Selfie (Device Kids 1)

Selfie (Device Kids 1)

When Brianna discovers her little sister has cancer, she’s willing to try anything to save her: even if it means getting her science fair group to hack a new medical technology that involves microscopic robots. After creating an underground app that lets students alter their appearance, they suddenly find themselves in a bidding war between tech companies and at the mercy of the government, which sees them as criminals. Then a few of their “mods” go haywire and give them permanent abilities that border on the supernatural. As society crumbles around them–disintegrating into an age war between adult and the teens–they go on the run in a quickly shifting reality, where all things are possible, but nothing is certain.

“Wake up, Honey,” my dead mother’s voice whispered in my ear. “Wake up.”

I groaned, rubbing my eyes and blinking them open. I felt a sinking sensation in my chest when I realized I was alone. I fell asleep with my earbuds in again. Mom’s gone, I reminded myself, then quickly pushed the thought to the back of my mind. I was done going to school with puffy eyes from crying. People had almost stopped looking at me with pity.

Music,” I said to my phone. It was on my desk resting on its wireless charger. “Upbeat.”

I pressed my thumb and ring finger together so the phone knows I’m talking to it. It took me years of groveling to convince my parents to let me get the implant. The procedure was almost painless; just a quick prick on the thumb. A few days later, my parents told me mom’s cancer. She did three months later. Now it was a permanent reminder that I’d been too self-absorbed to notice my mom’s weary eyes and frail movements.

A fast tempo song starts playing through the nearly invisible wireless earbuds that I keep in almost all the time.

Schedule?” I asked out loud.

“Another wonderful day of school,” mom’s voice said into my ears. “Don’t forget the social studies paper that’s due in 3rd period.”

It took me a month to crack my aPhone’s built in AI, Gloria. Then I hacked into the firmware and patched over it with my mother’s voice. I spent months in my room, watching old family videos and creating the vocal databases. I built an app that could listen to hundreds of videos at once, and match sound bits to corresponding words. But I still watched them all. Mom teaching me to ride a bike. Mom at Megan’s 6th birthday, helping her blow out the candles. Mom reading us a story when we were little, with long blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes.

“You also have several emails from students wanting help for tech class, some offering the usual rate and some a little higher. Also, Jens wants to know whether you have time for some WOL after school.”

Shit, I thought. I forgot about the paper. I grabbed my phone and ran a program to search for a pre-2000 high school level social studies paper stored in offline data caches and skimmed through the results. I found a Word doc about familial structures in Ethiopia, downloaded it to my phone and changed the name and date.

Brianna Harmond. 10th Grade.

Then I sent it to the printer in Dad’s office. I picked it up on my way to the kitchen to grab breakfast.

“Morning Bree.” Dad was already sitting at the table with toast and a glass of juice, reading the morning paper. Megan was there too, eating cereal. I closed the magnetic loop between my thumb and finger again and ordered breakfast. “Coffee. Toast.”

I grabbed a slice of toast and put it in the machine just as the lever went down, and put a mug under the coffee machine spout.

Megan rolled her eyes. Dad peeked over the top of his paper.

“Would it really be that hard to press the button?” he said.

“What good is technology if we don’t use it?” I said. “Besides, if it saves me a few seconds here or there, and that adds up to some serious study time.”

“As if you ever study,” Megan said. I shot her a look that shut her up. Her hair was a mess, so I braided it before scarfing down my breakfast. My sister still went to the middle school down the street, which started an hour later than the high school. I was going to be late again. Mom would have made sure I was up, but dad rarely remembered. I kissed Megan on the top of her head, and gave Dad a tight hug. Then I went out through the garage and grabbed my skateboard.

“Bye!” I yelled behind me. I lifted the skateboard to my lips, whispering the secret password. I’d programmed it to respond only to an ASMR version of my voice, which included not just the sound, but the subtle physical vibrations as well. Last year I’d bought a device a classmate had made in his garage that powered the wheels and a self-guided navigation system.

“School,” I said, pressing my fingers together. Gloria communicated with the device on the skateboard, and also tapped into the traffic cams and signals. It wasn’t foolproof, but the system would usually get me to school in one piece while I stood there listening to music and reading novels on my phone.

