Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Liz Murray, Despair, and Not Giving Up

I usually stick with reviewing indie novels because I know they are the ones in need of attention. However, I'm reviewing a traditional memoir which needs to be read, not because it doesn't already have readers. It does. But Breaking Night has something important to say to every possible reader.

Liz Murray is the child of baby-boomers, drug users who never seemed to have found a drug they didn't like and never had a cocaine high they didn't love. Liz Murray and her sister were also-rans.

Liz and her sister were left alone night after night while their parents scored. Hungry, ragged, taunted at school, yet Liz loved her parents and defended them. When her mother, dying of AIDS, left her father, Liz stayed with him to care for him. Eventually she was placed in a group home so horrific, she preferred the dangers of life on the street in the Bronx.

Amazingly, Liz came to see that an education was her way out of her life of abject misery. At seventeen with one high-school credit, this dropout went back to school and turned her life around to be admitted to Harvard two years later.

Now a book about a life like this could easily be maudlin, nothing more than a sob story. It isn't. It is leanly written and a great read, but that isn't quite why I say everyone should read it.

Liz Murray never gave up. Life was a struggle. Sinking into despair was an obvious route. It was a route she didn't take. I was thinking about her when someone posted on the Writers' Cafe a few days ago asking if other authors ever considered giving up. It's such a struggle. People don't always love us, they often don't. We don't always make much money. We're not valued unless we're on that best seller list.

It's so darn easy in life to give up our dreams. Achieving an education. Climbing out of poverty. Defeating prejudice. Making a living as a writer. Or giving our kids decent lives and values in spite of a society that devalues human beings. But the struggle is worth it.

I said a simple, "No. I will never give up. There is hope--but to reach it there is also struggle."


My novels are also about a struggle against tremendous odds, Scotland's fight against English conquest. Freedom's Sword is available on Amazon and Smashwords. My novel about Robert the Bruce's most trusted lieutenant, Sir James, the Black Douglas, is A Kingdom's Cost is also available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I'm an Author Not a Politician

A question: Do my readers care what my politics are?

Here is why I ask:

Best-selling Kindle author John Locke came out with a new book, affectionately known as Howie, on how to build book sales in which he said that novelists should post meaningful articles on their blog, ones that would touch readers and reach across the blogosphere to draw people in. He said they should relate to the theme of one's writing.

Today someone took that advice to mean that he should post a highly political blog and did one that in effect attacks anyone and everyone not a member of the "Tea Party Movement". Now I need to go back and read Mr. Locks Howie book because I really don't think that was what the gentleman had in mind. I could be mistaken.

Although normally make it a rule not to post on politics on this blog, on Twitter my tweets make it pretty clear where I stand on a couple of political and social issues. I am a pretty fervent supporter of gay rights. Because of my strong connection to Scotland, I tweet links to Scottish nationalist articles which support Scottish independence. Both of these (depending on what country you're from) are fairly divisive.

Perhaps as an author, I shouldn't tweet on them. My belief has always been that my readers don't give a damn what my politics are as long as I tell a good story, but there is another movement of thought that readers are attracted to writers who the know something about. Well, you can't know about me without knowing I support those things. I tweet about them to make it clear who and what I am as well as to share information.

As I said, I could be wrong. That's going to take some thought.

Look at the subject of Scottish independence. One can enjoy a story about the heroism of Scottish heroes while believing that Scotland is better off as part of the United Kingdom. Sure, I'll point out other arguments if we discuss it, but it has nothing to do with enjoying my novels. I hope not anyway.

In only one of my novels are there openly gay people, but I think treating everyone with respect is such a part of my ethos that this comes across in my writing. Still those who oppose gay marriage, as an example, could enjoy my novels even the one with openly gay characters. Nor does it matter that some of the characters in other novels are gay but that the issue is simply never raised or they choose to hide it.

I suspect that many readers do avoid writers whose writing is driven by an agenda. I do. Heck, I avoid ones whose agenda I agree with.

No doubt, I was wrong to get a bit angry at the writer with a political agenda. He isn't the first. He won't be the last. Although I think it tends to get in the way of story telling, there are even exceptions to that. So he has a right to his agenda which he's admitting to up front.

