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.
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.
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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.
T his 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.