Not all will survive when Pandora's Box is opened.


CHAPTER 1
“You make living with vampires look easy.” I chuckled, watching Fallon—my very human best friend—stake her claim in the den.
Since moving in, Fallon had taken over the empty room in our house, turning it into her own ultra-modern studio apartment: half bedroom, half office space. She’d even begun hanging pictures—something Lysander had never done the entire time he’d lived here. On one wall she’d hung a large abstract painting in muted tones of blue and green. She was well on her way to making the room feel homey and completely separate from the rest of the house.
“I’ve had some pretty scary roommates in the past. You guys are nothing!” She waved a flippant hand in the air, downplaying the strangeness of our situation.
Fallon was a rarity, a human possessing knowledge of our kind, who hadn’t been turned or killed. She was never supposed to know I’d become a vampire, but after a hasty retreat I’d made while dodging a hunter from the Acta Sanctorum, I accidentally let the cat out of the bag. My clan, the Peregrinus, weren’t too keen on the idea at first, but after Fallon showed them she was capable of keeping our secret as well as being helpful, they gave in and allowed her to stay.
“Oh, hey, has Lysander called the cable company yet?” Fallon asked as she shoved her head below a small glass-topped computer desk and began fumbling with wires.
For the last few weeks, Fallon had taken it upon herself to bring my two-thousand-year-old boyfriend into the modern era.
And he wasn’t too happy about it.
You just can’t teach an old vampire new tricks. I stood against the wall, remembering Lysander’s first lesson with the computer. It had been hilarious. Not realizing his strength, he crushed the first mouse with a forceful click. The keyboard barely stood a chance.
Fallon had spent many days rebuilding her desktop computer after their last lesson. Still, she hadn’t given up on him. You had to admire her persistence.
Cables snaked across the top of the desk while Fallon bumped and grumbled underneath. “Everything’s plugged in. I don’t know why it isn’t working. Ah ha!”
I heard a loud thump. The whole desk shifted, and Fallon shouted, “Sonofabitch!”
“You okay over there?” I asked, trying to stifle my laughter and sound concerned.
“You know, Lysander may be old and wise and all that, but the man’s an idiot when it comes to modern technology.”
“No one’s disputing that point. What did he do this time?”
Fallon pulled herself out from under the desk and scowled at me. She rubbed a spot on the top of her head, messing up her already-wild blonde pixie haircut. “Damn cable was plugged into the wrong hole. I don’t even want to know how he managed to make it fit.”
I shrugged. “Well, what do you expect? The guy’s ancient.”
Her deep brown eyes narrowed as she shot me one of those I-don’t-think-so looks. “That’s no excuse, Alyssa. Living for two thousand years gives you plenty of time to learn things. You know, adapt with the times, and all that jazz.”
I nodded. She was right. But it did make me wonder: if I managed to live that long, would I be so out of touch? I hoped not.
Fallon stopped rubbing the sore spot on her head, and then pressed the power button on the sleek new flat-panel monitor sitting on the desk. Sighing with contentment as the screen came to life, she flopped down onto the office chair. “Time to start creating user accounts.” She rested her hands on the desk and absently tapped a finger on the edge of the keyboard as if contemplating what to do next. “You know, it would be better if Lysander were here. I don’t want to set up his account yet. He needs to learn how to use this computer.”
“You’re gonna have to wait then. He’s off hunting.”
The sweet smell of fear suddenly permeated the air. Human noses can’t detect the subtle scent, but I wasn’t human, and the sugary fragrance teased my senses. Friend or not, I’m still a vampire, and instincts are hard to ignore. Hunting means blood. Fresh, human blood. Fallon knew this, but she had no reason to fear. As far as the Peregrinus were concerned, criminals were the prey—those deserving of our deadly kisses. No vampire in this house would ever harm her, especially since she’d been made an unofficial member—being human and all—after helping us fight the Acta Sanctorum’s last attempt to destroy us.
