The Origin Key Only $0.99 + Free Excerpt!

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, the first book in my sword-and-science fantasy adventure series, is discounted to only $0.99 through June 1st! It’s for anyone who  enjoys history with a dash of fantasy interwoven with compelling mystery. This sweeping adventure chronicles a warrior’s quest for vengeance in an isolated Himalayan kingdom. Confounded by a sly princess desperate to keep her people’s ancient secrets hidden, he must recover a deadly device called the Origin Key before a murderer can use it to conquer and destroy.

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key


Get your e-book copy of Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key for only $0.99 – but hurry, this price is only good through June 1st!

On a quest for vengeance against a criminal known as the Viper, Prince Rasteem becomes suspicious when his army easily conquers Dodrazeb. Princess Laneffri is desperate to expel the Persian invaders from her kingdom and will stop at nothing to protect its secrets—especially the Origin Key, a powerful, ancient device. 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.


Like to sample before you purchase?
Try this excerpt! This chapter takes place near the beginning of the book. It tells how Prince Rasteem and Princess Laneffri first meet, neither realizing the other’s true identity.

Mounted troops rode into the valley and squads on foot went door to door inside the massive wall in a meticulous search.

As comfortable in the saddle as he was leading infantry on foot, Rasteem sat astride Kurush, a glossy reddish-brown stallion with black mane and tail. Handlers from the king’s stables had said he was too high-spirited to be a suitable war horse, just like army officers had believed Rasteem was too reckless and temperamental to become a good soldier. Rasteem and Kurush proved them all wrong.

When he was younger, Rasteem’s outbursts often eclipsed his brother Zardegerd’s. Time and tragedy molded Rasteem into a composed and prudent leader who channeled his uncontrollable temper into ferocity in battle. He had turned his impatience into thoughtful awareness.

Most of the time.

Rasteem rode at a slow trot across a somewhat desolate corner of the kingdom. Kamran was on horseback beside him as they approached another dwelling. The other side of the valley was a bright patchwork of trees, verdant fields, and orchards. Farms there were nourished by fresh flowing water from canals and irrigation trenches. This corner of the kingdom was home to scattered goat and sheep herders. Their livestock grazed on the scant vegetation in the rocky hills. Streams and smaller brooks brought water from the valley’s winding river, but shade was scarce.

At the first dwelling they visited, an old man and woman cringed and wailed while two soldiers kept them corralled with drawn swords and menacing expressions. Rasteem and Kamran went inside, watching as soldiers rifled through the two-room, thatch-roofed hut. What they found inside surprised Rasteem. He ordered his men to be quick and thorough, respectful of the peasants’ meager possessions.

He saw flagstone floors instead of hard, packed earth. There were stacks of glazed ceramic dishes and metal serving utensils, not crude wooden bowls and spoons. Cupboards and chests stored clothing and belongings. The outbuildings were also neat and tidy. Stalls and fodder for the animals, feed for chickens pecking at the hard ground, stacks of raw wool, and farm tools didn’t interest the prince.

The soldiers found nothing suspicious in the hut or the outbuilding. They headed for the next dwelling and found the same type of clean, orderly home. The shrill cries of a woman and two young boys accompanied the search there. To Rasteem’s relief, the third house they visited was empty, long abandoned.

He decided to split his squad and send the men in pairs so they could search faster. He and Kamran headed for the next nearest cottage. They were back in their saddles when a loud rumbling came from the boy’s direction. Rasteem looked at him.

“I’m hungry.” Kamran complained. “I should have raided the larder at that first house.”

Rasteem chuckled. “That bottomless pit of a stomach will betray you one day when you need stealth and silence—like it did on our last hunt. Remember?”

“I would have killed that panther! It would have been my second, one more than Tujee.” Kamran and Zardegerd’s second son were friendly rivals, always trying to surpass each other. Tujee had gone into battle once, but Kamran had earned bragging rights by killing an enemy in his first experience with war. If Tujee hadn’t sprained his ankle during Rasteem’s training session, he would have been in Dodrazeb with Zardegerd and Kamran would have stayed in Argakest.

Kamran became thoughtful. “Why is Uncle Zardegerd convinced Chudreev the Viper is from here? Why doesn’t he listen to you?”

“Because the only Chudreev we could discover, the only one anyone had ever heard of is the king of this valley.”

