Thursday, March 31, 2011

Soul Surfer - Movie Review

Normally, I don't like to post movie reviews on my blog. Unless special circumstances exist, it's actually rare for me to care enough about a film to spend my valuable time just writing a review. That said, I absolutely had to let everyone know what I thought of Soul Surfer, the true story of award-winning surfer, Bethany Hamilton. Don't worry, there won't be any spoilers in this review. The movie doesn't officially release until April 8th.

Starring AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany Hamilton, and Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid as Bethany's parents, the movie boasts an impressive cast for a faith-based film. There are even appearances by Kevin Sorbo, Craig T. Nelson, and Carrie Underwood.

Soul Surfer chronicles Bethany's love of surfing, her attack by a tiger shark in which her left arm was bitten off - almost killing her, and her rise from the ashes back into professional surfing. Through her fall and rise, Bethany learns that her true purpose in life isn't necessarily surfing, but to love others. The movie contains very clear references to Bethany's faith in God and Christ, and the questions she faces after losing her arm and beginning the long road back to a 'normal' life.Her story is definitely an encouraging one, and I think it will move many to rise above the odds to reach for the dreams they so desperately want to achieve, regardless of the adversities that life throws our way.

AnnaSophia shines in this film, along with her supporting cast. I didn't realize until I looked it up on Wikipedia, that AnnaSophia was Violet Beauregarde in the 2005 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Leslie Burke in Bridge to Terabithia. She does such a fine job of portraying a young girl who faces a crisis head on and decides to challenge the odds and the opposition. I never tire of seeing Dennis Quaid in a film - I've always believed he would make a great Indiana Jones, and Helen Hunt, although she is starting to show some age, plays her role beautifully as always.

Although the movie is rooted in a faith-based story, it didn't feel to me like it was drowning in Biblical references the whole time. I know that some films/stories feel their purpose is to cram a sermon down someone's throat just because they've gotten someone's attention with a promising premise. This movie does no such thing. The film has the potential to spark meaningful conversations regarding crisis, adversity, purpose, family, and friendship. Even the way Bethany reacts in the face of her relentless opponents is a moral lesson in itself, one more kids and adults alike could benefit from.

This is a great family film, but also a film to watch if you just enjoy a great, encouraging and uplifting movie. Which brings me to my main point for wanting to write this blog post...

- If Hollywood budgets and resources were given for well-written, faith-based scripts, you would get more movies like Soul Surfer -

Movies like Soul Surfer benefit from great special effects and a talented cast. Would the movie have been great without these things? Maybe. Not sure. A story can be great, superb even. But starting with a great story and trying to execute it into a film is a challenge, especially if you have a limited budget AND limited resources. Having Sony Pictures backing the superb story model went really far with this film.

Another great faith-based film that went far because of a great cast and decent studio resources was The Blind Side, attracting big names like Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. We need more movies like these. End of story. A positive message, great acting, and an encouraging story - you can't much better than that.

Since I don't usually do movie reviews, and in effect, don't have a rating scale of any kind, I'll simply say I give this movie five out of five stars. Soul Surfer comes out April 8th and I highly suggest - especially if you want to see more movies like this in the future - that you go see it. Support a great faith-based movie, a great family film, a great story.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Snowball Effect - How Low Ebook Prices Help Build My Audience

Back in January - mid-January to be exact - I posted about the changes to the pricing structure of my novels. I figured I'd update everyone and give all of you indie authors out there an idea if the pricing structure is working or not. The final analysis? Yes, it's working. Working well, I might add.

The original price of the books in my Black Earth series in digital format were $2.99 for End of the Innocence (book1) and $4.99 for The Broken Daisy (book2). I dropped these prices in mid-January to 99 cents for End of the Innocence and $2.99 for The Broken Daisy.

Before my January price changes, here were my sales figures (these figures are sales through the Kindle, seeing how I'm making most of my sales on the Kindle at the moment) -

December 2010 - US Kindle Sales = 7
November 2010 - US Kindle Sales = 3
October 2010 - US Kindle Sales =   UK Kindle Sales = 1

After my price changes, here are my numbers for 2011 so far -

January 2011 - US Kindle Sales = 30    UK Kindle Sales = 8
February 2011 - US Kindle Sales = 55  UK Kindle Sales = 2
March 2011 (so far) - US Kindle Sales = 41    UK Kindle Sales = 1

When looking at these numbers, please take into consideration that I've also upped my marketing efforts a bit. I spend a decent amount of time in the Kindle Boards, both promoting my books and helping other authors promote theirs. I've become a bit more accustomed to Twitter, thanks to a huge Twitter series that Kristen Lamb has been blogging about. I've also been emailing and opening conversations with blog reviewers, especially ones who are kind enough to take the time to review indie authors. Check out Scott's reviews at Indie Book Blog, and the mammoth list of reviewers at Step-by-Step Self-Publishing for examples of who I've been reaching out to for reviews.

In the last few months, I've seen some statements made about how some think an author pricing their book at 99 cents is foolish because of all the blood and toil put into writing/editing/publishing a book. While I agree it is hard work getting a decent book off the ground, I don't have an issue pricing the first book in my sci-fi/fantasy series at such a low price if it means I am building a fan base for the series as a whole and gaining new fans of my work.

In other words, it can't always be about the money.

I know, I know. Many of you would argue that if it's not putting food on the table, what's the point, right? I understand your point of view, but you need to look at the bigger picture. Gaining exposure is like rolling a snowball down a hill. It has to gain momentum, has to gain followers, has to gain some spotlight before it will get bigger. As much as I need the money right now - and God knows I need the money - my focus needs to be on growing my audience. The more readers that have my book in their hands, the greater my chances of reviews, of blog/Twitter/Facebook mentions, of more sales.

Even though I lowered the prices of my paperback novels, I haven't noticed much of a change with their sales. And that's okay, because I'm focusing more of my marketing strategy toward ebooks at the moment. Digital ereaders aren't just the 'new craze'. They are portable, convenient, and somewhat affordable. Meaning they are going to continue to be bought up. And with them, readers will want to be packing their digital data banks with countless books. Affordable books.

See, if a reader hasn't heard of me before, 99 cents is an easy risk to take on a new author. And if they like the first book in my series, it's an easy decision for them to spend only $2.99 on the next book. And if I can keep the books in the series rolling out in a decent time frame, my readers will continue to buy into the series, gaining me both a lifelong fan and someone who will hopefully spread the word about my novels.

I'll be continuing my pricing structure when my young adult novel series debuts this summer with Endangered Memories. It will be made available in ebook format for 99 cents, to get everyone into the series. From there, subsequent books in the series will be priced at $2.99. (Of course, all the novels will also be available in paperback for a nominal price.)

(Photo credit - kamshots)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Writing Prompt #7 - The Tomb Raider

It's Monday, and what better way to start the day than with this week's writing prompt.

Remember, you can write as little or as much as you'd like, and if you want, you can post your prompt right here. **All work is under copyright of its authors**

Here we go...

Your character(s) is in an ancient tomb said to be cursed by the spirit of a great faerie. Taking the ancient vial of immortal elixir, the tomb begins to shake and your character(s) decide to hightail it out of there...

Quincy shoved the bottle of elixir into his satchel and skipped across the ancient stones inscribed with the language of the faeries. He felt a cold snap at his neck and realized he had set off a freeze trap, something he just barely avoided as he leaped out of the entrance to the tomb and plummeted down the dirt hill, rolling like a barrel.

Once at the bottom, and dizzy as a merry-go-round, Quincy got to his wobbling feet and steadied his head which was bobbing back and forth. A shriek pierced the summer air, setting him on his feet again toward the rustic Jeep he had waiting for him at the end of the dirt road.

Bobbing in and out of the trees, he wondered if the legends were true about the great faerie who guarded over the elixir. Worrying about it now would do him no good. The vial was in his bag and he was on his way to safety.

