December 2016 – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Month: December 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

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A Way With Words: Emotions and Feelings

As a writer, I always have a hard time trying to put the emotions of my characters into words on a page. I can feel what the characters do, but it can be difficult to communicate that clearly to the reader. It’s probably the hardest part of the writing process for me. The fact that those feelings and emotions are so important for character growth and depth just makes it all the more challenging.

Thankfully, I have a few writer friends in my circles who happen to be AWESOME at writing emotions and feelings. In the first video of my new series “A Way With Words”, I get some valuable advice on how best to infuse my stories with emotions and feelings:

The Panelists

Angela Ackerman

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of five bestselling writing books, including The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. She is passionate about helping writers succeed. Her site, One Stop For Writers is a powerhouse online library like no other, filled with description, story structure, and brainstorming tools to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and at her blog, Writers Helping Writers.

Her websites: https://www.onestopforwriters.com/ and http://writershelpingwriters.net/

Connect on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorAngelaAckerman

Tweet at her: https://twitter.com/Angela Ackerman

Rachel Marks

Rachel A. Marks is an award-winning author and professional artist, a SoCal girl, cancer survivor, a surfer and dirt-bike rider, chocolate lover and keeper of faerie secrets. She was voted: Most Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse, but hopes she’ll never have to test the theory. Her debut series The Dark Cycle, described as Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” meets TV’s “Supernatural”, begins with the Amazon Bestseller, DARKNESS BRUTAL.

Her website: http://www.rachelannemarks.com/

See her work on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00S6Z3S82/

Angie Grigaliunas

Angie Grigaliunas (grig-ah-LOO-nahs) is a fantasy writer and blogger. She’s a country girl at heart, in the sense that she wants to be in nature and away from civilization. She loves Jesus, the woods, and the stars, and has always wanted to be a superhero with a secret identity. Seriously.

She has completed three books: one about elves that needs a massive revision before it ever sees the light of day, one that is part of her current story but also needs a massive revision to fit a new storyline, and the actual first book (Sowing) in her dystopian/medieval/grimdark/semi-romance series (The Purification Era). When she’s not writing, she’s usually Facebooking – ack! – or thinking about story stuff. Despite several of her writing friends claiming she’s Canadian, she is not; she lives in Ohio with her dear husband and their crazy cats.

Connect on Facebook www.facebook.com/angiegrigaliunaszewriter

Her website: www.angiegrigaliunas.blogspot.com

Tweet at her: www.twitter.com/Angie_ZeWriter

See her work on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2ck9So6

Sarah Buhrman

Sarah has been writing for more than 20 years. She lives in the middle of nowhere with two monsters (the kids), an ogre (the hubby), and whatever drama-llama is coming to visit this week. Sarah is the author of Too Wyrd and the Life 101 series. She has short stories in several anthologies, including Visions IV: Between the Stars, and The Pop Culture Grimoire: 2.0.

Her website: http://www.authorgoddess.com/
Connect on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSarahB/
Tweet at her: https://twitter.com/AuthorGoddess
See her work on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Too-Wyrd-Runespell-Book-1/dp/1612967523/

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Book Review: Hometaker by Dean Wilson

Today, for Book Review Wednesday, I have a book I’ve been looking forward to: the FINAL book in The Great Iron War series by Dean Wilson. I’ve read the books since the beginning, and I’m thrilled to have closure to the story of Jacob, Whistler, Rommond, and all the others.

Hometaker

The Resistance races against time to complete the missile-launcher known as the Hometaker, capable of opening a gateway to the land the Regime came from, and exposing the Iron Emperor for all the evils he has done.

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Everything rests on the secrecy of the mission, but from day one tongues are wagging. The atmosphere is like dynamite. An overheard word could light the fuse. With no time left on the clock, General Rommond is forced to make an audacious plan: finish the construction of the Hometaker on the move, driving straight towards the enemy, who have assembled in unimaginable force.

The Great Iron War is coming to an end. It’s all or nothing—their world or ours.

My Review: 4 Stars

What I loved about this story: The circle is closed!

After years of reading these great books, I was happy to finally reach the end and receive that satisfying conclusion to the story. It did the rest of the series justice and closed the story in a way that I felt good about. Not necessarily a “happy  ending”, but the fitting ending the series deserved.