I usually wore dark blue or black jeans because they hid the oil or ink better—I had a habit of wiping my dirty hands on my clothes, and clean laundry was far from assured with mom gone. I did it when I was desperate enough, or my room started stinking from all the clothes on the floor. Megan did it most of the time. Converse sneakers, a leather jacket and a navy scarf completed the outfit. The jacket had hidden pockets, and the scarf still smelled like Mom. It was my armor, and I wore it proudly, even if it was a weird ensemble.

School was a joke. We had instant access to all of the world’s wisdom—the history of mankind’s greatest achievements—and our phones can use the information better than we will ever be able to. Why struggle trying to figure out geometry or algebra, doing the sums and adding up things in our minds, when our phone can solve the same problems in a nanosecond? Why even learn to hold a pencil or write by hand? Who does that anymore?

They were still teaching us stuff they thought we needed to learn twenty years ago to have a successful future, but it was already completely irrelevant. Sometimes I risked detention to contradict the teacher or question the standard answers in our textbooks. What we should be learning is how to do more. How to solve real problems. How to think creatively and use our devices to actually improve the world. At least that’s what most of my friends thoughts.

So we cheated out way through classes to keep our teachers and parents of our backs, but saved our brains for the real challenges. The interesting stuff happened between periods or after school. We were inventing or trading technology that was more advanced than anything you could get on the market.

I kicked up my skateboard and stuffed it through the loops of my backpack, just as my best friend Amy ambushed me from the side and put an arm around my neck.

“What’s shakin’, Bacon?”

“That doesn’t even rhyme,” I said, but I couldn’t stop myself from smiling.

“Are you sure? Remind me what you got in English again, B-?”

“B+. Gloria,” I tapped my fingers together, “What rhymes with Bacon?”

Gloria began listing off rhyming words, shaken, taken, kraken, as well as near matches.

“It almost rhymes, if you say it right. The robot will never understand.”

Amy wasn’t quite as into tech as I was; she focused on the things only humans could do, like creative writing or art. I knew it wouldn’t be long before AI could handle those tasks decently as well, although robots that could simulate human facial features and movements were still a long way off.

“Finish your paper?” Amy asked.

“In a manner of speaking,” I grinned.

“Asshole! I spent three hours on mine.”

“Three hours you could have been writing a novel, or something actually useful.”

“So you keep saying. I don’t mind the work; keeps my brain sharp. Someday the power will go out, and you’ll all be screwed.”

“I don’t think being able to write a high-school social studies paper qualifies as a life-saving survival skill,” I laughed.

We had science class in first period. Mr. Leister was organizing his papers in the front of the class, when I heard the 3D printer at the back of the room warming up. I looked back to see the beginning of what I was pretty sure would turn out to be a life-size, anatomically correct plastic dildo. We were supposed to get a code from the teacher to use the printer, but I saw Brad sniggering with his friends. He must have hacked it and uploaded the design. I rolled my eyes at him and he blew a kiss back to me. Yuck. Sure, somewhere in the dark nether regions of my brain I had to admit that he was mildly attractive, but he was just such an immature asshole.

Brad grabbed the dildo when it was finished printing, then looked around the room to see what kind of mischief he could get into. I saw the twinkle in his eye when he spotted David, sitting quietly and studying, like the perfect nerd he was. I’d known David since 2nd grade, and we had what you might call an awkward history. We’d sort of been friends for a couple of years when we were younger. I even went to his house once for a parent-supervised play date. Then one day he asked me out, but instead of having the balls to do it himself in private, he sat at my lunch table and passed a message down through five of my friends. How’s a girl supposed to react to something like that? I tried letting him down easy, relaying the message backwards through my peers, but he continued passing the message, as if it wasn’t meant for him. He finally got up and left the cafeteria with red cheeks and wet eyes. We haven’t spoken since, though sometimes we say hi when we pass each other in the halls. I’m pretty sure we both do that so we don’t feel like we are bad people. At least that’s why I do it.

Brad went over to David and started waving the plastic dick in his face. I felt a protective sort of urge rising in me, but I squashed it down. We were seniors in high school. He didn’t need anybody to stand up for him.

