World Building – Indigo-style

by Jordan Dane

My young adult novel, Indigo Awakening, launched two days ago on December 18. It is the first book in the Hunted series with Harlequin Teen. The inspiration behind this book came from researching Indigo children. Query “Indigo Child” on the Internet and you’ll get over 8 million hits. Real life and headlines often inspire my books and this time is no exception. For the purposes of fiction, I took liberties in my portrayal, but Indigo kids are generally described as highly intelligent, gifted teen psychics with a bright “indigo” aura and a mission to save the world. They have high IQs, see angels and commune with the dead. Are Indigo children real or are they manipulated by adults to believe they’re special? Are they dysfunctional misfits or mankind’s evolutionary savior? You decide, but I find the notion of man’s evolution intriguing. Here is the synopsis:

Because of what you are, the Believers will hunt you down.

Voices told Lucas Darby to run. Voices no one else can hear. He’s warned his sister not to look for him, but Rayne refuses to let her troubled brother vanish on the streets of LA. In her desperate search, she meets Gabriel Stewart, a runaway with mysterious powers and far too many secrets. Rayne can’t explain her crazy need to trust the strange yet compelling boy—to touch him—to protect him even though he scares her.

A fanatical church secretly hunts psychic kids—gifted “Indigo” teens feared to be the next evolution of mankind—for reasons only “the Believers” know. Now Rayne’s only hope is Gabe, who is haunted by an awakening power—a force darker than either of them imagine—that could doom them all.

They are our future—if they survive…

Five Key Ways I Built my Indigo World

1.) I triggered my premise with a “What If…” question that had conflict – The most important question in a writer’s arsenal is “what if.” What if Indigo kids are the next evolution and their psychic abilities are evolving and escalating? Who would fear this and feel threatened? I had to have a larger than life villain with a universal reach to terrorize these children. (Yeah, that’s how authors think.)

2.) I created conflict through a powerful enemy – The Church of Spiritual Freedom (specifically, a covert operation of overzealous “Believers”) use their faith as justification to persecute those they fear, believing God is on their side. They fear that Indigos and Crystal children threaten humanity’s existence with their “unnatural” superiority. That’s the basic conflict, a David versus Goliath storyline with an abundance of potentially evocative themes.

3.) I did research to add depth and dimension –I blended my research on Indigo kids with the topic of psychic abilities to create a different kind of world that wouldn’t be formulaic. I wanted the reader to “feel” these powers and how they erupt or evolve within each character. I didn’t want to simply describe traditional psychic capabilities. I wanted readers to understand how these kids feel as their power explodes or how their gifts morph into something far greater after they make contact with the “hive mind.”

4.) I provided a cultural context and hierarchy to my world that added to internal conflict for my characters – There is a hierarchy of Indigo Children/Indigo Warriors/Crystal Child. I made Indigo kids the base level with the status of a Crystal child more unique, powerful, and elite. Indigos are highly intelligent intuitive teens who “feel” their way through life, trust their instincts above all else, and can often see angels and the dead. Some Indigos are warriors with a fierce fighting spirit and a rebellious nature. This difference fuels future conflict between the cultures as Crystal children tend to be more peace loving and innocent. They are our future, if they survive, but what kind of world will they build?

5.) I built in consequences for wielding power – There is a dark side to having these powers—a duty and responsibility—and when the Believers tamper with science and human nature, they battle something they should have respected more. In book #2, Crystal Storm, There are consequences on both sides when power (of any kind) becomes abusive.

1.) If you could have a secret Indigo power, what would that be?

2.) Have you ever experienced a psychic moment or do you know anyone who you think is a real psychic?

“Dane’s first offering in her new series, The Hunted, is sensational. Indigo Awakening has strong characters and a wild and intense story, matched only by the emotions it will generate within you. Readers will love this book and eagerly await the next adventure. Fantastic! A keeper.”

~Romantic Times Book Review Magazine – 4.5 Stars (out of 5)

Is Cutting More Important than Adding?

