I Kissed A Ghoul … And I Liked It: The Story Of How Tommy Wharton Has Risen From The Grave

(The cover for Noble Young Adult)

The story about Tommy Wharton and I KISSED A GHOUL actually started with the publication of another book called RUSTY THE ROBOT’S HOLIDAY ADVENTURES, a science fiction kid’s book I co-written with Sherry Decker. I had a lot of fun writing RUSTY and decided to write a Young Adult Book.

Shortly after RUSTY THE ROBOT’S HOLIDAY ADVENTURES was published, I jumped right into it and wrote I KISSED A GHOUL. I had a lot of fun writing the book, several times I had to stop, because I was laughing so hard. This was going to be my tribute to both horror writer Richard Laymon and my years at West High School in Davenport, Iowa.

I send I KISSED A GHOUL off to my first publisher and they accepted. It was a dream come true. Noble Young Adult accepted the publication and gave me a nice advance as well. I had my friend and collaborator Ken Lillie-Paetz (who co-written a tale with me in A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FIENDS) and Monkey Pharmacy Studios do a groovy cover of Tommy going to his prom with a sexy vampire gal.

Horror writer Bentley Little even wrote a great introduction for the book and Gerard Houarner wrote the afterword.
Not only do I get my first YA published the ebook ended up on the Bram Stoker Final Ballot for “Superior Achievement for Young Adult Novel Category.”
I was more happy than comedian Fluffy at a buffet.

The CQP cover

Then the dream quickly becomes a nightmare. The book doesn’t win a Bram Stoker and the publisher went out of business a week later.
And to top things off … I was laid off from my job at the college, where I worked for 15 years.
Normally such a situation would be discouraging. But I believed in Tommy Wharton and the book.
I end up sending the book out to another publisher Curiosity Quill Press and they ended publishing the book on Groundhog Day, February 2, 2015.

Like YA paranormal with a kick? This book was just plain laugh out loud fun to write. Plus it’s got it all: Werewolves, vampires and a succubus. They ain’t got nothing over wannabe-cool teen Tommy. Forget Buffy the Vampire Slayer, here’s a regular joe hero who falls down, kicks butt & keeps trying to get some.
You would think that being the mayor’s son would automatically make you popular. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for Tommy Wharton. As a matter of fact, he gets picked on for being overweight. However, there are some perks like using his dad’s campaign van and credit card.

(Artist Larry Nadulsky’s inspired artwork from the book)

Tommy is just like the average teenage boy. His hormones are raging and all he thinks about is having sex. The only problem is that he can never seal the deal. Every time he is about to get lucky, something always ruins it. This is so frustrating to Tommy. It seems that he has no good luck. Not to mention that he constantly finds himself in the presence of monsters – vampires, werewolves, succubus. You name it, he finds them.

People have asked me, why I’d want to write a YA book about an overweight teenage boy who is a nerd and tries to score all the time. I watched “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” and “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” and thought: These characters are the 1%: Cheerleaders, Football players, the Class President, Etc. I wasn’t interested in yet another book about a popular skinny teen. I wanted to write a book about the rest of us: .. the weirdos, the geeks, the freaks, the stoners, the loners, the losers and the dreamers. My message, if there is a message to learn from the book is: It is okay to be different, you don’t have to be popular to be cool, just be yourself. I wanted to have a regular joe for a hero – and that is was about time in the genres! I hope the readers find it a great message to send to teens as well.

Buy I Kissed A Ghoul now on Amazon US and Amazon UK

 

What Inspired Me to Write Escape From Witchwood Hollow

My first published novel, ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW, will always hold a special place in my heart.  “Write what you know” the experts say, and I did.  I wrote about the woods surrounding my parents’ house.

Granted, their woods aren’t haunted, at least not in the sense the woods in the story are.  I would stare at those trees, darkness creeping up around them, and imagine what history had been like.  Who else had dreamed?  Who else stood beneath them and stared up at the intertwined branches?

One of my favorite things to do was stroll through them to the slate stream.  I always imagined building a cottage there for quiet writing time, but never got a chance to before moving away.

My other favorite thing to do was to visit the old foundations hidden among the trees.  Their real history was lost to me, but I could imagine the people who once lived in them and farmed the land.  I could imagine their hopes and heartaches.

I hope for you, the reader, is that ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW will transport you into a land of trees and old stones.  I hope that nature embraces you.

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Escape from Witchwood Hollow

**Noveltunity Book Club March 2015 Nominee**

Everyone in Arnn – a small farming town with more legends than residents – knows the story of Witchwood Hollow: if you venture into the whispering forest, the witch will trap your soul among the shadowed trees.

After losing her parents in a horrific terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, fifteen-year-old Honoria and her older brother escape New York City to Arnn. In the lure of that perpetual darkness, Honoria finds hope, when she should be afraid.

Perhaps the witch can reunite her with her lost parents. Awakening the witch, however, brings more than salvation from mourning, for Honoria discovers a past of missing children and broken promises.

To save the citizens of Arnn from becoming the witch’s next victims, she must find the truth behind the woman’s madness.

How deep into Witchwood Hollow does Honoria dare venture?

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Dear Teen Me, by Edward Aubry

dearteenme-pic-1

The author at 18, apparently having conquered a small pile of dirt.

Dear Teen Me,

ADD is a real thing.  You have it, it’s going to go undiagnosed and untreated, and nobody will ever cut you any slack for it.  Let’s get all that on the table right up front.  It’s why things that seem pretty easy for lots of other people are impossibly confusing to you.  It’s why deadlines are terrifying.  It’s why your room is a mess.  And, it’s why your life for the next few years is going to be defined largely by other people’s disappointment in you.

Heads up: you don’t suck at everything.  It just feels that way a lot of the time.  You’re going to turn out all right, and do some pretty fantastic stuff.  You write at least five novels.  No lie.  And I’m not talking shitty one-draft vanity projects you keep in a box of notebooks in your closet.  All five novels get published.  Rave reviews. There’s a movie deal.  An audiobook.  For three days you are an honest-to-God bestseller on Amazon.  Keep all of that in your head, because we need to talk about how you’re going to get there.

First of all, you’re going to hear many variations of the phrase “not meeting potential.”  Pretty much every adult in your life is going to have this view of you.  Teachers, parents, relatives, employers, and so on.  By now you’ve already figured out you are smarter than the average bear. So have they. And that carries with it a whole assortment of expectations that seem completely reasonable to your elders, and utterly nonsensical to you.  They are never going to get tired of telling you how much better you should be doing, and none of what they are asking you to do will make any sense to you.

Try to keep the following in mind:

Most of them, maybe even all of them, are telling you these things because they genuinely love and respect you.  To you, it will always sound like scolding.  In their heads, it sounds like mentoring.  A huge proportion of their frustration with you comes from that disconnect, and their inability to see it.

When they talk about your potential, they are measuring something completely immeasurable, and they have no idea they are doing that.  They think they are responding to data like developmental benchmarks, test scores, and observational evidence.  It turns out that stuff only accounts for an absurdly small fraction of who you are and what you can do.  They are not wrong to say that people as smart as you are can do things better than you have been doing them.  But they are absolutely wrong to believe that intelligence alone can quantify potential for success, especially for narrow definitions of success (remember, five novels – hang onto that).

So, yeah, lots of adults and authority figures are going to say the same exact unhelpful things to you, over and over, in chorus, and then blame you when their guidance fails to produce the results they want.

And then someone finally figures out the right way to say it.

You’re going to have a French teacher.  Maybe you’ve already met her.  Her name is Ellen Minor, and you take French 2 and French 3 with her in 10th and 11th grade.  You don’t take French 4, even though it’s offered, and even though she teaches it, and even though you think she’s pretty great for a teacher.  You don’t take it because foreign languages are not intuitive for you, and because you have cultivated an interest in the performing arts over the past three years, and there is no way you can fit it in your schedule and still take drama and music.

And you don’t take it because you think you’re no good at French.

Ellen is going to be disappointed in you.  By that point, disappointment will be pretty much the defining quality of your relationships with teachers, and you will weather it. But her opinion will matter to you, and in the course of discussing your decision not to take the class, you are going to make an offhand remark that she thinks you’re just lazy.  I don’t remember why you say that.  Maybe it’s to pick a fight so you can defend yourself.  Maybe it’s a moment of self-deprecation (there will be a lot of those), and it’s to give yourself permission to hate yourself again.  I don’t know.  But it does turn out to be the right button to push, because what she says next will completely change your life.

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Horribly unflattering picture of me, and in terrible condition, but totally worth including because that’s Ellen in the middle. (Also pictured: Ann Brown, whom I have sadly lost track of)

She’s going to say, “I don’t think you’re lazy at all.  I think you work very hard until you find something that doesn’t come easy for you, and then you give up.”

I… wait… what?

Yeah.  That’s the moment.  Because here’s the secret about ADD: it doesn’t hold you back from anything.  It just means you have to push harder to accomplish whatever it is you need to accomplish.  It means you have to want it more.

Here’s what was happening to you that whole time, right up to that moment:

You accomplished a lot.  That should be obvious, but somehow it isn’t.  Your parents and teachers didn’t think you were smart because of some theory or prophecy. They thought you were smart because you did smart things.  You were reading at a college level by the time you got to middle school. You blasted through math like it was nothing.  And you did those things because they came easy for you, and you enjoyed them, and you got caught in an ease-skill-joy-work-reward loop.  Adults said you were brilliant, and you believed them. But the second your distractibility kicked in and slowed you down, you got the not-meeting-potential smackdown.

Like I said, ADD is a real thing.  Your difficulties are going to be random and profound. It will be frustrating as hell.  The trick is to stop worrying about how good you are supposed to be at whatever it is, embrace the fact that some things are going to require more time, effort and dedication from you than they will from your peers, and never give up.

You’re going to get into Wesleyan.  That’s awesome!  The bad news is college is going to be incredibly difficult for you.  It’s going to take you five years to earn a bachelor’s degree in a field you do not end up pursuing.  You are going to graduate in the bottom quarter of your class.  That’s going to feel like failure to you for years, until one day you suddenly remember that people who graduate in the bottom quarter of their class from Wesleyan are called WESLEYAN GRADUATES.  Wear that badge, pal.  You’re totally going earn it, and you will probably work harder for it than a lot of your classmates who graduate ahead of you (not all of them, obviously, but many).

You’re going to be a teacher.  That probably sounds insane to you right now, but it’s true.  You’re going to get certified to teach math, and then later, on a dare, you are going to add English to your credentials.