I LOVED the various plot twists and turns in this book. I’m not going to spoil anything, but I’d have to say “I didn’t see that coming!” They totally caught me by surprise, and I found they made for a much more realistic plot.

What I didn’t love: I felt the book was a bit more “rushed” than the previous ones. There were parts that felt downright choppy and “first draft” than Dean’s usual writing style.

But all in all, it was a satisfying ending to a book series I’ve enjoyed from the very beginning. Can’t wait to see what comes next!

Here’s a Taste:

And so the fire came.

The first jet of flame reached out over thirty metres. There was no one in its path, but it fulfilled its aim: sending fear before them even faster. The light illuminated the black armour and black masks. Even the coverings of the eyes were dark. These troops did not really need to see. They were here to burn everything.

Rommond’s men split apart, spreading out as he gestured for them to take cover. They hid behind the upturned landships, but only those at the front of the battlefield. They could not retreat any further or they would leave the carrier exposed. If that was set alight, the aim of it all was lost.

Rommond used a rifle from one of his fallen comrades to make his first shot. It only had a single bullet left, with most already wasted on the mines, but it was enough. There were a lot of fallen rifles littered around the sand, and not enough hands to use them. The bullet struck one of the closest fire-flingers straight in the forehead. He halted suddenly, then toppled forward, still clutching his flamethrower. His mate instinctively unleashed a jet of flame before him, but was still out of range to hit the general.

Then the other Resistance fighters unleashed a spray of bullets into the oncoming force, killing several of them, making them look a little less daunting than they did before.

And then the gas came.

The first came in a barrel, launched from a modified artillery gun parked far back with the troop carriers, which formed a black wall across the horizon. The barrel burst open in the midst of the Resistance soldiers, swiftly unleashing a green cloud of vapour, which spread out in all directions, thick and blinding. They were now the vermin-killers, here to weed out the rats.

Rommond yanked open the escape hatch of the upturned landship he hid behind and crawled inside. On its side, it was difficult to get his bearings, but this was not the first time he was in a vehicle like this. He quickly rummaged through the debris, pushing the bodies of the driver and gunner out of the way. He was certain that there was a gas mask in there somewhere, but he could not find it. He could barely see anything. If it was not the night, which entered with him, it was the dark of the interior itself. Everything was charred from the explosion that knocked the vehicle over, even the faces of its unmoving occupants. Even the gas mask that he eventually put his fingers on. Much of it was burned clean through.

He clambered swiftly back outside, where the green cloud was expanding, and the black-masked horde was approaching. He could no longer see his companions, but he could hear periodic gunfire, along with the screams and shouts of someone, punctured by his vomiting. If he was lucky, he would vomit blood. It would be over quicker then. Yet it would never be over quick enough.

Rommond dived out into the clear air, dodging a wall of flame that spat out from a nearby gun, and charged towards another fallen landship. That one was less damaged than the previous, but it was a lot more out in the open, in the eyeline of the fire-flingers, and not long before it was in their jet-line as well. He pulled at the escape hatch door, but it would not budge. It was buckled slightly on one side. Brute force alone would not do it, and yet he had to try. He could already feel the good air fleeing from the battlefield, not just from his frantic tussle. He could already see the sky darkening, not just from the encroaching night.

He felt a sudden heat and only narrowly missed the lashing tongue of flame that came at him. It singed the whiskers of his moustache and left little embers in the rim of his cap. As he span away, he unleashed his pistol, firing two shots. It was more than he needed, he knew, but he was caught off guard. That would get you killed. Yet, having no bullets left would do it too.

The fire-flinger crashed to the ground, almost falling into his own flame. It was then that Rommond thought to grab the gas mask from the corpse. It remained just a thought, however, because another approached behind him, and another, both alive and breathing fire.

Rommond barely had time to pull the trigger before a stream of fire whisked by him as he ran. He was forced to dive into the toxic cloud, gasping one last puff of fresh air before he disappeared inside. From there, laying with his back on the ground, he could barely make out the shapes of people and objects outside. He had to hope they were as blinded by their goggles as he was by the stinging vapour. He also had to hope they did not stray too far, because he was going on guesswork now to fire his remaining bullets.

The first clearly hit, because he heard the squelch of flesh, and the squeal of the man it entered. The second struck metal, and the third seemed to make no noise at all. Who knew what it hit further afield. The fourth—there was no fourth, he realised, as the revolver clicked idly. He was out. He knew his pistol was out too. That one he had kept track of. There were cartridges and bullet boxes in the landships. He even recalled feeling one as he searched for the gas mask, but never thought to grab it in the frenzy.