My agenda as a writer is different. I look at myself as the minstrel in the market square spinning a tale for a few coins tossed in my hat.

My writing is not done--it is NEVER done--to convince anyone of my beliefs. I hope my reader enjoys my story. I hope it touches their emotions. I hope it increases their connection to humanity. It will not and is not intended to change their politics.

So let me tell you a story...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Freedom's Sword Sample - Chapter Nine

The drip of water... Not another sound. It must be night. Andrew prayed so. He pushed himself up on his elbows with a groan. Every movement grated. His face felt like a bag filled with pebbles. He ran his tongue over splits in his lips and the rough edge of a broken tooth.

He scooted sideways off the pile of straw. The floor was the same--cold, damp, flat and smooth, stones laid close. He felt his way to the wall and ran his palms up it--rougher, grittier stones joined with lines of mortar, part of the wall of the keep. Shivering, he crawled back onto the straw.

There would be a window slit high in the wall. If he waited, it would get light. It had to get light. It had to.

He lay huddled for hours, quiet. Thinking thoughts he could have done without. Like that, he'd heard of prisoners left to starve to death in dungeons. Like that, men were sometimes gnawed by rats as they died. Like that, he might go mad if it didn't get light.

It didn't. He counted his breaths to keep from screaming. Pressed his fists into his forehead. Nothing changed. He had to move--to know where he was. He licked blood off his lips, his tongue so dry it felt like leather. Perhaps he could get to the water dripping somewhere.


On his hands and knees, he crept across the clammy floor, pressing a shoulder against the rough stones of the wall. Otherwise, he might crawl in circles. He swept his hands ahead as he went. A well or hole could be in front of him, and he wouldn't know. He trembled, half from weakness and half from fear of what he would find. A few feet of crawling brought him to a corner. The next wall was rough stone set with mortar as well. Pressing against it, he explored that way. He came almost at once to another corner. Around that one. A few feet down that wall and he knew where he was. The wooden door they had thrown him through. He stroked his way up it, the greasy wood slick under his palms, fingering wide strips of iron when he came to them.

Solid. Merciful God. He clamped his teeth on a whimper.

In the fourth corner, he came upon a clay pot. A slops jar, empty but still reeking of old piss. Surely that meant he wouldn't be left here to die. Why would they give him a slops jar and let him die of hunger and thirst? He realized it must have been a day since he'd pissed. He inched his back up the wall and breathed a sigh of relief as his heavy bladder drained. He'd not known
how much his belly had been aching until that moment.

He shook off the last drop of piss. The stink added to the musty smell.

Then he sank down onto the floor, arms around bent legs and head on his knees. His head was pounding again. His mouth was parched. Curse them. Trice-curse them. What had he done but follow his king? What any knight was sworn to do.

Cressingham's face seemed to float before him in the darkness. His fat lips sneered as he pointed and pronounced: ...traitors and criminals... "No," Andrew whispered.

He had fallen into a doze when footfalls echoed in the quiet. At first, it was part of his dream. It seemed years since he had heard anything but the distant, tormenting drip of water.

They couldn't be real. He shivered with chills, his lips cracked and leaking blood. When the heavy wooden door creaked open, he raised his hand to shield his eyes from the glimmer. A gaoler bent, watching Andrew closely, and put a bowl and cup on the floor.

"Is it day?" Andrew croaked.

The gaoler was a barrel of a man with a pebbly face and beard down onto his chest, clad in a dark leather jack studded with metal. "No talking." He slammed the door.

Andrew blinked as the light vanished. On hands and knees, he crawled towards the precious cup. It was cool and beaded with water. Grasping it with both hands, he took a mouthful and let it dribble down his parched throat. Careful not to let a drop escape, he sipped until it was gone. He used a finger to wipe out the last drop.

A wave of despair washed through him. How could he do this? It was too much. He leaned his forehead against the wood of the door and choked down a sob. He had to get through it. That was all.

The bowl had beans in it and a lump of bread. He scooped them up with his fingers and shoveled them down. Then he wiped the bowl clean with the bread, too, and licked the juices off his fingers. He crawled back onto the straw and curled up in a ball. He was cold... so cold. After a while, he slept.

