Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Interview with Glenn Ogura, author of 'Startup'

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 www.glennogura.com

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.

Can you tell us what your book is about?

Startup is a story about greed and corruption in California’s Silicon Valley. It addresses the broad issue of morals and ethics in business. Are there any? And what happens to a young man who wants to take the high road but has to deal with the harsh realities of the rich and powerful who do not play by the rules. Can good overcome evil? Startup is a classic David versus Goliath story. It is the pursuit of the American Dream against all odds. Startup makes you want to cheer for the little guy.

In some ways, my readers and I believe I may have created a new book genre that one major critic, Kirkus Reviews, likened Startup to the immensely successful book The Firm by John Grisham. Startup is not a legal thriller or a science thriller but a business thriller. What is a business thriller? We spend a third of our lives working. The majority of us work for a company. We work for
someone who signs our paycheck. In simple terms, a business is a collection of people. Drama unfolds when people are brought together for several hours per day in a compact space, especially when a crisis occurs.
Why did you write your book?
When I started writing the business thriller Startup, I was working in California’s Silicon Valley. Everyday I would meet with people in Silicon Valley. You would see bizarre 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 trumped charge that was not right. You witnessed meetings of CEOs treating employees as cattle. You listened to conversations in the elevator, after work in a bar about the eroding morals and ethics of people. People were facing moral dilemmas of keeping 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 stories of corrupt CEOs and what they did to their employees. And soon it became obvious that for every public story of a corrupt business practice, there were ten-fold more stories that were not disclosed—and my guess more horrific and shocking than anything I could write.

Startup is a blend of fact and fiction. Although the actual companies DisplayTechnik and Imagination are fictitious, many of the events in the book did happen.

Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
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 couldn’t finish the book because the antagonist Allen Henley upset her so much.

Zack Penny: He 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.

Allen Henley: He is the main antagonist. Allen is a very successful business entrepreneur who runs a mega-million dollar display company. Zack Penny was his young protégé. Like many successful CEOs, Allen is driven, powered by an ego that was created through years of success. His British background makes him appear aloof and cold yet he is passionate about success and will do practically anything to protect his kingdom. He recognizes that Zack’s new product may make his company’s  products obsolete so the entire book follows Allen as he attempt to destroy Zack and his fledging design team before they get off the ground.

Mary Anne Henley: She is Zack’s girlfriend and she is also the daughter of Allen Henley. She  works at her father’s company. She stands between Zack and her father. She faces a difficult moral dilemma  of whether to help her father protect his fifedom, a man she respects for his accomplishments or to side with her boyfriend whose new startup company would compete against her father’s. At the climax of the book, she has to make a life-changing  decision with the two most important men in her life.
Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?
Since I lived this story, it was easy to write the first draft. When I wrote Startup, I wrote a storyline and a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline. I knew exactly how the book would start and how it would end. In the course of writing the book, new ideas came to mind (sometimes too many!) and I had to revise the chapter outline repeatedly, often going back to previous chapters to edit them. Yet the beginning and ending of the book did not change and I believe such plotting, sometimes tedious at times, made the book easier to write because I knew where the book was going. And hopefully the reader will see a storyline that is clear and consistent. Every major character faces moral dilemmas and their personalities evolve. Without a detailed outline to guide you, it would be easy to get lost.
What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?
That’s easy. I would spend more time with my beautiful wife. She’s my best friend and best supporter of my writing.
Which holiday is your favorite and why?
When I was kid, I loved Christmas because I was an only child and an only grandchild. I had so many presents that we needed to build shelves under the tree to stack them. Now that I am older, my wife and I like to go somewhere warm and tropical during the Christmas holidays. The trip is our gift to each other.
What do you like the most about being an author?

I have always loved to write. During college, I would write a novel, three-act play, poetry, anything. Writing a fiction novel is like producing, directing and starring in a film shot in your head. It’s an opportunity to use the left side and right side of your brain. You have tremendous freedom to create what you want. It’s very exhilarating. You can play out the dialogue between characters—and my wife can attest to hearing multiple voices coming from my office when she knows I‘m alone in there. I think Hitchcock made a movie about that.
What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?

I read somewhere that ninety-eight percent of authors sell less than 500 books. You don’t write to sell books; you write because you love it. Learn the mechanics of the profession. Plot very diligently before you write a single word. Enjoy the quiet satisfaction of finishing the first draft. Savor every little success that comes after. Selling the book is, by far, the hardest part of the writing profession.

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