Friday, May 15, 2015

The Planets of the Embassy Universe


Monday, May 11, 2015

The Inverted Pyramid of Revising a Book


THE FIRST DRAFT
  • This should be self-explanatory. You write the first draft. For novels, 75-150,000+ words of the world inside your head.

PLOT, CONTENT, SCENES, AND MAJOR CHARACTERS
  • Go back and fix it all up. Did you tell the story you wanted to tell? Did you include scenes and events that add up to the conclusion you present?
  • Are there any unnecessary scenes you could delete, or scenes that are redundant to other scenes? Get rid of them. If this means entire chapters have to go, wave bye-bye.
  • Do your main characters have believable back stories and arcs, and do they act appropriately in character at all times?
  • Is there any point in time when your characters do something that they literally WOULD NOT DO? Change that up.

WORLD-BUILDING, CHARACTERIZATION, HONING IN PLOT POINTS
  • Now pay attention to the deeper aspects of the story. Delve into the world your characters live in. Do they react appropriately? Does any part of society influence them more than others?
  • What does your world look like? Delve into the setting. The cultures, the technology, the history.
  • Work with your secondary characters and how they interact with your main characters. What role do they serve overall? Does the main character’s journey affect them at all, or vice versa?
  • Tighten up plot points. Stay concise if possible.

SENTENCE STRUCTURE, FLOW AND PACING OF SCENES
  • Now that the major parts of your story have been patted down, you can begin focusing on the technical stuff. Start broad.
  • Do you have redundant sentences? Do you start multiple sentences the same way?
  • Throw in short sentences.
  • Drop the pronoun from the beginning of a sentence every now and then.
  • Use commas instead of ‘and’ if you find you use ‘and’ a lot.
  • Does the flow of sentences and paragraphs fit with the tone of the scene?
  • Chop sentences apart. Use quick, sharp words.
  • Or combine sentences and flowery language and soft words.

BETA READER CRITIQUES AND SUGGESTIONS
  • Now that you’ve really patted this thing down, find people willing to read your work (hopefully for free).
  • Ask them to point out inconsistencies. Are they confused by anything?
  • Beta readers can tell you when things are boring or exciting. They’ll laugh. They’ll fangirl. They’ll beg you for more chapters.
  • Your brain is soft from so much revising. Beta readers are fresh, and will pick out things you’ve glossed over from seeing it so many times.
  • Shake things up and host a video chat for you and your betas! It’s a great way to make friends 
smile emoticon
PUNCTUATION AND MISSING WORDS
  • NOWWWWW you’ve finished all the major revisions and your story makes sense!!! All that’s left to do is get the broom and sweep it up (or the vacuum cleaner, or generate a black hole from the Large Hadron Collider to suck out all the errors because that’s super-effective**).
  • This is the nitty gritty stuff, and I highly recommend either forcing yourself to read really, really slow, or better yet, read your book out loud, start to finish.
  • You’ll trip up over misplaced commas and periods.
  • You’ll literally hear when a sentence is awkward.
  • Your brain will get confused when there’s a missing word.
  • Fill in the gaps, hammer down the boards, clean up the place.

THE FINAL DRAFT
  • OMG
  • OMG
  • OMG
  • OMG IT’S FINISHED AND YOU CAN SHARE IT WITH THE WORLD AND BUY PHYSICAL COPIES THAT YOU CAN HOLD AND SMELL AND RUB ALL OVER YOUR FACE AND DRAW IN AND DOG-EAR AND TOTE AROUND TO SHOW PEOPLE AND SIGN AUTOGRAPHS AND BECOME YOUR OWN LITTLE CELEBRITY!!!
  • Email the newspaper (I’ve appeared multiple times).
  • Email the local TV station (I’ve appeared on live TV).
  • Email book talk radio shows (I’ve had a Q&A for an hour on live radio).
  • ……..Marketing is hard.

N.B. **please do not ask CERN for permission to use the Large Hadron Collider to create black holes that suck out all the errors in your book. You’ll look silly, and you might destroy Earth in the process.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cover Reveal of RESONANCE

Well, here it is. the cover of Resonance, Book 2 of 4 in the Recovery Series.
A secret I can't contain any longer!