You finally get diagnosed at 30.  At first, you will treat it like a dirty secret, and honestly I can’t really blame you.  People you work with, other teachers, your friends and colleagues, are going to say the following things about ADD right to your face:

ADD means Ain’t Doing Diddly.

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PS: Quit biting your nails.

I wish I had a Ritalin dart gun.

No wonder these kids are so hyper; Ritalin is a stimulant!

You will smile politely, fuming inside, thinking you will never be accepted if anyone finds out you are being treated for the same thing they mock so freely.  Eventually you will figure out that you can do a lot more good for your kids if you just shrug off the anxiety and put it out there.  You will have students who treat their diagnosis as a get-out-of-work-free card.  Tell them you have a music degree, you teach math and you write successful novels, and tell them exactly how you pushed past the ADD to make it all happen.  It will make a difference, I promise you.  They need you to be that example.

You’ve got this, buddy.  Now get out there and write some books.

Respectfully Yours,

Future Edward Aubry

androids, artificial, jadah mccoy, atozchallenge, a to z challenge, blogging

(A) Artificial & Androids: What does Human have to do with Humanity Anyway?

a-z blog challenge, blogging, It begins- The A-Z blog challenge starts today! For those of you who don’t know, that means each day in April (except Sundays) we will be working our way through the alphabet talking books, movies, superheros, oscars, and anything else related to entertainment. To kick things off I’m talking about Androids and artificial intelligence, and an upcoming release I can’t wait for. Let’s get into it!

The Humanity of Dolphins and Artificial ‘Non-Humans

In 3 days, Artificial, the debut novel in the series The Keplar Chronicles, comes out.  Author Jadah McCoy brings a new story in android/human love and war to pop culture and I couldn’t be happier.  Syl is a human barely surviving the vicious Cull- bug-like robots- and barely remembers what emotions feel like. Bastion is an android sex-worker who is only alive because he can convincingly hide his capacity for emotion. For those of you who are, like me, completely over the angsty emotion and helpless pawn routine, Syl is a breath fresh badassery. The story runs the gamut of Bladerunner-esque problems but delves much deeper into what exactly humanity is. Says McCoy,

“I recently read an article about India declaring dolphins to be “non-human persons.” What is humanity but self-awareness, sentience, intelligence? We coin it “humanity” because human beings seem to be of the opinion that no other creature can feel as we do, think as we do, communicate as we do. Yeah, maybe dolphins don’t have the Grammy’s and maybe they don’t debate the effects of eating organic fish versus pollution-tainted fish, but does that make them any less intelligent? Just because your dog barks instead of speaking English, does that make you understand them any less? Just because an android is made of metal and coding, does that make their emotions any less real? Humanity is a term held on such a high pedestal. There are pieces, glimpses, of humanity in everything around us. One simply has to open their eyes and minds to see them.”

How Fiction Plays Into Our Innate Fear

Ex Machina pokes at the innate curiosity and fear of where the line of humanity is drawn, what really makes us human, and what happens when we can no longer tell the difference between machine and human? Media and entertainment have played off the fear that artificial intelligence will develop so well that androids will take over and kill or enslave humans. While this isn’t exactly hard to imagine, my question is- aren’t humans are just as capable and likely to do these things? If WWIII were to break out, the results would be catastrophic, without the existence of androids. Slavery is still an issue in other parts of the world, who’s to say we won’t be the ones enslaving androids when the time comes. Perhaps the future we will be fighting for the equality of androids.

So who determines when android AI becomes human? In an article called What is a Human? – Toward Psychological Benchmarks in the Field of Human-Robot Interaction by P. H. Kahn, H. Ishiguro, B. Friedman, and T. Kanda, two kinds of situational tests to human-like androids.

Two different types of claims can be made about humanoid robots at the point when they become (assuming it possible) virtually human-like. One type of claim, ontological, focuses on what the humanoid robot actually is. Drawing on Searle’s [8] terminology of “Strong and Weak AI,” the strong ontological claim is that at this potentially future point in technological sophistication, the humanoid actually becomes human. The weak ontological claim is that the humanoid only appears to become human, but remains fully artifactual (e.g., with syntax but not semantics). A second type of claim, psychological, focuses on what people attribute to the fully human-like humanoid. The strong psychological claim is that people would conceive of the humanoid as human. The weak psychological claim is that What is a Human? – Toward Psychological Benchmarks in the Field of Human-Robot Interaction Peter H. Kahn, Jr., Hiroshi Ishiguro, Batya Friedman, and Takayuki Kanda I people would conceive of the humanoid as a machine, or at least not as a human.

These are all possibilities, and several of the ‘tests’ programmer Nathan Bateman was looking for in Ex Machina are a combination of these claims. The study goes on to describe the six accepted pschylogical considerations of humanity. They are:

1) Autonomy:  are we conditioned to behave autonomously in certain ways, or is the lack therein a direct indicator of free will and morality?

2) Immitation: we as infants learn through  immitation, and likely this is a hallmark of android behavioral growth.

3) Intristic Moral Value: we value human (and sometimes animal) life enough to understand on a core level why hurting or killing are bad and interaction is something we seek.

4)Moral Accountability: we are accountable for our actions, so an indicator is if we begin to also expect androids to be morally accountable.

5)Privacy: we have the right to determine what is and is not known about our private selves and life. This becomes tricky when techinically an engineer knows much about an android when he is the creator.

6) Reciprocity: we expect response and respond in kind to each other as humans, ie: when someone extends a hand, we shake it.

Reciprocity is really very interesting in this analysis, because it denotes that reciprocal relationships are how we gain perspectives and readjust our way of thinking accordingly. For example, when children are put in a slave environment, they do not develop the proper reciprocal relationships. With this logic, we as creators will determine how androids develop reciprocity and gain new perspectives. If, upon creation, we treat them as equals and reciprocate on a human level with them, they will learn to behave as humans do in this way. If we use these androids solely as tools, as non-human entities that are not of an equal stature, they will not readjust their perspectives based on our relation to them, and therefore won’t feel the need to adhere to other aspects of humanity, such as morality. Artificial actually holds up to this theory well. Since the android Bastion engages in sexual intercourse, by definition an equal meeting of two individuals, he would be able to develop empathy and human perspectives from these interactions and gain reciprocal behavior.

What do you think will be the turn out of fully-developed AI? Tell us in the comments and tweet/instagram us your thoughts on how Artificial approaches the human/non-human quandry with #KeplarChronicles

Artificial releases April 4th, 2016 Pre-order here

artificial, book, jadah mccoy, ai, androids, romance, scifi, science fiction, novel

Citation:

What is a Human? – Toward Psychological Benchmarks in the Field of Human-Robot Interaction by: P. H. Kahn, H. Ishiguro, B. Friedman, T. Kanda. In Robot and Human Interactive Communication, 2006. ROMAN 2006. The 15th IEEE International Symposium on (sept 2006), pp. 364-371, doi:10.1109/ROMAN.2006.314461 

The End of Silent Clarion: Naomi Always Steals the Show

Matthew Graybosch’s science-fiction thriller serial Silent Clarion, came to a thrilling conclusion today, and we’ve invited Matthew to give us a little insight into main character Naomi Bradleigh.

Naomi Always Steals the Show, by Matthew Graybosch

Naomi Bradleigh wasn’t snow-blonde with scarlet eyes at first. She wasn’t an Adversary, or skilled with an Italian side sword. Her father wasn’t a central figure in the Starbreaker saga. She wasn’t even a member of Crowley’s Thoth, if memory serves, but a session musician brought in to record the keyboard parts for an album called Glass Earth Falling. She wasn’t supposed to become the leading woman in my first novel, Without Bloodshed. She certainly wasn’t intended to get her very own novel, the recently completed Silent Clarion.

She was just supposed to get one scene. One scene, to please a girl called Naomi I was dating at the time. Instead, she stole the show. My wife says that another character of mine, Claire Ashecroft, is my id. If you prefer Jung to Freud, maybe Naomi Bradleigh is my anima. Or maybe I’m just being pretentious. 🙂

A Mind of Her Own

The girl I was dating at the time asked me if she could be in the story; Naomi wanted a cameo as part of the band Morgan Stormrider and Christabel Crowley were in at the beginning of the version of Starbreaker I had been writing at the time. The character’s surname came from the name of the English country house the real Naomi grew up in. But something funny happened after Naomi and I broke up and lost touch with each other.

I sat down to write one night back in 2000 while listening to the Ashes are Burning album by Renaissance, and found that a character I had written to please a girl had become her own woman. This Naomi wasn’t some quiet, bespectacled chestnut-haired goth content to sit in a corner of the studio and play a piano part someone else had written for her.

No. This new Naomi was older, and more mature. She was older than Starbreaker’s hero, Morgan Stormrider. She had warned him against becoming an Adversary when he was a young man, because she had been one herself. Not only had she served, but she was also a classically trained soprano and pianist with a love for rock and heavy metal.

Over the years, I found she had something to say in just about every scene where it made sense for her to be physically present. If there was a fight, she was there with sword in hand. But her voice was nothing like that of my ex.

Mistakes? I’ve Made a Few

The problem with being a man writing about writing a woman who not only becomes a co-star of sorts in one book (Without Bloodshed) and then stars in her own story (Silent Clarion) is that it is entirely too easy to wax self-congratulatory. It’s all too tempting to sound like this:

 

Check out this character I wrote. She fights beside the men, but is still feminine. She has agency. I didn’t use rape to develop her character. Aren’t I a good little writer man?

 

Thing is, I don’t deserve a fucking cookie for writing a character like Naomi. First, her first appearance in Without Bloodshed is at least a little problematic; she too easily accepts Isaac Magnon’s explanation for why he needs to get into her neighbor and former band mate Christabel’s house at face value.

Furthermore, while it’s true none of my women characters were raped (Edmund Cohen wasn’t so fortunate), I did show Naomi getting groped by a dirty cop trying to coerce a confession to murder from her. Moreover, I only showed her able to hold this cop at bay until Morgan, Eddie, and Sid arrived to help her. It would have been better to have her walk out of MEPOL HQ just as Morgan and the guys turn up, and say, “I wouldn’t have minded getting a cab, but I appreciate the ride.”

So, even though I’ve gotten praise for my women characters from women who have read Without Bloodshed, I could have done better. Moreover, I want to do better. I don’t care if lit-fic snobs think my prose is only workmanlike at best, but by Arioch I damn well want to be remembered for writing complex, twisty plots and believable, multifaceted characters regardless of gender. (Admittedly, it wouldn’t kill me to do better in terms of racial diversity.)

