Friday, May 27, 2011

Author Interview: Cheryl Shireman

Cheryl Shireman took some time out to speak with us this week regarding her novel, Life is But a Dream. A sweet woman with a creative spirit, Cheryl told us about the inspiration for her book and the journey she took to create it.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I live on a lake in the Midwest. I am married, have three children, and one absolutely adorable granddaughter who calls me Bomb Bomb.

2. How long have you been writing?

I started writing when I was a teenager. And even before that, I loved the feel of a pen in my hands. I used to write down the words to songs (capturing the words by playing the songs over and over again or by catching them on the radio!) and poems in spiral notebooks (long before the internet made this easy). So, even before writing my own words, I fell in love with the arrangement of words – whether in song, poetry, or favorite childhood novels.

3. What is Life is But a Dream about?

It is about a woman who is going through a very tough time. Her marriage seems to be ending, her only daughter is leaving home for college, and due to her husband’s job loss, she has also just lost her home. She retreats to a secluded lake cabin to escape her misery. While there, she begins to think about the possibility of suicide. Ending her life suddenly seems much easier than living her life. The reader follows her through the journey, and ultimately, the novel is about a woman who redefines her life and displays a courage she never could have imagined. In short, it is about the search for meaning, the power of love, and the discovery of the untapped strength that is within every one of us.

4. How did you come up with the plot?

I liked the idea of a woman going to a secluded area to redefine her life. With that premise, I started thinking about the character. What would drive her there? Why is she alone? What is important to her? What is she afraid of? How did she get to this point in her life? And what is she going to do about it?

5. Tell us about Grace Adams.

Grace begins the novel very depressed. She has devoted her entire life to her husband and daughter and now feels as if she is no longer needed by either of them. Facing an empty nest and the possible demise of her marriage, she feels as if her life no longer has meaning. At the beginning of the novel, she is passive in many ways, and is so overwhelmed with grief and self-absorption that she is not thinking clearly. As the novel progresses, the reader follows Grace on her journey and watches as she struggles to find meaning and significance in her life. Grace is also quite funny. Despite the often serious nature of the novel, there are scenes that will make you laugh out loud as Grace ponders all of the possibilities life has to offer.

6. What do you feel sets your book apart from others of the same genre?

Grace is a character who is realistic and very easy to relate to. That was important to me. I wanted the reader to pick up the novel, begin reading and think, I have felt that way too. I think I have accomplished this, for, over and over again, I have been asked if this character is based on a real person. This is, of course, the ultimate compliment for any writer.

7. Did you have any specific goals when writing Life is But a Dream? Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

I wanted to explore the devastating consequences of depression, the pain of losing a job, the grief associated with losing a home, and the realities of the empty-nest syndrome. And I also wanted to include humorous situations, because I think humor is a great part of all of our lives.

8. How long did it take you to write Life is But a Dream? Did you hire any outside help such as a cover artist or editor?

It is difficult to say how long it took me to write the novel, because I worked on it off and on for ten years. There was one point where I put it away and didn’t even look at it for probably three years during that period. So, it went through many rewrites, changes in the story, and even changes in narration. Originally, it was written in third person, but I felt that I could not develop the intimacy between Grace and the reader unless I told the story through her eyes. That was a major turning point.

And no – no outside help. At least none that I hired. My husband designs websites and he designed my website and also helps me to create my covers. I am the creative side and he is the technical side. We make a good team.

9. Who has been your biggest supporter in your writing aspirations? How do they support you?

Easy answer. My husband and my children. They have never given up on me. They have always encouraged me. They have always believed in my writing ability, and without a doubt, are my biggest supporters. And they love me a lot. Which is a pretty great bonus.

10. As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter. Do you have any social network links you'd like to share?

Yes! Thank you for asking.

Website -
Facebook –
Twitter –

11. What do you feel are the most important aspects of a great book?

Great writing and realistic characters. I love novels with scenes that I must highlight or read aloud to someone. And I love characters that I think about long after I am finished with the novel.

12. Have you ever sat down to write a scene only to have the story take you in a completely different direction than you had planned?

Yes! Not only a scene, but the entire book! In Life is But a Dream I planned to introduce a minor character in one chapter. But as I wrote that chapter, I became fascinated with the character and he ended up becoming a major character and instrumental to the novel (Paul, the detective). I never saw that coming! In my latest novel, Broken Resolutions, which is about a bunch of friends who get stranded together after a New Year’s Eve snowstorm, I began the novel with a specific ending in mind. As the novel progressed, my main character seemed to develop a mind of her own and I ended up with a different ending. For me, those kinds of developments are part of the appeal of writing. Sometimes, it is as if the characters in a scene just take off and I have to type really fast just to keep up with the action – not entirely sure where they are headed. That doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it really is magical.

13. And just for fun, favorite vacation destination?

Ah…another easy answer. Colorado. Colorado. Colorado. And just in case you didn’t catch it – Colorado. I love going there in the summers and exploring the mountains. Always my favorite vacation destination.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Best of luck to you!

Incidentally, if you'd like to stop by and say hello to Cheryl or any of the authors I've been interviewing, head on over to the Readers and Writers United group on facebook! We all gather there to interact with our readers and each other. Feel free to drop by!

Life is But a Dream on
Life is But a Dream on Barnes &
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Cheryl Shireman on

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Final Fantasy VI Prologue

This is a novelized version of the introductory scenes of the video game Final Fantasy VI. I found myself wondering what the story would be like if it were in book form. So I took the opening scene and wrote it out.

I did it all over a weekend, so it's probably got lots of errors and stuff. Doesn't matter, that was never the point. I just wanted to add another dimension to the story. I think I succeeded :)

Oh, and for you purists - yes, I did change some things. For example, "We'll approach from the south" was originally "We'll approach from the east." But when you play the game, the only way in and out of Narshe (and the way the soldiers used) is from the south.