Today I have a guest post from Sechin Tower, author of Mad Science Institute (MSI), a highly unusual yet thoroughly entertaining young adult suspense novel. I met Sechin on Twitter. Once I saw that he was a game developer, I asked for his help on my next proposal, a near future YA techno thriller that involves gaming and he helped me fine tune my game world. I also downloaded his book and found a real gem. Since he’s a teacher, he incorporates science into the plot to make learning fun for young readers. I absolutely fell in love with his YA voice, his characters and his humor. I’m looking forward to his next book. Below is a summary of Mad Science Institute.

Sophia “Soap” Lazarcheck is a girl genius with a knack for making robots-and for making robots explode. After her talents earn her admission into a secretive university institute, she is swiftly drawn into a conspiracy more than a century in the making. Soap is pitted against murderous thugs, experimental weaponry, lizard monsters, and a nefarious doomsday device that can bring civilization to a sudden and very messy end.

Welcome, Sechin!

I had a professor who insisted that the best way to write a two-page paper was to write a 10 page paper, throw it all away, and then hand in pages 11 and 12. When I tell the same thing to my students, they don’t buy it. I can’t blame them: I didn’t really buy it either, not until I started writing novels.

My professor’s point was that not all pages are created equal. Of course it takes more effort to write 10 or 12 bad pages than two bad pages, and maybe even more than two mediocre pages. But good pages require time and effort, as well as research, experimentation, structuring, restructuring, and a nearly endless amount of general fussing. At the very least, good pages require two steps: adding and cutting.

I teach two discrete groups of students and I’ve found that each needs this advice for different reasons. One of my student groups consists of the crème-de-la-crème of our school’s scholars, students who take the most challenging courses, maintain the highest GPAs, and participate in every extracurricular activity that might sparkle on their college applications. My other group consists of at-risk kids in an alternative school program. Many of these students are extremely intelligent, but for a dizzying array of reasons none of them has had much success in school.

The advanced students always want to build up their writing until it overflows. They do the research, they know the issues, they have the facts, and they want to pile it all in without any thought to purpose or readability. The bigger the better: if the assignment calls for two pages, then they assume 10 ought to get a better grade. If they run out of things to say, they resort to inflated words and ponderous sentences. Their writing often becomes a cluttered, colorless hallway that never leads anywhere.

My alternative high-schoolers, on the other hand, bring a great deal of passion about anything they see as relevant to their lives. They are lively, colorful, and outspoken, but even on their favorite topics their writing is terse. For them, it’s about getting to the point. Why wade through the muck of evidence and logic when you can gallop right to the exciting conclusion? Why bother explaining anything if you feel like you already understand it?

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I built a composite of these two groups when I wrote Mad Science Institute. I started by combining all the drive and technical know-how of the advanced students with the vitality and quirkiness of the alternative school kids. I crammed a lot into each character and just as much into the plot and setting, but in the cutting phase I eliminated everything that failed to accelerate the story or develop the characters. It meant cutting some perfectly good ideas, but that was okay: true to the mad science theme, I knew I could stitch them together and give them a new life whenever I was ready. Right then, all that mattered was pruning back and boiling down until the book became balanced and lean.

Being a teacher helped me write a better novel, and writing a novel helped me become a better teacher. I’m not trying to teach my students to become novelists—I wouldn’t push it on them any more than a P.E. teacher would urge all of his students to aim for NFL careers—but what works for crafting a novel applies to essays, letters, and other forms of writing as well. By the end of each year, I’m gratified to see that those students who tended to add too much have learned to accomplish more with fewer words, and the ones who want to start too small learn that they need to build up before they can trim down.

Despite what some students claim, the art of writing is nothing that can be mastered with a mere 16 or 17 years of practice. If I’m any better at it than a student, it isn’t because of what I’ve written but because of what I’ve un-written. Deleting the thousands of pages of rough drafts and practice novels was the only way I could learn what should stay and what just gets in the way, and by the time my students delete that many pages they’ll be better writers than I am.

It seems to me that what you cut is as important as what you add, but maybe that’s just my process. I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter.

How about it, TKZers? Are you more of a cutter or adder?

