Friday, October 17, 2014

For Writers: Plotting a Story with Cause and Effect

Here’s a crash course on how to plot a novel. A lot of writers seem to struggle with plot. Their stories meander, and their scenes are episodic, which means they only feel loosely connected. The story never gains momentum. Consider these three scenes in a typical YA book.

Scene 1: Amy goes to school and hears about a school science project
Scene 2: At lunch, Amy’s boyfriend breaks up with her.
Scene 3: At home, Amy argues with her mom that she’s too coddling.

Is there anything that connects these scenes—other than the fact that it’s the same character? No. These scenes feel disconnected. Zero momentum. In order to make them feel connected, you have to make sure each scene inevitably leads to the next scene through cause and effect. You might think these scenes are in logical order, because they occur one after another in time. Amy goes to school, experiences a breakup at lunch, then comes home. It seems logical. But it’s really not. It’s just one random scene after another as we’re slogging Amy’s boring ass day. We need to add a missing ingredient—cause and effect. Each scene should cause the next scene, even if it comes right after in time. Now consider these three scenes.

Scene 1: Amy goes to school and hears about a school science project
Scene 2: Wanting to have the best science project, she ditches her boyfriend at lunch and heads straight to the library to look up ideas.
Scene 3: Because she ditched her boyfriend, he calls her later at home and breaks up with her, saying he’s sick of her putting school before him.

Now, it’s not the best plot, but you can see how each scene directly causes the one that follows. You can structure an entire book this way, and it will hold together much better than if you just show random snippets of a characters day.

I write mind-bending YA sci-fi series. To see cause and effect in action in a book, sign up for my newsletter below to get an email when my next book comes out:

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Teaser Thursday: A Short Teaser from God’s Loophole #4

Gabe ushered his brother and Raedyn into his apartment and slammed the door behind him, hyperventilating now. Fear pricked every inch of his skin.
   It got Dr. Lane.
   Just like that.
   “Okay . . . okay,” he said, dragging his hand through his hair. “We just need to think. We need to think. So it’s still out there. We know it’s still out there . . . damnit!” He kicked the wall.
   Jer sank into a barstool. “Oh man, oh man, oh man. There was no warning, no sound, nothing.”
   Rae sat against the wall, clutching her knees, teeth chattering. “It just . . . it just took her. It was in the same room as us, and it . . . and it took her.”
   Jer’s head snapped up, and the color drained from his cheeks. “It could be in here . . . with us . . . right now.”
   The three of them went deadly silent. They glanced around. Suddenly, every creak and rustle was amplified a thousandfold.
   “Guys, no, we need to focus,” said Gabe. “We need to think.”
    “It just took her,” Rae said. “Right in front of us. It attacked in broad daylight. It’s never done that before.”
   Gabe nodded. “It’s changing the rules on us.”

God’s Loophole book 4 (Time’s Beginning) will be coming out in early 2015. Don’t want to miss it? Sign up for my newsletter below to get an email the day it comes out:

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why Do We Read Stories: Creating Genuine Experience

Ever wondered why it is we enjoy reading stories so much? They’re just words on a paper, yet they seem to have such a profound effect on us. Reading a good book can leave you feeling different afterwards, almost more complete. Or at least you with a euphoric high. Why is that, though?

I’ve got a theory. I think reading gives us access to real experiences. You’ve all probably heard that saying that there’s no difference in your mind between an experience you vividly imagine and an experience that actually happens. What this means is what we read on paper, the characters we begin to root for and love, the struggles and the triumphs, are one hundred percent real to us. They’re real experiences. Not literally real, but our brain responds to them as real.

So when you go on a good adventure in a book, your brain has actually experienced that adventure, and your brain has actually made friends with the characters. Your brain releases the endorphins from whatever it is you read. You’ve actually grown and gained wisdom from the experience.

Now really, let’s be honest, your brain does know the difference. Obviously. And that’s what allows you to have fun while you’re reading, rather than going into fight or flight mode every time your character gets into a jam.

So read books. You’ll be happier and wiser and have more fun because of it. A good movie can do the same thing. But I heard once to get that kind of experience out of a movie, you have to read the movie. This means thinking about it, vividly imagining it afterwards. Otherwise, if you experience it passively, you don’t really experience it at all.