“At least he’ll be in a good mood when he gets back,” she said, trying to sound as if it didn’t bother her. I could tell she was lying—beyond the smell of fear, I sensed her unease—but nodded as if I accepted her words at face value. It was understandable and expected of her to be squeamish about the whole blood thing. You can’t truly appreciate the need for blood unless that’s the only thing you can consume. For what it was worth, though, she was handling it well.
“Guess I’ll just check my email while we wait.” She immediately began tapping away at the keys.
I shrugged and turned toward the futon in the center of the room, and spotted a cardboard box sitting on it. “Hey, what’s this? More computer stuff?”
Fallon still tapped away at the keys. “Dunno. It was on the doorstep when I got home.”
I walked over for a closer look. Oddly, there was no address or any kind of shipping information on the box. I picked it up and looked at the bottom, hoping to find a label there. What I found instead was weird symbol: a large circle with what looked like a horizontal capital “I” dividing it, drawn in something maroon-colored. I hoped that was just a new Sharpie color, but after a quick whiff my nose said otherwise. Blood. Old blood.
“You didn’t think it was strange?” I asked, a little annoyed that she hadn’t mentioned this sooner. No tags meant that this hadn’t been dropped off by the postal service.
We lived in the middle of a quiet suburban neighborhood, hiding in plain sight from the humans surrounding us. Thankfully, in a city like Las Vegas with a thriving nightlife, no one ever questioned our nocturnal habits. Maintaining secrecy was rule number one in our clan, and we did our best to remain inconspicuous. That meant whoever stopped by to drop this off must have known who—and potentially what—we were.
“Sorry, Lyssa, I had my hands full with the new monitor when I came in. Honestly, I had forgotten it was here until you mentioned it.”
I hadn’t been a vampire long enough to know all the ins and outs of our culture. Maybe this was a way new vampires announced their presence in our territory. Maybe our recent defeat of Quentin and the local branch of the Acta Sanctorum operation had earned us some respect. Maybe it was a parting gift from Santino, our old nemesis-turned-ally.
What’s the old saying? “Curiosity killed the cat”? But what does it do to a vampire? I wondered.
Absently tapping my fingers on the box top, I debated how bad it might be just to take a peek. No strange odors emanated from the box. No ticking to indicate a bomb—not that I thought bombs ticked anymore, but I felt safer that there was no sound coming from the box. I picked it up and shook it. It felt light as air, and the contents didn’t shuffle around much. Only a muffled thump indicated anything solid was inside, and whatever it was, it was packed to not break.
Curiosity got the best of me. I had to see what it was. I used my fingernail to open the tape across the top. A puff of dry air greeted me as I pulled back the flaps. Instead of packing peanuts, the box had been filled with some straw-like material, like the grass in children’s Easter baskets. “Come check this out,” I called out to Fallon, pushing aside the packing material.
She tore herself away from the computer and joined me, but the moment was anticlimactic. For all the mystery and ominous symbol on the outside, the contents were a bit boring. An ornately carved wooden box sat in the middle of the packing material, tied tight with a red silk ribbon. It was pretty, but not all that exciting.
I reached in, took hold of the box with one hand, and lifted it out. It felt strangely weightless in my hand, as if the wood were hollow or perhaps not wood at all, but some kind of Styrofoam. I gave it a squeeze, though a gentle one—I didn’t want to accidentally crush it with my superhuman strength. It had no give. It was solid as a rock. I squeezed it a bit harder, expecting the wood to crack or groan under the pressure, but that too had no effect.
Maybe it’s not so plain after all.
I shook it and held it to my ear to hear if there might be anything inside. Nothing.
“Let me see,” Fallon said taking it from me. She traced the patterns that looked like ancient writing covering the small box. “It’s really pretty. Should we unwrap it and see what’s inside?”
“I’m not sure we should do that,” I said, though I was hoping to learn the mystery surrounding its contents.
“It wasn’t addressed to anyone specifically,” Fallon said, eyeing the box as if entranced by it. “So it was probably meant for all of us, right?”
“All of us” meant the other vampires that lived in the house, the Peregrinus clan: Rozaline, Nicholas, Crystal, Drew, and Lysander.
