Guest Post: A Great Year, Mike Hartner

Today, author Mike Hartner is guest posting about his Best of 2013. Mike and I met through Kate Tilton and her book bloggers network. In the future I will post a review of I, Walter, Mike’s historical fiction novel.
 2013 was a fantastic year. 
Hello, I’m Mike Hartner, and during the spring of 2013, I released a book called I, Walter. I, Walter is a historical fiction, a romance, a memoir, light reading, and a book somewhat about human nature.
The e-book was released on April 04, 2013, the paperback on May 10, 2013, and the audio on June 29, 2013. These were the milestones. 
This was my first book for general consumption. My other books were family genealogy. I had published one with Trafford, and two with iUniverse. And while both companies do have their advantage for small-run quiet books, they weren’t what I wanted for I, Walter.  
I received quite a bit of help.  My B&N customer manager gave me the name of a distribution company, who was able to help me get into B&N.  Another person taught me how to use Twitter and Facebook better (thank you @RachelintheOC, My editor ( edited and polished and critiqued. One person taught me to use Amazon kindle promotions, and Kate Tilton (@K8Tilton, helped me to find reviewers, as well as to promote it to free kindle sites. This kind of help cannot be downplayed. It was largely the reason that on November 1, 2013 during a FREE weekend, I,Walter  hit #1 and #2 on several lists.
On November 1:
·       #1 on Kindle – Romance
·       #2 on Teen & Young Adult
·       #3 on Action & Adventure
·       #5 overall
On November 2:
·       #1 on Romance
·       #2 on Historical Romance
·       #6 overall
These are not numbers everyone gets to achieve, and I realize that. I have received a FIRST PLACE ribbon from Chanticleer Book Reviews for I, Walter.
And then on Tuesday, April 9th2014, less than a week passed its one-year e-book anniversary, I, Walter achieved total sales in all three mediums of more than 1,000 copies.
This has been a GREAT year.
THANK YOU to all of the readers, reviewers, and word-of-mouth promoters.  I’m eternally grateful for all of your goodwill.
About Mike Hartner:
Mike Hartner was born in Miami in 1965. He’s traveled much of the continental United States. He has several years post secondary education, and experience teaching and tutoring young adults. Hartner has owned and run a computer firm for more than twenty-five years. He now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with his wife and child. They share the neighborhood and their son with his maternal grandparents.
About I, Walter:
Walter Crofter was born into Elizabethan England.
In a country and a time where favor and politics were both deadly, can an honest boy stay true to himself?
Especially given his family background?
Review excerpt:
“I, Walter is a grand tale of adventure that reminds me of the Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin adventure series but with a noble innocence and, a most refreshing, charming slant. Romance, adventure, mystery, rescues, deception, and vivid descriptions make I, Walter a most enjoyable and inspirational read of chivalry.” – Chanticleer Book Reviews
·       First Place Category Winner for the Chaucer Awards 2013 in Adventure/Young Adult
·       First Place Category Winner of the Dante Rossetti Awards for Young Adult Fiction 2013 in Tweens Adventure
·       The Chatelaine Awards 2013 for Romantic Fiction – Finalist
·       The Chaucer Awards 2013 for Historical Fiction – Finalist
·       Dante Rossetti Awards for Young Adult Fiction 2013 – Finalist

Dark Fantasy – How Much Is Too Much?

Fantasy. In my opinion, it’s probably one of the most written genres in literature (next to science fiction). Romance stories have touches of fantasy built in, general fiction seems to have it too these days, and, of course, historical fiction is rife with it. Lately (and fortunately for me since I like to both read and write it) there seems to be a progression away from the shiny-happy, good vs. evil epic fantasy. Now fantastical tales of darker, more adult natures have become more common place. 

Perhaps a little (or a whole freaking lot really) has to do with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (or as known in television – A Game of Thrones series). Martin delights in writing realistic and gritty fantasy where the good guys almost never “win”. Despite that fact, readers find themselves rooting for these so called “villains”  – even justifying their evil deeds. The prize is that, because Martin writes with such simplistic beauty that captures each reader, most don’t realize they are rooting for these knaves.

But the question is – How dark is too dark in fantasy fiction?

As someone who has penned an adult fantasy (and no, I’m not talking erotica) novel, my book Sister Light, Book One: Of Shadows (out of print) took heavy criticism on several points for the graphic nature of controversial subject matter like domestic violence, pedophilia, and rape. There were dozens of people who contact me demanding I change many of the situations in my book. Basically, they wanted me to “clean it up”. My response was simple: “Each of these situations, during the period of time I’m writing about, existed. I will not turn a blind eye to the historical accuracies of the past to ‘pretty up’ a story, no matter how abhorrent those accuracies are to modern intelligence or sensibilities.”

