The Hardwired Trilogy Book 1
by DeAnna Browne Genre: YA SciFi
When virtual reality surpasses people’s wildest dreams, many struggle to remain in the real world. Sixteen-year-old Ari has watched the financial and emotional cost of virtual reality addiction for years as her father continues barely existing in a VR coma. Unfortunately, her only option to help her family escape poverty is if she studies the one subject she hates and fears: virtual reality programming.
Despite her misgivings, Ari soon develops a rare talent that makes her question everything. Now she must hide her ability or risk becoming a priceless commodity that governments and corporations will fight, steal or even kill to possess. As officials tighten the shackles surrounding Ari, she rebels against her imposed future and searches for a way to save those she loves. Yet, running proves impossible, when the government is always one click away.
This isn’t real.
Ari stood on a nearby hill above the familiar carnival with her brother, Marco. Rides spun endlessly in the distance, and neon lights flashed, illuminating the dark night. It stole her back to a time when the world was a different place, a place full of laughter. An uneasy sensation crawled along Ari’s skin as she thought of her body tucked back in reality with wires streaming from the port in her neck.
“Remember how you puked on the Spinning Hammers?” A wide smile lit up Marco’s face. Marco and Ari both took after their mother with their tanned skin, dark wavy hair, and chocolate eyes. Except for the smile—Marco wore their father’s smile.
She couldn’t figure out how her brother always appeared so put together, in and out of the virtual realm. Ari wore a flannel shirt and beat up jeans, and not on purpose. The VR program let people change their clothes, but Ari never stuck around long enough to bother with fashion.
She turned back to the carnival, the rides antiquated and shedding their paint even in this computerized replica. The carnival had come around every spring when they were little. People lined up all day and night for rides, an event so popular someone made it into a VR.
“Please, Marco, I feel like I’m about to lose it.” She dug her nails deep into her palms and welcomed the pain as it grounded her in reality.
“What? You don’t like it?” Marco acted surprised. “I had to ask them to dig into their storage to find this virtual for you. Come on.”
Marco grabbed Ari’s hand and pulled her down the hill towards the rides. The cool night air brushed against her face as they raced down the grassy path, and she fought to keep her fear from bubbling over. She had never lasted more than two minutes in one of these programs, but today she needed to. Her future depended on it. Assignments for their continued education were coming soon, and if she couldn’t pass the VR simulation, she might as well sign up for a life of kitchen duty.
Her breath came in rapid pants as they reached the entrance. A disfigured clown face with exaggerated eyes and teeth welcomed them, his mechanical voice scratchy. Her throat tightened as she tried to breathe. She panicked at the idea of being stuck here forever, trapped in this virtual world, spiraling into a VR coma like her father. The government limited the hours kids could be inside a VR, but people, young and old, still slipped, which left their family paying the bill in hopes they would return.
The clown image frizzed momentarily into a dark void with specks of light replacing the creepy face. “Marco, what’s going on?” She pointed at the distorted image. There had to be some sort of glitch.
Marco glanced at the clown. “What are you talking about, Ariana?” He tugged on her arm. “Snap out of it. I told Mom we would have fun.” He yanked her toward the Tilt-a-Whirl.
An elderly man worked the empty ride, or so her brain told her. He wore a plain blue uniform and a smile that was a touch bigger than necessary. Holding the gate open, he welcomed them inside.
The virtual showed its age as the computerized character blinked constantly and tilted his head every three seconds like clockwork, but they couldn’t afford anything more sophisticated. Ari wasn’t sure if it was the uncomfortable memory of wires hooked into her unconscious body or this man’s creepy behavior that made her want to run away.
She froze with fear at the gate. “I can’t do this.”
“Yes, you can.” Marco’s dark eyes locked onto her with a firmness that didn’t suit him. “You don’t have a choice. Get used to VRs or get used to cleaning toilets while Mom tries to marry you off. Is that what you want?”
Normally she would have smacked her older brother for talking like that, but the truth hit its mark. Biting her lip, she stepped toward the small compartment built for two. Marco climbed in and slid across the faded blue vinyl bench. She squeezed in beside him and fastened the thick black strap.
“I thought you loved being here. I always did.”
Every spring, her father would empty the jar of coins on top of the fridge and treat Ari and Marco to a fun day at the carnival. They would fill up on fried bread and cheese curls, watching the night descend into a blur of neon lights. But, unlike her brother, this reminded Ari of what they didn’t have anymore: a father and a jar full of savings. In a VR coma, their dad was more dead than alive, and the chipped jar now sat empty on top of a rundown fridge.