“Hmm, good point.” I reached for the box, but she pulled it just out of my reach. Her sudden movement shocked me.
“I mean, it’s not like we’re opening up someone’s birthday present, right?” She continued to eye the box, her curious gaze becoming almost hungry as she inspected it.
“I don’t think vampires celebrate birthdays.”
“Maybe they celebrate deathdays,” she quipped.
“We’re not dead.” I shook my head at her. “Beating hearts… remember?”
“I know, Lyssa. I’m just joking.” She playfully tapped me on the shoulder. “Okay, let’s take a quick peek.”
“Maybe we should wait for the others to get here to open it? This was probably for Lysander,” I said. “An antique for display or something. I doubt he’d appreciate us opening it.” I could imagine it looking nice on his bookshelves. He was, after all, a historian who collected lots of old things.
Fallon started to untie the silk wrapper as if she hadn’t heard me. The carved words (at least, I thought they were words) were haphazardly etched into the wood all over the box. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to their patterns. I had a feeling if I could read the writing, it would all make sense, but even not knowing exactly what it said, I could still appreciate the intricacy.
“Hey, are you listening to me? Fallon?” I snapped my fingers in front of her face to get her attention, but she was so focused on the box, she wouldn’t look up.
“Weird. It doesn’t appear to have an opening. Looks like a solid piece of wood. There’s no visible clasp or hinges either.”
“Maybe it’s not meant to be opened.” That gave me a small measure of comfort.
Fallon still didn’t seem to hear me. She ran her fingers all over the patterns as if hunting for some hidden button or lock. After staring at it for a few seconds, she found what she as looking for, a hairline seam. It was barely visible within the patterns. “Must be like an ancient shoe box.” Fallon chuckled. “Look. The top just fits over the bottom. Well, let’s see what treasures are inside.”
“Fallon, I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Let’s not—”
Before I could get out another word, Fallon pulled the top off.  
A cloud of dust poofed out, spewing chalky ash into my face.
I coughed as it choked out the air around me. My eyes began to water and a tear spilled over my cheek.
Fallon let out a violent sneeze that knocked her backwards into the wall. Her newly hung painting fell with a crash. She dropped the box, spilling murky gray ash into a pile on the splintered canvas.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” she said, shaking herself as if coming out of a daze. She bent down to clean up the mess. “I don’t know what came over me. It was like the box was calling me, telling me to open it.”
I felt a strange prickling sensation across my skin. The hairs on my neck stood on end as if electrically charged. The air around me felt as if it were growing colder, like someone had set the thermostat to zero. A shiver danced its way up my spine, causing gooseflesh to erupt and spread down my arm.
My kind can always feel another vampire’s presence. This eerily cold hair-raising sensation felt very similar, yet somehow amplified.
I turned to find Nicholas looking over my shoulder. It was if he had appeared out of nowhere. I jumped in place, startled by his sudden appearance, and bit back a curse. His scruffy face was mere inches from my neck, though his blue-gray eyes, a trademark of the vampire race, were locked on the box in Fallon’s hand.
“What have we here?” he asked. “Been ordering junk from those websites again, little human?” He folded his arms in front of his chest. Nicholas wasn’t a tall man, but he was muscular and looked very formidable and menacing when he wanted to.
Fallon finished sweeping the ash back into the box and replaced the lid. “No, the human has not been ordering junk.” She shot him a taunting glare.
Human or not, Fallon didn’t take Nicholas’s crap. Once she learned he wasn’t going to kill her, it became almost a game between those two: an ongoing battle to see who could annoy whom the most. It was fun to watch the two of them go at it, though somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered if it might one day go too far.
 “Someone dropped this on our doorstep.” Fallon set the wooden box on the futon and picked up the corner of the cardboard box it came in, showing Nicholas the big red symbol on the bottom. “You’re older than dirt, right? Maybe you can read this.”
