Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Upir and the Monster Gang by Sharon Thornton

The Graveyard
In a forgotten graveyard of churning fog and mist, a rickety, old jalopy
chugged up a steep, narrow road. A young boy, sitting in the back seat, was tossed
from side to side as the wheels hit deep ruts. He wore a long black coat that touched
the floor and his wavy hair curled around his pointy ears. Two sharp fangs protruded
over his lower lip. The boy is a vampire and his name is Upir.
Upir contented himself with studying the driver, who was an odd sort. He
was covered with dark reddish fur. His chauffeur’s outfit was three sizes too small
causing his belly to hang out. A jaunty cap rested on his pointed head. Most
fascinating to Upir were the driver’s four arms: two of which were occupied with
steering, a third fiddled with the light switch and the last simply hung out the
window tapping the door.
Upir’s interest faded as the drive grew longer and longer. He wiped a
spot clean on the window and pressed his face against it. He barely blinked as he
watched rows and rows of slanted gravestones pass by. Suddenly, the car jolted to
a stop smashing the young vampire’s face into the window. “Hey!” Upir screamed at
the driver.
The driver turned around. His craggy face was only a shadow in the dim light.
His voice was raspy. “This is where you get out,” he said uncaring.
Through his window Upir saw a large cluster of sycamore trees. “But there’s
nothing here,” he said as a bolt of lightning illuminated a building hidden in the
The driver pointed a finger on each of his four hands. “There, in the trees,”
he said.
Upir nervously rubbed one of his shiny fangs. “That’s the camp? Are you
sure?” The driver didn’t answer. He got out of the car and went around to the back.
Upir saw his huge suitcase fly through the air and land in a muddy puddle at
the side of the road. He rolled down the window. “Hey, be careful with that!” he
yelled. Before he could utter another word, one of the driver’s arms opened the
door while another hairy limb grabbed Upir plucking him from the car and setting
him down beside the suitcase. The driver got back in the car and gunned the
accelerator. The old vehicle spun around nearly running over Upir’s foot.
“Watch what you’re doing!” Upir shouted as the car drove out of the graveyard.

With his vampire strength, Upir lifted the humongous suitcase like it weighed
nothing, headed toward the building, and stepped inside the circle of trees. A huge
stone structure towered before him, its blocks gray and blackened with age. Upir’s
eyes widened. Four gigantic columns framed the door where two granite
angels stood on either side. Gargoyle statues guarded the entrance, their ruby eyes
glowing in the dark night.
Upir’s ears stiffened as his enhanced hearing picked up rustling noises above
the treetops. He turned abruptly. Two witches, one young and one old, flew among
the trees. He watched them land several yards behind him. The young witch jumped
off her broomstick, grabbed her bag, and walked slowly toward him.
“Witches,” he thought, “What are they doing here?” Ignoring her, he turned
and proceeded to the gate. Upir held his breath as he read the words etched into
the granite.
“Doesn’t look like any training camp I’ve ever seen,” he whispered to himself.
From behind him a quiet voice said, “Looks like a mausoleum to me.”
Upir whipped around to see a girl in a black, pointy hat. Her eyes were a
striking purplish blue. She lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry if I scared you.”
“Na,” he said pointing at the gargoyles. “They already took care of that.”
“Yeah,” the young witch said. “They are pretty scary.”
“I’m Upir,” the vampire said sticking out his hand reluctantly.
The witch hesitated before shaking it. “I’m Isabelle,” she replied.
“So, you’re a witch,” Upir said hesitantly.
Isabelle nodded. She adjusted the black velvet bag that hung at her waist.
Without thinking, Upir blurted, “But this is Monster Training Camp. A witch
isn’t a monster.”
Isabelle’s eyes filled with tears. She brushed past the rude vampire and
walked briskly toward the door.

