Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Self Publishing Fest Round Up

Cheers to all the fantastic authors I've had the pleasure of working with this month. Good luck to all of you in the new year. Here's the full list of articles:

N.M. Mac Arthur

Author Interview: Paulina Ulrich

Paulina Ulrich, author of Flightless Bird. Self-published using CreateSpace. 

And the last post of my self-publishing fest is here. Later on today I'll post a round up of all the articles, but for now, here's a love story with a twist of magic.

The summer of her seventeenth birthday Livy Eckels was faced with something she wasn't ready for. In the midst of a crumbling family, devastated, she grabs her bicycle and heads out of town to escape the heavy atmosphere at home. Livy unexpectedly crashes into the lives of two mysterious people living on the outskirts of town. 

As she prepares to start her final exhaustive year of high school, she already has enough on her plate. Then with the entrance of Gregory Mason, her life becomes even more complicated. Tall, handsome, and ever so annoying, Livy can't stand being around him until she finds herself being pulled closer and closer to things she cannot explain. She was determined to understand why Gregory Mason was so interested in her until she discovered something that may put her curiousity to an end. Before she knows what is happening Livy becomes entangled in the mystifying plots of a secret society, a vengeful ex-lover, and a situation she never expected to find herself in: falling in love with a boy whose secret she should have never known.


Tell us a bit about your novel.

Flightless Bird is hard to describe in a nutshell! It focuses on a teenage girl named Livy, who never expected to be thrown into a world of danger, secrets, and time travel, but when she met Gregory Mason, there was no stopping what she least expected: falling in love. Embarking on a treacherous path, Livy and Gregory must escape his past before the lies, a secret society, and the deadly consequences catch up to them.

How long did it take you to write Flightless Bird?

I started writing it in August of 2008 and it came out in 2011, so three years. I had varying versions, but the characters and the time travel theme always remained solid. There were lots of ups and downs while writing it, but it was an unbelievably fun story to write!

Where did you get your inspiration from?
I find a lot of inspiration in nature and my roots trace back to the Pacific Northwest. It's a beautiful place and I love it so much. Music is inspiring to me during the writing process and will help me if I'm writing varying scenes, whether they be action, emotional, or light-hearted.

When did you realise you wanted to be an author?

There wasn't a precise moment where I realized everything I wanted to be. As cliche as it is to say this, I'd been writing since I was 6 and have the home video to prove it. I didn't realize it then, but I have no doubt writing has been my calling my entire life. I even have a B.A. in creative writing from college. I suppose I've always known I wanted to be one.

What was the hardest part about writing Flightless Bird?

The difficulty of anything you write can change over time. Depending on the plot, setting, characters--anything can challenge an author in context of the story they're writing. I believe you can't be a good author unless you challenge yourself to write something that is hard or new. If you end up stuck writing the same boring stories with the same flat characters, you're not doing any one a favor. Be as original as possible.

When did you decide you would choose self publishing, and what made you opt for that route?

I chose self-publishing as my first route of publishing because it’s an industry one can work through as well as still querying for agents at indie houses or big publishing houses. There are so many avenues and it’s best not to strap yourself down to one industry, but to dabble in them all and find the right fit for yourself.

What kinds of things did you do to prepare yourself for self-publishing?

Research. I can’t emphasize that enough. Self-publishing is not this easy pass where you can publish your work and everything is all perfect. Its hard work and you have to research to find the parts of self-publishing that fit with your own writing. Finding your fellow writers that you connect with are important too. I found a writing group and stuck with them because it’s always good to have feedback from other writers who know what they’re doing. There was so much I did to prepare that if I explained it all, that would be its own novel!

Would you do anything differently for your next novel?

Flightless Bird is the first in a series and it has two more following books. I also have CHOSEN, the first book in my other series, the Fighting Fate series, that has come out. At this point, I’m not sure I would do anything different. But who knows! Things can always change.

What was the hardest part of self-publishing – what surprised you?

The hardest part in the beginning was the marketing aspects. Starting out, getting your name out there is hard but it’s doable with help! I was surprised to find out how many fellow book nerds and writers are willing to help market each other.

What is your best piece of advice?

Do your research, work hard, and be original in context of your own work. Don't write what's popular just because that's what everyone is reading. Trends fade fast. Stay true to you and your writing, no matter how cheesy that sounds.

Who would you recommend self-publishing to, and who would you deter?

Self-publishing is a serious industry just like indie and traditional publishing. If you aren’t taking your work seriously, no one else will. If you want to publish an article or short story, then focus on publishing on a blog or journal publication. Journals are great ways to have your work showcased to the world.

What publisher did you use and how would you rate them?

I never particularly sought out a single publishing company. I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and after fulfilling the goal, recommendations for CreateSpace came up. I started to investigate it and other avenues of self publishing. My conclusion was CreateSpace was user friendly and the quality of the books was what you paid for. I’ve used them for all my novels so far. Their paperbacks aren’t super durable but then again, what paperback is? I’d recommend them for use, but still do research to do what is best for you. CreateSpace is one of many options!


Author Profile

Paulina Ulrich is the author of Flightless Bird, which can be purchased from Amazon. For more details on Paulina Ulrich, check out her personal website.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Author Interview: R.A. Black

R.A. Black, author of Apple. Self-published using CreateSpace and Smashwords

There's still time to enter the giveaway to win a paperback copy of Apple. Here's the story of how it was published.

Enter a gothic story of madness and cruelty, where the bonds of sibling loyalty are tested to the grave and beyond.

High on the hill, Cavington Hall lurks like a beast surveying its territory. Spoken of in hushed whispers, it is home to Doctor Charles Cavington, last of a family cursed by genius and insanity in equal parts. It has now become home to twelve year old Apple. A run-away, she is forced into the doctor's service as payment for saving her brother's life.

While Apple struggles to cope with her loneliness and isolation, the mysteries surrounding Doctor Cavington are growing. What exactly is his interest in the two siblings? Is there any truth to his strange tales of Guardians and Reapers, ethereal figures he claims are responsible for dealing with the souls of the dead?

And what is making that thumping noise in the locked nursery at night?


How long did it take you to write Apple?

The first draft took a month. If I'd written it in November I would have won NaNoWriMo with it. After that it went through extensive drafting with a couple of very good beta-readers for the rest of the year, and then I've been checking and revising just the text rather than the story on and off over most of this year.

Where did you get the inspiration from?

There were two things that started the story. The first was coming across a male character in another story called Skye and deciding that I really liked it as a name. The second was that I have always wanted a big brother, for as long as I can remember. Those things sparked off the first couple of chapters. Once the characters were on their journey, it became clear to me they were in a horror novel.

What is your favourite book?

Probably To Kill A Mockingbird. If I ever have a daughter, I can think of worse role-models than Scout.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

I never did. I never wanted to write for money. I never liked the idea of deadlines and of writing because I had to. Then, over the last couple of years, I realised that I wanted to do more with my work. I wanted more people to read it and I wanted to hold it in my hands as a real book.

What did you do to prepare your novel for publication?

I edited it extensively myself and with beta-readers. This was by far the most work and probably the most important bit. I didn’t want to put out something that looked sloppy. I commissioned an artist to create the cover. It took a long time to get something that captured the feel I wanted for the book, but I’m happy with how it came out. I really love the font she created for my name and the title. I also created social media profiles and I pushed it heavily on Figment to make people aware.

What was the hardest part?

Probably learning about all the options for self-publishing, reading all the opinions on various different sites, and choosing the best route for the paperback and the ebook. Beating Microsoft Word into doing what I wanted it to do was also quite a challenge, though I now know lots about styles and headers and footers that I never knew before!

