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Guest Post: Character Spotlight

Today’s blog is a guest post by Doug Solter, the author of Skid (which is free here) and the just released Skid 2: Rivals as part of his new release blog tour. So here’s a spotlight with a twist on his main character, Samantha Sutton.

Excerpt from the magazine article A Girl and Her Race Car by Emma Hobbs, assistant editor, Look Smashing Magazine.

The Berlin traffic rolled along the Friedrichstrasse, past a small cafe named the Little Elephant. The early afternoon sun casted a shadow across my wood table, courtesy of the large awning in front of the cafe itself. A gentle breeze played with the leafs of the flowers that add color to my table as a place setting.

I’m here to meet Samantha Sutton, a young woman of only eighteen years who races cars in that macho-infused sport known as Formula One, a glamorous world of men and their expensive toys traveling the world to race cars in between the party-like atmosphere of the international jet-set. The sport draws royalty, the ultra-rich, and Hollywood celebrities like moths to bright light. But inside this testosterone-laced world Samantha Sutton is quite unique. No, it’s not the obvious fact that she’s the only girl racing in Formula One. It’s the surprising fact that she’s beating all the boys in Formula One. With six race wins on her record, all within her rookie year, Samantha Sutton proved that not only can woman compete equally in the sport. They can win.

Samantha arrived late to our appointment wearing a short white skirt and matching shirt which listed all the racing team’s sponsors. Her short dark hair appeared slightly damp, as if still drying from a quick trip to the shower.

“Jeez. I’m so sorry. My other thing ran late and I was rushing to get ready for this. Huge apologies, Emma, seriously.” Samantha glanced over to her assistant, a girl who appeared just as young as her. “Do you want anything?”

Samantha ordered two coffees and a piece of cake in German, flavored with a slight Bavarian accent. We talked while waiting for their coffee. Samantha remarked about how busy her life has become since her first season in Formula One.

“Last season everyone ignored me until half-way through when I began winning races. Now it’s like, non-stop. It’s completely crazy with all the parties, fan events, sponsor events, racing the car, my love life—” The girl stopped herself abruptly. What about her love life? It caused me to wonder if a teen girl who is forced to grow up so fast can find time for boys.

Maybe not.

When Samantha received her coffee, we began the official interview.

“Why auto racing?” I asked. “What excites you about the sport, Samantha?

“It’s the rush of adrenaline I get from being on the circuit. Making the car dance around the turns and do what I want. It’s like standing on a mountain cliff and holding your foot over the drop, knowing that you could die if you took that last step. But for some reason, you know that you can hold it there on that edge and somehow not fall.”

“Is it safe to say you love taking risks?”

“Not on purpose,” she said. “Not if it means someone else might get hurt. But I can be impulsive sometimes and that’s where I get into trouble.”

“The pressure to win and be successful must be enormous,” I said. “How do you cope?”

“I eat tons of chocolate ice cream,” she grinned. “Just kidding. Um—I try to push all the negative thoughts away and focus on what I can do in the race car. Everything else I don’t have control over and I have to keep telling myself that. But I’d be lying if I said there were days the pressure didn’t get to me.” Samantha hesitated and took a sip of her coffee. Her thoughts lingered on the last portion of her answer.

“Does your family travel with you during the season?” I asked.

“Well, my sister Paige is here this season.” Samantha referenced her assistant. “But the rest of my family are still in Oklahoma. They have their own lives.”

I swirled what was left of my cup of tea and drank, the strong, tangy flavor a reminder of the girl sitting across the table. Even in this relaxed atmosphere there was a burning determination in her eyes. A fire or relentless energy percolated behind them. “Tell me about your normal day,” I said. “What’s your normal routine on a race day, for instance?”

Samantha swallowed her coffee and thought about it. “I get up early in the morning and do some light exercise, most of the time running on a treadmill. I eat a light breakfast and then I paint my nails.” She balks at my reaction. “One of my racing day rituals is painting my nails the color of my race car.”

“A good luck charm?” I asked.

