My daughter is a wrecking ball!

So yesterday my family went out for dinner. We have a mini-van, or to be more accurate, a mobile living room. The thing is super comfy. The sliding door was open. My daughter Olivia stood just inside the open door. As I approached, she jumped into my arms and I twirled her to the ground. She laughed and said the movement felt like a tornado. I told her she was a tornado.

“Meh,” she told me. “I’m more of a wrecking ball.”

Too funny.

My next novel is based on Olivia and her two younger brothers. The main character’s name is Maddie, but her personality is mirrored after my daughter. Maddie is spunky, rebellious and intriguing–an overall great main character who isn’t your stereotypical girl. And those words aren’t mine own, but of someone who has read the novel’s first chapter and provided constructive feedback.

Olivia’s comment yesterday reminded me of Maddie, because like my daughter, she is certainly a wrecking ball. In light of this revelation, I thought it would be fun to share the first chapter with you in the Maddie Jones saga. I’ve posted it below, so read and enjoy…and let me know what you think.

Maddie Jones & the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors

Chapter 1

The worst day of my life started like this.

I was climbing the rock wall in gym class, hoisting myself up one colorful handhold at a time, when I heard an angry voice yelling at me to speed up.

“You can do better than that, Jones,” Coach Sinclair, my pudgy P.E. instructor whose whistle rested on his round pot-belly, shouted from below.

I grunted, grabbed a yellow handhold, and climbed a bit higher. Ever since the first week of school, I’d grown to hate the rock wall. It was my worst activity in the whole gym class. Maybe it was because I lacked the upper body strength of boys. Or the sturdy legs of a sprinter. I refused to believe it was because I was a thirteen year old girl.

“Let’s go, Miss Jones,” Coach Sinclair blew his whistle. “Two minutes to reach the top!”

“You know, Coach,” I said as sweat dripped into my eyes. “I heard a rumor that you didn’t make your high school football team. Is it true?”

“What?” he barked. “That’s it, you’re running suicides next.”

I groaned. Me and my big fat mouth. It got me in trouble more than I cared to admit.

I finally reached the top. I struck the bell Coach Sinclair required us to hit. It chimed, signaling success. Then I repelled down thirty feet to the basketball court.

Coach Sinclair was there to greet me with arms folded across his chest and a toothy grin. “Suicides, Miss Jones. You’ve earned them.”

“I’m beginning to think you enjoy torturing kids,” I told him.

His grin widened. “What? Me? Never.” Then he stepped aside, motioning to the lines on the court I’d need to touch as I ran back and forth.

“This class sucks,” I said.

“That’ll be ten additional suicides,” he said. “Another word, and it will be ten more.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but thought better of it. My mouth got me into this mess. I doubted it would get me out of it.

So I crouched into a running stance and took a deep breath. But before I could begin, the gym doors opened and in walked Principal Watson in her business skirt and blouse. Two armed police officers joined her. Principal Watson looked around, her eyes settled on me, and she pointed.

“There she is,” her voice echoed across the spacious gym floor. “That’s Maddie Jones.”

The officers nodded to Principal Watson, then began walking my way.

Holy cow! What was this about? Did they find out it was me who stole the cow and put him in the school’s library? Or was it the issue with the front office’s aquarium, when the fish went missing and somehow appeared in bathroom toilets all over campus? I promised Principal Watson I had nothing to do with the incident when confronted a month ago, but apparently she wasn’t convinced. What more did she need?

Perhaps she wanted the missing fish. I’d kept one. He was too cute to give back.

The officer’s shoes thudded against the court, their handcuffs clinking as they approached.

I had to act fast. I wasn’t going to Juvie. Not again.

I don’t remember running, but the next thing I knew, I was sprinting to the girls locker room, where a back exit led to the outside tennis courts and football field.

I heard one of the officer’s shout, “Hey, Maddie, wait!” and he lunged to catch me.

But I was too fast, and seconds later, my Nike tennis shoes were kicking up grass and dirt as I sprinted through boys running scrimmages for next Tuesday’s football game.

Look, I know I said I’m not much of a sprinter. But when running from trouble, you’d be amazed how quickly your legs can move.

And you know what’s crazy? Running from the police wasn’t even why this was the worst day of my life.

Just wait, things are about to get interesting.

