public story of a corrupt business practice, there were ten-fold of stories that were not disclosed. A major critic Kirkus Reviews described Startup as an “entertaining novel that is generally an easy read, serving up dirty details of Silicon Valley arrogance and hardnosed capitalism.” You can’t make this stuff up.

Can you tell us all about Zack Penny?
 Glenn: Structurally the book is about each character facing a moral dilemma and how each character deals with it. Whether the character decides to take the right fork or the left fork doesn’t really matter because both choices have a distasteful consquence. There is no right or wrong choice. In some cases, the actions resulting from a character’s decision conflicts with another character and this makes for a delicious, rollercoaster storyline. Some readers agonize over the character’s decisions which is exactly the response I am looking for. I want the readers to be engaged with the characters. The reader can love them or hate them. One reader wrote to me that she couldn’t finish the book because the antagonist Allen Henley upset her so much. As a writer, there’s nothing worse than to receive a luke warm reaction. You want to book to extract an emotional response from the reader.
Zack Penny is the main protagonist. He is a young smart engineer who has the lofty picture in his mind that he can start his own dream company to design wallpaper-thin television sets yet run his company with high morals and principles that his ex-boss did not conform to. He felt that he and his fellow employees could realize the American dream without the sordid trail of betrayl and deceit left in the wake of other notable startups.
Do you see a little bit of yourself in him?
Glenn: That’s a good question. In one of the first scenes, the main character Zack looks in the mirror and a unicorn stares back at him. In the early morning, my wife says she loves seeing my hair sticking up and all crazy-looking which she describes fondly as “bed head”. I guess she likes to imagine what I was like as a little boy with rosy red cheeks who wore a big bib covering three-quarters of his body. I remember my father telling my mother why buy Glenn a Sunday church suit when the bib covers everything.

That bib covered up the messy transgressions of a five year old boy. In some ways Zack Penny represents the hope of how we’d like to behave in the workplace and at home. One critic described the book as “a story of hope caught in the jaws of greed.” I’ve had many readers come up to me and wish that they had a boss like Zack or worked in a company like Zack’s. The main character is an idealist—and I guess so am I.
Did your degree in electrical engineering help in writing this book?
Glenn: Yes but not as much as you think. Zack’s company Imagination sets out to build a wallpaper-thin television set which not too far from today’s reality. But I did not want this book to be a technology or science thriller. When I was writing Startup, I told myself that this had to be a book that my mother, wife and daughter would really enjoy. My mother thinks her kitchen blender is a computer. My wife detests science fiction because the stories aren’t realistic. And my daughter has an attention span of a teenager— which she is. If the book gained the approval of a committee of the three most important women in my life, then the book had a chance to become commercially successful. I don’t mind sprinkling a little bit of technology into the book but just a smidgeon. The book is all about the characters and the moral dilemmas that they face.

If you could choose the most pivotal point of your book, what would that be?
Glenn: The first chapter sets the tone for the entire book. If you’re going to write a thriller, then there better be plenty of thrills, early and often. When I plotted the book, I wanted to make sure the reader gets engaged from the very beginning. When you walk into a movie theatre a few minutes late to watch a thriller, there is already an uneasy murmur in the audience as you walk half-blind up the stairs to find an inconveniently-located seat. You want to ask people what happened but you realize you’d get back a fistful of popcorn—or worse. When you read Startup, the main character is thrown into chaos immediately and the craziness never stops until the cinematic ending.   
This is your first book.  Are there more books in the future for you?
Glenn: Yes I am busily writing the next book. Critics compare the book to John Grisham’s The Firm or to the writings of Michael Crichton such as Rising Sun. I admire those authors and they are my favorites. However I’d like to think that Startup is a new kind of thriller, a “business thriller” sitting in the “sweet spot” between legal thrillers and science thrillers. But more so, I love to write stories that question people’s morals and ethics and to place characters in impossible, yet realistic situations where they have to make a moral choice.

Today there is tremendous awareness of today’s healthcare system and how the United States (and the world) can continue to afford escalating costs at the expense of everything else that is dear to us. It seems to me that people could be put into difficult decisions involving the well-being of the people they love. The moral and legal implications are obvious and I thought a perfect backdrop for a great story to be told.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell your readers?
Glenn: As I mentioned, I believe that Startup is a unique business thriller. Some of my readers have described it as a new thriller genre. Although the book does address the broader subject of morals and ethics in business and in life, the book is also a fun read, a page-turner with short chapters that take the reader on a roller-coaster thriller ride with a cinematic climax. If you need to overcome boredom on a long plane ride, Startup is the perfect stimulant.

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