Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Merry Christmas

So, Christmas day is here and there is wrapping paper on the floor, sticky tape stuck to the table, my foot, and probably my forehead too.  The presents have been opened and the food is in the oven.  The Skype calls have been made, and wishes sent electronically to my family and friends in places too far to visit for a cup of Christmas tea.

New Kindle!!

This week I opened my Christmas present early because I knew what it was.  Generally I am not one to ask for certain things, but this year I knew what I wanted.  So when Santa Claus, who was obviously on his day off because he was wearing a DHL uniform, arrived with my present it didn't quite make it underneath the tree.  I knew that inside that little black box there was a gift I had been waiting for all year!  My new Kindle.

I have an endless backlog of eBooks to read now, and I am so overexcited by the screen that defies the sunshine, and the fact that it appears to have an inbuilt child/husband repellent becasue they took only one look at it and haven't touched it since!  This week I read A Christmas Carol, just to get in the spirit of things!

I am signing off now for a cup of tea and a late breakfast.  Wishing everybody a very merry Christmas and hoping that your day is filled with love, happiness, peace, and joy. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Catching Up!

Busy busy day so let's not beat around the bush.  I have got three things to say, and so I might as well say them all in super quick time because you, like me have loads to do if you are celebrating Christmas.  So, this is a quick Monday night check in to tell you that..........

 The Loss of Deference and Escaping Life are on sale today. Free in fact! Help yourself!

Secondly I have written an advice article for new writers, hosted by the Gal in the Blue Mask.  It's not really a do this and do that article, but pop over, say hi to Meghan and see why I think that believing that you are a writer is just as important as opening your blog and your Facebook page.

Finally, I got a lovely new review from Barbara over at Sun Mountain Reviews.  She also has some great giveaways happening at the moment.  Head over and check it out and see what she has to say about Identity X.
That's it for today.  Catch up with you all tomorrow in the final hours before Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Welcome Eric Buffington!

Eric Buffington was born in Ontario Canada, where he lived until he was eighteen. After that he traveled with a Canadian government program, for one year (what he did is top secret), he then moved to California to serve a two year mission working with the Laotian people.

Shortly after returning home he met the love of his life, moved to Pennsylvania and married her. He has since completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in education. He currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wonderfully supportive wife, and their four children.  He currently works as a High School math teacher in an online cyber school. You can watch his math lessons on his Youtube channel.  He is here on my blog today talking about how we overcome our challenges.

Ever counted the words on a writing assignment just to be sure you made it to the minimum requirement, or within ten words of the minimum? Have you ever gotten an F on a writing assignment and looked enviously at the other kids who got A’s so easily? That pretty much describes my High School career.

In High school my math and science teachers loved me and my English teachers probably wished that I would just drop out. In ninth grade I thought I was pretty brilliant with my 88% in English, but from there my grade dropped 10% each year. As the years went on, my teachers, friends, and parents all consoled me, telling me I just wasn’t an ‘English’ person. My guidance counselor even joined with them. So that I wouldn’t fail my senior year I switched to a current events class that he said would count as an English credit.

By the time I graduated High School I had convinced myself that I would never be any good at writing. I basically stopped trying. If anyone told me my spelling was atrocious or my penmanship was unreadable, I’d just let them know that I was not an ‘English’ person, it was an easy way out for me.

And one thing led to another and now I’m a published author… Just kidding.

Between High School and College I took three years off to do a government program and a mission for my church. In that time two things happened that began my transition into being a writer. I had one roommate who was a grammar Nazi, he didn’t let me take the easy way out. We had to fill out forms and he made me write my part legibly, and correctly. I also had a different roommate who was so passionate about fantasy novels, especially Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, that it was contagious.

When I returned home and began college, I realized that writing was going to be a big part of my life again. With my renewed love for reading and some grammar lessons under my belt I thought I’d finally be able to write something really amazing! Then I submitted my first essay and it was pretty much terrible.

At this point I knew, either my English teachers had called up my College Professor and they were all out to get me, or there might be something that I needed to learn or fix… I was pretty sure a phone call was made.

I spent hours writing and checking each assignment and the results were similar. I passed the course, but never really excelled, and I was again feeling again like I was just not cut out to be an ‘English’ person.

During that summer I got engaged, and shortly thereafter we were married. We moved out west and I began at a different college. I signed up for an English 101 course with the hope that I could learn to write before taking a bunch of courses that just expected me to produce essays.