Enjoy and comment!

Long ago, the War of the Magi reduced the world to a scorched wasteland, and magic simply ceased to exist.

One thousand years have passed. Iron, gunpowder and steam engines have been rediscovered, and high technology reigns. But there are those who would enslave the world by reviving the dreaded destructive power known as "magic."

Can it be that those in power are on the verge of repeating a senseless and deadly mistake?

It started, as so many tales have, on a cold night. Snow rarely fell south of the mountains, but in Narshe, it was always winter. The cliff sides faced away from the sun's daily arc, far above the desert lands of Figaro. The constant chill served as a ward against those who might otherwise perceive Narshe to be a cozy community for retirement or raising children. People didn't come to Narshe to live. They came to work.

And work was abundant. Many recent industrial advances had come from Narshe. For a time, it seemed as though every able-bodied man was uprooting his family and marching north. Miners, in particular, were plentiful. Narshe's mines dove deep into the mountains and had provided an abundance of resources to feed the technological boom. The network of tunnels expanded every day, providing work for just about any man strong enough to swing a pickax. And with so many of them working side by side every day, it was only a matter of time before they unearthed something far more precious than any stone or jewel.

It was a discovery that immediately caught the attention of Emperor Gestahl himself.

Cold wind rushed through the valley just south of Narshe's entrance. It was the kind of cold that made faces raw and bones numb. The mountains usually kept the stronger gusts from reaching the worn path, but this wind was persistent. And it was gaining in strength. Snow fell, lightly at first before gaining in both strength and density. Soft thunder rolled between the clouds.

A storm was coming.

On a precipice just south of Narshe where the path split to form a small plateau, Vicks and Wedge took a moment to survey the area. They'd thus far seen nothing unusual during their journey, but the nature of their mission led Vicks to believe that would soon change. His dark eyes scanned the snow-covered path ahead before coming to rest on the glowing lights of Narshe on the distant mountainside. "There's the town," he said softly, gripping the control sticks of his Magitek armor.

Wedge moved beside him, the mechanical feet of his Magitek unit stomping heavy holes in the snow. "Hard to believe an Esper's been found there one thousand years after the War of the Magi."

Another set of iron feet shifted behind Vicks. He didn't want to acknowledge the presence of their third member, but he knew that sooner or later, he would have no choice. She was assigned to accompany them for a purpose, he knew. But that was all he knew. A new recruit? A spy? Were his loyalties to the Empire in question? Or was the woman really just a puppet as Kefka had claimed? Whatever the truth, the rumors about her . . . abilities . . . didn't sit well with Vicks. The less interaction he had with her, he thought, the better. Then again, perhaps ignoring her would give her the chance to catch him off-guard.

He shook his head and wiped the snow from his helmet's brim. Best not to continue with that train of thought. "Think it's still alive?" he asked, returning his attention to Narshe.

Wedge shrugged. "Probably, judging from the urgency of our orders."

But the more Vicks tried not to think about her, the more he could feel her eyes at his back, burning a hole through his skull. He had avoided the subject during the entire journey from Vector, but now that they faced their objective, the woman's purpose was likely to become clear sooner rather than later. If, by chance, Wedge knew anything about her . . . Well, it couldn't hurt to ask.

Rotating the two steel control sticks, Vicks brought his Magitek armor around to face their pale-skinned companion. "And this woman, this . . . sorceress . . . What's she doing here? I heard she fried fifty of our Magitek armored soldiers in under three minutes."

Wedge grinned, stomping big prints in the snow as he lumbered over to her side. "Not to worry," he said, pointing to the twisted metal bands circling her head. Another thing that made Vicks shudder. "The slave crown on her head robs her of conscious thought. She'll follow orders."

That wasn't an answer, Vicks noticed. If Wedge knew anything of her identity or purpose, he didn't seem eager to share. Instead, he headed past both of them and down toward the main path to Narshe. "We'll approach from the south. Move out!"

A long trail of mist streamed from Vicks' nostrils as he sighed. Regardless of his concerns, he wasn't about to disobey an order from his superior. The only thing he could do was follow and pray that what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him.

Had they traveled from the capital on foot, they'd surely have made camp on that hill. Not even the biggest fool in Vector would attempt to travel through that dark valley during a snowstorm. With visibility dramatically reduced by both the darkness and the snow, predators could be upon the party before their pistols had left their holsters. A soldier knee-deep in snow couldn't move with any amount of agility, and hidden boulders and dips in the path buried well below the snowdrifts could break ankles or even swallow an unsuspecting soldier.

But with the Magitek armor to carry them, such concerns were, quite literally, beneath them. The Empire's mechanized bi-pedal armor units were hailed as one of the best inventions to come out of the research facility in years. Armed with the latest in Magitek weaponry and plated with heavy iron for added protection, the mechs had a tremendous impact on both the role and the effectiveness of the traditional soldier. A single man could calm a riot, crush a blockade, or level and entire battalion. In addition, the units were able to carry a soldier across great distances faster and safer than ever before possible. For a man, walking along that snowy road to Narshe would've been a brutal and exhausting experience. But the mechs plowed through the snow with ease while onboard scanning units watched for predators and other dangers that might pose a threat.

"Still, even with all this technology, they still couldn't build a canopy to protect us from the elements," Vicks muttered, brushing snow from his mech's control console. "Unbelievable."

Wedge, who had taken point, looked back at him. "Why, are you cold?"

Despite the weather, Vicks was actually quite comfortable. The heavy brown uniforms they wore were well-insulated. "No," he answered, shaking his head. As he did, his eyes came to rest on the woman. She marched along beside them in silence, her eyes fixed forward as though she could already see the Esper ahead. Unlike them, she only wore a simple dress of pink that ended just above her knees. Vicks almost shivered as the wind blew through her long blond ponytail. "I bet she is, though."