Image © Mike Andrews Photography
Release Date: January 1, 2016
Pages: ~530

Description: Belvun is dying, but recovery efforts to save the planet are well under way. In the meantime, General Orcher chooses Arman Lance to restructure the archives program in the hope of creating the Undil Embassy's first comprehensive planetary database. This sends Arman on a greater journey than he could have hoped, first traveling to Orvad, Undil's city by the ocean, then on to Daliona, the oceanic world rich with culture, nature, technologies, and sports he's only ever dreamed of.

On this new journey, Arman will challenge himself in ways he never imagined and begin to make friends he never thought he'd have. And as he learns what it really means to devote your life to the Embassy, Arman will experience the strength, diversity, and resilience of humankind.

You can grab a copy of Embassy on Amazon and all other major online retailers, and add Embassy to your Goodreads shelf!

Also, be sure to add Resonance to your Goodreads shelf.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

We Cannot Be Content

So I've begun a side project, which will become my main focus once I finished editing Resonance. The new book is called We Cannot Be Content and stems from some of the history in Embassy and Resonance (in fact, they mention it a lot in Resonance).

I wrote the first chapter a couple weeks ago, and have been adding to and tweaking it since, so here's the final version I've come up with for now.

--------------------

ONE
BENEDICT – 2305, Earth

He didn’t like giving interviews. He preferred to write his own questions and answer them without the pressure of a live interviewer and audience. Posting an insightful video on Wander Enterprises’ site would do, or even a FAQ section. Both alternatives were more appealing than his current situation, staring at himself on the small monitor hanging below the camera that was focused on him and Johna Radizzo for their one-on-one interview.
The man working the camera raised his hand and counted down from five—
And we’re live.”
“Welcome back to Today in the Plaza,” Johna immediately said, turning her hips more toward the camera to open her stance. Then her voice relaxed. “Twenty years ago, we received a positive signal from the crews of the Almanac and the Endurance that they had landed safely on two exoplanets, each between six and eight light years from Earth. Scientists across the solar system lauded the mission as the greatest of humanity’s achievements since the Mars and Europa missions. Humankind had not only inhabited the solar system—it had inhabited the stars.
“Now I’m here with Dr. Benedict Drake, the current CEO of Wander Enterprises, the company responsible for those missions. We’re so glad you could join us, Dr. Drake.”
Benedict cleared his throat. “Thank you.”
“Dr. Drake,” Johna went on, shifting her posture toward him, “you are about to embark on your own tour of the exoplanets I just mentioned. You leave in two days. The question everyone wants to know is: are you scared?
He averted his eyes and attempted to laugh. “I think everyone gets scared in some way, you know, before they go on a trip of any kind. There’s always something…nagging in the back of your head.”
“Like whether or not you remembered to turn off the oven,” Johna joked.
That got a real laugh out of him. He loosened up a bit, felt some of his nerves diffuse.
“Of which I’m guilty,” he responded, even though it was a lie. He wasn’t forgetful, especially not in clumsy ways. Besides, he didn’t have an oven. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d made his own supper, because he hadn’t in years. Either way, Benedict figured that was a good time to drop a joke. Rose told him to appear more likeable, more relatable than he tended to act. Today more than ever, Benedict needed to be liked. It was a crucial part of the plan.
“Dr. Drake, you’re thirty-three years old. You’re one of the richest people alive, you own the company some of the world’s top minds say have brought about the greatest age in space exploration humankind has ever seen—and now you decide to leave Earth for seventy-five years. You say you aren’t afraid of this intergalactic trip—”
Interstellar, Benedict thought, though he didn’t correct her.
“—but what does the future hold for Wander Enterprises while you’re gone?”
Benedict bit his lip and tried to force another grin, as if the answer was a simple one. The truth was, the future of Wander wasn’t what Benedict considered secure. Honestly, it hung in the balance, and was dependent on two factors: the trip he was about to embark on, and the hope that Rose could carry out Phase 3 in his absence. They needed public support. His fortune meant nothing if the world didn’t see the value of keeping Wander Enterprises around for at least the next five generations, and Benedict knew it would be difficult to inspire the world as it was today.
“I have my assets in place,” he said. “If… If I die during this trip… I’m confident Wander Enterprises will continue to thrive.”