It was with that in mind that I first wrote a novelette called Steadfast, in which a younger Naomi took in a mission that brought her with a surviving subject of an old military experiment called Project Harker. This novelette served as the basis for Silent Clarion, the serial that concluded this week.

If Men’s Stories are Universal, Must They Be About Men?

Lately, there’s been a #StoriesForAll hashtag on Twitter started by YA author Shannon Hale, who’s concerned that boys are discouraged by their parents, siblings, and peers from reading books about girls and women because such books are “girl books”, and thus not appropriate for boys. But books about boys and men are for everyone.

I won’t claim to be a great feminist ally. However, Silent Clarion is fundamentally a story about a detective-type character on vacation who stumbles upon a mystery that gets real weird, real fast. It’s the sort of story that’s often written with a man as its protagonist, but I could see no reason why it couldn’t be written with a woman instead.

Furthermore, I saw no reason why I couldn’t write a woman from her own viewpoint, in her own voice. In fact, I welcomed the intellectual challenge of getting into Naomi’s head, and seeing her world as she would have when she was twenty.

Being Naomi Bradleigh

Yeah, I ripped the title off of Being John Malkovich. However, that’s what it’s like to write Naomi Bradleigh from her perspective. I had to try to think like her, and experience her appetites and desires. I had to try to adopt a female gaze, as opposed to the male gaze I’ve used before, even when writing scenes with women as viewpoint characters.

Moreover, I had to write a younger Naomi than the one readers of Without Bloodshed already knew. Naomi cultivated her collected, demure stage presence to avoid stealing too much of the limelight from Christabel Crowley. I had to avoid projecting it onto Naomi’s younger self, while still portraying her in a manner that would justify the cultivation of such a persona later in her life. She’s brash as a young woman, and perhaps a bit too forthright. I had to write the younger Naomi as a woman caught between her intelligence and training, and her inexperience and relative immaturity.

Have I succeeded? That’s for you to decide. Hopefully you enjoyed Silent Clarion even if my ambition exceeded my ability.

Full Silent Clarion playlist here at https://open.spotify.com/user/1238897208/playlist/4iBppi9lW4iw5oPUa9JuEv

cover1000Silent Clarion

My curiosity might get me killed. I thought I needed a vacation from my duties as an Adversary in service to the Phoenix Society. After learning about unexplained disappearances in a little town called Clarion, I couldn’t stop myself from checking it out.

Now I must protect a witness to two murders without any protection but my sword. I must identify a murderer who strikes from the shadows. I must expose secrets the Phoenix Society’s executive council is hellbent on keeping buried.

I have no support but an ally I dare not trust. If I cannot break the silence hiding what happened in Clarion’s past, I have no future. I must discover the truth about Project Harker. Failure is not an option.

Silent Clarion is a new-adult science-fiction thriller by Matthew Graybosch, set before the events of the Starbreaker novels. Meet Naomi Bradleigh as an Adversary, seventeen years before Without Bloodshed.​

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Goodreads | Instalments

It’s All in Where You’re Standing: Point of View

It’s All in Where You’re Standing: Point of View by Samantha Bryant

Stories come from a lot of different places. Some writers begin with a character. Or a line. Or a plot point. A setting. Dialogue. A scene. Stories grow from many different kinds of seeds, which is part of why the garden of literature is such a diverse biome.

 

As a story grows, the writer makes decisions about what to prune and what to fertilize as well as what parts just turned out to be weeds and should be pulled and discarded. All the decisions you make for your story, whether they are conscious or unconscious, change the shape of the final tale, much like clipping topiary animals.

 

Selecting a point of view may not seem like one of those vital decisions a writer has to make, but who is telling the story can change it completely. Where you’re standing when you view the story decides what parts of it you can see, what biases are in play, and how the reader feels about the story. History may be written by the winners, but in fiction, anyone might tell their version of the tale.

 

Writing in first person gives a story immediacy, especially if the reader connects with that narrating character. But it’s also limiting: the writer can’t tell the reader anything the character doesn’t know or observe. There can’t be any scenes that the narrator isn’t there for. That can lead to some really difficult patches of exposition where there is information the reader will need that your narrator isn’t a natural conduit for.

 

When The Hunger Games series blazed through the middle school where I teach like some kind of literary comet, I read the books alongside my students. I went to the movies, too. The movies, while a much more faithful rendition than many movie adaptations I have seen, left me feeling unsatisfied. It took me a while to figure out why.

 

I had to pull out that first book and read it again to realize that it came down to point of view. The novel is through the eyes of Katniss. The movie isn’t. That was the disconnect for me. I didn’t engage with Katniss the same way because I wasn’t inside her head and heart like I had been. I understand why the movie makers changed the point of view—first person storytelling is difficult in film—but it really changed the emotional heart of the story, at least for me.

 

Some writers get around the limitations of first person by writing in third person omniscient. That lets the writer know and use what’s going on in anyone’s mind and thought processes. If it’s not handled gracefully and consistently, though, it can be disconcerting for the reader. That feeling of head-hopping (when you felt like you were with one character and then you’re given information that character can’t know) is really disconcerting.

 

While I’ve written short stories in first person or omniscient, I find either one hard to maintain in a longer-form piece. I’ve come to prefer the third person, close point of view, balancing a few different points of view across chapters. Because my ideas always seem to come wrapped up in characters, I’m most comfortable exploring them through one particular set of eyes. But I want to hedge my bets and be able to use story elements that one character doesn’t know, but another does. So, I try to get the best of both worlds by exploring the story through one set of eyes at a time.

 

In Going Through the Change, I balanced four point-of-view characters, letting each of four women take turns telling parts of the tale, one chapter at a time. The chapter titles named the point of view character, and I also tried to always use the character’s name early on in the scene to help the reader follow me as I changed points of view. It was complicated sometimes. I had to keep charts of time lines and locations to make sure I didn’t end up with logical inconsistencies. As I edited, I’d follow one character at a time through her entire thread and untangle it if it had become ensnared. But the payoff was worth the effort. This approach allowed me to exploit the who-knows-what-when complications in my plot and reveal the conflicting motivations of characters and play them off of each other.

 

Choosing the right point of view to tell your story from will make all the difference. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. Finding the right one to serve the needs of your story might mean some experimenting. But when you’ve found the right one, it’s like fitting in the last piece of the puzzle. It just feels complete and right.

Going Through the Change, by Samantha Bryant - CoverSale

Going Through the Change is going through a change in price for a couple of days in early August. On August 5th and 6th you can get the Kindle edition for free on Amazon. Check it out at: http://bitly.com/face-the-change

Going Through The Change

Going through “the change” isn’t easy on any woman. Mood swings, hot flashes, hormonal imbalances, and itchy skin are par for the course. But for these four seemingly unrelated women, menopause brought changes none of them had ever anticipated—super-heroic changes.

Helen discovers a spark within that reignites her fire. Jessica finds that her mood is lighter, and so is her body. Patricia always had a tough hide, but now even bullets bounce off her. Linda doesn’t have trouble opening the pickle jar anymore…now that she’s a man.

When events throw the women together, they find out that they have more in common than they knew—one person has touched all their lives. The hunt for answers is on.

Samantha BryantSamantha Bryant

Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. That makes her a superhero all the time. Her debut novel, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel is now for sale by Curiosity Quills. You can find her online on her blog,  Twitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on the Curiosity Quills page, or on Google+.

 

 

 

 

The Invincible Shadow: A Prelude to The Soul Less Grave By Jason King

INVINCIBLE SHADOW STORYArgentus slapped the right side of his neck. He pulled his hand away and examined his palm. A black speck ringed by red confirmed that he’d exterminated the mosquito that had been attempting to feast on him. Unfortunately, another was ready to take its place. He hated Maes Tol. The southernmost kingdom of Shaelar was renowned for its warm, almost tropical climate and being in Rellaysta made that most apparent. The capitol city was situated in the center of the Gulf of Rell, making it a chronically sticky, humid place, infested with cockroaches, lizards, and an unending number of mosquitos.

Argentus slapped his neck again, his irritation making the blow land harder than he intended. He yelped, and when he pulled his hand back, saw the mosquito zip away. “Dammit!”

“Stop that, lasa,” said an olive-skinned woman lying on her stomach at his left. She had long dark hair, big brown eyes, and her lithe figure was clad in black leather. “You’ll draw the attention of the wall guards.”

“I can’t help it, Arynda!” Argentus hissed. “They’re eating me alive.”

Arynda chuckled and hoisted a small looking glass to one eye. They were both lying on their bellies, concealed in the wide fan-leaved plants on the edge of a swamp just outside the perimeter of a walled manor house. It was nearly dusk, the sweltering heat still suffocating in spite of the sun being low on the horizon, and glowflies were starting to appear in the waning light.

Another mosquito landed on Argentus’ neck, and he brought his hand up again to slap it. Arynda lowered her small telescope and stared at him. Argentus met her gaze, and as if in challenge, followed through with his motion, bringing his palm down on the parasite feeding on his neck. Arynda rolled her eyes and went back to surveying the manor house.

“How do you stand it?” Argentus whispered.

“I think of your beautiful brown eyes, toned muscles, and that lopsided smile you…”

“Not being with me!” Argentus snapped. “How do you abide the biters?”

Arynda collapsed her looking glass and said, “They don’t bite me.”

Argentus was about to tell her just how ridiculous that was when he noticed not a single mosquito alighted on Arynda’s tan neck, nor were there any welts indicating that she’d already been fed upon. As if to drive the point home, a stinging on his bare forearm made him reflexively swat at another mosquito.

“Why don’t they bite you?”

Arynda smirked. “I’m too sweet.” She began to crawl backwards on her belly until Argentus could no longer see her in the underbrush. Another mosquito attacked his neck, and he slapped it. This time he felt the insect explode beneath his palm. Oh, how he hated Maes Tol.

He crawled backward until he descended a bank of moist dirt with protruding roots where he was able to turn and crouch. Arynda was already sitting, and pulling her long hair back and tying it into a pony tail. “No really,” Argentus began, “why do they not bite you? Do you have some kind of bug-repelling talis?”

Arynda just smiled at him.

He was about to press the issue, when something in his belt pouch made a soft chime. He fished out a palm-sized, round and smooth stone. It was translucent, tinged with a bit of purple from a shard of amethyst embedded in its center. It pulsed with a soft light as it chimed a second time. Argentus tapped the top of the stone and asked, “What is it Jaris?”