Blunt? Yes. A bit bitchy? Heck yes. But the fact of the matter remained that I would not change key components in my story to make the world seem a little less dark than it was portrayed.

However the question does remain: How dark is too dark? When do we, as writers, cross a line between historical accuracies and plain distasteful portrayals?

Writing, especially when discussing controversial topics like abuse, rape, incest, and pedophilia, can tease a fine line. And it is incredibly easy to cross that line while writing. While striving for accuracy, the writer can forget to treat the situation with delicacy and tact. I know, during the first drafts of Sister Light, I was guilty of that. I even, from time to time, would re-read and be disgusted. But I knew where to edit and when to edit heavily while still leaving the necessary essence of the topic. However even those heavily edited scenes and plot lines were met with resounding criticism, with outcries of ‘Too much’ and ‘Disgusting!’

I stand by my work as written. But I can admit to having read some fantasy (and even general fiction) that has made me wince. Despite that reflex I’ve tried to keep in mind the overall topic of the book and the time frame it is written in. Humanity has undergone (and is still undergoing) dark, brutal times that many would like to forget. A writer’s primary job (other than to entertain) is also to educate. By highlighting the crimes of yesteryear, a writer fulfills their role of educator as well as remaining true to the past. The primary focus of the writer has to be to use these topics to further their plots, not for mere shock value. Doing so, no matter how dark or ugly the topic, keeps them true to their craft.

BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate other writers through humor and simple instruction.

An Indie with Reviews?!

“As an indie author, it’s hard to get people to review your book.”  This is one of the most reiterated statements I hear from other authors.  And it Simply. Isn’t. True.

The self-pubbed world of literature has literally EXPLODED in the last one- to two-years thanks to success stories like Amanda Hocking.  What used to be a phrase (“self-pubbed”) that was more whispered than spoken, being an indie author has put the power of the written word back into the hands of those who count – we who hold the pens/laptops! 

But, despite this shift of power, there are still daunting tasks for any author going the self-pub route.  If writing, editing, formatting, cover art, promotion and sales weren’t enough to make most people want to run for the hills. As authors, we also have the overwhelming tasks of garnering –yipes!REVIEWS for our books.

What used to be a difficult thing to do without the backing of a powerful agent or publishing house, indie reviews have gotten so easy to come by it’s almost too easy.  The big thing is getting your new writing out there for book bloggers, voracious readers, and sometimes-only readers.

Um, how? Well, you utilize every tool you have in your arsenal. Book blogging sites are numerous; almost everywhere you look online, there is a link to this book blogger’s site or that one’s.  We simply have to do the small amount of research required by clicking over to their blog, actually reading it (highly suggested if you don’t want to just be a “solicitor”), and finding out what their submission requirements are.  Then you email, DM, submit the form, do whatever is required of you to submit to this book blogger and, well, wait.  Most book bloggers do what they do for the love of reading; and in part, I’m sure, for free reading material.  What do you have to lose by it? Nothing.

“But I’ve lost a sale.”  Whenever I mention this to people, this is what I hear. And the truth of the matter is that this statement couldn’t be less true than someone saying the world is flat. This book blogger you’ve given a free PDF to wasn’t in your fan base and probably didn’t even know you existed. If they never knew you existed, then they were never a potential sale, were they? So we haven’t lost a sale; we’ve gained a review, a fan (hopefully), and the notice of that particular blogger’s following.  Think we might get at least one sale out of that free read? You bet your sweet tuckus!

But book bloggers aren’t the only place to seek reviews for indie authors. There are thousands of full time book review sites embracing their love of indie skill and creativity. And, yet, there are still old standbys like your friends, family, and acquaintances on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.  Make an event and send it out to select individuals you think would like a free copy of one of your books; you can even make this fun and maybe toss in a contest. Who wouldn’t want a free PDF of a book and the possibility to win an autographed print copy? Sure, they may already have it but an autograph is an autograph (they’ll want it when one of us becomes the next J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyers). Plus, they don’t necessarily have to get it signed to them; maybe they liked it and want to give it as a gift? Who knows!

Does all of this take a little time out of our day to accomplish? Sure. An author might have to send out 200 review events to get even 5 back. But who cares? That’s 5 more reviews we didn’t have before. Does it take time to read and research book bloggers and review sites out there? Yep, sure does. But would any one of us want to pass up the chance a book blogger with 10k followers loves our book and suggests it as a ‘Must Read’ to their fans? Um, probably not.