Wedge looked back at her before shrugging. "Not our problem. You heard what Sir Kefka said. She'll do her job whether she's comfortable or not."

It didn't quite seem right to Vicks, but he was a mere soldier. He didn't know everything about His Excellency's plans or what kind of crimes this girl might have committed. Perhaps it was her punishment for what she'd done to the other Magitek soldiers . . . if the rumors were true.

The snow was already slowing when they reached the base of the hills where Narshe was located. By the time they arrived in town, it had stopped completely. Vicks couldn't help but feel a bit anxious. While the leaders of Narshe had yet to formally sever ties with the Empire, they had made their dissent known on numerous occasions. Emperor Gestahl's methods were not popular here, and it was likely that the people would be displeased with the idea of three Magitek soldiers entering their city to take possession of their latest archeological find. But the Empire was Narshe's biggest financial backer; an estimated eighty percent of minerals gathered from the mines were purchased by the scientists at the Magitek Research Facility. In short, if Narshe wanted to prevent the collapse of their economy, they'd have to hand over the Esper.

At the towering archway that served as Narshe's entrance, Wedge came to a stop. Vicks and the woman followed suit. "Let's put her on point," Wedge said, positioning his mech behind hers. "No sense in taking any risks. Forward!"

Without question, the woman took the lead, and Vicks and Wedge followed her into the town. The first thing Vicks noticed was the lack of activity. True, it was a good deal past dusk, but there wasn't a soul to be found on the paths, and no light shone from any window.

As if to answer his thoughts, Wedge spoke. "Lookouts must have seen our approach and told the people to take shelter."

"Fine by me," Vicks responded as they marched northward. "I had expected we'd have to argue with local security forces over this whole thing. The easier they make this for us, the better it will be for everyone involved."

In his travels around the world, Vicks had never had occasion to stop in Narshe. It was a primitive little down despite its flourishing economy. He had expected large mansions and cobblestone streets, but the brick-and-mortar homes were no more impressive than anything that could be found in South Figaro. Oil lanterns on tall iron poles lined the paths that twisted around each building, and large staircases of wood led to structures built into the higher elevations. Some of the town's layout seemed a bit haphazard, but there was little doubt that the aesthetics had been sacrificed due to the formation of the mountainside. Odd hills and cliffs and valleys had apparently forced some creative choices for construction. Though some homes were level with the ground, there were others that were build almost entirely on wooden scaffolds to compensate for uneven land. Then there were structures that seemed to be built right into the cliffsides with only a single staircase erected to provide access. How or why they managed to construct such a thing was beyond Vicks imagination.

Wedge's voice pulled Vicks away from his thoughts. "Narshe's mines are located at the northernmost part of the town. If we keep heading-"

He was interrupted as a pair of soldiers dressed in old blue robes stepped onto the path about ten paces ahead of them. They were lanky men carrying primitive weapons. No match for the mechs, but Vicks clung to hope that they might be willing to negotiate.

His hopes were dashed in an instant. "Imperial Magitek armor?" one of the soldiers yelled, hoisting his sword. "Not even Narshe is safe anymore!"

Their charge was ended just as quickly as it had begun. A deafening crackle pierced the air as a scorching beam of fiery light shot forth from the chest cannon of the woman's Magitek unit. The blast sent their bodies sailing through the air. One man came down hard on the rooftop of a house, his body rolling and sliding downward before falling to a smoldering heap on the ground below. His partner crashed down beside him, smoke rising from his charred remains. Neither man so much as twitched.

"Serves 'em right," Wedge said with a grin.

Vicks shook his head. "Let's keep moving."

The trio marched past the fallen men and continued northward. Despite the fact that he was an imperial soldier, Vicks didn't like violence. He'd joined the military to help people and preserve peace. But lately, he'd found himself questioning his purpose. Much of that had to do with the Empire's apparent motives. More and more, the word "magic" had been making the rounds amongst the troops, and Vicks didn't like it. The stories of the ancient War of the Magi should've served as warning to anyone who might decide to purse such power. If that was the Emperor's goal . . .

No, it couldn't be. His Excellency was far too wise for that. Perhaps he learned of others who sought the power and mobilized the Empire to intervene. There was another faction opposed to the Empire, an organization calling themselves the Returners, who seemed to be trying to start an uprising. Perhaps they planned to use magic to do it. That must be it. Emperor Gestahl was just trying to protect the people from the Returners, and to do so he needed to secure Narshe's Esper before the Returners could get their hands on it. That made sense.

It didn't explain the technology that powered Magitek armor, though. But there had to be a reasonable explanation for it all. The Empire was not evil. It couldn't be.

Another Narshe patrol stepped onto the path ahead. "Narshe's freedom depends on us!"

This time the woman fired before the men had even managed to take a step. A bright beam of blue shot from her mech this time, immobilizing the guards in a thick shell of ice. She pressed a few buttons on her console, and her mech raised his steel arm. Latched atop its forearm were a pair of foot-long missiles. With a pop-hiss, one ignited and flew toward the frozen men. The collision sounded like the shattering of fifty panes of glass. The remains of the men showered down upon the buildings and pathways ahead, leaving the way forward clear. Vicks couldn't even try to imagine how that must've felt.

The path shifted upward ahead, narrowing through a ravine past several more homes and into the hills. As they marched through, Wedge's ears seemed to perk. "Did you hear that?" he asked.

Vicks stopped and listened carefully. For a moment, there was nothing but the stillness of the night. Then he heard it; something that sounded like numerous feet scampering through the snow behind them. He and Wedge turned their mechs around to prepare for whatever might be headed their way.

"We've got 'em trapped, now!" a voice yelled from behind. Vicks looked back to see two more men racing toward them from the north. As he faced his console to bring his mech about, two dogs burst around the corner to the south, snarling and barking as they bounded toward the imperial soldiers.

