Category: Blog (Page 1 of 4)

THE ORPHEUS PLOT launch party

To celebrate the release of my second book, THE ORPHEUS PLOT, we’re having a party on the observation deck of Chabot Science Center in Oakland on June 20th. And once the sun sets, Chabot’s astronomers will help you use their telescopes to see stars, planets, and maybe even asteroids. (If you notice any interplanetary rebellions in progress, please let us know).

Big thanks to my not-an-event-coordinator-but-still-really-awesome-at-coordinating-events friend Lisa Willcott and her lovely and talented assistant Kendra Vara for setting all of this up!

If you’re interested in attending, email me at and let me know that you either a) are not a space alien or b) are a space alien but come in peace.

from the hey-we-could-use-more-space-aliens dept.


I’m excited (and way behind) to announce the cover for THE ORPHEUS PLOT, which is coming out from HarperCollins this June. The cover by Antonio Javier Caparo is fantastic–one of the fun things about publishing is seeing people like Antonio and the Harper team put together amazing things like this. I love the faces of the three kids and the backdrop of the Bazaar on Vesta.

Who are the kids? What’s the Bazaar? Well, I guess you’ll have to read it to find out. Goodreads has an ARC giveaway if you’re feeling lucky. Otherwise you’ll have to wait till June.

(Don’t worry, Mom–I have an ARC I’ll send you)

from the Vestan-Council-for-Space-Tourism dept

IN THE RED on the Cybils shortlist!

I am thrilled to be on the shortlist for the 2020 Cybils awards in the middle-grade speculative fiction category! The Cybils are run by a great group of bloggers and reviewers, and I look forward to their picks every year. Check out the full list here . And purchasing a copy through their affiliate links at Amazon or IndieBound is a great way to support the Cybils going forward.

My favorite fan letter ever

Posting here because William Nevels, Esq. is pretty awesome. It’s a complete coincidence that in this particular case his awesomeness involved telling me how much he loved something I did.

Dear Chris,

I have finished reading your book, and I loved it! The story was a combination of thrill, survival, and a bit of mystery. I love how you made Michael this character who’s conflicted and doesn’t believe he can overcome this fear of the planet surface. It must be very hard to fail in front of people who have high expectations of what he should be capable of doing. 

He has this friend who has some feelings for him and he doesn’t even know that she does. They sneak out together trying to prove everyone wrong but end up dooming themselves. I like how you gave a sense that there was no way they were going to survive. You made it clear that there was no way they could possibly survive out there.

One of the things I thought you should maybe change is the death of Randall. He was an important character; he was an inspiring character that helped Michael and Lilith survive. The death of him was just, not right. I felt he should be thought to be dead, but then, in the end, he should come back out of the rubble and help them find their way back. That is just my opinion of that, and you don’t need to take my word for it.

Your book was incredible and I hope to see a sequel soon!


William Nevels

How to get signed copies of IN THE RED

Since the coronavirus has canceled my plans for a book launch event for IN THE RED, I’m teaming up with Florey’s Books in Pacifica to sell signed copies! Sure, sure, you can get regular old unsigned copies from your neighborhood internet megasite, but these are SIGNED. By me, even! If you want a personal inscription, we can do that too, just let them know.

Not only is this a great way to get copies of IN THE RED, it’s a fantastic way to support Pacifica’s only indie bookstore.

To place an order, call (650) 355-8811 or email And see for more information on Florey’s.

Why do you write?

Writing a novel isn’t an especially easy task. It takes a long time before you can see any kind of tangible results. For most people, a new draft will take anywhere from multiple months to multiple years. That first draft is going to be rough, both in the sense of “difficult going” and “unpolished,” and it will probably take multiple drafts before it’s even ready for someone else to read. And even if you spend enough time learning your craft to be able to publish a novel, the chances are slim that you’ll be able to make enough money to be a full-time writer, meaning you’ll probably be doing all of this as something between a hobby and a second job.

So why do you do it? Most likely it comes down to a pretty simple answer: because you’re happier when you write. You’re more satisfied and more fulfilled when you write. It’s something that you don’t want to let go of, despite the time and effort and sacrifice.

To be clear—there’s a big difference between “writing makes you happy” and “the act of writing is always enjoyable.” Sometimes producing a few hundred words will feel like performing a self-appendectomy without anesthesia. Sometimes it’s enormously frustrating, and sometimes you’ll feel like giving up entirely. But there’s a satisfaction that comes from the discipline of writing. Almost no matter how hard it was, you’ll feel better for the rest of the day. You’ll know that you’ve moved a little further toward finishing your current project. Hopefully, even if it was difficult, you’ll feel proud of what you did that day, and you’ll look forward to the next day when you’ll write again. 