The disembodied voice of a man emanated from the speaking stone, as clear as if he were sitting next to him. “Wall patrols on the north and east at the top of every hour.”

Argentus glanced at Arynda. “It’s the same for the south and west, but I’ll bet you a hundred silver Aies that the night-watch patrols twice an hour with double the men.”

“No bet here,” Jaris replied.

“What about translocation?” asked another ethereal voice. It belonged to Kaul, the other member of Argentus’ team of thieves.

Argentus unconsciously touched an amethyst earring piercing his left ear. “Tried that. Duke Royce has a warding stone.”

“Damn,” Kaul swore.

“Did you actually expect the largest collector of talises in all of Maes Tol to not have a warding stone?”

Kaul didn’t answer.

“So what’s the plan?” Arynda asked, her glossy raven hair now pulled back tight. Divine Mother, she was beautiful.

“You’re sure there’s no sewer?” Argentus asked the stone.

“Not if we trust the plans we got from our informant,” Jaris answered.

“There’s got to be a secret passage in and out of the keep,” Kaul added. “There’s always a secret passage.”

Argentus sighed. “Probably. But the queen’s soldiers will be here tomorrow morning to procure the weapon talises and the other most valuable of the duke’s finds. So we don’t have time to waste looking for one.”

“Why not just attack the soldiers?” Kaul asked. “Ambush them when they take the road through the swamp.”

Argentus met Arynda’s eyes. He could see that her thoughts mirrored his own. Kaul was always so eager to resort to violence to accomplish their ends. It wasn’t that Argentus was against employing sword and bow, but he didn’t seek opportunity to kill like Kaul did. It was something about the man that made him uncomfortable.

“The four of us against fifty soldiers?” Arynda said into the stone and her tone was scathing.

“We have talises,” Kaul snapped.

“So-will-they,” Arynda said each word as if condescending to a child. “Weapon talises!”

Kaul growled. Argentus could picture the man clenching his fists or maybe even kicking a stone. He did not like Arynda, especially when she called him out on his foolishness. Argentus knew Arynda could take care of herself, but when they bickered—which was often—it invoked a tightness in his chest that he couldn’t completely attribute to nerves.

“So what do we do?” Jaris asked.

Argentus ran a hand through his messy brown hair. “Kaul and Jaris, I want you to attack the east wall at sundown—as soon as they double their patrols. That should make them pull guards away from their posts on the other walls to reinforce the east patrol. Arynda and I will go over the west wall, sneak into the manner, and raid the duke’s collection. If we do this right, we can be in and out of there in twenty minutes.”

“I’m not attacking the wall-guard with just crossbow bolts,” Jaris said.

Argentus ground his teeth. “Then what do—”

“—I need Arynda and her flame ring. Kaul can sneak in with you.”

Argentus opened his mouth to argue, but Arynda touched his lips with one of her fingers. “He’s right, lasa. We need something more powerful if we want the distraction to be effective.”

Argentus stared at her and then spoke into the stone, “Fine. But if she gets hurt, Jaris, I’ll cut off your balls.”

Jaris responded with a good-natured laugh. “And what do we do when they send out a company of knights to take us?”

“We’ll disappear into the swamp, and rendezvous in that village we passed on the way here.” Arynda said.

“Sounds good. Kaul’s already on his way.”

The speaking stone chimed again, and its glow faded.

Arynda scowled at him. “I don’t need you fussing over my safety, lasa! I can take care of myself.”

“Arynda, I…” he trailed off under her withering glare.

“Besides, lasa,” she said in a softer tone, “you need to worry about yourself. What with Osarr Rakahnas swearing to post your head on a pike outside the king’s palace.”

Argentus scoffed. “He’s just politicking, and I’m a relevant issue.”

“And sending that monster of a hunter, Orryn Ghostblade, was just a political stunt?”

Argentus nervously touched his shoulder. He’d run into the ruthless thief hunter in Jeryn, and only escaped with his life because he was able to teleport away. Still, the hunter had put his phase dagger through Argentus’ shoulder, pinning him against the stone wall of an alley. That whole episode had been the reason why Argentus had left Aiestal for Maes Tol in the first place. Thinking of the man’s dead green eyes made him shiver.

“Well that’s why we left.”

Arynda shook her head, making her ponytail wag. “His dagger tasted your blood, lasa.”

“Shouldn’t you be going?” Argentus snapped. He expected a tart retort from Arynda for snapping at her, but she leaned down and kissed him instead.

“Be careful,” she whispered.

Argentus silently stared at her, the earnestness in her eyes leaving him wordless. He watched her as she slipped away, and couldn’t help but touch his shoulder again. Had it not been for that monk with the healing ring, the wound wouldn’t have stopped bleeding. Another of Orryn’s tricks, the wounds from his phase dagger delivering an anticoagulant effect.

It was completely dark by the time Kaul arrived. Argentus knew the man was approaching long before he saw or heard him. This was due to Kaul’s new talis, a dread medal. A medallion that radiated an aura of fear for several feet. It had proven to be a treasure of a find – its uses in interrogation were invaluable – but the fool-man hadn’t quite mastered the use of it.

Argentus shut the fear out of his mind by reciting old prayers his sister had taught him. “Take that damn thing off!”

“Why?” Kaul snapped.

“Because it gives you away. You might as well be holding a glow orb and playing the lute!”

Kaul’s only response was a growl and a moment later the aura of fear faded.

“That’s better,” Argentus said.

“So how do we do this?”

“I’ll go in first and take up position,” Argentus said. “We don’t attack until Arynda and Jaris do.” He tapped a silver bracelet worn on his right wrist, and to him the entire world lit up as though it were day.

Argentus leapt up from his hiding place and ran towards the shadows just outside of where moonlight touched the ground. To his eyes, they were glowing a bright purple, an indication that they would conceal him perfectly. That was the primary function of the stealth bracelet—to show him where the shadows were thickest, and then to somehow pull those shadows up and around him and render him undetectable by both sight and sound. Of course direct light shining on Argentus would reveal him, even as he stood cloaked in the dark. After all, there wasn’t a talis that could make one wholly invisible, or at least if there was, no one had discovered it. Still, this marvelous piece of talis-craft gave him a distinct advantage, had facilitated an innumerable number of successful raids, and earned him the name people all over Shaelar were starting to call him—Argentus the Shadow.

Argentus darted from his cover to the base of the stone wall—it wasn’t unusually tall, perhaps fifteen feet—and flatted his back against it. He likely didn’t need to do this, as there was plenty of shadow where he stood so as to veil him, but it was an old habit he hadn’t quite been able to abandon. He fished in his belt pouch and produced a gold ring with an amethyst jewel capping its center. This was the last of his personal talises and, while not one that was considered tactically valuable, had served Argentus well in his line of work. It was also compatible with his other two talises, which he’d found out early on in his career wasn’t always the case.

He slipped it on, and immediately felt lighter, as though he weighed little more than a child. Reaching up, Argentus gripped the rough stone protrusions of the wall and hoisted himself effortlessly onto the wall. He climbed fast, faster than he knew he ought to be able to climb, feeling like a spider. He flipped up over the wall one handed, and landed in a crouch on the parapet. The soldiers patrolling the wall didn’t detect any hint of his arrival. Instead they just stood, slump-shouldered, staring out into the night, occasionally moving off to find a different place to stand, and then back again.

Argentus kept flatted against the tooth-like stone lip of the wall, crouching down and drawing his daggers. Sadly, these were not talises. Not like Jaris’ titan gauntlet, or Arynda’s flame ring. Still, they were forged of fine steel, gold leafed handles inlayed with trailing designs bearing the blade, and sharpened to a razor’s edge. And he was pretty damn good with them.

The minutes passed slowly until at last Argentus heard an explosion from the other side of the manner, and saw red light flash in the sky. Arynda and Jaris’ assault had begun. The wall guards began shouting, and one barked orders to the other three before flying down stone stairs carved into the interior of the wall that led down to the courtyard. He took all of his men with him, save one armored guard standing atop the wall.

Argentus waited until the other guards were out of sight before leaping out of the shadows. To the guard’s eyes, it would be as though Argentus had appeared in a cloud of black smoke. But before Argentus could strike, a sharp whistling sound punctuated by a thunk made him pull up short. The guard tried to scream, but only a sickly choking noise came out as he clutched at something in his throat. The guard frantically backed up until he reached the edge of the wall, and fell to the courtyard below.

He belted his daggers and glanced down over the parapet to where Kaul stood in the darkness, reloading a crossbow. Argentus was glad Kaul had taken out the guard. Thief and assassin though he was, Argentus preferred to avoid killing men when he could. It was something he decided was probably a holdover from his religious upbringing. Kaul, on the other hand, seemed to lust for blood and competed for even the very chance to kill, and Argentus was more than happy to let him do the knife work.

Argentus shrugged off a satchel he wore on his back, set it on the stone wall, and dug out a thin rope tied to a metal claw. He lodged the hooks of the claw into a seam in the stone teeth running atop the wall, and then tossed the slack down to Kaul. A moment later, the man appeared, and Argentus could see his mismatched eyes in the moon light—one brown and one blue. It added to the dangerous, unpredictable persona the man worked hard to cultivate. Argentus reached down and helped Kaul up onto the parapet.

“Give me your feather ring,” Kaul demanded.

Argentus scowled at him. Asking to borrow one’s talis was taboo in their culture. Of course, if a person chose to lend that talis, it was perfectly proper, but to ask? No one did that. Not even criminals. It was such an egregious breach of civilized etiquette that answering its rudeness with a duel was permissible under the law in most cities.

“You have your stealth bracelet and you won’t let me use my dread medal,” Kaul said, his tone less demanding.

He’s right. Damn him for a presumptuous bastard, but he’s right.

Argentus slipped off the feather ring and immediately felt as though he’d gained a hundred pounds, the ground seeming to pull him closer into its embrace. He gave the ring to Kaul who quickly slipped it on.

Another loud explosion from the other side of the mansion grounds prompted Argentus back into action. Kaul leapt from the wall, landing quietly in the courtyard below. Argentus cursed under his breath as he was forced run down the stone stairs. The two men kept to the shadows as they wound their way through a maze of bushes sculpted into various animals. Fortunately, all of the guards seemed to be participating in defending the east wall, leaving none in the courtyard. That struck Argentus as odd. Even during an attack, most guard units would keep patrols elsewhere to prevent their enemies from doing exactly what they were doing. He commented as much to Kaul, the man passed it off as luck, but Argentus wasn’t so sure.