Did anything surprise you?

The time taken to do everything was longer than I expected. It took several days on each other primary sites (CreateSpace and Smashwords) to get the book approved and then up to a week to appear in other stores like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Are you glad you went through with it?

Yes. It was stressful and nerve-wracking, and I have no idea how well it will do. But yes.

What would you do differently next time?

I'd co-ordinate things a bit better so it was available on sites at the same time. Also, I’d take advantage of delayed release and similar tools. And probably do more pre-release promotion. I'm still feeling my way around things at the moment.

What is your best piece of advice?

Take it slow. It's exciting, yes. You want to put your book in your hands as soon as you can. But stop and plan every step. Make sure you're doing the best you can.

Who would you recommend it to?

Anyone who wants to just hold their work and isn't worried about the career aspect. Anyone who has a book that means something to them, but isn't necessarily prepared to wait for the market to catch up with them. And anyone who is willing to take a gamble. If your book does take off, you can do very well out of self-publishing.

And who would you deter from self-publishing?

I would deter anyone who hasn't shown their book to people outside their close friends and family. Make sure you show it to people who can be honest with you, rather than just encouraging you to push your book out as fast as possible. There are a lot of books that are not ready to be published available, books with basic grammar issues, or plot holes, or other issues which spoil a potentially good story.

How would you rate your publishers?

I used CreateSpace (Amazon’s print on demand service) for the print edition. Having held it in my hands, I love how it’s come out. It is well bound and put together. The site was reasonable easy to work with, though I struggled a little to get the cover right. They give you a clear breakdown of royalties and help you fill out the US tax form required. My biggest issue is I have to buy my personal copies from the US, rather than the UK printer. They still work out cheaper, but I have to wait longer, pay more for shipping and potentially pay customs charges.

I used Smashwords for the ebook, except the kindle distribution. Their site is very friendly, and has a lot of information for indie authors. The process of creating an ebook, especially one that will be accepted into major stores, is quite involved, but they have a very helpful guide. The biggest issue with them is they don’t do kindle distribution unless you’ve sold 2000 copies, and I’ve sold most of my ebooks through kindle, so I had to set up a third site for selling copies (though most of this was ported through from CreateSpace).

So, should we buy Apple

Yes, I think you should. If you like creepy tales that leave you checking under the bed; if you like feisty and determined female leads; if you like stories that remember love doesn’t need to be romantic, then I think you will enjoy this book.


Author Profile

RA Black is a self-published author. Her horror novel, Apple, is available from Amazon. Read a review here, and there is still a days left to win a paperback copy!

The details in her novel are particularly vivid. You can read her article, How to Leave you Readers Cold, Hungry, and Afraid, for tips on how to immerse readers into your world.

You can also check out R.A. Black on Figment and Facebook.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Guest Post: J.P. Jackson: Bucket List

Bucket List Item #09: Unchecked

I think everyone has a list of things that they want to realize in life. I really started to think about my personal list during my late thirties. After all, that’s usually our mid-way point in life and a time where we start taking stock of what we’ve accomplished. Death is everyone’s final item on that so-called bucket list, whether we want it there or not, it’s something we all inevitably will do. After that’s been checked off, there’s no turning back, no second chances: you are done.

My bucket list over the years has grown, and I’m pretty sure that there’s no way I’m going to be able to complete all the goals I’ve set before myself. The more I travel, the more people I meet, the more things I eat, smell, see and do, the more I think, I gotta do that!

Admittedly, my list is fairly selfish, but then I think really that’s the point.

#26: Go SCUBA diving and see an eel garden 

I recently was able to cross this off my list. I’ve always wanted to see the waving tiny snake-like creatures swaying back and forth in the current, only to slip into their burrow should you come too close. In fact, at first I had no idea what I was looking at. It simply looked like ocean floor turtle grass, and then I got too close while standing on the sandy floor, when – slip! I looked closer and noticed that the grass had tiny eyes, two of them on each blade. How exciting! There it was, an ocean floor bed covered in tiny eels. Did I personally become a better person? No. Did I make the world or my corner of it better for the next person? Again, no the list is selfish.

#44: See monkeys in the wild 

For all the travel I’ve done, I have yet to be able to check this item off. I’ve been to several places in Mexico, and to Belize, Honduras and Venezuela, where primates run wild. To date there has not been a single sighting. Don’t ask me why this particular item is on the Bucket List - I have no idea, it just is. I’m quite sure that one day, it will come true, but for right now, it remains as it is without a checkmark next to it.

#09: Write a book and have it published

Another item yet to be completed, but one I’m actively working on. It took me a while to get up the courage to even start writing. I’ve had ideas swirling around my head for years, tales and sagas of strange and wonderful creatures. I have an affinity for anything with wings, tails, horns, and magic. I grew up in a house that fostered creativity although I know deep down my father would have preferred I had been more interested in hockey, something to this day I still chuckle over.

Despite the lack of team sport interest, dad would drive me all over the city to acting lessons, piano recitals, and to the art store for supplies. Any left-over spare time was spent with my nose inside a book, usually something by Stephen King, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Brooks or Anne Rice. Dad on the other hand had his cardboard box under his bed stuffed full of old dog-eared Louis L’ Amour westerns, where Mom had bookshelves full of Agatha Christie murder-mystery novels. It really comes as no surprise that I’ve taken the next evolutionary step from drawing, painting, playing music, reading, acting – all the way to writing. The creative challenge of putting words into a structure that can convey the meaning in my head is for me far harder than attempting to draw something, although truth be told, I was never a great painter.

Does that mean I’m any better of an author? Hell no. In fact, waiting until my forties to start the scripting journey just means I have a lot of catching up to do, and a whole lot of learning ahead. But unlike viewing the eel garden or seeing primates this journey is one of self-growth. Let’s face facts: by going through the process of becoming a published author, I will have tucked away many new skills into that personal toolkit we all have and use daily. For instance, what is the correct placement of a comma? I still struggle with that one. Sigh.

But, and here’s the big but, achieving this bucket list item does not mean following the self-publishing route. Of course, I could, and there’s nothing really wrong with that, but it’s not for me.

There’s something romantic and personally self-satisfying about checking off that bucket list item by doing it the old fashioned hard way. And let’s face it, getting published the old way is bloody hard. In fact, it’s nearly impossible.

1) Write a story

2) Find someone to read the story

3) Find someone else to edit the story

4) Re-write the same story again and make it better

5) Create your query letters

6) Send your query letters out to hundreds of agents

7) Have an agent contact you back and express interest

8) Re-write that same story a third time based off of your agent’s critique, someone who is in the business and connected and knows what sells and what doesn’t

9) Have the agent accept your re-write and start the process of pitching your book to the big publishing houses in London and New York

10) Have a publishing house contact you, through your agent and negotiate the terms of your story being printed into hardcover books, complete with cover art, an author bio, and a sparkling review of your work from an existing author in the field.

11.) Seeing your book, that you wrote, and spent years devoting unpaid hours to sitting on the bookshelf of your local book store.

I’m tingling with excitement right now. Goosebumps are all the way up my arms. I fantasize about what the cover art would look like, and imagine the calls for interviews and book signings. I dream about lucrative writing deals.

This process, as long and arduous and nearly impossible to achieve, is how I see myself being a published author. It is the only way I will be able to check that bucket list item off and not feel like I’ve cheated myself.