“Hi I’m David, I love my books so much I get a hard-on every time I crack one open. Sometimes when I’m alone I even use them to jerk off, like this.” Brad picked up David’s book and folded it around the dildo, moving it up and down and making moaning noises. I felt bad for David, but Brad did this kind of stuff all the time. It wasn’t my problem.

“That’s enough,” said a voice calmly. I thought it was Mr. Leister at first but he was still ignoring us. I looked around and realized it was Greg Masters. My Greg. Although of course he wasn’t really mine, he’d been dating Melissa Riley, the queen of our high school’s popularity chart, since Freshman year. And they were a perfect match; even though she was a total bitch and Greg deserved someone better. Melissa was unquestionably the hottest girl in school, and Greg was the gorgeous captain of the basketball team. Neither of them had as much as looked at me in almost four years. I’d never seen Greg stand up to a bully like Brad before. Not for someone like David. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t remember anybody standing up for someone like David before, which I guess explained the stupefied look on Brad’s face.

Brad hesitated and I saw him calculating his options. Even though he had a reputation as a badass, with his ripped jeans, black T-shirt, messy dark hair and eyebrow piercing, and even though Greg was pretty much the nicest guy on earth, he was still built like an athlete. Plus he had that sense of invincibility that kids from money always carried around with them. The whole class was watching now, and I realized I was holding my breath with them.

I wanted to start chanting, “Fight, Fight, Fight!” like they do in the movies. There are very rarely real fights in our school. But the glint in Brad’s eye told me he was in a daring—or self-destructive—mood.

“Oh, sorry Greg, I had no idea that David here was your secret lover. He must be if you’re going to defend his honor.”

“I’m just sick of listening to your voice,” Greg said, standing up. “It’s getting on my nerves.”

“What are you going to do, get all your basketball buddies to gang up on me?”

Greg sized him up with a smirk, slowly rolling up his sleeves to his elbows. Even his forearms were sexy.

“I don’t think I’m going to need any help with this,” he said.

“Guys, this is stupid,” David said, standing up also. “It’s no big deal. Let’s just sit down.”

Suddenly Brad tossed the dildo at the front of the room, where it just missed Mr. Leister’s head and smacked against the chalkboard. Then he sat down quickly, so when Mr. Leister turned around he only saw David and Greg.

“So this is where the taxpayer’s money is going,” Mr. Leister said, picking up the dildo. “Does this belong to one of you?”

“It was Brad,” I said, before I could stop myself. Greg and David nodded.

“That’s ridiculous!” Brad shouted. “It was totally David. You know how clever he is with coding and stuff. Bree is just protecting her boyfriend Greg, because she’s so into him.”

My cheeks burned red. Was my crush that obvious? I was mortified, but I covered my embarrassment with anger. I kicked Brad’s desk as hard as I could. He flinched when it hit him in the knee with a satisfying thud.

“Only my friends call me Bree,” I said. “You can call me Brianna.”

“Are you asking me to call you?” Brad said. “Sorry, you’re not my type.”

At this point I was ready to murder him, but Mr. Leister clapped his hands and yelled, “Everybody, sit down. Now.

I sat and crossed my arms together, frowning. Amy shot me an are you crazy  look and I shrugged back. Mr. Leister liked me anyway—science was the only class where I got straight A’s, mostly because Mr. Leister valued practical application and demonstration projects. So instead of just taking a test, I could build something or make something work.

“I was just thinking about how to divide you up into teams for this year’s science fair,” Mr. Leister said, adjusting his glasses. “I appreciate you making it easy for me. Brianna, David, Brad and Greg—you’ll be on one team.”

Wait, what? My blood was already pumping with adrenaline from the incident, and now a deep panic was settling into my bones. The science fair was months away, and teams would have to cooperate with each other on a project. I would have taken any other punishment, but the science fair was something I actually cared about. It was an opportunity to get noticed early, maybe even a get out of jail free card if you got an early entry into some internship or college program. I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet, but I sure as hell didn’t want my project jeopardized by shit-for-brains Brad. Plus, unlike Greg, my family didn’t have the money to send me to some fancy school.

Amy raised her hand but didn’t wait to get called on. “Excuse me, Mr. Leister, but Bree and I need to be on a team together. We’ve already got a project in mind we’ve started working on.”