And now his breath was out too.

He gasped, feeling the first needle-points of the gas prick away at his lungs. He coughed, then tried to disguise the cough, knowing it would lead the fire-flingers to him. He covered his mouth and nose with the edge of his coat and tried not to suck in any more of the noxious fumes, but his lungs chugged along like little pumps and pistons on autopilot. If he took a breath, he would soon die. Yet if he did not breathe, he would die even swifter.

Better to burn than go like this, he thought.

So he rolled back out into the open, where he was greeted with a breath of fire.

About the Author:

Dean F. Wilson was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1987. He started writing at age 11, when he began his first (unpublished) novel, entitled The Power Source. He won a TAP Educational Award from Trinity College Dublin for an early draft of The Call of Agon (then called Protos Mythos) in 2001.

He is the author of the Children of Telm epic fantasy trilogy and the Great Iron War steampunk series.

Dean also works as a journalist, primarily in the field of technology. He has written for TechEye, Thinq, V3, VR-Zone, ITProPortal, TechRadar Pro, and The Inquirer

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Hometaker-Steampunk-Dystopian-Action-Adventure-ebook/dp/B01N6CF5VT/

Read his thoughts on his website: http://www.deanfwilson.com

Connect with Dean on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deanfwilson

Tweet at him: https://twitter.com/deanfwilson

Google+: https://plus.google.com/+DeanFWilson

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Is Brainwashing Real?

“Brainwashing” is one of those terms you’ll often find portrayed in movies about religious cults or the CIA. It’s usually perceived as fantastical and not even slightly real, and, in reality, there is no such thing as “brainwashing”. However, there are certain things that can be used for psychological manipulation, indoctrination, and behavior modification.

(Note: I found all of this out as I did research for Child of the Night Guild)

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Low-protein, high-sugar diet. A low-protein diet deprives the brain of vital nutrients. A lack of protein can lead to impaired memory, concentration, and critical thinking. The addition of excessive sugar only adds to the cognitive impairment. It’s basically used to break down mental barriers.

Physical exhaustion. Pushing people beyond the limits of their endurance through hard labor is one of the most common techniques used for this type of manipulation. When you’re too tired to think clearly, you are often more vulnerable to suggestions and less able to resist other manipulation techniques.

Lack of sleep. This only adds to the physical exhaustion caused by excessive work and poor diet. The human mind needs a sleep routine as much as the body does. Take away the routine and force the person to sleep/wake at random times, and it can break their mental barriers.

Elimination of Time and Location. “Time” and “place” are two very important factors in human consciousness. Take away anything that could give an indication of time and location (dark, lightless environment in an unknown place), and you take away the foundation of what human consciousness is built on.

Elimination of Sense of Identity. We all know who we are. I’ve been “me” since birth, and will continue to be until death. But the erasure of identity is possible—often by the removal of names in favor of a number or designation. With the mind so broken by fatigue, lack of sleep, and improper diet, it’s possible to suppress one’s identity.

Repetition of Mantras. AA is a sort of cult, as is Nike, Apple, or Coca Cola. The use of mantras (“one day at a time” or “Just Do It”) is a form of though reformation.

Of course, these are just a few of the techniques used for psychological manipulation, thought reformation, or indoctrination. There are many more—this is a great link to check out.

Pretty scary stuff, right? Imagine being a person who goes through that!

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Marketing Advice from a Fellow Writer

Today, I’m bringing a post on marketing from a good friend, EM Whittaker, author of the Turbulence book. I did an interview with her in early December, and her interview had some GREAT information on marketing I had to put into a separate post to share.

EM’s Marketing Advice

First: Writers cannot find all their own mistakes, no matter how hard they try. The first large message I received in my track changes (manuscript editing doc) was using over 600 em-dashes, and transposing words like “when” and “as” within a sentence. A good editor will help you find your mistakes, build upon your style and help you build a better voice while improving your writing at the same time. It’s a partnership, not a hand-off or a one-and-done type deal.

A good editor will help you SELL your books – a bad editor will not force you to grow and correct your mistakes. Readers will notice and will leave bad reviews if the editing’s shoddy, characters aren’t thought out, head-hopping occurs (transitioning POVs for no reason in the same scene) or if the book’s bad in general.