Will it ever happen? Perhaps...and then again, maybe not. I know one thing for sure: it absolutely will never happen if I don’t try. So I carve out time as often as I possibly can to develop my novel. I’m still really only on step one, but I have at least started the adventure.

I suppose, if after I’ve done everything I possibly could do to make my story the best I can, and no publishing deal comes around, I might consider self-publishing, but not until.

So here I sit, working hard at becoming a published author, and item #09 on the Bucket List remains blank, unchecked.

J.P. Jackson


Author Profile
J.P. Jackson  is the author of the upcoming fantasy, Into the Dark. You can read his other article on finding inspiration by clicking here. 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Guest Post: N.M. Mac Arthur: It's Not As Easy As It Looks

Self-Publishing: It's Not As Easy As It Looks

Around this time last year I started leaning towards publishing my first novel The Prince of Prophecy Vol. I: Destined without the hassle of looking for an agent or praying that a big publisher might give a first time author like me a chance. As those of you who have tried to publish a book may know, most publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts so cutting out the middle man (the agent) wouldn’t really help my situation. And that’s where I thought my dreams of being a published author would end—no agent, no publisher, and no chance.

Then I stumbled upon self-publishing. At first I was opposed to the idea—although it wasn’t for the right reasons. I thought print on demand books looked cheap and the title “self-published author” sounded so pretentious back then. However, I wanted my book published. I knew it was good and with some fine tuning I could make it even better. My ambitions out weight my apprehension, and thus I decided to set aside my dreams of being signed with a big publisher.

Little did I know of the hurdles that awaited me…

The first things I did (to make things feel more official for me) was got out and register a Fictitious Business Name with my county, and applied for a business license. Next thing I knew Nautilus Press was up and running! I set up a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account for my business and waited for people to take an interest in my work. And I waited. And waited…

Nothing happened.

Not completely discouraged yet, I figured I’d expand my horizons a bit by creating a blog, buying some ad space on Facebook, and trying to advertise my book that way. Things picked up for a time and I acquired followers (albeit not as much as I’d hoped). Hope was temporarily restored for my “rags to riches” dream, and I thought that by the time by book was released in June I’d have HUNDREDS of devoted followers anxious to get their hands on a copy of my breakout novel, Destined.

I hired an illustrator—who was kind enough to take the job despite my only being able to pay her a pittance—to create the cover and six inside illustrations for the book. I begged friends, family, and acquaintances to edit the book for me since I didn’t have thousands of dollars to throw at a professional editor—needless to say, everyone did an excellent job and I’m proud to say that Destined is nearly pristine.

However, this was just the tip of the iceberg. Slowly new followers on my blog sites and new Facebook likes dwindled down to practically nothing. Not only that but I’d come to realize that I had to format my own books. Unfortunately, I didn’t know a thing about formatting—thank goodness for google, huh? Deadlines were creeping up on me (actually, they were charging at me like a bull at a matador), and no one seemed to care one way or another about all the time and money I was sinking into this book. It hurt. It made me want to quit. It made me feel like I was insignificant … and I still had so much to do before the book was released.

I was in way over my head with preparing the eBook, the paperback and the hardcover (the latter of which I don’t recommend if you haven’t got a large following), marketing the book, and making sure everyone I employed finished their work by the time I needed it done. It was like I was running a real business accept I wasn’t getting paid anything to do the work!

I kept handing out more and more money in hopes of expanding my audience and maximizing sales when the book was finally released, but no matter how much money I spent nothing seemed to be getting any better. Despite how well edited the book is, the beautiful cover art and illustrations that it contains, and the excellent reviews it has received from the few people that have given me, a first time author, a chance, I still haven’t broken even. I know I’ve got a great story (and apparently so do the people who’ve reviewed my book on, Barnes&, and, the problem is trying to get people to move past the stigma of self-publishing and give my books a shot. Trust me, that’s a lot harder than it sounds.

It took a lot of hard work to get where I am now, and, to be completely honest, I’m not in a much better position than when I started out. But I started down this path and, for better or for worse, I’m going to stick with it. The bright side? My books are beautiful and they’re done almost exactly the way I wanted them to be done. The integrity of my book remains intact, completely free of sparkling vampires and raunchy sex scenes. I met awesome people who, despite me being broke all the time, believe that my book series will be successful someday and are willing to help me make it the best that it can possibly be (I’m talking about you, Samantha and Eren).

The self-publishing path isn’t easy (as I hope you gathered from this article), and for a time you may find yourself working very very hard for only a little return. Self-publishing is definitely not for those who give up when things get tough, nor for those who are content with throwing a half-finished manuscript onto the market. To produce a good book, you’ve got to put in the time and effort. You’ve got to truly believe that, despite the slow beginnings, your work is going to take off someday and never give up striving for it.

Bottom line: self-publishing is really hard … but I don’t regret starting down this path. I’m proud of all the work I’ve managed to complete by myself, and I know that I’ve got a really unique and interesting story in my Prince of Prophecy series. All the trials and tribulations I’ve faced aside, I’m happy with the fruits of my labors. And, as Frank Sinatra would say, I did it my way!

N.M. Mac Arthur


Author Profile

You can find out more about N.M. Mac Arthur from her author interview from July this year or by visiting her blog.

Now that the sequel has just been released on the 27th of December, The Prince of Prophecy Vol. I: Destined and The Prince of Prophecy Vol. II: Cursed are available for purchase on and B&

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Guest Post: R.A. Black: How to Leave your Readers Cold, Hungry, and Afraid

How to Leave your Readers Cold, Hungry, and Afraid

By R.A. Black

Have you ever read a scene about a snowstorm and felt cold? Or looked up from a book and found yourself surprised you are in your bedroom and not in a majestic forest? Part of the power of a good book is to draw us into the world we are reading about and make us feel like we are there. It’s easy to get caught up with characters and plot when writing, but if your readers feel immersed in the world, they’ll find it harder to put the book down.

So, here are some hints and tips to consider when considering what and how to describe things in your story. I’d recommend having a thesaurus on hand (I still use the one my granddad gave me when I was nine), but make sure you never use a word you don’t fully understand, or you can give your sentence an incorrect meaning.

Work it in:

Big blocks of description can slow down the pacing of a story, and often it’s better to weave details through the narrative. For example, you could tell the reader that Kitty has dark, curly hair, but you could also mention her pulling at dark curl when talking. Your readers will build up a slower picture, but it will stick in their heads more, and they won’t skip over it because they find it dull.

Remember the moment:

Stopping to describe things in the wrong place affects not only the pace but the emotion of the scene. If you say Harry has freckles in middle of an argument, the conflict will lose momentum. Instead, say that there is a blush of angry red across his cheeks that smother his freckles. The details come out without changing the tone. 

Equally, if the hot FBI agent has stormed into the hospital to find out about the plague spreading through downtown Washington, we don’t want to know about her cleavage, no matter how hot she is. That just comes across as comical and destroys the tension

Let me introduce you:

When we meet someone for the first time, we take in more details than when we meet them again, so introductions are a good time to give the reader more physical details about a new character. First impressions are important and this goes for details too. 

But remember, people are more than just hair and eye colour. Some things to consider about them: What sort of build and how do they stand? How old, do they have tattoos or scars, do they look out of place? Are they smiling or look they’ve just bitten the mother of all lemons?

Where’s the focus?

Pay attention to what the character is paying attention to. If Detective Jones is at a crime scene, he is going to be focusing on looking for evidence about the case. This gives you an opportunity to describe the location, pointing out the blood spatters and spent bullet cartridges. 