“Exactly. So far it’s worked. I then go to the circuit and have a car briefing with my crew and we go over our strategy for the race. After that I will do a few interviews with the press. Before the race itself I’ll have a protein-rich lunch. Lot of carbs like pasta and roasted chicken. Plus I drink gallons and gallons of water all morning so my body is well hydrated. Also we do a driver’s parade around the track, waving at all the fans around the circuit. Eventually I climb into the race car and put myself into the zone and focus on the race.”

“Samantha, when did you first know that this is what you wanted to do with your life?”

“My dad got me started racing karts when I was ten. He already loved racing and I think he was disappointed that he had three daughters. Not to say that my dad didn’t absolutely love us, because he always did. But growing up, none of us were particularity interested in racing.” Samantha’s face brightened, as if reliving that moment in her life again. “Then one day my dad was watching one of his favorite racing movies called, Grand Prix. That day I was so bored I jumped on the couch and watched it with him. Something about that movie attracted me to racing and from then on, I would spend more and more time with dad in his make-shift garage he had in the barn.”

Samantha hesitated again, her eyes danced a bit in her head, as if the memories of her father were flashing vividly through the girl’s head. “Dad built me a racing kart and encouraged me to try it. I was extremely shy back then and I didn’t have any confidence in myself at all. But when I drove that kart, I felt alive and free. And I picked up on racing fast. Dad taught me how to drive and eventually he entered me in races. And I started to win a lot of them. Seriously, the boys would hate it when I showed up at the track. They didn’t want to race against me. I loved it. I knew that I wanted to do this forever because I loved how racing made me feel. I didn’t feel like that shy girl no one would pay attention to. Behind the wheel of a race car, I was someone special. People couldn’t ignore me. Plus I could feel good about myself.” She glanced up. “Am I rambling too much? I have a tendency to do that when I’m nervous.”

I asked Samantha a few more questions about her father. Samantha fidgeted in her chair and acted uncomfortable around the subject which I found odd since she talked about her father so fondly before. There was something about him she was hiding and I didn’t quite know what it was.

A young man walked off the street and into the Little Elephant cafe. Samantha’s sister Paige greeted the boy warmly and sat with him at the table adjacent to us. He wore his blond hair long and had a handsomely meek way about him. The young man smiled at Samantha.

The girl I was interviewing brightened like a fire doused with petrol. Her body language changed immediately. She gave the boy a wave and couldn’t take her eyes off of him. When I asked Samantha a question about dealing with her fans, she gave me a less than satisfactory answer. So I decided to confront the disturbance to our interview.

I held out my hand to the young man. “Emma Hobbs. Look Smashing Magazine. What is your name?”

The boy shakes my hand. “Manfred. Pleasure to meet you.”

A hunch entered my mind and I decided to follow it. “Please excuse my forwardness, but are you Samantha’s boyfriend by chance?”

Manny blushed like a rose and became unable to answer me with words.

Samantha emulated her bashful friend. The girl flashed a smile reserved for close friends sharing an inside joke or thought. “Well? Are you my boyfriend?”

Manfred smiled. “I don’t know. Are you my girlfriend?”

The girl and the boy stared at each other. Obviously having a conversation in their own silent language that no one else was invited to join.
Paige, the third wheel in this relationship, rolled her eyes. “Oh my God. Stop being such dorks. This reporter isn’t stupid. Yes, of course they’re together. Can’t you see my sister panting like a dog when he’s around?”

Samantha leaned over and whacked her sister across the arm. No doubt a leftover response from when they were children. “I don’t pant like a dog.” Samantha sat up in her chair and went back into professional mode. “I’m sorry, Emma. Let’s get back to the interview. Manfred—let’s say that he’s an important part of my racing life.” She flicked her eyes toward the young man. “I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for him.”

I tried digging deeper into that statement. But Samantha refused to reveal anything more.

As I concluded our interview with a few questions about how she saw her future, Samantha relaxed as she sensed the end of our interview was soon at hand. She’s a pleasant young lady, but giving interviews to reporters wasn’t on her list of favorite activities to do on a warm Saturday afternoon in Berlin. I couldn’t blame her. I was eighteen once. Even though the race car driver who faced me treated our interview like a professional, the girl underneath the helmet and racing suit still wanted to be with her boy. Still wanted a taste of being young and in love on the warm streets of Berlin. She still longed to be a normal teenager.