"We'll take the dogs," Wedge shouted. "She'll handle the guards."

The last thing Vicks wanted to do was kill a couple of dogs, but they seemed to be ready to rip his throat out given the opportunity. As they galloped closer, Vicks angled his Magitek mech directly toward the one on the right. Wedge aimed for the other to the left. Simultaneously, they pushed the triggers of their left control sticks, unleashing powerful bolts of electricity into their targets. The dogs squealed and tumbled backward before resting motionless in the snow. Vicks looked back just in time to see the two guards meet a similar fate.

"C'mon," Wedge said, turning northward once again. "We need to keep moving."

They continued along at a slow but steady pace, following the ravine up a steep incline toward Narshe's northern border. A short distance beyond the final house, Vicks could see four figures standing with weapons drawn. "They won't even give us a chance to speak," he grumbled. "If they'd just talk to us, maybe we could avoid bloodshed."

"What are you worried about?" Wedge asked, almost laughing. "They can't touch us. We're Magitek soldiers!"

Vicks shook his head as snow crunched under his mech's feet. "I'm not worried about us. I'm worried about them. I don't want to have to kill people if it isn't necessary."

"But their actions make it necessary," Wedge told him. "That's not our fault. Don't blame yourself."

Vicks raised an eyebrow. "What would you think if Magitek soldiers marched into your town?"

"I'd think they must have had good reason," Wedge said flatly. "I would never question orders from His Highness."

Again, Vicks sighed and shook his head. "I suppose."

The four soldiers stood at the top of the rise, waving and shaking their weapons menacingly as though they really thought they stood a chance against the imperial troops. Vicks wanted to call to them, to offer amnesty, to beg cooperation, but he couldn't undermine Wedge's command like that. Instead, he kept his mouth closed, and eventually, he heard the rallying cry he'd hoped to avoid.

"We must defend the mines!" The guards screamed, rushing down with weapons waving above their heads. They were dispatched by a few quick blasts from the Magitek cannons.

"Fools," Vicks growled. "If they'd stayed in hiding, they'd yet live."

Wedge nodded with satisfaction. "Exactly. They chose to oppose us, and therefore chose their fate."

It wasn't quite what Vicks had meant, but it was clear that he and Wedge were of separate opinions on the matter. "Let's just get the Esper and get out of here."

Just beyond the top of the hill, the three came to one of several mine entrances. This particular opening had piles of fresh wood and tools lying on the ground beside it, suggesting that it had only been recently constructed.

Wedge must've noticed it, too. "According to our source, the frozen Esper was found in a new mine shaft. Maybe this one?" He guided his Magitek armor inside without waiting for a response. Vicks and the woman followed close behind.

The tunnel itself was relatively short. Oil lamps lined the walls, providing the only source of light in the dim shaft. Half-finished train tracks ran along the center of the dirt floor, leading right up to the far wall where they disappeared under a pile of rocks and dirt. Vicks' first thought was that there had been a cave-in, but upon closer inspection, he began to think otherwise. A cave in would've left more structural damage, and debris would be littered about the floor. This looked more light a neatly organized pile of rocks and boulders purposely designed to block the path. Only one way to find out...

"I'll handle this," Vicks said, positioning his Magitek armor as close to the pile of debris as he could manage. He tapped a few buttons on his console and pulled back on the right control stick. The mech raised its heavy arm and pulled back, mechanical fingers clenched. Vicks pushed the stick forward, and the Magitek unit mimicked the action, thrusting its fist forward with immense force. The punch blew a gaping hole in the rubble and sent rocks and debris scattering across the floor. Again, Vicks wound up and delivered a stiff blow, shattering through the largest boulder in the center of the pile. Over and over, he pounded his way through the wall of rock until there was a wide opening through which the mechs could pass.

"I would've just blasted through," Wedge said, crossing his arms.

"I didn't want to risk damaging whatever is on the other side," Vicks responded. "Unless you'd like to be the one to tell Emperor Gestahl that you incinerated the Esper."

"Nonsense," Wedge said, pointing toward the silent woman. "I'd blame her. That's what she's here for."

Vicks rolled his eyes and headed through the opening. What he saw on the other side nearly took his breath away.

It was a wide open cavern unlike the typical mine shaft. The train tracks stopped midway into the room. Just beyond that, a single guard beside what looked like an oversized snail's shell. But that wasn't what had caught his attention. Against the far wall, standing nearly twice again as tall as Vicks himself, was a giant block of ice. And inside, a giant creature resembling some kind of bird with green and red feathers lay dormant, encased in its frozen prison for over a millennium.

They had found the Esper.

"By the Goddesses!" Wedge exclaimed as he entered behind Vicks. "Look at the size of it! We'll never be able to get that thing back to Vector ourselves!"

"You won't have to worry about that!" the guard shouted, patting the giant shell. It was nearly the size of the Magitek unit. "We won't hand over the Esper! Whelk! Get them!"

A low growl came from the shell, a resonating vibration that shook Vicks to the core. From the opening near the floor slithered a giant snail, its neck oozing with an unidentifiable slime. Teeth like giant needles lined its oversized mouth, and its beady eyes twisted about, presumably surveying the room for food. As soon as it saw the guard standing beside it, the head shot forward, mouth open further than Vicks would've thought physically possible. It came down over the soldier's head with a crunch, silencing his screams as it lifted his body into the air. The beast ate like a snake, swallowing the little man in two more bites.

"OK, try to stay out of its reach," Wedge said while it struggled to get the guard down its gullet. "Its head may be fast, but it's still a snail. Its maneuverability is its weakness. We'll-"

But Vicks already knew what to do. "Hold it. Think back to our briefing."

Wedge was obviously getting impatient. "What about it?!"

"Do you remember hearing about a monster that eats energy . . . "

Wedge's eyes widened. " . . . and stores it in its shell!"