However, if Joel has just opened the door to his date, he’s going to be looking at Pete’s clothes, hair, facial expression etc, and less on the traffic in the background.

You have five senses:

It’s easy to focus on what we see. Vision is the dominant sense in humans, so we tend to describe what we see more heavily. 

But consider a fire. Not only can we see the shifting shapes and colours in the flames, we can feel the heat on our skin, hear the sound of things burning, and smell the smoke in the air. Mentioning the effects on other senses can make the image seem more realistic because we expect a fire to make a noise and have a smell and heat as well as just an appearance. 

If you describe the taste and smell of a feast, you have more chance of making your reader feel hungry than if you just describe the appearance of the food. This in turn helps us share the characters’ feelings and brings us closer to them.

Clothes matter, when they matter:

A common habit amongst beginner writers is to introduce a character by describing what they are wearing. This is rarely the most important detail at the time. It matters not to the reader if Jenna has blue jeans and a cute sweater when at college, because it’s not out of the ordinary. If Harry turns up to breakfast in a suit of armour, that’s something to comment on. 

What a person is wearing is secondary to what the clothes say about them as a person. Mention clothes if they mark the person as rich / poor compared to others around them. Or they make the character stand out or are there to make them blend into the background. Or if the clothes are the focus of the scene, like a bride trying on her wedding dress for the first time.

How are you feeling?

As well as scenery and appearance, emotions are vitally important to describe. Characters are more believable and easier to relate to when we understand what they are feeling. Consider how various emotions change us. They affect the way we sound, the way we stand, what we do with our hands, our heart-rate, even our pupils. When we believe our favourite character is afraid, we start to share that emotion ourselves.

Word choice can change the feel of an object, place or person:

This is one of the most important ways of shaping a reader’s image. It applies to verbs and adverbs as well as adjectives. If I describe Brendan as striding across the courtyard, it gives a different image than if I said he was strolling and a very different one to if I said he was slinking. Often words will have an emotional context, as well as physical one and you can use this to not only give a scene a reader can see but feel as well. Consider the two paragraphs below:

The sun sparkled off the surface as the river babbled on its way below the bank. Leaning over it was an elegant willow, with long boughs that gently caressed the water. A breeze played hide and seek in the vegetation, making the vibrant leaves tremble.

The river muttered incessantly as it passed over the dark stones in bed. Above it, a weeping willow bowed, shedding leaves into the water which were carried off never to be seen again. A stiff breeze pushed through the vegetation, making the leaves that remained shiver.

The place is the same in each case, but what I have described and how I have described it changes the tone of each section. Modify your language to match the feel of the scene you are writing about and it will enhance the emotional impact.

Thanks for reading and happy writing.

R.A. Black


Author Profile

RA Black is a self-published author. Her horror novel, Apple, is available from Amazon. Read a review here, and there are still a few days left to win a paperback copy!

You can also check out R.A. Black on Figment and Facebook.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Author Interview: Lisa M. Green

Lisa M. Green, author of The First, Self-published using Trident Publishing

Here is another self-publishing story with a slightly different route from an author who decided to start her own publisher.

A tale of myth, mystery...and a past long forgotten...

Something is out there.

And the people live in constant fear.

But their biggest threat lies within their own village. Everyone and everything is dying, slowly and without hope of salvation.

In a world where almost nothing is truth and isolation is the purest form of self-deception, the possibility of hope exists only in the heart and mind of a young woman who chooses to follow an unknown path in order to save everyone she knows and loves. Before long, she discovers that her most vital beliefs are based on a deception that will rock the foundation of her entire people. To save them, she must learn to open her heart and sacrifice…everything.

You may think you have heard this story before, but be warned.

You haven’t.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a high school English and Special Education teacher who specializes in writing. I’ve been working on trying to get a class geared specifically toward writing going for several years, but so far, it’s a no-go. In the meantime, I do what I can to teach the kids how to follow processes when it comes to writing.

I’m also a mother of a fourteen-year-old girl who hates that mom is in the same building as her (sometimes just around the corner) all day. She is my main job and certainly the most stressful.

I’m a life-long writer who scared herself into waiting twenty years to write and publish a novel. But here I am, one published book under my belt and another whole set on the way (slooooowly, but on the way). I think that’s pretty freaking cool. Some people love my story, some people don’t. All agree it is well written, but I still feel like I can always hone my craft. I think that goes for any of us, even the big name writers.

How long did it take you to write The First?

Actually writing it took about six months. The story came to me with the ending already there. In fact, that was one of the first scenes I saw in my mind and one of the first that I wrote. I was writing, editing, and researching night and day for many of those months. My current WIP is taking much longer, but that makes sense because 1) the world requires more in-depth work, and 2) it is going to be a series.

How long did it take you to start writing it? 

As I said, twenty years. T-W-E-N-T-Y. Don’t do that. It’s stupid.

Where did you get the inspiration from?

I’m digging the fact that you ended with a preposition there. It’s an inane and nonsensical rule, if you ask me. Sometimes fixing it sounds absolutely silly.

I’m sorry. You asked a question. My inspiration… hmmm… is hard to explain without giving away key elements, but I wrote a spoiler-free blog post about it a while back. I was sitting on my couch, days after we had been hashing over ideas for a story, and suddenly I was smacked in the head with an idea loosely based on something we had previously discussed. The idea came from nowhere, but there was an aspect that I knew came from my fascination with “something.” I can’t say what that “something” is without giving away the ending.

Do you find being an editor gives you an advantage? Did you still use beta-readers or an editor other than yourself to help you?

It certainly gives an advantage in the final product, but the disadvantage is in the way many editors approach the writing process. I have a writer friend who is also an editor and a writer, and she has the same problem that I have. We edit as we write. I cannot stop doing it. Of course, I still go through it after the fact about 40 times and give it to others to read as well, but I’m still guided by my inner editor when I write. Even if my creative flow is on like gangbusters, I cannot continue with a sentence or paragraph if I know there is a mistake or something that I need to fix. It’s like an addiction. I’m addicted to grammar. I am a grammar addict. The first step is admitting you have a problem. That’s about as far as I’m going to get.

I use several other people to help go over my writing, and I plan to look for more beta-readers for my WIP. I have another editor go through and copy edit after my edits. We sometimes argue, but I get the final say, right?

Who is your favourite author? How have they inspired you?

I have several favourite authors, but the ones who have inspired me the most are C.S. Lewis and Ursula K. Le Guin. Lewis was a part of my life since I was a child, and his ability to tell a beautiful story with so much symbolism (Narnia, the Space Trilogy, etc.) always captivated me because I believe that stories should, at their heart, have a message that resonates to everyone in their own way without being preachy. Le Guin had a heartbreakingly beautiful story to tell, but I didn’t discover the Earthsea series until I was much older. There are darker themes within her novels that I can appreciate because life is sometimes dark. Happiness may be found at a cost, but happily-ever-afters are rarely true to life.

My writing reflects many of the foundations I learned from them. Lewis is known for having considered George MacDonald one of his greatest influences in writing. It wasn’t until it was pointed out to me by a reader that I realized how many of the darker elements of Lilith were echoed in my novel. Not the story itself, but certainly the atmosphere.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

In the fourth grade (around nine years of age), I won an award for my writing through the school system. I was so proud of that! My passion continued through high school, but as I approached graduation, I talked myself out of following a career in writing. Too much uncertainty and not enough stability. Was I wrong to do so? Maybe. But maybe it was wise to wait. The publishing field is not what it was twenty years ago. The opportunities are out there now, so I think I got here when I was meant to. One of my favourite writers once said:

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

What did you do to prepare your novel for publication?