But the one question I didn’t get answered was… after all she’s been through, could the racing star Samantha Sutton ever be a normal girl again?

If you enjoyed reading about Samantha and want to know more about the books and author, you can find Skid free at all sorts of ebook stores, including amazon.com and .co.uk and you can check Doug out on facebook and twitter or his own website.

And finally there’s a lovely rafflecopter giveaway for all sort sof goodies below

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Lucy: A Review

This film was one of those I’d not even heard of until the trailor came up before Guardians of the Galaxy at the cinema. It looked interesting so when I had a spare evening and noticed it was on I went to see it.

I already knew that the original premise of the brain only using 10% of its capacity was a little wide of the truth but I can hardly fault them when I use the same logic behind the science in my own Sherdan series, so ignoring the dodgy science, the film has a really interesting concept. The rest of the science I can’t directly speak for. It seemed legit but it was out of my field of study so might have been and equally might not have been. I imagine it was probably a little of both.

From the trailor I expected a kick-ass action movie where a girl gets revenge on the people who experimented on her. Admittedly the trailor was miss-leading in the whole why she had this happen to her sort of thing. It wasn’t an experiment, it was an accident. It also wasn’t quite as kick-ass as I was expecting. There was plenty of action, but it wasn’t the sole focus of the film.

On top of the action there were some gorgeous scenes like the picture on the right. Thanks to the extra brain capacity Lucy could see things others couldn’t and the makers of the film took the opportunity to do some gorgeous things with the cgi to show us what it might be like. Although I don’t normally like cgi for the sake of cgi, I have to admit I found it stunning. Somehow the makers of this film managed to combine action with breathtaking beauty and make it fit together. There was a very unexpected harmony between the two.

This only grew towards the end of the film and there was a gorgeous scene right near the end that must have been several minutes long and had no dialogue, very little action, yet was mesmirising. I won’t spoil the ending with too much detail, but it was cool and brilliant storytelling.

The acting was also pretty amazing. Let’s face  it, Morgan Freeman, can pretty much do no wrong. he’s the master of subtelty and perfectly delivered lines. Several of the interactions between his charater and Lucy had me chuckling out loud.

Scarlet Johansson managed the transformation from not quite all there blonde to overwhelmingly intelligent super-human incredibly well. Also managing the subtle expressions that gave tiny suggestions of personality away but not all at once.

All in all, I found I was pleasantly surprised. The violence was ever so slightly gratuitus but no more than I expected and everything else that I hadn’t expected was an added bonus. A very awesome, under marketed film.

Branching Plot Novels: How-to

Otherwise known as a Choose Your Own Adventure, although that title for them is trademarked so sometimes they’re also known as a Decide Your Own Adventure, but they’re all forms of Branching Plot Story.

As most of you are aware, I’ve been writing my very own Branching plot novel and blogging it (see all the Angel of the Sands episodes if not) and I have been putting together the parts not chosen in the background as we’ve gone along. It’s not the first time I’ve written a story like this and allowed readers to decide what they’d like to happen next, but it is the first time I’ve tried to put together all the different possibilities into one file to potentially publish.

When I looked into how to go about making a branching plot novel I didn’t find that much information. I found quite a few blogs and websites that talked about the flow of the different branches and how they’ve evolved in the book that were published through the years, but little that went through how to design one from scratch, so I thought I’d blog about how I did it.

Left and up a little is a snapshot of the way I mapped it out so I could see all the branches on one piece of paper. According to the pictures of the others I saw this is a lot more complicated than most are, but hey, I like complicated. One thing I noticed early on was that I had way too much plot and far too many options. It really helps to have an idea of the end point and try to keep it so the branches come back to those points.

To keep the plot straight in my head as I built the tree diagram of the options I also created a word document with the corresponding numbers at the top of each page and an outline of what it needed to cover as well as the options and which number they led to. I essentially wrote out a detailed outline of the plot as I was mapping it, which is something new for me. Normally I have a basic outline not a detailed one, but I found I really needed it.

I also marked the sections on the tree where the same event happens but with variations, so I knew that all the branches had to eventually pass through these. Like a particular attack that happens regardless of everything that’s come before. Despite all my branches there are only 4 different versions of the attack and somehow all the branches come together at those 4 points and feed through. Likewise with a ceremony. All these are circles on the map and I’ve labeled them. In the picture you can see a few marked C, these are ceremony points.