Remember: yes, you are giving away free copies of your book, but you can’t look at it like that.  You have to think of it as part of your marketing strategy, part of generating BUZZ. As people we look at the reviews an item has to determine if it is “worth” the money or time we’ll be spending. It would be just plain silly to let the idea of a loss that was never a loss in the first place keep us from gaining more than we ever could have thought possible. It’s one thing to think outside the box, but sometimes you also have to think outside the straight jacket. 😉

Any other indie or traditional house authors out there want to chime in? Did I forget to mention something here – another circle or type of review-getter?

BC Brown ~ Paranormal, Mystery, Romance, Fantasy
“Because Weird is Good.”

Guest Post: Stubborn Characters by Molly Daniels/Kenzie Michaels

What To Do When Your Characters Refuse To Speak

 by Molly Daniels

Nearly thirty years ago, I began writing a series of books and had half of the planned fourteen written by 2003.  It is now 2014.  How many more have been written?  Only two more….the ones at the end of the series.  So what happened to the ones in the middle?

Every time I tried to write book #8, the characters either rebelled or refused to speak to me.  In short, I have about 30K written on a book which wanders all over the place without getting around to the main point of the story.  I tried giving them time, even creating another pen name, under which I have seven books written.  All but one have been published, and I’m also hard at work on another.

So why won’t Lynne and Shane speak to me?

Perhaps they are tired of waiting.  Maybe they are tired of Kenzie taking over the brain.  Maybe they prefer to be left in the background, forever doomed to be secondary characters instead of the lead.  I don’t know.

The heroine of book #9 has been begging me to write her story, even going so far as to invade my dreams with the opening scene in her book and teasing me with ideas as to what could happen when she hits rock bottom.  I finally got the hint and am hard at work on Ch 1.  Maybe if I get toward the end, Lynne and Shane will get jealous and return.  Maybe I’ll simply shift the order around.

The point is, when you find yourself stressing out because characters are off doing their own thing, follow their lead and focus your attention on something else.  When I entered this crazy career I call publishing, I never dreamed I would release all seven books in twenty-two months.  I thought I had plenty of time to wrangle my characters into submission, but instead, I found myself on the verge of panic.  If I didn’t submit something soon, I might not have a book published in 2014.

Thankfully, I did submit my first sci-fi romance last month.  Yes, it was rejected by my chosen publisher, but hey, I’ve been around long enough and have other options.  My writer’s group is releasing an anthology on CreateSpace this year, and yes, I have an original short story in it.  I’m also hoping my other publisher likes my alien story and decides to publish it next fall.  At any rate, I will have something published this year.  That would not have happened if I’d panicked.

Now for the good news:  The first four books in my Arbor University series has undergone a price drop!  Instead of shelling out $5 a book, they range on Amazon from $3-4.  I know, not much of a drop, but still a good price for what you’re getting.  Kenzie Michaels’ Appetite For Desire has also been lowered to $3, so if you’re in the mood to shop, go search for Love on the Rocks, Love Finds A Way, Forbidden Love, and Balancing Act.

Want a sneak peek at the aliens?  Here you go!

Working Title:  Star Crossed Lovers by Kenzie Michaels

Paranormal Erotic Romance; Word count:  42K          

            “No, it’s not what you think.”

            She raised her head.  “And just what the hell do you mean by that?  How are you pretend to know what’s in my mind?  Are you psychic or something?”

            “Somewhat.”  He drew her back down into his arms.  “Do you get the feeling you’ve known me?  Or that I vaguely remind you of someone?”

            Oh god, she’d slept with him before, only didn’t remember.  Shit!

            “Not exactly.”  Tricia shook her head and frowned.  Who was he?

            “We’ve never formally met.”  His fingers stroked her hair.  “But I’ve known you for a long time.”

            A stalker?  A devoted customer?  “But the restaurant’s only been open for two years.”

            “Yes; I’m proud of your success.”

            “Did we go to college or high school together?”  Thoroughly confused, Trish searched her memory.

            “No.  Tricia, try to understand what I’m saying.  I met you when you were four years old.”

            “Four years-We were living in the country and our nearest neighbor was a mile away.  I don’t remember any playmates until I started school. Were our mothers friends or something?”

            “I didn’t meet you in that manner.”

            “I’m waiting.”

        Brock took a deep breath.  “You say you had no playmate.  But you had an imaginary friend.”