What do you get when authors, readers, food, and storytelling combine?

A good time, that’s what. Holy cow! Countless people converged on the City Arts Cooperative Saturday to buy their copies of Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II. Readers were treated to food and beverages, as well as excerpt readings from all the authors present. Readers were also able to purchase the authors’ additional novels, comics and artwork. I sold quite a few additional books, especially after I read the introduction to Curse of the Conquistador–which you can check out on my short stories page here on this very website. Warning! You’ll be left with a cliffhanger and will end up buying Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II in order to find out what happens to Maddie and her adventure inside her dad’s museum.

Anyway, I had an awesome time with my fellow authors. After the book event, we ended up going out for pizza and beer, fellowship and laughs. I feel blessed to be included in such an amazing anthology along such talented people. At the pizza joint, there was even an art show going on. A lot of people out there call me an artist, being a writer an all, but I never think of myself in that way. I’m simply trying to entertain people through story, and hope to one day make enough money to write more than I currently do. The artwork on display was quite impressive. I tend to not really get art–I’m a fairly simple guy, ask my wife–but I appreciate it nonetheless.

If you couldn’t make it, or live far away as I know some of you do, then check out the pictures from the event. My next novel, Medical MECH, debuts in September…so expect more news on upcoming book events this fall. Plus, there’s Creative Con to consider. Great stuff on the horizon.

Lost cities, tombs & treasures, and ladies who can beat the snot out of you!

Rise of the Tomb Raider

And this lady is an iconic one, too. Lara Croft, the tomb raider. In her latest adventure, Lara attempts to unravel the mysteries behind the Divine Source–an ancient artifact said to grant immortality. Her father sought the artifact throughout the course of his life, but came up empty-handed. Now Lara has uncovered a missing piece to the puzzle, and she’s off to raid tombs and discover lost cities…and kick guys in the junk! Well, not really, but she knows how to handle herself in a scrap.

Lara’s not the only person seeking the artifact, though. Trinity, an organization reputed to be thousands of years old, is also on the hunt–and they’ll kill anyone who gets in their way. Can Lara overcome an entire band of mercenaries and unravel the past to discover what her dad could not?

The answer is yes and no. In Rise of the Tomb Raider, a video game for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, I accompanied Lara on her latest archaeological thrill ride. Sadly, the game consisted mostly of action and world exploration than historical mysteries, but the game was still fun nonetheless. SPOILER ALERT: she defeats the bad guys, only to learn Trinity is much bigger and more influential than she first believed. There will surely be a sequel, but I might not buy it. Because when it was all said and done and the end credits rolled, I felt like the game lacked that something special. Chalk it up to my own biases. I recently completed both Uncharted 4 and Horizon: Zero Dawn, which I enjoyed for their integration of history and storytelling, and fun gameplay mechanics; respectively. So please know those games skewed my opinion slightly.

Regardless, Rise of the Tomb Raider shined in its optional tombs Lara can explore at various points throughout her adventure. It was during those moments, when I attempted to solve tomb riddles to reach a hidden treasure, that I truly believed the game hit its stride.

I give Rise of the Tomb Raider a 7 out of 10. A mediocre experience from a biased gamer. So what are you playing this summer? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email. As for my next gaming experience, well, I’m itching for nostalgia. And I’ll get it in Final Fantasy XII: the Zodiac Age–which just came out this month!

Final Fantasy XII

 

Outlining vs. Free Writing

Writing Picture

I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day weekend. I spent the morning with the kids at the beach. We had a lot of fun building sand castles and swimming. Now the kids are napping, and I’m sitting down to write the final chapters of Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors. Well, I’m not really writing the final chapters, just outlining a first draft. I’m excited how the story has turned out so far. Maddie’s first adventure is an archaeological thrill ride filled with history, suspense and twists, a few laughs and, I hope, likable characters and detestable villains.

In the past, I have recruited test readers to give me feedback on my manuscripts. For the first novel in the Maddie Jones series, I might recruit test readers to critique my outline. We’ll see. I’m not sure at the moment. It would be a strange process, but the outline reads like an abbreviated version of the story. My outlines aren’t typically so put together, but I’m currently a Master Class student with James Patterson. He devoted two whole lessons to the outlining process. Patterson calls outlines his “secret weapon.” He typically spends two months on an outline before he sits down to write the novel. By having a solid outline filled with suspense and the right amount of pacing, he’s able to write a story that draws you in and makes you keep turning pages.