He opened his mouth as if to make another snarky comment and then closed it immediately. His eyes narrowed and his brows pulled together in deep concentration.
That startled me more than the odd chill in the air. Nicholas was always quick with an answer or some kind of quip. For him to be silent meant that this, whatever it was, was not the innocuous present I had hoped it would be, and further confirmed my feelings of unease.
“Thanatos?” Nicholas whispered under his breath, as if asking a question rather than making a statement. 
Fallon and I exchanged confused looks. I shrugged at her and after a moment of awkward silence, decided to ask the obvious question. “Who is Thanatos?”
“When did you receive this?” he asked curtly.
“It was on the doorstep when I got home from the store,” Fallon replied. “I dunno, probably about seven o’clock or so.”
“What was inside the package?”
“Just this.” Fallon dropped the cardboard box and handed the smaller wooden one to Nicholas.
He took it gingerly, as if he feared to touch the ancient-looking thing.
“Who is Thanatos?” I asked a bit louder this time.
 “Death personified.” Nicholas’s voice warbled, hinting at his own worry.
A cold breeze blew through the den, making the curtains covering the large window dance. I looked up to see if the fan had been turned on, but it remained still.
“You mean Death, like the Grim Reaper?” I asked, my voice cracking as the eerie feeling of dread intensified to an overwhelming sensation.
“Exactly,” Nicholas said. He too watched the dancing curtains. “Though I doubt the person who sent this is the actual Thanatos of legend. But perhaps he is closer to the literal truth; something like we are, a vampire, a bringer of death.”
I screwed up my face, confused as always by Nicholas’s cryptic ways of explaining things. Did that mean he thought a vampire dropped it off, or that this box had something to do with vampires in general? “So did this belong to Thanatos?”
Nicholas suddenly looked more annoyed than worried. “Thanatos is the Greek god of death, Alyssa. That symbol is like a calling card.”
“Wait a second,” Fallon interrupted. “Hades is the god of the underworld.”
Nicholas smiled revealing his fangs. “Correct. Two points to the little human. Perhaps you could teach your friend here a thing or two.” He gave me a short sneer. “Hades is the ruler of the underworld, but Thanatos is the bringer of death. He is the one who sends the spirits to Hades.”
“So are you trying to tell me the gods are real? And sending us warnings?” I asked.
“In my day, we believed the gods were as real as your next door neighbor. I, of course, have never met one, but that does not negate the possibility that they might have some physical form. Remember, we were supposedly born of the Keres, grandchildren of the goddess Nyx.”
I nodded, remembering Lysander’s telling of our legend. Vampires were the offspring of the Keres, who were daughters of Nyx, Goddess of the night. The Keres were extremely bloodthirsty creatures that swarmed battlefields to drink the blood of fallen soldiers. They finished off the dying so their souls could pass on to the underworld. According to Lysander’s story, one of the Keres had mated with a dying man, and the first vampire had been born of that union. Immortal like its mother, the new creation carried an insatiable bloodlust, but took on the form and build of its human father. Nyx didn’t wish the new creation destroyed and tried to hide it from the world. She cursed it to only be able to roam at night, where she could watch over it.
The lights in the room flickered for a moment. Again, Fallon and I exchanged worried looks. Nicholas’s eyes narrowed. He glanced from me, to Fallon, then to the box in his hands.
“Whatever this thing represents”—Nicholas held up the box—“it’s very old. We’ll need to bring this to Lysander’s attention as soon as he returns.”
 “We probably should have done that before we opened it.” I turned to Fallon.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t mean to open it. I don’t know what came over me.”
“There’s nothing we can do about that now.” A shiver ran down my spine as the words left my lips. Dread curdled in the pit of my stomach.
Fallon’s computer beeped. The twangy mechanical sound startled me from my thoughts. When I looked over, it was in the process of rebooting. The operating system splash screen flashed on the monitor.
Fallon scooted into the desk chair. “Why the heck did it do that?” She typed in the password as soon as the dialogue box came up on screen. “Something strange is going on here.”

