Today’s Featured Author: Melissa McPhail

Today I am excited to feature fantasy author Melissa McPhail  on my blog.

Below is an excerpt from her novel, Cephrael’s Hand

EXCERPT 

The dark-haired man leaned back in his armchair and exhaled a sigh.  He was troubled, and his dark-blue eyes narrowed as his mind raced through the possibilities still available, each branching with a hundredfold new and varied paths.  It was impossible to try to predict one’s future—what a lot of nonsense and wasted time was spent on divination and augury!—when so many paths were in motion.

Much better to mold the future to one’s own desires.

Shifting his gaze back to that which troubled him, he reached long fingers to retrieve an invitation from his desk.  The missive was scribed in a male hand upon expensive parchment embossed with the image of an eagle.  It was the royal standard of a mortal king, but this concerned him not at all; what troubled him so deeply was the signet pressed within the invitation’s wax seal.

A rising breeze fluttered the heavy draperies of his ornate bronze-hued tent, whose peaked roof provided coppery illumination beneath the strong afternoon sun.  He glanced over at an ebony four-poster bed and the exquisite woman lying naked behind its veils of gossamer silk.  They fluttered in the breeze along with her raven hair where it spilled over the edge, one supple breast left visible for his pleasure.  He knew she wasn’t sleeping, though she pretended it so to give him time with his thoughts.

He looked back to the seal on the parchment in his hand.  It was a strange sort of signet for a prince.  He wondered if the man had any idea of its significance?

Surely notNone of them ever remember, in the beginning.  Yet if the seal was true—and how could it be otherwise when none but the pattern’s true owner could fashion it?—then he had very little time to act.  Twice before he’d come upon a man who could fashion this particular pattern, and each time his enemies had reached the man first.  This time would be different.

The drapes fluttered across the room, and a shadow entered between their parting.  Not a shadow, no.  Something.  The air rippled into waves as heat rising from the flames, and a cloaked figure materialized, already in a reverent bow.  “First Lord,” he murmured.

“Ah, Dämen.”  The dark-haired man waved the invitation gently.  “This is quite a find.”

Dämen straightened and pushed back the hood of his pale blue cloak, revealing a face like a mask of polished steel; metal yet living flesh.  “I knew you would be pleased.”

The First Lord returned his gaze to the pattern.  As he studied its twisting, sculpted lines, which formed a complicated endless knot, he glanced up beneath his brow and inquired, “These invitations were sent broadly?”

“To nigh on four corners of the globe, ma dieul,” replied the Shade.  “Four-hundred invitations, maybe more.”

The First Lord frowned.  “Unfortunate, that.  This pattern cannot help but garner notice.  The others will certainly recognize its substance.  It will draw their eye to him.”

“That could be fortuitous for us if it lures them into the open,” Dämen offered.

“No, these enemies are too intelligent.  They will send others to do their bidding.” He lapsed into thoughtful silence.

After a moment, the Shade prodded gently, “What is your will, ma dieul?  Shall I retrieve him to safety?”

“No—assuredly no,” and he enforced this order with a steady gaze from eyes so deeply blue as to be ground from the purest cobalt.  “Balance plays heavily in the life of any man who claims this pattern, and we cannot take the chance of losing him again.”

“The others will not hold to such restrictions, ma dieul,” the Shade cautioned.

“More to their error,” the First Lord returned.  “If I’ve learned anything from past losses, Dämen, it’s what not to do.”  He tapped a long finger thoughtfully against his lips.  “We must bring him in carefully, slowly, for the revelation will not be an easy one.”

The Shade frowned, his chrome-polished features perfectly mimicking flesh.  “Your pardon, First Lord, but if he did not Return with the onset of adolescence, what chance remains?”

“A slim one,” the dark-haired man agreed, knowing the chance was so minute that it would take a great tragedy to draw out the Return of this man’s abilities.  He regretted the future in the making.  Often times of late, he regretted the future more than he did his long and tragic past.  The First Lord pursed his lips and shook his head, his eyes determined, though still he hesitated.  There was no question of the need, but life was a precious, tenuous thing.  He regretted every one over the countless years which he’d been forced to end.  Still, he’d waited too long, planned too carefully…sacrificed too much.  Mercy was a virtue he could ill afford.  “I fear steps will have to be taken.”

“Well and so, ma dieul,” the Shade replied, and there was much not said in his tone.  His gaze conveyed his unease.

The First Lord needed no reminding; he would have to be so precise in this planning.  Every detail, every possible ramification must be considered, for the moment the man crossed that ephemeral threshold they called the Return, he would become like a beacon for their enemies’ vehemence.  And that was something no mortal could survive.  His mind spinning as he conceived of his plan, he settled his cobalt-blue eyes upon his Lord of Shades and detailed his orders.