The boxes are where it goes to another number in the tree but it’s too far away so I’m not drawing an arrow and making it messier and then finally the triangles are my endings. I have 11 of them if you count the two deaths. It was a few more than I wanted but I found I had to stop my plot sooner, so there’s lots of endings of various degrees of awesome.

So my advice on making a branching plot novel. Keep the plot fairly short. No more than a 10k story if you only went through one set of branches, keep your options to smaller numbers and keep bringing them back in towards pivotal moments so your branches are regularly trimmed down and don’t overload you. And come up with some sort of system so you know where the branches lead, like the tree I drew or your own equivalent. Also, if you don’t particularly like the idea of doing it all yourself, there does seem to be this handy software. I’ve not tried it but I have heard good things about it.

Alloria: A Review

This is the first book in a new series by David Staniforth and he gifted me a free copy in return for my review.

Like the Fuel to the Fire series that I’ve also been reviewing of David’s this is fantasy and starts off from the pov of a young girl who has an amulet that open up Labyrinth like portals for her. The younger main character gives quite a young feel to the story but a good sprinkling of adults helps keep it interesting for audiences of all ages.

I loved the storyline and adored the relationship between the main few characters. While I read I often found myself grinning at something that was said or done. Really can’t fault the book. Didn’t notice any typos, didn’t ever feel jarred out of the story and adored the characters.

The plot felt fairly typical fantasy but it didn’t bore me and I wanted to keep reading, in fact I still do. Definitely hoping there will be more of these.

Lots of New

I’ve got quite a few new things to tell you all today. All of them very exciting.

As the third Sherdan book is about to be released the first two are also moving into their second editions and as such the covers have been re-done. So here’s the very lovely set of all three!

For now the 1st edition print books will still be available, but I’ll make an announcement when the second edition is available. This does also mean it really won’t be long until sherdan’s Country is available in both ebook and print form. The book should go live on Amazon in the next week or two and then be available to pre-order as an ebook.

On top of that exciting news, I also have the awesome announcement that I’m working on a collaboration with the best-selling sci-fi author Tom Harris. We’ve begun writing and I love what we have so far. It’s going to blend his fast-paced action style with my typical adventure with a hint of romance sort of feel to deliver an action packed emotional ride. It’s more urban fantasy than sci-fi, and has a vampire twist, but I’m sure you’ll all love it.

I’m also sure you’ll totally love Tom’s work. I’ve been munching my way through his novels in the Human Chronicles series and he’s just released the first novel in a new series, that you can find on amazon.com or .co.uk and pictured to the left. For today and tomorrow it’s discounted 40% so snap a copy up quickly. I’ve got mine!

I’m sure we’ll announce the title and all sorts of other exciting details about our collaboration soon, so look out for more info on that and Sherdan’s Country over the next few weeks.

Geek of Legend – The Elvish Screwdriver: A Review

I found this book was written by the same pen name as one of the Konrath challenge books and noticed it was free for a while so I grabbed a copy.

This is a really cute little book that starts with an IT tech’s interview at a new job. He has no idea that the new job involves working for a bunch of clients, not of this normal world.

The story isn’t particularly lengthy but it feels complete, had me laughing aloud and blended the real world tech problems with a world full of fantasy creatures. There were even a few geeky riddles for tech fiends to puzzle over.

All in all I adored the short and think this being written is another reason why ebooks and how the self-publishing world has changed is a good thing. It also turns out that there are more of these, so I’ll definitely be reading on!

Angel of the Sands: Part 13

You shake your head and look down. You cannot accept his proposal when you know so little about him. At first you worry that he might not react well to the rejection but after a few seconds he shrugs and picks up his chalice.

“No matter. It was worth my asking. Either way you shall lead our people to greatness.” Here he pauses and raises the drink as if to toast. “To a wonderful future.”

You echo his words and drink the wine from your own cup. As soon as it’s gone you place the cup on the nearest surface and get to your feet.