He reached the Jeep, staring the engine with frantic motions. The vehicle backfired a few times, but the engine finally rolled over with a loud rumble. He drove the Jeep through the woods, heading in the direction he thought was the train station. Checking his watch, he realized he only had minutes until the Gunmetal Express left for Serventia.

A few miles in the Jeep, and Quincy slammed on the brakes, spotting the tomb he had just left on the hill in front of him. He looked around, realizing with terror that this was the same area he had just left. Can't be, he thought. Can't be the same.

He turned the Jeep around and started through the forest, in another direction now. Minutes later, he wound up at the same spot again.

"What is going on?!" he screamed.

A loud shriek, the same as before, echoed between the trees. The sunlight suddenly vanished and darkness fell over the land. Quincy noticed a bright purple glow emanating from the trees to his right. He stepped on the gas and the Jeep died. Slipping out of the driver's seat, Quincy knelt to the ground, his body trembling. The glowing spilled out from the trees and took the form of a being, a faerie.

She floated a few feet from the ground, her body mostly bare save for some large palm leaves wrapped around her chest, and some wrapped around her waist to form a skirt of sorts. Her wings were causing the glow - big and beautiful like large neon signs.

Her purple lips parted and a soft voice came out. "You have taken something that is not yours, human."

He reached into his satchel and pulled out the vial of elixir. His hand was trembling. He offered it up to her. "This. Yes? This is yours?"

She nodded. "I give you a decision, mortal. Drink of the elixir and live with us forever, or give me back my potion and become a feast for my children."

Without thinking, he popped the cork from the vial and drank the elixir. 

With rush of warmth, Quincy's heart stopped and he fell over, dead.

The faerie grinned as she descended to pick up his body. "The food around here is getting easier and easier to catch nowadays."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sample Of Lost Birth Revisions

I've been working a lot lately on Lost Birth, the second volume in my upcoming young adult novel series to be released this summer. Lost Birth was originally self-published back in 2007, but now that I've grown more comfortable with my writing style, I'm revising the entire series.

A little while ago I posted an example of what the revisions are looking like to Endangered Memories (the first volume in this series), and I figured I'd give everyone a glimpse of some of the revisions I'm dealing with right now with Lost Birth.

Here is an excerpt from the original version of Lost Birth. In it, Carrie Green meets the man who has abducted her into his cult sanctuary known as the Complex. In the original version, Carrie is a bit timid and confused by things. In the revision, I decided I wanted her to have stronger characteristics and more of an attitude. She is a hero who helped save the world in the past and has been kidnapped and taken to a place she knows nothing about. I doubt she would take that lying down.

Excerpt - Expired Reality Lost Birth
Carrie eyed the guards for a moment, recognizing them from a past memory…a memory of a hotel and an explosion. These can't be the same ones, can they? Just a strange coincidence, right? Her heart started to beat rapidly, as if she was facing a nightmare she had been fearing her whole life.

"We’re here to see the Master. Tell him the Marked One has awoken."

Both of the guards turned and pulled the mammoth black doors open to a reveal a small inner sanctum.

"Go ahead, Carrie. I'll be waiting out here to help you back to the rooms after you speak to the Master."

Carrie stood for a moment, staring at the girl, and then shook her head warily as she passed through the doorway. The doors creaked and popped as they slammed shut behind her. She stood facing a small stone bench at the top of three layers of stone flooring. Small stone pillars at the top were burning with blue flames, and a large mural inscription on the wall behind them was glowing with marvelous colors of light.

Carrie walked up the layers and stopped in front of the fire. She examined the mural on the wall, trying to make some sense of the place. Etched in blue light was a small stick figure, a red pinwheel etched above it. Next to the figure was a hexagonal item with a glowing green center. Next to that was what looked like a large temple. Floating above the temple was what Carrie could only guess to be a book of some sort. Rays shot out from the book and arched over to dark clouds that hovered over what looked like dead stick figures strewn across each other.

"Strange," she whispered to herself.

"The truth usually is."

She turned around swiftly, realizing she wasn't ready to see what was before her eyes. "Wha--"


"Ryc?! What--" Carrie backed up against one of the small pillars as Ryc Waterford, adorned in a shining black robe with the strange symbol on the front, started up the layers toward her. "I…I saw you die. I pushed you off the chopper myself. How did you survive?"

He rubbed his bald head with one hand, his icy blue eyes peering out at her with an evil she hadn't seen in so long. "A loaded question. One I don't have time to explain to you. Not yet, anyway. And while you are in my house, you will refer to me as the Master, Ruler of the Elements."

"The elements?"

He laughed. "You will know the answers in time, my dear. You will learn a lot in your time here."

"Why have you brought me here? What do you want with me?"

"What I've always wanted." He stopped a layer below hers.

"No. David--"

"David is dead.” He rolled his eyes. “This time, he is actually dead and there is no bringing him back. Any wild notions you may have of your hero rescuing you this time should be discarded right here and now."

“I don't believe you. I don't believe that David is dead and nothing you or your followers around here tell me will change that belief, understand me?"

"Hm. Yet, you have doubt. I can sense it in your voice." He sneered. "You can believe what you want. Believe what you want, but I’ll even have his corpse delivered here so you can see for yourself. Of course, I imagine that might get a little emotional for you. Carrie, you are mine now. You are in my domain, in my home, and this is where you'll stay until the day your spirit is swept back into the elements."

"No, I won't stay here. My friends will rescue me or I'll make sure I die before I live in this stone prison with you!" Carrie started down the layers. Before she could pass him, he reached his arm out and grabbed her bicep, squeezing it like it was a squeaky dog toy.

His lips came up to her ear as he tightened his grip. "Understand that you are my property now. You are the Marked One and you won't be allowed back to the surface ever again. If they find you," his voice deepened and came out raspy and strong as the grip on her arm tightened to match, "if the wrong people get a hold of you, they will have hold of a power they do not understand. You are a key in the hands of some, a weapon in the hands of others, and a curse within yourself."

She turned her head, snarling. "Let go of me.” She struggled her arm out of his grip, the skin red and raw. “You need to understand that if you ever decide to lay a hand on me again, I'll make sure it's the last. I’m not the same fragile girl I used to be."

He scoffed. "You’re more fragile than ever before! I brought you here to protect you from your own terrible destiny because you don’t have the sense to do it yourself. Simple as that."

"Since when do you even care for my well being? I will leave this place sooner or later and I will find David and we will destroy you once and for all. That is a promise!"

He smiled at her. "No. No, you won't." He grabbed her wrist, turning it over to the underside. "This will make sure you don't leave me this time. That detonator has been strategically implanted in your wrist. If you leave, I will set it off and your arteries will explode inside your arm, killing you. And I doubt you’ll want to dig it out yourself. You always loved life a little too much to do anything that drastic."

Carrie stared into his deep eyes. The ocean blue gaze made her feel like she was drowning. The hope she had partnered with her adrenaline was now gone and all she had left was despair. He was right. She couldn't escape without him finishing her off and she couldn't take out the implant herself without slitting her own wrist.

"I sense you finally understand the situation, Carrie. Go, check out your sleeping quarters. Get some rest. You’ve been through a lot. Your first lesson in the truth will be starting within the hour."


"Yes. We're going to teach you the truth about Anaisha and the truth about yourself, about your curse. The one that has sealed your destiny in a most disgusting way."

"I want to leave."

"Go, rest." Ryc grabbed her arm again and pulled her to the doors. They opened wide and the girl named Rio quickly joined her side, pulling her out of the inner sanctum.

"You can't do this!" Carrie shouted toward the closing doors, Ryc’s face disappearing behind them. "No!!!" Carrie broke from Rio's grip and ran to the doors, pounding on the black surface with her fragile fists. The cloaked guards grabbed her by the arms and tossed her to the ground. She tumbled, hitting her head on the marbled tile. She lay there for a moment, her eyes closed, trying to rid herself of the dull pain.