Eons seemed to come and go. He couldn't tell when he woke if it was day or night. He could feel that his eyes were open when he touched his face. Open or closed, there was no difference in the darkness. He lay huddled against the chill and sang "Turn Ye to Me" to hear something besides the drip of that water he couldn't reach. He hummed every tune he could think of. He took to cursing to make a change.

Another gaoler came to leave another bowl and cup. This one was a scarecrow of a man. Andrew begged him to say if it was day or night. A blow of a truncheon was his reply.

He lost track of how many times they had come--of how many days he had been here. He had no sun and no moon. He had nothing to make marks on the wall. His stomach ached with hunger, the bowls of beans never quite filling his belly, but his fever and chills passed. He sat up and realized that the pounding in his head was gone. His muscles were stiff and every move hurt,
but no worse than from a fall in a joust.

It had to be faced. It would go on. It was no good sitting in a miserable huddle. He might as well explore what world he had left to him. If they were feeding him, they meant him to live.

Perhaps execution was in their plans for later, but Cressingham had said not. So one day, somehow, he would get out.

With a steadying breath, sliding his back up the gritty stones of the wall, he got to his feet. He inched his way around the dungeon again. The walls were built of stones about four hands wide and a hand high. The front was broken by the shape of the door. He touched every inch of the greasy wood and the iron bands that crossed it. There was no handle on the inside. He
smiled at himself as he felt for one.

He came to the slops jar. It was brimming by now. Would they empty it? He shuddered at what it would be like if they didn't.
After that, he sat down again. He was still cold, but not with the bone-shaking chills of injury and fever, even if every move still brought a twinge to remind him of the blows he had taken and the sores that were crusted over.

One day Scarecrow held open the door after he sat down the bowl and cup, motioning his chin toward the reeking jar in the corner, and said, "Shove that into the hall." He lifted his truncheon and he stepped back.

Andrew half-smiled as he moved the slops jar into the hall. Did Scarecrow fear him?

When the man motioned him back, he went. The few seconds' view of the hall had been worth it though. He sat shoveling up the beans and examined the pictures still in his eyes. Even in the dim light, with his eyes adjusted to the greater darkness he'd been able to see that his was the only door in the narrow hall. The other prisoners must be somewhere else. And there was no other guard, only one. There might be one outwith the shining light of the doorway up the steps. He hadn't been able to see.

He listened for sounds, quieting his breathing. No matter how quiet he was, all he could hear was that dripping. No horses. No talking. No pace of a guard. Nothing.

The first guard returned and Andrew decided that one must come in the morning and one at night. But which?

"Just tell me if it's day or night," he said.

The gaoler slammed the door, shutting him back into the dark. He knelt holding the cup of water, fighting down a hot tide of fury. How dare they treat him like this? Imprison him like a traitor. Starve him. Leave him in the squalor of unwashed, stinking sackcloth like a murderer. He would go mad and smash his head into the wall until he died... or get hold of himself and eat and
drink and find a way out.

Damn them. Damn and curse them to hell. Bugger them all. They'd not drive him mad. He'd not let it happen.

He shook so hard a little water slopped onto his fingers. He forced himself to lick the water off and drink what was in the cup. He ate most of the beans. When he came to the last few, he stopped--shoved them around the bottom of the bowl with his finger. At Dunbar, how had the Comyn moved the lines of chivalry? Had he planned the battle at all? He stared at the far wall he couldn't see and set the bowl aside. Could they have won? When the beans had dried out, he arranged them on the floor by feel, strung out in lines and moved them about. How could the Comyn have given such orders? What would he have done if the command had been his? He rearranged the line of withered-feeling beans on the floor.

He moved the beans about again, trying to remember everything Sir Waltir had told him.

It helped keep his mind off the drip of water, the itch of lice in his hair, and the reek of piss and crap and sweat and his own filth.

The next time Scarecrow opened the door, Andrew looked up. "Is it morning?"

Scarecrow looked surprised. "Yes." He sat down the food and stepped back.