The first writing assignment came and I typed out an essay, printed it out and brought it home to show my wife. She looked at it and grabbed for a pen. I felt like I was in High School all over again. She was crossing stuff out, and making comments like ‘does not make sense’ all over the place.

Although her comments were very familiar, this was a new experience for me. I knew that she loved me and was trying to help me do better. It was hard to see the feedback and it was even harder to swallow my pride and realize that she, and all my previous teachers, had been right, but it was needed. While I was worried about my ego, she was probably freaking out that her husband would fail out of college and she’d need to sell vacuum cleaners for a living. Either way I knew that she was just trying to help me improve my writing, and that made a huge difference for me.

By the end of the semester I felt like a big boy because I actually wrote an essay on my own and got a decent grade on it. In the end I earned an A- in English 101. I say earned with the greatest respect for the word, I worked harder in that class than I have ever worked in any other class to date. That A- became a stepping stone for a lot of the success I would have in the future.

About four years later, I was talking to a friend of mine about a reading & writing test I needed to take to become a certified teacher. She waved her hand dismissively and she said something that I have always remembered. She said, “That test will be a breeze for you, you’re an ‘English’ person.”

It might have been the fact that I said things like “I’m doing well.” or “I couldn’t care less.” or that I always carried a book with me, but somehow in those years, I had learned enough to fool my friend into thinking I was comfortable with English, and now I’ve also convinced a publisher and hopefully some readers.

When I graduated, I got a job as a math teacher, and I have worked as an online math teacher for several years. I am comfortable with math, and enjoy teaching something in my comfort zone. But what most of my students and many teachers do not know is that I have also taken the tests and became a certified English teacher. I love the look of shock that they get when they learn their math teacher could next year be teaching their literacy class, and then I risk giving them a complete heart attack when I tell them I’ve written a book.
In our lives we will have challenges, struggles and obstacles. We may not be the kind of person we feel we want to be and others around us may seem to easily have the skills that we do not.  What I have learned through the past decade is that when we have a goal, or a dream, we can’t let people tell us we’re just not good enough. If your dream is to be an author, don’t ever let someone tell you you’re not an ‘English’ person. Face your challenges head on, seek help from those who care about you, work your tail end off, and then you will be able to see the rewards in the end.
In a world where each person is born with a magic ability, the island of Denall is on the verge of an attack from a power hungry sorcerer, Mordyar, as he scours the world in search of the Stones of Power. While the stones are gathering, and their power begins to be revealed, four boys leave their village on a rite of passage into adulthood and are swept into an adventure that will make men and heroes of them, if they can survive.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure
Retail: Paperback 14.95
E-book 2.99

Release Date: October 11 2013

Center One Publishing Website: Sample Chapters & Discounted Prices
Don't forget to connect with Eric!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Spirit

Excitement has been high in the Muckley/Theodorou household this week.  It is of course less than ten days until the Big Man in a suit turns up to deliver his yearly brand of cheer, useless presents, and a credit card bill big enough to make even the dead turkey sweat.  This makes me sound a bit Grinch-like, but I promise I'm not.  I do in fact love a bit of festive cheer. 

This was also the week of Christmas tree decorating.  I trudged outside to the storeroom and pulled in the 'tree', the artificial plastic one that we have had for four years and which is of perfectly proportioned size and dimension, the Christmas tree of plastic surgeons, the Christ(mas)y Turlington of plastic pine.  It is however the dream tree that I craved as a child, when I would have given anything to not drag in the same tree year after year.  Our childhood tree, because it had been pushed up against the fence since the previous Christmas, and because it never stopped raining in England, was always half dead when we resurrected it for another round of festivities.  Inspection always pushed me to disappointment, and the dead side, after being peeled away from the fence, was swiftly pushed up against the wall of the lounge, and the sparse sections were stuffed with big wads of tinsel.  Mum was always pleased with the effort; I was always half-hearted.  Especially when the coloured lights went up.  Why couldn't we just have white ones?  They looked better and there were only a fiver in Woolworths.  And don't even get me started on the multicoloured baubles that almost outdated the very idea of Christmas itself!   

