#WIPSneakPeek: 31 Hints About My New Cyberpunk Novel

August already! Summertime is flying (good riddance; this Viking girl prefers chilly weather), and so is progress on my third novel. I banged out about 90% of the rough draft in three months. Not bad for an indie author with a demanding full-time day job, huh? Still plenty of work to be done, but it’s an encouraging start…and it gave me enough material to start teasing.

Throughout July, I participated in the “WIP Sneak Peak” Twitter game, hosted by author J.S. Eades. It’s a month of interview-like questions, inviting writers to share glimpses of their works-in-progress (WIP). Normally I’m mercurial partaker in Twitter games, posting only when the prompts appeal to me. But J.S. picked such terrific topics that I addressed them all (character karaoke? C’mon, that’s just irresistible). The transcript below compiles my responses into a surprisingly comprehensive overview of my upcoming book. Follow me on Twitter @jk_ullrich to share the future fun in real-time, and check out the hashtag #WIPSneakPeek for a preview of tomorrow’s bestsellers (or play along, if you’re a writer yourself)!

7/1: Share the opening line of your WIP.

“Why is it that when I dream of the ice, I wake up sweating?”

7/2: What genre(s) is your novel?

Cyberpunk sci-fi with a shot of mystery, evoking classic detective literature through noir aesthetics and Chandler-inspired “hardboiled” narration.

7/3: Setting for the bulk of the story?

A near-future Baltimore reshaped by climate change. Sea level rise submerges parts of the city and police drones patrol streets overrun with grinder gangs, whose illegal biomech enhancements blur lines between robot and human.

7/4: If it takes place on Earth, in what country?

Mostly in the USA, with brief flashbacks to military skirmishes in the Arctic and an e-waste dump in Ghana.

7/5: In what time period does your story take place?

A near future (<100 years from now) where climate change and automation have widened economic divides. Not everyone can afford the trendy biomechatronic enhancements, so they improvise…

7/6: Do you map out the story before starting?

As an indie author with a day job, mapping out stories ensures my limited writing time is productive. Especially since my stories usually involve twisted plots that require analysis and planning!

7/7: Do you make character trait notes before starting?

Sketching out character traits/arcs is an essential part of my writing process. People drive the plot–if I don’t know who they are and what they want, the story can’t move. But nothing so rigid that they can’t evolve unexpectedly throughout the draft!

7/8: How many characters does your main story have?

My WIP has two main characters–a renegade detective who investigates biohacking crimes and the flamboyant cyborg who becomes her unlikely partner in solving a mystery that threatens both their lives.

7/9: Is your WIP a standalone novel or part of a series?

A standalone novel; after completing the SYZYGY hexalogy earlier this year, I needed a break from series! However, I have a tentative sequel in mind if the book is well-received.

7/10: Are there any fight/battle scenes in your story? Do you enjoy writing them?

Lots of fight scenes in this story! It’s fun using those adrenaline-fueled moments to explore narrative tempo and the interplay of characters’ physical and psychological responses. And yeah, vicariously beating people up is good stress relief.

7/11: Is there any romance in your story?

I’m a sucker for a good ship, so my books always have a dash of romance! Only as a subplot, though–I find it more suspenseful when the love story is a complication rather than the main feature.

7/12: Are there any mythical beings in your story?

No mythical creatures in my WIP, since I’m writing sci-fi, but there are cyborgs, which is also cool.

7/13: Does your story have any LGBTQ+ characters?

Yes, most notably the co-protagonist, who is non-binary in both gender and human/machine identity. (I’d value input from non-binary beta readers when I finish; please contact me if you like scifi and critiquing).

7/14: Does your story include any dream sequences?

No abstract dream sequences in my story, but several important flashbacks are relayed through the protagonist’s recurring nightmares. (I have mixed feelings about this technique; thoughts?)

7/15: Will you be writing any character deaths? If so, how do you feel about this death?

There are several casualties in my WIP, but after killing several beloved characters in my last book, I’m writing these new deaths with a heart of stone (or perhaps cold metal, since it’s a cyberpunk story).

