Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Author Interview: Mark Everett Stone

One of the things I have enjoyed most about becoming an indie writer is the chance to connect with authors all over the world creating friendships as well as a new support group of beta readers, reviewers, and editors. One of the paranormal authors I met through Twitter is Mark Everett Stone; a talented writer and a nice guy too. Last year, I saw a tweet for his book Things to Do in Denver When You're Un-Dead. How could I pass up that title? Since then, I have become a big fan of Mark's, and I was honored when he asked me to be a beta reader for his newest release, The Judas Line, which I loved. I had a ton of questions for Mark, and he was kind enough to agree to an interview. Check out the links to his latest release and his other books at the end of the blog.
Me:  As you know, I am a huge fan of the BSI (Bureau of Supernatural Investigations) novels. I love Kal Hakala and the rest of the crew. In an ocean of paranormal books, you have created something truly original. How did you come up with the BSI concept and Kal’s character?
Mark: Kal was easy. Physically, he’s an ideal, but emotionally, he is sub par. He may have the brains and the capability, but remains unbalanced. I like the idea of an effective character that is in disharmony with himself. As for the BSI, that was easy…Men In Black/NSA/DEA type of agency. It’s been done, but I wanted to explore it for myself.
Me: You have an amazing talent for integrating the paranormal into history. What inspired you to put a paranormal twist on the past?
Mark: I love history. History defines us as a people, as a nation and as a world. Without it, we’re just a random collection of idiots. If magic was a part of our lives, there should be a history to go along.
Me: Can you tell us anything about the next BSI book?
Mark: “I Left My Haunt In San Francisco”. Kal returns with Canton, Winch and another character from the 1st book. I tried for a James Bond feel to this book. I think all the books should be different from one another to avoid feeling stale.
Me: In your latest book, The Judas Line, you deviate from the BSI series to create a completely different story. In it, you put a paranormal spin on religion. As a religious person myself, I found it fascinating and not offensive. I thought you handled it well. Did you have any concerns about delving into religion?
Mark: Not really. In “The Judas Line”, I tried to be respectful of religion while adding magical elements, treating magic as an extension of the divine. I think if you treat any subject with respect, you will offend only those who are looking for something to bitch about.
Me:  Jude is a very interesting character. I love the way you built his relationship with Mike. What did you find to be the most challenging part of developing these characters?
Mark: The challenging part was to have them interact without sounding the same and not going overboard on personality. That and giving them a reasonable basis of trust and friendship despite being so different.
Me: From our conversations, I know you plan and outline your stories before you write them. Do your characters ever deviate from that and surprise you?
Mark: They always do. Every time. As for surprise, not anymore. The first book, yeah, it surprised me, but my subconscious knows what is needed, so when I am suddenly ‘inspired’ to deviate from the planned route, I have to trust that inspiration.
Me: Do you have any writing rituals? Any particular place you like to write? Time of day, music, snacks, drinks?
Mark:  Time of day: any. Place: In my office…my sanctuary.My Fortress of Solitude. If it had a toilet and mini-fridge, I might never leave. Snacks: Diet Dew, Diet Coke, anything with caffeine.
Me: Being a self published author, I am always interested in the different options. You have your book with a small publisher. What are some advantages/ disadvantages to that versus self publishing or going with one of the larger publishing companies?
Mark:  Well, I never self published or had a big contract, so that is hard to answer. All I know is my Editor, Catherine Treadgold, has been very supportive as well as the rest of Camel Press. One big advantage I can think of is that my editor is easy to contact, so if I need anything, she is there to assist. Believe me, that is a big plus.

Thank you Mark!! You can follow Mark on Twitter @M3verettStone and take a look at his website here. Be sure to check out Mark Everett Stone's books including his latest release, The Judas Line. Available for Kindle and in paperback.


Jude Oliver hails from a long line of assassins. Tired of his family's treachery and wanting more from life than power, he escapes with their secret weapon, the Silver--an ancient artifact so potent, so evil, that it could plunge mankind into a permanent state of ruin and despair.

After fifteen years on the run, Jude receives a surprise visit from a cousin who planned to murder him to obtain the family treasure. So begins Jude's desperate quest to find another artifact powerful enough to destroy the Silver. His traveling companion is an unlikely friend, Mike Engle--a Catholic priest who found his calling on the brutal sands of Iraq. In the course of their journey, the two men clash with evil in many forms. Mike learns the details of Jude's incredible history and the family secret that reaches back 2,000 years.