Mum is missing, but the rest of us are there. 
1981 in the Muckley/Saul household
After the tree the rest of the decorations came out, which, by anybody's standards was a source of embarrassment for one and all.  Five children in a household, and I think every decoration had been a school project and ranged from circa 1970-1985, except for those made by me at home without the guidance of an adult that could spell.  Because I knew what I was doing, apparently, and in my effort to restyle Christmas didn't need any help.   However, for many years after that we celebrated 'Chris-mas' in my house in the shape of a large aluminium foil cracker that hung as a definite hazard over the gas fire.  

My youngest brother also did his bit, outdoing the neighbours with a selection of window lights.  Not a window was spared.  Showing early signs of a type-A personality I admit to having loved the competition, but I could never understand what drew my relatives to the coloured lights, and always bet myself that white lights, again, would have looked better.  I guess it was 1988.  Not exactly a year known for style, eh?

Christmas dinner was also fun event.  Tables got pushed together, fold out chairs got brought in from the garden shed, and mismatched table clothes did just about enough to cover the join and difference in table height.  Which I was always sat at because I was the youngest.  Mum did a great job, but we didn't eat turkey.  It was either a big chicken, or a cut of a lamb.  At the age of nine and immediately prior to 'Chris-mas' dinner there was a show on the TV about the next spring lambs, and I announced at this point that I would become a vegetarian.  Never one to steal my thunder, mum agreed on the basis that I at least ate 'Chris-mas' dinner this year.  Under pressure I relented, picking my way around a few meat morsels, but it was my last for many years.  About six years later Christmas dinner (the embarrassment of the decoration had proven too much and it had been removed from circulation) was interrupted by my eldest brother choking on a piece of turkey/chicken string.  Mum intervened with a special and I might add, spirited version of the Heimlich manoeuvre.  Never had I been so glad to have turned vegetarian. 

So this year, out came the tree and on went the decorations.  It's full of white lights, red and gold baubles, and looks like everything I had ever dreamed of as a child.  I put out the nativity scene, carefully arranging Jesus (who has lost an arm in my scene) and the wise men, at which point my ten year old step-son asked me what was the point because I didn't even believe in God.  I muttered something about tradition and kept going.  A drummer boy accidentally made his way into the scene, and this was met by rolled eyes and a swift extraction by the same step son who left muttering something about how I didn't even know who was there when Jesus was born.  The annual pre-Christmas party at my house was hosted this Sunday for sixteen people, and the washing up was finished last night.  There are presents stuffed into cupboards and hidden behind clothes piles, and they will all be coloured coded and ribbon dressed because no, I never changed, and a white light filled, colour coordinated type A Christmas is still what I want.
But do I miss that old half dead tree and mismatched decorations, everyone sat round the table, maybe the odd choking fit, or a turkey substitute dinner?  Was this years family dinner a total nightmare that had me on my feet and in the kitchen from nine in the morning until nine at night?  Yes to both.  Would I change it?  No way.  Without the hiccups and the traditions, even the misspelt homemade decorations or half dead tree, Christmas just wouldn't feel the same.  In fact, Christmas is a time to feel the past.  And even though my tree this year looks pretty good, without the memories of the old one, it wouldn't mean a thing.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Guest Jones: Carys Jones

Carys Jones was born in Shropshire, England. She displayed a passion for writing from a young age, spending her time creating short stories and poems. Carys later went on to study Creative Writing at University level. Her first book, Not All Stars Sparkle, was released in October 2010 and was a finalist for The People's Book Prize 2013.

Her second novel, Sunkissed, was released in Autumn 2013.

For more information about Carys please visit

Friday the 13th

Dr. Moralus’ conduct immediately placed him out of favour with almost the entire community. He was an elderly man, as thin and slender and as grey as a birch tree. His dark eyes regarded people with a strange longing, as though he had just been reminded of a wonderful meal he had enjoyed some years ago. And his gait was cause for concern; he walked around the village with the stealth and silence of a cat and was equally nocturnal. Dr. Moralus would only see patients during the darkness of night, due, he explained, to a rare skin condition which made it impossible for him to go out in the sunlight.


The slurs of the locals soon began to follow him around like an unpleasant odour. There were whispers of demons, that he was a satanic creature of the night. But Dr. Moralus took great care of those who did come to him for aide; although he had a penchant for blood letting which he swore would cure even the most severe illness.
In honour of it being Friday the 13th, I thought I would share an excerpt from my latest novel, Sunkissed which highlights the superstition felt within the fictional village of Fandova in the story when a new, mysterious doctor comes to town.