After that excitement, he sat down with his morning rations and remembered Sir Waltir's lessons about war. Sir Waltir had talked while training him, time out of mind. Told him things the Comyn either hadn't known or had ignored. Never believe war is based on courtesy. It is based upon trickery and deception. Hold out your bait, so your enemy grabs it. Then crush him. Just as the English had crushed the Scots.

Sir Waltir had said other things he hadn't thought much about at the time, but now he heard them over and over, his only company in the dark chill. If your opponent is stronger than you are, flee him. If he has more men, divide them. Never play his game. You must play your own.

That night after the second gaoler closed him back into blindness, he sat with his arms around his legs and his forehead pressed into his knees. It was all very well to tell himself to be brave and strong and prepare for the next battle, but brave and strong was not how he felt. A scream was trapped in his throat that he daren't let out. If he did, he would never stop.

At last, he forced himself to his hands and knees and once more began to feel his way around his dungeon, stone by oblong stone. He tried to move each one, trying to shove it, knowing he'd find no way out. But he had to try. One stone moved a hair's breadth under his hand. The mortar must be brittle there. Perhaps they'd used too little or the leaking water had weakened it. It wiggled so little. It was stupid to think he could work it loose. If he did, what good would it do? On the other hand, he had nothing better to do except move the beans in their lines and despair over the charge that had led to their defeat. Nothing better to think of but that he might go mad.


Freedom's Sword is available on Amazon and Smashwords now only 99 cents. Please also check out A Kingdom's cost also available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Battle of Stirling Bridge Day Giveaway

The culmination of my novel Freedom's Sword is at the Battle of Stirling Bridge which took place at a bridge over the River Forth in Scotland on 11 September 1297. At that battle the Scottish forces, led by Sir Andrew de Moray and Sir William Wallace, defeated an English army and freed Scotland from English conquest.

To celebrate the anniversary of that day, I am having a Giveaway. To enter, by midnight US Pacific time on 11 September, 2011:

1. Follow me on Twitter at @JRTomlinAuthor. Of course, anyone already following me already has this step completed.
2. Tweet me @JRTomlinAuthor with the words: Saor Alba (Scots Gaelic for Free Scotland) and
3. Post a comment here including your twitter handle.

On 12 September I will twitter and post here the winners of the following prizes with the winners chosen at random:

First Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card

Five Second Prizes: A choice of any one of my eBooks. A choice of my historical fiction (Freedom's Sword or A Kingdom's Cost) or fantasy (Talon of the Unnamed Goddess, Blood Duty, or Laying the Odds).

So post, twitter, tweet and enjoy.

J. R.


Please check out my novels on Scotland's struggle against English conquest. Freedom's Sword is available on Amazon and Smashwords. My novel about Robert the Bruce's most trusted lieutenant, Sir James, the Black Douglas, is A Kingdom's Cost is also available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

King Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn and Braveheart Part Two

Blàr Allt a' Bhonnaich, The Battle of Bannockburn, on 23-24 June 1314, was one of the most important occasions in all of Scottish history. I mention the movie Braveheart, because so many people take what is in that movie as truth rather than fiction. In the movie, Robert the Bruce hasn't quite decided whether he will fight the English or not. Finally, the Scottish army simply makes a pell mell, sword-waving charge at the huge English army and (miraculously) defeat it.

Ha! They would have been SO dead.

I think in Part One of this series, I indicated pretty clearly that King Robert made a lot of preparation for that battle, but that doesn't answer what happened at the battle itself.

Many people have the idea (probably from movies where it isn't practical to have enough extras to form a real army) that medieval armies were small. This was very often not the case.

A levy called by a king could form an army with a substantial portion of the entire kingdom's adult male population who owed him service. While the English army, very likely of about 20,000 men, was unusually large, it was not at all outside the range of what was possible with a year's preparation, which is what King Edward II put into it. It was led by the King Edward, who didn't have a great reputation as a fighter, but also by hardened fighters such as Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, Henry de Beaumont and Robert de Clifford, 1st Baron de Clifford as well as the earls of Gloucester and Hereford.

The Scottish army, made up of about every fighting man in Scotland, was about one-half that size, probably in the range of 8,000 to 10,000 men total. You can vary those estimates by a few thousand, but not much more than that. I find the possibility they were larger unlikely. It is also highly unlikely they were much smaller.