Chest tightening, she pushed back the memories. “I’m sorry. I can’t, Marco. I gotta go.” She clawed at the thick black safety belt as the ride surged forward.
“Are you really going to waste Mom’s money? You know this is your last chance before your tests.” If he saw the fear in her eyes, he ignored it. “Whatever. Go. I’m staying and getting my money’s worth.” She bit her lip and faced forward, holding back her rising hysteria. The cart picked up speed and pushed her against Marco, who screamed in delight, arms raised high in the air. She wanted this so badly, wanted to let go of reality, to let go of the gnawing sensation in the back of her neck. As the cart continued to spin, Ari closed her eyes, hoping to endure. By the time her cart approached the aged man a second time, she was gone.
Her eyes opened to a water-stained ceiling. The stench of old cigarettes and filthy bodies welcomed her back to reality. She strained to turn her head. Her neck pinched from the cords in her port. Disgust tasted sour as she clawed the base of her neck, pulling at the thick cable.
“Hey, girlie. You’re going to tear your port, and I don’t have the stuff to fix it.” A man’s thick hands turned the cable until a click sounded, and then he gently pulled the wires out. She wanted to scratch at the insertion site, to tear away the mechanical feeling that lingered inside of her. Instead she undid her ponytail and covered the port site with hair, smoothing it down.
Her brother lay next to her in a reclined chair, a smile pasted on his handsome face. His wavy, thick hair, often kept short, curled around his temple. He always appeared more innocent while unconscious. Glad to see he’s enjoying himself. She pushed back the bitterness boiling inside. He had been trying to help.
The large man, covered in old tattoos and smelling of yesterday’s beer, winked at her. Revulsion rolled around in her gut. Before he could speak, she rushed out of the room. She detested this shop as much as the virtuals themselves. The VR center stood only a few blocks from her house, a permanent fixture in her rundown neighborhood.
Ari hurried through the metal doors, squinting as she welcomed the sun. The real sun.
“Missy, want to catch a trip with a real guy?”
A withered man sat outside, his dirty clothes hanging off his body. “Trust me. I look a hell of a lot better on the inside.”
She snapped her head back to the road in front of her, ignoring him.
“Don’t be like that,” the man said.
Someone reached for her, grabbing at her arm, but she swatted it away, quickening her step. Please just leave me alone.
The jeers of the strung-out VR addicts followed her for the rest of the block.
She tried not to imagine how her father had used to be there, hanging out with the bums to catch a free VR. She tried, but it didn’t work.
DeAnna Browne graduated from Arizona State University with her BS in Psychology. She finds it helps to corral those voices in her mind and put them to paper. Her debut novel, A DEMON RISING, came out in August 2017 with Black Opal Books and book two in the series, UNHOLY SUNDERING, is due out 2018. An avid reader and writer, she has a soft spot for fantasy with a touch of romance. Despite her love for food and traveling, she always finds her way back to Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, children, and pet dog.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I love the smell of chlorine. I used to be a synchronized swimmer. I usually don’t tell people that because it used to have a bad connotation of flowered caps and cheesy music. Check it out today, though. It’s tough. I competed nationally, all over the United States. We did speed swimming every morning to get in shape, and synchro ever night. I coached for years before I had kids, and still miss the smell of chlorine.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
My husband and I went backpacking through Europe with our 18-month-old daughter for three weeks. It was an adventure that I’ll never forget. I remember how kind the people were (especially in Italy) and all the beautiful architecture and landscapes we saw.
What are some of your pet peeves?
In media, my biggest pet peeve is when heroine’s have unrealistic hair. A perfect example is Wonder Woman. On the island, the women have cool braids which is perfect for hand-to-hand combat. As soon as she goes to fight in the war, where the fighting is real, she lets her luscious locks fall all around her shoulders. An easy weakness for her opponents to exploit. There are so many more examples of girls fighting with gorgeous flowing hair. Really? I want to pull it out for the bad guys. **End of Rant**
Where were you born/grew up at?
As boring as it sounds, I live in the same city I grew up in. A suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. Thankfully, I love to travel, and I’m always happy to come home.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Traveling with my loved ones.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
I love reading old science fiction that discusses politics and social structure. Fahrenheit 451 is my favorite book. I also love Ursula Guinn, George Orwell, and Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country. Being influenced by these books, I would be a very libertarian ruler with strong goals for peace.