The Shade bowed when his master was finished.  He did not relish the tasks ahead, but his obedience was beyond question.  “Your will be done, ma dieul,” he murmured.  Then, straightening, he faded—there was no other means of describing the way his form shifted, dissolving like dawn shadows until nothing remained where somethinghad been only moments before.

His most pressing matter thus decided, the First Lord tossed the invitation aside and turned his gaze to the glorious creature awaiting his pleasure on the bed.

The woman stretched like a cat and then settled her vibrant green eyes upon the First Lord.  “Come back to bed, ma dieul,” she murmured in a silken voice akin to a purr but echoic of a growl, “for I have need of you.”

He returned her a lustful look.  She was a feast for his senses in every possible way.  “And I have need of you,” he replied in a rough whisper, his desire filling him.  Lifting his own naked body from his chair, he returned to her.

 

About Cephrael’s Hand

“All things are composed of patterns…” And within the pattern of the realm of Alorin, three strands must cross:

In Alorin…three hundred years after the genocidal Adept Wars, the realm is dying, and the blessed Adept race dies with it. One man holds the secret to reverting this decline: Bjorn van Gelderan, a dangerous and enigmatic man whose shocking betrayal three centuries past earned him a traitor’s brand. It is the Adept Vestal Raine D’Lacourte’s mission to learn what Bjorn knows in the hope of salvaging his race. But first he’ll have to find him…

In the kingdom of Dannym…the young Prince Ean val Lorian faces a tenuous future as the last living heir to the coveted Eagle Throne. When his blood-brother is slain during a failed assassination, Ean embarks on a desperate hunt for the man responsible. Yet his advisors have their own agendas, and his quest for vengeance leads him ever deeper into a sinuous plot masterminded by a mysterious and powerful man, the one they call First Lord…

In the Nadori desert…tormented by the missing pieces of his life, a soldier named Trell heads off to uncover the truth of his shadowed past. But when disaster places him in the debt of Wildlings sworn to the First Lord, Trell begins to suspect a deadlier, darker secret motivating them.

AUTHOR BIO

Melissa McPhail is a classically trained pianist, violinist and composer, a Vinyasa yoga instructor, and an avid Fantasy reader. A long-time student of philosophy, she is passionate about the Fantasy genre because of its inherent philosophical explorations.

Ms. McPhail lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their twin daughters and two very large cats. Cephrael’s Hand is the award-winning first novel in her series A Pattern of Shadow and Light.

You can find out more about Melissa on her website.

You can purchase Cephrael’s Hand on Amazon.

Creating Fight Scenes

Since I write fantasy, I guess it is expected that at some point there will be a sword fight or other battle taking place. With each additional book in my trilogy, there seem to be more battles.  One of my reviews for Summoned said that I wrote, “awesome fight scenes.” I don’t know if that is true or not, but I do have a few tricks that I use when developing a fight scene. These hold true whether it is someone using a knife, a sword or their fists.

1.) Visualize – This might not be an easy step for some but a lot of what I write is what I visualize in my head. I can picture what is happening and just describe it as I see it.  However, if you have trouble visualizing a fight (say because you have never been in one – and that would probably be most of us), consider the next tip.

2.) Watch a fight – Pick a movie or TV show with a good fight scene. (For a TV series, my husband suggested Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for movies, his suggestions off the top of his head were Under Siege, Bourne Identity and Batman: The Dark Knight and for sword fights, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But there are many more options out there.)  Of course these may not be the most realistic, but you can pick up some good ideas from them.

You also might try looking at videos of sparing in martial arts. I actually used this technique for a knife attack in my current work in progress, Destiny. I wanted to see how a person attacking with a knife would move.

3.) Draw a diagram – When I am writing a particularly involved battle scene or one with many participants, I like to draw a map of where everyone is at the beginning of the battle. It helps me keep track of where my characters are and who (or what) they are battling. Pretend you are a basketball coach and draw x’s and o’s on your paper. It really can help you keep track of everything.

4.) Act it out – When all else fails, grab a partner and act out the fight scene. This can give you an idea of how each participant would react. For the same knife attack that I mentioned above, one of my characters was going to surprise someone by stepping out of the shadows and stabbing another character in the back. To figure out how she would stab her victim, my husband and I did a little role playing. This let me not only figure out how the attack would happen but what type of injury would occur.

Once you have your fight scene laid out there are a few more things to remember. You want to watch your pacing – fight scenes need to be fast paced. Keep your sentences short. You want to keep the reader’s attention by showing action but don’t include a lot of detail. And remember you don’t have to write every blow that happens.

The Benefit of Joining Author Groups

Becoming a self-published author doesn’t mean you have to navigate the self-publishing world alone. One of the best things I have found is all the wonderful support from other indie authors. They can help you promote your book, give you encouragement, discuss current publishing trends and advise you on which promotional opportunities helped them the most.  I belong to several author groups.

