Saturday, July 28, 2012

Author Introduction: Penny Estelle

The wind is calm today on Distant Shores. The sea lies still as if in wait for a victim, glass-smooth. Gulls' cries carry across the miles of sky above, darkened with a heavy overcast. From the edge of the cliff no ship or craft of any kind is visible on the water in any direction.

Then I hear it: the drone of an engine, swelling above the gulls' protests. It comes from somewhere above the canopy, its source hidden by the cloud cover above. Just as the sound reaches its climax and begins to wane, a cough interrupts the otherwise solid purr of the aircraft's motor. It carries on for another second or two before it sputters and stops. I listen for several more minutes, ears straining to learn the ultimate fate of the stricken craft, but neither crash nor splash gives me the answer.

Just as I give up to return to my cabin, another sound splits the sky: a human cry. What's that? A rebel yell cuts through the silence like a warning. I look up again, just in time to avoid the parachutist dangling beneath the shrouds of a colorful canopy. She lands with a smooth glide and a shout of exhilaration.

Let's welcome to Distant Shores, teen-lit author Penny Estelle, here to show us a bit about her new release, Billy Cooper's Awesome Nightmare.

Penny: Good morning Cyrus!  I want to thank you for letting me stop by today.

Cyrus: Not like you had a whole lot of choice, young lady. Thanks for dropping in. Tell us all a bit about yourself.

Penny: I have written a couple posts on my life in rural Arizona and living with no electricity.  We have solar and wind generators.  It’s been quite an adjustment for this city girl.  I retired three years ago after living in the big city all my life.  I told my hubby he had two years to make me love it or he needed to promise to move me back to the good life.

Cyrus: Yeah, we're all a little hooked on our conveniences. I'd be willing to bet, then he fulfilled his end of the bargain?

Penny: Well little did I know, this yahoo kind of life was the good life.  There is one thing I can’t seem to get a handle on.  The annihilation of snakes and mice (or rats) in the area.
When we first bought this property we were moving some wood and I said, “Oh my look, a baby bunny..uhm..with a really long skinny tail!”  No, it was a pack rat – a HUGE pack rat.  I have come to hate these things and in the three years we have been up here, they seem to have moved on to find other living arrangements.

Cyrus: Did I mention I had a gerbil named Penny once? She was my fuzzy little buddy. Any other little buddies you encounter out there?

Penny: The other visitors that drop in uninvited are the rattlesnakes – Diamondbacks  and Mohave greens.  We are indeed lucky enough to have seen them all.

Cyrus: Well, I guess lucky is  a relative term, there. All the same, I would think you'd be happier seeing them than not seeing them, if you know what I mean.
Penny: One day, my husband called me out and said, “I am moving the truck and there is a rattler underneath.”  He handed me the gun that always has the first three shots loaded with snake shot.  For those that don’t know, snake shot shoot a 3 – 5 inch circumference.
He moved the truck and I started blasting, emptying the gun.  He ended up crawling away but I know he was wounded!  Apparently I need work on target shooting!

Cyrus: You never know. The critter could have been wearing armor. Sounds like one tough snake. You sure you don't need to follow up with a grenade next time? Though a couple extra hours on the range wouldn't hurt, either.

Penny: I have also learned NOT to shoot the bull or king snakes.  They eat the mice, rats, etc.  The only problem there is they look an awful lot like rattlers, so when they appear out of nowhere, another 5 years is taken off my life.  My life continues to get shorter and shorter.  

Cyrus: Well, Penny, if it was upo to us, you'd have a long, long life cranking out these cool teen stories.

Tell us about your new release.
                                                            * * * *

Billy Cooper’s Awesome Nightmare – The Wickware Sagas
Now let me set the stage before I tell my little story.  I was visiting my daughter in Utah, last summer and my ten-year old grandson was playing with some of his friends.  Somehow, the subject of William Tell came up and not one of these boys had any idea who William Tell was.

Okay, okay…I’m getting to the point.  This is how my series, The Wickware Sagas, started.  It seems so much of our history is getting lost, especially when it comes to historical legends. 

