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.

Bummer! Last days of summer vacation, but keep calm and write on.

Back to school

Welp, summer break will officially be over for me Monday. It’s back to school, to teach those kids a thing or two about Civics and History. I enjoy my time in the classroom with my students. I’m looking forward to getting started, but I’m also sad to see the break end. I have enjoyed spending time with my wife and children tremendously. Usually, I’m in a funk for a few days once I start back to work. I will miss my family. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still see them every day, but my time with them will be lessened quite a bit–especially once my doctorate school starts back up at the end of August. Phew, boy. It’s going to get busy, and it will happen quick. Still need to find time to write.

I enjoy a challenge.

The year isn’t over yet. So far, 2017 has seen two book releases from me: The Hero’s Ballad, an anthology of award-winning short stories, and Adventures in the Arcane, Volume IIan anthology comprised of a myriad of authors written in a fun pulp style with arcane elements. Both are great reads, with strong tales filled with adventure, thrills and heart. But guess what. I still have one more book to release before the year is through.

That’s right. Medical MECH will be my second novel, a book written for middle school kids. The story follows thirteen-year-old Riley Davis as he attempts to stop a robot invasion from destroying his town. He discovers that the only way to defeat the machines is with music, and his bass guitar works best. But Riley will need the help of a punk rocker and her gang of misfit musicians if he is to succeed. Can Riley stop the robots before it’s too late?

Find out in September when Medical MECH hits store shelves. So summer is pretty much over, but life keeps moving forward. Although I will be super busy by the end of this month, I plan to keep devoting time to my writing projects. Not only in the form of Medical MECH, but also with the first novel in the Adventures of Maddie Jones series: Maddie Jones & the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors. Plus, I have set a goal for myself to send out my novels to literary agents this fall in order to secure representation.

Busy. Busy. But I believe hard work pays off.

Keep calm and write on

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.