As soon as I decided to self-publish my first novel, I found the group, Independent Author’s Network. This is a group of self-published authors that support and promote each other online. Members are asked to tweet and retweet about other member’s book releases, blog postings and book tours.  For a $25 set up fee, you get an author page which includes up to six books, buy links, author bio and book trailers.

I also belong to Worldwide Indie Novelist which is a Yahoo group open to all indie writers. Authors are encouraged to promote their books and blogs. It is a very relaxed group, and the other authors are always willing to offer advice or discuss news or trends in the self-publishing world.

A couple of good choices for promoting your work are Celebrating Author’s Facebook page and the World Literary Café.  Celebrating Authors is a Facebook page designed to connect authors with readers. You can post links to your books and blog posts on the site.

The World Literary Café is an online community of authors and readers promoting authors, reviewers and bloggers. They offer several free programs to help you publish, market, and reach out to readers. Beyond their many free programs, they also offer self-guided writing courses as well as some paid advertisements. With their forums, you can connect with other authors, bloggers, reviewers and readers.

Now the next group that I recently joined is not for authors but for bloggers but I thought I would mention it since many authors also have their own blog. I joined Triberr, which is a place for bloggers to share their blog content through Facebook and Twitter and hopefully expand the amount of traffic to their blog. Currently, I just belong to one group of indie authors. Triberr has expanded my reach from a possible 1,863 people to a possible 118,495.

I have touched just the tip of the iceberg here with listing author groups that you can join. Don’t join every group out there as keeping up with them can severely cut into your writing time but with a little work, you can find like-minded individuals who will help you on your journey through the self-publishing world.

Allergic to Everything: Part One – Getting Rid of the Pets

Lexie was two and a half when we finally had her tested for allergies. We had been seeing the dermatologist for a year before he agreed that her eczema might be related to allergies. The allergist ordered a blood test to determine her allergies. I was eager to find out what she might be allergic to especially if it helped relieve her itching. There was no way I was prepared for the results; she was allergic to everything.

They tested thirty-seven items – ten environmental things such as dust, pet dander, grass and twenty-seven common food items. She scored a Level 2 classification or higher on all of them which indicated an allergy. And one of the highest allergies was to cats (Level 6) and dogs (Level 5). The first words out of the allergist’s mouth was get rid of the pets.

We had three cats and a dog at the time, and they were part of the family. One of the cats had been with us longer than Lexie. None of us wanted to see them go so we decided to try everything we could to keep them. We made her room a “safe” room. We cleaned it and kept the door closed and the cats out. And since dust (Level 6) was another high allergen, we bought dust mite protective stuff for her beds and installed an air filter in her room as well as the living room. We tried putting anti-dander solution on the pets and cleaning more often. We even replaced the carpet in our living room and on the stairs and put in laminate flooring to reduce her exposure to dust and pet dander.

We received her allergy test results in October.

Lexie in December 2010.

By December, Lexie was miserable. It was clear that the animals were still causing her problems. While my parents were willing to take the cats for a while to see if that helped, we had no one who would take in our black lab that had just turned one. Seven days before Christmas, my parents took the cats. I cried like crazy the day they left. But Lexie’s reaction to their absence was immediately noticeable. Every winter, Lexie’s nose always seemed to be running like she had one long continuous cold. The instant the cats were gone, her nose stopped running. She still itched around the dog who we were keeping in the kitchen, so we found her a new home. She left us the day after Christmas.

The house was extremely empty without our pets, but Lexie was doing a little better but not great. Clearly the pets were not the only problem. It was time to start eliminating food from her diet to see if we could uncover which foods were causing her the most problems. I will address eliminating food next week and the following week I will tell you how we were able to bring the cats back nine months later.

Today’s Featured Author Interview: Lisa Orchard

Today I am excited to interview young adult author Lisa Orchard on my blog to talk about her book, The Super Spies and the High School Bomber.

INTERVIEW: 

About the Author

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a stay at home Mom with two beautiful boys. They’re my inspiration for everything. ♥ I love to write and I’m working on my third book in the Super Spies series. I also love to hike in the woods especially in the fall when the leaves are changing color.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Hmmm…good question. I’d have to say when I received my first contract from Astraea Press. When they wanted to publish my first story that’s when I considered myself a writer.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

Quite a bit actually, (embarrassed grin) you see I wanted to be a detective in my teen years too. That’s where the idea for The Super Spies series started. Some of my own experiences are in the stories too, but greatly embellished to make the stories more exciting.

What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?

The best thing about being a writer is that the story is all mine. What I mean by that is that I don’t have to compromise to please a partner or put something in it that I don’t like to please a boss. The worst thing about being a writer is that when I get stuck, I can’t turn to a partner or a boss for guidance in making a scene more believable or more exciting.