I got to say, after creating the first Maddie Jones book in this way–outlining the story from start to finish, scene by scene–I will likely never write another story like I did before. With my previous novels and short stories, I often wrote a brief outline, then filled in the gaps with free writing as I went. James Patterson says, “Don’t do this.” He believes your story won’t be as suspenseful and engaging if you go in blind; or, as in my case, partially blind.

Now, I know there is no right or wrong way to tell a story. There are writers out there who will disagree with Patterson. But have they sold 300 million copies of their books? Um, more than likely not. If you want to be successful, I believe you should learn from the best and emulate what they did. I am now convinced thorough outlining is effective. It frees me to simply tell the story and not worry about flashy sentences. I can see why Patterson recommends it so strongly. Will his tips make me successful? Who knows. But Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors is a better story because of it.

Writers Don’t Get Downtime

Well, my next novel is currently in the hands of test readers. A couple copies have trickled back in, and so far the kids are enjoying Medical MECH. Once I have everyone’s feedback, I plan to revisit the manuscript for rewrites and edits. Afterwards, I’ll send the story out to agents and keep my fingers crossed that it will get picked up. In the meantime, I’ve started my next project: The Adventures of Maddie Jones.

If you’ve ever read anything on writing, or heard a successful author answer this question: What should I do if I want to become a writer? They will almost unanimously say to write, write, and write some more. Read a lot, and read different genres. So that’s what I do. I rarely have downtime between projects. I finish one and immediately move on to the next. Although Medical MECH is nearing completion (well, it’s nearly complete as far as the manuscript is concerned. Publication is a whole other beast), I have ideas for new stories that are itching to be told.

My newest project is a five book series for young adult readers. The series name is The Adventures of Maddie Jones. Each book will follow Maddie as she journeys to uncover mysteries of the past. The stories will be thrillers told in a James Patterson style–short chapters and a fast-paced narrative. Maddie’s “voice” will be akin to Percy Jackson’s from The Lightning Thief. I’ve diligently been working on book one’s outline, and it’s coming along nicely so far. At the moment, I’m wrapping up the third act. The outline will take several edits and rewrites to make it a solid start, but I’m excited to begin writing once the outline is complete. If you’re curious, here are the individual titles for each book:

  1. Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors
  2. Maddie Jones and the Grave of Robin Hood
  3. Maddie Jones and the Doomed Knights of the Round
  4. Maddie Jones and the Ghost of Coronado
  5. Maddie Jones and the Inca Mummy of Ecuador

I’ve written the story synopsis for each book. For now, check out book one’s premise:

When business tycoon Rico Raja kidnaps Hank Jones, a museum curator who deciphered an ancient text involving the Terracotta Warriors, his teenage daughter Maddie must uncover the secrets behind the greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth-century in order to save him. But when those secrets reveal a 2,000 year old curse, and Rico’s plan to release the soul of the First Qin Emperor of China, Maddie must seek allies in the unlikeliest of places—from a Terracotta Warrior who has come to life, General Li Fei. Perhaps Maddie should call the National Guard, or the Army, or the Ghostbusters, because things are getting out of hand.

What are your thoughts on this new project? Which book title draws you in the most? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email.

When History Meets Gaming

I’m currently working on a young adult novel called Maddie Jones & the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors. The book is the first in a five book series. As the name implies, archaeology and history are a staple of the stories–each book will follow Maddie on her adventures as she uncovers mysteries from the past. Think Indiana Jones meets Percy Jackson, and you’ll get an idea of the story direction. Anyway, this writing project has led me to dive into the latest Tomb Raider game. Plus, one year ago Uncharted 4 came out, so I’m itching for a historical thrill ride.

The game has been a lot of fun so far. The story follows Lara Croft as she attempts to unravel the mysteries behind the Divine Source–an ancient artifact said to grant immortality. Her father sought the artifact throughout the course of his life, but came up empty-handed. Now Lara has uncovered a missing piece to the puzzle, and she’s off to raid tombs and discover lost cities.