“I have had a long day and wish to get some sleep. I will return to my own tent now,” you say and give him a respectful nod of your head. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

The Khaad smiles in return and follows you towards the exit of his tent. He reaches his arm across the opening as if to draw the flap back for you but pauses, blocking your way instead.

“I understand your reluctance to marry so soon after your arrival, but I fear for you, Angel. The other Khaad’s intentions may not be honourable. I insist that one of my riders accompany you, just until you’ve married or joined the Khaadain. To help keep you safe.”

After hesitating for a moment you nod and accept his offer of protection. You suspect it might be the only way to get out of the tent, but it’s also an interesting offer. Although, you’re not sure what good it might do you, the extra person might come in handy some day, and might know some English to help you communicate with your slaves.

As soon as you’ve given him your answer he sweeps back the tent flap and lets you out. He follows you and calls up one of his dempair.

“This is Gragoro. He will keep you safe,” the Khaad says to you and then mentions something to the new man. He towers above you and carried several swords at his waist but bows a moment later.

“I will protect,” he says haltingly. You nod and thank him and then do the same the Khaad. With the pleasantries done you make your way out of the tribal camp and back towards the Khaadain. Unlike earlier, few people notice your passing and you have to rely on Gragoro to give you directions when you don’t know exactly where your own tent had been set up, but you reach your own haven eventually and step inside.

You’re about to sigh with relief when you see the fifteen slaves you’ve been given are lined up in three rows right in the middle of the tent. As you suspected you’ve been given so much that only a small walkway allows for travel except for the space in the middle where they stand. You also quickly realise that there’s no bed and they’ve fashioned you some kind of makeshift mattress from piles of pillows, all kept in place by the stacked boxes of clothes, jewellery and other assorted items.

“Thank you,” you say, knowing they’re not likely to understand you anyway. You follow it with a smile and scan their faces. A few return the gesture but most look blankly at some point in the distance as if they’re not really there. “I’d like to sleep now.”

At first, none of them move. Eventually one steps forward and bows, bending one knee as he does.

“Angel, I am, Jareen, the most trusted slave of Khaad Ventral. He gave me the great honour of learning the language of the Angels. May I be of assistance in instructing your slaves to do your biding?”

You nod, glad that someone among the slaves you own can understand you so well.

“This is Gragoro. I think he’s the first to form my own dempair,” you say, not sure if the term is correct but hoping it is. Jareen nods and the two men exchange a few words in their own language.

“I’d really like to get some sleep, I’m exhausted,” you say and smile at your new slaves. Jareen bows as do all of the other slaves and after a few words, all but one file out of the tent, leaving you with a teenage girl. She motions for you to follow her towards your bed and then helps you change into the nightwear you were given only a few hours earlier.

It doesn’t take long for you to fall asleep after all the events of the day.

***

As the sound of something glass smashing comes to your ears, you’re jolted out of your sleep. You blink groggily at your surroundings, confused at first, but soon realise you are in your personal tent. The metallic clang of swords hitting each other breaks the silence again and you hurry up from the bed and grab the nearby robe, your servant had placed nearby.

When you’re decent you hurry out of the tent and find Gragoro and Jareen locked in a fight. Both are yelling at each other and Gragoro hesitates when he sees you. This allows Jareen a chance to lunge forward. His sword goes right through Gragoro, cutting the man’s chest and heart open, but the slave impales Jareen’s stomach, sending blood flying from both of them.

Both collapse on the ground and Gragoro is dead before he hits the earthen floor. You rush to Jareen who clutches at the wound, trying to stop the flow of blood, but it does little to help. When you crouch at his side, he frowns.

“What happened?” you ask, not entirely sure that you want an answer.

“Forgive us, Angel. Both our Khaad’s wanted you. I shouldn’t have agreed, But your safe…” His voice trails off for a moment and he grits his teeth in pain.

You notice your slaves have gathered around and are looking at the scene with wide eyes, but you don’t know what to do. You’re no doctor and you don’t know who to trust any more.

“Forgive us, please?” Concern fills his face and he reaches out to you with his less bloody hand. “Please, Angel?”

You nod, not sure what else to do.

“You’re forgiven. Both of you.” he closes his eyes in response and doesn’t seem to notice when you remove your wrist from his grip. You have no idea how much longer he’ll live, if he’s even conscious any more.