The situation was the same inside the manner, heightening Argentus’ anxiety as they stole through empty corridors. Shouldn’t the duke’s servants and household have been roused by Arynda and Jaris’ attack, if not for fear then at least for the sake of curiosity?

“Something’s wrong,” Argentus whispered as he grabbed Kaul’s arm.

He threw off Argentus’ grip with a shrug. “What’re you talking about?” he hissed.

“Where is everybody?”

Kaul’s jaw tightened. “Asleep!” Another explosion from outside made Kaul survey the corridor, and the man no longer looked so certain.

“Exactly,” Argentus said. “I think we should pull out.”

“Weapon talises, Argentus! And they’ll be gone tomorrow, on their way to the queen and forever out of our reach!”

Argentus stared at Kaul for a long moment before finally nodding with a sigh. “Fine. But stay alert.”

Kaul just grunted, and the two resumed their skulking down the wood-paneled corridor. They followed a hand drawn map they’d gotten from their informant—something that had cost them an extra fifty Toles—until they reached a basement store room. The heavy, iron bound door was locked, but that barely slowed them and Argentus soon found himself inside a room full of ornate storage chests of various sizes stacked against all four walls. One of those walls, the back wall, was incongruously made of smooth grey metal.

All the chests had the queen’s sigil engraved into their locks, which were a bit more challenging for Argentus to defeat. He wrenched the first chest open and found a heart-stopping plethora of gold coins. The next trunk contained more precious gems than he’d ever seen before, but still no talises. It wasn’t until the fourth chest they’d opened that they found talises. But these were of the mundane sort; glow orbs, speaking stones, looking stones, and various other valuable, but utilitarian talises.

“Where are the weapon talises?” Argentus growled.

“Those are in the vault,” a man’s voice rang out behind them.

Argentus whirled to find a black man with long, dirty dreadlocks standing in the doorway of the storeroom, hand extended to dangle a small pendant on a chain before them. He wore a breastplate, but no other metal armor, and had two ornate daggers sheathed on his belt, one at each hip. His bare arms were heavily muscled, and his legs looked to be as thick as tree trunks.

Orryn Ghostblade.

“Ah, hell!” Argentus said.

The dark-skinned man smiled and shook the pendant. “This is the key to Duke Royce’s vault.” He motioned at the odd wall made of smooth metal.

Divine Mother! That’s a holding box! Only it was large enough to be a room. Argentus had never seen a talis safe that large—never.

Oryyn pocketed the pendant inside his belt pouch. “You’re not getting in, Shadow.”

Argentus’ mind raced and he berated himself for not withdrawing at his first impression of danger. Oryyn had laid the perfect trap for him. A large store of weapon talises located in a seemingly unprotected manner house shielded with a warding stone so he couldn’t teleport away. Argentus thought that by leaving Aiestal, he’d escaped Oryyn. But the man had obviously gone to great lengths to arrange this. Argentus wouldn’t be surprised if their informant had been a plant.

“All this just to capture me, Ghostblade? I’m flattered.” Argentus’ bravado sounded forced even to his own ears.

Orryn flashed another smile, and then drew his daggers so fast that Argentus only had time to duck as one of the man’s phase daggers spun above his head. The blade didn’t clank as it hit the wall, but instead blurred as it sank right through it, taking on a translucent ethereal form, like a ghost. A second later it reappeared in Oryyn’s hand looking completely solid once more.

The sharp snap of Kaul’s crossbow echoed in the square chamber, but the fletched bolt inexplicably changed course upon nearing its target, striking the stone wall instead. Orryn’s breastplate was some kind of shield talis. Not as powerful, or impressive, as Jaris’ shield bracelet, but effective enough to protect him from projectiles as was evidenced when Kaul fired a second time. Orryn laughed as the second bolt curved sharply and struck the ceiling. Well, stabbing him in the heart wasn’t going to be an option.

Kaul dropped his crossbow and drew a short sword. He leapt to the side, his reduced weight allowing him to take four running steps on the wall itself, sword held high. The thief hunter hurled another phase dagger, sending it spinning end over end and turning ghost-like as it connected with Kaul’s blade. Immediately it solidified inside the blade of Kaul’s upraised sword. The weapon snapped in half as the phase dagger pushed it out of its space. When Kaul landed weaponless before Orryn, the thief hunter swung at Kaul with his other phase dagger, ethereal blade passing through the flesh of his left forearm. It was only after Orryn finished his swing that a wound appeared, a red line appearing on Kaul’s arm and spraying blood. Kaul cried out and Orryn silenced him by slamming the bottom of his boot into Kaul’s chest, knocking him against the wall and to the floor.

Argentus was already in motion when Orryn turned back to him. The man let fly a backhanded swing with his empty fist, only, by the time it neared Argentus one of his phase daggers had materialized in his hand. Argentus reflexively threw himself to his knees, leaning back as he slid under Orryn’s swinging dagger. He slashed at the man’s leg as he glided by and heard the thief hunter suck in a sharp breath. Argentus pitched forward, then somersaulted, rolled, and came up in a crouch just in time to swing one of his knives up and slam it into the back of Orryn’s right calf. The dark skinned man bellowed in rage more than from pain, spun and kneed Argentus in the chest as he threw himself to his feet. The blow knocked Argentus back apace and he found a phase dagger spinning toward his face. He brought up one of his knives just in time to knock the blade aside, only it passed right through his own dagger. It was only a desperate lurch to the side that saved Argentus from death. But it wasn’t enough to avoid the dagger altogether.

Argentus screamed as the knife solidified in the underside of his upraised arm. He dropped his knife, and crashed into the stone wall of the room. The phase dagger embedded in his flesh vanished, and blood poured from his wound—bleeding that Argentus knew wouldn’t stop without a magical healing. He wanted to drop his remaining knife and grip his upper arm to stop the bleeding, but resisted the impulse. To drop his other knife would be to surrender to death.

“You’re not much without the use of your translocation talis,” Orryn scoffed. “Frankly I’m disa—” the man cut off abruptly, his eyes widening and his jaw snapping shut.

Argentus knew what had frozen the man. He could feel the icy wave of fear washing over him as well, threatening to paralyze him.. Perhaps Kaul’s dread medal did have a practical use for more than just interrogation or intimidation. Argentus warded off the fear aura by reciting,

Divine Mother of creation,

            Rasheera the giver of life.

            Our petition we send unto thee,

            To deliver us from strife.

He threw himself forward and tackled Orryn to the floor. They went down, and Argentus found himself lying atop the thief hunter. He raised his remaining dagger, gripping the handle with both hands, ready to bring it down on Orryn’s face, but the thief hunter swung his arm into Argentus’ side, knocking him off of him. A clang resounded through the chamber as Argentus’ knife fell to the marble floor, and he began to frantically search for it. But instead of finding his knife, Argentus found the pendant Orryn had teased him with earlier. It had fallen out of the man’s belt pouch in their tussle, and glinted at Argentus from the floor just in front of him. It was the key to Duke Royce’s vault. The massive holding box built into the room like a wall. A room full of weapon talises!

Argentus seized the pendant and scrambled to his feet. He jumped and dove for the smooth silver wall at the back of the chamber. “Open!” he shouted.

Just as he was about to crash into it, the metallic surface liquefied and the substance parted enough so that a man-sized portal opened up directly in front of him. Argentus rolled as he hit the floor inside the vault. Once he was certain he was inside, he shouted, “Close!”

The rippling, liquid metal wall flowed back together, closing the portal and solidifying once more. Argentus breathed a deep sigh of relief and leaned back against a large wooden crate, glow orbs automatically waking to drive back the darkness of the vault’s interior. He tore a piece of his tunic and fashioned a tourniquet that he tied around his upper arm. It wasn’t enough to stop the bleeding, but it did slow the flow, which would buy him some time. He stood, and examined a pile of wooden crates stacked neatly atop one another, forming a pyramid shape.

These crates contained the weapon talises Duke Royce’s men had recovered from an ancient Allosian sea vessel drowned in the Gulf of Rell for goddess only knows how long. It must’ve taken the polymath’s months, and thousands of talis-assisted dives, to search out all of these priceless treasures; talises that would now hold an Apeiron charge since being brought within the influence of Rellaysta’s Apeira well.

One of the crates at Argentus’ left exploded into pieces and he spun around just in time to see a second phase dagger pass through the metal wall. It spun toward him, and Argentus had to duck to avoid it. It crashed into another crate, knocking it off the top of the small pyramid. Orryn wasn’t going to give up, even if he had to keep phasing in those damned ghost knives of his. Part of Argentus wondered why the warding stone didn’t inhibit the phase daggers’ ability to disappear and reappear back in Orryn’s hands, but he knew very little of talis-craft. Perhaps they just worked differently.

A spinning blade blurring by his head reminded him that he had more important questions to consider, such as how the hell was he going to get out of this vault before he bled to death, or before Orryn scored a lucky hit?

Argentus began frantically tipping over crates and prying them open. He started with the ones Orryn had shattered. All of the talises were wrapped in silk napkins. Made sense. The auditors probably didn’t want to risk touching the various magical weapons, especially if they weren’t sure what they did yet. That process, the actual cataloging, would take place at the queen’s palace over a period of months, her polymaths testing each talis until they knew exactly how it worked. So far, the hoard had really only been separated based on the educated guesses of the duke’s agents. So in theory, not all of the store would be weapon talises, but likely most were.

Another dagger spun through the solid metal wall, striking hard against a crate stacked above him. Some of the exploding splinters dug into Argentus’ upraised forearm. He was about to hurl a curse at the goddess when he noticed a long, slender bundle slide out of the broken crate. It struck the floor with a muffled clang. Twine kept the black silk cloth from falling away, but a metal point tore through the napkin.

It was a sword.

Argentus stared at it for a long moment, and then moved on. Melee combat was never his strength. He preferred a talis that would let him attack from a distance, like Arynda’s flame ring. Another dagger throw knocked down the crate which landed on top of the sword, tearing the cloth further to reveal a blade peppered with tiny green jewels. He couldn’t help but stare at the beauty of the blade. There was something about the sword that almost invited him to take it. He shook his head and stayed low as he sifted through the pile of bundled objects, careful not to let his skin come in direct contact with any of them.

Argentus tossed away several talises he couldn’t identify before coming upon another slender bundle. His heart pounded faster as he tore away the silk napkin and he grinned at what he found. He knew what this was—a concussion rod. He gripped its handle and a psychic signal confirmed it. This talis emitted an explosion of pure force strong enough to tear through stone walls. Perfect! Argentus snatched the vault’s key from the floor and gripped it in his free hand. If this vault were truly like the smaller holding box talises, then it would mean that any of its sides could be opened. Likely it was fitted into the building so that only the entrance was not walled in, which is what Argentus was hoping for.