Amazon will remove these reviews if the author edits their manuscript and uploads a cleaner version later. However, new writers shouldn’t learn this way after being docked the first time.

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Editors are valuable, and can make or break an author’s career. Make sure to schedule some extra time inside your editing window for your and the editor, in case extenuating circumstances occur. I also say this because you could have issues that need fixing that you didn’t know about (like timing issues, or parts that may need complete overhauls because they don’t work for the story). We ran into one of these scenes in Chapter Two, and it took four tries to fix.

All authors should find an editor, even if you need to use payment arrangements for services if you’re an indie author. I did this method, and it was money well spent, considering the book is 10 times better then when I first submitted it to Shay.

Second: While I’m on the subject of investing, cover art means everything. It is the focal point of why readers will pick up your book, whether printed or ebook. Therefore, if you’re not with a publishing house who offers editors and cover art, invest with a good cover artist you’re comfortable with.

If you’re a graphic designer or know someone else doing this for you, you can skip the next few paragraphs. Otherwise, please read. You don’t want to make the same mistake I did.

Shop and get recommendations. Ask in the community and look for feedback. Query and see what their process is and if you get on with your artist. It’s easier to work with someone who thinks on your lines and gets back in a timely fashion rather than someone who drops from the face of the planet every time something goes wrong.

Also. when working with the cover artist (no matter which way you publish), stay within industry standard when doing your covers. The human brain cannot process too much stuff on a cover (or, as we call it, looking busy). So, before you hire a cover artist or work with one, look in your genre and see what bestselling authors are doing to hook people in. You don’t want your book to look like a different genre or like a graphic novel, which is what happened to mine. It was nice for promotional art, but not as a book cover, which was a costly lesson.

So, cover artist is a must. Establish a relationship with them, and be nice. They’re doing you a huge favor.

In addition, please listen when the cover artist asks you not to share their “proofing images” around on the internet. I know one person who lost their cover artist for not honoring this request years ago when I first got into writing. Your artist may allow you to share with a close friend or colleague if you ask, explaining it’s for feedback purposes, not for influencing their work or your cover design. Examples of this are if the artist needs feedback on certain elements of the cover, not for changes.

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Third: For marketing, use a method that works for you, not what everyone else is using and failing at. For example, a good horror author I talk to uses his bad reviews to sell his books, and makes a killing piquing the reader’s curiosity over the 1 or 2 star review. Most writers wouldn’t be so bold, but this seems to work for Jim.

I like to share  snippets (between 250-850 words) on my personal Facebook page while in the middle of drafting. This is how I’ve garnered a lot of interest before the book’s even sold, and gained valuable feedback. It’s also how I found my beta readers.

When NaNoWriMo happened, we had threads where we shared snippets, such as first and last lines of scenes. Some posted entire ones, while others just did the bare minimum. However, I acquired interested parties for ARCs this way this month, based on the few pieces I posted for the next book. This made people ask about the first, so that was a pleasant surprise.

Last: Network! You never know who you’ll talk to or what opportunities will arise within the industry.

Networking was how I got with my publisher (J. Ellington Ashton) originally.  I participated in a writing short based off a picture someone posted for a writing challenge. After I made the 4500 short story and got honest feedback, I started submitting for them. While I decided to continue submitting short stories for JEA, it gave me the confidence to branch out my writing and self-publish my novels. I’ll continue this trend, and start submitting to other houses later in 2017 to grow my portfolio.

Networking on Facebook and various groups was how I connected with several people I work closely with, including my editor, formatter PR/PA company and cover artist. So social media is a powerful tool if used correctly.

 

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Book Review: The Tao of Book Publicity by Paula Margulies

For today’s Book Review Wednesday, I’ve got a non-fiction book that offers a lot of excellent information on book publicity…

The Tao of Book Publicity: A Beginner’s Guide to Book Promotion

In The Tao of Book Publicity, publicist Paula Margulies outlines the basics of book promotion and explains how the business of publicizing a book works. Designed for beginning authors but also useful for those with some experience in book publishing, The Tao of Book Publicity provides information on the importance of writing a good book and the need for developing a platform, as well as how-to explanations for developing publicity material, including front and back cover text, press releases, Q&As, media and blog tour queries, and newsletter and media lists.

