Antagonists are Protagonists Too

Since I released Dark Rising to beta-readers back in September, I’ve gotten bits and pieces of feedback from those of you who picked up a copy. The one thing I keep hearing is how surprised everyone is that so much of the book is dedicated to Psi (the villain).

Most of the Young Adult books I’ve read focus on the hero and the challenges that he or she faces, but that didn’t seem like the right approach for me. I knew that it was really important to showcase the villain and give him just as much room in the story as my hero, Alexander, was given. I would go as far as to say that the first book of The Dark Matter Chronicles is more so about Psi than Alexander.

Why did I set up the book this way?

I believe that it is crucial to treat antagonists and all secondary characters as having just as much value as the protagonist. They are no less important and they’re certainly not meant to be plot devices or accessories for the main character.

The world doesn’t revolve around any one person, but each and every one of us is the protagonist in our own story. We don’t think of ourselves as existing only for someone else’s benefit. And that truth should be kept in mind when it comes to stories as well because if those characters were real people, then they would never consider themselves to be secondary characters–or even antagonists–in other peoples’ lives. No villain (real or fictional) thinks of him or herself as a villain.  Good versus evil isn’t that straightforward. I think the upcoming Wreck-it-Ralph does a good job of showing that, but in a much cuter and fluffier way than Dark Rising does.

From Psi’s perspective, he is the protagonist. He’s the hero. The Dark Matter Chronicles wouldn’t be a truthful story if I didn’t acknowledge that. And though you’ll get to know Alexander more in the second book, (I’m working on it, I swear), you’ll also get to see Psi’s evolution, along with that of Ezilie’s, Charon’s, and James’s, too.

So the next time you find yourself thinking of about how much you hate the bad guys in books, remember that just like Wreck-it-Ralph and Psi, bad guys are people too.

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An Ode to Superheroes

I have always loved superheroes. Always. I remember waking up on Saturday mornings or rushing home every day after school just so I could park myself in front of the T.V. I rarely missed an episode of Spider-man or the X-men as they battled their foes. I even watched the old-school, live-action version of Batman with Adam West. As I grew up, I never lost that love. I still watch every superhero movie when it comes out and think about them often. I’ll be the first person in line when The Guardians of the Galaxy movie comes out. I would even tell you about the dream where I lived out my own episode of Doctor Who if I wasn’t thwarted by the evil that is my alarm clock and its dream-erasing abilities.

In the past I’ve written a blog post titled Why We Love Superheroes, but I never explained why comic book lore is so important to me. I turned to superheroes because I needed them. I can still recall an incident when I was six years old and my superheroes served me well. After a day of being teased at school, back when I hadn’t made a single friend, I headed home, bundled up in a new blue snow suit. It was my first Canadian winter and I wasn’t used to wearing so many layers. I looked like the clumsy Smurf cousin of the Pillsbury doughboy. It was also the first time I fell into a small, icy ditch, (and yes, that’s happened more often than I’d like to admit).

All the layers I wore acted as a cushion but it didn’t keep my bare face from smashing against the ice. I hit the ground, right cheek first. Stunned, I tried to get up but the ground so slippery that each time I found my legs, I fell again. Aside from the actual fall and the bruise that covered my face for a good two weeks after, what I remember the most about that incident was that I didn’t cry. I didn’t fall apart or give up. Instead, I just kept trying to stand up and crawl out of that ditch.

Why? Because Spider-man didn’t cry. Batman wouldn’t stay down after he took a hit. The X-men didn’t give up in the face of adversity. And I wanted to be like my heroes.

Superheroes are our modern-day incarnates of ancient myths. They inspire us to rise above our limits and circumstances in order to become something greater. They teach us to believe that through our actions, we can change the world. They are role models that show us that integrity and morality are a choice, and that the choice can be a difficult one that often comes at cost. And most importantly, they reflect the best in us — our strengths and our vulnerabilities.

As I’ve gotten older, my definition of the word ‘hero’ has evolved. It’s no longer limited to those who can fly and crawl up walls. Many of my current heroes have no superpowers. But they’ve taught me that showing courage, providing inspiration, persevering, and being compassionate are the kind of superpowers that can be greater than invisibility and superhuman strength. Writers like Stan Lee and J.K. Rowling gave me worlds to disappear into when the reality I lived in crumbled. I once had a teacher who made me stand up and answer questions until I learned to speak up for myself and another who told me that I could do anything I wanted. The former gave me a voice, the latter changed my life. During my toughest times, I have also been able to turn to great friends. When it comes to finding good ones, I have been uncommonly lucky.

As I prepare to prepare to head into the publishing world with my book series, The Dark Matter Chronicles, I’ve turned to my superheroes once again. Through my characters, I get to live out my hopes and fears on blank pages. And I’m not at all surprised that when I made the choice to be a writer, I created a world where superheroes exist but still struggle to find their place.

While I try to find my place in this world, I’ve encountered a lot of people who have told me to put away the kind of dreams and fantasies that are often associated with childhood. You can’t build a life imagining superheroes, they said. I know now that they were wrong. I’m glad I was too childish to listen. They are welcome to become proper grown-ups if that’s what suits them. I prefer to be that six-year-old kid who got back up thanks to a team of caped crusaders.

The Higgs, The Guardians of the Galaxy, and Real Life DRAGONS

The past couple of weeks have been incredibly hectic for me, so I apologize for not posting something new earlier. But let’s recap what’s happened lately, shall we?

First, the physicists at CERN confirmed the existence of the Higgs Boson, (aka The God Particle). A lot of people will argue that the discovery makes no real difference. I am not one of those people. The announcement of the discovery was long anticipated and with it, our understanding of the world is more complete. You know what that leads to? More high-tech gadgets for you and me! If you’re unsure about what the Higgs is, then watch this:

Second, this past week was one of the biggest in the comic world with the San Diego Comic-Con in full swing. I’ve never been to the convention, but it is definitely on my bucket-list. Aside from the Game of Thrones panel, (which could have been better), the most interesting showcase this year had to be from Marvel. The comic book giant confirmed that a Guardians of the Galaxy movie will arrive in 2014. For anyone who doesn’t know, Guardians of the Galaxy is like Avengers in space. IN SPACE, PEOPLE! Given that it shares themes with my own book, The Dark Matter Chronicles, I am terribly excited for this to come out. Like, a kid who has eaten 3 pixie sticks and then washed it all down with a jug of kool-aid excited.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Marvel

And last but not least, I’ve recently learned that scientists in Indonesia discovered what appears to be a tiny dragon. That’s right. Tiny dragon. There is no confirmation on whether or not it breathes fire, guards wizarding banks, or answers to a Khaleesi. If we’re being realistic though, it’s actually a species of gliding lizard. But screw reality! I’m counting on evolution to be awesome and turn them into the badasses they are in books and movies. Sooner rather than later please. Thanks science!

New Dark Matter Chronicles Summary

For the past couple of weeks, I have been tweaking the summary of The Dark Matter Chronicles, while slowly losing bits and pieces of my sanity. Turns out that I can spend hours obsessing over a single line. The new version is now posted under the ‘About the Book’ tab located above. Please take a look and let me know what you think. If you tell me it needs work, I’ll probably imagine ways of exacting revenge at first but will appreciate the feedback in the end.

In the meantime, Spongebob will express how eager and excited I am to share this new summary on my behalf. Gaze upon its madness and cringe!

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.

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!