I think that we are all superstitious in one way or another. My Mom is always telling me not to walk under ladders, pass on the stairs or put shoes on the table. And if I see a single magpie I must greet him else I risk inviting in bad luck.

A part of me dismisses this as superstitious nonsense, but then that other, illogical side of me, which wants to believe in things greater than ourselves thinks it’s better to abide by the superstitions than to risk incurring the wrath of bad luck.

You can trace the origins of many superstitions. Often, a superstition is in place as an old wife’s tale to keep children safe. Like not passing on the stairs or walking under ladders helps prevent unnecessary trips, falls or accidents. Keeping shoes off tables keeps eating areas clean and germ free.

Greeting a magpie comes from an old children’s nursery rhyme. So none of the superstitions which were passed down to me derive from any concrete evidence. There is no proof that my luck will turn bad if I don’t abide by them, yet each time I meet someone on the stairs I turn back, or say Hello Mister Magpie to the solitary bird, because you know, just in case…

Friday, December 6, 2013

Michael McCloskey: In it for the long haul

Yesterday I wrote about my decision to give the new Kindle Countdown Deal promotion a chance.  For those of you who don't know, this is a deal that gives authors the chance to offer their book to readers at a discounted price for a specified length of time through Amazon.  There are however, a few qualifying stipulations.  The primary, and often difficult point for an author to accept, is that your books have to be exclusively available through Amazon. 

For some authors, this works just fine.  For others, they don't believe in this kind of one directional approach to selling their work.  Michael McCloskey is one of them.  He is joining us today to give us his view on why he loves Amazon, but just not enough to commit to a monogamous relationship. 

I love Amazon. I really do. But I'm not enrolled in KDP select.
I've seen many authors post about why they are or aren't in KDP select. Often it is about short term money strategies—where they can get the most money for their books. I base my decision upon longer term criteria.
I have seen how young companies emerge from the pack because of their focus on the customer. Amazon and Google come to mind. But I have also seen how those same companies, once mature, start to look after their own interests first. Having secured a large share of the market, they start to wield that power. This is exactly what Amazon KDP is. It is about locking customers into Amazon.
Once you are locked into one company, you are totally at their mercy. No matter how much you love a company, don't be fooled. They will make business decisions that benefit them first, not you. Especially as that young company becomes an older, established force in the market.
Suppose Amazon grows even more powerful. What are you going to to when it decides to drop your royalties? What could you do? Without alternatives, you will be powerless to do anything. It would be Amazon's way or the highway. What would you do if Amazon decides you violated some policy of theirs (even if you didn't... it could be an error). Then you are out in the cold and there is no place else to sell. We have to protect the competition that keeps that from happening. We need Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook, Smashwords, etc., so that Amazon does not decide to abuse its power. And if they do, you must have recourse. There has to be other players you can go to and keep selling.
So even though Amazon is my favorite bookseller out there, I refuse to help them become the only bookseller. That will end badly, if it comes to pass.
You can connect with Michael in all of the following places, and buy his books through the links below.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The last Select promotion

I am always excited to hear about changes made by Amazon if those changes might help me get my books into the hands of readers.  For example, this week I found out that extended distribution channels with Create Space are now free.  This has to be a good thing, even though I know that it probably won't equate to immediate increases in sales.  But when I heard about the new Kindle Countdown deals, I was quite excited to give it a try.

Free today and tomorrow
I have heard lots of writers of late announcing how the free Select Giveaways have been a waste of time.  So people were keen to try something new.  There has been a fair amount of buzz regarding this new promotional tool, including a new website from Amazon for readers to browse all the books available through the countdown deal promotion.  Early reports from some writers suggest it has helped them reach the top of their category, and that they have seen a sales increase.  Other writers have complained about bugs in the system and that their book page wouldn't load correctly throughout the duration of the promotion.

I however am not one to complain about the free Select days.  Without the exact facts and figures, I know that most of my sales come after free Select days.  I have been lucky in the fact that I have reached either the top of my category or close to it with all three of my books during the promotional events, and have seen a steady stream of sales post promotion.  I would say that in all, 70% of my books have been sold in the weeks after Select promotions.