"Carrie? Are you okay?" Rio bent down and rubbed her back. "We need to get you to your quarters."

Carrie lifted her sore head and stood up, a disgusted look on her face. Rio took her gently by the arm as they started back through the archway and down the hallway.

“Why do you buy into this?” Carrie rubbed the lump growing on her head as they approached the cafeteria.

“What is so appealing about him or this place that you would give up your life to serve him? You don’t know that man like I do, if he can even be considered a man."

Rio looked at her, disgusted at the comments and even more disgusted at Carrie's tone. "You don't understand yet, but you will. This will be your new home, just like it is mine." They stopped as she waved her hand toward the open doorway to the cafeteria. Carrie looked in at the long tables, white robes filling them up, going about their business of eating.

An angry look shot across her face as she stormed through the doorway and stopped at the end of one of the long rectangular tables. The people looked up from their food to notice the Marked One standing feet from them. They all bowed their heads down toward the table in reverence. Carrie watched their strange actions and realized they had been taught to act this way toward her, as if she was some sort of symbol of their culture, something that they didn't see everyday but had longed for their whole lives.

"Stop bowing! Stop bowing down and go back to eating, talking, whatever you were doing!" After the words left Carrie's mouth, she realized they weren't going to listen to her. "This is some sort of brainwashing cult, people! Don't you understand? This isn't your home, this isn't--" Carrie felt one arm wrap around her waist from behind and another hand wrap around her mouth to silence her.

Rio's voice was hot and harsh on her ears. "Keep your forked tongue in your mouth if you want to stay alive in this place." Carrie broke free from the woman's grip and spun around to face her. The woman's eyes were fire-red to match her outfit. Her fiery red nails extended at her side like claws. She was like a giant flame, seething with anger toward Carrie. "You may be the Marked One, but you still have to follow the same rules of respect and courtesy as everyone else here. You aren't some kind of princess, you are a weapon and you will be silenced if need be, like all weapons should be.”

Carrie turned back and noticed everyone at the table had gone back to eating. They were minding their own business again, as if nothing had happened. She turned back to Rio, her finger pointed, the end inches from the woman’s face. "You aren't keeping me here for long. I don't care what you or Ryc or any of these people here say, David will rescue me or I will find a way out of here."

"David is--"

"You better shut your mouth!" She grabbed the front of Rio's outfit and shoved the girl to the floor. The woman fell on her back, her eyes burning with fury. "You better shut your mouth and never utter those words again." She pointed down to Rio as each person in the cafeteria stood to their feet. The shuffling caused her to turn back around, just in time to see two figures in black cloaks make their way toward her from the back of the room. They stopped in front of Carrie, heads bent down.

"Fool! You've disturbed the shadow guards by threatening me!" Rio stood to her feet.

"I don't care!" She faced the woman again. "I'm not afraid of you or your guards or your Master. You've messed with the wrong girl and when the chance presents itself, you’ll pay."

Rio's lips hissed as her left eyebrow arched upward. "You still don't get it. You still don't understand. I was hoping you would have some sort of compassion on us or even Anaisha, but you don't. All you care about is yourself. You care about your own well being and not the well being of these people around you. Do their lives not matter? Do you only help those you feel like helping?"

Carrie felt a quick snap of guilt run through her and then she quickly realized it was the woman's intention to make her feel that way. These people aren't my responsibility. I didn't ask to come here. Ryc has never had the intention of helping anyone but himself.

Rio shook her head. “You had better cooperate or I’ll detonate the explosive in your wrist myself."

She had forgotten about that up to now. She glanced down at her wrist and saw the inch-long incision scar. She figured it may be in her best interest to bring her attitude down a notch, just until she could figure out what these people were up to.

"Come with me, Carrie. I will show you to your room."

She took one last look at the people before her, wondering what they had been told to alter them into this state of mindlessness.

Rio grabbed Carrie's shoulder and pulled her around toward her. "These people are counting on you to stop the world from being destroyed. Don't let them down."

“And how can I be expected to help them?”

Rio smiled, as if she was glad Carrie had asked. “By staying here. You being out there in the world will be the destruction of us all.”

Carrie was escorted back to her room.  It was a small stone space with a twin bed covered in black sheets, a small coffee table with a lamp, and a three-foot high pillar with a blue flame escaping out the top of it. The wall to the right of her bed had a large etching of their cult symbol glowing in colored light.

"This is where you'll stay. Your lesson will begin in about twenty minutes."

Carrie reached out and grabbed the girl’s hand. "Rio, don't you see what is going on here is wrong? This is some sort of cult. Ryc isn't your friend, he's your enemy, and he's got all of you brainwashed."

Rio pulled away. Her eyes started to glow a fiery crimson again. "You are the Marked One, Carrie, that is why I will at least attempt to understand why you say such things, but please do not speak of my Master that way. He has done nothing but help us by directing us in a path of peace and balance. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.’ And stop using that term, brainwashing. These people are all here voluntarily, except you, of course. No one can afford to have you out there in the world. Even the world itself cannot afford it."

"He tried to kill me and the man I love."

"I’ve heard the story. Pure inanity. You pushed him out of a helicopter and then claimed yourself a hero because of it."

"Well, that’s a twisted point of view, but I did push him out of the chopper to save David’s life."

"I understand that because you’re the Marked One, you’ll feel the need to sacrifice others to please the elemental spirits within you, that’s why you tried to kill him. But the spirits would not accept your sacrifice and he survived and you must take that as instruction to better your own life."

"Spirits? Look, you need to help me get out of here. I need to find my friends."

"No." She stepped backward into the hall and waved to the side as the stone door slid shut, sealing Carrie in.

She walked to the bed and fell back on it, distraught over the events that had taken place since she had awoken.

- End of Excerpt -

And here is the revised draft I've come up with so far. This hasn't been professionally edited yet, nor have I done a final run through, but it's as close to the final product as I'm going to get right now.

Excerpt - Lost Birth, an Expired Reality novel

Rio stopped Carrie in the middle of the corridor. “I would hope you would keep your ill tongue from speaking anything blasphemous against the Dered. He is a kind man. He’s given you food and shelter and rescued you from the outside world. You owe him your life.”

“I don’t owe anyone anything,” Carrie snapped. “I just want to find out why I’m here.”

If she was irritated with Carrie’s tone, Rio didn’t show it. She simply smiled, those ruby red lips plump and jovial, and escorted Carrie to the guards. “She is here to see the Derad.”

The guards both turned in unison to open the double doors. Carrie remembered seeing cloaked beings like this back at a dance so many years ago. They couldn’t be the same ones though, could they? Shadow Fighters. It was a term David had given to them.

“I’ll be waiting here, Carrie. When you are done speaking with the Derad, I’ll show you to your quarters.”

Carrie walked through the doorway and entered a small, inner sanctum. The doors shut behind her. The floor went a few feet before elevating into a set of stairs that went up to a very small, stone throne which almost touched the ceiling. Blue candle flames burned from sconces upon the walls.

If she wasn’t completely claustrophobic before, she was now. This room seemed like something out of one of the optical illusion books Carrie read as a child, with steps that led to nowhere. Seeing nobody in the little chamber, she turned around to open the door when a cold breeze moved past her cheek.

“Please,” a voice moaned. “Please, don’t go.”

Carrie looked up at the throne again, at a man sitting in it. He wasn’t there a second ago.

“Come up here, please.”

There was a blue glow in the man’s eyes. His head was bald with strange symbols drawn upon the front of it. From where she stood, which is what she considered to be a safe distance from him, she couldn’t make out the symbols, or the exact face of the man.

“I’ll stay right here, if you don’t mind.”

He sat there for a moment in silence.

“I do mind. Please, come up here so I can get a better look.”

“There’s no reason you should be looking at me. Tell me why I’m here.”

He rubbed his chin with long skeletal fingers. “Why you are here is a very important question. Probably the most important.”

“So answer it.”