Upir swallowed, wishing he could take back his words. He started to explain
when fierce growls interrupted him. The two gargoyles turned their heads and
snarled. Streams of light flashed from their eyes illuminating the kids in a blood
red glow.
Isabelle ran back to Upir and grabbed his arm. “They’re alive!” she screamed.
A grinding noise caught Upir’s attention; he turned to see the angels rotating.
With a screech, the door moved spilling light from inside the stone walls. “The door,
the door’s opening!” Upir yelled! He glanced up at the gargoyles, pulled Isabelle and
screamed, “Come on, run!”
They ran up the marble steps, past the growling statues and through the
doorway, nearly colliding with a shadowy figure in the passageway. He was bent
over with the weight of an enormous hump; his face drooped like a basset hound.
One eye was brown and dull, while the other, a bulging eye that never closed stared
back at them.
Isabelle’s grip tightened on Upir’s arm. Patting her hand he tried to reassure
her, but then, the creature spoke.
“This way,” he said, his words gurgling with saliva. He grabbed their
belongings and shuffled off in a lurching gait leading the children down winding
steps into the black. Gargoyle torches lighted their next steps as they headed into
the unknown. The unfriendly light danced along the stone walls. As they descended,
the stairs coiled deeper and deeper into the blackness.
“Yuck!” Isabelle squealed, her eyes staring at the floor.
“What?” Upir looked down. Huge black insects with hard shells and
spindly legs darted across his shoe. He stumbled, nearly falling before
grabbing onto the stone wall.
The hunchback looked at his hump and emitted a hair-raising giggle.
“Just beetles,” he coughed.
Upir and Isabelle followed the hunchback down the last set of stairs
that ended at a wide hallway with intersecting passageways. The dancing
flames illuminated several filthy rats as they scurried past, their long,
hairless tails swishing on the ground. On the high ceiling, large furry
spiders dangled from wispy webs. Upir felt Isabelle move closer to him.
Isabelle tapped Upir’s shoulder and pointed. Inside an open
chamber to their left huddled a group of centaur statues. Their braided hair
flowed down their strong and nimble bodies. Isabelle whispered, “They look
like they’re having a meeting.”
Hearing the unfamiliar voice, one of the statues turned. His stony eyes
stared at the witch. He trotted toward her; the rest of the statues
followed. Their faces were angry and their hooves clacked on the stone floor.

The lead centaur stuck his head into the hall and yelled, “Stay out of here! This
is none of your business!” He turned and kicked the door with his hoof. It shut
with a bang.
Isabelle backed away, her voice trembling. “Everything here is alive.”
“Yeah, I noticed that,” Upir said pulling her away from the door. “Let’s go.”
When the kids finally caught up to the hunchback, he was pacing the hallway,
impatient with their curiosity. In the wall behind him were rows and rows of drawers
each bearing a gold plate engraved in ancient writing.
“What are those?” Upir asked.
Throwing his hands in the air, the hunchback shook his head and spoke to his
hump. “Why does Hugo always get stuck babysitting the worthless ones?” Turning
abruptly toward the kids he said, “Those are the remains of the monsters of old.”
Isabelle inhaled sharply. “The original Council of Thirteen!” With a finger, she
traced over the lettering of the one nearest to her.
Upir stepped closer and peered at the small inscriptions. Once again, he
voiced his thoughts aloud. “So this is where my family crest comes from.”
Isabelle dropped her hand and stared at Upir. “Are you related to one of the
original Council members?” she asked.
Upir winced. He didn’t want anyone to know his royal bloodline because it
always changed things. People wanted to be his friend, or sometimes his enemy, just
because of his last name. “Valet Tepes Amarande was my great-great-great grandfather,”
he whispered.
Isabelle’s mouth hung open for a second, “That means your grandfather is
Valet Amarande, Head of the Council of 13?”
Upir nodded.
“Must be nice,” Isabelle said as she stepped behind the hunchback. “We’d
better go.”
“Wait, Isabelle.” Upir reached out to grab her and then stopped himself. “It
doesn’t mean anything. You can’t pick your relatives, right?” He forced a smile.
Her forehead creased and she turned away. “That’s for sure.”
They didn’t speak anymore as they followed the hunchback down a hallway.
He stopped in front of a heavy door and handed Upir his suitcase and a sheet of
paper. “Here’s your schedule and your room. Only half an hour until lights out,” the
ugly creature grumbled.
“Thanks,” Upir said. He turned to say something to Isabelle but she had
already disappeared around the corner with the hunchback. Upir put his hand on the
knob just as someone called out.
“Hey, you!” A noisy group of monster kids headed his way.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Complete Library to Entrepreneurial Wisdom by Ginger Marks

When do you know it is the right time to bust loose from the 9 to 5 JOB? Do you have what it takes to really make a go of this opportunity we call a home-based business? What if you give up your job and things don’t work out as you planned? These questions and more come to mind when you first begin to consider if owning your own business is right for you.

Right up front you need to look at the numbers. Read the details. A visit to the US Small Business Administration website reveals that 66% of start-up businesses are still operational after 2 years, while only 50% of those remaining will survive another 2 years. Furthermore after an additional 2 years only 40% of those remaining will continue to be serving the needs of the public. This means that after six years out of 100 businesses that opened their doors only about 13 will still be in business.