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The Tao of Book Publicity also covers social media, book pricing and sales, book tours and media interviews, and author websites. In addition to explaining how book publicity works, this valuable handbook explores practical topics such as publicity costs, timing, and considerations when hiring a publicist.

Simple, straightforward, and informative, The Tao of Book Publicity includes expert advice on all aspects of book promotion and is a go-to reference guide for beginning and experienced authors alike.

My Review: 5 Stars

I purchased this book from Paula at a local author event, and I have to say that I found it VERY helpful. It contains a lot of useful information on book publicity–which, as most people don’t understand, is different from marketing.

The book has information on smart marketing tips, but it also takes a look at book publicity. It’s a great look at the ins and outs of publicity, how to find a publicist you can trust, and a lot more.

It’s definitely a must-have for authors who want to be as effective as possible with their book launches–a handy road-map to success as an author!

About the Author

Paula Margulies is the owner of Paula Margulies Communications, a public relations firm for authors and artists. She has received numerous awards for her essays and books, including her nonfiction handbook, The Tao of Book Publicity, her historical novel, Favorite Daughter, Part One, her debut novel, Coyote Heart, and her short story collection, Face Value: Collected Stories. She has been awarded artist residencies at Caldera, Red Cinder Artist Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, and Centrum. Margulies resides in San Diego, California.

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01CS5DS6W/

Visit Paula’s website: http://www.paulamargulies.com

Tweet at her: https://twitter.com/paulamargulies

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The Odd Dichotomy of Asperger’s

Asperger’s, like all of the Autism Spectrum Disorders, comes with its own unique range of challenges that few “neurotypical” people understand. One of the main difficulties most “Aspies” face is in the realm of social interaction. We have a hard time understanding social cues and nonverbal communications, which makes socializing and social activities much more challenging.

In an article on Psychology Today, I found a very interesting article that talked about the unusual dichotomy that comes with autism. The writer says:

“It seems a common thread that I tend to love the things I hate and hate the things I love. Most activities I enjoy have some component of pain and vice versa. And it also seems that a lot of that has to do with autism, namely problems socializing and sensory sensitivity.”

“When it comes to the social world, my feelings have frequently been conflicted. There’ve been many times I have wondered if I am not an extrovert in an introvert’s body. Going back to my earliest memories, they are dominated with an interest in other human beings. But slowly, over time, those feelings became dampened, replaced by a wariness born of an awareness of how my attempts at connection were received. A fear of pain and of rejection.”

“As a result, my feelings have solidified into the knowledge that the desire to socialize is not the same as successfully socializing. The gap between my feelings and my skills is a painful one, one that despite all I’ve learned and experienced, never seems to fully go away.  It’s a gap that in many ways, controls my life.”

That is something I can DEFINITELY relate to!

It’s such an odd balance when it comes to social interactions, even with people that I should feel very comfortable with (close friends, family, etc.). For example, my sister just came to visit us, and I had a lot of fun talking with her, hanging out with her boyfriend, and socializing with friends together. However, there came a point when my “social energy” had run out, and it felt like I was forcing myself to engage in social activities. That “introversion” came despite my enjoyment of the “extrovert” activities.

Conversations can be quite difficult after a while. I can talk for HOURS about something that I’m interested in—and I’m interested in an odd and broad assortment of topics. However, I have a very hard time talking to people about things that have little interest to me. It goes beyond just showing a polite interest—it’s like I’m chewing off my own arm just to keep myself listening when I’d rather be anywhere else at that time.

I wish I could say I had an answer to this dichotomy, but it’s just something that I—like all people with Asperger’s and ASD—will have to struggle with for the rest of our lives. It’s not anyone’s fault that we have a hard time with socializing and interactions. We don’t think that topic of conversation is boring, or that you’re boring. It’s just the way our brains are!

 

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Duel to the Death: Conor O’Leagaire

I, Andy Peloquin, challenge you, Michael Bolan, to a duel to the death! But it is not we who will fight, but our characters…

In the black corner, weighing in at 180 pounds, standing a cool 6 feet tall, the Hunter of Voramis!