The Scots knew not only that an English army was on its way but very close to when they could expect it. However, they didn't know its makeup. On 23 June, King Robert sent one of his most trusted lieutenants, Sir James Douglas, with a small force to scout the approaching army. Even this doughty fighter was horrified at the sight of the medieval host they would face. There was debate about whether to retreat--always something King Robert was willing to do rather than have an army destroyed. King Robert the Bruce decided to take the risk.

On the first day of battle occurred one of the most stirring fights in all of Scottish history -- a fight witnessed and described by chroniclers with both armies.

The English vanguard was approaching the Scottish host. King Robert himself decided to scout the ground. No one knows quite how he got so far ahead of his commanders, but, alone, not wearing armour, on a regular steed rather than a warhorse and armed only with a battleaxe, the King was spotted and was identified by Sir Henry de Bohun, slightly ahead of his own army, by his crown and gold tabard.

De Bohun couched his lance and set his massive warhorse into a charge.

It is hard to imagine the horror of the king's watching lieutenants as Robert the Bruce sat calmly, watching the oncoming knight thunder towards him. When de Bohun was no more than a few feet away, King Robert turned his horse, rose in his stirrups, and slammed his battleaxe down on de Bohun's head.

The single blow split de Bohun's helmet and his head in two.

The Scot version of the fight says that when he was reproached for so risking himself, King Robert's reply was a complaint that he had broken his favorite battleaxe. Sir Henry de Bohun, nephew of the Earl of Hereford, lay dead. Only the king's command held the Scots back from a charge.

Thus began one of the greatest battles in all medieval history.


Please check out my novels on Scotland's struggle against English conquest. Freedom's Sword is available on Amazon and Smashwords. My novel about Robert the Bruce's most trusted lieutenant, Sir James, the Black Douglas, is A Kingdom's Cost is also available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chapter Four of A Kingdom's Cost

I have removed the sample due to the terms of exclusivity I now have with Amazon. However, you can read or download a sample of A Kingdom's Cost at Amazon. Freedom's Sword is also available on Amazon.

Review of The Last King's Amulet by Chris North

"My name is Sumto, and I am a gambling, lazy, good-for-nothing drunk who has to join the army and fight in a war I am frankly too corpulent to cope with. Still, that's got to be as bad as things get, Am I right?"

This does not appear to be the beginning of an appealing book, and initially the wastrel of a protagonist, Sumto Cerulilan, rather put me off. He is mostly interested in food, drink and women and doesn't hesitate to sell off or live off his slaves to maintain his "lifestyle". However, his engaging self-humor overcame my initial distaste.

He is a member of a society that seems to be closely modeled on ancient Rome with magic added, a change of pace in a fantasy which also has some appeal. As an heir of a "Patron" of the city of Luria, he is supposed to build a client base and take part in the martial and political society he was born into. His refusal and complete disinterest has his father about to disinherit him and his creditors honing in for what little he has.

However, what turns things around is when he discovers his sister is betrothed to a powerful man who informs Sumto he has no intention of being part of a family that has a wastrel in it. So Sumto will reform or will no longer be around to bother with. In this society, Sumto has good reason to take the threat seriously.

Given the choice between death and the military, Sumto joins a military expedition to punish the rebellious northern tribes, and thus begins Sumto's growth. The changes in Sumto's character as he faces battle and adversity is very well done. He does occasionally lose, but he never gives up, and this reader grew to sincerely cheer for him. It isn't an easy transition from rogue to responsibility. The secondary characters, particularlly Meran and Jocasta, are well-realized and not merely cardboard cutouts, which adds to the novel's depth.

I thought some of the philosophical discussion on government, servitude, and society slowed the pace down a bit at times, but it was all applicable both to the society in the book and to ours. The magic is well-integrated and also serves as an interesting parallel on how a society might try to keep power to itself. The prose itself was solid but not extraordinary.

All in all, in spite of a few slow patches, it's a fun read and I recommend it. I give it a four star rating.

The Last King's Amulet is available at Smashwords for only 99 Cents!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

King Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn and Braveheart Part One

Anyone who writes a about the Scottish War of Independence as I do in Freedom's Sword and A Kingdom's Cost can not ignore these topics so today I'd like to discuss them.

