Spotlight & Excerpt: Critical Hit + Giveaway

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. W.M. Akers will be awarding a $50 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Check out the Kickstarter Campaign for this project.


Critical Hit
by W.M. Akers
Genre: Mystery/Thriller

How do you win a game that’s trying to kill you?

A twenty-nine year-old clerk at a games store in the Appalachian hamlet of Jett Creek, Tennessee, Callie Myles lives for the weekly RPG sessions run by her beloved brother and gamesmaster, LB. Under his watchful eye, she and her friends wage war, harness magic, and battle evil. When the dice are rolling, they are heroes, and all of Callie’s anxieties slip away. The fun stops the night LB burns to death in a bizarre fire.

Asked by her friends to keep the weekly game alive, Callie does her best to set her grief aside. She puts on the monocle LB wore during sessions and finds herself sucked into a life-sized recreation of her brother’s game. Inhabiting the body of her beloved character, the legendary Arabeth, she thinks she has found the ultimate escape. Her paradise is spoiled when she discovers that something inside the game killed LB—and one of her fellow players was in on it.

To save herself, to avenge her brother, Callie Myles must pull on her armor and beat LB’s game from the inside out. If she gets killed along the way, well, at least she’s having a great time.

A fast-paced hybrid of mystery and adventure, CRITICAL HIT captures the breakneck joy of tabletop gaming, where life and death depend on the whims of a plastic die. It will be on Kickstarter from May 25 to June 25, and available on DriveThruFiction and Amazon after that.


Read an Excerpt

Somewhere far from Blackbriar Keep, a barricade of empty beer cans and crumpled chip bags ringed a plastic castle. On the white grid that represented its muddy courtyard, four one-inch miniature Heroes were locked in deadly combat with the dozen figurines that represented a Horde of thousands. They were beautiful little figurines, but all eyes were on the other end of the table. Nothing mattered but Arabeth.

She had one leg raised, her bowstring drawn taut, and a look of extreme do-not-fuck-with-me on her face. I’d spent twenty-two hours painting her, deploying all my tricks to bring her plastic to life. From her forest green boots to the curls of her rich brown hair, every millimeter was perfect. Tonight, perfect was what it would take.

It was April 2003, when tops were cropped and pants were cargo, when fedoras and trucker hats still seemed like good ideas, when America was already getting bored with its new war. More importantly, it was a Thursday, which meant the back room at Critical Hit was ours. Stale beer and smoke polluted the air. Imitation wood paneling peeled from a drop ceiling that was nearly as stained as the pea green carpet. The walls were close, or I guess the table was too big, because you couldn’t shift your seat without banging into one or the other. Absolutely no breeze drifted through the little window on the far wall. Grimy lace curtains hid us from the rest of the games shop. It was a pit, but it had to be the happiest pit on earth.

The man who brought magic into that little room sat at the head of the table. One hand rested on his gut; the other twisted a beard flicked with red ale. His eyes—one bare, the other behind that ridiculous monocle—were slits. A playful smile drifted across his face as he tried to figure out what might happen next. He looked like a big, gentle grizzly bear. A stranger might have mistaken him for just another geek. They’d never have guessed that my big brother was the greatest gamemaster in the world.

“You sure you want to do this?” he asked.

“I think I already have.”


About the Author:

W.M. Akers is a novelist, playwright, and game designer. He is the author of the mystery novels Westside and Westside Lights; the creator of the bestselling games Deadball: Baseball With Dice and Comrades: A Revolutionary RPG; and the curator of the history newsletter Strange Times. Born in Nashville, he spent a lucky thirteen years in New York before moving to Philadelphia in 2019. Learn more about his work at his website.

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Spotlight & Excerpt: Dutybound + Giveaway

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Mark Aaron Alvarez II will be awarding a $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Dutybound
Light Wings Epic Volume 1
by Mark A. Alvarez II
Genre: Fantasy

The world was their creation until they sought to destroy it.

Dutybound is the story of Terestria and its Virtues, heirs of nobility forced to face the Sins of their forefathers and bring their world from the brink of Darkness. Among them is Lucia Sanoon, High Maiden to the province of Moz and chosen of the Light Wings. The ancient relic, bestowed upon a long-forgotten civilization by the Light itself, was forged to harbor the Light’s essence if ever Terestria’s balance were threatened by the Darkness’ desire to corrupt the Light’s most-prized creation, Life. If successful and the long-standing covenant between the Light and its Protectors were ever to be broken, the Darkness would be free to roam Terestria and reclaim the land it had a hand in creating, bringing death and destruction to every corner of the world.