But not the program he was trying to implement. Benedict knew if he met some ill fate, all his work would be for naught. Less than fifty people knew about the Gateway Program, and in two days’ time, all but a few of them were boarding the same space cruiser—the Meridian—and embarking on a trip through the stars.
“Out of curiosity: do you think you will make it back?”
He tried to be funny again. “I guess that depends on if I like these exoplanets.”
Johna laughed as if there was nothing to worry about. Of course, she’d never been to space, never flown out to Mars, or Venus, or Europa, or Titan, or any of the other settlements the Global Space Initiative had erected. In fact, the GSI was the only reason humans went beyond Mars. History proved how fickle the inspiration that drove human endeavor truly was. One great leap would be made, and people would rally around the world’s space programs proclaiming the next space age had arrived. But before long, the excitement would die, the people would forget their fragile love of the cosmos, and the world would go on, content to remain as it was.
More than anything, Benedict sought to end that contentment once and for all, but it would take more than a leap—it would take a blind lunge into the unknown.
“Yours would be the first crew to make it there and back again.”
“This is true.”
“Do you think there will be a day when we won’t need to come back to Earth? We’ve heard of plans from both Wander Enterprises and the GSI to relocate several of Earth’s species to these exoplanets. Do you think we’ll ever need to relocate humans in the same way?”
“If we have a cruiser big enough.”
They laughed together, except only Johna’s was real. Benedict faked it again, and his ended several seconds before hers, at which point he leaned forward and put his palms together.
“No, no. In all seriousness, I think that one day, yes, we’ll have to give Earth up. Some people speculate we should’ve left when we colonized Mars—however impractical the idea—and let nature reclaim Earth. We’re only borrowing it, after all.”
“Borrowing it?”
In the corner of his eye, Benedict saw the screen zoom in on his face, saw the caption scrolling under his chin: ‘Richest Man Alive is Leaving Earth. He ignored the tagline. They made him out to be some sort of celebrity, as if all his work was an overnight success, as if managing Wander Enterprises was something any kid who loved the stars could do. They overlooked the years of solitude, the painstaking work of developing faster hyper drives and crafting new cruiser designs—and it still wasn’t enough for him. Benedict was never satisfied with his work, no matter how revolutionary it was.
And that’s what drove him to organize the Gateway Program.
“There’s, what…somewhere around nine billion people alive today? Only a few thousand live elsewhere in our solar system, all of them scientists.”
Johna deliberately shrugged and faced the camera to show off her white teeth. “You’re the man with the degree, Dr. Drake,” she said with a laugh.
This time, he couldn’t even work up a smile. Anger was creeping up inside of him, boiling in his chest. He both loved humanity for its achievement, and hated it for its contentment, the plateau it reached, with only a few more small steps ever few decades. He wanted to shout at the camera. Yell at the millions of people watching his interview before their daily commutes. Stop what you’re doing and listen to me! he screamed inside his head. Have you lost your sense of wonder? Look up! We need to be out there! That’s where the challenge lies.
But he didn’t say it. His lips never moved. His eyes never so much as flickered at the camera.
“Dr. Drake, you were saying?”
“Yes.” He shook his head and looked up at Johna. “I don’t think we can call ourselves a spacefaring civilization when one hundred percent of the general population still lives on Earth. That’s like…claiming I traveled the world, when in reality I just drove down to my local Thai restaurant. Only a few humans have had a taste of the spacefaring life—why aren’t we all trying to set foot on other worlds?”
Johna looked back at the camera and raised her eyebrows in an expression of confusion mixed with curiosity.
“I’m sure there are many people wondering the same thing, Dr. Drake. We all share your dreams.”
If everyone shared my dreams, we wouldn’t be having this interview.
“Finally, we’ve all heard about MACE’s most recent rallies.”
Benedict’s muscles went rigid with hatred the moment she said the name, but Johna either didn’t notice or didn’t care. She was too busy looking down at her cue and waving her hands in the air.
“The organization has made a name for itself these last few decades, with open protests against the GSI and Wander Enterprises, causing public support of space programs to drastically decline to a historical low of thirty-eight percent—according to the latest polls. Can you tell us how you’ve gone about handling that situation?”