"Right," Vicks nodded. "So whatever you do, don't attack the shell!"

Whelk growled angrily, its beady eyes shifting between the two of them. Vicks and Wedge moved to either corner of the room while the sorceress woman stood between them.

"Ready?" Wedge called out. "Fire!!"

Vicks unleashed a powerful blast of fiery light, hitting the monster right between the eyes. At the same time, Wedge let loose a blast of ice energy which formed a frozen patch on the left side of the beast's head. Their female companion followed that with a missile that exploded into Whelk's neck, leaving charred burns across its disgusting pink flesh. The creature let out a piercing roar as it writhed in pain.

"Again! We can't let up!" Vicks shouted, firing again. But this time, Whelk withdrew into its shell, and the fiery blast crashed into the pink shell.

"No!" Wedge yelled, but it was too late. A thick band of electricity rolled across the shell before it shot toward Vicks, throwing him from his mech. His body slammed into the wall before crashing to the floor.

Everything hurt. A dull ache rolled through his arms, his legs felt like jelly, and his chest smoldered where the blast had found its mark. As he struggled onto all fours, he was startled to see the their female companion standing over him. She didn't say a word. She just clasped her hands together and lowered her head. White light surrounded her body and raised up, seemingly hovering above her before coming down on Vicks like a soothing blanket. Within seconds, the pain left him, his wounds closed, and strength flowed anew. It was like something out of a storybook, something he wouldn't have believed if it hadn't happened to him. The rumors about her had to be true. That was magic!

From the other side of the room, Wedge was screaming. "Can I get a little help over here!?"

The monster was back out of his shell and angrier than ever. Vicks jumped to his feet and climbed back into this mech while the woman returned to hers. Wedge was backed into the corner with Whelk's teeth snapping just inches from his face.

"Hold on!" Vicks called, shifting his mech into position. With a silent prayer, he fired a crimson blast into the side of the creature's long neck. The beam cut through flesh with ease, severing Whelk's head from the rest of its body. It hit the ground with a disgusting splat.

And then it was over.

"Took you long enough!" Wedge grumbled, stomping over the remains of the creature's head.

"Did you see what she did?" Vicks asked him. "She healed me! She used magic!"

"That's not surprising," Wedge responded. "She does-" He cut himself off. "Hey, what's she doing?"

The woman was standing in front of the Esper in silence. She stared at the ancient creature intently, eyes as wide and glistening.

Vicks and Wedge shifted to either side of her. "Hey, what's the matter?" Wedge asked her. "Do you know something we don't?"

Of course, she didn't respond. Vicks looked back at the Esper. The ice glistened in the flickering light of the lanterns. Somehow, though he couldn't explain quite why, he got the feeling that it was studying them just as much as they were studying it.

Without warning, a blinding light filled the cabin, accompanied by a horrific scream from Wedge. When his vision cleared, Vicks was surprised to see Wedge in a crumpled heap on the far side of the room, his mech blown to pieces around him. "Wedge! Are you-"

Another blinding flash of light, and this time Vicks felt like every bone in his body had been shattered to pieces. He sailed from his mech as it exploded beneath him, sending mangled iron and gears across the room like shrapnel. The pain that radiated through him when he hit the ground was indescribable.

When he looked up, everything was blurred. Vainly, he tried to crawl to his feet, only to find his body unwilling to respond. The world spun, glowed, faded. He could see the woman, rising from her Magitek armor, surrounded by a brilliant blue light. The light formed repeated arcs between her and the Esper as consciousness began to slip away. Did Gestahl know this would happen? Did Kefka? What was it all for?

Darkness swallowed everything.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Book Tour - The Hylander Diner

Greetings fellow readers and writers!

Just dropping by to let you know that I've been featured at The Hylander Diner for this weeks book tour! Thanks to Mary Pat for making room just for me! :)

For those that might not know, The Hylander Diner is a site that showcases up-and-coming talent from the world of indie ebooks. Lots of great authors have been highlighted in the past, and there is plenty more yet to come. So bookmark the site and check it out daily, because there is always great new content being posted!

The Hylander Diner Book Tour: Kevin Domenic

God bless,

Friday, May 20, 2011

Author Interview: Ty Hutchinson

This weeks interview is with Ty Hutchinson, author of Chop Suey. It is interesting how Mr. Hutchinson works his own professional experiences into the story of Darby Stansfield. Check it out!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m originally from Hawaii, so I don’t have a problem tanning. I’m a married and currently live in San Francisco. I enjoy traveling, eating, playing video games and city life in general.

2. How long have you been writing?

I didn’t start writing novels until a year and a half ago. Up until now, most of the writing I’ve done has been as a copywriter at various ad agencies. I’ve been doing this for over ten years. I’ve written everything from television commercials to magazine ads to radio to billboards to websites and banners. In advertising, almost all the writing is for very short formats. We’re constantly looking for ways to extend what we’re doing. Why stop at a :30 script when we can do a :60 or a 3:00 minute web film. One day the idea to write a book popped into my head. Never in a million years did I think I would like writing long format like without the tools I’ve become so use to over the years––visuals.

3. What is Chop Suey about?

It’s about a salesman trying to save his job at large telecom company. Through these efforts, he discovers a way to secure his job and develop a side consultancy that has the promise of mass amounts of cashola. Only it sort of, could be illegal, because it relies on him doing business with criminal organizations.

4. How did you come up with the plot?

One of my clients we did advertising for was a wireless phone company. So I always paid attention to the happenings in the wireless industry. It seemed like everyday a new phone was released or a new wireless business solution was being touted for companies. I got to thinking that if you were a salesman and had to sell wireless product to companies who either had what they needed or were already doing business with a wireless company, what would you do? There would be nothing left to go after except small fish. How would you survive? I can point out a lot of opportunities in my life where it seem like if I could have gotten involved earlier, I would be riding the tidal wave. Well what if it was about someone who got in earlier but not only that, they actually created the market.