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Tale of the Tape:

  • Superhuman reflexes, strength, speed–think Captain America, but stronger
  • Thousands of years of weapons training
  • Body has accelerated healing factor–can survive a sword to the heart (can be killed by drowning, iron weapons, beheading, and suffocation)
  • Cannot be killed by anything but iron
  • Accursed dagger that heals him when he kills
  • No magical abilities whatsoever
  • No hesitation to kill if he perceives opponent as a threat/obstacle to his desires–classic anti-hero

In the green corner, standing at 6′ 2″ and weighing a solid 220, we have Conor O’Leagaire of the Fianna.

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Tale of the Tape:

  • Has spent most of his two hundred years of life running, climbing, fighting, and hunting
  • Descendant of the old gods of Ireland (who were in fact the angels who took neither side in the Great Fall, and were subsequently exiled from Heaven, but not cast down into Hell)
  • Directly descended from Lugh Lamfada, an anthropomorphisation of the sun; the Dagda, who represents the earth; Manannan MacLir, the god of the sea; and the Morrigan, goddess of battle
  • Effectively the coalescence of earth, air, fire and water.
  • He has no soul
  • Graceful and athletic, and determined
  • Prefers to fight with a bastard sword and a small buckler, but will happily switch to longstaff/ spear, double axes, or projectile weapons

Two enter the ring, only one can leave alive!

How would (your character) kill the Hunter? Two centuries of fighting and training has given Conor the confidence to face any challenge. His skill with his bastard sword would be a match for any opponent–human or otherwise.

To kill (your character): The Hunter would try to overwhelm Conor with his inhuman speed, strength, and skill. Not even someone with considerable magical abilities can survive Soulhunger’s bite–it was created to kill demons.  All he has to do is pierce Conor’s skin with Soulhunger, but he has no idea there is no soul for the dagger to consume.

The warriors are well-matched, each with centuries of experience under their belt and a calm confidence in their own skill. They circle their opponent, looking for a weakness to exploit. A quick test of skill, a lighting series of attacks and parries, and they would fall back to continue circling.

The Hunter’s inhuman speed would give him an advantage, but Soulhunger’s ability would be negated by the fact that the Fianna warrior has no soul. Conor’s skill and reflexes could keep him away from the Hunter’s blade long enough to find a way to defeat the half-demon assassin.

Winner: Too close to call!

Want to find out more about this Irish champion who would dare challenge the legendary assassin of Voramis to the death? Click here to read about him …

 

Who do YOU think would win? Did we get the match-up right? Leave a comment below and let me know…

Want to match your character against the Hunter? Click here to enter your protagonist/antagonist in a duel to the death!

 

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Guest Post: Looking Up

Today, I have the pleasure of posting not my own thoughts, but someone else’s. The post below is written by Michael Bolan, the author of The Devil’s Bible series. I thought it was quite an intriguing one, and definitely worth sharing:

Looking Up:

When I was seventeen, I crashed my car. I had passed my driving test a few months before and I lost control, and pretty much destroyed the car. Luckily, I walked away, physically unscathed, but with the most vivid memories of the experience: the fencepost stabbing through the roof beside me; the windscreen frosting with cracks but never quite shattering; the seatbelt-defined bruise on my chest that made breathing an agonising ecstasy. People talk about hyperawareness in times of stress: it’s true.

Since that day, I have often thought about how much information the human brain can (and does) process on a daily basis. The internet suggests we have up to 600,000 thoughts per day, but we give no conscious attention to over 98% of them. Imagine what we are missing. We tune out so many stimuli to prevent our minds from being overloaded that the world’s beauty often goes unnoticed. Being able to focus and concentrate on one thought, one idea, at a time, without being distracted by outside influences, is something which takes patience and focus.

My wife is always espousing the benefits of mindfulness, not just in her yoga practice, but in her day-to-day life. Mindfullness can be noticing and experiencing each footfall as you walk down the street, hearing a lone bird singing over the noise of the traffic, or simply being aware of the individual elements of your environment, and the way they interact.  The more you pay attention, using each sense to listen, feel, see and experience your surroundings, the more you can understand and, ultimately, describe it to your readers.

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I always found it hard to really come to grips with the concept, but a friend explained it to me in a way that I could understand. She recently spent some time in London, and on her return asked my opinion of the city. When I explained my dislike, she asked if I had remembered to look up.

Try it the next time you are in London. Above the neon hoardings and household brands there are a thousand stories told in the buildings’ facades: the gung-ho adventurous beginnings of the insurance industry; the international traders circumnavigating the globe hundreds of years ago; or the families where generation after generation carried their company through good times and bad.