I'll start with the movie Braveheart to get that subject out of the way. I assume that many of you have seen it. In the last scene, Robert the Bruce. leading a ragtag army of Scots, can't quite decide whether he will fight for Scotland or not. He fiddles with a piece of cloth he somehow inherited from William Wallace. A glance from one of Wallace's men (who hasn't aged in spite of the fact that it has been nine years since Wallace's death) makes the royal Bruce realize that to retreat would be cowardice and he has this same ragtag, untrained army charge an English force of armored knights which vastly outnumbers them. They win because--well, for some mysterious reason.

Did you enjoy the movie? As movie it was probably enjoyable. As history--it was wrong in every implication and detail.

The Battle of Bannockburn was one of the most important events in all of Scottish history. It was certainly the worst defeat of the English/Normans during the middle ages. It absolutely did not happen by chance.

So what did happen?

During the years between 1306 when Robert the Bruce was crowned King of the Scots and 1314 when the English King Edward II marshalled one of the largest armies then ever raised in English history to attempt to defeat him, Robert Bruce had fought one of the most successful guerilla wars ever waged in Europe. Yet he also suffered terrible losses. Three of his four brothers were captured and executed. His wife, his only child, and two of his sisters were captured and imprisoned in England. In spite of it, he had driven the English almost entirely from Scotland.

In fact, no one would have criticized the king had he chosen to retreat because that was his usual tactic when faced with a large force on the field. His well-thought-out guerilla tactics come down to us today in a very old verse called Good King Robert's Testament:

On foot should be all Scottish war
Let hill and marsh their foes debar
And woods as walls prove such an arm
That enemies do them no harm.
In hidden spots keep every store
And burn the plainlands them before
So, when they find the land lie waste
Needs must they pass away in haste
Harried by cunning raids at night
And threatening sounds from every height
Then, as they leave, with great array
Smite with the sword and chase away.
This is the counsel and intent
Of Good King Robert's Testament

This is the tactic that had served Scotland's Good King Robert so well in defeating the English.

During those years, King Robert had captured and razed almost every major castle in Scotland. Stirling Castle with its strong walls high on a cliff overlooking the sea still held out. The governor of Stirling Castle had agreed that if relief from the English did not arrive by early July of 1314, he would surrender. This would be a humiliating blow that the English king, who was already in trouble with his nobles, could not endure.

For months King Edward II raised the English levies and prepared a huge army.

For months, King Robert the Bruce called upon the men of Scotland to rally to him. In the Torwood, a huge forest in the center of Scotland, he led his men as they worked to make the schiltron -- a pike square -- manueverable. Those same sixteen-foot pikes had brought down the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge under the leadership of Andrew de Mornay and William Wallce. But they had not charged. They could only stand and wait to be attacked.

Bruce was determined that a schiltron, with its multiple rows of deadly pikes, would charge the English, and King Robert trained his men until they could. Each of the four schiltron's was lead by one of his most trusted lieutenants. But they were still dreadfully outnumbered, at least three to one.

How to even the odds even more?

The land their wall, as his testament so famously says. Much of the land in the region of Stirling Castle was marshy, bad country for the huge destriers ridden by knights in their heavy armor. So the Bruce positioned his army so they would have to be attacked across bad country, but not bad enough. Then he ordered pits lined with sharpened stakes to be dug across most of the same area.

It was a horror waiting to happen for the English.

Yet even with all the training and preparation, the Bruce was willing to retreat. He would not lead his army to defeat merely for pride. Facing an army of that size and might was a terrible risk, but one that could have a great prize if they won. That night with the advisement of his faithful lieutenants, King Robert made his decision.

Before them stood an English army of unimaginable might. Against it, King Robert the Bruce was determined to stand.

King Robert was not a king who "led from the rear" and in another post I'll talk about what happened on that amazing day.

Please check out my novels on Scotland's struggle against conquest. Freedom's Sword is available on Amazon and Smashwords. Please also check out A Kingdom's cost also available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Interview with Brian Healey, Author of Shattered Wings

Question: Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book?

