Could you tell us a little about your debut novel “Bit Flip”?

I describe BIT FLIP as a critique of contemporary tech culture disguised as a corporate thriller. The story is based on tech executive Sam Hughes, who came to Silicon Valley to “make the world a better place.” But he’s rapidly losing that sense of optimism. In the opening chapter, Sam expresses his cynicism in an onstage meltdown at a tech conference, and ends up getting fired for it. The incident sends him into a bit of a midlife crisis, seeing the Bay Area’s tech bubble in a new light. But then the intrigue begins when he inadvertently discovers possible fraud at his former company. Sam gets pulled back into the company by the investors to clean up the suspicious activity, but ends up becoming more and more complicit. Ultimately, the story is about Sam’s own ethical integrity and how much he will sacrifice to achieve his dreams of entrepreneurial success.


Could you tell us about your background in tech startups? What originally drew you to this field?

I spent nearly 25 years in the tech industry, from tiny companies, several of which I founded myself, to huge public companies. So I had a wide range of experiences to draw from for this book. Like Sam, I was initially drawn to the tech industry during the dot-com boom in the late 90s. What appealed to me was the opportunity to change the world, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the chance to make money was also appealing! That was the promise, and myth, of Silicon Valley: that we could do good and make millions doing it. The notion that, unlike past boom industries that were inherently exploitative, the tech industry was all upside and no downside. The mantra was we were “making the world a better place,” which somehow made the potential fortunes to be made well-deserved and without consequence. More recently, that belief has been shattered, particularly over the last decade as the long list of negative side effects of the tech industry has become more apparent.


How much of your experience in technology and the Silicon Valley made its way into your book?

The book was definitely inspired by my career. Particularly for a first novel, the advice to “write what you know” was very helpful for me. Many of the stories about Silicon Valley, particularly in the media and nonfiction books, tend to either glorify or vilify the people and culture of this area. I wanted to write a novel that was more authentic, nuanced, and believable to insiders. And, by doing so, I thought it would also be an interesting window into this world for any reader. Just like a spy novel is more credible if it is written by a former CIA agent, or a police procedural is more credible if it is written by a former detective, I believe this novel is more credible because of my first-hand experience in the tech industry.


What is your writing process like? Because this was your first novel, did your process change as you wrote?

I like to create outlines for my story at a high level. Just a few sentences for each chapter so I can see my roadmap for how the story will progress. But then I give myself creative liberty as I start writing to break from that outline. Sometimes you don’t know what the most interesting bits will be until you write them, or even until somebody else reads them. So I like to give myself the latitude to let the story take on a life of its own–particularly when it comes to the characters and how they evolve. In terms of my day-to-day process, I’ve never been a particularly scheduled person. I find that if I’m not inspired to write, I can’t force it. And, similarly, when inspiration comes, I need to ride that wave of productivity. Once I have a taken the manuscript as far as I can, I share it with a developmental editor I work with and then refine it. Then, I take that next draft to beta readers, and refine it again. Probably the biggest change in my process in the first novel was my willingness to share my work and get feedback. It’s easy to be bashful as a first-time writer about sharing your work, but as I saw how enormously helpful that feedback was, I became not only willing but eager to get reader feedback as part of my process.


Do you see parts of yourself in your main character Sam Hughes?

Yes, there are definitely some similarities I share with Sam in terms of our age, experience, and family situations. Another big similarity is our Midwestern roots. Although I’m from Wisconsin and Sam is from Ohio, that upbringing really influences the values, beliefs, and behaviors that define who we are. That said, there are many differences — particularly as his envy and greed begin to cloud his decision-making. That was probably the part of Sam’s character I found most difficult to write. In my first draft, Sam was a good guy throughout the story. Although that may be how I want to be seen myself, I realized good guys aren’t very interesting! So I turned him into a more flawed, and probably more realistic, character.


“Big Tech” is such an integral part of our world today but also has created many widespread issues, why do you think this is an important story to tell?

Sam’s change of heart, which is captured in the book’s title (a “bit flip” is a technical term for a bit changing from 0 to 1 or back, used here metaphorically), is certainly one that I have had and that I believe many people working in the tech industry have had. Over the last several years, we have all become more aware of the pernicious impacts of technology and the tech industry, from gentrification to gender inequality, data privacy to teen depression. Many of us who work in the tech sector have had to grapple with those mixed feelings personally. That reckoning has caused many, particularly during the pandemic, to re-evaluate their careers and how they may be complicit in those negative side effects. I hope the story causes readers to re-evaluate what’s important to them.


What drew you to the thriller genre?

The short answer is suspense is addictive. It’s that dopamine hit of being unsure what’s going to happen next. The twists and turns are what keep you engaged as a reader. That said, when thrillers overplay their genre with overly graphic violence or improbable scenarios, they can kind of lose me. My suspension of disbelief only goes so far. And a story can’t just be about the thrill. There needs to be a message and moral to the story as well, or it feels superficial. I tried to hit that balance in BIT FLIP. Some may consider the term “corporate thriller” an oxymoron, but I’ve always enjoyed stories based on a work setting, and I felt like there was plenty of drama in the white-collar crime depicted in the book, without resorting to slashing throats or car chases that didn’t feel like they fit with my plot.


What kind of books did you read growing up? 

I would say I wrote a novel that mirrors what I loved to read growing up. I have always been a fan of authors that had subtle or unconventional heroes, like Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jack London, where the adventure was as much in the protagonists’ head as what happens to them. I also really enjoyed many of the early corporate and legal thriller writers, like Scott Turow, John Grisham, and Joseph Finder.


What are you currently reading?

I read quite a bit of fiction, usually about one book per week (all of which I post on my Goodreads). I’m currently reading two novels, both with “night” in the title, coincidentally — NIGHTCRAWLING, the debut novel by Leila Mottley about a teenager struggling to survive on the streets of Oakland, and THE NIGHT SHIFT, a thriller by Alex Finlay about two parallel mass murders of retail clerks with a sole survivor. Some of my recent favorites include TWO NIGHTS IN LISBON by Chris Pavone, WE RUN THE TIDES by Vendela Vida, and ALL HER LITTLE SECRETS by Wanda Morris.


Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

It’s kind of a “best of times, worst of times” moment in publishing right now. The publishing industry has certainly gone through incredible change recently that, in many ways, has made it harder to get published. But, in other ways, those changes have created new opportunities for aspiring writers. There is no longer one path to getting published. Self-publishing, independent imprints, and hybrid publishers have all become viable options. Getting access to quality collaborators, from designers and copyeditors, to proofreaders and audiobook narrators, is easier than ever. And with social media, YouTube, Goodreads, and dozens of other online channels, getting your work discovered is also possible in ways it wasn’t before. So my main advice to aspiring writers is to stay true to your passion, invest in yourself, and, most of all, keep writing. I did a video specifically on this subject, 5 tips for becoming a successful writer, which is available on my YouTube channel.


About Mike Trig

Mike Trigg earned a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley. Over his twenty-five-year career in Silicon Valley, he has been a founder, executive, and investor in dozens of venture-funded technology start-ups.  As Trigg’s career in tech progressed he became interested in documenting the unique culture of Silicon Valley. He posts regularly to his personal blog and has contributed to many tech publications, including TechCrunch, Entrepreneur, and Fast Company. Trigg lives in Menlo Park, California, with his wife and two sons. Bit Flip is his first novel and is available for purchase now.