Sechin’s website & Twitter

Imagine Being Sixteen & Told You Aren’t Human – Guest C C Hunter

By Jordan Dane

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting C C Hunter years ago before I’d sold my first book. In a Texas term, she’s a real HOOT! Her career always showed promise, but when she stretched into the Young Adult market, she has become a shooting star and I couldn’t be happier. I wanted to share her successful series at THE KILL ZONE with an overview introduction and Q&A.

Another choice BOOK GIVEAWAY for TKZers – C C Hunter will give away BORN AT MIDNIGHT & AWAKE AT DAWN plus swag to two lucky visitors who comment today. Those names will be picked at random & announced on this post. Now here is a summary of the series.

Imagine being sixteen and told you aren’t human?

The Shadow Falls series follows sixteen-year-old Kylie Galen, who, when the story opens, has had a lot of crap tossed in her lap. Her grandmother dies, her parents are getting a divorce, her boyfriend breaks up with her because she wouldn’t put out, and her parents think she’s losing her mind because she’s acquired a stalker that only she can apparently see. When she attends a party with her best friend, and the cops arrive to shut it down because of underage drinking, Kylie finds herself being shipped off to Shadow Falls Camp. Kylie and her parents think it’s a camp for troubled teens.

They thought wrong.

Kylie’s surrounded by vampires, werewolves, fairies, witches and shape-shifters. And if she believes what they tell her, she’s one of them. They’re just not sure exactly how she fits in. And her stalker? Well, he’s just a ghost and he’s come to Kylie for a reason. Apparently, part of Kylie’s powers is being able to communicate with the dead. Not that’s she’s all that happy about it.

As Kylie struggles to cope with the realization that these supernatural beings even exist, and the fact that she might not be human, she’s got two hot guys, a werewolf and a half-fairy, vying for her attention. She cares for them both, but how can Kylie decide between them when she doesn’t know who she is. Or worse, what she is.

Shadow Falls . . . it’s not your average identity crisis.

Q – How is writing for YA different from your adult writing?

CC: That’s an interesting question. My adult books are humorous romantic suspense novels, while my YA series is a paranormal romance. Now the genre itself brings in some differences. For example, the paranormal elements will bring in a bit more of a darker flavor. And when I studied the YA market, I discovered that most YAs resembled Women’s Fiction, when it came to their plotlines. By that, I mean that unlike in a romance, the book isn’t driven solely by the relationship between the heroine and her love interest. It’s a part of the plot and a very important part of the book, but it’s not the sole thing moving the story forward. Most YA novels are “coming of age stories” that blend romance, friendship, family, and self-discovery—a lot of the same things that women’s fiction novels bring to the table. However, other than the genre tweaks, and the blend of subplots, I don’t change anything about my writing voice when I write YA. The things that do change are the characters, their paradigm, and their world. When you look at life, sex, love, family, and friends from the viewpoint of a sixteen–year-old, it will not be the same as that viewpoint of a twenty-seven year old.

Q – Why did you make the switch from adult to YA?

CC: I love to write. I love to tell stories. And I’m having a blast writing YA. However, I’m still writing my humorous romance novels. My story of how I got into writing YA is a little different than some authors. I wasn’t writing or planning on going down this road. One could call it luck, but I think it’s more about synchronicity. I seriously believe that when you are on the right path, when you are following your heart, putting your best effort behind your goals and dreams, and working on your karma points, you will often find surprises along the road. You may find yourself taking a new road that you hadn’t planned on exploring, and yet it feels natural because in some crazy, subconscious way, it was part of the universe’s plan all along.

As for how I ended up on this path . . . I had finaled in a contest years before I had sold and I’d gotten my book in front of an editor at St. Martin’s Press. She liked my writing, but didn’t buy the book. Later, my agent sent this same editor a proposal for a humorous paranormal romance. The editor loved it, but the senior editor didn’t.

However, the editor who loved my voice kept an eye on my career as I started to publish in the romance genre. Then, when they were looking for writers for their new YA program, she contacted my agent and asked if I would be interested in writing a YA. I almost said no, because I didn’t have a clue if my voice would work in the YA market. When I shared my concerns with this editor, she claimed the reason she’d thought of me for this was because of my voice. She said I was a smarta$$ and teens liked that. Who would have guessed that being a smarta$$ would have gotten me somewhere in life? Especially when my mama told me it wouldn’t. LOL.