When your friends and family see you struggling, they may wonder why you keep doing it. You might be able to explain it to them by comparing writing with exercise. The act of exercising itself may be anywhere from enjoyable to miserable, but you feel better overall when you do it. Both writing and exercise take discipline and commitment, and the tangible benefits for both take a long time to materialize.

Comparing writing to exercise doesn’t make it sound very appealing, does it? It’s not quite as forced as it sounds. There are lots of parts of writing that you probably really do enjoy. Maybe it’s the beauty of the language or the back-and-forth of believable dialogue. Maybe it’s the process of sculpting a story into the shape that you want. Or maybe you love it when you get to a scene where the characters and their emotions are so clear that they clamor to get out of your head and onto the page.

But there are days when none of this will happen. There are days when you’ll sit down at your desk and stare at the monitor and wish you were doing anything else but writing. There are days when you’ll struggle through just a few hundred words—or worse, when you’ll delete a few thousand words because a scene isn’t working. On those days, the only reason to keep going is because you’ve made a commitment to yourself. If you only wrote when you really felt like writing, you wouldn’t ever finish a single draft.

There’s a big reason that’s missing from this list, which is the dream of being a successful author. That’s not to say that you don’t want to be successful. But if that were your only reason, you would have given up a long time ago. If you’re going to spend countless hours writing and learning and writing again, it’s going to be because it adds something to your life that you can’t get anywhere else.

from the hidden questions dept


Hey! So my first book, IN THE RED, is coming out March 24, 2020, from HarperCollins. Working with Chris, Sarah, and Tara from Harper, as well as my wonderful agent Bridget Smith, has been a great experience.

I’m thrilled at the awesome cover that Harper has put together for IN THE RED! Now all I have to do is wait 18,921,600 seconds for it to be on bookshelves.



Mars in the twenty-second century

Sometime soon, the first astronauts will set foot on Mars. Within our lifetimes, men and women will be living there full-time, and by the end of this century, the first children will be growing up on Mars. As much as possible, I’ve tried to be accurate about what life on Mars might someday be like. Human technology is always full of surprises—science fiction of the last century imagined flying cars, but instead we have computers in our pockets. Someday, all the dangers of Mars will be conquered. But for many, many years, life there will be extremely dangerous.

The Martian atmosphere, which is not only poisonous but colder than Antarctica and many times thinner than the top of Mount Everest, will always be a threat for colonists. In theory, environment suits might have air filters that could convert the carbon dioxide of the atmosphere into breathable oxygen. Unfortunately, it will be a long time before anything like these air filters will be practical enough for everyday use. For a long time to come, Martian colonists will be wearing bulky suits and carrying around oxygen tanks on their backs whenever they go out onto the surface. Someday, though, suit technology will reach the point where even children can wear them safely, and going out on the surface will be no more dangerous than riding in a car today.

Mars doesn’t have a molten core at its center, like Earth, and so doesn’t have a magnetic field. This means compasses won’t work on Mars, but much more importantly, it means solar radiation will be an ever-present danger. Earth’s magnetic field helps redirect charged particles from the Sun away from the surface, and our thicker atmosphere absorbs a lot of the particles that slip through. A person living on the surface of Mars would be exposed to at least ten times the average dose of radiation that a person living on Earth receives. Worse, solar flares and coronal mass ejections from the Sun, which go almost unnoticed on Earth, would be deadly for anyone living on Mars. The first colonies will probably be built underground to protect their inhabitants from radiation. Eventually super-strong transparent domes might cover entire cities, and an artificially-generated magnetic field might protect the entire planet from radiation.

Some of the greatest challenges, however, may be psychological. Panic disorder is a real condition, and anxiety will surely travel with us to Mars. Early colonies will be small and claustrophobic, and colonists there will be cut off from the rest of humanity by a gap of fifty million miles. But, like the millions of people on Earth today who suffer from anxiety attacks, humans on Mars will manage their fears and find ways go about their daily lives. We are a resourceful and adaptable species, and in the end we always find ways to expand what is possible, rather than letting ourselves be defined by our limitations.

Nobody knows yet who will be the first person to walk on Mars, or when that historic day will come. We don’t know exactly what life on Mars will be like. But we can imagine, and we can dream, and we can look forward to the day in the not-too-distant-future when we will watch those first steps on our televisions and cell phones.

And who knows? Maybe you will be that first person. Maybe you will be the one who steps out onto the dusty surface of our sister planet, looks up at the pale blue dot of Earth, and sends back those first words.

We made it.

from the after-after-word dept

Believable Me

Think back to the last few movies you’ve seen and enjoyed. How many times have you heard someones say, while walking out of the theater, something like this?