But the principle isn’t just valid in Piccadilly Circus. And it has a lot (everything?) to do with being an author. Most authors write from their own experiences; their stories are shaped by what they have gone through, who they have met, etc. The gift is to process and record those experiences such that they can be used at a later date. But they also need to describe things that they haven’t experienced, that can only be learned through close, careful and undistracted observation. A storyteller must connect deeply with his characters, must stand in their shoes and experience their lives for himself, even if it is within the confines of his own mind.

When I was researching The Devil’s Bible, I had to stand on the Charles Bridge, imagining what it would have been to hold the bridge against an enemy, muskets firing, fires burning, men and horses screaming. That was the easy part. To ponder the quiet chill of the air or the stiffness of leather armour; to remember that smoke stinks and blood smells sweet and metallic at the same time, that’s what brings prose to life.

So here are my five tips for bringing mindfulness into your practice as an author. But before paying attention to the outside world, it is important first to turn your attention inwards and observe what is happening within yourself. Simply finding a quiet moment to close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, calm the mind, balance emotions and encourage rational, clear thinking, whether you’re facing a blank page or an unsympathetic audience.

  1. Feel

Watch how a child experiences the world and try to copy that. Feeling is both physical and emotional, be it the rough surface of a freshly-cut log or the harshness of a parent’s words. It can be a joyous or an uncomfortable experience, but the key is to keep an open and inquisitive mind at all times, and a rich vocabulary to describe it.

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  1. Think/ Don’t think.

Sometimes you need to think, to focus on a problem and grind out a solution. But creativity often calls for people to let go. Think of that cool moment just before you go to sleep when your frontal cortex slows down and stops trying to process all of the day’s stimuli and other parts of the brain run amok. Some writers use alcohol or narcotics to reproduce this effect, but you can do the same through mindfulness. Which is guaranteed hangover-free.

3. Listen

It’s amazing how often we fill in people’s sentences before they have finished speaking, hearing what we want to hear, not what is actually being said. Actively listening means that you hear and process what is being said, and what it means. And don’t just listen to people’s words – hear the timbre and inflections of their voice, notice their gestures and expressions. After all, words make up less than 10% of communication.

  1. Don’t rush.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and even God took a rest on Sunday. Learning to become mindful takes time. Removing distractions, being aware of our surroundings, filtering out background noise, experiencing completely – these things are tiring and take time to master. Be patient and practice a little every day, and soon the art of clear observation will become habit.

5. Begin

Try this now. Put down your laptop or smartphone. Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths. Slowly open your eyes and spend one minute fully experiencing your immediate environment. What can you hear, see, feel, taste, smell? Try to put your experiences into words. Write them down if it helps. Then take your new sense of connection to your environment into the world, and reflect that in your writing.

I first realised that something had changed in my thinking process when one of my lead characters surprised me by plucking his own eyes out. I had been purposely thinking about other things to clear my mind, when he upped and mutilated himself. When I complained to fellow authors, they pointed out that the author’s role is not to force characters to do what he or she wants them to; it’s to record the story that is happening.

So the next time you find a character not playing ball, or a storyline trailing off into nowhere, stop, listen and observe. The answer is there, you just have to find it. And hopefully it won’t take a car crash to shift your thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: The Stone Bridge by Michael Bolan

It’s Book Review Wednesday, and today I have a book I’m very excited about. I read the first two books in this series—Book 1: Sons of Brabant and Book 2: Hidden Elements—so I was very happy to finally close off the trilogy. And what a way to go!

The Stone Bridge

The Rapture continues to wreak havoc across Europe in its quest to acquire the elemental Seals, the only thing preventing the Devil’s Bible from purging the world in fire. Brought to Prague by the Fianna, the Seals’ only protection lies in the secrecy that shrouds them.

Reinald, leader of the Rapture, enlists the world’s greatest minds to free the Devil’s Bible from the depths of Prague Castle, where it has languished under lock and key for centuries. Meanwhile, the plans of the Four Horsemen unfold, wreaking havoc and misery across the entire continent.

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Not content with forcing his siblings from their ancestral home, Reinald sends a vast army to harry and persecute them, forcing them to flee ever eastwards. Taking shelter with their friends, Willem, Leo and Isabella commit to one last act of bravery, making a final stand to defend the city of Prague.