I did a good chunk of the editing myself, and then others went through it as well. My husband is a graphic designer and web developer (and British to boot), so I was extremely lucky on all fronts. He designed my website, promotional materials, and the cover art for the book. He and I also handled the formatting for print, epub, mobi, and pdf. We spent several weeks just learning how to do this. Combined with the knowledge and experience my husband already had with similar projects, we did a bang-up job, I think. An UNBELIEVABLE amount of time was spent on this aspect because we wanted it done right. We wanted a professional product that didn’t look like so many of the self-published novels I’ve seen. There were additional elements (like the chapter heading images) that had to be done in a painstakingly slow manner due to the nature of the effect we were trying to pull off (I bet you’ll go back and check them now, won’t you?).

If you want to self-publish, go the distance and don’t skimp on any detail. Get a professionally designed cover. Get a good editor (or three). Get someone who knows what they are doing to format the book, or take a lot of time to learn it yourself. I know everyone hears these statements being shouted from the rooftops and on every webpage about self-publishing, but they should be the Three Commandments of Self-Publishing. If you can manage those, and if you are willing to put in the time to avoid doing a sloppy job, you can certainly handle the self-publishing route.

What was the hardest part of self-publishing?

Learning how to do each step carefully and then following those steps without getting impatient and rushing forward. There are two routes in self-publishing: the quick way and the right way. Do it the right way and you will learn so much! I was so stressed out at the time, but I’m so excited now that I’ve learned how to do so many new things. The feeling of accomplishment is definitely worth it.

Did anything surprise you?

Yes. All of it. I knew it would be difficult, but I wanted to cry. And did. Many times.

But… I’m glad I did it now. And next time will be smoother.

Any marketing tips?

Focus on what works, not what looks good on the surface. Facebook likes are great, and sometimes they lead further, but many times, they will not get your book sold. Focus on what drives sales and engages people. Goodreads self-serve campaigns have been one of the better options for me, but everyone is going to be different. I’ve sold a few copies through book signings and a local bookstore, so always be sure to look into things of that nature going on in your area.

What would you do differently next time?

Take it slower. Sleep more. Ramp up my pre-release promotions. Sleep more.

What is your best piece of advice?

Treat every process like its own craft (because that’s what it is!). Writing is a craft, but so are editing, formatting, designing, and promoting. Organize yourself to spend certain amounts of time on certain types of work. Like many writers, I write best in the mornings. I save everything else (promotions, email, social media, etc.) for later in the day. And give yourself a break. Don’t let all of it overwhelm you. I know I did. Bad decision.

Who would you recommend it to, and who would you deter from self-publishing?

Self-publishing is for highly motivated individuals. If you cannot stay self-motivated, it won’t work for you. It just won’t. You have to be a very determined person with a goal-oriented personality.

Tell us a bit about Trident Publishing. Why did you decide to start your own publisher? Is this an easier route?

Trident Publishing is the name I chose to start my own publishing company. I decided to go this route because I knew for a fact that 1) the quality of my product was at least as professional as that of a traditional publisher, and 2) I would continue writing and publishing into the future. I was forward thinking.

Sounds simple, right? In theory, perhaps, but this is not a decision to take lightly. The biggest mistake you can make is thinking that slapping a publisher name on your book will suddenly turn your baby into a professional work of art.

No. Just no.

Deciding to create your own publishing company implies that you already have a professionally edited, designed, and formatted product. If you don’t, this screams deception to your readers. You think word spreads like molasses in a slow-motion matrix-style scene when people actually like and rave about your book? Watch the word-of-mouth movement flip to lightning speed when you lack professional-quality editing and design, combined with what will be deemed as a dirty, dirty trick to lure unsuspecting readers to your book.

I’ve heard stories. You do not want to be known as a liar among the reading community, trust me. Reputation = ruined.
Honestly, you are far, far, far better off sticking with Createspace (or whomever) as your “publisher” name than you are trying to pass off mediocre finger painting as the Madonna and Child. I say this with love, but no matter how much you think you have mastered the art of designing and formatting things yourself (If nothing else, this experience has taught me to tip my hat to all the typesetters out there. Your. Job. Is. Tedious.), you need to have some professionals at least look it over to double-, triple-, and quadruple-check every little thing. If it isn’t on par with what’s coming out of big publishing houses, then it isn’t professional enough to warrant your own publishing name. Period.

For those who understand the issues and think they can handle it, what would you tell them?
If you’ve read all that, and you are still sure you fit this small category of self-published authors, then by all means take the leap. Pick a name that isn’t already registered within your state if you live in the U.S. (search for the official lists online), and set it up as your own business. The process is different depending on where you live. You may or may not need to apply for a DBA (Doing Business As) license, or there may be other procedures to follow.

Get a domain name that works with the name you chose, and set up a website. No, you cannot skip this step. Register a business email with the publisher name (not gmail or yahoo). No, you cannot skip this step. Connect everything between your two identities so that people who go to one site can slip over to the other. You don’t want to hide what you are doing. If you do, please reread this section carefully and be honest with yourself. If you aren’t being honest with yourself, you aren’t being honest with your reader. And that’s the most important relationship you’ll ever have as a writer.


Author Profile

You can find out more about Lisa M. Green through her website and blog or follow her on GoodReads. You can also purchase her novel, The First, from pretty much anywhere: AmazonKindleBarnes & NobleiTunesKobo or Smashwords.

And if you want to hear the novel as an audio-book, then show some support for this author and take a look at this Kickstarter project before December 31st. 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Author Interview: Bethany Brown

Bethany Brown, author of Dark Lightning. Self-published by CreateSpace and Smashwords.

Today we have a magical author interview, just in time for Christmas.

Ever dreamed of having control over an element? Ava Sparks didn’t. She was just a normal girl without a passing thought that there could be something out there other than humans. Until her seventeenth birthday. 

In a moment of panic, something unthinkable happens: lightning surged out of her hands. Soon after, she is swept away into the world of elementals. At Westville Boarding School, she is drawn into a society full of dark secrets, power, and rivalry, and she must find her place in the battle Ms. Masters, the leader of the elementals, is set on instigating against humans. 

Aided by her best friend Harper McGee, she realizes her true potential and the benefits of wielding lightning. However, reoccurring nightmares are testing the limits of her sanity and the fact that an unavoidable darkness follows the lightning doesn't help. When the past and present starts to collide, secrets are revealed and fate is hard to avoid. Throw in the infuriating, but mouth-watering, Nathan Yates and life is no longer easy. She instantly feels drawn to him, no matter how rude he is or how hard he pushes her away.


How long did it take you to write Dark Lightning?

It took me three months to write it and then a few more to edit it. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. The elusive society of elements began to unfold in front of my eyes. From the fiery Olivia, to the intelligent Harper, the intriguing, yet irritating Nathan, and of course Ava, the main character who’s trying to find her place in the elemental world.

Where did you get the inspiration from?

I was inspired to write this novel by a dream I had one night. Once I started writing it, my mom and Gran encouraged me to keep working at it.

This story tells the tale of Ava Sparks, who doesn’t find out about the existence of elementals until her powers develop at the age of seventeen. The leader of the elementals, Ms. Masters, immediately seeks out Ava for her power over lightning, which is a rare thing in their world. Masters is trying to start a war against the humans, and what leader doesn’t want a strong soldier? Ava has spent her whole life thinking she was a human, so she struggles with confronting Masters about not wanting to be a part of the war. She learns that a bit of insanity comes with power. The more she uses lightning, the darker her mind becomes. With Nathan confusing her even more, Ava is thankful to have met Harper. Harper helps steer her through the right paths.

