Monday, September 15, 2014

100-for-100 Challenge

Today marks the first day of the Go Teen Writers 100-for-100 Challenge! From September 15 to December 23, you have to write at least 100 words a day, every day for 100 days. It's a great way to knock out 10,000 words!

Of course, my normal routine is 1,000 words a day, so hopefully I'll finish the first draft of Resonance during these hundred days!

Starting word count: 39,535 words
Goal for Resonance: 110-120,000 words

This is doable!

If you're in Go Teen Writers, what is your goal for the 100 days? If you're not in GTW, contests like this are always good incentive to get writing. Challenge yourself, keep a routine, and watch the words stack up.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where I was on September 11

On September 11, 2001, I was in the fourth grade. My bus got to school on time, but when we walked inside, things were different. I remember people in the main office were on their phones, and instead of being sent to the cafeteria to wait for the first bell -- like usual -- we were sent straight to our homerooms.

I remember walking in and seeing something on the TV. I didn't know what it was at first. The image was of WTC 1, smoke billowing from its sides. We stayed in homeroom for a while, but 20 minutes later, we were told something else had happened and we were being sent back home.

They didn't tell us then, but I later found out it was because WTC 2 had been attacked.

My dad works in Baltimore, so he was sent home early, too.

As a fourth grader, the reality doesn't really strike you when something like that happens. New York City is so far away, it didn't have the impact that living closer would have had.

I was 9 years old at the time. I'm 21 now, and through the years, the impact of 9/11 has grown with me. During high school, I started a tradition for myself: every year, I change my background photo to a picture of the Twin Towers, and every year, I watch this compilation of live news broadcasts.

That video hits home every time I watch it.

I think it's important that I keep up that tradition. It's become my way of showing respect, and remembering the lives we lost. 9/11 is a part of our national identity. All of us have a memory of that day. All of us remember where we were when we found out what happened. And every year, we should stop and recall those memories, watch those newscasts, say our prayers, show our respects.

On September 11, 2011, I watched the 10-year anniversary with the grand opening of the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero. I've been to NYC since, and I've visited the memorial. I've followed the rise of the Freedom Tower, one of the most beautiful towers in the world. America's newest way of saying, "We will never back down."

And I will Never Forget.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

To Inspire a Love for Space Exploration

Many people have asked me why I write science-fiction. It's a bit of a tricky question, because part of me doesn't actually think of myself as a science-fiction writer. Speculative fiction might be a better way to describe Embassy, but even that is up for debate.

See, Embassy isn't filled with strange aliens, explosions, shoot-'em-up scenes, or weird jelly creatures that absorb your soul and take over your brain. When I began writing at the premature age of 11, back in June 2004, I wrote a book called The Narlan Wars. That book and its sequels were filled with aliens, explosions, battles, telekinesis, sci-fi guns, and a number of other factors that made that series truly science-fiction.

These awful books...gotta start somewhere, though.
Then, in January 2013, I wrote Embassy. Once I figured out what the story was about, I've formed a greater understanding of what I want the series as a whole to achieve. Embassy is more of an introduction to a greater universe stored up in my head. I'd be lying if I said I knew exactly how the series will play out, and I'd definitely be lying if I said I knew the last chapter of Book 4. I have basic ideas, but I like to let the story write itself, just as Embassy wrote itself (95% of the 14th draft is different from the 1st draft, and the story is completely different).

The book in question.
Embassy is about the characters. In fact, you could say it's a contemporary young adult novel (think John Green or Rainbow Rowell). But instead of being set in a small town on Earth, this story takes place 2200 years in the future.

2200 years in the future?!?! How can a sci-fi story set that far in the future be ANYTHING like a contemporary YA book?

Easy: tell the characters' stories. Embassy, and what I've written of the sequel, does just that. I think that's what separates this story from the countless other YA and NA science-fiction novels on the market. I want readers to connect with the characters on emotional levels. I want readers to experience the world I've created. I want readers to come out of this book thinking, "Wow. That was original."

Based on the reviews Embassy has already received, I'm achieving my goal.

Real reviews on Amazon
So let's get to the point: what is the #1 thing I hope Embassy and its sequels will achieve?

Inspire a love for space exploration.

When you read Embassy, I want you to be filled with awe. If you finish this book in the middle of the night, I want you to go outside and look up at the stars. Just like Glacia makes Arman do, I want you to stare at those dots in the sky and feel how small you are. Fill yourself with an appreciation for life, an appreciation for this world you are so lucky to live on, and imagine getting the chance to fly out there and explore worlds humankind has never set foot on.