To purchase a copy of Pandora's Box, stop by Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk or Barnes & Noble

Final Day of the Vampire Bites Tour!!!



It's been a fabulous tour and I want to give a big shout out to The Bookish Snob for putting this all together!





If you are in the market for a wonderful blog tour, look no further than The Bookish Snob!! Great prices and service! Thank you Bels for a fantastic tour!!

OK! Now on to the fun stuff. For those who have followed the tour, you know I have stopped at many places and at each of those you have had an opportunity to win a copy of Vampire Bites. If you didn't win, there is still one more chance. In fact, I am opening up the prize package to all of my books.  

 
That's right, you heard me. One lucky winner will get my entire ebook collection!







To enter the giveaway...

1 entry for leaving a comment on this blog.
1 entry for Tweeting about the giveaway (be sure to use @quixotickatie in your tweet so I can count it)
1 entry for sharing the giveaway via Facebook 
1 entry for Blogging about the giveaway

The Fine Print...

All books will be in electronic format.Prize will be awarded in the form of a Smashwords coupon emailed to the winner. 

Contest/Giveaway will run from today July 29th- Sunday July 31st. The winner will be announced Monday, August 1st!

You can earn a total of 4 chances to win. Please leave your comment on this blog (be honest about how many entries you have earned. Honor system here people!) and give me some way to contact you (email is preferred.)  
If I cannot contact you, I cannot award you your prize.

Good Luck and thanks for following the Vampire Bites Tour!!

Happy Reading.

Social Network Marketing Tips

Your online personality is part of your overall platform as an author. It’s an excellent interactive experience for you and your readers.
However, you can’t treat your online presence as a virtual billboard for your books. The biggest part of social networking is the social aspect. I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but you need to be active online. However there is a caveat.
Active means being a participant, not a spammer.
It’s a good idea to have accounts at all of the standard social networking sites.
Facebook
Twitter
Linkedin
Myspace

Beyond those there are a few other book related ones you should join as well.
Goodreads
Library Thing
Shelfari
Authors Den
Amazon Author Central
Kindleboards The single best resource I have found for Indie Authors. (Just spend an hour combing through the Writers Café and you will learn so much about writing, promoting, getting reviews, etc… I wish I had found this resource sooner. )

Consider these all as places to interact with your peers and readers. Notice I said interact.
Remember, Don’t Be A Spammer!!
It’s ok to mention your books and the good things happening with them, but don’t make that the only thing you talk about. No one wants to read a thousand lines of

“My book is out.”
“I just released this book.”
“I sold a copy of my new book.”
“Did you know I have a new book out?”
“Have you bought my book yet?”
“Buy my book.”

It gets old really quickly. Constantly marketing yourself and your work in your status updates will cause people to start clicking “unfriend” to shut you up.
I was guilty of that in the beginning. And guess what, it didn’t help my sales at all. In fact, I lost followers when I did that.
I’m not saying you can’t mention your work, because you have to spread the word, but do it as part of your interaction with others, not as the intent of it.
If you’re on Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, etc… before you even think to post something about your work, go through your friends list and make sure you have given other people’s post time and consideration. You’re not the only one out there. Your followers are your audience and your potential readers. Keep them close. They are the ones who will (hopefully) buy your next book, you want them to know you care about them.