One thing I want to clarify here though is the fact that just because they are not in business after six years, those that are not operational could have closed for many other reasons than failure. On the contrary, this could mean that they were so successful that they wisely put together an “Exit Plan” and sold their thriving business or they may have moved or retired. Any number of reasons could account for this low number of viable businesses surviving for a mere six years.

Nevertheless, how do you keep from becoming just another statistic? Looking at the reasons start-up businesses fail will help you understand better what it will take for you to succeed.

Business owners who take the time to sit down and pen a business plan greatly increase their chances of survival. Why? The simple answer is that a business plan not only gives you direction but it details the way you will accomplish each phase of the business development. When you need additional funding what a financial institution is looking for is a clear statement of what you plan to offer and how you plan to take your idea from concept to delivery. Besides these reasons a well thought out business plan will help keep you on the track. It should be—and will be—your roadmap to success.

Insufficient funding is another reason businesses fail. With the business plan in place additional funding can be sought through investors and financial institutions. Consider applying for a small business loan through sources that are there to help you. Angel Investors is one source other than governmental assistance that you might apply to for support if you need additional backing. It is advisable to have at least two years of funding set aside in case things don’t progress quite how you had planned.

As I often recommend, do your homework. Know your market and your competition. Is there even a market for your product or service? Decide who your target market is. Will you offer a product or service that should be geared to a local customer or will your business be better suited for the Internet community? Be sure that you have the proper education and experience to run a business. Lack in these areas can, and often does, lead to poor decision making which can cost you dearly in the end.
On the other side of the coin are the issues that lead to success. Do you have what it takes to be successful? Do you have that education? A proper education enables you to not only make good decisions but ensures you have the base knowledge to skillfully operate a business. Maturity is helpful here as well. With maturity comes the knowledge of how to handle difficulties with finesse. 

You may also have the resources in place to assist you in case of an unforeseen obstacle may rear its ugly head. Mature business owners, not necessarily the maturity of age, are able to focus on the goal and commitment to success. Actually talent can be a factor here as well. Do you have the natural talent and ability in place to achieve your goals?

Know when and how to expand your business, how to located suppliers and to spend within your budget. Many home based businesses are initially started for emotional reasons. Because many are started with no plan in place and very little start-up capital the home based business is at risk. However, due to the lower expenses many home based businesses are beating the odds and surviving past the expected norms.

So, know what you are in for, be prepared to take the necessary action to achieve your goal and commit to success and you will most likely beat the odds and join the ranks of the successful home based business owners.

Read first chapter here
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From the author's pen featuring author Charlotee Hubbard/Naomi King

Where Do I Get My Ideas?

            From the beginning, this Seasons of the Heart series has felt special—almost magical—to me. First, editor Alicia Condon at Kensington invited me to write this Amish series, which is so much easier than conjuring proposals and story lines, then sending them to your agent and editors on spec. Because Alicia had previously bought my Angels of Mercy series, she already knew I could write faith-and-family stories and I already knew I enjoyed writing for her. While she’s quick to say what ideas won’t work for her, she’s also very enthusiastic once I send in finished material. Her compliments inspire me to keep my rear in the chair even on days when writing two Amish series for two different publishers threatens my sanity!

            And when it came time to research the Amish in Missouri, where my series is set, I came across a magazine article that hooked me up with Jim Smith of Step Back In Time tours in Jamesport, a large Old Order Amish settlement. Happenstance? I don’t think so! Jim isn’t Amish, but he grew up in Jamesport and he knows all those Plain folks—takes his tour buses to their stores—so my time riding around the back roads of Jamesport with him gave me a bunch of great ideas and understanding of the Amish culture. And as I write, Jim is only an email away when I have questions about stuff like, how do they run the windshield wipers on their buggies? Or, what color apron would a young girl wear to church? Jim and I have become really good friends, and he promotes my books on his buses, so when his guests get to the Christian bookstore located in the Oak Ridge Furniture, they snap up copies to take home!

            Then, there’s the way ideas and characters have been coming at me from out of nowhere! When I proposed this series and began writing about Miriam Lantz and her three girls, I knew all these women would eventually find the loves of their lives—that’s a given, in romance—but I had no idea that Ben Hooley would blow in during a storm in AUTUMN WINDS and then bring his two maiden aunts, Jerusalem and Nazareth, to Willow Ridge, along with four little goats! I got that idea when I spotted a book on raising goats in Lowe’s, and I just knew I had to write about them! And while I knew the bishop, Hiram Knepp, was arrogant and determined to marry Miriam himself, I had no clue about how far he’d take his underhanded tactics. It was sheer joy to bring Hiram to justice in WINTER OF WISHES—although he’s by no means going to disappear. My readers, my editor, and I love to hate this man! Even though he gets tossed out of Willow Ridge, he’ll be plotting his revenge from afar, even into books 4 and 5.