I was grateful for her quick lie, but my face fell when I saw Mr. Leister clench his jaw. We’d pushed him too far this morning, and he wasn’t going to be forgiving.

“In that case, Amy, you can join Brianna’s team. I’m sure they can use all the help they can get. And remember, your science fair project is mandatory and will account for 30% of your final grade. I want to see creative, forward thinking projects: but big ideas aren’t enough. You need to have a working prototype in time for the fair.”

I gripped the edge of my desk as the rest of the class divided themselves up into teams. I was still in shock. At the time, I was just worried about my future. I didn’t realize then that our little team would soon topple governments and kill nearly everyone in our high school. But that came later. First came the announcement.

 

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The Emerald Tablet

The Emerald Tablet

Book three in the Scarlet Thread series is now available! It’s set in Egypt and based on real historical and alchemical literature surrounding the “emerald tablet” – supposedly written by the hand of Thoth. Get it now on Amazon!

Summary

I’ve met Zeus, and made him bleed. But the war is just beginning. A tangled knot of forbidden romance binds my actions; Zeus is using my feelings for Sitri against me. Somehow I need to kill one and save the other. We search Egypt for answers, and nearly destroy Cairo. I’m getting stronger, but the gods are taking off their gloves. This fight could end us all.

First Page

I could feel the broken bones in my arm scrape together under my skin, like wooden blocks covered in sandpaper. Puriel lifted me up from the pile of rubble that used to be my childhood home and carried me to the black sports car. It was so quiet, I thought my ears must have been damaged, but then I could hear Puriel’s voice. He was asking me something, something about how to drive the car. I shrugged and rolled my head. I’d been in JDRI since I was nine, and driving lessons were never on the curriculum. I looked around for Sitri, why wasn’t he driving? Then I saw him, or at least the dark furry shape he’d become. The impossibly large, wolf-like creature. He was waiting for us in the middle of the road. Howling at us to hurry.

Puriel finally grasped the mechanics of the vehicle, and the car screeched out of the suburban cul-de-sac. I could hear sirens getting louder, and we passed several police cars and an ambulance. I blinked against the harsh flashing lights as they sped by. Puriel kept checking the skies through the windshield. I looked up as well, expecting a helicopter, but instead I saw a flash of wings and a glimmer of silver shapes, illuminated by the early light. The sun hadn’t risen yet, so I only saw silhouettes against the dark sky, but I knew what they were. Hunters. Dozens of them.

“Why aren’t they attacking us?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Puriel said. “But Zeus isn’t going to want us to reach Nevah. Not with the shears.”

The Golden Shears. 

I looked down, and sure enough, my pale fingers were still clenched around the golden metal, almost like they’d melded with my fist. My arm looked like a spiked hammer. The shears radiated power, and I could feel a pulsing – a throbbing through my whole body. I didn’t know if it was my own heartbeat, or the shears.

My hands felt sticky, and I realized they were covered with bright blue goo, that shimmered when I turned my arm. Zeus’s blood. Pure divinity, straight from the source. I shuddered, resisting the urge to wipe it against my clothes.

“Do we have a towel or something?” I asked.

Puriel looked physically pained, and his eyes were coal black, with unusually wide pupils. He stared at my hands with more than just concern. It was hunger, I realized. This much energy, right here, it was taking all his strength to restrain himself.

“You… want this?” I asked, holding my wrists out.

Hunger took over his face, and for a moment I thought he was going to lose control and bite my hand off. Instead he reached for my hand and held it up to his mouth. He gently kissed my fingertips, and I felt his tongue flick over my skin. It should have been erotic, but it wasn’t. I knew this disgusted him as much as it disgusted me. But after what we’d been through, he needed strength. It must have taken a tremendous amount of willpower to resist Zeus, and Puriel had refused him. He’d given me the shears, and I’d stabbed Zeus in the thigh. Nobody could question his loyalty now. He’d had his shot at redemption, and he’d chosen us.