Here are a few quick Social Networking faux pas to avoid.
• Don’t directly ask someone to follow you.
There are millions of people online and it may be tempting to contact them and suggest yourself as a person of interest, trust me, don’t do this. Instead of coming across as cool and interesting, you come across as the type of person who will spam their friends daily with request of “buy my book.” Be interesting and social, toss out your screen name or twitter handle when asked, but don’t go begging for new followers.
• Don’t email or message strangers with advertisements for your book.
Just like the advice above, don’t contact random strangers or new followers and shove your book’s information under their noses. If someone gets to know you, they will naturally learn about your book. That’s a better sales pitch than the hard sell.
• Don’t use your social profile to only talk about yourself or your book.
Part of being social is the interacting. You are not interacting if you are just standing on your soap box screaming about your book.
• Don’t forget to proofread your posts. You’re an author, people will look at your spelling and grammar a little more harshly than they would any other average Joe. Put your best face forward and quickly proof your post before you hit send.
• Don’t use links in every post.
If all you post is links, you will be ignored very quickly. Just like with the last piece of advice, this is not interacting with your audience. Yes, it is ok to post the occasional link, but your purpose for social networking is to be part of the conversation, not someone who stops the flow and directs traffic away.
• Don’t post hundreds of updates a day.
Posting too little can be troublesome, but posting too much is worse. Instead of being creative and witty, your post become white noise among the throng of thousands of other people spamming the system. Only post when you have something worthwhile to say, otherwise, stick to commenting on your friends posts.
• Don’t pester someone who stopped following you.
There are many social “helper” sites out there that will let you see who is and who is not following you. If someone has dropped you as a “friend” there was probably a good reason for it. Either you were not interacting with them, they did not like what you had to say, or you spammed them. No matter what the reason, leave them alone. Pestering a dropped follower is a sure fire way to give you a bad reputation online!

Now that you know what you shouldn’t do, here are a few things you want to make sure that you actually do.

• Do join in the conversation. Did one of the people you follow say something witty? Respond to it. Get in on any good conversations that are happening. That’s the best way to be social and get to know your online friends.
• Do share funny links, videos, posts, etc… just do it in moderation. Remember what I said above, don’t spam the system.
• Do ask questions in your post to promote social interaction. I have found that asking the audience really gets people involved. I write about vampires and ask lots of opinions of my readers, wanting to know what they like and don’t. The questions result in tons of responses.

With Facebook, you have the ability to set up “Fan Pages.” This can be a great way for you to make a separate space just for your author persona and books. This would be the best place to post your book related news!

If you’re on Twitter, scroll down through the tweets and get involved in the interesting conversations going on, don’t just sign on to post your latest update.
Twitter is an interesting site which seems to have bred specific days where marketing and promoting are accepted. Take advantage of it. But again, Don’t be a Spammer!
#WW = Writer Wednesday (Don’t post your link, but link to other great writers. They might link you back and that helps you gain followers.)
Use #WW in front of a person’s @ name to tweet about them
Example
#WW @ihateuncleshady – awesome guy. Check out his work.
(this is actually my hubby. But he's not a writer. He loves to post random craziness though.)
#FF = Follow Friday (Similar to Writer Wednesday, this is where you can post links to your friends. Again, don’t post yourself; this is to share the love. Often times, the people you link will link back to you, and this may help you gain followers.
Example
#FF @ihateuncleshady – awesome guy. Check out his work.

#samplesunday (post a link to a FREE sample of your current work.)
Example
Read the first 2 chapters of Karma & Melodies #SampleSunday http://tinyurl.com/6bv9rhj
Remember not to be a spammer here. One or two post spread throughout the day is ok. One post every 10 minutes is BAD.
Also, while I'm on the subject of posting your promotions, I would also like to mention that it's good manners to share the love. Do a bit of Re-Tweeting for your fellow authors too. Don't just make it all about you.
When I signed on to Twitter, I found an author group specifically geared to helping indie authors promote each other.
Independent Author Network http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/
Sign up here and be sure to help spread the word about your fellow indies, don’t just expect people to tweet about you. This is a collaborative effort.
Again though, I can't state it enough, don’t spend all day spamming twitter about yourself or other authors. The occasional post every so often is good. But ultimately you need to be interacting, not advertising.



Social Oomph.

It can be intimidating and overwhelming to think of all the Facebook-ing and Tweet-ing you might have to do to get your name and book out there.
One utility I’ve found to be helpful with this is
http://www.socialoomph.com/

This utility can help you track followers, set automatic updates, and much more. It’s free for basic use and cheap for the "added features." Start with free though and see where that gets you.

The best use of this I’ve found is to automate your promotional post. I set up my weekly #WW, #FF, # SampleSunday, and Book-related post and then let the utility make the scheduled posts.