“That...that I can do. You are here so I can safeguard you from the outside world. You see, you are the Ancient Key.” He stood up from the throne and began slowly making his way down the stairs. He wore a long black cloak which seemed to trail behind him like a drift of smoke. “Prophecies. That is why you’re here. The prophecies speak of you, of your mark.”

Is he referring to my birthmark, the one on my shoulder blade? The red pinwheel?

“You are the key to a great evil that must not be unleashed upon this land. You are also the key to a great good that must also not be unleashed upon the land. You see, you must be kept away from both good and evil, to keep balance and harmony to this world we live in.”

As he drew closer to her, she felt the urge to scramble out of the chamber. There was something dark emanating from him, something she couldn’t quite pinpoint. She just felt...sick. Overwhelmed by fear. That blue glow in his eyes came closer, paralyzing her with its radiance. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he began walking, very slowly, toward her.

“Don’t fear me. You’ve feared me in the past and  it did you no good.”

The past?

When he was within five feet of her, Carrie suddenly realized who he was. The guards outside clued her in, but now, staring into those icy pupils, she knew the enemy that stood before her.


He held his arms out, as if he wanted to hug her. She stepped back a few feet, touching the surface of the doors with her fingertips.

“Carrie Green. It flatters me to find out you remember me after all this time.”

She could see the marks on his head clearly now. Her pinwheel symbol was drawn in black ink in the middle of his forehead and the top of his head was scribed with strange symbols and characters she didn’t recognize. Carrie turned and grabbed for the door handles. Before she could pull one open, she felt his hand on her shoulder and she almost leaped out of her robe. His other hand came down on the other shoulder, the weight of his touch anchoring her to the floor.

His soft voice slithered into her ears like black eels. “Just relax. Relaaaax.”

She felt her body release its tension, her muscles melting under his touch. Dread filled her spirit to know he was using such powerful magic on her. She wondered what he would do with her in this state. Unable to move. Unable to control her own will.

“I need you to stay caaalm. Just listen to what I have to saaay.”

She nodded. He took his hands off her and stepped away. She turned toward him, her body moving involuntarily. She felt as a marionette might feel with the strings being pulled from the top of its form, turning it left and right with no regard to what direction the marionette might want to go.

“Now, we may have been enemies in the past, you and I. But that is no longer the case. I have worked very hard to bring you here, to protect you and keep you safe. This is your home now. I will give you time to get to know me, to get to know my assistant, Rio. There are others I wish you to meet, but that won’t happen today. I am sure this is a lot to take in, so I will give you the time you need to let everything sink in.”

“David.” It was the only word she found herself thinking. David would rescue her. David would find her and tear Ryc apart  piece by piece. He had saved her once from this madman, he would do it again. David –

“David is dead, my dear. My naive, fragile Carrie Green. The man you thought you were in love with for so long is dead. I know, I tried to kill him so long ago, but that was to protect you. He wants you to stay out there, with the heretics and heathens. I want to keep you safe, to keep you behind closed doors where the rest of the world can’t see you, can’t hurt you.”

Carrie took a deep breath and forced her arms to move. They wobbled at her side. Her legs started to walk forward, but buckled, throwing her to the floor.

Ryc shook his head, lifting her up by the arms. When she was standing again, he shook his head at her. “My magic isn’t meant to control you. But, I will use it to keep you in place while I say what I have to say.”

“A madman who thinks he’s a magician.”

Ryc laughed. “Madman? No. Not a madman. A pioneer. A bringer of truth.”

Carrie shook her head. “You are a madman. And I’m going to escape this place one way or another and find David. Or David’s going to find me. If that’s the case, you’re going to be sorry.”

“He tried to kill me before. Remember that? Threw me off a helicopter. But here I stand, before you, alive and more than well. He won’t kill me. He’s dead.” Ryc lunged at her, grabbing her wrist, shoving the scar in her face. “You won’t be going anywhere! I’d rather see you die than see those monsters in the outside world get their hands on you again. David is gone! Veronica is gone! Everyone you knew is gone. This is your new home!” Ryc pushed her against the doors. They swung open as she fell backwards to the floor between the two guards.

“Get her out of here! Take her to her quarters and make sure nobody is disturbed by her constant ramblings!”

The doors slammed shut as the shadow guards stood  at attention, staring down at her from behind void faces. Carrie stood to her feet, brushing herself off. 

“You okay?” Rio asked.

“How can you possibly believe the lies of that madman?”

Rio led her back into the hallway as they made their way toward the living quarters. “Madman? The Derad is a noble man, fully capable of leading us into a new future.”

“Give me a break. You really believe that crap that’s coming out of your mouth? His name is Ryc Waterford. He tried kidnapping me years ago, even tried to kill the man I love. If you think for one second I’m going to believe a single word that comes out of his mouth, you have another thing coming to you.”

“Ryc Waterford? Well, his name doesn’t really matter. My real name isn’t Rio. Rio is my perfect name, and Ryc – or the Derad – has no name now, only his title.”

Carrie stopped in the middle of the hallway, throwing her arms in the air. “You really think I care what his real name is? You really think I care that all of you misled people have chosen to follow a demon into the pits of the Depths?” She lowered her arms, taking a deep breath to try and calm herself down. “I don’t care. I want out of here, now!”

Rio snarled. “You don’t understand anything yet. But you will. Soon. If you want to share you thoughts about this place to the Derad, that’s fine. But out here, where followers of the fire  element are busy studying and worshipping, you will keep that forked tongue in your mouth.”

“Or what?”

Red stood so close to Carrie’s face, Carrie could smell the woman’s bitter breath, probably from the  mushroom glaze. “You may be the Ancient Key. If the Derad believes you are, then I will accept that. What I won’t accept is your insubordinance.”

“I don’t have to take orders from anyone in here. I am under my own free will. I stopped taking orders from people when I decided to leave Jerad. You really fought my way out of his clutches just to stumble into yours? Don’t think for two seconds that your empty threats mean anything to me. You won’t kill me. Ryc won’t let you. He’s infatuated with me. He used to stalk me. The walls of his house were covered with pictures of me, and he even had a shrine set up in his garage, dedicated to me. ME.”

“The Derad worships  the elements. Nothing more. You are a mere mortal.”

Carrie grinned. She thought she had caught on to feelings of lust Rio had toward Ryc earlier. The way she mentioned him as the Derad, the way she took offense whenever Carrie spoke ill of him. It was time to use that to her advantage. “All he thinks about, all he’s really dedicated his life to is me. I am the object of his out-of-control desire.”

Rio bared her teeth and grabbed the front of Carrie’s cloak, shoving her against the wall. “You whip that tongue of yours out one more time, and I’ll cut it out of your head. Ryc may need you, but he certainly doesn’t need your tongue.”

Carrie grabbed Rio’s wrists and pulled her hands away from her chest. Then she pushed Rio back a few steps and drew away from the wall. “Don’t lay your fingers on me again.”

Rio crossed her arms in front of her chest, the silver bangles shining under the lights. Carrie watched as the woman tried to compose herself, attempted to control her emotions. She was definitely infatuated with Ryc, for reasons Carrie neither understood nor found all that important.

“You are a weapon, Carrie. A weapon. I want you to realize that above all else. Doesn’t matter what Ryc – the Derad – has done to you in the past. I don’t care. What I do care about is the safety of the followers, the preservation of this world, and the will of the elements. I need you to feel compassion for the people around you. Do their lives not matter because they believe in something you don’t?”

“Show me to my quarters. I’d like to get some rest now.”

Rio scoffed. “Very well.” She led them down the hallway Carrie had guessed earlier to be the living quarters. Stopping in front of  one of the metal doors, she waved her hand toward it and it opened to a small room inside. “This is where you will reside.”

Until I escape, Carrie reminded herself. She stepped inside as the door slid shut behind her, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

Inside the small space, they had managed to fit a twin bed covered in black sheets, a small coffee table with a lamp, and a three foot high pillar in the corner that had a normal-colored flame escaping from the top of it.