Before their final, earth-shattering battle, the duo will find surprising allies and the strength to carry on against seemingly insurmountable odds. Will the lessons Jude has learned about love, friendship and sacrifice be enough to save him from his family and destiny?

Check out Mark's BSI series as well!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Are You Talking To ME?

I was reading a blog by my friend Ciara Ballintyne about a misunderstanding she had with someone on Twitter that left her a bit stumped. Read her blog about it here.

I had a similar incident when I had only been on Twitter a few months. A young man followed me. He let me know that he had bought my book. I thanked him for doing that. After he read it, he said he loved it and was going to leave a review on Amazon that weekend. Of course I immediately thanked him for taking the time to read it and to let me know on Twitter how much he enjoyed it. The weekend came and went with no word from him. Now, I'm a busy person and it's no secret that I hate writing reviews, so I am the last person to push someone for a review.

He didn't have anything published, so I had already joined his blog and made some polite comments on his posts, but he did not respond to me on the blog or on Twitter. When he tweeted that he landed a publishing deal. I congratulated him, but again, no response. I finally sent him a direct message telling him that I would like to return the favor and buy his book. I asked if he had a publication date. Nothing. Nada. No response at all. So I wished him the best and moved on.

But honestly, it bugged me. Why would it bother me that I may have offended someone I don't really know? The problem is...I didn't do anything wrong. Not that I know of anyway. I went back and looked at my tweets to him and my comments on his blog, and I couldn't find anything that looked offensive to me. I didn't get it. Since he won't respond to me at all, guess I'll never know.

One of the major problems I have had with social media since I started this adventure last year is the fact that I have to depend completely on the words people write to try to decipher their meaning. Working in psychology for as long as I have, I didn't realize how completely dependent I am on non verbal cues when I communicate. Body language is a HUGE part of communication, and without it, I feel blind.

I tend to be a little sarcastic (ok, maybe a lot sarcastic), so I really have to watch how I word things with new people because sarcasm doesn't always translate well and sometimes comes off just sounding mean. One would think that 140 characters would limit the amount of trouble you could get into, but I've pissed people off using a lot less.

The point I want to make is similar to Ciara's. If someone says something ambiguous on a social media site or in a blog comment that you don't understand, ask for clarification. Don't be overly sensitive. It's easy to misunderstand someone's words when there are no body language cues to let you know what they really mean. Give people a chance to explain themselves.

That being said, don't confuse a misunderstanding with people who are blatant douchebags. That's why they have "Unfollow," "Unfriend" and "Block." Don't be afraid to use them if someone is obviously being cruel.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Can't Believe I'm Paying Money for This

Now that my daughter is entering high school and my son is in junior high, there are specific time requirements for physical education (P.E.) we have to follow for home school. They have to be engaged in some form of physical activity for an average of 40 minutes per day during the school week. Now this can be anything that keeps the heart rate up including things like organized sports, riding a bike, or swimming.

I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to get myself back in shape too. My exercise habits are somewhat inconsistent, so I got brave and signed all three of us up at the local gym. We can do stuff at home for free, but that would depend on me being motivated. Yeah.

At the gym I joined, every new member gets two free sessions with a personal trainer. Of course, the plan is to get you to spend more money since that service is extra. The trainer is suppose to get some information like age, weight, and height and then uses it to plug into some machine that assesses the percentage of body fat we have. I really did not want to know my body fat percentage. Seriously. I decided to politely decline and have him give us a tour, show us how to use the machines, and then we would be on our way.

That was not the personal trainer's plan. When I tried to back out, he had an answer for every one of my excuses. Before I knew it, he had us all weighed and measured. He used our body fat percentages to corner me. I haven't had that much guilt heaped on me since the first time I told my mother I got a tattoo. He wasn't judgmental; just honest. That was worse. So, I decided to give the personal trainer thing a try. Since it's for school anyway, I want the kids to learn the proper way to work out. They also include some tips on diet and nutrition. Sounded good; educational even.

That decided, we went with him for our first workout. It was brutal. My muscles were screaming. However, I wanted to be a good example for the kids, so I didn't give up. He put us through a ruthless leg workout that had us all struggling to make it to the car afterwards without falling.

When I woke up yesterday, my legs were so sore, I could barely walk, but we had another appointment with our trainer. I limped into the kitchen to chug some coffee first. My daughter hadn't officially started school, so she asked to skip the gym claiming she had some stuff she had to do before school started. I knew it was an excuse, but she did have some work she needed to get done. So I took my son and we went back to the gym.

We were warming up on the elliptical machines when my son accidentally slipped off and hurt his foot. They brought him some ice and had him sit on the couch. That just left me and the personal trainer from hell. This wasn't supposed to be about me exactly. This was a home school thing.

