Archive for July, 2008

Time Bete and Cap'n Billy "The Butcher" MacDougall are the authors of the hilarious parenting book, Guide to Pirate Parenting, which has been garnering some great reviews since its release in 2007. Bete's parenting advice has been published in dozens of newspapers, magazines and websites. Cap'n Billy allegedly lives in a ship and has been running from authorities for most of his life. In this interview, they talk about their new book and how they came to write it.

Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourselves?

Tim Bete: My name is Tim Bete.

Cap’n Billy: And I be Cap’n Billy “The Butcher” MacDougall.

TB: Together we wrote the book, Guide to Pirate Parenting.

CB: But I be the brains behind the book, he’s just a scurvy bilge rat with a laptop.

TB: My humor writing has been published in dozens of newspapers, magazines and Web sites, including the Christian Science Monitor, Atlanta Parent, Big Apple Parent, Northwest Family, FathersWorld.com and ParentingHumor.com. My first book was In the Beginning…There Were No Diapers.

CB: I’ve been hiding from authorities for most of my life. I live on me ship, The Frightened Flounder, but sometimes ye can find me at the Crow’s Nest Tavern. That’s where I met the pale, flabby land-lubber writer.

TB: My hobbies include pushing my luck and skating on thin ice. In my spare time, I’m director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

CB: My hobbies be plundering and rum.

When did you decide you wanted to become authors?

TB: Well, for Guide to Pirate Parenting, it was when Cap’n Billy put his dagger next to my neck and told me I was going to write a book for him.

CB: Aye, I have a way of convincing people to see things my way.

Tell us a bit about Guide to Pirate Parenting. What was your inspiration for it?

TB: Mostly it was Cap’n Billy’s dagger.

CB: It’s me dream that thousands of parents raise their little powder monkeys as pirates. Then I can put together a huge crew and plunder to me heart’s content. There’s nothing more exciting than sailing with Cap’n Billy, except maybe a merchant vessel full of gold.

Did the book require a lot of research?

CB: None at all. I’ve been a pirate all me life. When I was a baby, me mother wrapped me in a sail. I teethed on hardtack. I know everything about pirating and raising pirates.

What will the reader learn after reading your book?

TB: Our book teaches parents every aspect of pirate growth and development — from baby pirate care through the teen years — so their kids can become self-respecting swashbucklers of the high seas or suburbs. It answers common questions such as:

  • At what age should your child be able to remove a bottle cap by taking out his glass eye and using his eye socket as an opener?
  • What’s the best place to maroon a disobedient child?
  • How do you remove chewing gum or a giant octopus from your child’s hair?
  • How do you convert your minivan into a pirate schooner?
  • When should you smack your teenager in the side of the head with an oar?

Each information-packed section ends with “Your pirate’s progress,” a short quiz that shows whether your child is reaching his or her pirate development milestones. For example, if your son has said “I’ll need another ration of grog if you expect me to eat these peas,” or told his teacher his homework was “eaten by a giant barracuda when the family’s ship wrecked on a coral reef near the Dry Tortugas,” you’re well on your way to having a pirate in the family.

Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

TB: I ply her with rum. Cap’n Billy taught me to do that. It works wonders.

CB: Just make sure it’s not MY rum, me hearty.

As writers, what scare you the most?

TB: Mostly that I’ll meet a ninja who makes me write a book called Guide to Ninja Parenting. Pirates and ninjas are mortal enemies.

CB: If ye ever write that book, you’ll be walking the plank.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

TB: Guide to Pirate Parenting was a finalist in the Foreword Magazine Humor Book of the Year Awards. It didn't take the gold, which really upset Cap'n Billy.

CB: I like to take gold…and silver…and rum…and anything else that isn't nailed down.

TB: So, to appease the captain, I created two short pirate parenting videos and posted them at http://www.pirateparenting.com. The first video is a quiz to determine if your children are already pirates — a very useful thing to know. It might explain why your wallet is always empty. The second video tells the story of how I met Cap'n Billy and his persuasive reasons why you should raise your kids as pirates. For example, other parents will stop asking you to volunteer at school. The online videos have helped sell a lot of books, which means we can buy more rum and gun powder — a dangerous combination.

As authors, what are your greatest rewards?

TB: Finding buried treasure in my royalty statement.

CB: Just remember that half of that treasure be mine, me bucko!

Thanks for the interview, Tim and Cap'n Billy! Good luck with Guide to Pirate Parenting!

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I just heard from Andrea Sisco at Armchair Interviews that they have a cool summer contest going on!

Here is the message by Andrea and Connie:

Announcing 2008 Contest: Summertime Blues For all you authors out there — or those who simply like to write –Tell us in fewer than 1,000 words (in any genre) a short story that takes place in summer. Our panel of judges will be looking for:

  • Good storytelling
  • Unique turn of words
  • Use these words: summer, hotdogs, campfire, “Kumbiah” and blues.
  • Well-written (grammar, word usage, etc.)