5. Tell us about Darby Stansfield.

Darby is an idea guy. He’s constantly kicking them out and not a single one is good. He means well, but his ideas often screw things up. He is positive, even when you spot the disaster he’s about to walk into. Nothing seems to go his way and if it does, it certainly doesn’t last. That is until now. Darby comes up with the best idea he’s ever had, and it’s actually working.

6. What do you feel sets your book apart from others of the same genre?

I think it’s the plot. It’s not typical for your thriller or crime novel even though there is plenty of that in the story. There’s also mystery and suspense. Also I feel like the voice in the story is very likeable. It fluctuates with the story. It’s playful and fun when the story is, and it can get serious when the story needs it to be.

7. Did you have any specific goals when writing Chop Suey? Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

Nope. My goal was to see if I could write a book. As I got close to finishing, that goal changed to publishing. Outside of that, no themes, no hidden agenda’s, no thought provoking insights. Just an entertaining book.

8. How long did it take you to write Chop Suey? Did you hire any outside help such as a cover artist or editor?

I finished the draft fairly fast––three months. My editing and polishing took forever––about a year. Mostly because I had to figure it out as I went. Also, I didn’t keep a strict writing schedule. Once I had a schedule in place, things began to move. I could see the book shaping up right before my eyes. That was very exciting. The production part took another five months. Between beta readers, a copy editor, formatting, double-checking, revising and creating cover art. It took me five months. I underestimated how long each part of production would take. Live and learn. I hired formatters, a copy editor and a cover artist.

9. Who has been your biggest supporter in your writing aspirations? How do they support you?

That would be my wife. She’s had to listen to me talk about this book and writing in general for a year and half. That’s a lot of to ask of someone. I could tell I was driving her crazy. One day she found a group of writers I could join and that helped a lot––finally others to talk writing with for hours. If it were not for the group, I’m sure she would have slit my neck by now.

10. As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter. Do you have any social network links you'd like to share?


11. What do you feel are the most important aspects of a great book?

For fiction it has to be entertaining. For non-fiction it needs to be interesting yet relevant.

12. Have you ever sat down to write a scene only to have the story take you in a completely different direction than you had planned?

All the time. That’s the fun part. It can be whatever I want it to be.

13. And just for fun, favorite vacation destination?


Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your work with us!

Chop Suey at
Chop Suey at
Chop Suey at
Chop Suey at Goodreads

Friday, May 13, 2011

Author Interview: Jack Wallen

Actor turned author Jack Wallen recently stopped by to discuss his book, I Zombie I. With plenty of experience in the field of storytelling, Mr. Wallen's book gives readers a glimpse of what goes on behind the seemingly vacant eyes of the undead.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I have many secrets. Most of them locked up so tightly I don't even know them. Some of those secrets come out in my books. I always try to reveal a bit about myself in every book. After all, the one thing I know the most about is least I like to tell myself that.

One thing that is not a secret is my previous career. For twenty years I was a professional actor. I did Broadway, national tours, Shakespeare festivals, children's theater -- you name it. But somewhere around 2005 I realized the economy was going to put a serious hurt on theater and I decided to retire while I could still look back lovingly and not be one of "those actors" that struggled to remain a part of something important. When I retired I knew I had to have some way to feed my creative soul, else I wither away and die. That something became fiction. I had written stage plays and plenty of other pieces, and I had started writing fiction along the way, but nothing serious. It wasn't until I realized I had so many stories inside of me to tell that I knew I could do this.

When I finished my first book, I sat back, smiled, and realized what the rest of my life was going to be like.

2. How long have you been writing?

I've actually been writing professionally since about 1999. I am also a technical writer, writing about Linux and open source (and other technologies). I finished my first book, A Blade Away, at band camp after a saucy night with that one girl from Buffy.

3. What is I Zombie I about?

I like to call "I Zombie I" the thinking man's zombie book. It's sort of "I Am Legend" for zombies. The gist of the plot is a journalist becomes infected and decides to chronicle his downward spiral into the zombie abyss. Along the way he hooks up with a small group of survivors, one of which holds a very deep and deadly secret.

The book description reads a little something like this:

"The virus has spread."

In a moment of pure chaos, the majority of the Earth's population has become the walking dead. One man promises to help bring the truth to light.

"The lies have spread."

When journalist Jacob Plummer is infected, Jacob turns to the written word to not only ease the pain of change, but to bring to surface a truth far deeper and deadlier than anyone could have imagined.

"The truth must now be spread."

With the help of a rag-tag group of survivors, Jacob helps to fight off the growing undead horde in hopes of saving himself and the planet from the rot growing within.

4. How did you come up with the plot?

I knew I wanted to write a book about zombies, but I didn't just want to write they typical "survival guide to the apocalypse". I wanted to write the book from a fresh perspective. One night I asked myself the question "I wonder what it would feel like to be transformed into a zombie?" That's where the idea came from. The book made some very large changes along the way though. At first I wanted to write the entire book in first person present tense. That didn't work out so well. It's hard to write and defend yourself from zombies at the same time.

5. Tell us about Jacob Plummer.

Jacob Plummer is the main character in I Zombie I. But not just a journalist - he's the real deal. Other media types look up to him as if he can do no wrong. After the death of his first wife (it was a rather brutal death) he plunged, head first, into his work. His work was his spouse, only friend, and therapist. He really considered himself a coward, which makes his journey in "I Zombie I" all the more important. In the end, he is in love and a hero. But does he make it to the sequel "My Zombie My?" You'll have to read to find out! Muhahaha!

6. What do you feel sets your book apart from others of the same genre?

The very idea that the protagonist is documenting his change from man to zombie sets it apart. There are moments where Jacob describes what he's feeling and he finally discovers what it is that drives the undead to dining on the brains of the living.