Miss Wickware is a history teacher for 7th and 8th grades students at Langdon Middle School in Phoenix, AZ.  Rumor has it that strange things happened in her class.  Is she a witch?  Is she from another planet?  Nobody can, or will, talk too much about what has happened.  Yea…probably just rumors…or are they? 

Every year, she gives an assignment for an oral book report.  Each student will draw a name from a box and then give an oral report on whom they have chosen and somehow, one of these students ends up face to face with their drawn subject.  How does this happen?

Billy Cooper’s Awesome Nightmare is the first of the Wickware Sagas Series. 
Billy Cooper is so annoyed about this oral report.  Old Lady Wickware drops this bomb on a Friday afternoon and it’s due on Monday.  Well he has plans for the whole weekend and simply doesn’t have time to do a report.  He figures he will do a quick computer search on Sunday night on this William Tell guy, whoever that is, and then he will just skate by on this assignment.  All that changes when he finds himself in the 14th century and standing in front of William Tell’s house.

Billy Cooper’s Awesome Nightmare!

You can find me and the rest of my stories @ or

Stop by for a visit and let me know what you think!

Cyrus: Looks like an intriguing concept, Penny. I can see this taking off for sure. Speaking of taking off, you don't mind sticking around for a while, do you? The next plane arrives some time after it runs out of gas.

Congratulations on your release, sis, and welcome to MuseItUp Publishing.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Critical Mass

Hey, guys. Cyrus Keith again. So how's everyone doing? Well, I trust.

This week, I have some awesome news: I signed the publisher's contract for the third and final novel of the series The NADIA Project. (...and there was much rejoicing...ya-a-a-a-ay...). So now the series is almost complete. The only detail left is a little project I call Lies and Paine, and I'll have more on that later.

But back to the latest project, which is titled Critical Mass, and Brings Nadia Velasquez's story to its close. Man, I'm dying to tell you all about it, but I need to be a good boy and not paste the entire thing here on the blog, 'cause, like, that would be totally wrong.

Anyway, if you liked Becoming NADIA and Unalive, I'm confident you'll like this one. So without any further hullabaloo, may I introduce the first excerpt from Critical Mass:

 * * * *

Sofi came out of the woods, following the game trail that ran past the back door. It wasn't that she was sneaking in, hoping to avoid a confrontation altogether. She knew that wasn't going to happen. The girl just wanted to put it off as long as possible, especially after having such a good afternoon with her only friend. Besides, there was no way she could sneak in the screen door. The spring made this nasty stretching, pinging noise every time it opened. She hadn't figured out a way past it yet. She'd tried unhooking it on the way out, but Mom always found it and hooked it back up again.
So Mom was going to hear her coming in the back door, and she would probably be waiting there with the note. Again.
Sofi entered the garage via the small door and climbed the concrete step to the back door, sighing in resignation.
She just started to move the door when she heard Mom's voice. “Come in here, young lady.” Yep, just what I thought. So much for delaying the inevitable.
Sofi opened the door and entered the kitchen.
Nadia sat at the table, her hands steepled in front of her face, as if in prayer. “Sofi, is there something you want to tell me?”
“Why would I want to say anything? You might as well just ground me now, and save us both the time wasted on discussing it.”
Nadia dropped her hands to the table, and the note lying there. “Because I want to understand why you're behaving this way. You're failing classes when we both know how smart you are. You're skipping class, starting fights—”
Sofi remained standing just inside the kitchen door. “Why do you even care?”
“Who took the first punch?”
“Does it matter?”
Nadia rose to her feet. “Of course it matters. If you were just defending yourself, it's different—”
“And what if I was just pissed?”
“Watch your mouth, young lady—”
Sofi's hands balled into fists. “Or what, you'll ground me? Oh, now I've done it—”
Nadia's voice rose in anger. “We can't afford to stand out; haven't you figured that out by now? Do you want them to find us? What do you think will happen when they do, invite us to tea? They want to kill us, Sofi!”
“Anything's better than sitting here just hiding! I'd rather be dead than keep sitting around waiting for it to happen!”
Nadia stormed around the table. Before Sofi could back away, Nadia grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. A strange, harsh light was in the woman's eyes. Her hands trembled even as her fingers dug in. “Don't you ever say that! Don't you know what it's like to lose—?”
“Yes!” Sofi screamed, “Yes! I watched them shoot my mother!”
Nadia's mouth worked fruitlessly as her hands dropped. The sudden release of pressure on Sofi's shoulders was almost as painful as the grip the older woman had on her. Nadia's face went slack, like some colossal idea just occurred to her, but then she just went blank. “M-mother…” Nadia staggered back, a distant, hollow look in her eyes. “Mother baby d-deer…”
The anger seeped out of Sofi, replaced by confusion. “Mom, what—?”
Nadia fell to the floor, her chest heaving. She opened her mouth and a strangled cry lurched from between her lips. Her head fell back, neck muscles tensed, and her limbs began to thrash. She kicked the metal and formica table across the kitchen. It crashed against the counter and fell over. Nadia's head slammed into the floor again as her back arched.
“Oh, my God, Mom!” Sofi rushed to Nadia's side, knelt, and held her head steady so it wouldn't bang anymore. But she couldn't do anything more to stop everything else.
The thrashing continued for several more heart-jarring seconds before Nadia's body finally relaxed. She lay still, sucking breath after breath in a moaning delirium.
Sofi's hands shook. She couldn't stop the tears that welled up from her soul as the fear took hold. “Mom? Talk to me, please.” She lifted one of Nadia's eyelids. The eye beneath wandered, uncomprehending of its surroundings. “Mom, say something.”
The words were slurred, barely legible. “Deena? Deena, baby—”
Sofi stroked a sweat-soaked strand of hair from Nadia's eyes and felt her forehead. She's so hot; what do I do? “No, Mom, it's me.”
Nadia's eyes opened. “S-Sofi—” she muttered. “Sofi, honey…”
“I'm here, Mom, it's me, I—” Sofi's breath caught in her throat. Nadia had bitten her lip during the seizure, and now—Oh, my God, the blood. The blood's white—

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Welcome Stuart West

The silken ripple of waves provide the only break in the silence hovering over Distant Shores. Fog lays thick on the sand as another sound invades the night: The gentle knock of oars against wooden gunwales. Closer the vessel approaches; the soft glow of a lantern swells through the mist. Its bearer, still shrouded in fog, holds it high in a vain attempt to see ahead. He barely has notice to brace for the landing.

The hull sighs as it bites into the sandy shore. With a series of hollow clunks the oars are shipped. Coarse, guttural laughter scrapes my ears, accompanied by a heavy splash. The ship’s boat pulls back into the sea and soon the oars can be heard again, rhythmic and insistent, no longer concerned with stealth.

I arrive on the shore to fish the bundle from the waves, dragging the heavy burden ashore. There is movement within the heavy burlap. A swift stroke of my knife at a seam reveals the new arrival, drenched to the bone, coughing up salt water. Figures. Still wet behind the ears. Perfect for my needs.
I haul my salvage up the path to the top of the cliff. The cabin is warm, the stew hot.
My guest downs a bite and takes a pull from the tankard. The name is one I’m sure will be heard more than once in the coming years.

Everyone help me welcome Stuart R. West to his first blog post as an author.

Stuart: Thanks for having me here, Cy!  
Cyrus: Thanks for stopping by, my friend. For everyone’s information, Stu just signed the contract for his debut novel. I asked him to come by while the ink was still wet to encourage anyone else who hasn’t made it as far down the path yet, and to provide us all with the inner workings of a newly published writer.

All right, bro, let’s have the scoop, and I’m not talking stew. Let’s talk Stu.