He began to speak, but stuttered. He hated MACE and all it stood for. The Movement Against Cosmic Exploration spanned centuries, but didn’t gain any traction until scientific settlements began popping up around the solar system. MACE sought to sway public interest away from space exploration, publishing magazines and books and airing television shows devoted to mocking astronomical discoveries and condemning space programs as worthless, flashy demonstrations to keep the people distracted from the goings-on down on Earth.
Yes, on Earth. Where half the major cities on the American seaboards were partially flooded and desert regions had expanded to the temperate zones and droughts had ruined the dryer regions. Where living in areas prone to hurricanes and tornados and wildfires was a death sentence, and natural fresh water was a memory no living person had. Where more than three hundred species of animals and plants and insects went extinct every single day.
Earth.
“We’re aware of the…opposition MACE presents,” Benedict finally answered, doing his best to keep his voice steady. He couldn’t let them hear the truth in it. “The reality of the situation is that we’re moving forward with our projects. My supervisors and I agree that MACE hasn’t…how can I put this?…fully come to terms with Earth’s current state.”
“How do you mean?”
Benedict wanted to gawk at her. Was this an interview question, or was she really asking him why he thought Earth wasn’t suitable for sustaining human life much longer?
“Political and foreign affairs aside… Consider our resources. More than half of all our mining is done on asteroids we’ve slung into orbit. Rocket fuels, construction material for cities, computer chips, cars, the hyperloops—most of these materials aren’t accessible here on Earth in quantities that were available in the past.”
“So you think MACE disagrees?”
He took a deep breath, hoping to calm his nerves.
It didn’t work.
“They don’t disagree. Not…not necessarily. They just don’t think we have any right to move beyond Earth. That the human race—the only intelligent civilization we’ve ever known—deserves to die when Earth dies.” He paused and looked at the feet of the cameraman. “That notion is… That…”
He shook his head. He knew what he wanted to say, but he couldn’t say it on a live stream. Not yet. It was too early. Too risky. Rose had warned him not to let his anger show if Johna brought up MACE. Now he saw why. Because MACE could use it. Would use it. Even now, they were watching, and they would know they had dug into him. If Benedict slipped too far, they could use his own words against the campaign Wander Enterprises would launch in the coming months, the campaign that would stretch three-quarters of a century until Benedict and the crew of the Meridian returned from their tour of the two exoplanets.
Johna shot him a glance. He barely caught it before she looked back to the camera, but it looked skeptical, unimpressed, as if she found his answer underwhelming, even crazy.
“It was certainly a pleasure speaking with you, Dr. Drake,” she went on, hardly missing a beat. “We all wish you the best of luck on your trip. We’ll see you when you get back in…well, seventy-five years.”
Benedict took a deep breath and grinned for the camera. One last joke to fix the mood.
“I’m sure you won’t have aged a day.”
Johna laughed, then introduced the next segment of the newscast before Benedict was allowed to leave. The cast director thanked him for giving the interview and ushered him to the exit so the crew could prepare. Benedict knew the way out from there, and soon found himself in NBC Studios’ lobby.
Outside was the rally.
People leered at him. They shouted, spat insults, cursed at him. They hoisted signs—DOWN WITH SPACE!DRAKE THE MISTAKEBECAUSE KILLING EARTH WASN’T ENOUGH! Someone had started a chant, and it was spreading. Part of the crowd shouted, “Earth to Drake!” and another part shouted, “Come in, Drake!” And then they’d all laugh.
Though the sentries were holding back the crowd, Benedict refused to look up. In the corners of his eyes, he saw they all had the small, symbolic canister of mace dangling from their belt loops, their wrists, their backpacks. Seeing those fueled his anger even more. He wanted to shut his ears, close his eyes. Then they could laugh, but he wouldn’t hear, and their efforts to enrage him would be childish at best. When they’d had their fun, they’d stop.
But he could hear them, and they knew it, so they were relentless.
The rally filled all of Rockefeller Plaza, even spilled into the Avenue of the Americas, though the ranks grew thin there. The throng of the crowd was the worst, but out here, Benedict saw signs supporting him and Wander Enterprises—though they were few.
“Dr. Drake.”
He looked up at the voice: a man and son stood at the corner of the block. The boy, who might’ve been nine or ten years old, gave Benedict a young, giddy smile and two thumbs up.
After he had passed, Benedict regretted not having smiled back at him.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