            A shock chilled her blood.  “H-how did you know?”  Indignation took over.  “Lots of children do that; so what?”  But the memory assaulted her.  She’d spilled her secrets, her most private thoughts over the years, to an imagined best friend.  It had become a habit by the time she’d reached the third grade, and had often talked to her favorite doll or stuffed animal, until her hormones kicked in at puberty, and she’d discovered boys.  But even at night, sharing a dorm room at college, or even an apartment, she’d found herself silently talking to herself, expressing thoughts she couldn’t tell anyone else, or even write in a diary.

            Brock tipped her face upward.  “You’re remembering.”

            She felt the color drain from her face.  “Who are you?”

            Brock cleared his throat.  “At four, you called me ‘Louis’.  At eight, it was ‘Shawn’.  At twelve, you decided you needed female companionship, so I became ‘Kathy’.  And as time went on, various other names of men you liked.”

            “How-how can you know this?”  Tricia struggled to sit up and stay in control of her swirling emotions.  “God, you make me sound like a mental case.”  She wrapped the blankets around her and turned her back.

            She heard him shift his weight.  “I’m not exactly from Earth.”

            That did it.  Tricia got to her feet and pointed to the door.  “Out.”  She refused to admit the sight of his naked body still aroused her.  “Out, before I call security.”
This will be under Kenzie Michaels, since it contains adult situations.  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and my website if you want to stay in touch.

Molly Daniels resides in the Midwest with her husband, three children, and various household pets. Her fifth-grade teacher showed this avid reader how to write the stories swirling in her head, successfully unleashing her imagination upon the written word.

Kenzie is the ‘wild child’ of author Molly Daniels. They co-habitate nicely

inside the brain of a woman in Indiana who’s the mother of three and ‘Aunt

Molly’ to the entire neighborhood. A devout chocoholic, her hubby has learned to watch out when the characters in her head take over and not get too upset when the words are flowing and all concept of time is lost. (LOL)

Molly/Kenzie’s links:

Guest Post + Giveaway: Gambling on Emotion

Guest post today by Sarah Walter Ellwood
Gambling on Emotion…
Emotional Arcs in Character Development to Make Characters Feel “Real”
Ever read a book and really connect with the characters, even if they are people you may not ever meet, doing jobs you’d never do? The reason readers can connect to a character is through the emotional arc of their characterization.  Reviewers have called me an emotional writer, but how do I bring that emotion alive on the page and in my characters?
Every story I’ve ever written is full of characters with a lot of baggage. Some of my characters are darker and more damaged than others, but in all of them the emotions they experienced or are experiencing is what fundamentally make them tick. 
Emotions to strong core events drive us all. If you’ve ever been tossed into a pool as a child to “teach” you how to swim, you may now, as an adult, be frightened of water. If someone you loved cheated on you, you may be leery of jumping into another relationship and have trust issues. Or if you’d witnessed the death of your child and had been powerless to save her, you may shut down emotionally and never want to love again for fear of losing them.
All of these events are core events and all of these things could have happened to the same character. However, not all of them can drive a character’s emotional arc in a particular story. For example: If you are writing a story about a woman who had all of these core events happen to her, you may want her to face her fears and overcome them. But what fear is the most primal? What fear could you use, to help her overcome all of her fears? 
I would chose her fear of water, since it is her earliest fear—and the most simple one. So, hwo would I do this? By sticking her on a broken boat in the middle of the ocean. All of her Goals, Motivations and Conflicts (GMCs) will be borne from this emotional “thru-line” (to use a technical term) of her need to overcome her fears. You wouldn’t focus on her failed relationship or her child’s death, but as with real people, those things could shape who she is, and have contributed to her being a fearful person. They add to her emotional thru-line, but are not the focus. For example: If the only person who could help her fell overboard, then her feelings of powerlessness (what she felt when her child died) would mix with her fear of water. If this is the man she is starting to love, but it was his fault they are stranded at sea, her trust issues might come into play (her fear of relationship). She would have to face all of these demons to overcome her fears. But the one core event that made her a fearful person, the one event that is the trigger for all the rest is her fear of water that came about when her older brother tossed her five-year-old self into the pool. And it is this fear, she has to face to save the hero.
Of course, this is simplified and nothing about craft is ever this simple. So let me use a more complicated example from my contemporary western romance Gambling On A Secret. When I write my stories, I figure out who my characters are—what makes them tick, what they’re fears are, and what brings them joy. I learn who they are before I ever start to write. I may not be a plotter, but I do know my characters. 
In Gambling On A Secret, my heroine and hero are both very damaged people. They both suffer from PTSD, though the heroine is further along in her healing than the hero. But for the sake of this example, I’m only going to focus on how I used a simple emotional thru-line to build my heroine’s characterization and her GMCs. 
Charli has several core events: 1) her mother dies when she is fifteen years old. 2) she is an illegitimate child which caused her mother to be disowned by her wealthy family. 3) she goes to live with and emotionally abusive grandfather after her mother’s death. 4) she runs away from home and ends up on the streets of Las Vegas. 5) she is taken in by a gang and it’s leader forces her into prostitution and introduces her to cocaine. 6) she becomes an unknowing accomplice to a murder at age seventeen. 7) she is arrested for prostitution. 8) she becomes a state witness to the murder and serves a year in prison. 9) while in prison, she goes into rehab and is pulled from the brink of self-destruction.  I’m stopping there because even though all this is part of Charli’s back story and helped me build her character, the story doesn’t come from any of those more horrific events. The story spawns from the very last core event and the emotions it creates in Charli, which are gratefulness and fear.
I created Charli’s emotional thru-line from this event and the emotions caused by it, and used it as a compass for her character and her story. Simply put, her thru-line is this: She never wants another child to go through what she had (brought on by her fear); therefore, she will do everything in her power to help (because she is grateful for what had been done for her). 
It is this core emotional statement that drives her GMCs. Without her emotional realization that she wanted to help others, there wouldn’t have been a story. She wouldn’t move to Colton. She would not be going to college to become a social worker, and she wouldn’t buy the dilapidated Blackwell Ranch to rebuild into a home for troubled teenagers. And she wouldn’t give Dylan (the alcoholic-PTSD suffering-ex-Special Forces commander) a chance to help her rebuild the place. Charli’s GMCs drive her character arc, but it is this emotional thru-line that creates the GMCs in the first place. It is this simple event—someone helped her (causing her to feel grateful) from the brink of overdosing on drugs or being murdered (causing her fear)—that drives her to do everything she does.
Creating emotionally charged characters that readers can respond to and fall in love with isn’t rocket science (trust me; if it was, I’d never be able to do it), but it does require you to really get to know your characters long before you write that first sentence, despite whether you are a plotter or a pantser.