But she’s not the only person seeking the artifact. Trinity, an organization reputed to be thousands of years old, is also on the hunt–and they’ll kill anyone who gets in their way. Can Lara overcome an entire band of mercenaries and unravel the past to discover what her dad could not?

The answer is…I don’t know yet. I’m only a few hours into the game, but I’ll let you know once I’ve finished the ride. So what are you playing? Leave a comment or shoot me an email and let me know.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Testing the waters with new ideas

As many of you know, I’m currently a Master Class student with James Patterson as my instructor. I’ve been given an assignment: jot down my book ideas and share them to get feedback. So I’m testing the waters. Below are my next two book ideas in a new series for kids. What do you think? Would you read it? I mean, really read it? Give me your input. I’d like to know!

Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors

When business tycoon Rico Raja kidnaps Hank Jones, a museum curator who deciphered an ancient text involving the Terracotta Warriors, his teenage daughter Maddie, along with her two younger brothers, must uncover the secrets behind the greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth-century in order to save him. But when those secrets reveal a 2,000 year old curse, and Rico’s plan to release the soul of the First Qin Emperor of China, Maddie must seek allies in the unlikeliest of places–from a Terracotta Warrior who has come to life, General Li Fei. Perhaps Maddie and her brothers should call the National Guard, or the Army, or the Ghostbusters, because things are getting out of hand.

Maddie Jones and the Grave of Robin Hood

When Maddie Jones accidentally blows up her dad’s museum, a mysterious metal box is recovered from the ashes. Inside, letters dating back to the fourteenth-century allude to the grave of Robin Hood and a hidden map revealing the location of a vast treasure. But when the letters fall into the hands of Vince Barrows, a ruthless mercenary with a penchant for artifacts said to grant immortality, Maddie and her younger brothers must race across England to reach Robin Hood first. Throw in a secret sect and a masked archer determined to keep Robin’s grave buried forever, and the Jones siblings are in for a historic ride. Rob from the rich and give to the poor. Pah, better to rob from the dead and keep it for yourself.

Readers are begging for my story!

Monday, I read an excerpt from my story Curse of the Conquistador to 800 kids during my author visit. The story is about three kids trapped in their dad’s museum while they’re being haunted by the ghost of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. I couldn’t read the entire story due to its length. Plus, the story will be published soon in The Syndicate’s Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II on June 1. I ended on a cliffhanger, a good one, too. Now kids are begging to read the story, literally. I keep telling them the story will be out soon. But they want it. Now!

Wow, there is no higher praise. In the past year, my storytelling has changed. I have been emulating my craft after popular young adult authors, and it seems to be paying off. My next novel Medical MECH was written for middle schoolers. And my next book series about a teenaged archeologist (who happens to be the main character in Curse of the Conquistador) will be, too. I believe these stories have a lot of potential to reach a mainstream audience. The challenge is getting them into the right hands–a literary agent who believes in the stories as much as I do. Time will tell how things turn out, but I’m excited about the praise I’ve received thus far.

Eight hundred kids. One author. And one cussing parrot.

Today I spoke to over 800 kids about my books and the process of writing. I had an awesome time, and the kids seemed to enjoy my stories and corny jokes. I began by talking about a cussing parrot (don’t shoot me, I didn’t say a single cuss word). But my tale hooked the kids from the start. From there, I talked about the three elements of great storytelling–character, setting, and plot–and I shared how I was inspired to write my first novel, The Prophet of the Dragon. I also talked about my latest novel, The Hero’s Ballad.

Afterward, I read an excerpt from a story soon-to-be-published called Curse of the Conquistador. The story will appear in The Syndicate’s Adventures in the Arcane, Volume 2. Anyway, I’m excited to announce that the kids were in the palm of my hand as I read the story. To say they loved it would be an understatement. I was even approached afterward by teachers and the principal, who were impressed by how even the at-risk students were enthralled. The librarians said they hadn’t seen a more engaging author visit, which uplifted my spirits. I thoroughly believe I’m on the right track to writing that story, the one agents want to represent and publishers want to buy. It may still be years in the making, but I’ll keep slogging along with the hope that it’s possible.

To end, I autographed books. And that’s probably an author’s favorite part: a copy of your book in a reader’s hand. What a day! I’m exhausted and my voice is nearly gone, but it was worth it. I love talking about stories.