He asked me if my legs were sore (like he had to ask? He saw me walk in like I was 100 years old). He assured me we wouldn't work on legs again, but that's exactly what he did along with some ab work. I know what you're thinking "Michelle, why didn't you just say no or tell him you needed to stop because your legs hurt." Yeah, that's not me. Unfortunately, I am very stubborn and competitive. No way was I going to give in. I wasn't going to let him win. Stubborn ? Yes. Stupid? Absolutely. Thankfully, he had an appointment and had to cut our workout short, so my abs are not as sore as my legs. He said he was impressed with my "intensity." I was just trying not to fall over.

This morning when I woke up, I could barely walk. I couldn't even be cool about it. I stood at the top of my stairs and actually considered sliding down the banister. Instead I held on to the railings for dear life and tried not to fall or cuss on my way down. I met my daughter in the kitchen and she finally confessed that she didn't go to the gym yesterday because she was too sore. Since it was her first official day of online school, I couldn't walk without wanting to say bad words, and my son was still limping from the elliptical machine attack; we decided that maybe we would just swim today for P.E.

I know what you're thinking. "Michelle, you signed up and are actually paying money for this." It's true. That irony is not lost on me. In fact, I would probably laugh if my abs didn't hurt.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Stab Me in the Ear!

While my sister, Melanie, was visiting, we decided to take a girl trip into San Francisco with my BFF, Shelbi, and sister-in-law, Jennifer. We are all Disney freaks and wanted to see the Disney Family Museum. When we arrived, the weather was perfect, and we had an absolutely amazing time at the museum. I would highly recommend it if you are in the area and love Disney.

We talked about getting new piercings while Mel was here too. We thought it might be fun to have it done while we were in the city. Shelbi found a safe place to get our piercings done, so we headed over there after the museum. However, typical San Francisco, there was no parking for miles around the place. It was getting late, so we decided to just drive back home and get our piercings done at a tattoo place I knew in Lodi.

I used to go to a guy in Stockton for all of my piercings. He is amazing. I call him "Scary piercer guy" because he looks like he's been shot in the face with buck shot. He has metal everywhere. I don't even want to know what else he has pierced. The place he worked at closed recently, and I didn't know where he went; so I figured we could try this new place in Lodi. How bad could it be?

We got there about 45 minutes before closing, but Lodi piercing guy was more than happy to help us out. We all wanted hoops instead of straight bars. He warned us that it can be hard to put a curved hoop through a straight piercing. He said that it was more difficult, but he would be happy to do it if we wanted. Scary piercer guy could do it. Couldn't be that hard.

Jen went first while Mel and I watched. She was getting a single rim (helix) piercing.

The guy put the needle through. No problem. Then he had some trouble getting the hoop in as he had warned. He kept pushing and grinding it until Mel and I both looked nauseous. Jen was a trooper though. She didn't say a word. Then it really started to bleed, so he opted to pierce it again. The second time he got the hoop in, but his hands started shaking. Mel turned to me and whispered "I don't think I want to do this anymore." I was starting to have some doubts myself.

Jen made it through and seemed happy and still alive, so Mel decided to go for it. She opted for the double rim. 
I thought that was a bit ambitious considering what we had just seen. He was able to get both of Mel's piercings done and the hoops in without much fuss. We cheered her on. Then he got the pliers to pinch the hoops closed. He started fumbling and took a long time to close them. At one point, he actually pinched her ear with the pliers instead of the hoop. Now I was really getting nervous because I had one of the most challenging piercings - a rook; and I didn't trust this guy after he botched both Mel and Jen's.

I know what you're thinking, "Michelle, why didn't you run screaming when you had the chance?" You're right. I should have, but Mel and Jen were done, and I knew Shelbi was going to do it no matter what. If I didn't, that day would have forever been known as "The day Michelle pussed out on the piercings." I figured temporary physical pain was better than a lifetime of emotional beat downs from them.

I did make one smart move and refused the hoop. I wanted a cute hoop because I didn't want to have to change it later. Rook piercings are incredibly painful since it is pure cartilage. I didn't want him trying to power a hoop through it. Told him I was okay with a bar even though I wasn't. As expected, the piercing was painful, and it seemed to take him forever to push the needle through. At one point I considered offering to finish it if he couldn't just get it done. The bar went in quickly. Then the little ball that goes on the end started rolling around the tray. As he chased it around, he leaned over while still holding on to the bar in my new piercing. I literally had to turn my head to keep him from ripping it. It started to bleed. What a surprise. He apologized for "jerking" my ear. All I could say was "Dude." I didn't want to say what I was really thinking while he was still trying to get the ball on which he continued to fumble with until I wanted to bite him!

