The Origin Key Book Launch

Writing is creative fun, but launching a published book can be a blast! Mark your calendar for Friday, August 12.

 

The traditional way to commemorate publication of a new book is to have a launch party. Help me celebrate this achievement and support a wonderful local family restaurant at the same time on Friday, August 12. We’ll be at Terranova’s Italian Restaurant in Huntsville from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. enjoying fantastic cuisine, giving away some great prizes, and autographing books.

 

Prize drawings begin at 6:30. We’ll be giving away autographed copies of Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, copies of the anthology Between the Wall and Fire, Amazon.com gift cards, and some beautiful writer’s journals. The Grand Prize package, to be given away at 8:00, consists of The Origin Key, Between the Wall and the Fire, an Amazon.com gift card, a writer’s journal, AND an autographed poster of The Origin Key cover art.

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The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a sword-and-science fantasy/sci-fi adventure like no other. In the third century, a Persian warrior discovers an obscure culture using something more powerful and dangerous than magic: advanced technology.

We’ve also cooked up some fun ideas for Terranova’s menu! For this one night only, get in the spirit of ancient Persia and the mysterious kingdom of Dodrazeb with these cleverly named drinks and appetizers.

  • The Viper’s Kiss—Dirty Vodka Martini garnished with Olives
  • Wandering Librarian—Vodka, Cointreau, Cranberry Juice, and a splash of Lime
  • Garden of Persian Delights Terranova’s Sangria made fresh in-house with Red Wine
  • Scheming Princess—Terranova’s Frozen Italian Margarita mixed with Sangria
  • Drunken Scholar—Terranova’s Long Island Tea
  • Kamran’s Calamari—Tender, thinly cut calamari marinated overnight and lightly fried. Served with a spicy lemon butter sauce.
  • Conqueror’s Platter—Fried zucchini, mozzarella, stuffed mushrooms, and stuffed shrimp.
  • Rasteem’s Favorite—Breaded mozzarella triangles served with Terranonva’s house marinara sauce.
  • Laneffri’s Choice—Mushrooms stuffed with spinach, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, and Italian spices.
  • Dodrazeb Dip—Creamy spinach and artichoke dip with melted mozzarella served with rosemary croutons.

Don’t have your copy of Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key yet? Don’t worry! We’ll have plenty of copies for sale at the launch party.

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The Origin Key Book Trailer

My first novel, for sale on Amazon.com, has a trailer!

The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a sword-and-science fantasy adventure like no other. Prince Rasteem, a third-century Persian warrior, discovers an obscure culture that appears to take twenty-first century technology for granted.

OriginKeyCover_lo-res

 

When you publish a book you have to promote it, get the word out, let the world know about it. One way to do this is to blog about it constantly, but that can get boring for both me and my readers. A better way is to create (or let a talented friend create) a book trailer. I can hear you thinking, “What the heck is a book trailer?” Just like a movie trailer, but for a book, it’s a short video that gives you an idea of what the story is about. And here it is!

https://spark.adobe.com/video/Bk2Of-wu/embed

 
Celebrate this milestone with me and support a wonderful local family restaurant at the same time on Friday, August 12. We’ll be at Terranova’s Italian Restaurant in Huntsville from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. enjoying fantastic cuisine and giving away some great prizes.

BookLaunch-POSTER-FINAL_sm

Apparently when you publish a book, people get all inquisitive about your reading habits, likes and dislikes, and even want to know what inspired the story. My publisher and friend Russell Newquist recently interviewed me for his own blog. You can read all three parts of An Interview with S.D. McPhail here: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3. If you have any more questions, just ask in the comments section.

Holy Crap! I’m an Author

Making the transition from reader to writer to published author is a unique journey.

My novel The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. In it, a Persian warrior-prince discovers an obscure culture that seems to be using twenty-first century technology. Look for it on Amazon.com July 30! Available as both e-book and paperback.

OriginKeyCover_lo-resIf you’re like me, you’ve always loved to read. I mean love to read, as in reading the cereal box during breakfast when nothing else is handy. If you’ve ever had an idea for a story that wouldn’t go away, that only blossoms into something more complex as time goes on, you may be like me. There’s that one idea buzzing in the back of your head that pushes itself to the forefront at the oddest times and soon you have characters coming to life in your mind. They are fully realized, well-rounded people with thoughts and feelings and lives of their own inside a fictional existence. Then you feel compelled to share this amazing story and these amazing people with others. That’s when you’ve crossed the line from a love of reading to a love of writing.

