Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bringing Up Mike

Today's special guest is Mark Duncan. Mark grew up in Pasadena, not far from Caltech. In high school he spent Friday and Saturday nights at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) and subsequently was a member of the Homebrew Computer Club. He received his BSEE from UC Berkeley. He has worked or consulted for numerous startups in Silicon Valley. He lives in Menlo Park, near Stanford and has written extensively on emerging technology topics. He enjoys photography, movies, theater, fine dining and has visited all 50 states and much of Europe. He is the author of Bringing Up Mike.


Writing for the young adult audience means that one or more of the primary characters in a novel are teenagers. Bringing Up Mike has several teenagers in it who are seniors in a rural Tennessee high school. As such the target audience is ninth grade and up.

Parents and librarians often act as gatekeepers for young adult novels. By and large, I kept the language and scenes at a PG level, except when there was no other way to express it. While the characters talk about sex, there are no explicit sex scenes, unlike adult novels.

Rather than try to duplicate current slang or Southern accents, I used vocabulary that was unique to a particular activity, e.g. Worlds of Warcraft (Everyone in my guild had gotten burned out, still raid-locked, so I decided to do some PvP), NASCAR fans (pancaked his Caddy, and a ding-dang ol wreck) and horse racing (got fractious in the gate and bobbled at the break). I did use a few awesome, totally, and lame adjectives for when April is talking, but I refrained from a verbatim recital of how many teenage girls actually talk.

Many young adult books are written in the first person tense. This has the advantage that you know what the protagonist is thinking and feeling, but the disadvantage that it locks you into that character. Bringing Up Mike has multiple plot threadsI felt the story could be better told with multiple POVs (point of views).
Frequently young adult books treat adults as two-dimensional backdrops and props. For Bringing Up Mike, I created adults with extensive backstories who provide advice and insights to Joe, Sue, April, and Mike.

Few young adult novels lack romanceit frequently provides the emotional core, drive and motivation of the characters. For Joe, he comes to Tennessee because of Sue, hes basically stalking her, only as she puts it to her stepfather, What makes you think Id have any interest in a long-haired, overweight, four-eyed nerd who dresses like a slob? Over the course of the novel, Joe learns how to become appealing to girls, to the point where Sue views him differently.

Like any good novel, conflict and angst is something that is inherent in the characters. In Bringing Up Mike, Sue lives with her stepfather who opposes her desire to attend college and treats her like a servant. Joe has to keep his and Mikes identity secret at the risk of hurting the people that have come to trust him while he demonstrates that Mike can pass as human. Martha grieves for her dead son and suffers from the aftermath of Lyme disease.

Bringing Up Mike examines several topics of interest to young adults. Sue starts an independent online newspaper, the Dixie Rebel targeted at students. Over the course of the school year, its issues examine inferior schools, cheating, sports that often result in concussions, video games, religion in the school, sex education and youth rights.

Last, I believe that young adult novels benefit from positive endings. Bringing Up Mike ends on a high note for Mike, Joe, Sue, Martha, George and the stallion. The one exception is Sly, who one may regard as having gotten what was coming to him.


What happens when Joe, a teen prodigy makes drastic changes to his life and attends high school incognito with Mike, an artificial intelligence? His plans take an unexpected turn when he buys a neglected former racehorse.

Bringing Up Mike is a tapestry of intertwined stories over the course of a school year: A teen genius who has grown up too fast, a neglected former racehorse, a bereaved couple morning the death of their son, a girl struggling to attend college, and a former mobster determined to be top dog.

Bringing Up Mike is about people given a second chance at happiness and success and how they become better people and mature.


Martha walked to the barn, the shotgun stock tucked firmly against her side, then stopped fifteen feet from the back of the horse trailer.

“Any reason why I shouldn’t shoot you trespassers?”

Three men who were struggling to get the stallion into the trailer froze. The fourth, a big burly man, stood in front of Martha, the horse directly behind him.

“This isn’t what you think. We’re retrieving our lost stallion,” said Sly.

“At dawn? Without asking permission?”

“It didn’t seem polite to wake you up so early.”

“Seems to me you sold him for four thousand dollars.”

“It was a joke to teach the kid a lesson. That horse is worth twenty thousand, I knew the contract wasn’t valid, because he’s a minor.”

“There’s no way I’d let that stallion go back to someone who starved him.”

“He had plenty of pasture! Once he learned not to bite the hand that fed him, he’d get his grain.”

As they talked, Sly edged closer to Martha, then tried to grab her shotgun. Martha pivoted, pointed the gun at the wheel on the horse trailer, and shot.

There was a CRACK-BANG as a burst of birdshot exploded the tire. Startled and frightened, Comanche reared up and dragged Reuben and Sam, who had wrapped lead ropes around their hands. Martha threw herself flat on the ground, followed by the crack of a bullet that stopped Sly in mid-step.


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