YA Sci-Fi Needs to Raise More Awareness for Human Endeavor -- And Here's Why



Aside from Contemporary Young Adult Fiction, YA Sci-Fi is arguably one of the most popular genres of books out there. It comes in all shapes and sizes: Beth Revis' Across the Universe, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, Veroncia Roth's Divergent, Marie Lu's Legend, Allie Condie's Matched... The list goes on and on and on AND ON.

What do all of these books/series have in common?

Humanity (or some part of it) has endured some apocalyptic event.

All those stories are about fighting against impossible odds in a world ravaged by the dark side of nature, or wartorn cities/landscapes, or corrupt governments that have all the citizens in their pockets.

Basically, humanity screwed up and now they're facing the consequences.

But while all of that makes for an action-packed thriller, giving the people in the book the hope that they will live another day...what does it actually do for us, the readers? How are we able to relate to this world, a world so destroyed that recovering it seems inconceivable -- and it is a preposterous notion. Should I mention that although these series end right at the point of the main conflicts, it's ridiculous to think that humanity as a species will survive very long after the story. They don't have the same resource-rich environments to pull from that their ancestors did, so to think that any manageable, enduring, industrious civilization could be constructed is, in essence, a lost cause.

Of course, looking at it like that is probably in the overkill range.

But despite the "rising from the ashes" trope, where humanity has endured this apocalyptic event and managed to get through the worst of it, what do we the readers get out of it? When we read those books, we're stuck rooting for those characters. "Woohoo! They made it out alive! I'm so proud of them!"

Do you see the problem with this in the long run?

Because YA genre fiction is so big in today's society, and most of it consists of these post-apocalyptic, rising from the ashes scenarios, that we collectively associate hope and pride and better futures with these scenarios. We sit back, enjoy the show, and go on with our own lives while imagining how cool it would be to experience those societies.

People, no. It would not be fun to watch your friends die, be controlled by the government, live in a police state, have only one personality, have arranged marriages and punished for breaking them, etc etc etc. Think about those realities, and what they say about humanity, and how humanity got into those scenarios. Humanity had to fall. Humanity had to destroy itself. Citizen slavery had to take hold. The "brighter futures"  of those stories are the "normal lives" of reality.

These stories inspire us, yes, but to do what? Hopefully to avoid these situations. But where do we go from there? What are we as a society supposed to aspire to after reading these books? Sure, we look around and see similar instances around the world that mimic these books, so we point our fingers and shout, "AHA! The Hunger Games is practically real! We need a symbol!"

To be clear, I have nothing against these stories. I enjoyed reading dystopians...when only a few books were dystopians. Now it's so diluted that a lot of people can't imagine our society doing anything but spiraling out of control. Yes, there's a problem with the real world. Yes, we need to be aware of this problem and stand up against our governments when they slap us in the face...but again I ask, where do we go from there?

SO WHAT CAN YOUNG ADULT SCI-FI DO TO CHANGE THIS?

50 years ago, the science-fiction genre showed us incredible technologies like space ships, devices through which you could communicate wirelessly, an invisible network that anyone anywhere in the world could access, robots, AI, heck, even self-tying shoelaces.

And what happened? We got cell phones, the internet, robots, AI, space ships, and, right on time in 2015, self-tying shoelaces....all because of science-fiction!!! Science-fiction inspired the creation of these technologies, filled us with wonder and awe and made us dream of futuristic cities and holograms! Hell, even the space program flourished in the time when dreams of science-fiction dominated culture (we'll skip over War of the Worlds...hopefully that doesn't happen).