I write mind-bending YA with a twist. To learn more about what I’m working on and what’s coming out next, sign up for my newsletter below:

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Teaser Tuesday: A Short Teaser from Timeloopers #2

“Damn, you got here quick,” Cory said, eyeing Iris up and down. He climbed off her and kept going, just as Anneliese ran past them. “She fell over here.”
   Iris bounded to her feet and followed, gasping to regain her breath. “What happened? Who screamed?”
   “Seriously?” he said. “Just give it a rest.”
   “Cory, who screamed?”
   He paused to stare at her. “Are you for real right now?”
   “What?” She caught up with him. “I just want to know what happened.”
   “Just help us find her, okay? I’m not going to play this game right now.”
   “What game?”
   “Samantha, you asshole. Help us find her.”
   Iris’s hand shot to her mouth. “Was she on the zip-line?”
   “You were there, Iris.”
   “What?” Her eyebrows knotted. “No I wasn’t.”
   “Whatever. You’re creeping me out.” He turned and lumbered away, leaving her very confused about the whole encounter.
  
Short teaser today, since I don’t want to give away too much of the book. Make sure you sign up for my newsletter below to get an email when Timeloopers #2 comes out!

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Monday, October 13, 2014

For New Fans: What to Read Next—Summaries of My Mind-bending YA Standalones and Series

Right now, I have seven books out, with a new one coming out every two months. If you’ve just discovered my work through one of my books and want to read another one, here’s a little summary of each one of my works you can use as a kind of guide.

The Series


God’s Loophole

This is a four book series about a creepy machine that cuts people out of the universe and ends up making two teenagers telekinetic (three of the books are out, with the final book coming out early in 2015). This one crosses into genres of technothriller (a lot is told from adult scientists’ perspectives) and toward the end of the series, horror. As of yet, this is my major series, so if you’re a fan of mine, make sure you read this series.

Timeloopers

Combines a private high school with a time machine. This is going to be a longer series. The first book is out, and the second one is coming out early December. This one’s also a must for fans. Though less serious than God’s Loophole, this one has some seriously fun characters and fun time travel paradoxes. 

The Standalones

If you’re not ready to jump into a series, and just want to read a standalone story, here are my three standalones.

Broken Symmetry

This one follows Blaire Adams and hot bad boy Damian, both of whom can walk through mirrors. What happens on the other side is the subject of this book. It’s a trippy story and my most original idea so far. I would recommend this to anyone who hasn’t read it, as I think this most captures my style of mind-bending YA with a twist. If you’re looking for a standalone and started with one of my series, read this one first.

Triton

On a cruise ship, everyone suddenly vanishes into thin air, leaving five teenagers to regain control of the runaway ship and solve an ancient mystery. This one might be called a supernatural thriller, but it’s a fun, fun adventure with a good twist at the end. Highly recommended. 

Entanglement

Although this has been a popular book of mine for a long time, it was the first book I wrote, and my style has changed. This is more of a romance, and has less of the fun twists and turns you’ll recognize from my later work. I recommend you read this after you’ve read some of my more recent stuff.

So that’s it for now! Next out around early December is Timeloopers #2, and then in early 2015, God’s Loophole #4. Then I’ll be starting a new series. More on that to come. Make sure you sign up for my newsletter below to get an email when these books—and all my future books—hit the shelves:

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Friday, October 10, 2014

The Singularity: When Humans Become Cyborgs

Here’s some food for thought: computers double in processing power every 18 months. This has been known as Moore’s law, and has been true since the 1950s. It is still true today.

Today, the fastest supercomputer is approaching the processing power needed to simulate a human brain. In the next few years or decades, this feat will be achieved. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. Humans will build human level artificial intelligence. The Human Brain Project is attempting to accomplish this by 2020, although that’s probably optimistic. My estimate is 2030, considering how those things usually go.

But Moore’s law continues to hold sway, and when we build human-level AI, we will be able to build twice human AI, then four times human AI, then eight times human AI, all within a matter of years. The intelligence of our machines will grow exponentially, greatly outpacing our mammalian brains. We’ll be left in the dust, say some, and machines will take over the world, yada yada yada, you know the drill. It’s the plot of half of all dystopian stories. But here’s why it’s not going to happen.

There’s going to be a nice big window of time where computers are almost as smart as humans—or even a little bit smarter—where other technologies will also be catching up. The one I’m interested in is brain-computer interface technology. It’s going to get better too, which means we’re going to be seeing memory chips implanted in our brains, external processors wired us to assist our thoughts, and a whole bunch of crazy stuff like that.

