Rachel: A thriller. Set in the White House. DO TELL.
Jan: Thanks! Yes, Zero Day is the story of Addie Webster, who was kidnapped at age eight while her father was governor of Virginia. She returns eight years later under mysterious circumstances to her new home—the White House. Family and friends are obviously overjoyed to have Addie back, but her timing is suspect. Enter Darrow, Addie’s childhood best friend, who will do whatever it takes to figure out what’s really going on—even if it means risking his own life.
Rachel: What did you set out to write first: a story about someone who was kidnapped to be used for ulterior motives, or a story taking place within the White House?
Jan: Actually, both! The whole idea was: what would happen if someone who was being used for ulterior motives actually had access to the most powerful person in the world?
Rachel: Since Zero Day takes place in the White House and presumably involves all sorts of political and official whatnot, did you have to do a lot of research?
Jan: Definitely! I live just outside Washington, DC, so I’m quite familiar with most of the settings in the book—I’ve driven the Beltway more times than I can count, have spent hours at places like the Air & Space Museum, and have been fortunate enough to attend events at the White House (which I used as the inspiration for Addie’s homecoming reception). I’ve also participated in attaché training at the DIA, where we were taught everything from how to properly set a table to shoot a gun and handle hostage situations (it was an amazing experience!).
Of course, there’s plenty I haven’t experienced firsthand. I’ve never been to the private residence in the White House (but hey, Mrs. Obama, I’m free for coffee anytime if you want to chat! ;). And clearly I don’t know how to hijack Metro trains or build bombs. So Google and the White House Museum’s online resources were invaluable. Let’s just say I conducted A LOT of unusual searches…
(Now that I think about it, I’m rather surprised I’m not answering these questions from behind bars in some unnamed federal prison. Because if the NSA ever looked at MY browser history, I think I’d have a bunch of black helicopters and men in suits swarming my front lawn… ;)
Rachel: There have been a few stories about the president’s daughter, like First Daughter and My Date with the President’s Daughter. Those tend to be fluffier and on the lighter side, though. So what inspired you to write a story that’s not only about the president’s daughter, but that’s more serious?
Jan: I also enjoy fluffy stories and light-hearted romances, but my absolute favorites are those that dig into the darker side of human nature. I love to think about how we define good and bad, how we choose sides, and what motivates people to cross the line from one to the other. I also just love a good edge-of-your-seat thriller that leaves you wondering what will happen next!
Rachel: What elements do you think make a thriller a thriller, and how did you try to incorporate them into your novel?
Jan: I think a good thriller incorporates both action (give me a ticking time bomb, a hair-raising chase scene, and lives hanging in the balance…), as well as a psychological edge (what made the character choose this path, what makes them tick, will they follow through…?). There are a lot of action scenes in Zero Day, but I also tried to give Addie and Darrow a backstory—both separately and together—so the reader could understand their motivations.
Rachel: Your book is called Zero Day—what does that mean? (Or, ooh! Is it a spoiler?)
Jan: “Zero Day” refers to a flaw in a computer’s operating system that isn’t caught until it’s too late to fix (i.e., there are zero days to fix it). And for Addie, the phrase may have a bit of a double meaning. But that’s all I’m gonna say!
Rachel: Zero Day is your debut novel! Woohoo! What’s your experience as a debut author been like so far?
Jan: Thank you! It’s been exciting, thrilling, mildly terrifying, and to be honest—a bit surreal. But mostly, it’s been wonderful, and I spend a lot of time pinching myself (and keeping an eye out for black helicopters ;).
Rachel: Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Jan: I’m a little bit of both. I try to have the major plot points in mind when I start writing and then I just go for it and see where the story takes me. (I also tend to not be a wordy first-drafter. So, in a way my first draft often winds up being more of an in-depth outline, which I then go back and flesh out.)
Rachel: If you were to write another thriller set in a well-known place and with a high profile character, where would it be and who would it be about?
Jan: Oooh, that’s an awesome question. I actually have several ideas bouncing around my head. I’d love to do another thriller set in DC, but with a different angle—maybe incorporating the CIA and foreign agents, dead drops and all that fun stuff. I’d also really enjoy writing something that draws from my experience with the attaché program (which is basically a fancy word for spy), in an exotic foreign setting like Moscow or somewhere in the Middle East.
Rachel: Favorite shows, movies, or books having to do with presidential things?
Jan: So many! I’m a total Homeland addict. (But gah, the end of this last season. Don’t want to spoil anything, but my man Quinn… can’t take it!!!). I’m also guilty of binge-watching every season of 24, and am enamored with FX’s incredible spy series, The Americans (if that’s not on your radar, put it there—it’s AMAZING!). And I pretty much devour anything ever written by Nelson DeMille and David Baldacci; and of course I think anyone interested in politics (and human nature) should read Robert Penn Warren’s All the King's Men, a classic story of power and corruption that in many respects still rings true today.
Author: Jan Gangsei
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publishing Date: January 12, 2016
Eight years ago, Addie Webster was the victim of the most notorious kidnapping case of the decade. Addie vanished—and her high-profile parents were forced to move on.
Mark Webster is now president of the United States, fighting to keep the oval office after a tumultuous first term. Then, the unthinkable happens: the president’s daughter resurfaces. Addie is brought back into her family’s fold, but who is this sixteen-year-old girl with a quiet, burning intelligence now living in the White House? There are those in the president’s political circle who find her timely return suspicious.
When the NSA approaches Darrow Fergusson, Addie’s childhood best friend and the son of the president’s chief of staff, he doesn't know what to think. How could this slip of a girl be a threat to national security? But at the risk of having his own secrets exposed by the powerful government agency, Darrow agrees to spy on Addie.
It soon becomes apparent that Addie is much more than the traumatized victim of a sick political fringe group. Addie has come with a mission. Will she choose to complete it? And what will happen if she does?
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Are you super excited to read Zero Day?