            Another unexpected gift of writing this series has been the invitation to write a Christmas anthology featuring novellas by Charlotte Hubbard and Naomi King (the other me) which allow characters from both of my series to mix and mingle! AN AMISH COUNTRY CHRISTMAS comes out October 1, 2013—another ingenious idea of my editor. And just last week, she asked if I would participate in the Amish holiday anthology slated for 2014. While lying half-awake in the wee hours this morning, I got the idea for a Christmas pageant in Willow Ridge, again “out of nowhere” and by 1:00 this afternoon I had sent the synopsis for my story. The rabbits just seem to keep popping out of the hat without me having to tug very hard.

In reality, however, I believe the “ask and you shall receive” system is at work here. It is an act of faith to sit down and write a book. Even now that I’ve been published for nearly 30 years, there’s no guarantee that story lines and characters will show up when I need them, or that these fictional people and their activities will entertain my readers. As I continue to write the Seasons of the Heart series, however, I will keep asking God for help and I’ll keep believing He’ll bring it to me. He’s never failed me yet!

I’d be delighted if you’d read WINTER OF WISHES and go to my website, www.CharlotteHubbard.com, to check out my other books as well. You can Friend me as Charlotte Hubbard on Facebook, and you can alsoLike my Naomi C. King author page. I appreciate any comments or reviews you care to leave at places like Amazon.com, BN.com and other online bookstores, as well. Thanks so much for your interest in my stories! Together, we can keep this “magic” going!


"Seasons of the Heart" series
"Home at Cedar Creek"


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures by Joe Sergi

An Interview with Sky Girl (and Jason)
By Joe Sergi, author of Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures

Hi, my name is Joe Sergi and I have with me the costumed superheroine named Sky Girl.

JOE: Welcome to the interview, Sky Girl.

SKY GIRL: Thanks for having me.  (Touches her ear and then lowers her voice two octaves), uhm I mean, Thanks for having me.

JOE: Why did you do that?

SKY GIRL: Do what?

JOE: Touch you your ear and lower your voice. Iis Jason there?

SKY GIRL:   Yeah, I mean, uhm, who?

JOE: It's okay, DeDe, I know all about you guys. He should join us.

SKY GIRL: Okay, I believe you.

JOE: So, let’s get another chair and . . .

SKY GIRL: But he isn't allowed to embarrass me.

JOE: I'll try not to let him.

(At which point, Jason Shewstal joined the interview.)

JOE: So Sky Girl, you have some pretty amazing powers. 

SKY GIRL: I guess. I can fly, which is a like a combination of dancing and swimming. I have Sky Vision, which lets me see things in different colors--like red for hot, blue for cold. It also lets me know when people are lying.

JOE: That's how you knew I was telling the truth about Jason.

SKY GIRL: Boy, you really know me. 

JOE: Sometimes. Sorry, I interrupted.

SKY GIRL: What did I miss? Oh yeah, I'm really strong and can't be hurt. I can also choreograph a show stopping dance routine.

Jason: I don't think . . .

SKY GIRL: Shhhh. I also just learned this net thing, but I'm not very good at it yet. I'm too emotional or something.

Jason: Actually . . .

SKY GIRL: Shhhh.

SKY GIRL: He promised he won't talk.  But, I knew that he would.

JOE: Wow!  That was quite a look you gave him.

SKY GIRL: It's okay.  We've known each other forever.  We've been neighbors our whole life.  Most people are confused by our relationship since I'm athletic and outgoing and Jason is . . . well, I mean, look at his shirt.  It says "I'm bananas for Commander Chimp," for gosh sake.  Jason is kind of a comic dork.

JASON: Excuse me, I prefer the word geek. It is not as denigrating.  Someone wise once said, "A nerd is someone who is very intelligent, a geek is someone who is very knowledgeable, and a dork is someone who argues the difference."

SKY GIRL: And, that’s why you’re not allowed to talk. (Giggles). To get back to the question, I basically have all the same powers as SkyBoy. So, I guess there may be more I don’t know about.

JOE:  Ah yes, thank you.  What can you tell me about SkyBoy?

DEDE: I'm not really sure I know how to answer that. Uhm, there are SkyBoy books and movies.  In fact, I use the theme song from the first movie in one of my dance numbers.  I'm sure Jason can explain . . .