“But… it was you… you’re better…,” Kamran stammered. “You tracked Grandfather’s attackers and found Dodrazeb.”

Rasteem blew out a long, slow breath. “Zardegerd commands the army while Father cannot. We take our orders from him.” His eyes narrowed. “Zardegerd will be the King of Kings one day, sitting on the Throne of Light—I only offer advice. It is our place to be warriors always loyal to the rightful king.”

“I know—I don’t mean—it’s just that—” Rasteem waited for Kamran’s thoughts to catch up to his mouth. “He usually listens to you.”

“He’s right about one thing. We must find and dispatch the murderers’ leader. We can’t tolerate incursions into the Empire that threaten the king’s life.”

“So the most likely explanation is that this Chudreev is the one.” Kamran was still curious. “Why do you think it might not be him?”

“These Dodrazebbians are not warlike, weren’t prepared for our assault. They don’t dress like the marauders who attacked Father, and they use different weapons. The vandals are shorter and darker, more like the nomads who plague the Empire’s northern provinces.”

Kamran paid sober attention to the lesson. “You didn’t expect to find Chudreev Pranaga here even before our attack?”

“I thought we might find a king named Chudreev—just not one stupid enough to orchestrate an attack on Father,” Rasteem explained. “I’m not convinced the Chudreev of Dodrazeb is the right one. But Zardegerd is. So here we are.”

Brilliant sunshine beat down on them. Rasteem and Kamran slowed their horses to a walk as they neared the next deserted-looking cottage. The back of the dwelling and the dilapidated outbuilding next to it abutted a steep, rocky outcropping dotted with brambles and sparse tufts of vegetation. Its thatched roof needed repair. A crooked door dangled from a loose hinge.

A broad, shallow stream flowed past a cluster of trees near the house and meandered beyond it. The trees beckoned passersby to enjoy a respite from the heat and dust. Sunlight poured through the branches onto the cool water, making the ripples sparkle.

“It looks empty,” Rasteem observed. “We should keep going.”

“Uncle, aren’t you thirsty?” Kamran asked.

“Roasting inside your armor?” A sly grin tipped up one corner of Rasteem’s mouth.

“Well…” Kamran tried to wipe sweat from his brow, hindered by his helmet.

“All right, then. The horses will be grateful for a drink as well.” Rasteem dismounted and led Kurush to the stream. Alert and watchful, Kamran waited as he had been trained before taking a turn at the water’s edge.

Rasteem knelt, dipped his cupped hand into the stream, and drank a handful of water. He plunged his head beneath the ripples, savoring its bracing coolness. He stood up and flicked wet hair away from his face with a satisfied sigh. Surveying the small house again, he shifted his gaze upward to check the sun’s position. “Come on, boy! Be quick.”

Kamran pulled off his helmet to immerse his sweaty head in the water and enjoyed several greedy gulps. When he was done, he threw his head back and shook his dripping curls. “I wish it was deep enough to—”

Rasteem grabbed his arm and turned him to face the small cottage. “Listen to me, say nothing,” he whispered.

Kamran nodded, wondering why his uncle didn’t want to be overheard by the trees.

“Do you see smoke coming from the chimney?” Rasteem asked.

Kamran squinted at the distant thatched roof and shook his head. The horses took a long drink while the soldiers appeared to be engaged in casual conversation.

“Pay attention. I can smell the fire someone has started in there.”

Kamran sniffed the air and detected a faint aroma that might have been a campfire while he studied the sky above the small dwelling. He watched a few faint gray wisps emerge from its chimney and disperse on the breeze. A small, steadier column of smoke soon diminished to intermittent wisps that faded away. “I see it now!”

Rasteem seized the opportunity to emphasize the importance of strategy. “Does that hovel look inhabited?”

“No,” Kamran whispered.

“Then why is someone lighting a fire? Do you still see smoke?”

“No. They must have put the fire out—someone is hiding in there!” Kamran hissed. “And… and they’ve seen us, but they don’t know if we’ve seen them.”

Rasteem smiled. “Here’s our plan. We will ride toward the place as if we intend to search it. When we get closer, I’ll say it appears to be empty and we should move on. Follow me riding past it and stop when I stop. Understand?”

Baffled, Kamran asked, “Why don’t we just drag them out?”

“If they’ve seen us, they’re prepared for an attack.”

“If they think they haven’t been discovered, their guard will be down.” Excited, Kamran almost forgot to lower his voice.