We are a part of the universe, and, as a species, it is our responsibility to save ourselves. Some people will say humanity needs to die out because it's destroying Earth and other life forms. I disagree. We are the most intelligent life forms in existence, but many people don't appreciate that. Those are the people destroying the world. The people committing murder and genocide, the people who hate other people for their color or ethnicity. The people who dump trash in the oceans, who value money more than human life, who think we are invincible.

The truth is, we are but a small fraction of an already small fraction, that is nothing more than a fraction. The universe does not care about us. The universe will do whatever it takes to destroy us. But even though the universe is a deadly, unforgiving force, it lacks the one trait that makes us, us: INTELLIGENCE. Therefore, we have the power to overcome the universe.

This is a real picture of Saturn. The dot is Earth from almost 1 billion miles away.
We are small. Very, very small.
To do that, however, we need to appreciate how small we are. If life on Earth ended tomorrow, nothing would change. This little ball of liquid and rock would still fling itself around the sun, the waves would still crash to the shores, the wind would still blow.

So why should we live on? Because we deserve it -- some of us, at least. We deserve to colonize Mars. We deserve to explore Europa. We deserve to walk on Pluto. We deserve to break free of the solar system, shoot ourselves into the interstellar void, and feel the warmth of another sun.

Being an atheist, I often say life has no point, that by a string of random cosmic events, we are here simply just because. What I do believe is that it's our responsibility to MAKE a purpose, to SHOW the strength of humanity, to make a stand against the improbability of our long-term survival.

Embassy shows that. The future I've created shows how humanity has matured. In Embassy, we've settled a dozen or so planets in a tiny bubble of the Milky Way, and every planet relies on the others to survive. If one planet collapses, the others can save it, or at least harbor the people who lived there.

Every society seen in Embassy is unique. Undil has the youngest settlements. It's technology isn't up-to-par with many other planets'. Undil is still growing, and is largely a society driven by the success of its trade and politics.

My vision of Undil (in the central eastern hemisphere)
Belvun is the most similar to Earth. The people who live there, despite the looming collapse of the planet's ecosystems, enjoy a life of leisure.

My vision of Belvun.
Narviid is a very technology-oriented society that is very involved in the goings-on of other planets. They aid Belvun, hold Undil's hand, and are one of the most confident societies in the series. They have things figured out.

My vision of Narviid
Daliona is one of the most technologically-developed planets. They've surpassed a life of leisure, to a life of "What if?" Daliona researches, creates, and achieves, and is by far the most livable planet in the Embassy Program.

My vision of Daliona
Societies vary from planet to planet, but as I mentioned above, this is all background information because the main focus of the story is on the characters and how they live in this future. They have normal problems, normal jobs, and normal interests. They have futuristic sports. And one thing they all agree on is that humanity needs to keep exploring, needs to keep seeking out and settling new planets, and they know if they fail, there are consequences.

That's what I want you, the reader, to discover. I want you to love astronomy and the thrill of exploration. I want you to be excited when humans land on Mars in 2023, only nine years from now. I want you to visit space one day and know, deep down, that humanity deserves to leave this planet and walk on other worlds.

A Falcon 9 launch from SpaceX
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Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Signing at Delanie's Coffee in Pittsburgh

On the weekend of October 11-12, I will be selling and signing copies of my New Adult science-fiction novel, EMBASSY, as part of the grand print release event. If you're in Pittsburgh, it's only a five-minute drive from downtown, on the corner of 18th and Carson Streets in the Southside.

Live near Pittsburgh? Join the Facebook event page!
Click this: EMBASSY Book Signing

Come on out, and spread the word!

To learn more about Embassy, Click Here.

To read the latest book review about Embassy, Click Here.
To view the Kindle version of Embassy, Click Here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Simple Introduction to Plot Structure

It's Monday, so, as promised, I'll try to get my posts back on schedule. I've been busy moving back permanently to Pittsburgh, so that's why I took a short break from writing advice posts (these take a long time to put together, as many of you probably know).

Let's get to it, shall we?

