Start in the Middle

Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 in Blog

A young aspiring writer just emailed me about my work and asked for some writing advice. When I told him to set up a schedule and write something every day, he said he had trouble with beginnings. I get asked a fair amount for my advice for new writers. There’s plenty to talk about, but this is a big one. For the trouble with beginnings, I’ve got one thing to say: start in the middle. I’m far from the first one to harp on this, but it’s excellent advice. When you’re just beginning your career you have the tendency to want to set up your story, to get the reader to understand exactly what’s happening first before you get to the real action. If you do that, great–you can use it as background to keep yourself on track when you toss it. Because the best way to start is right in the middle of things. If your story is really about a bad accident that changes someone’s life, don’t start with your protagonist getting up in the morning and describe all the interactions and processes that led to the car accident–start with the accident and show what happened as a result. Put your character in immediate danger, create some tension, move the plot forward. I use a similar approach when I write myself into a corner. I can usually tell when a plot isn’t working because I don’t want to play with the story anymore–and if I’m bored, so is the reader. That’s a great time to pull what was described so well by Raymond Chandler: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” In other words, do something unexpected, take the story in a new direction, introduce some tension. Use action to drive your story forward. This young writer also said he had trouble sticking with a project, and that’s a common thing too. But if you follow the first part–start in the middle, introduce a new direction and fresh action when things start to bog down–you’ll likely have an easier time keeping up the regular writing schedule. Because you’ll be intrigued too, just like a reader will be. You’ll want to find out what happens next. Isn’t that why we all love to read in that first...

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Allen Hires AI Expert to Lead New Institute

Posted by on Sep 9, 2013 in Blog

This week brings the news that billionaire Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, has formed a new organization focused on artificial intelligence research: The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, based in Seattle. Most people probably find this innocent enough, if they notice it at all. But to me, it’s deeply unsettling. Google has an AI think tank, as does the government. There are many more out there. All the talk is about the wonderful possibilities of a future filled with helpful AIs. Having just read James Barrat’s excellent nonfiction book OUR FINAL INVENTION, and with the research for my new thriller DAY ONE still fresh in my memory, I’m wondering if anyone is thinking about the dangers involved. What kind of safeguards are going to be put in place? Is it even possible to protect humanity against an artificial intelligence that decides we are a threat to it–an AI that learns on its own, that has the capability of becoming far smarter than we are? Researchers might try to make the preservation of human life part of its core programming. But what good does that do to inhibit a thinking machine capable of altering itself in whatever ways it sees fit? You might think this is all just science fiction. Believe me, it’s not. As Barrat argues quite convincingly, we need to act now, before it’s too late. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. Even a super AI that doesn’t actively hate us may decide we’re better off as organic building blocks than our present state–after all (and I’m paraphrasing Barrat here), we humans don’t hate lab mice, but we experiment on them because it suits our own needs, and we don’t think twice about it. What happens when we become the mice?...

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Book Launch at Newtonville Books

Posted by on Aug 20, 2013 in Blog

Book Launch at Newtonville Books

These days it’s more important than ever to support your local indie bookstore. They can be amazing resources for readers, helping hand sell titles that otherwise might not get the attention they deserve. They can also really go the extra mile for authors. I was reminded of this when Newtonville Books owner Jaime Clark reached out to me to ask about doing a book launch party at their store for DAY ONE. I’d been meaning to stop by the store to talk about an event, but Jaime beat me to the punch. He could not have been nicer or more enthusiastic. We settled on October 1 (release date), and he let me know the typical set up, what was allowed for food and drink (pretty much anything), and what formats had tended to be most successful. Newtonville Books is well known for their author events–although I’ve never held one there, I can see why. The owners are true book lovers, the location is fantastic, and the venue, in their relatively new digs, is spacious and nicely set up. So if you live anywhere near Newton, MA, drop by and say hello on October 1 at 7 pm. I’ll read a scene or two and talk about writing. I’m looking forward to it–hope you are too. Newtonville Books...

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Quantum Computing: the Future of AI?

Posted by on Aug 20, 2013 in Blog

I spent a while researching quantum computing for my novel DAY ONE. It’s a topic that can quickly make your head feel like it’s about to explode, but there are some basic concepts that are either inspiring or terrifying, depending upon your point of view. The idea of machine learning is a powerful one, and most scientists agree that sooner or later we will invent an artificial intelligence capable of learning on its own. But opinions vary in how we will get there. Quantum computing allows for a much more powerful approach than the traditional way of handling code and crunching numbers. Think of it as a multi-dimensional approach, rather than simply linear–if you’re creating an image and all you can use is a line, it’s a pretty limited drawing. But if you can build a model out of clay, suddenly you have more options. This article in Nature does a pretty decent job explaining some new research into how, and why, quantum computing might be the future of AI: Quantum Boost for Artificial Intelligence. But as James Barrett wrote in his excellent upcoming book called Our Final Invention (St. Martins, Oct. 1), we might not like what we create or how it decides to treat us–and by then, it may well be too...

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