So it’s not going to be a competition between brains and computers. It’s going to be a competition between brains plus computers and just computers. And brains plus computers will always beat just plain computers. So we’ll become smarter and faster with our machines. Eventually, machines will be so fast that the biological components won’t even be necessary anymore, and we’ll just ditch those. But we’ll be essentially us. I’m not worried about AI taking over the world, because we’re going to turn into the AI.

I write stories about mind-bending ideas with a twist. Sign up for my newsletter below to get an email when my next book comes out:

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Teaser Thursday: The Ghost at Retreat Lake (Timeloopers #2)

The blackness squeezed in around Iris, and a dull, aching panic set in. She couldn’t get out. For nine hours, she couldn’t get out. She had to stay here.
   In this cage.
   Quiet. So, so quiet. Nothing beyond the walls. Just quiet. Just endless time. Never . . . never in her life had she felt so isolated.
   She sank to the floor and crossed her legs, set her water bottle next to her.
   Now what?
   A soreness rose in her throat, and she swallowed. The soreness tightened into a sting.
   The machine made sounds.
   Sounds that frightened her.
   From beyond the walls came an eerie, drawn-out  moan, almost like wind howling in slow motion. The sounds of time itself, stretching out and warping. Going backwards.
   She hated the sounds.
   Her hands dipped into her pocket and came out with her cell phone, which she clicked on. The home screen flashed to life, blinding her for a moment.
   Light! . . . dazzling light.
   She swept her phone around the interior of the Chronos, illuminating the molded plastic interior, the lonely corners, a subpanel, all caked with dust. Except for the floor.
   Black plastic gleamed underneath her, recently scrubbed.
   She entered her passcode and thumbed through the apps on her home screen, then opened a game—Mine Explorer.
   Time to explore some mines . . .
   Eight seconds later, she was bored again.
   Zero bars of service displayed at the top of her phone. Big surprise. She navigated to the settings and switched to airplane mode, so it wouldn’t drain the battery searching for a network.
   Then she had nothing else to do.
   Her phone read 8:17 p.m., still keeping time off its internal clock.
   Only eight hours and fifty-eight minutes left.
   She sighed and pocketed the phone, licked her dry lips, then reached for her water—
   Wait. Not yet. She already felt like she had to pee. Better not push her luck.
   She set her water back down and pulled her knees up to her chest, closed her eyes.
   And waited.
   As her slow, shallow breathing wore on, her thoughts turned to oxygen, releasing a surge of anxiety. Her eyelids sprang open.
   What if she ran out of air?
   The Chronos—a volume six feet by three feet by three feet—contained fifty-four cubic feet of air. She remembered from her biology class that in a sealed room, high carbon dioxide levels would asphyxiate a person before low oxygen would.
   She also remembered an average human breathed out half a cubic foot of CO2 per hour, and that concentrations of seven to ten percent could cause suffocation.
   So that meant . . .
   In nine hours, her respiration would increase the volume of CO2 to four and a half cubic feet out of fifty-four—just a little over eight percent.
   Well, shit.
   She’d have to hold her breath.
   Should have thought of that before, moron.
   All at once her lungs constricted, like she’d been dunked in cold water. Her diaphragm heaved, but pulled in nothing, stiffened by panic. She couldn’t get enough air. She was going to suffocate in here . . .
   Breathe.
   Just breathe.
   She forced herself to relax, forced her lungs to open, to take slow, calming breaths. She had enough air. If she relaxed her body and didn’t panic, she could make it through the nine hours. There was enough air.
   She would be fine.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mindbending YA With a Twist

I get a lot of comments on Amazon saying they were drawn to one of my stories for its interesting premise, or upon finishing, that they’ve never read a story quite like it. I like to write about fresh ideas, definitely, but most of what I write about has already been done already. I just like to add a little twist to make things interesting

God’s Loophole, for example is about telekinesis, which is one of those majorly cliché ideas. I didn’t really add anything new to it, except I made it highly scientific and made the story more about the machine that makes them tele
kinetic than the telekinesis themselves.

Timeloopers is about time travel, also as cliché as possible, but I changed the rules a little bit and tried really hard to avoid those logical inconsistencies that mar most time travel stories. The end result adds a fun twist to time travel.