Writing can be incredibly fun, but it isn’t easy. It takes time to nurture whatever natural talent may exist and develop the skills to write well. It can sometimes be a long, lonely road with the only encouragement coming from the fictional people populating your story. As with anything else, the more you practice, the better you get. Then after the story is written, there’s a lot more work—and many drafts—to make it fit for publication. That steep learning curve is why it takes most new writers quite a long time to actually publish works that others want to read.

I am now a published author. In three days my first novel will be on sale to the public, a feat that makes me both elated and nervous. Elated because this is an enormous accomplishment that took years. Nervous because it is unrealistic to expect the world at large to love this story as much as I do. I am fully aware that my sword-and-science fantasy adventure won’t appeal to everyone, but I still hope for good reviews and a positive sales response.

Either way, though, I’m going to write more adventures like this one featuring the characters I have come to know so well. I’m an author and that’s what I do now.
DodrazebLOGOIn the third century, the Persian Empire was a world power whose influence stretched from China to Europe. The king and his sons maintained peace with a powerful army—until the day a horde of screaming vandals attacked the king.

KEYFLATEDGEPursuing a criminal known as the Viper, Prince Rasteem becomes suspicious when the Persian army easily conquers Dodrazeb. Princess Laneffri is desperate to expel the Persian invaders from her kingdom and she will stop at nothing to protect its secrets—especially the Origin Key. Is Dodrazeb hiding the Viper or something even more dangerous? When Rasteem learns what the Origin Key can do, he must find a way to make the princess an ally to save both their kingdoms from annihilation.

“A smart, thrilling mix of history and fantasy. S.D. McPhail is definitely an author to watch.”
Brian Niemeier, Campbell-nominated author of Souldancer

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a stunning debut novel. McPhail’s creation is packed with tension and excitement, from the political machinations of the empire to the almost Atlantean history of Dodrazeb and mythical Anutupi. The imagery is enchanting, but the adventure is mesmerizing.”
 Ashley Chappell-Peeples, author of  Of War and Taters and the Dreams of Chaos series

A “Real” Book

Catfish-Literary-festival-2016

Ashley and I will be at the Catfish Literary Festival in Athens, AL on June 4.

Today’s post is by Ashley Chappell, a lovely human being and author of YA Fantasy.

What follows might come across as a re-hashing of an old topic, but since it seems to keep rearing its ugly head I’m not going to apologize for making you read it yet again.

Disclaimer: This is only one awful encounter out of a million WONDERFUL encounters that I’ve had since I began my journey as an author. The people in our profession are 99% of the time simply the best people. Same goes for the readers. But this one tiny experience really got my hackles up and after I heard similar stories from other SFF and YA authors while I vented on writing forums, I made this my ultimate story of caution to new writers. Wait until the end – there’s a moral to this fable.

What happened? On my honeymoon back in 2014, we were on a cruise with some of the most well-educated and interesting people that I’ve ever met. Keep in mind, we were the outliers in average cruiser age by about 35 years, but these people have done everything – taken over banks, vacationed in Antarctica, built working test farms in drought-ridden African settlements, the list goes on. And I could have listened to the stories of 90% of these brilliant people until the sun rose. But that other 10% – pardon me while I take a drink for courage – were entrenched academics in primarily liberal arts disciplines.

Let me clarify here: The liberal arts are my lifeblood and where all of my passions go to snuggle up with a book, a surrealist painting, and a tangy wine and cheese pairing. But, in the darkest and narrowest parts of that arena, you can find the most immovable and pompous know-it-alls in the entire population of people with heads up butts.

You guessed right. This is the embodiment of the 10% I’m talking about here. These were the people who, despite the gloriously diverse selection of wine bottles paraded by our dinner table every night, tut-tutted with disapproval over every sip. Somehow conversation at these tables was always eventually guided to the topic of literature, an arena in which our resident academics were practically frothing over with wisdom they were dying to share. Whether we wanted it or not. And, without fail, they drew their prim little lines in the sand and placed fantasy, SF, and all popular fiction on the opposite side from ‘Real Literature.’