7/16: Share a few lines you recently wrote that you’re proud of.

Hard to be “proud of” any lines in a first draft, but I think this bit I wrote over the weekend has promise, especially since music is a strong thematic motif in the story. 

WIPSP 7-16
7/17: Do you talk out your plot points with a friend to make sure they work?

I don’t usually discuss writing plot points with anyone else unless I’m really stuck. Then I’ll fire non sequitur story questions at my Laddie, who listens patiently until I talk myself around to the solution.

7/18: What’s the timeline of your WIP?

Setup and denouement extend the story’s official timeline to a year, but most of the investigation unfolds during a few intense winter weeks, when flooded streets freeze into black ice and neon stains the snowflakes blood-red….

7/19: Are any characters based (even loosely) on someone you know?

I didn’t intentionally base my protagonist on myself, but she still inherited some of my less desirable traits. And she’s not alone….

7/20: Have you thought about your front cover?

 I’m writing my sci-fi mystery in the style of classic hardboiled detective fiction, so my ideal book cover evokes film noir. Looking for stark, timeless black-and-white photography…and I think I’ve found it.

Grinder tattoo


7/21: Attach a photo that would make a good cover image. Explain why you like it.

It’s not an official cover reveal, but here’s the base image I’ll probably use for the book cover of my upcoming sci-fi novel! The noir aesthetic and cyborg-inspired tattoos capture the story’s essence perfectly. What do you think?


7/22: If your MC had a time machine, would they go forward, back, or neither?

If my protagonist had a time machine, she’d go back to change the harrowing events that still haunt her…and save a life that meant more to her than she’d admit.

7/23: Is this your first novel?

This is my third novel, and it’s rewarding to realize how much I learned from writing the prior books (and to keep discovering new things on every page)! 

7/24: Are any parts of the story inspired by real-life events?

I didn’t base any major plot points on real-life events, but many small moments and character interactions reflect experiences I’ve had or witnessed. It makes things feel authentic without getting overly biographical.

7/25: If your MC had to sing karaoke, what song would they pick?

Petra’s cool cop exterior disappears when the rock and roll music starts. Dead sober, she’d snatch up the mic on karaoke night and belt out Joan Jett’s DIFFERENT, challenging her detractors: “People gonna stare, you unsettle them and scare ’em….”

7/26: Are any of your characters living outside the law?

With a rogue police detective and an undocumented grinder rocking black-market bionic parts, you can bet some characters in my WIP stray outside the law…but it’s all in pursuit of justice.

7/27: Link us to a song that sums up one of your book’s themes.

Parallel characters, one in a mech underground and one trapped in her own mental snowglobe, risk everything to break artificial divides. SHATTER ME from Lindsey Stirling and Lzzy Hale is a perfect song for the sci-fi novel I’m writing.

7/28: Does your story have an antagonist?

The main antagonists in the story I’m writing are the characters’ own pasts and prejudices. However, there’s also a human foe behind many of the plot obstacles. Can’t divulge much without spoiling the mystery, but it’s someone devastatingly close to the MC.

7/29: Does the bulk of your story take place indoors or outdoors?

My story locales are about evenly split between indoors (from shiny biomechatronics research labs to derelict aquariums) and outdoors (my detective heroine chasing crooks through the soggy streets of flooded near-future Baltimore).

7/30: Give us a short sentence to hook us to want to read your WIP.

Can my uptight MC accept unusual help to solve her mystery? Only one way to find out! 

“The only partner I’ve got now is my suspect, an androgynous grinder whose idea of a low profile involves blaze-orange tights and a glittering bionic eye.”

7/31: How close are you to finishing your first draft? How many words to far?

My first draft hit 71k words this weekend! I started writing it in May, so I’m thrilled with that progress. With only 10-15k left, I might even achieve my goal of completing the draft by summer’s end. Then the real work begins: revision.

What else would you like to know about my forthcoming third book? Fire additional questions at me in the comments below, and I’ll answer as many as I can (without giving away the story, of course)!

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