"Shattered Wings" is the chronicle of a man named John, the primary breadwinner in a household consisting of his husband Charlie and their adoptive daughter Cassie. When faced with an unexpected unemployment that he is financially unprepared for, John finds himself desperate for new work before his savings is depleted, reminiscing on a past of addiction, discrimination and family struggle as he slowly descends into alcoholism.

Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers, or did you jump right into self-publication?

I jumped right into self-publication. While I wish I had the distribution capacity of a major publishing house, I prefer to self-publish because of the ultimate creative control and feedback immediacy it offers. I am currently querying distribution companies to see if that is an option, but I restrict my options to groups that allow authors to retain all rights.

What factors influenced your decision to self-publish to Amazon?

I find that I enjoy having full control over the creative process, from interior and cover design to deployment and marketing. By self-publishing, I am the writer, publisher, designer and distributor, and it gives me a sense of total understanding of the project and it's scope.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing? And if not, what method did you use for proofing?

I did not hire an editor, although I will in the future. For now, I have relied on careful reading, feedback from close friends (who also happen to be voracious readers), and then more careful reading. I typically go through several revisions before deciding a work is complete.

What have you've learned during your self-publishing journey? Any advice you can give to burgeoning writers?

Publishing is a major challenge. Writing has a unique set of challenges and certainly has a stiff requirement for patience, but the "other" stuff (cover and interior design, proofing, editing, marketing and promotion) have their own difficulties and require just as much, if not more, patience. And unlike writing, which always has a satisfying conclusion (the end of a story written), self-publication can "end" in any number of different ways, and not all of them are universally positive.

Where have you put your work on sale? Is it available in only digital formats, or is there a physical edition available?

My books are available in paperback and hardcover in addition to eBook, and are for sale on the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble (and a few local booksellers). The eBook versions of my books are available on Amazon.com for the Kindle,BarnesandNoble.com for the nook, and Smashwords (which distributes to Apple, Kobo and Diesel). All of these editions are also for sale directly from me on the books website (www.shatteredwingsbook.com).

What kinds of marketing are you involved with for promoting your book? Any promotional recommendations to new writers?

By day, I am a professional web engineer, so I do a lot of digital work myself. I have designed marketing websites for each of my books and do heavy promotion on most major social networking services. I am also doing limited paid advertising. Offline, I do local book readings and signings at independent bookstores that will carry my work.

If I had any recommendations to new writers it would be: (1) Don't turn down any free offer of publicity, and (2) Be patient. Sales take time, and your first book is likely to sell only modestly. Work to build your brand and gain awareness, and eventually the sales will come.

Do you find it difficult to manage your time, shifting focus between marketing your current book and writing your next book, as well as any day-to-day responsibilities?

Very difficult! Without a schedule, I would be utterly lost. I am currently working full-time as a senior web engineer, going to school full-time for a degree in English, marketing my latest book and writing my third and forth manuscripts... I could easily lose track of myself if I don't pick specific times for each task. And inevitably sometimes one must dominate when specific activities have deadlines or become overwhelming. It's a delicate process that is easy to unbalance.

What's next for you? Any new books in the works?

My next novel is titled "Void," and will tell the story of a man trapped inside his own body, suffering from a coma for several years. Despite his condition, he can hear and he can think, and we follow his thoughts as he reminisces on his past and endures the debate between his family and his doctors over whether to end his life. I hope to have this novel released by early fall.

After that, for late winter, my fourth novel is titled "No Where." It will follow a determined man as he tries to flee from an unknown adversary that is after his biological son. With the help of his brother, he sets off across the country for solace in a secluded family residence while trying to end the pursuit. But as his brother probes into the man's son and his estranged family, he finds some troubling information that threatens their ultimate safety.

Thanks, Brian.

You can find Shattered Wings on Kindle, Smashwords, and Nook.

Bryan Healey is a featured author in this week’s “E”ndependent Publishers $2.99 ebook Club enewsletter.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

#SampleSunday Laying the Odds Ch 2

The by-blow.

Those words stung for a long time. The fact was he hadn’t gone hungry, not much anyway. His mother had a beautiful voice. She’d joined a new company of players and they’d traveled from city to city. When that one went under, they’d joined another. But a singer’s voice doesn’t last forever or her looks.