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Reviews

This book is imaginative, spellbinding and fulfilling. I continue to be amazed with Mr. Murphy’s ability to describe and create such visual imagery. This story has so much to offer and I look forward to the next installment to see where this story leads. ★★★★★

I fell in love with this series after reading the first book. There is a great range in characters, from the ones you love, to the ones you love to hate. And this book along with the other in the series, sucks you right in so that you can’t put it down until the last page. ★★★★★

I flew through this trilogy in 3 days unable to put it down. The dedication to the plot, even through the weight of research, gives you such abundant insight into the characters and deities that litter the series. You’re caught up in such a whirlwind of passion, humor, and adventure that when you finish the 3rd book and realize the Author isn’t finished with this tale you mourn the months/years that it will take for him to discover and reveal the end. A must read for any young adult or adult that is young at heart. ★★★★★

This has to be one my favorite Derek Murphy series. I LOVE this alternate universe with Gods, humans, and hybrids, and how it branches out into Egyptian mythology as well. Given that this is the third book in the series, the characters have already been established. Due to this, I feel like the book moves at a much faster pace, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Derek Murphy has created such a rich universe in his books, that I feel like I am completely immersed in it when I am reading his books. Other than that, I cannot WAIT for the next one. ★★★★★

 

Mood Board

The two types of creative exhaustion

The two types of creative exhaustion

I’ve been exhausted for the last few days, so I thought I’d take an afternoon off and tell you about the creative struggles and draining process that goes into actually writing novels – both to give myself a break from writing, but also to give you a “behind the scenes” tour of my work in progress.

I’ve previously done some research on creativity and have decided all creative fear comes down to just two basic insecurities, which have to do with quality and quantity.

The first question is, can I even do this?

I’m dealing with that now as I write “Thirst” – the sequel to my vampire dystopian novel “Taste.” Luckily, I’ve finished some novels before, and I’ve even finished some sequels before. So I know, historically, that I’m capable of writing books, even “good” books, though we’ll discuss that later.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Even though I have a pretty good outline; even though I LOVE my ending and I think some of the scenes in this book are AMAZING, right now I’m just cresting 20,000 words. It’s mostly rough, and I only have about another month to finish before my preorder deadline.

So of course, I’m feeling the pressure. A lot of you may think it’s silly to give myself hard deadlines and make myself work harder or faster, but I’ve learned that:

A) A book I write quickly is in no way worse, and actually sometimes better, because I focus on it in a short time frame.

B) without a hard deadline, I’d spend all my time procrastinating and getting nothing done.

I think deadlines are important to my process, even if they are stressful, and I know I am CAPABLE of meeting my deadline: I just need to write at least 2,000 words a day for the next 30 days (which, will leave me zero time for editing, so ACTUALLY I need to write 3000 words a day, which is possible, but challenging).

If I force myself, I can write 3000 words in a couple hours, then spend the evening thinking about the next chapter or scene, and start again the next day. The problem is, from right here – where I am right now – I can’t see it all at once. I can’t see how all the chapters are going to come together, because I can’t see the later chapters or scenes until I’ve finished the immediately preceeding one. So even though I know it will/should all come together, it’s still terrifying writing into the void, because… maybe it won’t.

This fear creeps in, and makes it harder to sit down and write those words, because the mystery of the unfinished 50,000 words I still need to write this month are overwhelming. Also, creating worlds from nothing, even though it is satisfying, is also cognitively draining. There are so many things I could be doing with my time that don’t leave me emotionally and mentally drained; creative writing and fiction in particular is draining. Even the prospect of needing to write the words is exhausting, and if I do manage to write for a few hours and finish my words, I’m a vegetable for the rest of the day, capable of little more than naps, junk food and Netflix.

The second question is, is this good enough?

This is the one that really paralyzes most first-time authors, and I already have some advantages here:

  1. I define “Good” as “my readers will enjoy it.”
  2. I’ve built and audience and done my research so I KNOW what my readers will like and how to entertain them
  3. I’ve practiced enough to know that I’m capable of writing high quality fiction – my books review well

So I don’t have that crippling fear that I’m wasting my time, or that nobody is going to buy it and like it. I also don’t have the delusions of grandeur most authors deal with when writing their first book (after doing no research and having no audience, but still deciding their book is going to be a miraculous NYT bestseller because they love it and so will everyone else).