“Exactly.” His uncle’s approval was worth everything to Kamran.

Rasteem didn’t share his conclusion that only one or two men were hiding, a valuable lesson for Kamran with little risk of injury. He didn’t expect the occupants to put up much of a fight.

Kamran jammed his helmet back on and they mounted their horses. Rasteem led them toward the little dwelling at a trot, stopping on the hard-packed earth outside it. Light did not penetrate beyond the broken dangling door into pitch-black darkness.

“It’s another empty one,” Rasteem announced. He gave the place a bored glance. “I’m ready to get back to camp.”

They rode around the steep hill behind the ramshackle old cottage. They dismounted, approached the barren hillock, and peered around it. There was no sign of activity.

Rasteem whispered, “Stay several paces behind me. When I go through the door, wait outside. If anyone gets past me, stop them.” Kamran’s eyes glittered with excitement.

Rasteem drew his shamshir and took a deep breath. He sprinted toward the side of the hut, confident he could take the occupants by surprise. He knew Kamran could be adept at stealth, appearing from nowhere to defeat his cousins in mock battles.

He signaled Kamran. With a burst of speed, he hurtled toward the doorway. The boy followed, sword drawn, hanging back as ordered. Rasteem tore the rickety door from its one loose hinge and launched himself through it with a roar.

Rasteem surveyed the dark interior as his cry swelled. Trying to take in every detail at once, he missed one crucial item: a thin rope stretched across the doorway at ankle height.

The trip wire sent Rasteem crashing toward the floor. A shrill scream echoing inside his skull, he twisted and tried to roll onto his back before hitting the dusty flagstones. Something heavy hit him, sending a jolt of pain through his right shoulder blade. The force knocked him forward onto his stomach and sent his sword flying out of his hand.

Angry at failing to anticipate the trap, Rasteem let loose another roar and flipped onto his back. He could just make out a dark, solid shadow framed in the open doorway. Fearing for Kamran’s safety, he kicked out one foot and tripped his adversary. As the shadow started to fall, he sprang up and grabbed for its throat. When sharp teeth clamped onto his outstretched hand he roared again in pain. Something hard struck the back of his head with an explosive crack and enough force to make sparks dance before his eyes.

With deep pain radiating from his thumb and a throbbing lump on his head, Rasteem saw the shadow dissolve into sunlight streaming through the doorway.

He shook his head to clear his vision and heard a gasp. Instinct advising him to duck, he avoided another wallop from a heavy weapon. Rasteem pounced toward the sound and heard Kamran shout outside the hovel. Blaming himself for endangering the boy, unsteady on his feet, the warrior groped in the dark.

Rasteem made contact with a warm body. He closed his fingers around a hank of hair, twisted it, and pulled his assailant toward him. They struggled, high-pitched screams overlapping his grunts. Something heavy clanked against the flagstones. Holding tight to the flailing whirlwind, Rasteem pushed it toward the door. He wanted to continue the fight in sunlight so he could see what had happened to Kamran.

He crossed the threshold onto the hard-baked earth outside. He didn’t see the boy. What he did see made him loosen his grip on his prisoner.

“A woman!

She preyed on his surprise and wrenched free. She swung around to run away, her long, thick braid of black hair whipping. Rasteem seized the braid with one hand and jerked, bringing her to a dead stop. She screamed again. He grabbed her with his other hand and pulled her to his chest, pinning her hands at her sides. He wrapped the braid several times around his hand and forced her to look up at him. As she wrestled to escape, he saw a mark on her skin behind her left ear resembling a coiled snake. Putting the discovery aside for later, he began an interrogation.

“Who are you? Why are you hiding?” He intended to get answers—by force if necessary. He eyed his captive, trying to understand how a mere woman could have come so close to besting him.

Her long, loose plain muslin tunic and ill-fitting trousers were dirty, the embroidered slippers on her feet tattered and muddy. Under streaks of grime and soot, her face twisted into a snarl, exposing pearl-white teeth. Rasteem had no desire to feel how sharp they were.

“Barbarian devil!” she hissed. The metal scales on Rasteem’s armor tore at the thin fabric of her tunic, pressing into her flesh as she writhed.

“Kamran!” He yelled, trying to look in all directions at once. He spotted the boy’s shamshir in the dirt between the hovel and its dilapidated shed. Cold dread returned.