Winning story will receive $50 in prize money and the first and second runner-up will receive two books of our choosing. All three stories will be published on our site. AND you can list your winning honor on writing resume or book proposal.


  • Submit to Connie@ArmchairInterviews.com as a Word doc (if Word not available, submit it inside an email)
  • 1,000 words maximum
  • Please underline the required words used (listed above)
  • Your favorite genre
  • On cover sheet, list genre, name, email address, mailing address

Deadline is September 30, 2008

Only one submission per person Winners will be notified after the judging decisions are made. Get writing, get creative–and don’t wait until September 29 to submit. And good luck!

Andrea and Connie

–Mayra Calvani, aka The Dark Phantom

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Touring the blogosphere this month is fantasy author Star Davies, whose debut novel, BLOOD FORSAKEN, is a pre-quel to her new Divica series. Everyone who comments under this post will receive a PDF sample of the first three chapters of Blood Forsaken. Just contact her directly at info@stardavies.com and let her know you’re interested. Those who comment will also be entered in a drawing for a chance to win a free copy of The Order, a novella written in the world of Divica where Blood Forsaken takes place. Be sure to leave an email if you wish to participate. Everyone who comments and leaves an email address will get a “First Glimpse” PDF of her upcoming novel, Divica: God-Emperor’s Reign, as well as an exclusive discount code to purchase a copy of Blood Forsaken.

To find more about Star, visit her website at: www.stardavies.com, and her blog at: www.star-davies.blogspot.com

Meet the author…

Star Davies, born in Jacksonville, Florida, a blond hair, blue eyed Native American, has lived in Wisconsin since 1980. She grew up in Milton, but in 2001 relocated to Beloit. Encouraged by her parents throughout her upbringing that she could do anything she put her mind to, her writing began at the age of eight. It was not until her godsons were born in 2003 that she began to create the fantasy world Divica.

Since 2006, Star Davies has published one solo novel, within her primary genre, fantasy. April 2008 saw the debut of Blood Forsaken, a prequel novel to a new series. Five additional volumes are under contract. Star has also published several short stories in Chicken Soup for the Wine Lover’s Soul, Wisconsin Writers’ Journal, AlienSkin e-zine, and Wisconsin Regional Writer. Some related to her Divica series. Her short, A Restless Night, won awards from VERB e-zine. Star is also an active Chair Member of the Wisconsin Regional Writers’ Association.

The novel…

Peace is spreading across the land. Narcysius, heir to the Dragon Throne, is desperate to quench his blood thirsty appetite. Only one can stop him… His brother.

Read the struggle that led to the breaking of the world.

ISBN: 978-1-43489-8962
List Price: $13.99
Purchase the book here.


Chapter One:

Even as Narcysius passed the last chair, and rounded the edge of the pool, Timaleon could see that same look in his emerald green eyes and stone cold face. Delight in someone else’s fear. Not that Timaleon feared him, really. There was so much about his eldest son that Timaleon would never be able to understand, which was why he knew that what he was about to do was best for the kingdom.

Narcysius knelt before the king. The purple velvet cape around his shoulders swished quickly from side to side as he flipped the left shoulder of it back—purposely revealing the sheathed sword—without touching the cape. The inside of the long cloak shimmered platinum silk. His hand was firmly around the black suede hilt of his sword. With the skills that he possessed—and a brief backward glare that Timaleon could have sworn he caught a glimpse of—Narcysius would have no trouble drawing and quickly beheading his own kin before anyone knew what had happened. The idea that his own flesh and blood could be so cruel forced the usually jolly king to shake off the horrible image.

“Father.” Narcysius’ tone was cold, which matched his detached expression.

Timaleon sighed. “My son.”

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Thanks for stopping at The Dark Phantom today. Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

The first three novels of my Iskander series are my current releases, with the third due out in July. They feature a small group of modern people stranded in an alternate 17th century Earth, called Gaia. The three are Arrival, Deadly Enterprise, and The Wildcat’s Victory.

Several interests and intentions fuel the series – the unapologetic desire to write a strong female protagonist who blends femininity with fearless action being the first. I wanted to show that a man could do it. Secondly, I wanted to explore the interactions between modern and earlier cultures; exercising a somewhat sociological imagination in that the moderns launch a technological revolution into the earlier world. Then there was the opportunity to explore some historical what-ifs in the scenario; such as the tactical effect of having instant communication in a world that operated at the speed of a fast horse.