HOWEVER, I am doing something new this time around, which is working with cowriters. And while, on the one hand, it means I get to develop projects much more quickly, it can also mean I have more work to do in the editing and revision stages, which is where I am now.

I tend to edit slowly than I write, because I revise heavily – about 2000 words and hour. Right now I’m working on an alien invasion romance. I’m excited about the story and we have a really strong start. We’ve finished a rough draft and now I need to clean it up and get it ready to publish. But it’s going so slowly – a couple chapters a day – and part of me is starting to worry that it won’t be good enough, because it’s not good enough right now.

And actually, this is totally normal. It’s normal to be dissatisfied with your first rough draft, which is just about getting the basic story in the right order. That’s stage one.

Stage two is the 2nd rough draft – that’s when you START fixing the story and making it emotionally satisfying. It’s when you flesh out the characters and scenes; add conflict and tension; fix the cliffhangers and hooks at the end of the chapters. And even if it’s going really slowly, I also know I’m making real progress, and the book is getting better.

I’m frustrated because I know it’s STILL not good enough. After I finish this round, I’ll need at least one more pass to fix details, smooth my revisions and check for errors (before sending it off to a proofreader, who will find typos). Which means possibly another week or two of work on just this one book… when I have several more in the pipeline PLUS the vampire novel I talked about earlier.

There’s nothing wrong with making slow, deliberate progress, and forcing yourself towards burnout by overextending yourself isn’t wise. On the other hand, I’ve been writing fiction for several years now and haven’t been able to go big because I’m limited by my production speed. My goal for this year is to finish some full series, and several sequels, so I can spend more time and money advertising my books to reach new readers – but none of that can happen until I finish more books.

I also want to make sure the books I put out are the best possible versions of themselves; that they aren’t rushed or sloppy, but I have a hard time letting go (I have friends who write a first rough draft and send it straight to an editor; I still need at least three full revisions before I’m happy enough with the story to share with anyone else – but writing cleaner first drafts might be the solution for me as well eventually).

Every author has their own process, and I don’t expect readers to pay extra for the author’s effort (they should pay for the results, ie the finished book – just because an author worked 10X harder doesn’t mean it’s a better book or worth more money).

As an author, I’m trying to figure out how to publish  better books with less time and effort, by paying attention to my process and expertise.  But I also think it’s important to share the creative struggle; that this isn’t just fun and easy all the time; that writing books is challenging, difficult and often times can lead to exhaustion, depression and even a sense of hopelessness (most authors will spend years writing unsuccessful books; and even though I’m planning on becoming moderately successful, there are other things I could do with my time that would pay a great deal more).

But I do this because I love the challenge; because I love telling stories and I love hearing from readers who have enjoyed them; and because it’s a skill I’m determined to master, in this lifetime, even if it takes me decades of practice. Hopefully, my commitment to the craft will pay off, and my dedication will infuse my novels with a recognizable literary style.

PS. If you’re a creative person and you’ve dealt with any of these frustrations before, let me know in the comments. If you’ve read my books and enjoy them, let me know!

YASH (young adult scavenger hunt 2019)

YASH (young adult scavenger hunt 2019)

YASH kicks off today – unfortunately I’m stuck mid-site design but I’ve added all the details you need on https://urbanepics.com/blog. You can find instructions and help getting unstuck on the official YASH page.

For my part, I’m hosting Annie Sullivan and giving away 3 of my favorite books from the other authors on the Red Team: I’m also giving away a $100 Amazon gift coupon so make sure you enter the giveaway.

 

Finally – I’ve made Taste free today and hope to push it a little higher in the Amazon store.

It’s doing OK – #1 in multiple categories – but I’d love it to break the top #100.
I’ve just put book two on preorder and have started writing, I love where it’s headed and there is so much creepy/bad-ass stuff in this book. I’m kind of known for my endings but this one is going to be AMAZING.

I plan to finish fixing up the website this week and then adding a TON of new content as I introduce my new penname (Drake Mason) and the six talented writers I’ve started cowriting projects with. I’m so excited for this stuff! It means we’ll be able to put out 2 or 3 novels every MONTH and get whole series finished so much faster (within a year, at least, so you don’t have to wait).