Then it was Shelbi's turn. She was getting a double forward helix which was next after mine in difficulty and pain.
She also opted for studs instead of hoops thinking it would save her. He got the first one through quickly. Then followed it with the stud. When he tried to put the front on it, he realized he had put the back in the wrong way. Yep, he had to take it out and pierce the same spot again to put it in the right way. At least he got the second one in the first time. All of the pics were taken from the internet as ours were too scary to post.

We all left there holding our ears and saying bad words. Later on, we couldn't stop laughing about it because we're sick like that (and we drank alcohol to ease the pain). We did make up a few names for Lodi piercer guy, but I can't repeat them here...lol ;P And yes, I was motivated enough to find Scary piercer guy. Thankfully, he is still in town. If we get past the trauma, we're all set for next year!

Moral of the story: Do your research before letting some guy who claims to be a piercer stab you with a big needle.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Amazon Policies: Author Beware

Sorry I have been out of the loop. My sister came to visit, so I took a little vacation time to hang out with her. I will have to admit, releasing my second book at the beginning of her two week visit probably wasn't the best promotional planning...lol.

As you may know, I officially released the second book in my Dion series, Where Will You Hide?, on July 21st. I also decided to take advantage of the KDP Select program with Amazon. I did write a blog lamenting the fact that Amazon is trying to take over the world (read it here) and my hesitation to join, but many authors have reported success with the program. Since it is only a 90 day commitment, I decided to give it a try.

I enrolled both of my books in the program, and did two free promotional days for my first book Where Will You Run? on 7/23-7/24. Thanks to shout outs from Ereader News Today/ENT (website, Facebook), Paranormal Book Club (website, Facebook), and some of my awesome author friends; I had a significant number of downloads. It was a crazy two days. Since then, the sales numbers for both books have been steadily rising inlcuding some borrows. That is great news! However, I was also exposed to a couple of Amazon policies I was not aware of. Surprise!

First: The royalty policy. If your book(s) is priced between $2.99-$9.99, you are eligible to receive a 70% royalty. I sell my books for $2.99, so I qualify. Sounds like a great deal. However, when I looked at my royalties report, I noticed that several of the book sales were listed at a 35% royalty instead of 70%. When I emailed Amazon about the discrepancy, I was told that the 70% royalty only applies to purchases in some "territories." The places listed were Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Great Britain, Guernsey, Germany, Italy, Isle of Man, Jersey, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, San Marino, Switzerland, Spain, United States, and Vatican City. Now that may sound like a lot of places until I actually looked. Andorra? Isn't that where Gandalf was born? I'm just kidding. Andorra is actually a small planet in the Andromeda Galaxy. There were several other odd places like Guernsey and Vatican City. What's missing? Australia, Central and South America, Japan, China, Africa, Russia, and other places that should be obvious inclusions. I'm not sure how they decided what "territories" should be included, but they are missing a huge chunk of the market which damages an author's earning potential by effectively cutting royalty earnings in half while Amazon makes approximately the same amount on the sale either way. Amazon won't tell me where those books were purchased from, so I just have to trust them. Uh...right. You do remember; I am a bit paranoid.

Second: The other fun Amazon policy I found was their ebook return policy. I had never had any returns, but after getting several this past week, I decided to check it out. Amazon will give a full refund for an ebook as long as the request is received within 7 days of purchase even if it has been read. No, I'm not kidding. People can purchase a book, read it in a few days and return it for a full refund. You may be thinking "People wouldn't do that Michelle." Consider this, the Kindle Prime membership costs $79.00 per year and you can "borrow a book" a month according to the information I found, so I am assuming that is just one book. However, you could buy a book, read it, and return it in the same week for a full refund. That's an average of four books a month at no cost. There may be some small print somewhere that limits the amount of ebook returns a person can make, but I couldn't find it. On the Kindle forums, there were several people who mentioned that they hoped people didn't take advantage of the return policy. Several others responded by saying that Amazon wouldn't let people do that. They obviously have more faith in Amazon than I do.  

I don't mean to sound jaded or more paranoid that usual. I understand that Amazon needs to make their customers happy, so they will buy more products which may mean that authors get the raw end of the deal at times. I signed my deal with Amazon, and I have to live with my decision. I will just have to see how things play out over the next 90 days. Would love to hear your experiences with KDP Select, Amazon policies, or opinions on the subject.