“How many of you are there?” He jerked the braid still wound around his hand. She cried out again and stared at him with raw hatred, her dark eyes glistening. He felt her heart beating against her ribs, sure it was more from struggling against him than from fear. Rasteem had the feeling she was every bit as dangerous as any lion he had ever cornered in a hunt.

“What will you do with Dodrazeb now?” she demanded.

Astonished by her insolence, he scowled. “The same thing I’ll do with you—whatever I please.” Looking for any sign of Kamran, Rasteem spat out, “If he is harmed, I swear I will—”

“You will what?” A sneer twisted her mouth. Before Rasteem could decide her punishment, they both heard a loud groan. It came from somewhere near the small ramshackle outbuilding.

“Kamran!” Rasteem pulled the woman with him toward the sound.

A helmet rose from behind a pile of debris crowned by a broken stool. Vulnerable without his sword—it still rested where he had dropped it in the hovel—Rasteem braced for another attack until Kamran’s face was visible beneath the helmet. Rubbing the back of his neck, the boy came to his feet.

Kamran took a halting step toward Rasteem and his prisoner. “I wasn’t expecting a wo–”

“Behind you!” Rasteem saw movement in the shed.

The second of distraction was all the prisoner needed. She yanked her braid from his hand and pushed against his chest to get away.

As the woman made her move, a screaming girl in threadbare, dirty clothes burst out of the shed, hands clamped around a rusty pitchfork raised over her head. Rasteem grabbed his prisoner’s arm before she could escape and Kamran avoided the pitchfork’s sharp tines at the last moment. He sprang aside, tripped over an old bucket, and fell face-first on the ground.

Rasteem’s prisoner pulled her right leg back and kicked hard, smashing her knee into his crotch. His face contorted, he let her go and grabbed his groin, reeling, unable to make a coherent sound. Eyes rolling up into his head, he dropped to his knees and fell over sideways.

The woman bolted toward the girl, shouting in a language the soldiers didn’t understand. She dragged her accomplice into the shed without looking back. Kamran scrambled to his feet and recovered his shamshir, intending to give chase. Then he saw his uncle writhing in the dirt.

Rasteem screwed his eyes shut and managed a ragged breath. Incapacitated by the unbearable, radiating pain from the woman’s blow, he tried not to whimper.

Kamran ran to his side. “Uncle! Where are you injured? What did she do to you?” The boy’s alarm escalated when Rasteem moaned instead of answering.

“Was it a dagger?” Panicked, Kamran searched for an unseen wound. “Rasteem! What can I do? How can I help you?”

Rasteem managed a tortured whisper. “… let them get away…”

Ancient Libraries

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Clay tablet from the Library of Ashurbanipal

Not long after ancient people discovered writing, they also discovered the need to store all those handy written records. Whatever form the writing took—clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, parchment books—if it was thought to be important, they were collected and kept for future reference. Libraries exist to collect, organize, store, and sometimes share knowledge. Through the ages, there have been many reasons to establish libraries: the quest for knowledge, the control of information, the pleasure of reading, or the desire to do public good are just a few. While some libraries flourished in ancient times, others were accidentally destroyed or became the victims of libricide—the deliberate burning of books.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. Older and more mysterious than ancient Egypt, the strange kingdom of Dodrazeb ignites a Persian warrior’s curiosity when he leads an army to conquer it. Mesmerized by Dodrazeb’s puzzles, the warrior is determined to peel back its layers of secrets as a desperate princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What have they been hiding for thousands of years? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


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Clay tablet describing an asteroid impact in 3123 BCE

The oldest known libraries consisted of clay tablets in cuneiform script discovered in temple rooms in Sumer, some dating back to 2600 BCE. These archives, which mainly consisted of the records of commercial transactions or inventories, mark the end of prehistory and the start of history. Over 30,000 clay tablets from the Library of Ashurbanipal have been discovered at Nineveh providing modern scholars with an amazing wealth of Mesopotamian literary, religious, and administrative work dating from the seventh century BCE. Among the findings were astronomic/astrological texts, as well as standard lists used by scribes and scholars such as word lists, bilingual vocabularies, lists of signs and synonyms, and lists of medical diagnoses.