But as long as there is Light, there is hope. With the help of the Light Wings and its power, Lucia must heed its call to assemble the Light’s Virtues and lead them into battle against the very Sins that seek to destroy their world. But finding the four will not be easy, for much of the knowledge is lost and the understanding of one’s own morality is the only key to unlocking the power each of them holds within.

A story of faith and morality, Dutybound will lead you through a journey of self-discovery as our heroes face conflict from outside and within themselves. Duty, desire, envy, hope, hate, love, pride, and temperance all are challenged within this series in an epic tale that is sure to have you pondering your own true nature.

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Read an Excerpt

Ara grasped her blouse. This deepening wound tore at her chest, as though she knew this whole time that it would be here that her heart would break.

“Lady Ara,” called her loyal maid, Amelia, so struck with concern that the wrinkles in her forehead seemed to suddenly age her ten years. In her eyes was a clinging intuition.

Ara sensed her concern, as if the maid already knew, but spoke anyway. “He’s gone.”

“The master?” asked the maid.

“Stello.”

“My lady,” Amelia said with grief before bringing her eyes back to Ara.

There was then a lull as they both thought. The maid’s stare grew distant as Ara let out a faint whimper, breaking the still silence.

Finally, Amelia asked, “May I ask why the master left?”

Ara’s insides shuddered. “He fears of . . .” She hesitated, looking at the letter, fully dazed, unable to grasp the idea of its true meaning. It was as if something hid beneath his words, something he was not telling her. Memories flashed through her mind, and her chest tightened. It couldn’t have returned. It was her prayers that had saved them. It was her strength, her power that had defeated it in the first place. Could it still exist somewhere, outside the reach of man? “He fears of its return.” She felt the warmth of her tears beneath her eyes once more, while the maid’s face paled, her own fears apparent in this revelation. The war was supposed to be over.

Amelia wanted to release tears of her own. But still, she held an unchanging sternness of stone, something unbreakable, showing a strong sense of obligation and duty, no matter the adversity. She had to be strong for the lady even though she could not be strong for herself. “Lady Ara, I’m terribly sorry. Lucia . . .” Her concern for the child shone within the sparkles of her green eyes as she uttered her name. “Should I go to her?”

Ara looked up at her, her amber eyes still wet with tears. Despite the circumstances, she released a slight smile, remembering her daughter. “Yes, please. Thank you.”


About the Author:

Mark A. Alvarez II is a Hispanic-American born in Houston, Texas. He’s a graduate of Texas State University, where he studied public relations and mass communication. He was an apprentice at the NEW Apprenticeship where he was certified in digital marketing. He is the CEO of Light Wings Promotions LLC, a digital marketing and creative branding agency in San Antonio, Texas, where Mark currently resides.

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Spotlight, Excerpt, & Author Interview: Frostborn + Giveaway

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Frostborn
by Michael Haddad
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

The Frostborn—the one destined to end the war, the one blessed by the magic of Aether—was supposedly nothing more than a hopeless fairytale, a myth lost to time. But as the centuries-long war between the kingdoms of Eljud and Surtrol forces Elias Jökull to evacuate his village, a run-in with the fearsome Gjallarhorn army awakens within him a dormant power long since forgotten by the people—a power signaling the existence of the Frostborn.

With such critical news, hope of victory against Surtrol becomes contagious, yet Elias’s former life of slavery leaves him apprehensive about lending a hand to his own flawed kingdom. Even still, knowing the world will soon be in search of him, the newfound Frostborn must choose his allegiances quickly. And after encountering a ranked Surt captain, he does just that.

But while acting as a double agent, feeding intel to Eljud’s southern enemy and working both sides of the same border, his conflicted self struggles to anchor his loyalty to a single kingdom as buried secrets begin to unearth.

The incessant clash between the north and south is soon coming to an end and Elias will have to find a side to stand on. The hard question is: which side? Everyone wants the Frostborn for themselves, but for how long can Elias let the world string him along?

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Excerpt

The Gjallarhorn positions her weapon above her head.

The hand-axe plummets with a snap of her wrist.

Dalia has her arms up, but she knows they will be paper under the sharp edge of the axe. The life of a slave is not easy, yet Elias made it bearable. Seeing him with his ghostly face half in the mud, beaten down by someone who is supposed to protect the kingdom, enraged her. At this point, it is no longer a matter of survival. This is what has to be done. She needs to show the people of Brimir the corruption that spoils the ranks of the Gjallarhorn Army. Her death may inspire a movement of change. The chances are slim, but it is all she has left to give her life some droplet of meaning, of purpose.

Seconds pass and the axe has not run her through. She opens her eyes.