You are walking down the street when all of a sudden BAM!! It hits you: Inspiration. You rush home, keeping the idea fresh in your head, throw open the door, grab the nearest piece of paper and a pen, and jot down your great idea. Breathing a sigh of relief you sit back and look at your genius. There's your character, the setting, and.....what? You reread the page. What's going on? It was so good, but now you realize nothing has happened at all. Something is missing.

One word: plot.

Your characters don't have anything to keep them occupied. They are standing there looking at each other saying: "Okay....what's the point?"

How do you form a plot? What are the necessary elements? Why don't people want to read about the life of your characters, and be done with it?

There's no true point to the story. Readers don't want to watch your character live and die, unless that character is an awesome action hero who spends his days cleaning up the world of evil and fighting awesome battles. Even then, that might become dull.

There has to be a point to the story, and people want to know what that is as soon as possible. The opening paragraphs (which I'll talk about in a later post) need to hook your reader and tell them why they are reading the book. Why should they care about your character's story? Why should they take interest in your novel?

A true plot is essential. The first few scenes should establish the main goal of your hero. Follow these six basic points:

  • What does he want?
  • Why does he want it?
  • Who or what stands in his way?
  • How will he reach his goal?
  • What will happen if he reaches his goal?
  • What will happen if he doesn't?

If you keep saying that word
It stops sounding like a real word.
In the opening scenes, try to at least explain points #1 and #2. Maybe you can fit some of the other points in there, but the first two are crucial. They tell us which direction the story will go in.

The reader wants to know the destination. Once they know What and Why, they have a reason to continue the story, just like your main character will have a reason to move toward the goal. They have something to root for. They can take a journey with the character and experience the same pitfalls and high moments the character has. Show readers "Point B," and the satisfaction of the journey will come with the rest of the novel. Once you tell the reader where they're going, they'll follow all the instructions -- the subplots, romance, and journeys -- without hesitation. When they reach the goal, they'll decide if it was worth working for.

It's okay if you get a few pages written before you make up your mind as to what the main characters want. But make sure you do it fast, or your readers will keep asking: "What is the point of this?" and you'll lose them before the meat of the story starts. Make sure the goal is something interesting. It doesn't have to be obtainable, it doesn't even have to be real, per se. Maybe the hero seeks a rumored magical sword that can save the kingdom, but, as he finds out, it isn't real at all.

Then what's the point of the journey? The journey should change the character. The hero seeking the sword should discover the strength and courage inside him that will allow him to defeat the enemy threatening the kingdom.

Throw in a villain. Make him hurt the hero. Make him force the hero to make a choice he doesn't want to. Bend the boundaries. Snap his values. Cause pain. Make readers feel it in their hearts.

That's the true meaning of plot. Put your characters through heaven and hell. Have their worst nightmares claw at them and their brightest fantasies elate their spirits. Do it for the sake of change. Keep that change realistic. A man doesn't simply become a knight because he finds a magic sword. He learns a new set of strengths and values and morals, grows more intelligent, and devises a plan that will lead him to victory. Things happen to him that change his perspective in life. That is the point of plot. Don't leave your character the same as he started.

Make the reader care that the character changed. Do we feel sympathy? Is he stronger or weaker? Has he lost friends and loved ones? What did the journey do mentally or emotionally to the character? What was the price he paid to obtain his goal - or not?

That's what plot is all about -- a series of events, leading toward the established goal, that create a complex character built up from his/her experiences on the way to that goal. Whether s/he reaches that goal, or not, is completely up to the writer.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

So as you've all probably heard, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been going around. Well, as it should inevitably happen, the challenge came to me. So here's my video!

Also, for every view this video gets on this blog over the next week, ending August 24, 2014 at 11:59 EST, I will donate $0.10 to the ALS Fund. So share this video. The more views, the more money I donate! So go on and hit SHARE! Or post a link to Facebook or wherever else you can think of.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Regular Posts to Resume Monday

Sorry I've been gone for the past week, everybody. I've been busy moving into my new apartment and moving my sister into college (funny enough, she ended up going to school right down the street from me in Pittsburgh!)

I'll get back to my usual scheduled posts at the beginning of next week, and I'll keep them going as long as I can before school gets in the way. Then I'll drop to 2-3 posts a week.

Thank you for your patience. I've received a lot of emails and comments thanking me for the posts and blog, so I hope to keep this up as long as I can.

In the meantime, Embassy's grand print release will be October 10, 2014! Excited for that, and getting all the arrangements made for the release party. If you're in Pittsburgh then, you should come! Details coming in the next few weeks.