What is your favourite book?

My favorite book is To Catch a Pirate by Jade Parker. The main character is attacked by pirates in the beginning of the book. After she escapes, she devotes her time searching for the pirates who burned her ship, stealing the king’s gold, and had her father thrown in prison. Of course there’s a twist of romance in there. What good book doesn’t involve a touch romance?

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

I was probably about 8 or 9 when I started writing. It was simple things at first. Didn't really have a plot. As I got older, I learned more about plots and was able to actually develop one. I've always written short stories but this is the first time I've ever written a full-length novel.

What did you do to prepare your novel for publication?

I read it over and over again. My Gran had read it too. I had to step away from it for about a year before I could really edit it. I didn’t have a professional edit it because I edited it over and over and so did my Gran. I felt that this was enough. I will probably have my next novel edited by a professional, so I know it is at its best.

What was the hardest part?
The cover. It was definitely the trickiest part. I designed it myself. CreateSpace has a free cover creator that you can use when publishing your book through them.

Did anything surprise you?

The amount of websites that are out there for authors to promote their books! Also, how supportive the literary society is. I've met many people who are kind and offer helpful words of advice.

Are you glad you went through with it?

I am. It's rewarding seeing something you've written out there for other people to experience.

What would you do differently next time?

I’d probably wait a little longer to tell my family. I was excited to tell them but not really mentally prepared for it. They were extremely excited, so it was a positive reaction, but my dad was trying to get me on a radio show. I kept telling him I wasn’t ready for that just yet because I hadn’t received any feedback yet. Next time, I will either be more prepared for the attention from them or just wait to tell them.

What is your best piece of advice?

It's easy to put a book out there for people to read, but it's difficult to get others to really know it's out there. Being a new author, the literary society doesn’t realise my work exists. Whether it’s an amazing novel or not, your name isn’t known so marketing is the key. You have to let people know your novel is out there and available for purchase.

Who would you recommend it to, and who would you deter from self-publishing?

I would recommend self-publishing to those who are going to work hard to get a good quality book out there. For those who want an agent to find a publisher and do the advertising, I wouldn't publish it yourself because it is hard work. However, it is all the more rewarding when people start reading it if you self-publish it.

What publishing tools did you use and how would you rate them?
I used both CreateSpace and Smashwords to publish my book. CreateSpace is a great way to publish the paperback edition of you novel. CreateSpace allows you to see your paperback edition through amazon and other retailers. Smashwords gets your ebook edition to many book sellers, such as iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and others. 

Since you own the rights to your book, you can publish your book on both of these sites as long as you don’t sign up for KDP select. KDP select is through Amazon and it just means that your book is only sold through them, so be careful of this. I would use both of these publishers again.


Author Profile

Bethany Brown is the author of Dark Lightning. You can purchase her novel from Amazon, CreateSpace, or Barnes and Noble

Sunday, 21 December 2014

SP Book Review: Everlong

EVERLONG by Nikki Morgan
3 Stars
Verdict: Beautiful descriptions, raw portrayal of depression, but copious mistakes.

When love is a matter of life and death, it's not about losing your heart, but saving it.

On a bitterly cold New Year's Eve, seventeen-year-old Evie Anderson jumps from the Old Bridge to her death. Seeing her fall, Josh Winters plunges into the river to save her. But Josh is the Angel of Death sent to collect her soul, and saving Evie is against the rules. As their worlds collide, they must conquer their demons, in the battle to survive. With Death standing between them, can love triumph as they fight for their lives?

The Rating Breakdown

Enjoyment:  4   I loved reading it and connected with the characters.

Writing Style:  3   Beautiful but error prone. 

Plot:  3  Interesting. Ends before divulging much.

World & Concepts:  3   Concepts from Josh’s storyline need work. 

Characters:  4  Great characterisation, but Evie and Josh’s voice overlapped.

Finish:  2   Good cover but desperately needs a copyedit.

Strengths: Evie’s emotion is heart-wrenching. Vivid descriptions. 

Weakness: It needs work. It has five star potential, but a two star finish.

I have a soft spot for angel books and fairy tales, and once I heard this was an angel story based on The Little Mermaid, I was ready to read.

The story is told by two very different individuals who are both somewhat trapped in their situation. One is of an angel called Josh who wants to be free of Death herself. Death has a hold over this angel and won’t let go, forcing Josh to go on an adventure where he uncovers ancient history concerning angels and the fallen. This storyline adds in a fair bit of action and a brilliant character named Obadiah who has lived a long life and wants to die, but first must guide Josh on his quest.

Josh’s plot does involve him sitting and listening to a lot of different concepts. While the history is interesting, there are better ways to convey information and I felt like this storyline became unnecessarily complex. Instead of introducing several concepts that the reader has never heard of, it would have been better to structure the story so that it only relies on one or two. This plot could have been tighter, but it still hooked in my attention.

Josh’s story is the mythical and mystical side of the plot, whereas Evie provides the character driven plot. The two complement each other well.

Evie’s life sucks. Her home is broken, her mum is a selfish train wreck, she can’t face her best friend anymore, and the boy who she thinks saved her is also a member of the group who are bullying her. I felt a lot of sympathy for Evie, and longed for something good to happen to her or for her to stand up and make something good happen.

Evie’s pain feels real and raw, thanks to Morgan's beautiful way with words. Evie doesn’t sound like a moper, a whiner, or a wallower; despite everything, her voice is still full of energy! She has strength in her character and does start fighting back, too. Those moments were empowering, even if they were just a small victory in her troubled life.

So, with two storylines should come two points of view...but Josh and Evie's narrative overlaps a lot in structure, language, and focus. At times it was a little too clear this was written by an author crafting a story rather than from the individual characters themselves which is why I couldn't give it 5 stars for characters.

This book is the first of a series, and I definitely want to know what happens next. It’s also quite short and I felt the ending needs more of a punch. The last few scenes lacked tension and I ended up turning the page expecting more story only to realise that was it. The best part 1’s of a trilogy are stand alone novels too, so something to make the ending feel final would have made me put the book down feeling a lot more satisfied.

Still, Morgan writes beautifully. Descriptions are definitely Morgan’s strong point. My favourite was the way a black feather was described as looking ‘black at a distance but on close inspection where actually made up from all the colours of the rainbow, like petrol on a wet floor’. The only problem is the typos, such as ‘where’ in this example, and it’s far from the only mistake.

Straight away I noticed capitalization that should have been italics, incorrect use of semicolons, incorrect commas, comma splices, inconsistent capitalization, typos, wrong dialogue formatting... Sometimes okay was spelled ‘okay’ and other times ‘ok’. I knew from the first page that this hadn’t been professionally edited and it desperately needs to be. Every single page had a mistake on it, some more distracting than others, and it gives off an early draft vibe.

Then again, I enjoyed this more than some of the novels out there with next to perfect copyediting. But without a professional finish, it's not a finished product.

What stood out the most is the potential. This is definitely one of the best self-published novels I’ve read recently, plot wise. In places the writing is beautiful, vivid, descriptive, and unique, but if you’re like me, you get distracted when you notice errors and end up feeling a bit frustrated. If I wasn’t kindly gifted a review copy, I would have felt cheated from the inexperienced use of grammar and punctuation and the author’s choice to not give the actual content the same professional finish as the cover. Writing and editing are two different skills, and this novel is the perfect example of how you can have one without the other.