If you like my writing, please stick around, stay tuned, and pay attention – there will be ARC copies for loyal readers, and we’ll probably launch every book at $0.99 before going full price, so make sure you’re in the loop to get the best savings.

 

 

First chapters and pilot episodes – how to hook with story (Roswell Reboot)

First chapters and pilot episodes – how to hook with story (Roswell Reboot)

I’m doing two things tonight: giving feedback on sample chapter submissions from new writers and watching the new Roswell Reboot (New Mexico).

I’ve been focused on lot on craft recently, and trying to figure out what makes the difference between a good first chapter – a project and writer worth investing in – and one that just doesn’t hold my attention.

Mostly, I’ve decided it’s all about conflict and sympathy: before anything happens, you have to make readers care about your main character – but just enough; then you hit them with some big action and conflict.

Pilot episodes do this really well, so in this article I’ll break down the new Roswell reboot.

The episode starts with a minor conflict that establishes the scene and setting; a very short prologue introducing the premise (people say Roswell is full of aliens, protagonist thinks it’s just a small boring town).

Liz (main character) is coming home; gets stopped by the police and ICE; launches onto a tirade before recognizing the cop as her high school sweetheart Max. They let her go.

She immediately relieves her dad – who is an undocumented immigrant running a diner – of his work shift and dons a waitress outfit, complete with dangling alien antenna, but not before ridiculing a podcaster talking about how aliens are taking over America.

This establishes: she’s a smartass who doesn’t believe the hype, and she’s likable because she takes care of her elderly relatives. She also mentions she’s worried about him because of his immigrant status (something to lose, something she cares about).

She closes the restaurant, puts her favorite song on the jukebox, and starts dancing like nobody’s watching – of course the cute cop from before immediately stops by to watch, so she can be embarrassed.

He mentions how sorry he is about her dead sister (intrigue/sympathy – more on this later). She fills him in on backstory – research funding got cancelled so she’s back in town. They almost have a moment, he goes to leave, she offers him a milkshake, but then takes a sip out of it, bringing them close together, gazing into each other’s eyes in palpable romantic suspense.

But suddenly… A shoot out!

Pew pew, drive by shooting, she gets shot, Max uses his supernatural powers to save her, draining his energy. The lights outside explode (whenever you have a cool scene, make it PHYSICAL by showing lots of things happening – it’s not enough for him to save her easily, he has to grunt and make faces, and the lights go out, and the lightbulbs explode: even if this is just costing Max physical pain, it needs to be represented by a change in the physical environment as well, because we can’t “see” internal processes like the wound getting healed or Max using his powers, it needs to be reflected visibly). The ensuing blackout is also a noticeable event that will effect the town at large.

This is actually enough for a chapter one: we’ve established multiple points of sympathy with the main character.

  • cares for someone else
  • persecuted/oppressed status
  • brave/rebellious, stands up against authority
  • defends the innocent
  • tragic past or history
  • has lost someone close to them
  • romantic intrigue/possible love interest
  • quick backstory that hints at impressive skillset or intelligence

But before readers lose interest, an inciting incident (big twist or surprise, central to the story’s main premise.

We could end chapter one here. For a pilot episode, we need more… so the story continues. The next few steps would probably be saved till chapter two, but already readers will be asking WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

Liz isn’t sure what just happened. She tells her dad they should leave town because everyone hates them for no reason; he drops a bit more backstory – her sister got high and killed two innocent girls in a car crash (possible conspiracy, real story to be revealed later I’m sure).

Max, our second main character and love interest, chases the shooter but collapses because he’s weakened after saving Liz. He telepathically calls his sister to save him. Meanwhile his deadbeat alien brother is already in lockup, using his powers to fly the keys off the desk. That brings all three of them together at the police station to argue and fight.

They’ve been keeping this alien thing a secret for 20 years, but Max just risked it all to save a girl. This is important because it shows what’s at stake: they have lives now, and if they get found out they’ll be dissected. Big conflict, and it all depends on Liz – who is off at the hospital getting a full checkup, from her attractive doctor friend Kyle.