What are you passionate about these days?
My children. I have five kids, from 4 to 13 years old. They grow up so quick. I watch them constantly and am amazed at who they are becoming. Gratefully they love books, like me, and are often some of my first readers.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Yoga and reading. It may sound crazy, but yoga gives me a physical challenge and calms me spiritually in a way nothing else can. And reading...well that’s obvious. If I’m having a bad day, I turn to one of my favorite authors, like Patricia Briggs, and find solace in the characters I know so well.
How to find time to write as a parent?
Juggling work and family is a constant struggle for me, and I know, I’m not alone. My saving grace is my schedule. I have an electronic schedule that reminds me what I need to be doing. I also have a paper schedule that I use for writing daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals. Yes, completing this blog post was on that sheet.
I heard once you write down what you need to do, it frees up your mind from worrying about it. I find that to be true for me. Post it notes and To-Do lists are my friends. With a busy family if I don’t make time for my work, I can blink, and the week has flown by.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably long after I completed my first novel. I wrote short stories and poems through my adolescence and college years. When I had my first child, it helped me slow down enough to think about creating longer works. It took hundreds of pages and a very supportive critique group before I truly considered myself a writer.
Do you have a favorite movie?
Most recently, The Greatest Showman. I’m a sucker for good musicals.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I can imagine my recent release, HOOKED, being turned into a movie, and have been told that by a couple early readers. It would be a mix between Inception and Divergent, and some Ready Player One.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A mermaid, and not one of those sexy ones, but one of those that would lure pirates to their death. I love the water, but it can be fierce. My spirit animal would be strong and sleek moving through the water.
What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to look at the future and how addiction and gaming shapes our lives.
What can we expect from you in the future?
This is a trilogy, so the trouble for Ari is just beginning. Book two, Synched, will be out to readers within the year. With my Demon Rising trilogy, book 2, Unholy Sundering, will be out this summer. I’m also in the midst of co-writing a thriller which should be out by 2019.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
I always have side stories that I write to get to know the characters a bit more. Ari’s brother Noah tends to get into a lot of sticky situations and somehow manages to survive like a cat with nine lives.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Hooked? Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Sixteen-year-old Ari is a determined and self-less young lady. Growing up with a virtual addicted father, it forced her to mature early and be responsible. Even though the government mandates her schooling and career path, she isn’t bitter. She works hard to make a life for her family, even with all the obstacles in her path. Reed is a creative young man, and an only child of a single mother. Being best friends with Ari’s brother, Noah, proves challenging at times but is never boring. When possible, Reed escapes into his drawing and though he’d never tell anyone, has been attracted to Ari for some time.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
I live in the Southwestern United States where main characters originated, so many of their names rely on Mexican heritage.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I enjoyed delving into the sci-fi world and researching technology. I loved creating my own futuristic world that isn’t as great as it seems.
How did you come up with the name of this book?
I went around and round with the title of my book. I finally decided to stay with HOOKED because of the themes of addiction present in the book and how Ari struggles with the concept of hooking herself into a virtual reality machine.
Who designed your book covers?
An Eastern European artist, Bukovero.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not at this time. Well...maybe that one typo that I’m sure I missed but is still hiding from me. I hear it laughing at me in my dreams. Commas are deranged like that at times.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I originally wrote this book a few years ago. I knew the story needed to be told, but the writing wasn’t working for me. With the support of my critique group, I dug this up and dusted it off. I saw how much I had grown as a writer over the years and had a lot of editing to prepare this for publishing.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
A young Jessica Alba or Zendaya from The Greatest Showman.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
The end, when she confronts her father. I can’t say more without giving too much away.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
I would go gaming with Tessa, kill some trolls and gremlins, and finish off the night partying with the elves.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Definitely a mix. There are a couple characters that I took their looks from people I know, while their characteristics are definitely their own.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
I definitely have the reigns, but they sometimes take me on adventures and plot twists I didn’t expect. We usually end up where I envisioned.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
I have one completed fantasy novel, my first one, that will probably never see the light of day, but it was a necessary learning curve. My sister, the only person I let read that novel, is trying to convince me to shake the dust off of it and publish it. I also have a Middle Grade Urban Fantasy Series that I wrote for my kids. I still have to finish the series (which will be a total of five books, one for each kid), but it may be a while before I delve into that market.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
It would be a perfectly engineered blend of Gardenias and grass.