Stuart: I’m Stuart R. West, fledgling author. It’s been a long and freaky road getting here.  I won’t bore you with the details of my journey, but wanted to tell other new authors about my last “bus-stop”—Muse.  Three weeks ago, I found out Muse accepted my first book.  I was thrilled, couldn’t believe it.  Then something strange happened.  Terror set in, followed by self-doubt.  I was alternately exhilarated and over-whelmed.  What business had I rubbing elbows with, you know, real authors?  What if it was a fluke, one of nature’s not so funny ironic moments?   And the idea of this entire new world of promoting, pinning, liking, blogging, guesting, pimping, every daunting “ing” word I could think of, was tossed at me in a small amount of time.  Frightening.

But something happened. I met some friends at MuseItUp Publishing.  They helped me, taught me how to breathe again.  Advice, tips, information were doled out to me when my new-found mentor felt I was ready.  Expectations were tempered.  Gigantic heads were deflated.  But that’s okay.  I’ve learned a LOT!  And the most important thing is my new friends at Muse have taught me a good deal about writing as well.  Before, I was writing in a vacuum, never having spoken with another writer.  Now I have.  It’s humbling looking back at what I’d written two years ago, back when people who read it—people who are predisposed to love me—praised my efforts.  I cringe.  But it’s an invaluable education.

Cyrus: How well I know this. Having one’s work torn apart by those in the know is always a bit intimidating, but the best thing we can experience.

Stuart: So. Here we are.  Have I toned down my freaking out?  Oh, yeah.  Do I think I know everything?  Hell, no.  I have so much to learn about writing, promotion, everything, it’ll take years. And that’s fine.  So, if my little tale can help other new writers chill out a little bit, make them realize they’re not alone, great.  Your friends at MuseItUp will help you through it.

Sorry.  Got a bit verklempt there for a second. Okay, quick word about me.  Hey.  I’m Stuart West, Kansas native and resident.  For the last soul-sucking 25 years, I was a production/graphic artist and art department manager for an awful company.  Now I’m a writer.  The two women in my life—my wife, a pharmacy professor and my daughter, finding her way—are my support group, my loves, my inspirations.  Talk about muses!  And they’re also both smarter than I am.  I’m not happy about that.  

Cyrus: Okay, so besides writing, what other interests do you indulge in?

Stuart: I love movies but I have a very dark confession to make.  I’m thrilled by bad genre films from the ‘60’s to the ‘80’s.  My wife calls it an illness.  I call it cinematic nirvana.  The bigger the hair, the riper the dialogue, the rubbery-er the monsters and the worse it is, the happier I am.  I don’t get it either.  Not really.  But when I stumble across a mind-blowing cinematic atrocity, more fun can be had then with a dozen Hollywood comedies.

Cyrus: Well, that was… interesting. Okay, let’s get back on track, and that’s about your upcoming release from MuseItUp Publishing, Tex the Witch Boy.

Stuart: My first book is slated for release this upcoming January.  It’s a young adult murder mystery with light paranormal elements, the theme being high school bullying.  Richard “Tex” McKenna, my protagonist is (was?) basically myself. I didn’t have the greatest time at high school and neither does my boy, Tex.  Awkward, insecure, bright, smart-assed, that’s Tex.  I know the character well.  There are many autobiographical elements in the book (well…I’m not a witch), every one of the bullying incidents having happened to me or a friend of mine.  The newer elements were inspired by my daughter’s recent tour of duty through high school.  I picked the name “Tex,” because I wanted an iconic name, something that would play against the usual expectations for witch characters.