What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
I like this question because both answers are true. While I always expected to employ my thirty years experience in oil exploration in my writing – in the Libyan Desert as well as the Canadian Arctic and Rockies – I find I’m not yet ready to use those experiences in fiction. Consequently I’m writing mostly speculative novels. On the other hand, I do use personal experience in my fiction – the use of communication devices in borderline areas, as well as my early service in the Royal Artillery in the gunfire sequences in The Wildcat’s Victory.

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

Again, both are true. My earlier works were all outright explorations of the characters’ responses in developing situations. I wrote the first drafts with almost no backtracking to beef up perceived weak portions. Now I’m working on the fourth novel in the Iskander series I find myself editing the plot as I write and going back repeatedly to either foreshadow developments or to strengthen plot elements that the novel structure calls for – even adding entire chapters.

Not sure if that can be called the result of writing maturity or insecurity that I’m not creating as freely as I once felt confident with. I have scrapped several entire novels that grew from the seat of the pants approach – and did not work. So perhaps I’m hedging my bets now.

What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?

I know that I would never have matured enough as a writer to be able to write publishable novels without my seven years participation in NovelPro. Of course that group is not for novice writers and everyone there is tough enough to take criticism that completely crushes a novel. I junked one when it finally penetrate my thick skull that there was no way to resuscitate it. I have one more in a coma, waiting for my fiction craft to arrive at a level at which I can produce a draft that works.

I’d suggest that every writer should join a critique group – a gentler one if they really are writing virgins. I belong to another one that I value for the insights of some of the members but would never submit anything there for criticism. I previously belonged to one that had members who delighted in stomping on any perceived weaknesses – you must learn to evaluate criticism, not succumb to it.

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

I continually struggle with my long out of fashion English education and reading habits. I have come to believe that formerly I only ever read books written in passive voice. If I slacken my vigilance I immediately revert to flocks of passives and land myself a hour or two of unneeded work to excise them.

I also fight bitterly against the ugly corruption of the English language that has been inspired by Webster spelling, and business and educators’ jargon. Kidnaped – sliping – I ask you! Just the other day I caught a really excellent writer with a short sentence of crass American newspaper jargon in an ethnic novel set in an Eastern country – no doubt spam from her day job.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

Unless you have been advised by an established writer to approach an agent or publisher of their acquaintance, with at least a good word if not an outright recommendation – don’t waste your time. There are hundreds of small presses out there who publish the bulk of the books put out each year and they will treat your work with far more consideration than will any NY house or agent. NY really has no time or patience to deal with a writer who has no track record. Perhaps a cheque for $5000 tucked in the cover letter might do it, but they are all slaves to commercial rather than artistic or entertainment values.

My two publishers are both small presses that publish both e-books and POD paperbacks. When I have a track record with half a dozen novels, an agent might deign to read my query letter about a new work to the end.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

I have a website www.christopherhoare.ca but it’s always out of date. It does have sample chapters of some novels and maps for the Iskander stories to download. Rather than use up writing time I elected to hire my computer fixing guy to set it up. It turned out to be more trouble for him than he expected – we still can’t get it to host with my ISP. And now I think he’s gone out coal mining again and I won’t get my last changes done until the snow flies.

I use my latest blog http://thewildcatsvictory.wordpress.com as my promotion and update site. I started it with my Virtual Book Tour for the release of that novel. It has a report on the Book Tour as well as much background material about the Iskander scenario that never fits in the novels.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

My pure fantasy, Rast, will be published by Zumaya next January. It features a young couple combating the intrusion of a mechanistic invader into the magical kingdom of Rast. It’s rather an anti-technology/anti-imperialism piece. In order to combat his enemies the young prince must open himself to the magic whose power will eventually destroy him.

Then there are two works in progress: the fourth in the Iskander series, The Wildcat’s Burden, that follows from The Wildcat’s Victory, as well as a modern setting speculative fiction with a protagonist who is a retired professor of cybernetics and Abbott of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. I’ve long been following the concordance between modern physics theories and 2500 year old Buddhist insights. The tone is light and often humorous when Crumthorne strives to protect a NASA convention from outside forces who use mind power for their interstellar meddling.

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How do you actually begin a novel – by working out the plot, or starting with a character? And which is best?

The answer is probably pretty much what you expected: no one method is “best”. In fact, many authors have begun their first novel by working from a plot idea, then switched to starting with a character for their second. Here, we’ll look at the pros and cons of both methods.

Starting With Plot

FOR: You know where the story is going and what all characters have to do next. You don’t have to sit there wondering how on earth your character is going to get out of the pickle you’ve put him in – because you planned all that in Week 1. Even if you have to make some changes, you know your story well enough to compensate.