JASON: Donald Davis, an obvious pseudonym, created SkyBoy. Let me see, SkyBoy debuted in November of 2001 in issue 56 of Powerful Tales. In that story, strange aliens gave a teenage boy special abilities far beyond normal mortals and charged him with the protection of mankind.  One month later, SkyBoy had his own book. After a while, Donald Davis mysteriously disappeared and others took over. Rumor has it that they are still working off a bunch of his original scripts, which he delivered before he vanished. SkyBoy currently stars in five monthly books, not including being a member of several super teams. SkyBoy is considered the hero of the new age. His unwavering morals and incredible powers helped to make SkyBoy a success. The character is currently appearing on TV, in movies, newspapers, video games, and comics. He also has an established rogue's gallery that includes, among others, Professor Z and Evil Brain, who are both in this book, an evil clone named Yksyob, Gremlin, Donna Dominion, Shadow and Commander Chimp.  SkyBoy and his catchphrase of "Good Golly" has become an American institution. His molecule symbol is one of the most recognizable in the world.

SKY GIRL: "Good golly?" Seriously, who talks like that?  And why would aliens give away the power when they could use it themselves? And why pick a teenager? It's just silly.  See, like a said, Jason’s a "dork." 

JASON: Geek!

DEDE: Dork!

JASON: Geek!

JOE:  So, what are SkyBoy's powers? Are they different?

SKY GIRL:  So, now you're quiet.  Tell the man.  

JASON: There seems no limit to his powers. Like DeDe . . .uh Sky Girl, he can fly, he has SkyVision and SkyHearing and is really strong and nigh invulnerable. He can also turn invisible. He can make psychic nets. Some speculate that SkyBoy has some sort of latent telepathic power because of his ability to . . .


JASON:  Pretty much, SkyBoy could do anything the writers wanted. He even gave a SkyMassage once to relax Princess Dominion and make her forget that they were married.

SKY GIRL: A sky massage?  Gee, that's not too sexist.

JOE: Some people have complained that Sky Girl is just a Supergirl clone? What do you have to say about that?

JASON: I think those people do not know DeDe or Sky Girl. Sure both heroines wear capes, tights and a skirt.  But, that is where the similarities end.  Supergirl is pretty much a girl Superman. They have basically the same origin and motivation and never doubt or question what is right.  It is probably why she has had so many series over the years and her characterization has been so inconsistent. People do not really know how to write her.  Sky Girl's motivation is very different than SkyBoy, and she certainly does things her own way and has her own distinct personality.   

JOE: So what you are saying is that Sky Girl fits the superheroine archetype, but is atypical of the superheroine stereotype?
JASON: Exactly.

SKY GIRL:  I don't . . .

JASON: You do not agree?

SKY GIRL:  Actually, I don't understand anything either of you just said.

JOE: Sorry, Sky Girl. I'm a geek, too. I just have one more question about your villains.

JASON:  Well, Sky Boy had his own rogues gallery called the Retallion Battalion, which Sky Girl apparently has inherited.  These are some pretty tough characters and Sky Girl has already faced off against nearly a dozen of them  . . . .

SKY GIRL: Uhm, sorry to interrupt, Jason.  But, I think I lost my contact and we need to go.

JASON: Let me get your purple backpack.  

JOE: I understand completely.  Thank you for your time. Good luck with that contact lens.

About the book:

Being a teenage girl is hard enough, but for DeDe Christopher, it is proving impossible.
In addition to cliques, books, and boys, she has to worry about capes, apes, and aliens. Last year, DeDe discovered that she possessed fantastic abilities that were strangely similar to those of a comic book character named SkyBoy.
With the help of her best friend Jason, a self-professed comic geek, DeDe accepted her legacy and became Sky Girl. Now, DeDe must learn what it means to be a heroine as Sky Girl faces the all too real enemies and allies of SkyBoy, including the clever Quizmaster, the beautiful Penny Pound, the enigmatic Jersey Devil, and the magical MissTick.
DeDe must also face personal challenges as she discovers the secrets of her late father and his connection to Skyboy--secrets that will affect Sky Girl’s destiny.

About the author:
Joe Sergi lives outside of Washington, DC with his wife and daughter. Joe is an attorney and a Haller Award winning author who has written articles, novels, short stories, and comic books in the horror, scifi, and young adult genres. Joe is the creator of the Sky Girl series of novels and the editor of Great Zombies in History. His first novel, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy was selected Best of 2010 by the New PODler Review. Joe is a life-long comic fan who regularly writes on the history of comics and censorship for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. A complete list of Joe’s titles is available at www.JoeSergi.net. When not writing, Joe works as a Senior Litigation Counsel in an unnamed US government agency and is a member of the adjunct faculty at George Mason University School of Law.

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