Elias is up on his feet, his fingers curled over the hand-axe’s blade, locking it in place. The shackles once constricting his wrists are busted and Rayna’s eyes grow wide, her jaw stuck in alarm. “How? You were as good as dead.”

“Elias?” Dalia says.

There’s no answer. His face is empty of emotion, with an expression as rigid as stone.

Rayna releases her weapon, stepping to the left then bolting forth, her fist ready to hit. Elias reacts, moving with a dexterity Dalia has never seen. He shifts his weight, using the back of his hand to guide the Gjallarhorn’s strike past his flank. He then tosses the axe away to free up his other hand and at a dizzying speed, he rams Rayna’s throat with the heel of his palm. The impact unleashes a blast of icy wind that rockets Rayna into the crowd, knocking over people nearby.

Dalia brushes her tears away and struggles to stand with her quaking knees. “Elias, what are you doing?”

The winds start to roar, loose snow picking up from the earth in a flurrying storm. The gales rotate around Elias and the very mud he once laid in has frozen over into a sheen of ice. The remaining Gjallarhorns circle him, fighting against the blustering wind as they close in.


Interview:

1. What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve talked about this quite a lot recently and each time I do, I’m astonished at how I was able to complete a full novel with an inspiration that seemed aimless at the time. Most of my passion to keep going stemmed from my desire to publish. Becoming a published author is one of many items on my bucket list and I’m excited to say that I can cross it off, at such an early age no less. I thought it was this impossible task that only the best of the best can achieve. But it turns out that even someone like me can publish if they have the enthusiasm and dedication to pursue it. I think seeing my goal become more and more realistic with every word written definitely helped generate inspiration.

When it comes to obtaining inspiration for specific ideas in the book, much of that came from previous fictional works and a lot of hours spent creating character sheets or adventures in roleplay. A lot of people view roleplay as something childish and immature, but I don’t think I’d have the vernacular and skill to tell a story like Frostborn without it. Inspiration can strike from anywhere. I will also admit that reading similar novels helped hone my own style of writing, but roleplay became the factory that manufactured each incredible idea. It became a platform for me to test out concepts before applying it to my plot. There are many incredibly talented people that roleplay and I gained a great deal from those experiences. They were amusing and they were entertaining—it was like a book written by dozens of people. Until now, I never truly sat back and appreciated what roleplay did for me. They were a necessary company and a fantastic community. Without roleplay, I wouldn’t know how to translate my imagination onto paper for the world to read.

2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?

I’m not the best with dialogue. Trying to find organic ways for dialogue to be carried out in a scene is honestly challenging. It’s also difficult to incorporate a unique culture from a fantasy world into that dialogue as well. For example, one general aspect of conversation that pops up a lot in most stories is cursing. In this new world, what is cursing? I had to answer all sorts of these questions and research quite a bit before establishing proper exchanges. When it comes to that department of writing, I learned a ton. And it was not solely about what characters said, but how to also format and punctuate what they’re saying. There are quite a few technicalities to adhere to when writing. I did try my best and at the end of day I think it turned out pretty well.


3. What surprised you the most in writing it?

I think most of my surprise comes after writing. When I look back to certain pages with intense and powerful quotes, it’s so shocking to see that I actually wrote those lines. I’ve read Frostborn over and over, but it has been a long while since I read it completely, cover to cover. Some parts I won’t forget because of how memorable they are, but there are certain details I’ve already lost track of if I’m going off of memory alone. I love when people remind me of those forgotten details and when they express their appreciation of the effort that went into drafting each sentence. That is a surprised feeling I wish I could experience all the time.

4. What does the title mean?

I guess I could of used a less obvious title, but it’s basically a reference to the Frostborn legend mentioned throughout the story. War between the Eljud and Surtrol Kingdoms has been ongoing for years. Legends spoke of a single person, born from the ice of the land, who could turn the tide of battle and win against the southern enemy. Parts of the prophecy were later manipulated and translated poorly in order to trick the royals of Eljud, but the tales of the Frostborn’s power remained true. Whoever it may be, it was public knowledge that the Frostborn was blessed by Aether and could use it without being Gifted. Briefly, Gifting refers to the act of anointing someone with the ability to manipulate their inner Aether through what’s called a Relic. Relics are physical objects that act as vessels for controlling energy output and weaponizing it. Since the Frostborn is overflowing with Aether, they don’t require a Gift, therefore becoming a dangerous exception. That is why Elias is so unique to the world.

Further in the plot, more truths become unearthed and (SPOILER) the world never held just one “Frostborn”. There were always more just like Elias, similar in strength and power. In the novel, they are later described as the Children of the Yggdrasil. But for some currently unknown reason, the prophecy of the Frostborn was the only one to stick. Hopefully, if a sequel is to come, more cosmology and lore surrounding those blessed by the primordial energies will be revealed.