What did you edit out of this book?
Food. For some reason, this book had a lot of food references. I must have been very hungry when I wrote this, because my rough draft was littered with food. Just remember, Ari never went hungry.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Moon Called and Cry Wolf series by Patricia Briggs
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
Other Series by Anne Bishop
The Fair Assassin Series by Robin LeFevers
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Select Poems by EE Cummings
What book do you think everyone should read?
How long have you been writing?
I wrote poems and short stories since I was a teenager. I started writing seriously about ten years ago.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I do a character sketch for all major characters before I start writing, but they really don’t develop until I put them on paper. They sometimes grow in ways I never expected.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
Fantasy would probably be my favorite, but I am a very eclectic reader. I love historical fiction (I’m so excited about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society book is coming out on film next month). I enjoy Steinbeck and visited Cannery Row last year. I also enjoy some thrillers, with The Bourne Identity Series being my favorites. And I often read in the Young Adult and Middle Grade genre. I think my reading variety comes through with my writing as I have a few different genres coming out this year. Overall though, fantasy stays my favorite, whether YA, adult, classic, or dystopian, it takes up the majority of space on my shelf.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I prefer music, with a variety of stations. I love soundtracks, or something that is inspiring, not distracting.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
Several at this moment. While I’m getting ready for a release on Hooked, I’m starting the rough draft of book 2 of the series, Synched. I’m also currently co-writing a thriller with Dave Benemann that will come out later within the year.
If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose?
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
Pen or type writer or computer?
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
My favorite characters always seem to be secondary characters, maybe because there is so much of their personality that I’m forced to leave off page. For Hooked, my favorite character is Tessa, Ari’s roommate. She has a hard past that she uses her sharp wit and sarcasm to deal with.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
Writing is a creative outlet I love and a job I could do while raising my children. I don’t regret it at all. Granted on bad days, I may want to chuck my computer out the window, but I don’t regret the stories I’ve told.
A day in the life of the author?
An author’s life (or maybe just mine) is not very glamorous. I write whenever I can squeeze it in between carpool, soccer games, and dance recitals. I usually write for a couple hours during the day, and then try to get away in the evenings or weekends once a week to write.
Advice they would give new authors?
Write. Write. And then write some more. I’ve met several authors that get so discouraged when their first book doesn’t sell or get the amazing feedback from beta readers. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. My aim is to improve with each book I write. I know I’m nowhere near where I want to be as a writer, but I’m heading in the right direction.
Second, find a good support group. Writing is not a solitary sport. You need to find a critique group and support system to help you up on hard days and continue to push you to improve. I love writing, but it is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I couldn’t have done it without my support group, especially this book.
What makes a good story?
For me, it is all about the characters. If I love your characters, I’ll watch them eat breakfast with amazement. That never seems to be the case though, because great characters are always torn and tortured.
What are you currently reading?
I’m re-reading Patricia Brigg’s Cry wolf series in anticipation for her new release.
What is your writing process? For instance, do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I am a planner. I outline, even if it is loose. I may only have a beginning, midpoint, and end. My characters may make lots of detours and surprise trips, but they are usually always heading in the same direction.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
A negative critique group. Sometimes critique partners try to re-write your work and end up changing your voice. There is a fine line between improving your writing (ex: making your sentences more action, or showing versus telling), and changing the voice of your work. I’ve had both. Make sure you’re in a group that is supportive and constructive without changing your style, story, or voice.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Kids maybe. HaHa. My other job of being a full-time mother of five kids requires a lot of time and has many distractions. When I get time to write, I have to get down to business.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I write what I love. Sorry readers, I write for me first and foremost. I haven’t been able to write to market yet. I have to love the story and find it interesting enough for me to spend hours upon hours with it.
If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
It’s all about the journey.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Making sure I get the voice and POV right. For example, in one book, I described an attractive woman through a young man’s POV. I focused so much on the shoes and clothes, that I forgot young men don’t care if the shoes are Jimmy Cho’s. Gratefully, I have male critique partners that catch me on those things and remind me to look twice.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Six months to a year, working part-time.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes. Sometimes, I struggle finding the words, and lose connection with my Muse. I think taking a break and connecting with my creative side helps. I enjoy hiking, yoga, or drawing with my kids.
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