How to Come Up With Book Ideas

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of conversations about how difficult it is to come up with book ideas. There’s a lot of advice out there by other writers and bloggers about how you can find inspiration, so only add to the info with a couple of points that work for me.

First, create mental space for a book idea. When the idea for The Dark Matter Chronicles came to me, I was actively looking for it. I spent time thinking about writing, about the sort of things I would want to write about, and I started to jot things down even if my thoughts seemed ridiculous. It took a while for the right idea to click. At that point, I had been thinking about writing and looking for an idea for several months. That being said, once you have the idea, you have to continue to give it attention, and actually sit down and write everyday. Once you get into that mindset and make it a habit, brainstorming new ideas gets easier.

Second, be an active learner. I get a lot of ideas from reading about things that I’m interested in or from watching documentaries, and these things aren’t always related to anything in my book. I find that learning for pleasure often leads me to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

There’s tons of tips out there that can help you start your first book, so take advantage of that! Writing requires time and work. But if you do happen to find a magical elf that sprinkles fairy dust on your work to make it better, then please send it my way.

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Why You Need Beta Readers

In my last post, I mentioned that my beta readers pointed out some weak spots in my manuscript, (I’m looking at you, Chapter 1). So, I had to reprise my role of typing monkey and make some changes.  I’m happy to report that the updates have all been made, and I am recovering my borderline sense of sanity while it all sits and stews.

This rewriting session has really made me think about the value of beta readers. For anyone who doesn’t know, a beta reader is someone who critically reads your manuscript before the public sees it. They are your guinea pigs, your friends — the ones subjected to the terrors of your mind and all of its weirdness before anybody else.

Why unleash your work on them before anyone else?

Beta readers will catch mistakes you didn’t.

Even if you look over your manuscript a hundred times, you will miss some of the errors you made. There comes a point when your eyes skim over your work, filling in the gaps and correcting the mistakes automatically without you actually registering it. And these mistakes can be little grammatical ones, (like missing the word ‘and’ in a sentence), or big ones, (a plot hole that makes your story illogical).  A beta reader will spot those mistakes because he or she is seeing the work for the first time and doesn’t have an imprint of it in his or her mind.

They can evaluate your work objectively.

It’s hard to look at your work without bias when you know how much blood, sweat, and tears went into it. Unlike you, the beta reader isn’t emotionally entrenched in your work. They don’t feel the same way that you do about that character that is so loveable but does nothing for the storyline, or the event that you think is so interesting but doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book. If you’ve picked good beta readers (i.e. honest, constructively critical, and a member of your target audience), then they’ll be able to point out what’s wrong and why. You might find out that you’ve written a great book. You might also find out that what you’ve written isn’t very good at all. Either way, it’s important and listen because whatever gripes your beta readers have, your target readers will have them too.

Your manuscript will improve as a result.

The quality of your work matters. Or at least it should to you. The point of a beta reader is to give your work a test drive so that you can figure out the kinks, and then go back to the drawing board to create something better. And hopefully that leads to more readers down the line.

So cheers to my beta readers and all their hard work! I appreciate their efforts so much, I no longer refer to them as minions in my mind. Not that I did before… *fakes a cough and looks away*

The Joys of Rewriting/The Power of Beta Readers

Someone once said that writing your first draft is easy, but writing the second draft is hard. That ‘someone’ severely understated how difficult the editing/rewriting process can be. Let me clarify and tell you that it is evil. Pure evil. I know this because I have had to rewrite many sentences, paragraphs, pages, and chapters again and again…only to realize it’s still not quite right. As much as it makes me want to tear my hair out and go all out Hulk on my computer, I can’t deny it’s value. I know the story will be better for it.

I’m sharing this because my awesome evil genius minions team of beta readers have informed me that chapter 1 needs an overhaul. Something about it doesn’t click, and it’s just not as good as the rest of the story. Since, I’ve written about the importance of a first sentence in a previous post, (while managing to screw up the first sentence of my own book), I figured I would share the updated version here. Here’s a quick preview of the new opening paragraph of The Dark Matter Chronicles:

No matter how many times he repeated the words to himself, they refused to sound right. It was only a dream. It couldn’t possibly be anything else. Alexander let out a sigh of exhaustion and pressed his forehead against his bedroom window. When he opened his eyes, his reflection stared back at him, lit up by the moonlight that gleamed off the aging glass. Nothing about his appearance had changed in the half hour he had stood in the same spot with the same confused attitude. His grey eyes still had the warmth of a winter sweater and his unruly black hair still looked like it was in dire need of a trim. His pale skin divulged how worn down he really felt, but that wasn’t unusual either. But he found it difficult to look at himself the same way again knowing he had somehow transported himself to another world and back. Unless, it was only a dream.

Are We One Step Closer to A.I.?

This video has been circulating the interwebs for a couple of weeks now and is really catching people’s attention now though it was posted over a year ago. A brilliant team at Aldebaran Robotics has created a sophisticated set of robots that can be programmed to perform various tasks, including dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

They do a a pretty good job, don’t you think? Their movements are surprisingly fluid. These robots can’t think for themselves or act of their own will, (if they could, we’d have viable replacements for pop stars), but they do seem to be a physical improvement on Honda’s Asimo.  And, while we tend to focus on  intelligence when we think of computers/robots in science fiction and how they might overtake us, there’s something to be said about whether or not they have the physical ability to do so. The simple of act of walking and being able to move around with ease does give us an advantage.