As each nation commits its final resources into the conflict, all roads lead to the Stone Bridge that divides Prague, where the Sons of Brabant and their Fianna allies will face the ultimate test of their strength.

My Review: 4 Stars

I’ve been waiting for the end of the series for long enough, so was VERY glad to get the final book to find out what happens to Willem, Leo, and Isabella.

I thought the story with the “mundane” foes—Reinald and the Rapture—was excellent. The battle scenes were well-written, the narrative smooth and intriguing, and the characters gripping. Each character had something unique to keep me interested. Heck, even the villain had something that made him relatable. A well-done book overall!

The part about the Devil’s Bible and the seals was a bit “meh”. While the seals were the most important part of Book 2, they lost my interest beneath the physical confrontation between Reinald and his minions and the main characters. In fact, I could have done without that entire part of the story and still LOVED reading about the war and politics of the timeframe in the book.

All in all, not as good as Book 1, but a fitting end to the trilogy!

About the Author:

Michael Bolan: nomadic Irish storyteller

It took Michael Bolan over two decades of running in the corporate ratrace to realise that all he actually did was tell stories.

There was no Damascene revelation for Bolan which caused him to pen his first work of fiction, “The Sons of Brabant”. An avid reader, he simply felt that he could do as good a job as many of the authors he read and decided to put his money where his mouth was.

Living and working in many countries left him with smatterings of a dozen languages and their stories, and his love for history focused his ideas on the Thirty Years War, the most destructive conflict that the continent has ever seen.

Now living in Prague (again), Michael brings alive the twisted alleys of the 17th century and recreates the brooding darkness of a fractured Europe, where no-one was entirely sure who was fighting whom.

Michael writes while liberally soused in gin, a testament to Franz de le Boë, who was mixing oil of juniper with neat spirit while the thirty Years War raged around him.

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Stone-Bridge-Book-Devils-Bible-ebook/dp/B01MST4KEB/

Read his thoughts on his website: http://www.michaelbolan.org

Tweet at him: https://twitter.com/michaelbolan225

Connect with him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/michaelbolan225

 

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The Signs of a Psychopath in the Making

As I started writing Child of the Night Guild, I knew I wanted to take my character along a journey from innocent child to cold, hard criminal. The things she will end up doing in Books 2 and 3 are definitely not the sort of thing a well-adjusted person does—makes sense, given all the things she endures.

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I considered whether or not to make her a sociopath or psychopath. In a way, that would almost give her an excuse for doing what she does, and would add an interesting new dimension to the character. In the end, I didn’t go down that route, but I learned a lot of fascinating things about psychopaths.

For example, did you know that you can often spot a psychopath from a pretty young age? In doing my research, I came across this article on Psychology Today that pointed to some interesting signs:

  • Bullying other children
  • Abuse of pets (family and otherwise)
  • Engaging in petty thievery and criminal acts
  • Lack of empathy
  • Superficial charm
  • Shallow and short-lived emotions
  • Manipulativeness and tendency to lie
  • Selfishness
  • Punishment doesn’t affect their behavior
  • Inability to show remorse
  • Impulsiveness

Of course, these things aren’t the only indicators of psychopathy from a young age. And parents DEFINITELY can’t look at these signs and think, “Oh god, my child is a psychopath!”

However, it’s interesting to note that though behavior and personality isn’t usually cemented until a much later age (30, according to psychologists like William James), there are these signs that can be seen at an age as young as two years old. They’re more than just the “Terrible Twos”—they may actually become serious social disorders if the child doesn’t outgrow them.

I found this fascinating because it goes to show that “nature” and “nurture” are equally important for personality and character development. Children can show psychopathic traits from a young age, but parents can help to nurture them out of it.

As a writer, I’ve come to understand that MOST of my characters’ issues come from their childhood. If I’m going to write a psychopath, I have to start developing the character (in my mind, if not on paper) from a very young age. All these traits are perfect signs to show readers that the character is a psychopath even at the tender age of two. If the parents took steps to correct their child’s behavior, his/her psychopathic tendencies can be thwarted. But the real psychopaths (the ones who become anti-heroes and villains) are the ones whose parents didn’t nurture them out of it, but instead did things (violence, verbal abuse, subjection to over-strict discipline, sending them off to harsh martial/magical training, etc.) that encouraged them to continue down the road to becoming a full-blown psychopath.

 

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