“Open!” he shouted as he focused on the back of the vault.

The smooth metal wall liquefied and flowed open, revealing a gray stone wall. Argentus smiled and leveled the concussion rod at the bare stone. The air rippled in front of him, followed a half a heartbeat later by a sound that reminded Argentus of thunder. The stone wall exploded outward and, when the dust settled, an open corridor lie before him.

Orryn was certain to have heard that, as the cessation of daggers flying through the air confirmed. Argentus was about to scramble out of the vault, when the sword on the ground again caught his eye. I’m not leaving here without a treasure! And that sword did look like it would be exceptionally valuable even if it weren’t a talis. He grabbed it by the bundled handle and slid the blade under his belt so that the cross guard held it in place.

By the time Argentus entered the corridor, Duke Royce’s guards were already filing in, swords drawn and pointing at him. Argentus smiled and fired off another blast from the concussion rod, this time at the vaulted ceiling. Chunks of stone rained down, slamming ontothe empty floor between him and the soldiers. Veiled by a screen of dust, Argentus activated his stealth bracelet and broke right toward a connecting corridor.

He heard the guards shouting in confusion. To their eyes he would’ve simply vanished in the cloud of dust and debris. Less careful about staying to the darker parts of the hall, Argentus furiously sprinted toward a connecting corridor lit by moonlight that was pouring in through a row of tall windows. He wasn’t sure if Kaul had been able to get away, but he doubted the man had stayed to try and help him. Well, Argentus couldn’t blame him. He wasn’t sure he would’ve risked his life to help Kaul had their situations been reversed.

Argentus flew past a patrol of guards, startling them as he blasted out a window with his concussion rod. The shower of shards hadn’t even finished raining down upon the ground as he leapt out of the keep and into the courtyard. The exterior wall was all that stood between Argentus and the likely boundary of the warding stone. If he could just get beyond it, he could tele—

A searing pain in his left shoulder blade made him stumble forward and crash into the ground. The concussion rod flew from his grasp, and he chipped a tooth on the courtyard’s pavement. He made to rise, but something jutting out of his back sent a shock of pain through him, and he fell back to the ground.

Laughing.

“You are a very clever man, Shadow,” Orryn said as he drew near. “I was wrong to assume your skill and prestige were due mainly to the talises you possessed. Apparently, you also have a spark of intelligence.”

A booted foot fell in front of Argentus, and then he felt the knife in his back tear free of flesh and muscle. He screamed as warm blood spilled down his back. Orryn hadn’t needed to do that; he could’ve simply called the phase dagger back to him, but that would’ve been less painful. The dark-skinned, heavily muscled man sank down to one knee in front of Argentus and with the flat of one of his blades, he raised Argentus’ face by the chin so that their eyes met. Orryn flashed a set of immaculately white teeth and then brushed three stray dreadlocks out of his face.

“Would you like to know how much Rakahnas offered me for your head before I cut it off?”

“You can actually count?” Argentus said through clenched teeth. “I’m surprised.” The desperate quip only made Orryn’s smile broaden.

“More than the crown has ever paid for the head of any other criminal.” Orryn laughed. “You should be proud.”

A flash of orange light washed over the two men, accompanied by a wave of heat. Orryn snapped his head up just in time to see a ball of fire racing toward his face. Unfortunately, just before it struck the thief hunter, the fireball abruptly changed directions and streaked off into the dark, a heartbeat later setting a sculpted bush aflame.

Dammit! The shield talis Orryn wore also worked on magical projectiles.

“Arynda, run!” Argentus shouted.

Orryn stood, glancing around the courtyard.

Argentus tried to rise, but Orryn kicked him hard in the ribs as he stepped around him. Argentus fell back to the ground, wheezing. More flashes of fire lit the courtyard, stopping when he heard Arynda cry out in pain.

I need to get up! He tried again, but a new pain, similar to his throbbing shoulder wound but far more intense pinned him to the ground. He could feel another phase dagger materializing in his other shoulder. He gritted his teeth against an escaping scream, but it forced its way out. His vision blurred and he felt on the edge of syncope.

Then he saw Arynda’s face as she pitched forward into his field of vision and crashed to the ground several paces in front of him. No!

            “She’s a pretty one, Shadow. Is she yours?” Orryn asked as he casually placed a boot on Arynda’s back.

“Go, lasa,” Arynda sobbed.

“Yes, by all means, Shadow. Go. Her head won’t fetch me the coveted fifty-thousand silver Aies yours would, but it’s a lot prettier.”

“Argentus!” Arynda screamed as Orryn pressed his foot down on her back.

“Get away from her,” Argentus growled.

Orryn just laughed.

Rage overcame Argentus’ pain, giving him the strength to rise to all fours. He looked around for the concussion rod, but couldn’t find it on the ground around him. He was weapon-less, worse than that, he was talis-less. No, that wasn’t true. He had that beautiful sword. He felt at his waist and touched the bundled handle of the sword. What did the weapon talis do? He’d seen sword-talises before, but mostly they were firebrands, or venom blades. Deadly to be sure, but would that help against Orryn’s phase daggers or shield talis?

Argentus tore at the silk cloth around the weapon’s handle until it fell free. Then he gripped the sword and slid it out from beneath his belt. As soon as his skin made contact with the cool metal of the wired handle, everything changed. The pain pinning him down abruptly muted, still there, but no longer overpowering. He was on his feet in a second, his fear retreating as a wave of confidence carried knowledge of sword techniques and strategy into his mind.

The phase dagger buried in his back suddenly pulled free from his flesh and dropped to the flagstones with a clank. Orryn’s smile faded. “How…”

Argentus began walking toward Orryn. The thief hunter stepped away from Arynda, and called both of his daggers so that they appeared in his hands. Then he hurled them at Argentus who casually moved just enough for the blades to spin by him, not stopping his advance on the dark man.

Orryn recalled his daggers and let them fly again. Again Argentus avoided them with little effort. He was only ten paces away now. Orryn’s eyes widened. His daggers formed into existence again in his hands, and his jaw tightened as he threw the right dagger. Again, Argentus casually stepped out of the way, the spinning blade missing his neck by mere inches. Orryn threw his remaining dagger, this time directly at Argentus’ face. The knife took on its characteristic ghost-like ethereal look once it left Orryn’s hand. Argentus knew he should be worried, knew that he ought to move out of the way, but he felt confident that he was in no danger.

“Lasa!” Arynda screamed.

Then, in a blur of inhumanly quick motion, Argentus snapped the sword up and struck the phase dagger out of the air. Two clangs rang out as the dagger struck the flagstone in two pieces.

Orryn’s mouth hung open, and though he choked out an unintelligible noise, he said nothing. Truth be told, Argentus was just as surprised, he just didn’t let it show on his face. He’d halved the phase dagger while it was still in its ethereal state, which shouldn’t have been possible. It should’ve passed right through his blade and then re-solidified as it sunk into his face.

Divine Mother! How powerful is this sword?

            Orryn appeared to recover his wits and summoned his remaining dagger to him. But before he could let it fly, Argentus spun and hacked off the dark man’s upraised arm at the elbow. The thief hunter screamed as he clutched at his bleeding stump, the fountaining blood making it difficult for him to clamp his hand down on it. Orryn stumbled backward, tripped over Arynda, and fell to the ground. Argentus slowly approached, Arynda taking the opportunity to roll out from between them.

Argentus met Orryn’s eyes. His black skin was noticeably paled, and he trembled as he rocked back and forth cradling his bleeding stump. Apparently, taking off the man’s arm while he held the phase dagger was enough to sever his bond with the talis, because Orryn didn’t try to recall it. Either it was that, or the man had lost so much blood that he wasn’t thinking clearly.

Argentus swung the sword down in a diagonal cut, half expecting Orryn’s shield talis to rebuff the strike. It didn’t and Argentus’ blade sunk into the man’s right shoulder, passing effortlessly through his chest and exploding out of his left hip. Orryn fell to the ground in two pieces, like his dagger had.

Argentus heard the twang of bow strings, and spun around just in time to knock aside two arrows. A group of the duke’s archers had formed a line thirty paces behind him. They let fly another volley, which Argentus supernaturally dodged. He heard Arynda cry out behind him, and turned to find her gripping the shaft of an arrow that sprouted from her shoulder. That made him growl as he turned back just in time to see a half a dozen armored swordsmen shove aside the line of archers as they barreled toward him.

Argentus gripped the handle of the sword in two hands and charged his attackers. Part of him, a distant voice in the back of his head, warned him that what he was doing was suicidal, but the thought of his losing this fight just made him laugh. He whirled into the rushing soldiers, taking the head off of the first, and then ramming his sword through the chest plate of the second. The blade passed through armor as though it were made of paper.

It took him less than a minute to kill all six soldiers, and he did so without earning so much as a scratch. Argentus stood in a ring of dead and dying men, panting and covered in his enemy’s blood. He lifted the sword and stared at the large, round, amethyst embedded in the cross guard. More alarms sounded, and lights in the duke’s keep blinked on.

“Lasa!” Arynda hissed from behind him. “We have to go!”

Argentus laughed. If it weren’t for the ever bleeding wounds he’d taken, wounds that needed talis healing, he would be in no danger. With this sword he could handle twelve, twenty, Hell! a hundred men—all on his own! He activated his stealth bracelet, and the shadows of the courtyard wrapped around him. He turned to follow Arynda back over the wall.

Shadow men called him. It had been a good name. But now Argentus was something more than an invisible thief in the dark. Now he was invincible—the Invincible Shadow.

cover2500About The Soulless Grave [out July 6, 2015]

Adventure is the lure of fools, and excitement glamour to the gullible. The siren song of the world is as music to the wanderer’s feet, but that dance leads only to the soul less grave…

Kairah lies unconscious and upon the threshold of death, but her dire state has awakened her oracle heritage and she sees in vision a land stripped of all life. But is what she seeing the past, or the future?

Ezra, having learned that his nephew, Jekaran, has bonded the sword of the Invincible Shadow, is forced to return to the Rikujo crime syndicate for help in rescuing Jek from the custody of the king, who plans to execute him in order to take the sword for himself. But can he convince some of the most dangerous brigands in Shaelar that he is still the ruthless and cunning Argentus?