That was a really good movie. It was a little unbelievable that $CHARACTER did $THING, but still, I really enjoyed it.

Or think back to some of your all-time favorite blockbusters. How many of them have plots that you could poke little holes in, if you really tried?

Hint: the answer is all of them.

How many of those plot holes ruined the movie for you, or even made a noticeable impact on how much you enjoyed it?

Probably none of them.

By believability I don’t mean realism. Lots of stories have magic or advanced technology that is completely unrealistic. But as long as the world of the story is internally consistent and makes sense to the reader, it’s believable.

And believability is important! If the reader or audience stops and thinks “wow, what’s happening here doesn’t make sense,” then you’ve obviously made a mistake. If you can, then by all means, make your plots, explanations, and world-building completely airtight. The problem is that often fixing believability comes at a cost that isn’t worth the benefit.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, those who sacrifice essential momentum for a little temporary believability deserve neither momentum nor believability.

Imagine you’re writing a story where the protagonist is trying to avenge their dead father by pursuing Big Crime Boss. The police have picked up the main character, and the police chief questions them. After a brief, heartfelt conversation, the police chief lets the protagonist go.

How believable is this? Not very. The job of a police chief is to catch people who break the law and hold them for trial, not to make decisions about an individual’s higher moral purpose.

But how important is the lack of believability? The answer is it depends. If you’re writing a story that revolves heavily around the details of law enforcement, then it could matter a lot. If the police chief is a major character, then it definitely matters a lot. But if this scene is just a brief pivot into the climax of the story, and the police chief is a minor character, then maybe it doesn’t matter much at all. Maybe the reader doesn’t really care, and only wants to see the story keep accelerating toward the confrontation with the bad guy. Maybe they intuitively understand that this is how the story needs to be, and that complete, airtight believability just isn’t very important to them.

And what about the cost of the fix? If all it takes to improve this scene is to add a couple of lines of dialogue, then it’s probably worthwhile. But what if it takes a massive rejiggering of your story? What if changing a motivation to fix your problem results in more problems in other parts of the story?

The danger we can get into as writers is to think that there’s some perfect version of our story that fixes every problem that anyone might possibly perceive. We can tinker endlessly, trying to tune every tiny bit until there’s no chance for the reader to complain. And in the process, sometimes we end up with a story that feels overly complicated. Or mind-numbingly slow. Or just plain boring. We lose our story’s momentum.

Sometimes, the right thing to do with a believability problem is just to zoom right past it. A good story catches the reader up in a flood of anticipation and excitement that can easily withstand a tiny bit of unbelievability. That momentum, whether it’s internal or external, plot-oriented or emotional, is the key you’re looking for. It’s the reason why you didn’t care about the silly little believability holes in your favorite movies. Focus on maintaining that momentum, not on tiny bumps and potholes in your plot.

One last note: there’s a big difference between deciding that you’re not going to tinker with a tiny problem where the fix will hurt the story overall and deciding that you’re not going to fix a real issue just because it’s hard. Sometimes the right fix for a real problem means upending lots of other parts of your story. That’s one of the most frustrating things about writing. But it’s not the difficulty of the fix that should be the deciding factor, but rather what makes the story better. Let that guide you, and you’ll always be going in the right direction.


from the tinkerer-tailorer-soldierer-spier dept

Why exactly does a reader finish a story?

It’s hard to know what reasons will make a Reader pick up a book. And unless you’re stalking the shelves of your local bookstore, ready to point out to anyone who wanders by that $YOUR_AWESOME_NOVEL is worth checking out, none of those reasons are directly under your control. Getting a reader to pick up a book is the realm of the mysterious Marketer, a place of dragons and spreadsheets where few Authors ever dare to go.

But once a person does pick up your book…and flips to page one…and starts to read? That is something that you, the heroic Author, can control. A reader will keep reading an interesting book, and they’ll put down a boring one. It doesn’t matter what other awesome qualities your novel has—if the reader doesn’t want to finish it, nothing else matters.

Different types of readers want different things out of reading. Someone picking up a romance novel will have different goals and expectations than someone picking up a mystery or thriller. In some genres, you have to hook them with the first sentence; in other cases, you’re free to build up your hook at a more leisurely pace. But there is always a basic hierarchy of three reasons why a reader keeps going with a story. Out of a sense of deranged grandeur, I’m going to call these three reasons the Reader’s Taxonomy of Interest.

They want to know what happens

The first level on the Taxonomy is simply wanting to know how the story plays out. This is the most basic and obvious reason for wanting to finish a novel, but it’s also by far the weakest. This isn’t the same thing as caring about what happens; this is just “I want to find out what the ending is.”