On the wall to her right hung a large painting of a strange beast Carrie had never seen before. It looked to be a dragon, but it had three heads – two of which were human. The middle head resembled a dragon’s, but there were horns protruding from the top and its tongue lolled from its mouth like an exhausted rubber hose. In the background stood tall trees, the leaves of which were a dark blue. Behind those trees, peering above the landscape, rose what looked like black pillar or tower, the top of which disappeared into the fluffy white clouds that had been painted quite recklessly in the sky. 

An inscription in the bottom of the frame read, “Slipheed, God of Pandemonium, Destroyer of Worlds. Circa 1942.”

Slipheed? Carrie went to the opposite wall where another  picture hung depicting a cluster of planets. Carrie looked closer and saw what she thought might be a black hole in the midst of them. One of the planets, the closest to the black hole, was tearing apart, chunks of the surface slipping into the void. The inscription read, “The Black, Swallower of Worlds. Circa 1912.”

Carrie turned to the bed, feeling a bit worn down. She understood the paintings as well as she understood why anyone would follow after Ryc. She knew what he was capable of. Well, thought she knew what he was capable of. How could he still be alive after she saw him fall from the helicopter? Nobody could have survived that. Nobody.

Sliding onto the bed, Carrie crossed her arms underneath her head and stared at the stone ceiling, the blue flame light dancing across its surface. She devised a plan in her head. A plan of escape. She would get some rest. Let Rio’s anger die a bit, let Ryc’s passion build. If Carrie could get him to trust her, she would be able to manipulate him into doing what she wanted him to, which was help her escape.

- End of Excerpt - 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Experience With Smashwords...So Far

For over a year now, I've been publishing my ebooks through Smashwords, an online company that specializes in allowing indie authors to format and upload their digital books to be sold on different platforms, including the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes and Noble Nook, and the Sony Reader. Although I've experience a few drawbacks during my time working with them, I would say my experience has been somewhat satisfactory.

The first thing I'd like to direct attention to is the wonderful resource Smashwords makes available to anyone who goes to their site - Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords. This free guide walks you through step-by-step on how to format your manuscript in Microsoft Word to get it ready for Smashwords Meatgrinder technology that will spit out your manuscript in all of the formats available to Smashwords. This guide is valuable even if you don't decide to publish your ebooks through Smashwords because it gets your book ready to look decent on almost any ebook platform.

Publishing through Smashwords will give you 85% or more net sales proceeds from each book sale from their site. The numbers are lower if you go through the distribution channels because retail starts to take bigger pieces of the pie. Each book published through Smashwords gets its own page. Smashwords even lets you place links on your book's page of where readers can find the paperback versions.Readers can leave reviews - however a reader has to have purchased you book directly from Smashwords in order to leave a review on it, which is somewhat of a drawback. Although, authors can also create coupon codes to help promote their books. Some authors have used coupon codes that give 100% off a book. This allows Smashwords to track the download as a purchase, meaning the person who downloaded it can review the book without having to pay for it.

As convenient as Smashwords is, I have run into a few issues, such as my book taking forever to be approved for Smashword's distribution channels, and my book being denied distribution for reasons that were already resolved. I've written the support department on a number of these issues in the past without receiving a reply, although I've had Mark Coker email me himself and take care of the issues. As helpful as Mark's assistance was, I would hope to see the support team reply in a more prompt manner in the future. I know once or twice I was told that they never received my email, but in order to send them a message, you have to fill out a form on their own website, making that a technical issue on their side.

Another big issue I've seen more than once - and am currently dealing with again - is the pricing issue between Smashwords and the Sony Reader Store. I changed the price of my books on Smashwords at one point in the past and it took months for the price to change on the Sony site. When I wrote Smashwords support on this issue, I received an email back from Mark Coker explaining to me that he was working to resolve the issue.

Lo and behold, I changed the price of two of my books a couple months ago and I have yet to see the price change on the Sony site. Deja vu. However, it's changed on all the other sites I have open to distribution. This makes it difficult to tell people I have my book available for their Sony Reader because the prices are higher there than if they were to purchase my books at almost any other site. The only other option is for them to purchase the actual Sony Reader file from Smashwords and manually put it on their ebook reader.

One strange thing I've heard from other authors using Smashwords is that their sales went up when they pulled out of distribution through Barnes and Noble Nook and simply made their book available directly through the Nook platform, PubIt!. I thought this might be wishful thinking, but since I pulled out of the Nook distribution through Smashwords, I've sold two copies of my books through the Nook platform. I know that's not a lot, but my sales on that platform were zero before.

Overall, I recommend Smashwords to any indie author looking for a solid website to make their stories available in digital format on multiple ebook readers. Smashwords is still growing, especially with the big self-publishing buzz going around lately, and growing pains are inevitable. But the company looks to have a lot of potential and a very bright future.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Writing Prompt #6 - Invasion

I've been a real science fiction mood lately and it's rubbed off on today's writing prompt.

Remember, you can write as little or as much as you'd like, and if you want, you can post your prompt right here. **All work is under copyright of its authors**

Here we go...

Your character(s) is sitting at home, listening to the radio while the dog plays in the backyard. The radio program is suddenly interrupted by a disturbing announcement...

Cedric turned the dial to raise the volume. Scruffy, the dog, ran across the yard, picking up a tossed stick in his mouth.

"Reports have been confirmed of the bombing. Ships are entering Earth's atmosphere with full armament, with the intent to destroy our cities. Everybody is urged to take shelter in your home's Drustic Vault. Attack will commence on our planet in approximately ten minutes.Our Air Force, along with air support from all other countries involved in the alliance, will be meeting this threat head on."

Cedric glanced up to the empty sky. A fluffy white cloud passed by lazily. The glimmer of a star could be seen at the point the light blue sky turned dark blue. Many stars. The invasion.

Grabbing for dog, Scruffy, Cedric rushed him in the house and slammed the sliding glass door shut, fumbling with the lock before he finally gave up, realizing it would do no good. He opened the hallway closet, pulling down a large black duffel bag from the top shelf. In it were the items he put together for this day.

As he headed down the stairs toward the basement, he remembered when his ex-wife told him he was crazy for thinking anyone even existed outside of our world. It was a mistake to believe that, he remembered telling her. With a universe as big as ours, how could there not be life out there?

When the Alterians contacted Earth to make new friends, the United States government made the mistake of acting hostile toward the alien species, capturing the Alterians' ambassador that was sent to the surface of our planet and running all sorts of tests on her. That evoked war. A war that Cedric knew we wouldn't win.

Entering the basement, he shut and locked the door leading to the house. In case of an invasion, the more security the better, he said to himself to justify his paranoia, now regretting not locking the sliding glass door topside. He rushed to the vault door - a two foot square slab of reinforced steel meant to keep out radiation, fire, and almost anything else that could be thrown at it.

Although, Cedric thought, what if the aliens have a technology that can pierce through the vault? He shook his head, opening the vault door. If that was the case, it was too late now. He would have to hide down here and just wait. Wait until he felt comfortable to peek outside again.

Cedric rushed Scruffy into the rectangular steel-walled room and threw his bag down on a counter that ran the length of the wall. Inside was a radio, a toilet, a microwave and a large foot locker full of canned meals to last him about four months, if he ate smart.

Shutting the door behind him, he input the code Drustic Vault gave him when they installed the safe, punching in the eight number combination into the small computer screen to the right of the door. The door shut and hissed, sealing Cedric and Scruffy inside.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Revisions And Rewrites For Lost Birth

I've been working on the revisions to Lost Birth (the second book in my upcoming young adult series, Expired Reality) for a few weeks now, and I'm catching a lot of the things that were originally wrong with the book and prevented it from reaching the potential it could have when I first tried to self-publish it years ago.

In the first novel in the series, Endangered Memories, (which is currently being looked at by my editor), I had to make major changes in regards to world building. I had to infuse the planet of Anaisha with religion, proper geography, more believable government, and even more wildlife. Once these things were sorted out in book one, the changes just needed to be brought over into book two.