About Sara…

Although Sara Walter Ellwood has long ago left the farm for the glamour of the big town, she draws on her experiences growing up on a small hobby farm in West Central Pennsylvania to write her contemporary westerns. She’s been married to her college sweetheart for over 20 years, and they have two teenagers and one very spoiled rescue cat named Penny. She longs to visit the places she writes about and jokes she’s a cowgirl at heart stuck in Pennsylvania suburbia. She also has paranormal romantic suspense published under the pen name Cera duBois.

Author links:

Gambling On A Secret
Book 1 of The Colton Gamblers
When Charli bets everything on a secret, will she find the deck stacked against her?
Blog Tour Link
Former runaway-turned heiress Charli Monroe is hiding her sordid past and planning a future in Colton, Texas. Attending the local college for a degree in social work, she intends to raise cattle on her newly purchased ranch, which she plans to open as a home for troubled teens. Only a few glitches—the Victorian mansion is crumbling, the barn needs a roof, and her oilman neighbor wants more than friendship. When she meets Dylan Quinn, Charli is willing to take a chance on the town drunk to help her rebuild the rundown ranch.
Dylan has his demons, too. The former Special Forces commander can’t get past his ex-wife’s betrayal and the botched mission that left him with much more than a bad limp. Certain the greedy oilman next door to Charli wants much more than just her heart, Dylan’s even willing to stop drinking in order to protect her.
When things get dangerous and secrets of the past are revealed, is he only looking out for his new employer, or is she the new start he so desperately needs?

Buy Links:

Rafflecopter Giveaway:
Sara is giving away a beautiful treasure box full of goodies:
1. A thumb drive containing Sara’s novella The Birthday Fantasy and her paranormals A Hunter’s Angel and A Hunter’s Blade
2. A signed paperback copy of Carolyn Brown’s Just a Cowboy and His Baby
3. A retractable black ink pen
4. A decorative diary style notebook
5. A mouse pad
6. Sara’s own custom designed jewelry (necklace and earring set)
7. $10 Starbucks gift card and more.
A total prize package valued at $100.
The giveaway ends April 30 and the winner of the Swag Pack will be announced on May 1, 2014. Must be 18 years old or older and a resident of the USA to qualify. Void where prohibited by law. See for complete list of terms and rules.

a Rafflecopter giveaway