What fuels you as an author to continue writing?

Good question. To answer that I would have to say that each of my stories has a unique message or life lesson. These lessons are embedded in the stories and they are ones that I feel strongly about. These messages or lessons are what fuel my writing.

About her Book

Please tell us about your current release.

It’s the sequel to The Super Spies and the Cat Lady Killer and it starts out with a bang! The Cole girls are now living with their Aunt June and Uncle Walt. Still reeling from their parents’ disappearance, the girls’ world is rocked again when a bomb destroys their new school. Uncle Walt, who’s a teacher, was in the school when the bomb exploded. Filled with dread, Sarah and her sister Lacey decide to search for him. Do they find Uncle Walt? You’ll have to read the book to find out! (wink)

What kind of research did you do for this book?

I had to do a lot of research on explosives and the aftermath of an explosion. I’m sure I’m on some governmental list because of all my research! (grin)

Did you base your characters on real people?

Yes. I took the characteristics of some of my friends and wove them into the characters within the story. That’s another great thing about writing; I get to create any character I want!

Just for Fun

Do you have an all-time favorite book?

Yes. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book! I really like Scout and imagine that I was kind of like her when I was her age. A tomboy who was a bit mischievous at the same time!

If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?

I would pick Harper Lee because I want to find out why she only published one book. I would also pick Stephen King because I’d love to find out how he comes up with his ideas for his stories.

 

Book Description

This book opens in a small town in Michigan where Sarah and her sister Lacey are now living with their Aunt and Uncle. Still reeling from the fact her parents have disappeared, Sarah starts the school year with her new friend Jackie Jenkins. When Sarah learns the school has been bombed, she’s filled with dread. Uncle Walt is a teacher, and he was in the school when the bomb exploded. Taking matters into her own hands, Sarah decides to search for him. The rest of the Super Spies are right behind her. When a fireman chases them away from the school, Sarah becomes suspicious. She decides to investigate. The FBI arrives on the scene. Sarah realizes this bombing could have even bigger implications. Searching for the bombers, Sarah is introduced to the world of terrorism. She fears that the bombing and her parents’ disappearance are connected and terrorists are involved. To make matters worse, the bombers are determined to finish the job. Can the Super Spies find the bombers before it’s too late?

You can purchase The Super Spies and the High School Bomber at AmazonBarnes and Noble or Astraea Press.

Author Bio

Lisa Orchard grew up loving books. She was hooked on mysteries by the fifth grade and even wrote a few of her own. She knew she wanted to be a writer even then.  “The Super Spies and the High School Bomber” is the second book in the “Super Spies” series. Her first book was published in March of 2012 and it has received rave reviews.

After graduating from Central Michigan University with a Marketing Degree she spent many years in the insurance industry, pining to express her creative side.  The decision to stay home with her children gave her the opportunity to follow her dream and become a writer. She currently resides in Rockford Michigan with her husband, Steve, and two wonderful boys. Currently, she’s working on the third novel that stars the same quirky teens. When she’s not writing she enjoys spending time with her family, running, hiking, and reading.

Find out more about Lisa on her website.

Crafting dialogue in your story

One thing new writers – and even some seasoned novelists – struggle with is writing realistic dialogue. Crafting relevant dialogue within your story requires much more work than carrying on a natural conversation.

Dialogue needs to serve a specific purpose in the story. It needs to advance the plot, reveal something about a character, establish the mood of a scene – or perhaps all three. When editing your novel, always consider if the dialogue advances the story.

Here are a few tips to help you with dialogue.

1.) Remember that people don’t speak in proper English. They use slang and contractions. They speak in fragments. They also rarely call each other by name. Spend some time listening to people speaking – at the mall, at restaurants, or even in your own home. This will help you develop natural sounding dialogue.

2.) One of the best ways to ensure your dialogue sounds natural and realistic is to read it aloud.

3.) Keep your tags simple. The more complex the tag line, the more it detracts from the actual dialogue.

4.) Avoid using adverbs with the dialogue tags. (Example – he said angrily) Often the adverb is repetitious; the dialogue should tell us he is angry. There is no need to repeat it.

5.) Consider whether you even need a tagline. If two people are conversing you don’t need a lot of “he said, she said” to have people follow the flow of the conversation. Avoid using “said” too often. However, be wary of using words like “shouted,” “muttered” or “whispered. While they are perfectly fine, they should be used sparingly. It is better to have the dialogue convey that it was intended to be shouted or whispered.

The best way to perfect dialogue is to listen to how others speak. But as you add it to your novel, be sure that it is relevant and that it advances your story.

For some other tips on writing fresh and realistic dialogue, check out this website.