Well, there's a lot more work involved when it comes to book two. When I originally wrote Lost Birth, the novel came out to 200 pages - 100 pages shorter than book one. I did a rush job to get the story out there and the story floundered in many places because of it.

As I go through Lost Birth now though, I'm finding the major points that need work -

There are many locations in Lost Birth that need a good overhaul.

Galtaia Penitentiary, originally named Southshard Prison, is the home of some of the most notorious criminals in the world of Anaisha. The first time I described this location, I was very limited in what details I gave to describe this mammoth setting. I didn't really think too hard in terms of what kind of security a mega prison should have, how the inmates would react if the one who put them away for life showed up as a prisoner himself, or how the building itself was situated in regards to the continent. I originally placed it near a highly populated area. I've since taken care of these finer details, even putting the prison complex on a solitary island. 

The Elemental Complex of the Fire Arts (tentative name) is where Carrie Green awakens and finds herself face to face with an old enemy and an entire community of cult believers, who worship the elements and an ancient prophecy that ties in with Carrie's reasons for being there. Originally I made the underground construct extremely plain, with black walls and signs on the walls that told Carrie where the cafeteria, showers or library was. The library in itself, along with the temple where the followers go to worship the elements, came out looking like they were formed with a cookie cutter and lacked any real interesting details.

Now the complex sports a new look, including a massive dining hall, more detailed living quarters,and an athenaeum (library) that rivals most of Earth's. I am also in the middle of designing a much more believable and more interesting temple of worship.

The South Ryshard Home for Orphaned Girls is where Kimberly Setterson is taken, and where the Drain Sisters - a maniacal group of sadistic bullies - are introduced. This location had an okay amount of detail the first time around, but really only described one room of the orphanage along with a secret underground chamber that housed an ancient artifact.

This time around, I'm going to pull the reader into the other levels of the facility, including the basement where the Drain Sisters do most of their torture on the other kids of the orphanage, and the dining area where all the kids come together for their three meals during the day. I want to go into details regarding where Madame Prinnicle, the operator of the orphanage, goes to spend her time when she's not scolding the kids she has in her care.

Story -
The main problem I have found with Lost Birth is the lack of story. It has a plot, it has purpose, and the characters of the book walk out that purpose, but I really skipped key scenes that could have been implemented in the original version. This lack can be contributed to me rushing through the manuscript and being in a hurry to get it out the door.

From a writer's standpoint, I have been guilty in the long ago past of skipping scenes if I wanted to get one of my characters from one place to another and not really give a lot of detail in between. That's great for certain plot elements - sometimes even necessary - especially if you want to quicken the pace of the book. But going back through Lost Birth I've noticed that I did that a bit too much and lost some great opportunities to give more background on the once crooked cop, Sandra Meldramine, the evil and twisted Drain Sisters of the orphanage, and even of little billy, a young boy who lives in the orphanage, running around the building in a pillowcase cape stealing food from the dining hall. These characters never got their true fifteen minutes of fame, so this run through I'm expanding their scenes and giving more background into who they are, why they do what they do, and where they might be headed in the series.

The worst of these instances is with my character, Sean Amorou, Veronica Amorou's twin brother. He's mentioned as part of the protagonists main group of friends, but isn't seen anywhere in book one. That's fine, because that falls in line with the plot. But in Lost Birth, I wrote him in for one scene and then neglected bringing him back on stage until book three. I'm currently working on some new scenes that will pull him into Lost Birth more and help him connect with my readers on a greater level.

Another issue I've pinpointed in Lost Birth is the end of the book. The final chapter has an intense denouement, but the book lacked the build-up of climax before the payoff. The character that is involved in the ending (which I won't give away) never really had any scenes throughout Lost Birth, let alone book one. So the reader never had a real emotional connection to them, which led to a watery fallout. To rectify this, I'll be adding more scenes with this character throughout Lost Birth, and even go into some of their character background and the complexities of their relationship with my protagonist.

Finer Details -
I found while scavenging through book one that I lacked the little things that make a fictional world a believable and engaging world. So I created more fantastic vegetation, mentioned geographic locations to give the reader a better understanding of the world, and even gave more details to the world's financial system to give the reader a clear sense that this was a living, breathing world and not a Styrofoam knockoff good only for a kid's astronomy project.

In Lost Birth, I've found myself reveling in even smaller details. Food for instance. In the elemental complex, Carrie is originally asked if she wants to eat mushrooms or tofu. She gags at that idea and the scene is finished in regards to that. This time around, I had her sit down and see the food she was being offered. A mushroom cap found in hidden groves in the Serlin Mountains. Square-shaped nuts found in the Great Forests of Lindor. She gags when she sees the black glaze poured over the mushroom, and even though she's a self-proclaimed vegetarian, she finds herself willing to eat some type of meat instead of the strange concoction she's been offered. The changes to this scene give more detail into the geography of the world, the food of the culture, and how very strange others customs might seem.

Another issue I've run into is the library in the elemental complex. Originally I created the library for Carrie to find information on her purpose for being there in the Complex to begin with. But every book she opened in the original version of the novel came up with the same texts talking about the elements. I rushed through the scenes, trading quality for speed, and missed a great opportunity to immerse the reader in texts that could have spoken of the world of Anaisha or even other planets that were in the universe.

I've since then created an athenaeum - a fancy word for a library - that is stocked with manuscripts detailing other planets, galaxies, cultures and species. Carrie's act of reading through these manuscripts will give me a chance to detail the world(s) around her to the reader, breathing new life into my science fiction adventure.

All of these things add up to form a more believable world for my readers, and to help my readers relate to my characters better. From the small details like a glaze-covered mushroom, to bigger issues like the layout of a prison structure, all of these things can be used to hurt or help my story along. So far though, the revisions to Lost Birth seem to be breathing new life into an rough book.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tucson Festival Of Books

This last Saturday I participated in the Tucson Festival of Books which took place on the University of Arizona campus. For $50 ($25 per slot) I was given two, 90 minute sessions under the author's tent to promote my self-published novels. I was surprised I hadn't heard of this event before in the past, but it's definitely one I am going to participate in in the future. The festival brought all sorts of authors, self-publishing companies, kids booths and anything related to writing.

The event coordinator told me I could have a large table in a high traffic area - but in the sun - or I could have half a table in a lower traffic area in the shade. Even though it wasn't even mid-March yet, it was still about 88 degrees out. Regardless, I decided to take the table in the sun for more 'floor space'. I sold six books in the 90 minutes of that first session, but got a bit of sunburn in return.

During my first hour and a half, I managed to be seated near a woman who was trying to get a proposition off the ground to make a certain amount of weed legal in Tucson. She was a bit loud and overshadowed my table at first, but the event coordinators quickly quieted her down.

After that, I had a real wild card of a lady approach my table. When I tried to tell her about my book, she snapped her fingers and told me to cut to the chase. After that statement, she requested I give her a description of each section in my novel - I have 52 chapters! I humored her and described what I could but then she launched into a strange conversation about how she can be invisible to others sometimes. I figured she was speaking figuratively - like invisible as in people don't take notice of your qualities - but then she made the comment that she could walk into someone's room and slide into their bed without them knowing about it. I couldn't help but spit out the word 'creepy' and she agreed. From there she ranted about being able to walk through walls and I was done with her at that point.

Luckily, she was the heaviest dose of crazy I had during the day. I tell you what, I seem to attract all kinds when I go to these signings. My brother and I were joking about how I should write a book just on my experiences at these book signings. And you know I will.

After the first time slot, I wandered the event with my brother and my wife for a couple hours. We explored the kid's area where Sasha and Rodney Glassman were signing and giving out copies of their children's book, Jeremy Jackrabbit Harvests the Rain. We grabbed one and had it signed for our future kid.