Using his illusory spell-craft, Jenoc has infiltrated the King of Aiestal’s court, and is on the brink of igniting another talis war; one that will cause humanity to wipe each other off the face of Shaelar. But when Kairah is brought to the king unconscious, he has to work quickly to set his plans in motion before she wakes and reveals him.

All the while The Eater draws ever closer…

Pre-order on Amazon US | Pre-order on Amazon UK | Add on Goodreads

JASON KING - Author PicAbout Jason King

For years Jason King publicly proclaimed his identity as “the chosen one,” but medication and a stint in a minimum security health and wellness facility convinced him that was not the case. In order to cope with his greatly diminished role in society, he devoted his free time to making up stories.

Born in Salt Lake City Utah, Jason grew up on a steady diet of anime, science fiction, Dungeons and Dragons, JRPG’s, and chocolate cake donuts. Stockholm syndrome gave him his beautiful wife, and the stork (according to his understanding) gave him his four wonderful children.

Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in I.T. Management and is currently the Internet Marketing Manager for a local bookstore chain, but he has sworn by Grabthar’s hammer that he will one day quit his “9 to 5″ and write full-time. He is also a proud “anonymous” member of the Space Balrogs comedy troupe, and he speaks fluent Labrador.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

Author Experience: Mayfaire Renaissance Faire

My Experience at Mayfaire Renaissance Faire

by Jordan Elizabeth

11265600_10205609375067723_1391264940338768367_nPart of my author dream has been to do book signings.  I’ve always loved coming across one and I have a bookshelf of signed copies that I treasure.  There’s something extra special about knowing the author wrote my name right there in the front.  Since the publication of my first anthology, I’ve sought out local libraries to do a signing once a month.  I have what you could call a “book signing circuit” and I make my way around that circle yearly.  The libraries are supportive, loyal readers seek me out each time a new book or anthology is released, and I get to test which swag items are the most popular.

Last year I sold copies of my first anthology, 13 HAUNTING TALES, at Mayfaire, a local Renaissance Faire that is free to the public and held in the Holland Patent Village Green.  Guests can revel in the shows, partake of exotic foods, purchase one-of-a-kind goods, and witness the characters – both in costume and out – strolling by.   In 2014, I sat with a merry band of singing pirates.  I got to share shots and stories with them, and while I didn’t lend my off-tune, nerve-wrenching singing voice to their vocals, it was a grand time.  A highlight was waltzing across the grass with a man who runs a local pirate-themed bar.

This year I asked other local authors if they would like to share the cost of having a spot all to ourselves.  Five of them said yes.  Next came the organization.10421507_10205609344906969_7293821675842539241_n Who would sit with whom?  What size spot would be needed?  What quirky decorations could we get to draw attention?  In the end, I purchased a ten-by-ten pop-up tent, perfect for our spot, and we set up two six-foot tables.  One had a navy blue cloth and the other had gold.  Let me just say, the colors popped, and we turned out to be the only group with a red tent.  I set up a circular table outside, W. K. Pomeroy set up a tri-fold on it stating that we were local authors and our genres, and we placed one copy of each book in front of it.  I’m proud to say that not a single copy “walked away.”

Next came the main table decorations.  We situated the tables in a V-shape to gear the guests into our realm, and one author, James McNally, sat at the tip in his new Renaissance costume.  For my novel ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW, I set up a wooden tree and hung keychains off the branches.  The keychains were free to anyone who purchased a copy of the book.  I also set up my business cards, postcards advertising GEARS OF BRASS, bookmarks, canvas bags, and extra copies of the novels on metal stands.  The other authors probably got sick of me lecturing on the benefits of swag.

11205993_10205609324066448_4472711642212879979_nThe bookmarks seemed to be the swag favorite for the weekend.  People who don’t like to read paperbacks grabbed bookmarks so they could order ebook versions.

I have two stand-up banners, one for ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW and one for the TREASURE CHRONICLES, and I placed those around the tent to create a makeshift wall.  One man said they caught his attention because his niece is named Jordyn Elizabeth, so he bought copies of my books for her.  I signed them, “From the other Jordan Elizabeth.”

The other authors at my tent were Jeremy Mortis, W. K. Pomeroy, Lorna MacDonald Czarnota, James McNally, and Joan Scharf.  At first we were quiet, smiling at passersby, and then I began calling out, “Local authors signing our books – autographed copies make great keepsakes and gifts!”  My mom visited our stand around lunchtime and took copies of our bookmarks to pass out.  That brought us some revenue, and it worked out well being the red tent because we were easy to find, but she needed to leave we were back to batting our eyelashes in hopes of a sale.

Now, I’m not that bad of a seller.  I’ve had plenty of experience working in retail (a charming college job) and I’m a teacher – what is a class if not selling information to students?  I took to standing beside the circular table and stopping the guests as they walked by.

James pointed out, “Your mom would be proud.”  Before she left, she kept pressuring us to be more outspoken.

I didn’t jump out, flailing my arms, but I swept in front of faire guests with a flourish of the wrist and steered them over.  I pointed to each book on the table 10628370_10205609347627037_8687336143652884760_nand explained them in one sentence, giving just a tidbit of information.  For ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW, I stated, “This is a young adult fantasy set in upstate New York.”  For TREASURE DARKLY: “This is a young adult steampunk western with aspects of the paranormal.”  Depending on which book seemed to catch the guest’s attention, I would elaborate.  For example, “I’ve gotten great feedback and if you look on GoodReads, the rating for WITCHWOOD HOLLOW is at 4.08.”

On the second day, I decided to add in a discount to whet appetites.  One book was fifteen dollars, but two were twenty-five.  I wasn’t too sure how that would do, but I sold the most on Sunday and I have that discount to thank.  So many people chose one book to buy, but when offered the discount, they hesitated, and then bit.  “Sure, I’ll take the other.”

Standing out there had to be the best part of the fair.  I got to talk to so many people and some I encouraged to join the Utica Writers Club to hone their own writing talent.  My shoulders, bared by the corset, got a bit burnt, but the networking – and the breeze traveling between the stands on that eighty-one degree day – made it worth it.

11263082_10205609350427107_2981867757854871210_nOver the span of Saturday and Sunday, I sold thirty-one books, a new record.  Normally at libraries I will only sell around five.  One girl who bought ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW gasped when I signed her copy.  “You’re making it out to me?”

“Of course,” I said.  “What’s your name?”

Once she had her book in hand, she kept staring at it, then began intermittently smiling at me and her mom.

“Thank you,” she breathed.  “I’ve never had a signed book before.”

Before she and her mom left, she ran back over to me to say thanks again.  Readers like her are what make experiences rewarding.  Needless to say, I’ll be back at Mayfaire next year, and I hope to have an even bigger group of local authors.  It isn’t so much about selling my own book, but about supporting friends.

Mayfaire Renaissance Faire

See the photos in full here

jordanAbout Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Elizabeth, formally Jordan Elizabeth Mierek, is the author of young adult fantasy ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW and contributing author for GEARS OF BRASS, both available from Curiosity Quills Press. Her next books, TREASURE DARKLY and BORN OF TREASURE, arrive in 2015. She is represented by Belcastro Agency.

Jordan Elizabeth Online

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THE CARE AND FEEDING OF BETA-READERS

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF BETA-READERS

by J.P. Sloan

Greetings, author. Yes, if you are an author, and if you’re shopping for a beta-reader, then it’s fairly clear that you have a completed, semi-polished manuscript in your eager little hands. This is GREAT news, because this means you are no longer “aspiring.” You’re now a full-fledged author with a possible best seller burning up your Documents folder, or manila folder, or Dropbox… whatever.

You feel you need a beta-reader, now. Why do you feel this way? Most likely because:

  1. a) You’ve done this before, and you know how invaluable other people’s eyeballs are,
  2. b) You’ve never done this before, but you’ve networked and have heard how invaluable other people’s eyeballs are, or
  3. c) You’re some kind of wizard and should probably be chucking fireballs at unicorns or something.

 

Well, before you start hounding Aunt Ethyl or “Clive in Shipping” to read your novel, let’s pump the brakes a second and take a look at what, in fact, a beta-reader is.

The Earthbound Beta-reader is an individual who reads your manuscript prior to submittal, often as an ongoing phase of the revision process, in order to offer opinions on plot, characters, and readability. A beta-reader isn’t (necessarily) a publishing professional. A beta-reader isn’t (ideally) a close friend or relative. A quality beta-reader should possess the following virtues:

1) Objectivity. For a beta-reader to be of the most use to the author, that reader should not only be able to read the work with objectivity, but also feel free to fully express any and all flaws that reader may discover. This usually means a degree or two of detachment from the author. Family members generally make the worst beta-readers. Positive bias for the author tends to lower expectations of quality. Also, Aunt Ethyl may not have a popular sense of what is or isn’t quality writing. A beta-reader should be a “trusted stranger,” or even a “colleague,” ideally one who won’t fear some manner of retribution from you, the savage author, upon whose toes they have been invited to samba.

2) Competence. Not just anyone can hack it as a quality beta-reader. To truly be of use, a beta-reader should have some familiarity with plot structure, character development, and conflict. An excellent beta-reader will have a keen eye for plot holes and continuity issues. The highest order of beta-reader might even possess specific skills or historical knowledge that can be employed toward fact-checking. A simple shrug and “it was cool, I guess” isn’t what you want from a beta-reader. You’ll want someone who knows what worked, what didn’t… and WHY.

3) Professionalism. Perhaps that’s too strong a word. After all, a beta-reader isn’t (necessarily) an industry pro. Industry pros tend to charge for substantive editing, and they deserve every penny. Perhaps a better term should be “respectful regard.” A quality beta-reader won’t let your manuscript linger like a cave-aged gruyere. Once approached, and if they accept the task, a beta-reader will either let you know when they’ll start reading, ask you what your timeframe looks like, or will otherwise start giving the novel a good thrashing at their earliest convenience. Quality beta-readers will also stay in touch, particularly toward the outside of the projected time-frame. Should some unexpected delay pop up, a beta-reader will give the author a heads-up, and would certainly respond to nudges… even if it’s a polite “I’ll be another week, my grandmother was savaged by weasels yesterday.” And, of course, their feedback will be honest but not brutal. Hurtful digs, dismissive disregard, and condescending corrections aren’t what you want, nor are they helpful. Remember, though, that honest feedback may seem hurtful to you in the moment. Don’t confuse constructive criticism with cruel criticism.