Five years later, she’d led him back one more time after she caught him cutting a purse to buy food, and she slapped him so hard his ears rang. This time they really had gone hungry.

He'd wandered around the study and admired the tapestries, the sheen of the polished furniture, and then the tall cabinet with beautiful silver pieces on the shelves, his eyes drawn to that medal.

His father didn’t even say a word. He stood at the door while two of his men grabbed Wrai and his mother and dragged them out the door. The two of them landed on the gravel walkway in front of the stone steps. The door slammed and the bar thudded into place.

He hadn’t meant to go back. If he’d been a little older— But a fourteen-year-old boy... He’d been riding in horse races and had already taken to gambling. He lifted what he could get his hands on. It was never enough. Not enough so his mother ever had enough to eat or an apothecary when she got sick, coughing up blood. After she died, a panicked run from an inn when someone spotted him cheating left him with a black eye, a broken rib and everything he owned left behind.

He arrived in Krelton two days later, dirty, hurting and desperate. And there was his father’s house, so he went to the door and knocked. What had he expected? Not hugs and a welcome, but maybe a meal and a place to sleep for the night in the stable. He told the doorman who he was, and the man went to get the master. Wrai combed his hair with his fingers, tried to slick it back and straightened his torn shirt. His heart hammered with nerves.

He looked up to see his father step into the doorway with a hound at his heels, running a quirt through his fingers. An ugly smile curved his lips.

"I told you and that whore mother of yours not to come back," his father said.

Anger flushed through him like fire, but he stamped on it. "She’s dead. Listen, if you’d just help me get a start. Not much and I won’t bother you again. I promise." He cursed himself when he heard the pleading in his voice.

"This is all you’ll get and worse if you ever come here again." His father lunged and the quirt flicked at Wrai’s face.

Wrai yelped as the lash cut his eyelid, and he stumbled back. The gash burned. He ducked his head and brought up his arm so the next blow slashed across his hand. His father cursed and swung again but Wrai ran.

He had run as far and fast as he could, the sound of barking coming behind. He’d never told the tale to anyone. He still woke up in a cold sweat sometimes trying to figure out why it haunted him so. He rubbed the scar at the corner of his eye.

Shrugging away the memory, he opened his eyes and eased through the hallway, one hand on a wall. His soft soles were silent on floorboards. The next door was the study. The house was near black but he’d been in the dark long enough that he could make out faint shapes.

Inside the room, he slipped along the wall, feeling his way so as not to stumble over anything. Even after these years, the layout of the room hadn’t changed. He put his hand on the cabinet.

He knew what he’d take. He’d known from the second the innkeeper read the notice. That medal etched in the shape of a rune. He’d never seen a rune like it. His mother had drummed his letters into him. This was something different. There had been times in those first days after seeing it when it had spun through his dreams.

For a second his hand trembled, tempted to grab the whole lot. He owed the piece of dung—for his mother choking on her own blood as she died, for the scar beside his eye, for the old lady he’d knocked over for her few pence in the next town. And for the years he’d woken, sweating, wondering what was wrong with him that his father hated him. He shrugged. He’d take the one piece. It might not even be noticed for a while.

He ran his hand over the cabinet, searching for the medal in the dark. Not the platter, heavy silver. Not the vase, or the spoons, or the wine flagon. Where was it? Surely, it was still here. He sighed with relief when his hand fell on the stand that held it, pushed behind a tall vase. He ran a finger over the deeply incised marking. Yes, that was it. He tucked it into a pocket.

Every muscle in his body was tense from feeling his way in the dark. He slipped back the way he came. The sky in the east was lighter by the time he refastened the latch. He smiled and pictured his father’s fury when he discovered his loss.


Laying the Odds, co-authored with C. R. Daems, is my new fantasy adventure available at Smashwords and Amazon. It is reduced from $2.99 to 99 Cents for June only in honor of Reader Appreciation Month.

Also please check out my historical novels set in medieval Scotland. Freedom's Sword is available on Amazon and Smashwords. A Kingdom's Cost is also available on Amazon and Smashwords.