But do you see what happened? Science-fiction inspired people to look forward to the future! We didn't hope to break free of a corrupt government. We were united, and sought to advance the entire species! More than half of all modern technology was inspired by science-fiction and space exploration (seriously, no computers, no toasters, no cell phones, no fluorescent light bulbs, no fiber optics...etc etc etc).

Now we have cat videos, memes, and visions of war-torn, post-apocalyptic, bombed-out cities where humanity is struggling to survive.

And why? Because those scenarios DOMINATE the YA genre.

Is this reversible? My answer: an adamant YES. How, you ask?

Add to the YA genre. Dilute the visions of the dystopias.

Let's have more stories celebrating human endeavor. Show our ingenuity, our desire to explore, our passion for knowledge, our yearning to survive where no one has ever survived before. Take us on a journey across the stars, show how rewarding space exploration can be. Give humanity the reputation of uniting, overcoming nature, and surviving on that planet where the air is toxic, there's no natural food, not a tree in sight....

And yet we live there anyway.

We build a home. We claim it as ours. We don't survive -- we thrive. We use technology to our species' advantage. We mine asteroids, walk on comets, discover organic life elsewhere in the universe (and NOT a far-superior alien race that seeks to destroy us). Maybe the life doesn't depend on water to survive, but methane, or hydrochloric acid, or something weird that isn't life as we know it.

We want to see glass raining from the sky, purple and blue trees in the forest, ugly alien animals that are so spectacular we study their habitats and biologies and how they live... We travel to the centers of stars, measure dark matter, even figure out how gravity works (because as of yet, we have NO IDEA HOW GRAVITY WORKS. We know it's related to mass and distance, but after that...nobody knows).

See, now more than ever we need stories that showcase the spirit of human endeavor. We need the unity, the awareness, the sense of wonder and awe that the world shared 50 years ago. If science-fiction from 50 years ago inspired our modern generation of technology and space programs, just imagine what we could achieve today and in the next 10-20 years. We're talking exponential technological growth. Settlements on the moon, colonies on Mars (I say colonies, because colonization describes the claiming of land that is already inhabited, and technically speaking, only robots live on Mars....)

So let's inspire the next generation to lead humanity to a new frontier. Books and movies have the power to change the future, so which would you rather keep seeing? A world where war has claimed the lives of millions and you could die any second under the ruling dictatorship? Or a world -- no, many worlds where humanity has broken free of its roots?

I, for one, choose the latter.

Society tends to achieve the future it expects. Let's face it. We are a pessimistic society because constantly reading about doomsday inevitably makes us lose faith in humanity. We blame the governments, and say that we need to be prepared for when the governments begin acting like the actual societies in the books...but if we can alter our literature and tell stories about humanity's triumphs, society can become optimistic.

Let's fix the problem before it can ignite into a real-world crisis. Begin the change now, and the future won't have to worry. We won't have to fight the government if we can inspire a government filled with people who seek to help humanity -- our species -- take the next great leap. And it's why I write the books I do: I want to help inspire a love for space exploration.

Because we are the human race.

And we are amazing.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Check out my futuristic YA novel, EMBASSY.
The sequel, RESONANCE, will be available
January 1, 2016.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Andromeda Galaxy and the Pillars of Creation

This post is a long time coming, because NASA released this picture almost three weeks ago. The video I'm posting below really throws the sheer size of the universe in your face...particularly the sheer size of the Andromeda Galaxy (galaxy M31 for anyone who wants to be technical about it).

Take a look. This picture contains more than 200 billion stars (that's 200,000,000,000 stars). Every single point of light is a star, and the average distance between stars is roughly 4.5 light years, so you can imagine the density and scale of this.

Enjoy! It's always awesome to see new perspectives.


Another amazing picture Hubble recently took revisited one of the most famous (if not the most famous) picture in astronomy: the Pillars of Creation. The original picture is put side-by-side with the newest picture so that you can see just how much detail Hubble is able to capture now as compared to 20 years ago.



Beautiful, huh? The universe is amazing. (And both Andromeda and the Eagle Nebula are referred to in passing in Embassy and Resonance).