But I have decided at the end of my latest Select period to have a shot with the new Kindle Countdown Deal promotion.  Which happens to start next week.  So today and tomorrow are the last days that you will strike lucky for a free copy of Identity X.  This will be my last waltz with the free Select days for a while.  And I will keep you updated on the progress.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Development of Character

Recently I released my third novel, Identity X.  Release day is always a stressful time, no matter how much effort and work you put into it, and the biggest of all those stressors is what people are going to think of the book.  What are the reviewers going to say?  Getting absolutely hammered by 1 star reviews is obviously not the idea!  At the time of writing this, I’m doing OK.  Positive comments.  I am waiting for my one star review.  A theme of these comments is that the characters feel real and well developed.  So why do these characters feel like real people to the readers, and another character might end up being described as one dimensional?

Let’s imagine that I am one of the characters in my next book.  I’m going to tell you a few things about myself so you can get to know who I am.  I am thirty two and I live in Cyprus.  I am married.  I love my husband.  I have brown hair and blue eyes.  I used to smoke but have now given up.  I go out for coffee at least twice a week.  I read more than I used to.  I have eczema on my hands.

Now, whilst all of these statements are true, it’s not that interesting, right?

What I gave you here is a list of characteristics that describe me.  You might now know me well enough to recognise me in a cafe, but you don’t really know anything about me.  You don’t know anything about my character.  So let’s take these superficial ideas and ask some questions.

Why do I live in Cyprus?  Why do I love my husband?  Does my brown hair and blue eyes suggest that I might have Irish heritage?  Why did I give up smoking when I used to enjoy it so much?  Do I read more now because I write, or because I live in a country where I understand less of the television?  Do I only get eczema when I am stressed?

Go deep
Now if you knew the answers to these questions you would know considerably more about who I am as a person.  You would know more about my history, my family’s history, my health, my emotions, my opinions on life, and the things that make me behave in a certain way at a certain time.

The difference in these two scenarios is depth.

We all have different friends.  Maybe your closest friend is your sister, your husband, or a girl you knew at school.  But whoever they are you know that they are your best friend because you can sit and tell them anything.  No matter what it is, you know they will love you afterwards and be there for you.  You will also know people that know all of the facts from the first scenario as far as you are concerned, but you know that they don’t really know you because they couldn’t answer any of the related questions.  They don’t know who you are. 

As the writer of your story, you have to be your characters best friend.  You have to know them inside out.  You have to be able to predict their behaviours and thought processes as if they were an extension of you, because after all, they are.  Many of my characters have small elements of my character.  In The Loss of Deference, Dan bought Marlboro cigarettes because when he saw the packet he remembered the Marlboro man being a cool hero type.  That was me.  Mark from Identity X has eczema on his hands that only comes up when he is stressed.  This is also me.

You don’t have to use your own personal history to give your characters depth.  But what is important is that you make sure they get one.  Nobody is born as an adult, unless you are Benjamin Button, and we all have a history that has helped to make us who we are.  Make sure you give this same background to your characters, because this will help them transcend the page and come alive to your readers.  Give them somebody to care about.

Here are some ideas to help you develop your characters, and help turn them into three dimensional real people, not just flat ideas of people with a few quirks.
Give them a history
If they were raised with strong religious views, how has that altered their choices in the present? If they were abandoned as a child, do they struggle to be a good parent? Maybe they even avoid parental responsibilities completely.
Who are they?
Get to know them well. Where did they go to school, who was their friend, what was their first job, what is their sexual orientation. Get to know your character outside of the story. We all have friends that we socialise with, but yet we don't know very well. Make your characters one of your best friends, the person you can chat over coffee with. Make them the person who you can describe in greater detail than hair colour and what they wear.
Define their goal
What do they want?  It's all very well knowing who they are and where they come from, but what are they interested in for the future? For example, Captain Corelli wanted to get through the war and make it home. He wasn't interested in finding love, but it found him and this helped to grow his story in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Because we know his goal, we can decide how he would be likely to react.  This way we can understand their opinions and behaviours.
Make them individual
Don’t create a caricature of your characters. Make them somebody interesting, with flaws and quirks, likes and dislikes. Nobody wants to see a flawless hero. Even Superman had a flaw.  Remember what Kryptonite did to him?
Give them a voice
As a writer it is important to have a voice, and agents always say they are looking for something original. Give that same attention to your characters. Their voice comes through not only in their actions, but also dialogue. Make sure it is believable. Your average gun wielding gangster is unlikely to curse a mishap with 'oh shoot' and the local nun is unlikely to swear in God's name. Let your character decide on their vocabulary, not you. Let them speak freely in a voice that suits them.