The incident that got under my fur the most (and the one that left me lying awake in bed wishing I were more confrontational and not just a passive-aggressive blogger), was the dinner with the lady I will refer to as the I-can-quote-articles-I-read-on-Slate-Lady. Maybe I’ll just call her Slate Lady for brevity.

This time the topic came up before I could even wave my Author Flag (they have those, right?), and Slate Lady made it clear immediately that she only read ‘Real Books.’ This, it turns out, is a literary unicorn of non-fiction and obscure authors who devote their lives to developing dark symbolism that would be a wet dream for any classic Russian novelists. I couldn’t help myself. I asked the question:

Me: “What about Fantasy and Science Fiction?”

Slate Lady: *Sniff* *Derisive laugh* “Um, just no.”

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That was mere moments before she launched into her tirade of shaming adults for reading YA that came almost verbatim from this Slate article that ticked off readers and writers of all genres that same summer.

And no, *sigh*, I didn’t call her out. I didn’t acknowledge the immediate surge of brilliant rebuttals including this one from the Washington Post and this one from CNN. I did at least turn to another lady at the table (one of the sassiest and my favorite from the trip) and started talking loudly about how awesome it is that popular fantasy and even comic books are bringing a new generation of previously non-readers, especially among young boys. Remember that passive-aggressive thing I mentioned before? Damn it.

Eventually, that same awesome lady (an angel, she is) next to me pointed out to Slate Lady that I was an author.

Slate Lady: “Oh? And what do you write?”

Me: “Young Adult Fantasy and Satire.”

Slate Lady: “Hmm.”

I didn’t say a word. I’d love to say it was because I just didn’t want to spend the rest of the cruise on a small ship with someone at whom I’d thrown my glass of wine, but I just plain suck at confrontation. With or without alcohol. Eventually I’d have just gotten emotional and flustered and ended with an eloquent “Up yours,” so I decided to save my venting for you lucky readers on the blog.

What I WISH I could have said to her is something along these lines:

I write a series about a young girl who was abandoned by her parents and forced to discover who she was all on her own in a world that wasn’t forgiving of her ‘gifts.’ It’s about a child in what amounts to slavery who’s never known a life outside of abuse and neglect, but who overcomes her pains and heartache by retreating into her imaginary world.

It’s about laughing at ourselves and the empty traditions we value without knowing why and taking stock in our instincts before we let our fickle brains over-rationalize us out of the right choice.

It’s about learning the hard way that maturity, at any age, is no match for experience.
And finally, it’s about remembering that the right thing to do is still the right thing to do when no one is looking. It’s a novel for anyone who’s struggled with how they identify themselves and learned to define their own niche in a world that doesn’t have a place for them.

It just happens to be set in an alternate universe filled with magic, gods, and creatures. But yes, it is a REAL book. 

 So this post, I suppose, is as much about venting as it is a rallying cry for all of the writers and readers who’ve faced the accusation that fiction has nothing to offer because it “isn’t real.” This is where that moral I promised you comes in: DON’T BELIEVE THE “EXPERTS.” Authors might seem magical to those who don’t write, but we don’t have wands that create mystical social, family, financial, or political situations that could never exist. It’s pure insanity to think that our stories, whether in space or on Middle Earth, are anything other than an honest reflection of the world we live in, with the good and bad of actual human experience all rolled into one literary package.
And yes, Ms. Slate Lady, I used the word ‘literary,’ because whether you believe it or not, I write real books, too.

AshleyChappell

Catfish Literary Festival in Athens, AL June 4, 2016

HEY Y’ALL! I’m going to be on the Sci-Fi/Fantasy panel at the Catfish Literary Festival in Athens on June 4th. This is my very first opportunity to make connections with readers and talk about my first novel The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key. I’m sure there will be others on hand who will have more interesting things to say, but it should be a great discussion about all aspects of writing, reading, and enjoying Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I’m also looking forward to seeing some fellow writers from Huntsville at this event. One of those is author and all-round lovely human being Ashley Chappell. who made me blush when she described my bookThe Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a stunning debut novel from an author to watch. McPhail’s creation is packed with tension and excitement, from the political machinations of the empire to the almost Atlantean history of Dodrazeb and mythical Anutupi. The imagery is enchanting, but the adventure is mesmerizing.”