In Triton, everyone vanishes in an instant—except five teenagers. This, also, is not new. But I put them on a cruise ship, so the rest of the passengers disappear and they’re left trying to regain control of the ship and solve the mystery, which adds to the fun.

In fact, there’s no way to write something that’s completely new anymore. Everything has already been done before to some degree. But it’s always possible to mix things up, and that’s what I try to do for readers. I like to call it mind-bending YA with a twist. If you’re interested in getting an email when my next book comes out, make sure you sign up for my newsletter below:

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Teaser Tuesday: Time’s Beginning (God’s Loophole #4)

Raedyn and Maxine accessed the kitchen through a corridor off the main hallway. Beyond swinging double doors, the pitch black space receded away from them, cold and cavernous.
   “Lights.” Maxine felt along the wall for a light switch but found nothing. A moment later, the lights came on by themselves.
   Triggered by motion sensors.
   Shadows slithered out of view, and a sea of stainless steel counters and stoves gleamed to life beneath rows of fluorescent panels. Sterile, lifeless, cold . . . the chill cut right to the bone.
   Raedyn shivered. “I don’t like this place.”
   “Neither do I. Come on, let’s get this over with. Be on guard.” Maxine led the way into the kitchen.
   Rae’s mind slogged through a muddled delirium as she and the surgeon worked their way up and down the aisles, threw open cabinets, checked inside ovens.
   She spun around an aisle, palms raised.
   Nothing there.
   Though she desperately wanted Gabe at her side right now, she realized the way McCoy had split them up made the most sense—for a reason that was not reassuring.
   She and Gabe had telekinesis as a weapon. McCoy had a handgun; he’d grouped them so no one went off unarmed.
   He expected an attack.
   “Kitchen’s empty,” Maxine announced, finishing the last aisle. “Let’s check . . .” she swallowed visibly, “let’s check the storeroom.”
   Together, they slunk into an adjacent storage room, a kind of pantry, steel shelves lined with food—cans of diced tomatoes, half-empty bags of flour, boxes of corn starch, jars of low-fat mayonnaise. Even to Raedyn, who had spent an entire week in a bubble without food, their supplies looked depressingly meager.
   “So . . . I’m curious,” said Rae, peering into a dark cabinet, empty except for a single crushed piece of pasta near the back. “What were you and Seth hiding last night?”
   Dr. Lane threw her a sharp glance. “What do you mean?”
   “He gave you this look, like he wanted you to keep quiet.”
   “What look?”
   “Come on, I’m not stupid,” said Rae.
   Maxine let out a sigh, conceding. “Yesterday, or two days ago, something got into our food,” she said. “We don’t know what it was.”
   “Like rats?”
   “No, something bigger.”
   At her words, a shiver of fear worked its way down Raedyn’s back. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
    We didn’t want to scare you kids.”
   “I’m not a kid,” Raedyn said heatedly.
   “You’re barely older than my son,” she said. “To me, you’re a kid . . .” She trailed off, and a haunted look came over her face. She turned away, her eyes glistening.
   Rae felt a pang of sympathy.
   She thought of her own parents, which brought a stab of guilt. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d called them. Now she could never talk to them again.
   The world would end, and they wouldn’t even get to say goodbye to each other.
   Suddenly, it all seemed unbearably tragic.
   Fighting her own urge to cry, Raedyn moved around the room, peered through glass into a giant refrigerator—lettuce wilting with age, vegetables sagging, spotted with mold.
   We’re going to die in here.
   She moved on.
   A vault-like steel door towered over her—the freezer. For some reason, the sight of it raised the hairs on her scalp. Like evil had recently been here.
   “Nothing’s here,” said Maxine, across the storeroom. “I think we can go.” Her voice wavered.
   But Rae’s eyes clung to the massive door. “Shouldn’t we check the freezer?”
   “Why?”
   “I don’t know, it’s a walk-in freezer.” Rae tried the handle. Locked.
   Maxine patted her pockets. “I don’t have the key. I think only Rafi and Seth have it.”
   “Here, I can pick it.” Rae swept her hand over the lock, wiggling the pins flush with the shear line. The lock clicked open.
   Too heavy to budge, the steel door at last groaned open with the help of influence. Frosty air bit into her cheeks, as a widening beam of light spilled past her and illuminated the hulking shape lying just inside the door.
   Raedyn flinched and jumped back.

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