“Make Jareen comfortable,” you say to the nearest servant, but he stares at you and blinks a couple of times. You try a few motions that the slave might understand but you get the same blank look. As you try another slave nearby they start whispering among themselves and ignore you altogether.

You begin to shake and soon find the young slave who helped you to bed the night before coming towards you with a blanket in your arms. Of all of the slaves around you she seems to have more awareness and less shock at the bloodshed. You smile your thanks. Not far behind her comes one of the elder women who helped you get ready for the ceremony earlier. Your young slave must have fetched her from the Khaadain.

Instantly she begins to bark orders at the stationary slaves and several of them spring into action. With them all hurrying about she comes up to you and takes your hands.

“I’m sorry this happened on your first night, Angel, but you are safe. We will take you into the Khaadain area. It is our most sacred and we can protect you there. Come.” Like a mother hen she puts her arm around you and gently steers you in the direction you need to go. You don’t resist, but let her take you deeper into the Khaadain’s living area.

She takes you to another tent, similar to your own and only then do you realise the slave girl followed as well.

“You’re in good hands with this one,” the Khaadain elder says before she leaves you. You’re helped into bed once more and left alone again.

You’re not as tired as you thought you would be and you find yourself thinking over your arrival with these people and all the events since. Although some interesting things have happened and you’ve met quite a few new people, you aren’t sure if this was the best way things could have gone.

You’re being protected by old men and boys in a small tent in the middle of a tribal nation’s sacred grounds. Even if you’ve not officially joined the Khaadain, you might look like you have, but events just seemed to lead here, and you have no idea if the Khaads will let you be or not, but you suspect it is going to put a damper on their interest in you. They may even go back to their usual nomadic lifestyle and leave you there.

Whatever the future brought you knew it wouldn’t be quite what you’d hoped.

The End

I hoped you’ve enjoyed reading the Angel of the Sands story. I know 13 parts isn’t particularly the longest of stories, but I found when I put the entire set of branches together up to this point I had at least 400 pages of story and realised if I ever wanted to put all the options together in one book I needed to bring this to a closing point and consider having sequels. To that end I’ll be taking a break while I work on that exact novel and get it finished and published. Then, when you can go through the many various options as many times as you like I’ll consider carrying on here.

The Citizen: A Review

This is an ebook I was given by the author, Matthew McCollum in return for my review.

This is a shorter novel told in first person present, which is handled well throughout the book, and a sort of conspiracy spy sort of story.  The main character is on the run from the goernment and the chapters flip between present day and two years earlier, when it all began.

The start of this story wasn’t as good as the end as I felt it focused a little too much on masses of conspiracy theories and possiblities and it felt a little like it was ramming home the idea that guns should be allowed in the US, something that I find bizarre when I’m in UK and we’ve never had guns available. But when it got past that part it really felt like it could be a believable theory for what’s going on.

I noticed my pet peeve, of the phrase ‘I could care less’ over ‘I couldn’t care less’ at one point in the book as well, but it was only the one occasion.

The book’s not perfect but it kept me entertained and I wanted to keep reading. The end was also interesting and much better than I was expecting. I’d definitely consider reading more if there was a series of them.

Angel of the Sands: The book

I’ve spent the last few weeks, figuring out the plot for the rest of the story that’s been blogged over the last 5-6 months and I’m finally done. I’ve one very large detailed outline file for the entire branching plot novel, with all its glorious options, endings and variations on the plot.

The first thing I noticed was how large the file got. I had a rough idea of possible plot and the direction things would be steered but I’ve since realised it’s far far too complicated to fit into one single printable book so I’m going to have to have a series of them to get through everything I intended, assuming I can work out a way to write a book 2 with multiple beginnings.

Over the next few weeks I plan on filling in the outlined parts (I can’t imagine it will take me long) and then release the story as an ebook, so anyone who wants to explore other options that didn’t get the majority vote along the way can do so. There are a few differences between the parts I  blogged and how it will appear in the book, but it’s mostly the insertion of a few more options along the way.

I’m really rather excited about this one as there’s a lack of good ebook available novels like the choose your own adventure stories I grew up with as a kid, that aren’t really basic and aimed at children so hopefully this will fill a gap for others and not just me!