From Tex The Witch Boy (Undedited):
The skies growled, rumbled, teased and threatened to dump down, but remained stubbornly dry.  It was one of those eerie, purple-skied nights foreshadowing worse weather.  But for now, the heavens were constipated and all the angrier for it.
I walked over the hill and saw the school.  It looked so much different on a weekend night.   No lights lit up the long building and the streetlamps lining the entry drive were off.  It was a shadow of its daily, bustling self–a skeleton deprived of its inner organs and muscles.
I hurried down the drive towards the parking lot next to the far end of the building.  Across the street sat the abandoned gas-station, lurking in the darkness.  By day it was a den of iniquity for the pot-smokers and by night was frequented by expelled students who just couldn’t seem to stay away.  I thought of my friend’s last week of life when he had taunted a bully there.  The ghosts were out in full force tonight.  At least in my head.
The fallen leaves crunched underneath my feet as I crossed over the descending islands flanked with barren trees.  A low long, rumble roared above me, the accompanying lightning firing up the sky for several long seconds.  There was the battle bucket, waiting for me like a loyal steed.
I unlocked the door and slid onto the cold seat.  I slipped the car key into the ignition and turned it over.  The bucket chugged along but wouldn’t catch.  “Come on, come on,” I whispered under my breath.  The bucket’s engine kept trying, but gave up and slowed to a down-winding death-groan.  “Bucket, don’t fail me now.” But I knew it was no use.
I heard a light snap, maybe the wind blowing the leaves.  A hushed scratching sound came from my right.  A dark figure in a ski jacket stood outside.  A sudden flash of movement, the window shattered, showering me with glass shards.  I screamed.  A black gloved hand reached inside, grabbing the door handle.  I snatched my skate-board from the floor, swung with all my might at the intruding arm.  I made contact with a sickening, deep “thud” as the figure fell backward, grunting.

Cyrus: Rock on, dude. That was a cool first look. What else do you have creeping arounf behind those squinty eyes of yours?

Stuart:  I’ve already completed the first rough (cough, VERY rough as it now turns out) drafts of two follow-ups to Tex’s saga.  They’re both more or less stand-alone murder mysteries, dealing with topical teen issues, and take the (surviving) characters up to graduation.  I’ve also written a spin-off novel from a character introduced in the second book that I’m particularly proud of.

            On the adult front, I’m hip deep in various stages of two thrillers.  One is a very black comedy suspenser about a secret society of serial killers.  The other is a dark, psychological thriller about some bad doin’s on a Kansas farm.  Call it “farm noir.” I’ve many other ideas I can’t wait to get into.

Cyrus: Farm noir: *Pours cola and dumps in a scoop of chocolate ice cream* Is that something you have with a black cow?

Stuart, that was a great look at your debut novel. Folks, you heard it here first. Now, before I toss Stu back into the ocean for his return trip (You didn’t think I was gonna pay for another boat, did you?), feel free to ask questions or leave comments. Thanks, Stu, for letting me drag you into the light. Congratulations on your new contract, and we wish you Happy Sales!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Failure: Maybe an Option?

Hi, folks. Cyrus Keith here. It took some time to figure out what wanted to share with you all this week. I mean, I could spend a whole post about writing and my award-winning series the NADIA Project. But after this week and all the hullabaloo in the news on so many fronts, something else has invaded my thoughts and won’t let go.

It’s that one line from “Apollo 13.” You know the one. Ed Harris, playing Mission Flight Director Gene Kranz, roars across the control room, “We’ve never lost an American in space and we’re sure as hell not gonna lose on on my watch! Failure is not an option!” It energizes the team, and lo and behold, the astronauts are saved. Happy ending for all, and there was much rejoicing (ya-a-a-ay…). In reality, Kranz never said that line, but we’re going to use the statement anyway.

Kranz and his team pulled off a miracle in bringing Lovell and his crew home. What makes a person dig in like that and pull miracles out of nowhere? What is it that makes us reach for greatness, build big things? I have an idea about that. It all boils down to one phrase.

Failure sucks.

Failure. S.U.C.K.S. mud. That’s supposed to be self-evident. But that’s not what we are teaching our kids today. Look at me, sounding like the crotchety old fart sitting on his porch yelling at kids as they pass. Only now, they can’t hear through those iPod buds crammed in their ears.

But here’s my point: We can’t keep score in Little League, or celebrate a win, because that would mean someone has to lose, and we can’t have the little tykes feel bad, can we? We hand out ribbons for “participant” because if you don’t get a ribbon, your little heart would just break. You grow up insulated from failure, because it would damage your self-image, and we can’t have that. Failing grades are even adjusted so they at least get a “course complete.”