Ashley ChappellAshley writes primarily YA Fantasy with a sharp slice of humor, but also Science Fiction and Urban Fantasy when the voices just won’t leave her alone. For more about her and her books including the Dreams of Chaos series, go to www.ashleychappellbooks.com.

Come and see me, Ashley, and a bunch of other local writers on Saturday, June 4th!

June 4th is the Second Annual Catfish Literary Festival at the Athens Limestone County Public Library, 603 South Jefferson Street, Athens, AL. Enjoy a day celebrating local authors and the art of story-craft. For more information, call 256-232-1233.

CatfishFest2Local authors and publishers will converge at the Athens-Limestone Public Library on Saturday, June 4th, for the 2nd Annual Catfish Literary Festival–a time to celebrate books, culture, history, and the power of the printed word. It will be an opportunity for readers to connect with authors, and for aspiring writers to speak with publishing professionals. The event begins at 10:00 am and will feature the unveiling of the winning logo from the design contest.

Over 25 authors and publishers from North Alabama will be in attendance. Planned panel discussions include how to get published, writing for children and teens, writing non-fiction, and more. Authors will have copies of their books for sale and they will be available for questions. There is no entrance fee for the public.

 

Announcing: The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient cultures. Give me a good documentary on the ancient Hittites or the Egyptian Sphynx or an article about the latest theories regarding the Olmecs in Mesoamerica, and I’m in heaven. I’m a die-hard Indiana Jones fan, and not just for handsome Harrison Ford.

RasteemCat
A brown-haired, blue-eyed Persian, like the warrior-prince Rasteem in The Origin Key.

So no one should be surprised that my first novel is about a third-century Persian warrior-prince who discovers a mysterious hidden kingdom that appears to be some kind of Shangri-La. In this place, everyone is healthy, content, and well-educated—NOT the reality of our world in the third century. So how did they achieve this ideal? Do they have magical abilities? That got me thinking about Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

What if, I thought, this place kept itself isolated from the rest of the comparatively barbaric world because they had developed and routinely used advanced technology that we take for granted in the 21st century? Technology that in the hands of savages could be used to destroy on an apocalyptic scale? Technology that looks like magic to outsiders?

That’s the premise of my story, an adult fantasy that blends elements of science fiction to deliver an adventure grounded in actual human history.

The book didn’t happen overnight. On the contrary, it took over a year of hard work, research, bouts of furious pounding away at the keyboard interspersed with wordless dry spells to produce a first draft. Then there was feedback from readers, innumerable editorial redlines, new and improved ideas to strengthen the story, and heartless murdering of beloved darlings.* It seemed to take forever.

When I thought I had a publishable product, I started looking for ways to turn my story into an actual book. Fortunately for me, I made the acquaintance of Russell Newquist, the owner of Silver Empire Publishing. I had attended a panel discussion at a local literary festival where Russell addressed many of the pros and cons of self-publishing, traditional publishing, and indie publishing. Afterward, I approached him and (metaphorically) threw my manuscript at him. Luckily, he (metaphorically) caught it and, to my astonishment, did not fling it back at me in disgust.

So now my bucket list needs editing, too. I’m going to be a published author! I signed a contract to publish my book with Silver Empire! Since then, there has been more feedback, more redlines, and more refinement of the story.

It is with infinite joy that I make this announcement: My debut novel The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key will be available this summer! I’m thrilled to be working with Russell Newquist and everyone at Silver Empire to make this happen. Stay tuned to this blog and social media for further announcements about a release date. Until then, get a taste of the treasures to be found in Dodrazeb in the anthology Between the Wall and the Fire. Two of my short stories are in it and you can pre-order it now directly from Silver Empire.

Oh, and one other thing. The Origin Key is the first in a series of novels detailing the adventures of my Persian warrior-prince in the mysterious kingdom of Dodrazeb. There will be more!

*In writing, “to kill your darlings” means to ruthlessly eliminate any sentence, paragraph, chapter, or piece of writing that does nothing for the story you are trying to tell, no matter how well it is written.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner. Directed by Bill Condon. From the book by Stephenie Meyer.

I think it was about four years ago, more or less, when I started hearing about a book entitled Twilight. It was enthusiastically described to me as a story about a family of vampires and the human girl who is attracted to one of them. “Oh, vampires, right. That’s a theme that finds renewed popularity every few years,” I said.