Now readers are hooked: can the aliens count on Liz or will she destroy everything? Sources of conflict:

  • Max and siblings fighting
  • Max and Liz (she wants truth, he has to protect secret)
  • Liz and father (she wants to move, he likes the town)
  • Liz and town (they just remember how her dead sister killed two other girls).
  • Liz and hot doctor guy (she’s acting weird, but won’t tell him what really happened).
  • Dead-beat brother (Michael) has to move trailer when the land gets bought by military; runin with new character Alex – old friend and military vet back, lost a leg in Afghanistan. He’s hiding alien tech in his trailer (risk of discovery).
  • She visits sister’s grave but it’s been vandalized.

Next scene: Liz confronts Alex and opens up about her family: mother is mentally ill, and so was her sister, she thinks that’s why she got into drugs. After what happened at the diner, she’s worried she might be going crazy too (deepens sympathy for protagonist, also her search for answers heightens conflict).

Alex is ABOUT to say something like “you’re not crazy,” but Michael is listening in and he causes a distraction by blowing up some care windows.

New character: local bartender and old friend, who also does psychic readings on the side. Liz gets blown off at first, after a casually racist observer makes a snide comment about going back to her own country.

Isabel (the alien sister) is planning the 10 year high school reunion – upcoming event, trying to keep the normal appearance. Gives her a reason to be at Alex’s house so he can tell her he plans to tell Liz the truth; they fight, he yells, “I’m not asking permission!” (escalating conflict).

Isabel says, “You can’t ever be with her, even if you tell her the truth, there’s too much she can’t ever know. Fall in love with someone else, anyone else.”

Tragic romance/star crossed romance. It’s not just aliens + humans. Alex, specifically, can’t be with Liz – probably because of whatever happened with her sister. He’d always have to lie to her, even if she knows what he is. Added layers of conflict and tension.

But he’s also in love with her. He’s been in love with her for 10 years. Falling in love with someone else is impossible. Meanwhile, while Alex is smitten, we need to make sure to fuck up the relationship beyond repair by putting her with another guy.

Liz thinks Alex isn’t into her, because he’s so cool and reserved. Her friend Maria recommends “random sex, different guy” – planting the seed, and immediately outside, she runs into hot doctor friend Kyle, which leads straight to a makeout session.

But Kyle sees something weird on her chest and asks what happened. So she jumps out of the car and runs to a mirror, to discover a glowing alien handprint on her skin.

Now she knows she’s NOT crazy, but there’s also one more person who could expose the alien secret. Escalating tension, more external and internal conflict, a widening circle of involved characters.

Back to podcast guy, who’s now talking the coming aliens who will rape, murder and “steal our jobs” (fear and xenophobia).

Max is about to tell Liz everything and ask her to keep the secret (which he does) but it’s too late because Kyle already called in the military. He gets initiated into “Project Shepherd.” (Threat #1).

In the next scene, Michael is telling Isabel she needs to prepare to wipe Liz’s memory and send her packing, something only she can do. (Threat #2).

“Just like you did 10 years ago.” (Big reveal about backstory.)

Now that we’ve established the dangers and threats… we get a nice romantic scene, and SO close to a first kiss, but he pulls back because he’s a gentleman, and thinks she may just be feeling his feelings, and doesn’t want to take advantage while she’s under the influence.

High school reunion: all the characters together, highlighting the tension. Kyle is initiated by the military general; military general’s newly returned injured-veteran son has a secret romantic history with Michael (making him gay); Liz and Alex show up together but everybody gossips and points to Liz because ‘her sister murdered two people’…

They’re about to leave but then her best friend Maria (who is black, because we need POC representation in the core cast – also kudos to CW for making Liz latina unlike the white-washed first installation of Roswell) plays her song, so they stay.

We get a creepy scene of Alex stalking Liz through a window in highschool, but it’s meant to show how deeply he loves her. We get a flash of the core conflicts: Michael’s romance with general’s son; Kyle and general hunting aliens; and the big secret that Alex is still keeping from Liz, about what really happened with her sister – “she can never know about that.”

So we’ve set up a diverse cast of characters, overflowing with tension and conflict, and this was all done in the first episode. In a book, this would be the first several chapters, probably about 25% of the way in. But now that we’ve set the stage, we can just let all these conflicts keep playing over several books in a series.

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