Imagine going up to a reader holding a novel and offering to tell them the ending. They say, sure. You tell them the alien werewolf vampires are foiled in their plot to take over the world because Earth garlic contains a deadly bacteria. They say thanks, and then they set the book down and never open it again.

All they wanted to do was know the ending. They were curious, but they didn’t care. Did the rogue leader of the alien werewolf vampires reconcile his conflict between his world-taking-over comrades and his love for a beautiful Scottish soccer mom? Yes? No? Tell me, I just want to know.

This level of the Taxonomy is purely intellectual. It’s driven by curiosity, not desire. A reader at this level isn’t engaged emotionally. No reason for finishing a story is a ‘bad’ reason, and certainly getting the reader interesting in knowing the ending is better than not getting them interested. But when knowing the ending is the only hook your story has on them, its hold is tenuous at best. They can easily become distracted or decide that it’s not worth their time to finish it. They might flip to the ending, ask a friend, or even just Google the plot.

If you want to hook a reader so that they’re compelled to finish your story, you need to move them up to the higher levels of the Taxonomy.

They want to see what happens

Level Two on the Taxonomy is wanting to see what happens. A reader who wants to experience your story is immersed in your world. They simply like being there. If you were to make that same offer to tell this reader what happens at the end of the story, they’d consider for a moment, then shake their head and say nah, I’d like to see it for myself. Your story has become an experience, instead of just a sequence of events.

Whereas Level One (wanting to know what happens) is mainly a result of the plot, Level Two is about the story’s world. When a reader feels like the world of a story is real, you’ve hooked them at a deeper level, regardless of whether that world is a mining town in West Virginia or a planet populated by intelligent octopi. Good description and world-building transport a reader to a different place, and when that happens they’ll be reluctant to transport themselves back to the real world.

Still, just because a reader feels immersed in a setting doesn’t mean they care a whole lot about what happens there. Some plot arcs are obvious: the hero will get the girl and slay the dragon. The reader knows what will happen, and they want to witness it. I once read a book where the main character had been deceived by the person she thought was her father. I read a good hundred pages just because I wanted to see the part where she found out that he was really the bad guy. And then as soon as I finished that part, I put the book down and didn’t finish it, because I didn’t really care what happened to her.

Wanting to see how your story resolves is better than just wanting to know, but it’s still a tenuous hook. If you want to get your reader completely hooked on your story, you have to get them to the next level.

They care about what happens

Now we’re at the top level of the Taxonomy. When someone cares about what happens, they’re really hooked. They want the bad guy to be defeated. They want the heroine to get the guy. Their heart is pumping, their palms are sweaty. They’re turning pages so fast they’re getting paper cuts.

If Level One is about plot and Level Two is about world, Level Three is about characters. Your characters are the only thing that readers actually care about. Nobody wants a a plot to resolve in a particular way just for the sake of it. They want something—good or bad—to happen to the characters. If the hero failed in his quest, the reader would be saddened. If the heroine never found out the real reason why her friend betrayed her, a wrong would not be righted. The reader who cares about what happens is like a cheerleader screaming from the sidelines. Rah, rah, sis-boom-bah, make sure Molly finds her Ma. And what they’re cheering for isn’t the plot, or the world—they’re cheering for characters.

If you’ve read anything about storytelling, you’ve read that conflict is essential. But why is it that a reader needs conflict? I think the reason is because without conflict, there’s nothing to care about. A story with conflict sets up a situation which is ‘bad’ and promises to make it ‘good.’ We care about a young boy living in a cupboard under a staircase because we want him to become a wizard. We care about a boy who has just found an extra-terrestrial in a shed because we want to see him develop a ‘human’ connection. All of these wants revolve around the conflict of characters.

Of course, just because the reader wants a particular thing doesn’t mean you always have to give it to them exactly as they want it. In fact, it’s almost always better to surprise them in some way. They may want the boy with the laser sword and his mentor to defeat the bad guy in the black mask. But instead of giving them exactly what they want, you might twist it so that the bad guy kills the mentor. Twisting expectations is a great way to keep a story fresh, but there’s a caveat—you’re always still giving the reader the core of what they want. Nobody wants to read a story where the bad guy not only kills the boy’s mentor, but the boy, his scoundrel friend, two robots, and a princess as well.

Any good story hits all three of the levels of this Taxonomy, and usually the author does it subconsciously. Experienced writers know that stories need conflict and characters that the reader will care about. But for those of us who are still learning their craft, it can be helpful to separate out the different reasons why a reader would get hooked on your novel.

So once you’ve finished a draft or two, re-read your story and ask yourself these questions: Have you given the reader any reason to want to know what happens? Have you given them a reason to want to see it? And have you given them reasons to care?

from the analyze-evaluate-create dept.

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