“But these vampires are different! They are good, and only drink the blood of animals, and try to coexist peacefully with humans, but they have to keep it a secret that they are vampires.”

“Yeah… I guess that’s fairly different. What’s the latest on the next Harry Potter movie?” I was, and still am, a devoted fan of the Boy Wizard. Of course, the Harry Potter movies were magnificent but the books are stupendously better than the movies.

Ignoring my attempt to change the subject, the TwiHard continued. “And they SPARKLE in the sunshine! And they are practically the only GOOD vampires in the world! They’re really, really old but they still look like teenagers because they don’t age after becoming a vampire so they go to high school over and over again. And this one guy – the really cute one – can read minds.”

They never age so they keep going to high school for eternity? Now that’s a living hell on earth, for sure, I thought. Wait a minute – “They sparkle in the sunshine? And actually enjoy being in high school forever?” Something about the weirdness of sparkly teenage vampires had captured my attention, so I borrowed the book to find out what the big deal was all about. I have to admit that it was a very interesting read, a totally new take on the old vampire theme. The only problem for me was all the angsty teenagery stuff that dragged on interminably. I know the target age group for the Twilight books is tweens and teens, but the first couple of Harry Potter books were for children and they were simply enchanting.

So I shouldn’t be trying to compare apples to oranges. What Twilight has in common with Harry Potter is that they are both a series of books that have been made into movies. Twilight must be evaluated on its own merits, such as they are. After reading the first book, I was ready to dive into the next one. And then the third and the fourth. Native American legends of shapeshifters, sparkly vampires, teenage love triangles, ancient evil vampire Mafioso, the lure of eternal love – these elements were cleverly interspersed with the angsty teenagery stuff in a way that made me want to know how the story would unfold. I think it could have unfolded quite nicely with about half the pages it took to fill each book, but that would have entailed losing most, if not all, of the angsty teenagery stuff that apparently is a big selling point with the books’ target demographic. (I can’t help it if I find it increasingly difficult to get in touch with my inner fourteen-year-old. I am much more comfortable with my inner twenty-four-year-old.)

I have read all four books in the original series and have also seen each of the movies. I admit that it was as much out of curiosity about how the story would be presented in film as anything else that prompted me to see the movies. I further admit that the Twilight movies, collectively, were not a bad translation of book to screen. If anything, the necessity of paring down the story to its essential elements for a movie was an improvement. The angsty teenagery stuff is still there, but not overwhelmingly so.

Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1 is the first half of the fourth book. In this installment we are treated to a wedding, a honeymoon, an impossible conception, dissension and mutiny within the ranks of the shapeshifters, a birth, a death, and a re-birth as Bella says good-bye to her family, her humanity, her heartbeat, and any desire for a great salad ever again. Some of the material as presented in the book seems so corny it was difficult to imagine how it could be Hollywoodized without coming across as silly at best and just plain stupid at worst. Kudos to Bill Condon and his cast for pulling off the near-impossible and delivering a beautifully filmed movie that stays true to the book without devolving into an oversimplified, maudlin mess of angsty teenagery absurdities.

What I liked best about this movie: the intentional and appropriate humor interspersed throughout. What I was most annoyed by in this movie: the tendency to present scenes with the Cullens posed as if in a static tableau where they collectively looked either “concerned” or “anxious” or perhaps “bored.” The one thing in this movie I would most love to have a logical, or at least plausible, explanation for: if vampires have no bodily fluids, how did Bella get pregnant?

I had read the book, I knew what to expect, and I was still entertained by what I saw on the screen. I’m very happy for all of my diehard TwiHard friends who waited in line to see it at midnight when it first opened, and have seen it several more times already. They are extremely pleased with the movie, noting that the wedding scenes were perfectly gorgeous, the honeymoon scenes were perfectly romantic, and the pregnancy/birth scenes were perfectly gross and intense. The only complaint I have heard so far is that Taylor Lautner did not have sufficient bare-chested scenes. Now let’s please have the final movie – Breaking Dawn Part 2 – so we can move on to the next huge moneymaking book-series-turned-into-movies craze.

Rating: Double Serving plus a pound of Red Twizzlers