We also managed to grab a $1 comic book for our future kid, Lookit!. Actually, I'll end up reading it. It is a comic book.

Bookmans had two tents at the event where I was able to touch base with a couple of the event coordinators - Anthony and Travis - who have both been gracious and hospitable in allowing me to do signings in their Tucson stores in the past. Bookmans was even giving out straw hats with "I Love Bookmans" buttons on them. Although I didn't get there in time to nab a hat, I did get my hands on a button. That's right. I am now boss.


We managed to stumble across a guy dressed in stormtrooper armor who was wandering around the kids section. We had to get a pic.

The U of A campus opened their observatory free of charge, although I don't think anyone was able to see the actual telescope. We did see their mineral and gem displays though.

Barnes and Noble had a huge tent where you could check out the Nook and get your questions about ereaders and ebooks answered. I thought that was pretty neat.

There was even a bus, although despite my temptation to jump on board, I didn't have time before my next time slot.

The second round of book promotion was incredibly slow and only furnished one book sale. However, I had a great time just sitting back and talking with the other authors around me about the self-publishing process. By then, the clouds had moved in and were blocking the heat, giving us a nice, cool afternoon.

I met author Denise Bjornson and grabbed a signed copy of her book, Defining Gray.

Overall, a great event and, like I said earlier, definitely one I'll be doing again next year if at all possible.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Interviews (Round 1)

In the past week or so I've done a few interviews which I'll take a moment to list here, in case anyone is interested in finding out why I decided to become an indie author, when I started writing, or where some of the inspiration to my stories actually comes from.

The first interview was done a few weeks ago on Whispers of the Muse, a great site dedicated to spotlighting authors and their work, fan fiction, and writing tips. Check out the list of author interviews and excerpts of author's work (including mine) here -

The second interview I took part in was for Scott over at Indie Book Blog. What started as a post in an Amazon forum calling for indie fantasy authors has turned into a great blog dedicated to indie authors of many different genres. The blog showcases Scott's reviews of self-published work and giveaways of great ebooks. Check out his interview with me here -

The third interview I did was posted yesterday and was for Jenny Melzer at The Inner Bean, a great site devoted to all things writing. Jenny posts guest blogs from prominent authors in the indie industry, podcasts and articles on writing, and promotes her own writing including her fantasy novel, The Goblin Market (Into the Green). Check out Jenny's interview with me here -

I'll be doing more interviews in the near future - I have one that will be posted with my good friend Paeter Frandsen soon - and I'm always open to do interviews/guest posts if asked.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Writing Prompt #5 - Blam!

Happy Monday everyone! Here is today's writing prompt to get your week started right.

Remember, you can write as little or as much as you'd like, and if you want, you can post your prompt right here. **All work is under copyright of its authors**

Here we go...

Your character(s) hears what sounds like a gunshot and hunkers down....

Jeremy heard the shot and knelt to the floor, shielding his head with his arms. 

"What are you doing down there?" Megan asked.

He lifted his head, scanning the crowd around him for signs of the shooter. Nothing seemed out of place. Nobody looked incredibly suspicious. At this level, he could see the silver anklet that Megan wore just above the straps of her heels, a charm in the shape of a flying crane dangling from it.

Standing up, Jeremy checked his white shirt and tuxedo jacket, verifying he hadn't been hit. "I..."

Megan giggled, sipping from her wine glass. "You're being silly. It was a wine bottle being uncorked, not a gunshot." She wrapped her arm around his neck and looked directly into his eyes. "Now, since it's just about midnight, I think we need to discuss this kiss that I want when the clock strikes twelve."

As beautiful as Megan was - her dazzling green gown brought out a glimmer in her eyes that Jeremy had a hard time resisting - he had no desire to kiss her. New Year's Eve might have been a decent excuse for her to request such a trivial thing, but he wasn't prepared to give in. Not with a contract out on his life.

Another gunshot. Instead of flinching, Jeremy simply scanned the room again. 

Megan touched her gentle hand to his face. When she did so, the large silver bangles on her wrist slid down her arm. "You really need to relax."

"He's been shot!"

To his left, Jeremy watched as a man with gray hair crumpled to the floor, a circle of blood seeping through his white shirt. Megan dropped her wine glass as screams and shouts erupted through the ballroom.

Scanning through the crowd, Jeremy searched for the shooter. Panic filled the dance floor as the hordes of people pushed and shoved their way out of the double doors into the lobby of the hotel. 

Megan grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the exit. But he pulled out of her grip and stood in the middle of the dance floor, searching, his eyes taking in every small detail - the overturned tables, the scattered chairs, the stage and the microphone, the piano and the tip jar. Nothing seemed out of place. Everyone was running for the exit or helping those who were lingering behind to help the man who had been shot. 

He was dead. There was nothing Jeremy - or anybody else - could do for him now.

He felt the pull of Megan's grip on his arm again, this time reluctantly going with her as they made their way out of the ballroom.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Great Witch Evanescence - A Character Profile

Since I like to post on aspects of writing on Fridays, I figured I'd take some time out today and introduce everyone to one of the villains from my stories - Evanescence. Also known in some circles as the Great Witch. She is a character found in my current scifi/fantasy series, Black Earth, and will be found in my young adult series - Expired Reality - debuting this summer. As a side note, Expired Reality takes place 100 years after the events of Black Earth, just so everyone is clear on the chronology of events in regards to the references made in this post.

Evanescence is a powerful, nefarious witch who first made an appearance in the original drafts of my young adult novels years ago.Her birth came when I attempted to create a dark, mystical character who had, at one point in the past, fought for Earth's destruction and almost perished because of it. During this great battle - which will be told toward the end of my Black Earth novel series - Evanescence is drained of most of her magic and health and is forced to go into hiding on the planet of Anaisha. There, she enchants one of Anaisha's richest men, Jerad Montlier, using his money and power to gain herself sanctuary in his home while she regenerates her dark powers.
Magazine ad that served as inspiration for Evanescence

A lieutenant in Satan's own army, Evanescence is currently found in my Black Earth series as a lieutenant in the merged armies of Satan and the alien entity known as Legion. Together, these forces travel through the universe, smothering planets in darkness and emptying them of life before destroying them completely.

Evanescence is more than a witch, she is also mother to an immortal girl named Pearl. Pearl can be found in the Black Earth books, at first trying to kill herself in a desperate attempt to avoid having to watch what will become of the Earth at the hands of her evil mother. Despite Evanescence's attempts to gain Pearl's assistance in destroying the earth, Pearl refuses and quickly becomes enemies with her mother. This feud is only agitated when Pearl decides to pursue romance with a mortal.

In the Black Earth series, Evanescence's character is usually always presented with blue color schemes. She is seen in the novels wearing a bright blue corset and gown. Her eyes glow cerulean and her black hair is streaked with blue. She wears a necklace that carries a sparkling blue gem - possibly one of the sources of her powerful magic.

Evanescence's weapon of choice is a silver staff that she uses both to attack her foes with dark magic and to control the black mist of Legion. The staff also enables her to call forth terrible creatures - such as hellhounds - which she looses upon the planets she is conquering. Although in the Expired Reality series she is first seen as a somewhat decrepit woman who lacks any powers at all, she is still able to enchant and deceive almost any mortal she comes across.

Look for Evanescence in Black Earth: End of the Innocence, Black Earth: The Broken Daisy, and throughout the upcoming Expired Reality series debuting this summer.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ginormous List of Online Self-Published Book Reviewers

In this self-publishing journey, I am just now learning how invaluable online book reviewers are to getting word spread about an authors work. In that vein, I want to let you all know of a gigogiganticnormous (yes, I made up the word) list that I found of online book reviewers who review self-published authors. If you're an indie author looking for people to read and review your latest (or oldest) work, make time to check it out!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Balancing The Scales

Okay, so we're already in March - are you kidding me? - and I have yet to complete some of the projects I foresaw myself debuting by now. Lately I've been feeling a bit overburdened, trying to juggle just way too many things at one time. Although my goals at the beginning of the year were a bit lofty to begin with, I see that my plate is quickly becoming weighed down not only with the work of completing my 2011 projects, but the stress that comes with realizing I can't reach every goal that I had intended to when I first created my project list at the beginning of the year.