So what happens when our little ones grow up and the world pops their bubble wrap? They fail at a job interview. No ribbon for showing up. They miss a deadline and get fired. How can their boss be so mean? Their manuscript gets rejected. Three astronauts die on their watch because they 1.) have never seen the consequences of failure 2.) have no idea how to handle it, and 3.) have never been taught to give a rat’s hairy little tushie whether they succeed or not. I’m glad Gene Kranz grew up in the day when they understood the consequences of failure he became a NASA flight director.

Failure sucks. Failure should suck. Failure gives us the incentive to do better next time, to drive for something of a superior quality. Sure, no one wants to fail. But if no one fails, does anyone succeed? How do you know?

Kids know. I saw kids on both little league teams secretly keeping score: Counting outs, tracking runs. Whether the Bubble-wrap Moms and Blow-Foam Dads knew it or not, those kids knew. There is something built inside us that needs to win. But for someone to win, someone has to lose.

Too bad. Go ahead and lose. But practice hard. Fix those weak spots in your defense. Run double-play combinations. Work on your batting. Come back next week and blow our socks off. I dare you.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Pinnacle: Recap

Hey, guys. 

Thanks again to Susan A. Royal, and congratulations on her new release, highlighted in last week’s post.

Let’s take a last dip in the Conspiracy Pool for now, just to recap: If you want to take over the world, 
  1. Keep your real agenda secret. This is, of course, the no-brainer. Anyone with half a brain cell would squash you like a bug if they knew what you were actually about. 
  2.  Divide your attack. The more fronts you can manage, the better chances you have of concealing your agenda until after it’s too late to stop you. 
  3.  Never let a crisis go unexploited. The more chaos you can unleash, the more distracted your enemies will be, chasing shadows while you work behind the scene.
  4. Place your moles carefully. Use the environmental movement, the social reform movement, and world legislatures to redefine globalization and glorify the “world village” paradigm. 
  5. Create regional currencies that will one day merge into a central monetary system. Manipulate availability of resources through litigation and activist organizations to force cooperation between nations. 
  6.  Shame your opponents into silence. Use Character assassination. Destroy anyone who dares to speak against you or any of your stooges. Vilify them in the press. The charges don’t have to be true; simply repeat them until the public believes they are. 
  7.  Use the press as a willing though unwitting dog of war. The best propaganda is so subtle it isn’t picked up until it’s too late. This goes hand in hand with #6. 
  8.  Anyone who refuses to shut up must be eliminated. Let the buzz die down (see #6) and then use your enforcement teams to remove them. 
  9.  Keep moving your moles up through the political ranks. Use whatever propaganda, lies, and deceit you can to get them in places of power, so they may be your visible hands. 
  10. Remain invisible. If the public rises against your agenda, they will only revolt against your puppet. Simply plant another mole in the resistance, and move him up to a leadership role. “Meet the new Boss, same as the old boss.” —Roger Daltry.
So there you go. Granted, you’ll have to start with about 5 billion dollars or so. But the trick is to keep your left hand from knowing what your right hand is doing. Your environmental crews should never know what your social teams are doing. Neither should be aware of what you’re cooking in the legislature. Invisibility and determination are your watchwords.
In Orwell’s chilling novel Animal Farm, the pigs insidiously changed the laws on the barn to exempt themselves from the same laws they passed for the other animals. Notice that none of this was done in the open. Rats of any type skulk around in the shadows, waiting for the opportune time to dash out and seize yet one more hunk of meat from the prey. They don’t openly compete with the dogs. But they still find ways to get their fill.

The conspiracy of The Pinnacle is fictional. But I want everyone who reads this to understand that the concept isn’t as farfetched as one might believe. There can only be so many safeguards in place against such a plot. To strangle this python once and for all, would require a tyranny that would make Big Brother look like anarchy.

But it could happen, couldn’t it? Would you know what to look for?

Just saying.