So would I recommend this novel in its current state? No. I wouldn’t accept so many mistakes from a even the smallest traditional publisher, and as much as I enjoyed reading it, I know the self-publishing stigma comes from books like this which are essentially half finished. It's a harsh but true reality.

The bottom line is that this is a book to watch. If Morgan releases a cleaner version I’ll be the first to tell you to go buy it. Until then, I have to remain objective and honest, and this novel isn’t quite up to standards. Not yet.


Author Profile

Nikki Morgan is the author of Everlong, which can be purchased through Amazon. You can see her author interview for more on how she self-published Everlong,  and check out her inspiring article on the ideas behind it.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Guest Blogger & Giveaway: Herb Mallette: Nine Questions Every Writer Needs to Ask

Nine Questions Every Writer Needs to Ask – Over and Over Again

By Herb Mallette

*(Get a copy of the adventure fantasy novel The Last Tragedy and the second book in the series, The Sharp Edge of Memory, absolutely free December 18th and 19th through Amazon.)*

Many beginning writers struggle with doubt, uncertainty, and confusion about mastering their craft: how to build a plot, how to develop rich characters, how to make dialogue ring true or sparkle with wit and humor. If you’re one of those writers ... congratulations! Your worries, your insecurity, and your occasional bafflement do not represent weaknesses on your part – in fact, they are your greatest friends.

Why? Because writing is a process of discovery.

In school, we learn to write as a means of expressing ourselves – of capturing ideas in language in order to relay them to others. But fiction doesn’t work that way. Fiction is not about constructing the right phrases, clauses, sentences and paragraphs to say something. It’s about finding the world inside your head, the mystery and its solution, the key to the lovers’ hearts, the life-experiences that make a hero or a villain tick.

You can’t do any of that without doubting and wondering and repeatedly rethinking yourself. So here are some questions you may find useful in honing your doubt and uncertainty into tools of discovery.

1. Why am I doing this?

This question trumps all others. Do you have a deep need to turn one of your personal experiences into a narrative that could help others or help you achieve a sense of closure? Is your goal fame and fortune and occasional appearances on late-night talk shows? Does writing simply provide you an enjoyable means of escape from daily hum-drummery?

If you lack a clear understanding of your own motives for writing, you won’t know how hard to push yourself when answering the rest of these questions. And because your motives may change and flow over time –especially as your understanding of the writing process deepens – you can’t just ask this once and assume that a single sense of purpose will always carry you through.

2. Who are these people?

Stories are about human beings. (Or maybe aliens or elves or robots or personified animals – but even in those cases, they’re ultimately about human beings despite outward appearances to the contrary.) Without an understanding of where your characters come from, what drives them, and how their personalities and emotional reactions differ from one character to the next, you can’t create a personal focus to carry the reader through your story. No matter how intricate the plot, how shocking or awe-inspiring the concept, how beautiful your prose, if the characters don’t live and breathe for the reader, everything else suffers or even collapses.

3. What would he or she say next?

Once you know your characters and how they react to things, you must stay true to their personalities when they speak to one another. Sometimes I’ll skip ahead and write scenes out of sequence because I’ve come up with dialogue or a soliloquy that perfectly captures my intent. But when I get to those pre-written scenes, I often find that the characters have grown and shifted in the meantime. I understand them better or even just differently, and therefore I have to throw out words that were going to be the linchpin of the scene or even of the book’s climax because they no longer fit with how the characters have developed.

Just wanting a character to say something isn’t enough, regardless of how cleverly sarcastic or worldly wise or heart-warmingly romantic the words might be. Unless a line of dialogue arises naturally from the character’s response to events or to the words of others, the reader isn’t going to buy it, and you need to either change the character’s dialogue or rework the stimulus that provokes the line until they fit together seamlessly.

4. What is the logical repercussion of the action my character just took?

We perceive the world in terms of cause and effect, behavior and response, action and consequence. Fiction works and seems real only if it mirrors the patterns that we know occur in the real world.

If a murder suspect flees from police, jumps in a car, and drives off, the police are going to immediately muster all available resources to pursue and halt the vehicle. Taking a couple of quick turns through an alleyway isn’t going to throw them off. If you want such a suspect to escape, you need to fully understand the resources available to the police – roadblocks, communications with dispatchers, helicopters, etc. – and then you need to figure out a genuinely plausible hole through which the killer (or alleged killer) can get away.

People and organizations and objects react predictably to our interactions with them, and if your reader can make real-world predictions that your story overlooks or ignores, the result will be eye-rolling at best and the book being put down unfinished at worst.

5. Why did or didn’t my character anticipate that repercussion?

If your reader can spot the killer or predict the words needed to win the heart of the tall, dark-haired stranger, then you need to have a good explanation for the protagonist failing to do so. The creation of drama or conflict is never sufficient reason for a character to overlook the obvious – or even the not-so-obvious, if we’re supposed to believe the person is highly competent. When characters make bad decisions simply because a good decision wouldn’t move the plot in the direction you want, you risk alienating readers who have high standards for heroes (or villains).

6. What detail can I use to give this scene or setting its own reality?

Reality is composed of small things. If an artist paints a picture of a room and includes nothing smaller than a square yard, that room is not going to look like someone lives in it, or even like it’s a real room, since there won’t be any doorknobs or hinges or wood grain. 

When I pick up a wineglass, I can pick it up by the stem or by the bowl or by the rim. I can hold it between my thumb and fingers or cradle it with the stem hanging between my ring finger and middle finger. When I set the glass down and leave the room, it might be empty or it might have a finger’s breadth of wine left in the bottom. How I pick it up, how I hold it, and whether there’s any wine left when I set it down are all small atmospheric details that can be interspersed with dialogue or action to create a richer scene than simply writing, “He drank from a wineglass during the conversation, then set it on the table and left the room.”

7. What happened earlier in the story that I can use now?

The details with which you build your story’s moment-by-moment reality can easily play a larger role as well. If I drink wine in several scenes, holding the glass the same way each time, a sense of consistency is created. If I leave a half-inch of wine in the glass, that wine could be tested for DNA or for poison later. If I habitually hold the glass by the rim, a detective may be foiled in trying to get my fingerprints from the surface, since I’ll leave only partials at the very lip of the bowl.

These things need not be pre-planned, as long as the writer is constantly mindful of details from previous scenes that can be exploited as the story evolves. Perhaps you need character X to communicate something wordlessly to character Y. You think back to earlier in the book and remember that characters X and Z exchanged business cards when they met. That means X has Z’s business card and could use it to write a note because there’s no other paper available. Later, you need character Y to be suspicious of character Z, or to connect Z to X. Voilá, character Y can happen across the business card when emptying her pockets at the end of the day.

8. Is now the right time to be asking these questions?

The answer to this one is usually going to be “Yes.” The worst writing occurs when a writer blazes heedlessly along under the assumption that everything they’re writing is terrific. However, that’s also the mode in which some people are most productive, and the last thing you want is to hit a roadblock because you don’t know the answer to a question. 

The answers to some questions may need to wait until the second draft (when you need to be asking even more questions!) so that you can get the first draft done. Don’t be afraid to write an unresolved question down in a word-processing comment and then push onward.

9. Why am I doing this, again?

Questions without answers may lead to frustration and to insecurity about whether the effort is even worth it. In those moments, take a deep breath, and remind yourself of your ultimate purpose. You’re a writer. The answers will come.

Herb Mallette


Author Profile

Herb Mallette, author of The Last Tragedy and its sequel trilogy, The Aveliad, is a fantasy writer, former comic-book editor, semi-native Texan, and RPG enthusiast. He is currently at work on two novels and a post-apocalyptic RPG module.