library-alexandriaOne of the most famous of all ancient libraries is the one constructed in Alexandria, Egypt. Legend says that Alexander the Great was inspired to build a library to contain all the works of the nations he conquered and have them translated into Greek. Alexander didn’t live to see it built, but his successor Ptolemy I began building it about 306 BCE. A prototype of the modern research university, this library was established to focus on research and become an academy for scholars. It attracted scholars by offering free room, board, servants, and salaries. This changed when Alexandria came under the rule of Roman emperors who restricted intellectual freedom.

alexandria_libraryWith rooms for acquisitions and cataloguing, the library held between 400,000 and 700,000 scrolls including works from Assyria, Greece, Persia, Egypt, India, and many other nations. The library acquired high quality items including the best, most authoritative original works. Any works not written in Greek were translated. The library took its mission to obtain a copy of every book ever written very seriously, and employed some rather unethical tactics to make it happen. Acquisitions of materials were made three ways: stealing and confiscation, borrowing and copying (with the library keeping the original and returning a copy), and purchasing. Even though some items were purchased from booksellers, the library often forced the sale of books in exchange for food rather than currency.

A casualty of wars, riots, and social upheavals over several centuries, the magnificent library at Alexandria suffered the same fate as many other libraries throughout history. Its destruction has become a symbol for the loss of cultural knowledge. What a tragedy!

Sources:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Library-of-Alexandria

http://www.ancient.eu/article/207/

http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/development-libraries-ancient-world

http://eduscapes.com/history/ancient/200bce.htm

http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-africa-history-important-events/destruction-great-library-alexandria-001644

The Origin Key: Read a FREE Excerpt

Read a free excerpt of my sword-and-science fantasy adventure! Happy reading!

logo-stackedTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, is a sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third-century. While on a quest to avenge a horrific attack on his father the king, a Persian warrior discovers a strange kingdom isolated from the rest of the world. He thinks the villain is hiding there, but a sly princess is determined to sabotage the Persians to protect her kingdom’s ancient secrets. What is she so desperate to keep hidden?  Get your copy on Amazon.com!

Readers praise Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

  • OriginKeyCover_lo-res“Filled with wonderful imagery, distinct characters and adventurous plot points that kept me turning the page. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys a compelling story, and am looking forward to whatever’s next from this first-time author.”
  • “Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key by Susan McPhail is a smart, intriguing tale that seamlessly melds historical fiction, fantasy, and suspense… Highly recommended for fans of history, fantasy, and mystery stories.”
  • “My ONLY criticism is that I was left wanting more. Luckily McPhail left the tale so it can be taken up again. Soon, I hope.”
  • “McPhail paints vivid pictures of the world she’s created and engages all of the readers senses in the story.”
  • Very descriptive. I could easily imagine being in some of the battles! I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great storyteller!”
  • More books, please.”
  • WOW! Add Susan McPhail to your must-watch writer list!”
  • “This book is definitively the best third-century Persian sword-and-science novel I’ve ever read!

Authors praise Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

  • “A smart, thrilling mix of history and fantasy. S.D. McPhail is definitely an author to watch.
    – Brian Niemeier, author of Campbell-nominated Nethereal and Dragon Award-winning 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

The Origin Key Launch Event

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Russell Newquist and Susan McPhail

My first novel was published and we threw a party! Here’s a gigantic THANK YOU to Terranova’s Italian Restaurant, family, friends, and everyone who came out and helped make it a fun event!

On Friday, August 12 we were at Terranova’s Italian Restaurant in Huntsville enjoying fantastic food, signing books, and giving away prizes. Russell Newquist of Silver Empire Publishing was there with me, getting to know some local sci-fi/fantasy fans.

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Cecilia Della Pella was excited to be one of the first in line to buy a copy of The Origin Key. Later in the evening she won one of the drawings and received a lovely writer’s journal. Other winners went home with copies of the book, an Amazon.com gift card, or a journal.

The winner of the grand prize—a copy of The Origin Key, a copy of Between the Wall and the Fire, a writer’s journal, an Amazon.com gift card, and a signed poster of The Origin Key cover art was Terranova’s own Stephen Johnson!

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If you weren’t able to join us at Terranova’s, don’t worry! You can get The Origin Key in either paperback or e-book format on Amazon.com. Want a signed copy? Look for me at the Southern Author’s Expo at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library downtown branch on September 10. Start your holiday shopping early and get a personalized copy of my sword-and-science fantasy adventure novel for all the readers on your gift list.