Q – What trends do you see in YA for authors interested in writing it?

CC: Trends? Okay, I hear the paranormal YA market is getting pretty crowded. I also heard that suspense YA is on the rise. Now, saying that, let me tell you my thoughts on trends. I will never tell people to ignore the trends, because I think we need to be aware of them. However, I think following a trend when it’s not your cup of tea is a big mistake. I think the most important thing you can do when plotting a book is to find a theme that is the most relatable to your audience. Some call it a universal emotion. Find a theme that will resonate to the largest audience possible. For example, one of my bigger themes in the Shadow Falls series is on identity crisis.

Q – Is there a difference between YA readers vs adult readers?

CC: I think a good story is a good story. And readers of all ages are looking for the same thing: A story that is hard to put down with characters they can care about. When I went to plot my Shadow Falls series, I knew right off the bat that I wanted a story that was relatable to both teens and adults alike. I had seen how the Twilight series had been embraced by both teens and adults, and I wanted to accomplish this myself. So what I concluded was that I needed a universal theme that would appeal to young and old alike. And I felt the theme of an identity crisis is one we all face as we move in and out of different stages of our lives.

As for the differences I see in how YA readers and adult readers relate to authors… Well, I do probably get more fan mail from teens. This is so much fun, because I love hearing from readers. However, it does take quite a bit of time responding to those emails. I also find that having an Internet presence is more important because teens spend so much time online.

When I first started writing Born at Midnight, I thought the books were going to be shorter than my single title romances. And before I really started writing, I sort of thought they would somehow be less complicated to write. Boy howdy, was I wrong. As the story started to come alive, I realized I had so many secondary characters and each character had a story to tell. I was grateful that my editor really allowed me to build the series the way I wanted to build it. To create and weave in the sub-plots that would involve all the things that my adult books have: humor, mystery, suspense, and romance.

That’s our guest spot for today. Ask C C questions, she’ll be checking in. Thanks for being our guest today, C C, and for the generous offer for swag and free books. Love ya, gal!

CONGRATULATIONS TO WINNERS – Paula Millhouse & Sarah Evans. The signed books have been shipped. Thanks, CC!

NOVA Exposes the Mystery of Plotting

Yesterday I was celebrating the release of my first Young Adult book – In the Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen) – with my niece who helped me brainstorm some of the details. We had sushi which is our “thing” and Joe Moore’s post on fish yesterday probably had something to do with that decision. We also brainstormed on a new YA paranormal series proposal I was fine tuning. Joe’s topic of beta readers got me thinking about how I come up with plots and sometimes seek help to brainstorm certain aspects, once I get a general idea of what I’d like to do.

For my adult books, many have been inspired by news headlines combined with other ongoing research I do into crime fiction. But for my YA books that often enter into the realm of “Whoo Whoo” territory with ghosts, demons, and other spooky stuff, I have been amazed how my mind works to gather a plot I want to write. (Now I know this is primarily a blog for crime fiction readers and authors, but the process of finding that initial spark of an idea that turns into a full blown plot is still similar for me when I write my adult thrillers, so bear with me.)

So what do the following things have in common?

• A NOVA Science show on venomous snakes and spiders
• Elizabeth Blackburn, Nobel Prize winning Molecular Biologist, who studies the telomere of chromosomes
• Black bears in Asia being hunted for their gall bladders
• A NOVA Science show on “Decoding Immortality”
• Hopi Indians

THE ANSWER: Absolutely nothing.

That’s what is so strange about how my mind worked to put these things together to make the plot of my next proposal. The minute I saw the start of the program on venom and snakes, my main teen boy character popped into my head. I’d also seen CNN coverage on the hunted and exploited black bears in Asia more than once and it didn’t stick (other than how sad that story was) until I realized how it related to the boy in my series, a boy who lives with a Hopi clan. Then a new disease that I’d never heard of before was mentioned in the Decoding Immortality program and that leapt into my plot too, dovetailing into Elizabeth Blackburn’s studies on telomeres and longevity that I had seen not long ago. And before I knew it, I was feverishly jotting down notes and had almost all three books in my proposed series mapped out. (I wish I could be more forthcoming with specifics, but since this is a new proposal, I’m being purposefully vague. I hope you get the idea.)