I took a good look at my list of current projects and rearranged my priorities, moving some things to the back burner temporarily until I can get caught up. Right now I've decided to focus my energy on four main areas: writing, marketing, the email newsletter, and my blog. My young adult novels - the Expired Reality series - take highest precedence right now, aside from marketing efforts. Because of this, I am postponing two things: The LZR Project - which I planned on debuting this month - and any audio renditions of my writings.

I believe The LZR Project, a mini-story series that takes place before my young adult novels, is better suited being released after the first couple novels debut. By that time, readers will be familiar with my series, my characters, and will hopefully want to invest the time to check out the back stories of the main heroes.

The audio....well, that has to be postponed for a number of reasons. I don't really have a suitable location to record audio (the environment around my apartment complex is ridiculously noisy), nor do I have the time or gas right now to drive to a more isolated location to record. Recording and editing is also taking much longer than I had initially wished it to, forcing me to have to move my audio projects toward the bottom of my project list temporarily. I will still do audio versions of my writing in the near future, but right now they are going to have to wait.

I am really looking forward to the debut of my young adult series this summer. In order to get everything in line for their release, I have to step up my game. As much as I hate admitting that I'm falling behind in anything, I have to call this for what it is - a very busy time in my life - and adjust things accordingly.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Writing Prompt #4 - The Golden Acorn

Without further ado, here is today's writing prompt.

Remember, you can write as little or as much as you'd like, and if you want, you can post your prompt right here. **All work is under copyright of its authors**

Here we go...

Your character(s) is walking through the forest when they see something glittering near the trunk of a tree in the distance. Upon closer inspection, they realize it's a golden acorn...

Scarlet drew closer to the small item on the forest floor. The way the rays of sunlight piercing through the treetops hit the acorn both dazzled and blinded her somewhat. She drew the front halves of her cloak together to shield from the cold breeze moving through the forest and reached down to pick up the acorn.

It felt heavy in her palm, like solid gold. Maybe it was. But if that was so, where did it come from? Scarlet glanced around. Only trees and dirt. The occasional rabbit. She thought an owl was watching her and then realized it was simply sleeping on a branch, no obvious ill intention.

Scarlet realized standing in the middle of the forest probably wasn't the safest thing to do, especially with twilight approaching in a matter of hours. She had to reach her destination before darkness fell upon the land and the beasts came out to hunt.

Clutching the golden acorn, she made her way swiftly through the trees, watching the ground for hunter's traps, but keeping a close eye on the horizon of forest in front of her. The acorn felt warm in her palm - almost too warm. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a bright glowing light in the base of one of the trees.

She stopped and turned toward it, seeing that a door had been carved into the side of the tree. Where a knob would be, a hole had been burrowed through the trunk in the shape of an acorn.

Scarlet scanned the area around her again, fearful for what this could mean. She had heard all the rumors of other worlds, of other planes of existence. Most were only accessible through magical means. Could this acorn be the key to unlocking a door to another reality, maybe another world?

Placing the acorn to the hole, she shoved the item into the tree. With a steady creak, the door opened inward to a sea of bright yellow light. 

Scarlet had been wanting to leave this world for so long. Leave her abusive boyfriend behind - the man she was actually fleeing from at the moment, leave her dilapidated shack, her dying dog. Everything was dead to her now, shriveled and worn by the ages inflicted upon them. 

With a deep breath and nothing to lose, Scarlet stepped into the tree.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Rebuilding A World

Years ago, when I first wrote and self-published the first two novels in my young adult series, Expired Reality, I really thought I had created a believable, compelling world that my readers could get lost in. I made up a planet named Anaisha (the ai is prounced the way it is in the word pain) and simply gave it the same attributes that Earth had. I figured that would save me a lot of trouble, preventing me from having to create minute details about another world that I didn't really care to take the time to build up properly.

Now that I'm going back through the revisions to those novels, I've realized my grim mistake. Simply making up another planet and giving it all the same attributes as Earth just because I didn't want to put the time into getting creative is lame and boring and it does me no good for a series that I plan to run across the next 5-10 years.

I've sat and analyzed what I think I might have done wrong, step by step, and am taking the necessary measures to make sure these mistakes don't carry over into my recent revisions -

** First, I built an unbelievable fact into my world - there is no religion. In the original manuscript, I simply ran my story under the assumption that religion was outlawed - across the entire planet. Not only was it outlawed, but there were no religions that people were secretly believing in and practicing. The only exception I made to this was a strange cult obsessed with four elements - fire, earth, air and water - that lived in underground sanctuaries away from the eyes of the world powers.

The big problem with this? Completely unbelievable. Would an entire planet that has been populated for at least a hundred years not believe in a higher power or powers? Would the human race not create something to believe in, or possibly discover religions that may have been around since before the planet was even populated with the human species?

To fix this in the revisions, I begin by incorporating the government's intolerance for the belief of gods or higher powers. That's believable enough. I've added fictional gods and mythologies that have been passed through Anaisha's history. These stories and beliefs are found in certain texts, hinted at in the speech of some of my characters, and even found etched in the stained glass of the staluses - special buildings erected for the purpose of weddings, funerals, and memorials.

To add some spice to these beliefs, I make sure there is conversation/texts that coincides with designs found in the constellations, giving more weight to the people's beliefs of such gods and supposedly mythical creatures. 

** Second problem? Confusing planet with continent. In the original writings, I stated that the planet's name was Anaisha and that most of the character's interactions took place in Western Anaisha. That's pretty broad. Too broad. An entire planet with numerous different land masses, continents and areas and I boiled it all down to naming a certain half of the planet and stopping there? Sure, I dotted the terrain with cities, but that was it.

My solution was easy enough. The planet is Anaisha. The main continent my characters live their lives on is called Enera. There are other continents as well, with names that will be revealed throughout the series. Inside of Enera are the cities that I originally had set up. This gives my world a bit more realism in terms of geography instead of trying to paint a broad stroke and leaving very little to work with people's imagination.

**My third problem came when I tried to set up the government/political system of Anaisha. I originally stated in the novels that I had a president that ruled over everyone and that was the end of the story. There were police and judges and a normal judicial system much like what's on Earth. Along with that there were Anaisha Sentries - special armored guards who patrolled the city streets and enforced the law when the police were not able to.

As much as having one president to rule the entire world might have been something I got away with in the past, I wanted to add some more depth to my novels this time around. So now there is a president who resides over the continent of Enera and a mysterious figure who is actually thought of as the ruler of all of Anaisha - sort of a like a king. The president actually answers to this man - as do the Anaisha Sentries - and there are other presidents/rulers over the other continents and regions, but all answer to this mysterious figure whose face and identity have supposedly never been seen before. (The details of this mysterious figure will end up being hinted at throughout my other series, Black Earth.)

** My fourth and last really major issue I found with the old manuscripts was the lack of wildlife/creatures. It's another planet for crying out loud! No mention of fantastic creatures (aside from demons) or strange insects or anything else of the like.  An amazing creative opportunity blown.

To rectify this grievous atrocity, I've started working on creature and beast building. Aside from dragons (which in the story so far have only been envisioned) and demons, I'm creating the deadly serpents who fill the waters surrounding Galtaia Penitentiary, horrible beasts who lurk in the midst of Anaisha's numerous islands, and the mesmerizing insects populating the entire planet of Anaisha. Mythology will play an important part, especially when the characters get deeper into the series and start traversing the far reaches of Anaisha.

Building a fictional world is hard work, but the details are necessary. It's not always an easy task using Earth as an environment for your characters, but it can be even more challenging building your own planet from scratch, one that your readers are hopefully going to want to hang out in for a while.