And although the subject matter and situations are quite serious, I added humor within the text. I know so many people who react to tragedy or tragic circumstances with humor. Its a coping mechanism.

7. Did you have any specific goals when writing I Zombie I? Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

Heroes can be found in the most unlikely places. That was one of my main goals. Also that survival of life-threatening circumstances can only, truly happen when you have something to live, love, truth.

8. How long did it take you to write I Zombie I? Did you hire any outside help such as a cover artist or editor?

It took me about nine months to write the first draft. I also did the cover and the promo videos. But I do hire an outside editor. I would be lost among a sea of ..., --, ,, ', and () without my editor. And beyond punctuation, she really does call me to the carpet on my stories. She's been really instrumental in getting my books polished.

9. Who has been your biggest supporter in your writing aspirations? How do they support you?

Maybe my black cat? He's always wanting to sit on my manuscripts as I do rewrites. I know he's trying to tell me "This is good!"

My step children have been incredibly supportive. I have a YA book I will be writing soon and my sixteen year old practically begs me to start writing it (she knows the story behind the book and can't wait to read it). I think they really like to brag to their friends that I am a published author.

10. As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter. Do you have any social network links you'd like to share?

twitter: jlwallen

facebook: jlwallen

11. What do you feel are the most important aspects of a great book?

Taking a reader on a journey that they will not only enjoy, but that will make them think or rethink the way they look at something. In my book A Blade Away, I really wanted the reader to re-evaluate the way they look and think at particular sections of society. Books are really gateways into our hearts and minds and have the power to open the floodgates.

12. Have you ever sat down to write a scene only to have the story take you in a completely different direction than you had planned?

Every time. The "I Zombie" trilogy has been written entirely without an outline because I wanted it to have an undertow of chaos and "what's happening next". Every scene I wrote for those books was like "Whoa! I didn't expect that to happen!" It was great fun.

13. And just for fun, favorite movie or television series?

Favorite TV series at the moment is a tie between Bones and Big Bang Theory. Favorite movie of all time...that's a tough one. I want to say "The Nightmare Before Christmas", but I might also be inclined to say "The Black Swan" or "The Exorcist".

Now, had you asked me favorite band - there is only one true answer for that one. Rush!

Thank you so much for your time! Best of luck to you in the future!

I Zombie I at
I Zombie I at Barnes & Noble
I Zombie I at Smashwords
I Zombie I at the Reader Store

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Gamer's Wish

Not everything here has to be about writing or my books, so I'm going to take a minute to voice some never-to-be-heard-by-the-right-people wishes for the gaming industry. If you're not into video games, you may as well stop reading. The rest of this entry is going to be utter nonsense to you. I've got my geek hat on tonight.

I've been a gamer since the mid-eighties. You know, the era when Saturday morning cartoons were awesome. I love the classics, so it has brought me great joy to watch multiple game companies taking various classics and returning them to their roots.

Take New Super Mario Bros Wii, for example. I was THRILLED when that was released. Although they upgraded the graphics to fit today's technology, they returned Mario to his roots: Side-scrolling jumps, kicks, stars, and flagpoles. I begged for someone to pick it up for me that Christmas, and I was so happy when I received it.

Capcom released Street Fighter IV. The game is a graphics powerhouse, but the fighting engine is entirely 2D, keeping the series' ever-awesome gameplay intact when most of us expected Capcom and Street Fighter to go the way of Tekken or Street Fighter EX (ugh, that game was painful).

Then, more recently, Nintendo released Donkey Kong Country Returns. Same thing here. They took the classic Donkey Kong Country gameplay and revamped it with updated graphics and far more creative and interactive levels. The focus here was timing, precision, and practice practice practice. These were the kinds of games we went back to over and over and over and over as kids just trying to beat that one insanely hard level.

Sega just released an updated version of Sonic. Again, old school gameplay meets new school graphics. At the same time, tons of game makers are releasing side-scrolling games of varying style on Xbox Live Arcade. I love the concept. I love that the gaming industry is embracing this idea. I hope it shows game makers that a game doesn't have to be in a 3D realm for it to be exciting, entertaining, or original.

That having been said, I'm begging and pleading: Nintendo, please please PLEASE make a console version of a brand-new overhead-view Zelda game! The 3D games have been pretty good, but truth be told, none of them have had that "Legend of Zelda Adventure" feel that the original Zelda captured and Link to the Past perfected. Bring it back, please! I'd buy that in an instant!

Oh, and Square Enix, you've made enough remakes of Final Fantasy IV. That was an awesome game; I'm not denying that. It's actually the game that got me into the series. But you've waited long enough. The time has come to completely remake and re-release Final Fantasy VI. No, not VII - that's for the Sony fanboys. I'm talking about the SNES Final Fantasy III, or VI in Japan. To this day, that game ranks as the best game of all time on my favorites list. It is the game that inspired me to start writing my own stories. It's the game that taught me that every character, no matter how insignificant they may seem, must have a back story that the player/reader can relate to. It's the game that opened the floodgates of my creative side, and without Final Fantasy III, The Fourth Dimension would probably not exist.

Remake it. Update the graphics, rerecord the music, and release it on console. I'd pay far more than the average game price for it.

What about you gamers out there? Any games you'd like to see remade in the classic old-school style? Metal Gear? Contra? Michael Jackson's Moonwalker?

Put on your geek hats and sound off in the comments below!!

God bless,

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Author Interview: Melissa Smith

Melissa Smith, author of Cloud Nine, recently stopped by and chatted with me about herself and her book. Here's the transcript of our interview!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am the mother of two teenaged boys. I have been married to my best friend for the past 14 years and he's still just as goofy and wonderful as when we were in high school. Yup, I've known him since the 7th grade! Only now he's not quite so gross. Oh wait, I take that back. Yes he is but I love him anyway. ;-)

2. How long have you been writing?

I've been writing since I was in school, but only recently did I actually finish a full length book. (Oh wait; I've finished two full length books!)