So, bearing those criteria in mind, you find yourself somewhat lost. How the hell are you going to cultivate such quality readers? If you’re an introvert by nature, and tend not to reach out and network with other writers, then your task becomes somewhat more daunting. After all, authors such as yourself tend to possess many of the qualities you’d most value in a beta-reader. You just have to meet a few… preferably who read in your target genre and age category. Where do you find like-minded authors? Twitter is a quick, down-and-dirty means to locate authors in your area of interest, the downside being they are effective strangers who may have a bit too much detachment. Try a local writer’s group. Very often these are gateways toward local seminars to help hone your craft, find a space in a critique group, and get to know fellow word-slingers in general.

Speaking of critique groups, these are very often the One Stop Shop for beta-readers. A typical critique group won’t have the time to group-dissect everyone’s full length novel. Find one or two you trust, and who have time, and approach them. They know who you are, what you’re trying to do, and may have already hashed out excerpts from your manuscript already.

Though detachment is vital, this doesn’t mean you can’t farm beta-readers from your circle of friends and family. The trick is to find those special people who are avid readers, have no problem calling you out on your hair-brained plot holes, and who recognize that your best interests don’t necessarily involve preening your ego. Do you have a bookish cousin? Shoot her an email. Does one of the members of your polyamorous tetrad always seem to have the latest Patterson book on his nightstand with notes in the margins? Bingo.

So, let’s assume you’ve found two or three quality beta-readers. What do you do now?

1) Ask them if they’re willing to read over your manuscript,

2) Ask them if they have the time or ability to turn it around in a reasonable timeframe (usually 2-4 weeks depending on the length of the manuscript and their reading speed),

3) Identify what specifically you might want them to look for… “Does the plot make sense?” “How’s the pacing; does it ever drag?” “How did you feel about the main character/villain/anthropomorphic toad?” Give your beta-readers some direction, and for best results encourage them not to linger on line-edits, proofreading, grammar, syntax, etc.

On that note… a beta-reader is not (necessarily) an editor. A line-edit takes much longer to hammer out, and requires a very particular skill set best left to professionals. There are several editors for hire, and they’re easy to find via personal referral or via a savvy Google search.

Next… the wait. Don’t bug your beta-reader. They won’t require daily reminders that you’re pulling your hair out. This includes passive-aggressive subtweets about how you’re “so excited to think Hammy-Sammy is reading my WIP! I hope PLOT TWIST ALPHA won’t freak him out too much! OMG J/K” *single gunshot*

Say you’ve agreed to a four-week timeframe, but week five rolls around and you haven’t heard back yet? Send out a polite nudge. You’ll probably get a response, and it’ll probably involve life getting in the way. And that’s okay because LIFE HAPPENS. Be gracious. They’re not getting paid for this, after all (assuming you didn’t hire a service). However, if you don’t receive any responses, like, at all… it may be time to cut bait and try again. First time beta-readers are like a box of chocolates…

Now, they’ve responded! Holy mackerel! They read your novel! Once you’re done dancing a jig, shaving your head, and/or projectile vomiting from anxiety, immediately thank them and let them know that you’ll review their notes… later. Resist the urge to read immediately and respond to their input. Why? Because this will be a very dicey time for you, dear author. You just had someone run a louse comb over your darlings. If this is a second, third, or even fourth draft… they’re going to find something. It could be big. It could mean significant re-writes. It could be minute, hair-splitting, or even utterly contrary to your entire narrative.

Emotions won’t help your beta-reader relationships. So, be super-happy they took all that time to read your book. Thank them quickly and profusely. But don’t read their notes until you have time to dissect them as expertly as they’ve dissected your book. You will have emotional responses. Someone will take that character you love completely the wrong way. Someone will completely miss the point of your plot twist. Someone may even call you out for writing flat… even offensive characters. It’s happened to me. It’s no fun at all to hear the truth when the truth is ugly.

But you need the truth. That’s the whole point. Take the hits. Roll with them. Throw your pencil across the room (avoid the cat if you can) and shout and swear in private. Don’t defend yourself. They’re giving you their opinion, not a decree. They’re not evaluating you as a person. They’re evaluating your manuscript.

That said, not all feedback is equal. Sometimes you’ll get a “wow, this was great!” And that’ll be it. Perhaps it feels gratifying, but it may not be entirely helpful. Such a beta-reader isn’t the type you want to return to. Sometimes you’ll receive an exhaustive, detailed list of inaccuracies based entirely on one passage your beta-reader misread. It’s happened.

Now, should a beta-reader ask you direct questions about your manuscript, by all means answer. Communicate. This back-and-forth often helps you work out your thinking as well as identifying what didn’t come through on paper. Sure, you may have dropped that one hint on page six for the twist on page two-hundred… but if the beta-reader missed it and was confused, the odds are many more readers will do the same. It’s up to you to decide what feedback you’ll find is worth revisiting, and what feedback you will chose to disregard. It’s your novel… not theirs. A quality of successful authors is the ability to know the difference, and that really only comes with time and practice. That, or superserum and a generous dose of cosmic radiation.

So, you’ve weeded through your beta-notes, zeroed in on what worked and what didn’t, and it’s time to dive back into another revision pass. Awesome! This is what writing is all about! Take joy in the revision process. I know, that’s like asking a toddler to take joy in booster shots, but it truly is the “craft” of writing. In time, you’ll come to appreciate watching the characters evolve under revision passes. You’ll admire the changing topography of your plot outline. You’ll catalog subplots that you’ve cut clear of your manuscript, and you’ll keep them like tiny seed packets for future books.

Once you’ve finished polishing over your manuscript, guess what? It’s time to make another important decision. Is it ready for submittal? Do you feel you’ve re-written so much that you’ll want another beta-pass? Alas, there’s no formula for this. It’s your judgment call. Either way, I find it’s important to run this process at least once, even if you already have an agent, editor, or a multi-book deal.

You never want to put a rough-hewn manuscript into a pro’s hands. Ever. That’s just not a good career move.

And on that note, I tend not to send the same book to the same beta-reader twice. That’s just too much work! I’m not entirely sure if any of my beta-readers ever read the finished product (after my publisher’s editing/proofing passes). I do know that they’re usually the first to buy the books when they release, and that, right there, is part of the rewarding relationship you may develop with your betas.

So, in a nutshell…

Choose your beta-readers wisely.

Be mutually respectful.

Don’t let emotions govern the interaction.

And you’re likely to earn a friend or two out of the deal!

JP Sloan - author picAbout J.P. Sloan

J.P. Sloan is a speculative fiction author … primarily of urban fantasy, horror and several shades between. His writing explores the strangeness in that which is familiar, at times stretching the limits of the human experience, or only hinting at the monsters lurking under your bed.

A Louisiana native, Sloan relocated to the vineyards and cow pastures of Central Maryland after Hurricane Katrina, where he lives with his wife and son. During the day he commutes to the city of Baltimore, a setting which inspires much of his writing.

In his spare time, Sloan enjoys wine-making and homebrewing, and is a certified beer judge.

His second novel, The Curse Servant, is available now!

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Review Tour: The Mussorgsky Riddle, by Darin Kennedy

Curiosity Quills is excited to announce the review tour for Darin Kennedy‘s supernatural crime thriller, The Mussorgsky Riddle, which is scheduled for release 01.12.15.

Tour Schedule:

01.12.15 –Diane Riggins atA Creative Mind
01.13.15 –Sarah atInk of Blood
01.15.15 –Mallory Anne-Marie Forbes atMallory Heart Reviews
01.16.15 –Aisazia atOriginiquEquanimity
01.19.15 –Jenn S atBook Reviews and Giveaways
01.20.15 –Janine atBookaholic Babe
01.21.15 –Nikita atNjkinny’s World of Books & Stuff
01.22.15 –Merissa atArchaeolibrarian

The Mussorgsky Riddle, by Darin Kennedy - CoverAbout  The Mussorgsky Riddle:

Psychic Mira Tejedor possesses unique talents that enable her to find anything and anyone, but now she must find a comatose boy wandering lost inside the labyrinth of his own mind. Thirteen-year-old Anthony Faircloth hasn’t spoken a word in almost a month and with each passing day, his near catatonic state worsens. No doctor, test, or scan can tell Anthony’s distraught mother what has happened to her already troubled son. In desperation, she turns to Mira for answers, hoping her unique abilities might succeed where science has failed.

At their first encounter, Mira is pulled into Anthony’s mind and finds the child’s psyche shattered into the various movements of Modest Mussorgsky’s classical music suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. As she navigates this magical dreamscape drawn from Anthony’s twin loves of Russian composers and classical mythology, Mira must contend with gnomes, troubadours, and witches in her search for the truth behind Anthony’s mysterious malady.

The real world, however, holds its own dangers. The onset of Anthony’s condition coincides with the disappearance of his older brother’s girlfriend, a missing persons case that threatens to tear the city apart. Mira discovers that in order to save Anthony, she will have to catch a murderer who will stop at nothing to keep the secrets contained in Anthony’s unique mind from ever seeing the light.

“Both a psychological thriller and a fantasy quest, The Mussorgsky Riddle is imaginative, thoughtful and ambitious.” – A.J. Hartley, New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author of The Mask of Atreus and On The Fifth Day

“Genius, madness, magic and murder in a well-spun, suspenseful tale.” – Gail Z. Martin, author of Deadly Curiosities

“Darin Kennedy nailed it. His debut is as strong as it is solid. Fast-paced and filled with twists that will keep you turning pages, The Mussorgsky Riddle is a fresh idea executed with all the finesse of a seasoned author. Don’t miss this book!” – Linda Robertson, author of the Persephone Alcmedi series

“Darin Kennedy’s debut novel, The Mussorgsky Riddle, is a masterfully written ode to Pictures at an Exhibition and a thrilling, psychological page turner!” – Roy A. Mauritsen, author of Shards of the Glass Slipper

 The Mussorgsky Riddle Online:

Goodreads | Amazon US | Amazon UK

Darin Kennedy AuthorAbout Darin Kennedy:

Darin Kennedy, born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is a graduate of Wake Forest University and Bowman Gray School of Medicine. After completing family medicine residency in the mountains of Virginia, he served eight years as a United States Army physician and wrote his first novel in 2003 in the sands of northern Iraq.

His debut novel, The Mussorgsky Riddle, was born from a fusion of two of his lifelong loves: classical music and world mythology. His short stories can be found in various publications and he is currently hard at work on his next novel.

Doctor by day and novelist by night, he writes and practices medicine in Charlotte, North Carolina. When not engaged in either of the above activities, he has been known to strum the guitar, enjoy a bite of sushi, and rumor has it he even sleeps on occasion.

Darin Kennedy Online:

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