So until we reach the point where cylons– the human-like A.I. from Battlestar Galactica— rule over us, I say we embrace the technology. I personally would like a Nao robot, (the ones in the video above), as a pet. That way when do they take over, I’m on good terms with at least one of them.

Why We Love Superheroes

I have always loved superheroes and their stories. The kick-ass powers! The gadgets! The spandex costumes?

When I started writing The Dark Matter Chronicles, I couldn’t help but be influenced by the comic book heroes I grew up with it. When I imagined the abilities of the Arcana—the curators of knowledge in the known universe—I was aiming to write about something I love.

So what is it about superheroes that draws us to them?

They defy limits.

Nothing is impossible. Superheroes can defy everything from gravity to death, and that helps us believe that perhaps our limits can be conquered too.

Good triumphs over evil.

Life isn’t fair and sometimes the bad guys win, but not in a world that has a superhero. In that world justice is served. And I think all of us want to believe that evil won’t prevail, even if it’s not always true.

They give us something to aspire to.

Superheroes sacrifice themselves, their wants, and their needs for others. They are the pinnacle of morality and often remind us that good is a choice—a choice that we too can make.

There will be someone to help us.

Just when you think the victim is done for, the superhero swoops in saves the day. There is a little part in all of us that wants to believe that if we’re in trouble, someone will be there to break our fall. While we don’t have

The possibility of acquiring superpowers.

I would love to wake up tomorrow and discover that I have awesome faster than a speeding bullet, gravity-defying ninja powers. But until I figure out how to harness dark matter/get a bit by radioactive animal/find out I’m from Mars, I’m going to have to stick to writing. And knowing my luck, I’ll get bit by something lame.

Watch out! Here comes The Procrastinator! ADD Powers Activate!

OMG, squirrel!

Imaging Aliens (Part 2)

N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL

Recognize that? It’s the Drake Equation–a formula that is used to estimate how many intelligent civilizations might exist in our own galaxy. It accounts for several variables such as the number of stars that have planets (fp) and how many of those planets might develop life (fl).

Of course it’s all speculation and we can only guess what each of those f’s and n’s are actually worth. People have used the formula to come up with anywhere from 0-182 million, (although we know the answer isn’t 0 thanks to us…unless…no wait, let’s not go there).

As a sci-fi/fantasy writer, the existence of 182 million alien civilizations is great news. It’s still great if the answer is only 2, because it means that there are whole new worlds out there waiting to be discovered, along with new species, perspectives, and story lines. And if the answer is 1, then we’ll have to start looking at the other 170 billion+ galaxies in the universe.

To infinity and beyond! Unless the aliens get to us first.

3D Printers: When Fiction Becomes Reality and Mixes With Awesome

Science fiction TV shows, movies, and books have always dangled futuristic technology in front of us, teasing us the way one teases squirrels by eating delicious handfuls of walnuts in front of them while laughing maniacally, (and accidentally choking because that’s what happens when you eat and laugh at the same time). We’ve all been there, am I right? Wait…what do you mean no?

Anyways…one of the futuristic technologies we often see in fiction are replicators or machines that can create something out of nothing. If you’ve heard of 3D printers, then you know that we’re close to making that fictional dream a reality.

These printers do exactly what the name suggest: they let you print out 3-dimensional objects, complete with moving parts and colors — objects that are just as good as they would be if we manufactured them. You could print out a guitar and play it just like a normal guitar. Want a toy dinosaur? Why not print one in chocolate? Or how about a car?

Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof:

Other than the fact that it is an incredible technology that will change everything, (EVERYTHING!), why am I writing about 3D printers? Because they’ll play a role in the 2nd book of the The Dark Matter Chronicles, but probably not how you think…

I’m not going to give anything away, but this technology has a use that will have a profound impact on us; something that’s about 20-50 years out. And I plan to use it in a way I don’t think anyone else has thought of yet. Am I being a tease? Yes. Am I also laughing about it? Of course. Now, if only I could get my hands on a ridiculously fluffy cat, a secret lair, and a 3D printer to complete my evil-genius persona, then I could really show those squirrels…

These 3D printers cannot get here fast enough.

What’s in a Name?

There are some writers who can conjure up a manuscript and pick names for their characters after the characters have been written. I am not one of those writers. In my mind, names and personalities go hand-in-hand. When I think of a name, an image and some character traits immediately snap into place.

So, you would think that I would have settled on a name for every important character before I started writing that character, right? Wrong.

Instead of doing what works well for me, I went ahead and created an unnecessary challenge. After all, what would life be without those self-inflicted stressful moments when you lie awake until 4am, breaking out into little, tiny patches of eczema?

I’m now stuck with a character that has a full-fledged personality and no name. I’ve gone through a long list of existing names and created several new ones, and none of them feel right. I know I’ll stumble across it eventually, (probably at 4am when I’m desperately trying to sleep because, you know, my brain is sadistic like that). Until then, I’m going to continue doing research and keep a very important lesson in mind for the future: figure out what works best for me and stick to it.

Google’s Augmented Reality Glasses (Part 2)

I just wanted to write a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post about Google’s Augmented Reality Glasses. I received a great question from commenter ‘Helen’s Online Book Club’ about what the glasses actually do, and I thought I’d share a quick video demonstration of it.

Here it is:

Pretty amazing, isn’t it? If it could replace all your current devices, would opt to where them?