5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?

I get this question a lot. Many people I know want to be the source of my inspiration, and maybe they are subconsciously, but I try to avoid basing a character off someone I know. At most, I’ll use their name because I like the way it fits, or I use a little personality quirk that I find entertaining. However, my characters are created for the purpose of the plot and not to mimic a real person. I’m not sure why I do this, but I guess part of the reason is to avoid unintentionally insulting someone’s character.

6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?

There are a lot of messages throughout the story if you look close enough. One of the most prominent lines, for me at least, is the one on the front cover. “The world bends to the strong” can be taken in a literal sense, but it means a little more than just physical strength or how much damage one can inflict upon those who don’t submit. Strength comes in several varying forms. The ones with the strongest will, the strongest resolve, the strongest mind, the strongest spirit—they have the capacity to bend the world to their liking. They have the tools to guide themselves to the top and unify what lies before them. They have the aptitude to fill in that leadership role. There are, of course, other less obvious messages. I encourage you to find them and let me know what you think.

7. What is your favorite part of the book?

The upcoming answer to this question is most probably a spoiler. Avert your eyes if you don’t like spoilers!

My main character Elias had his fair share of hardships in life. Circumstances put him in many compromising positions which lead to a lot of manipulation and abuse by authorities. He wasn’t born into slavery, but spending most of his teenage years imprisoned and in chains likely broke any strength he had left to think for himself. Being so malleable and gullible, he was toyed and played with by those who sought his inherent gifts. He was pumped with lies to become both the hero and victim in a war he didn’t wage. He was the scapegoat for everyone else’s problems.

At the very climax of the story, even though he already had a sickening idea of who killed his mother (resulting in his subsequent life of slavery), when his hypothetical theory was confirmed true, he snapped. All that latent anguish within him, all that physical and emotional torture, broke him in a final revelation. So he opted to show just how relentless he could be and obliterated the very pride of his homeland with every ounce of the Frostborn’s divine power—bringing down an ancient wall that stood as a symbol of defense for his capital.

I think it’s my favourite part because of the scene’s dual purpose. That moment is meant to highlight a turning point for Elias’ character and also illustrate a symbolic blow to the entire kingdom. It signaled both destruction and renewal. For the first time, it gave us an Elias that acts on his own volition, something the readers are most likely begging for by this point.
I like how it’s also a hyperbole for what can occur if corrupted authorities continue to reign unchecked. I even find it highly topical considering modern day issues.

…but most importantly, I find that scene super cool to read.

8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?

Elias was a challenge to write and to keep consistent because he was such a multi-faceted character. Someone acting as a savior while posing as a double-agent, but then doubting his own loyalty at the same time is not an easy character to write about. He took on a handful of roles and my biggest struggle was trying to show who he really was underneath all the intentional deceit. He had to be brave, he had to submit, he had to play the slave, he had to hide his power, he had to be a spy, he had to be a monster, and, most importantly, he had to know the truth. Trying to fit it all into one young adult while maintaining logic and reason was indeed difficult. There were moments where his actions felt uncharacteristic, but I wrote it that way for a reason. I think it takes some time to properly understand Elias, but once you do, the pieces fit together nicely.


9. What are your immediate future plans?

I think I want a sequel to Frostborn, but I’m not sure whether I should write a new book altogether or continue with what I have. Personally, I’m at a crossroads. One thing is for sure, I’m going to attempt to create a manuscript for book 2, but whether it gets published is still in the air. However, Frostborn ended with the potential to keep going and also stop right there. It could go either way. I’m leaning towards the sequel because I hate seeing such potential for more lore to be wasted. What do you think I should do? Catch me on my social media platforms if end up reading it and come to an answer to this question on your own. I’d like to hear what my readers have to say!


AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Hardworking university student and recent John Abbott College graduate, Michael Haddad doubles as a fiction author of the fantastic who throws himself into his own writing—who can’t stop imagining new worlds, new ideas, new characters. His passion for roleplaying games has earned him his fair share of teasing, but he’d be lying if he said it didn’t open his imagination. When not at his computer, typing away, Michael is often with his friends and family, losing terribly at tennis, hunkering down for movie marathons, and trying to get a good night’s sleep. As someone born and raised in Montreal, he is no stranger to having ice rinks for streets and snow up to the knee—but that’s nothing a warm cup of coffee can’t beat.

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GIVEAWAYS

Michael Haddad will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Plus, he is giving away 100 ecopies through Goodreads.

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        Frostborn by Michael  Haddad

          Frostborn

          by Michael  Haddad

            Giveaway ends June 27, 2021.

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