AGAINST: A highly structured plot can become sterile and flat. Characters are too ‘locked in’ and fail to excite the author, let alone the reader. Because ‘plot is all’, your characters never really come to life. They go through the motions – but you’re all too conscious that you’re a puppet master. Pinocchio ain’t got nuthin’ on YOUR wooden characters. Gloom, gloom.

Starting With A Character

FOR: You know your character so well that motivation is never an issue. The plot is never implausible. All action is driven by the character’s needs, wants and responses. Conflict works well because you know the secondary characters well too.

AGAINST: Your character never realizes his/her potential because the plot is too slight. The stakes aren’t high enough; the outcome is predictable; the storyline worn.

What To Do?

Either method can work – or either method can be a disaster. Start with whatever gets your creative juices flowing, then weave plot and character together as you write.

How to Weave Plot and Character

Not many aspiring novelists start a novel by sitting down at the computer with absolutely NO idea of where to start. (“Oh, I think I’ll write a novel today! Now let’s see… what can I write about?”)

Most writers have at least a vague sense of where they’re going. They may:

-have a vivid image of a character in mind
-be able to imagine a character in a certain situation that requires decisions and action
-have a general theme in mind
-have a definite beginning, middle and end planned
-have a vague idea based on a movie plot or an actor or a news item or a current affairs guest

… and so it goes on! Very, very few people start with a completely blank slate. So, given that you have either some idea of the plot, or some idea of the character, where do you go next?

3 Tips for Developing Plot Out of Character

a. What does your character DO?

You can build a plot from where your character is now, in his/her life or career. Some examples:

-If your character is a mother: what could threaten to turn her life upside down? What is her strongest drive? What does she want from life? What is important to her? What would make her risk everything she holds dear?

-If your character is a corporate high flyer: What is important to her? What could bring her down? Who might go down with her? What does she have to lose? How could you raise the stakes?

-If your character is a doctor: What might he see or do in the course of his work that could have an impact on his life? What kind of doctor is he? Who might be plotting against him? Who might he want to save, and how?

b. What is your character’s secret?

Does she have a secret life – e.g. teacher by day, psychic hotline contact by night? Does she have a secret baby in her past… or a secret lover?

Does he have a serious crime in his past that is about to catch up with him? What is it? Could it mean doing time? Was the character framed? Did he let someone else take the rap? Might someone be looking for revenge?

Does she have a secret yearning? Has she always wanted to be someone else or do something else? What happens if she shocks everyone by acting on her secret yearning?

c. Who does your character know?

Some examples:

An old school friend – once a ‘best friend’, now on a slippery slope in life – in trouble, and involving our lead character.

A workmate who asks the character to cover for him. A lie grows out of all proportion and leads to serious repercussions. The character is caught up by events and can’t stop them.

A corrupt politician or police officer who mistakenly sees the character as powerless and a good ‘fall guy’. What happens?

3 Tips for Developing Character Out of Plot

a. Choose a character with traits that are necessary for the kind of growth you need

If your plot requires a character who will develop ‘courage under fire’, and show great character growth – then choose that character carefully. Think about the *qualities* your character needs rather than worrying about looks. What particular skills/traits will he or she need to have?

b. Choose a character that will surprise the reader

If you have a screwball character in mind – or perhaps a mild-mannered desk jockey – think about how their lives are about to change, and how their reactions might surprise the reader. Perhaps link their actions to a secret in their past, a secret threat, or a secret yearning.

c. Choose a character with a fatal flaw

Your plot demands swift and decisive action. The stakes are high; many lives will be lost or a country/city faces ruin. You need a character with a fatal flaw so that near the climax of the story, all appears lost. What is that flaw? At what stage of the story will the revelation of this flaw have the most impact?

Which particular fatal flaw will work best with the kind of plot you’ve created? A gambling addiction? An inability to admit he’s wrong? A weakness for beautiful women?

These are just a few tips. A couple of hours brainstorming will give you pages of ideas and fend off the dreaded writer’s block.

Whether you start with a character or start with a plot, you need to have vivid, strong characters or all your hard work will be for nothing. I’ll leave you with a few words from New York literary agent Don Maass about the importance of strong characters (from his book Writing the Breakout Novel):

“What do folks remember most about a novel? I have asked this question many times, of all different kinds of people. Your answer is probably the same as that of most readers: the characters. Great characters are the key to great fiction. A high-octane plot is nothing without credible, larger-than-life, highly developed enactors to make it meaningful…. Hot plot devices may propel a protagonist into action, even danger, but how involving is that when the action taken is what anybody would do?

“Indeed, it is a common fault of beginning thriller writers to slam an Everyman, your average Joe, into the middle of something big and terrible. Such stories usually feel lackluster because the main character is lackluster. A plot is just a plot. It is the actions of a person that makes it memorable or not. Great characters rise to the challenge of great events.”

Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers’ tipsheet at http://www.writing4success.com/

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