OriginKeyCover_lo-resThe 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 uses something more powerful and dangerous than magic: twenty-first century technology.

 

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.

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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.

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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

Ilsa J. Bick: Award-Winning Author or Renaissance Woman?

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a talk by another successful, well-known author. My local library does these events as a fundraiser, so it was a low-key evening full of wonderful gems of writerly wisdom. This time it was Community Conversations: Ilsa J. Bick. What has she written? Well, most recently, award-winning YA apocalyptic thrillers and sophisticated horror for older teens including Draw the Dark, Drowning Instinct, The Sin-Eater’s Confession,  the Ashes trilogy, White Space, and The Dickens Mirror. But before Ilsa settled into YA, she wrote Star Trek, Mechwarrior, and Battletech, among others.

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First and foremost, Ilsa is simply one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. (That says a lot, because I’ve met a lot of people, including astronauts. Trust me, astronauts have an interesting job and that does not necessarily make them interesting people.) Her bio should be titled “True Renaissance Woman” because she is also a well-traveled child psychiatrist, a former forensic psychiatrist at a women’s prison, a trained psychoanalyst, a surgery intern, a film scholar, and a former Air Force major. Fortunately for those of us who love to read, she discovered her passion for writing.

At her Community Conversation, Ilsa was introduced as one of the “most underrated YA authors writing today.” Her cinematic style of storytelling appeals to fans from 12 to 88 years old, proof that a story with a young adult protagonist can be enjoyed by anyone of any age.

As a psychiatrist with a love of film, she wrote scholarly papers analyzing movies such as Alien, Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, and television shows The X-Files, and Star Trek. It’s no wonder I feel some kind of kinship with this woman—our favorite cinematic and televised entertainment align very nicely. I even like to analyze themes and symbolism in movies, though I wouldn’t call my dabbling in it “scholarly.” Her favorite author is Stephen King. I agree completely that he’s such a good storyteller, even when he’s bad, he’s better than lots of others.

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Me with Ilsa. She is welcome to Captain Kirk. I’ll take Mr. Spock any day.

Ilsa explained that she got her start writing fan fiction. In fact, she’s likely the biggest fan of William Shatner’s chest on the planet. Okay, not exactly… She’s the world’s biggest fan of Captain James T. Kirk’s shirtless escapades on Star Trek. In her words, “That’s some serious beefcake!” Ilsa shared a hilarious story about an opportunity to actually meet Shatner in person. It didn’t go quite as she had hoped, but neither did it dampen her enthusiasm for that magnificent chest. We can agree to disagree about the attractiveness or desirability of Kirk/Shatner’s chest because I was always, and forever shall be, a Spock girl.

When Ilsa’s husband challenged her to write for “real,” she found a contest for Star Trek fiction calling for short stories of 7,000 words or less. With a 10-day deadline, most writers would have reluctantly passed up the opportunity. Not Ilsa. She wrote her story, submitted it, and won the grand prize, enough money to buy a refrigerator. That appliance, she says, still holds great sentimental value and is one of her dearest possessions.

She continued to enter contests and learned that she had to have a deadline, had to write fast, and had to get out of her own way. Ilsa won so often, she soon became ineligible for contests, so she turned to writing for magazines for hire. When her writing had gotten a little too edgy and dark for Star Trek, she began writing Young Adult fiction. She was trying to write a mystery that was going nowhere when she brainstormed a YA novel. She finished the paranormal mystery in a mere eight weeks and has been admired by a growing fandom ever since it was published.

Ilsa offered several pieces of advice for writers learning the craft.

  • Don’t be reluctant to enter contests.
  • When you are writing genre fiction, you must read widely in that genre, analyzing the structure of the story to find the points where the plot lunges forward and where it slows slightly.
  • Learn to weave in a secondary plot that can allow the reader to get to know your characters a little better.
  • Attend workshops taught by pros who make a living at writing. Anyone who makes their living by teaching workshops—not writing—won’t have the same insights and or the same passion for the craft.
  • Learn to outline. The one time she didn’t begin a novel from an outline, the manuscript ended up at 1,000 pages because she had no clear idea where it was headed.
  • Do your research! Don’t make egregious mistakes that will turn off readers who know something about what you are writing.
  • Lie with authority.

How about your own writing career? What lessons are you learning, or have learned, on your journey to publication? Has a successful author made an impression on how you approach the craft? Leave a comment below.