3. What is Cloud Nine about?

Guardian angels are real. Only where everybody believes that everyone already has one, that's not true. You have to be chosen as needing assistance to get a Guardian. And even then the arrangement is only temporary. Sterling Warde is a Guardian. And while with a Charge he crosses paths with Claire. Instantly he feels a pull towards her and wants to find out why.

4. How did you come up with the plot?

Well when I was younger I used to day dream about having my very own genie. Only my genie was different. It looked like a cloud and wasn’t constrained to the 3 wish policy. I could ask for anything and I would get everything. Then one night I had a dream about this genie and woke up thinking that this would make a great children’s book. Well, it took on a life of its own and voila! Paranormal romance.

5. Tell us about Claire Grayson.

Claire is your typical teenaged girl. She goes to school. Hangs out with her friends, and on occasion has a boyfriend. Her parents both work so she has a lot of free time to herself. As an only child she just wishes that her parents were home a little more often.

She works hard and gets good grades and will graduate very soon.

6. What do you feel sets your book apart from others of the same genre?

Well in other paranormal romances,(which I enjoy reading) the two main characters have to prove to themselves why they can be together. They want each other but think that they are wrong for them, or they want them but they’re an enemy and being with this person who makes them feel alive will alienate them from their friends. Throughout the whole of these stories the couple fight their feelings for one another while trying to convince their friends why they should get to have a relationship with this person they’ve fallen in love with. In Cloud Nine, Claire and Sterling want to be together so they are. They only have to deal with their ex’s. And where a typical romance has a love triangle, Cloud Nine is a love diamond. Claire and Sterling each have an ex that want them back and are willing to do almost anything to win them over.

7. Did you have any specific goals when writing Cloud Nine? Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

Only that I hoped to weave a story that the reader falls in love with. A story that the reader wants to revisit time and time again. I want the reader to fall in love with the characters as I have.

8. Describe your ideal protagonist. What traits do he or she embody?

I want a character that feels real. Not to overly strong that their opposite has to work so hard to break down, but someone strong enough to handle what comes at them. I want someone who can show emotion and not be afraid of it, or see it as a weakness. If I can create someone like this, then I’m happy.

9. Can you tell me about the first thing you ever wrote? Was it a short story? Book? Magazine article?

The first thing I ever wrote that was of any length at all was in the 5th grade. We were given the assignment of creating a new myth. I chose wind and when I was done it was seven pages long (front and back) and hand written. I got a B for it and I believe I still have that story. I think.

10. As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter. Do you have any social network links you'd like to share?

I can be found on Facebook at

twitter @Melissa__Smith_

my blog:

or my website

11. What do you feel are the most important aspects of a great book?

If it draws you back again and again then it’s a great book. If you want to buy it for your own personal library then it’s a great book.

12. Were there any other authors in particular that inspired you to pen your own novel?

I’ve read several great authors and I have to choose one? But two of my favorite authors are Lynn Kurland and Brent Weeks. I seriously could go on with this list but I’ll keep it short.

13. And just for fun, favorite movie or television series?

I really don’t watch TV. I read. But I loved Monk when it was on. I also like to watch Psych and Mythbusters. My all-time favorite movie is Ever After. Best version of Cinderella there is.

Thank you very much for spending time with me today! Best of luck to you in the future!

Cloud Nine at

Cloud Nine at
Cloud Nine at Barnes & Noble
Cloud Nine at Goodreads

Record Breaking Month and $0.99

Had a record breaking sales month in April! Hundreds of readers downloaded Key to the Stars, Alliance of Serpents, and Eye of the Tornado. On top of that, there were a good number of downloads for Retail Ramblings. That kind of surprised me because I haven't promoted it quite as much.

So, from the depths of my heart, thank you so much for your interest in The Fourth Dimension! I hope you'll continue to enjoy the series as new volumes are released going forward. My only request is that you leave your reviews of each book on respective websites from which they were purchased. For those of us in the indie writing universe, your reviews help us greatly in trying to reach more readers.

A good deal of last months success comes from my $0.99 price point. There's been a bit of debate regarding ebook pricing, so I figured I'd weigh in with my opinion. Please understand, this is my opinion.

First and foremost, an indie writer has the right to price his or her work at whatever amount they deem fit so long as it is within the limits of the distributor's guidelines. I say that because I noted someone recently stating that we should have more respect for all the hard work, long nights, and countless hours that went into our projects by charging more than $0.99 for the finished product. And for that person, that might be true.

What is overlooked here is the goal of the writer. Right now, my goal is to attract readers. I just want people to enjoy my books. I want to get my name out there. I want to get readers' opinions, feedback, comments, and suggestons. I'll worry about money later. The ebook market blesses us with such precise control over our works; we can change the price whenever we want. And I do eventually hope to be able to make a living from my writing. It's unlikely that I'll be able to do that at a $0.99 price point. But for now, I'm not focused on income. I'm focused on spreading the word and sharing my books.

Other people may have different motives. I've heard some readers say that they usually pass right over $0.99 books because they don't expect them to be well-written works of quality literature. I can understand that point; given the choice between Energizer or Shop-n-Save batteries, I'll go for the Energizer even though it's more expensive. Our society has trained us to automatically feel as though a higher price means a better product. So I can see that perspective.

But I've done a lot of price shifting of my books. They've been $0.99, $2.99, $4.99, and $9.99. $2.99 saw some sales. $4.99 and $9.99 saw next to nothing. $0.99 has brought me my best month of sales ten times over.

So I'll be sticking with $0.99 for now.

My fellow authors may agree. They may disagree. It doesn't matter. Each of them needs to do what they feel meets their needs the best; that's why it's so great that we have the flexibility of pricing that we do.

That's just how I see it, anyway.

God bless,