YA books have made me focus on my process for plotting, since the realm of paranormal weirdness doesn’t come naturally for me—although my mother would disagree. But the way I’ve worked the last two book concepts, I let my mind work on the pieces until something clicks and I begin taking notes. Sometimes the note taking is important for me to visually see it on paper before I can pull the parts together in a cohesive plot. I still have to write the book and make it all seem plausible and real for the characters, but the way my mind has been stretched writing YA has made me wonder if this process of weaving strange unconnected tidbits together into a story will spill over into my adult books. Not the paranormal aspects. I’m mainly talking about the way I now connect the dots between my obscure (seemingly unconnected) research and a compelling story.

But I’d like to know what triggers a story in your mind? What usually inspires you? And what are some of the strangest things that made you think of a book plot?

Jordan Dane

In the Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen, Mar 22, 2011)
Reckoning for the Dead (Avon/HarperCollins, Oct 2011)

Book Trailers and Our Visual Society

I got a Droid phone for Christmas and went from practically the Stone Age into a vision of an amazing future. I can scan barcodes and shop for the best price in town, use my GPS to find the latest trendy restaurant available by voice command, and even read books off my phone using a kindle download app for free. But the reason I’m blogging about my phone and the latest book trailer I had made for my first Young Adult book – In the Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen, Apr 2011) – is a cool app that I want to share with you.

A QR code looks like a Rorschach test. It is square and you may have seen them on pages of magazines, on signs, busses, business cards, etc. It works like a barcode and can be scanned like the stores ID their inventory at cash registers, but this code can be made by ANYONE using the hyperlink I posted above. It can be scanned via smart phone, like the Droid, with the right reader app. You can insert a secret message in text, insert contact information, or it can make a connection to a wireless network or link to a web page that opens on the phone’s browser. You can make the QR image play the part of a secret code made available only to winners in a contest or the code can direct a reader to your latest book trailer. Instant gratification for our visual society and a cool app toy!

This QR Code can be downloaded into a jpeg file that can be printed onto your latest bookmarks or made into stickers, whatever floats your boat. Anyone with a smart phone and a QR Code scanner can read your message. And in one swipe off your bookmark (or any other promotional material), a reader can be looking at your trailer in an instant. How cool is that?!

My contact at “Trailer to the Stars,” Misty Taggert, gave me the heads up on this app. It’s hard to quantify if book trailers actually sell books, but I sure love making them. And using a professional company like Misty and crew really made this effortless for me. I’m on deadline and they made the collaboration easy and simple, for my part. For them, not so much. I’ve done trailers myself before. It takes time and way more skill than I possess to do a trailer like this.

It’s hard enough to encapsulate your story into a short film of a minute and a half. But add a script, voice over talent, production music and action videos that fit, and movie animation effects for mood, and the process can get very complicated. And way above my paygrade.

For Discussion:
1.) What do you think of book trailers as a promotional tool? I was particularly interested in doing a trailer for YA. My target age for this book is 13-18 years old. And since Amazon and Barnes & Noble host trailers on an author’s book page, it’s great to have the opportunity to post a trailer at the point of sale.

2.) Have a great phone app to share? If you have a new phone and a great app to share, I’d love to hear about it. Hearing about new technology really stirs the creativity in me when I think of writing new books. Imagine an app that gives you Bluetooth capability, but also sends subliminal and subversive messages to your brain. Or picture an app that protects and backs up the contacts on your phone, in case it’s lost or stolen, but all the information for loved ones and friends (addresses, photos, phone numbers) make them a target for a dangerous predator unless you do exactly as they say. No one is safe. Anything can turn into a conspiracy with the right dose of paranoia.

3.) Want someone to indulge you? Hmmmmm, Basil? If you’re like the always inventive Basil Sands, you may want someone to invent an app just for YOU. What kind of phone app would that be?