Don't forget that book 1 and 2 of The Last Tragedy are free to download for two days only, through Amazon.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

SP Book Review: Meritropolis

2 stars
Verdict: It felt suited to males who like action films.

The year is AE3, 3 years after the Event. Within the walls of Meritropolis, 50,000 inhabitants live in fear, ruled by the brutal System that assigns each citizen a merit score that dictates whether they live or die. Those with the highest scores thrive, while those with the lowest are subject to the most unforgiving punishment--to be thrust outside the city gates, thrown to the terrifying hybrid creatures that exist beyond.

But for one High Score, conforming to the System just isn't an option. Seventeen-year-old Charley has a brother to avenge. And nothing--not even a totalitarian military or dangerous science--is going to stop him.

Where humankind has pushed nature and morals to the extreme, Charley is amongst the chosen few tasked with exploring the boundaries, forcing him to look deep into his very being to discern right from wrong. But as he and his friends learn more about the frightening forces that threaten destruction both without and within the gates, Meritropolis reveals complexities they couldn't possibly have bargained for...

The Rating Breakdown

Enjoyment:  3  I enjoyed it a lot at first, but the plot and concept issues got to me.

Writing Style:  3  A bit ‘tell’ heavy but well structured in most places. 

Plot:  1  Too much crammed in, poor structure, anticlimactic, and underdeveloped.

World & Concepts:  2  Interesting ideas executed poorly. 

Characters:  2  Some good, some forgettable, and too many guards.

Finish:  3  I love the cover, the writing is mostly error free, but it needs a developmental edit.

Strengths: Creativity with animal combinations, a character who takes action.

Weakness: A general feel that world and plot is undeveloped and quite early in draft stages.

I did enjoy this novel...but the further I read, the more frustrated and disappointed I became. This certainly has the potential to be a five star novel based on the concept, but its generally undeveloped plot, world, and characters really brought this down.

I started the novel on a high. I loved the cover and blurb. While the opening ‘told’ me about the world rather than showed it to me, I found it clear and enticing. It hooked me in from the start and I couldn't wait to learn more about this new world.

And there are minimal copy-editing errors, which I’ve recently learned is a luxury in the self-publishing world. It shouldn’t be, but it is, so I respect Ohman for using professionals to produce a good quality product. 

The main character Charley is a doer, not a watcher, which makes for a great over-the-shoulder narration. Occasionally we hop onto other characters’ shoulders. While I enjoyed experiencing multiple POV, I felt like these supporting characters were telling us who they were and telling us about their view of the system; they came across a little one dimensional because I didn't see them do much. Also, females were portrayed in a way which made it clear this novel was written by a man (seductresses and damsels) and I couldn't connect with them. Charley is by far the best character so it was a good thing that he’s the main.

The problems all stem from developmental issues: the world needed developing, the plot needs tightening, certain sections need more tension, and twists need to be more substantial and tightly knit rather than mostly luck. I made notes on around 50 separate issues in total, but I'll just give a few examples.

The biggest issue was that I've finished the book and still can’t picture the city. The early section of the novel introduces the characters and their take on the system, but we never see the dystopian world – we just hear about the system and how it works/doesn’t work. This leads to other problems, because I don't have enough information to properly understand the context of the novel.

For example, the population is being culled to 50,000 but we never see the state of things. If there’s plenty for all to eat and lots of space, then that puts the story in a very different light to if houses are crammed and food is rationed. There is a bit of mention to rations, but if you have more people, you can have more hunters – there’s plenty of food around them – so what are the other real issues of the city? This is just one example of why it would have been good to show more of the world throughout the novel.

Another example is the animals. I loved the animal combinations and got excited at the end of each chapter as there would be a new illustration of a creature soon to be revealed. The illustrations definitely added to the detail of the novel without slowing the pace and I couldn’t wait to see how they would affect the plot.

However, by mid-way through the book, I felt they were unnecessary. They’re a huge part of Charley’s excursions, but apart from being cool, they don’t affect the plot. I would have much rather discovered the inside of Meritropolis rather than what’s outside, because it’s what’s happening within the walls which is the basis of the plot.

Moving along to the dystopian elements, each citizen of Meritropolis is given a score, and if it dis below 50 they are escorted outside the gates. This is another great idea...but again, the details of the scores are kept vague. I still don’t get who decides who has what score. It’s decided based on ‘worth’, but the nuts and bolts of how it works is left a mystery. And why does Charley’s score go up every time he punches a guard? Surely he’s not getting more useful to the system because he’s trying to break it. It would make more sense for it to go down – it all depends on who actually controls it. This isn’t questioned by the characters nor is it explained at any point of the novel. If it became a plot twist within the novel, or even just an unsolved mystery, I would have thought it was a good point. Instead, I feel like this was another concept that needed work.

A lot of the terms are kept vague but are heavily discussed. The system is discussed in great detail from a philosophical point of view, but no one questions who put it in place and who controls it. The Event is talked about so much, yet we never find out what this Event is.

Another huge problem was that there were MULTIPLE anticlimaxes. The word ‘anticlimactic’ is used to described one section, and another is described as ‘Surprisingly, the night passed uneventfully’. Ohman does a good job of throwing in twists, challenges, and threatening situations but the threats are empty, consequences are undone, and the challenges are actually walks in the park. One section in particular really got to me, and that was when the guard offered to knock himself out because he didn’t agree with what the guards were doing. Lucky coincidences that help the main character succeed are nearly always disappointing to read.

It's things like anticlimaxes which made me as a reader feel too much author presence. I felt like Ohman needed to make certain things happen whether they were plausible or not in the name of action, conflict, and the spirit of revolution. Concepts were kept vague and were twisted to suit the moment, and most conflicts were resolved usually with Charley pulling off some crazy ninja moves which would make a good action film but aren’t suited to a good book. Charley is supposed to be exceptionally clever and so it’s a shame that he solves every problem with a punch up.

And that brings us to guards. There are too many guards and the fight scenes. The action becomes superficial. Half the city seems to be a guard – even the gate engineers are classified as guards for some reason...

Because of the guard fight scenes, more problems come to light. The book’s main message seems to be: all life is valuable and equal – except if you’re a guard. Charley argues about how no one should decide someone’s value before proceeding to punch, stab, inject, kick and pummel guards - often whilst telling his victims some self-righteous spiel about equality. I started to dislike Charley at that point. It would be better if he stood for what he said he stood for, for example, felt guilty when he was forced to defend himself, or felt regret after the rage passes. This only really happens once. If Ohman was trying to make a point by it, the execution needs a bit of work.

Nearer the end of the book as the plot spins around into something confusing and partially contradictory to the rest of the build up. I won't go into detail, but I will say I was also disappointed by the resolution. In my opinion, a good book ends with a clever resolution. This one didn’t. There one good moment twists but the rest of the ending turned into a big punch up. It would have made a great film, but it’s quite a superficial scene for a book.

Ohman essentially tried to do too much in one novel without fleshing out the important details. Too much in too few words is something I have struggled with in the past and recognised all too well. The concept is great. The pacing is perfect. But the anticlimaxes, action, characters, and general plot development cause this story to unravel into something a bit too thin for me to recommend onwards. Sorry Ohman!


Author Profile

You can discover more about Joel Ohman through his website, follow him on GoodReads, and grab yourself a copy of Meritropolis through Amazon. Also, check out his fantastic interview with details on how he self-published Meritropolis.