Again!!! Remember, do not be a spammer!! (Are you sick of me saying that? Too bad. It's very important.)

Scheduling the promo stuff takes care of my marketing and leaves me free to interact with people while I'm actually there on the website.

Read more tips and tricks in my handy dandy little guide.

Available exclusively on Kindle!

Baby, What Are You Thinking? Show and Tell Isn’t Just for School, Ya know…

Today's Guest post comes from Mr. Marc Mattaliano.
 

Writing since I was little, the best thing to describe Marc Mattaliano is his analytical nature that knows no bounds.  Intelligence is defined as what you know, while wisdom is defined as what you get out of what you know.  My personal experiences have been slight, but I have gained so much from each and every one of them by asking questions, constantly breaking things down and wondering if my choices have been the right ones, that I consider myself wiser than some who have endured far more than me yet are completely unwilling to question anything.  When it comes to writing, despite having three full-length books (one self-published, one almost ready for queries, and one in need of major updating), my work may seem amateur to some, but I’ve come to find that everything I put together these days is extremely intentional.  A lot of people say they don’t want to die with regrets.  Personally, I love my regrets.  They inspire me to do things better next time.  I’m 30, born and raised in NJ, 100% Italian, and I’m a lot harsher in words than I am in person.  Enjoy!
Read some of Marc's writing here:  https://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/bookdisplay.aspx?bookid=72031&pdept=Bookstore%20Homepage&pfind=browse


Baby, What Are You Thinking?  Show and Tell Isn’t Just for School, Ya know…

Some of you TV buffs may have heard the recent announcement that the critically acclaimed FOX show, Lie to Me, was unfortunately cancelled.  I was extremely skeptical of the show when it was promoted before the pilot aired, but my fiancée and I decided to give it a shot.  Sure enough, it only took an episode or two before we were hooked.

For those who didn’t see it, the show focused on a character named Cal Lightman, a man versed in the science of reading peoples’ instinctual facial expressions to tell if they’re lying.  The idea is that when we’re angry, happy, sad, pensive, ambitious, anything you can think of, our face and body show it.  So, when Cal would present people with certain stimuli or ask certain questions, he’d read the little twitches and movements their faces and bodies made, and based on what emotions they’re feeling when presented with said stimuli, Cal could tell whether a person was lying.

After some clever manipulation with the real facts in his head, he quickly got the answers he was looking for.
Incidentally, in my humble opinion, while the show had the greatest premise imaginable, Cal tended to be a character that really didn’t endure much in the way of personal suffering.  It was a show that hung on one main character, and doing this can be risky for any series, no matter the medium.  Cal also never had a regular arch-nemesis who pushed his abilities to their limits.  He always came out the victor.  He always had a warm little moment with his daughter Emily at the end of each episode.  It was nice and sweet but people don’t take in thrilling dramas for nice, sweet moments.

They watch feel-good movies and chick flicks for that stuff.

As an aspiring novelist, one thing Lie to Me made me think of is the issue of Showing vs. Telling.  Briefly, this occurs when an author explains too much of what is happening to a character, and doesn’t really help the reader experience what the character is feeling, thus creating too great a distance.

What Cal Lightman did, as a face reader, is something not a lot of us civilians are too good at, even though we’d all like to think we are when we watch movies or TV shows.

Thing is, when we watch a story unfold on any kind of screen, we don’t tend to have that in-depth running view of the characters’ inner monologues.  When we watch, it’s not like 1984 where these handy little screens exist to show what characters are thinking.  We’re pretty much forced to judge others the same as Cal Lightman does because, in essence, that’s all we have to judge about this or that character.

In that case, what we see is far more important.  The physical aspects that we observe make more of an impact, and are sometimes easier to portray, than in writing.  Something as small as a finger twitch is really easy for an actor to pull off, and directors to tell camerapeople to shoot, however describing it in words beyond simply “his finger twitched,” and making it sound in any way relevant and important enough to mention, may be much harder.  That finger twitch on a page might be a key detail, and get so buried among other details that it ends up getting lost, and as I discussed in previous posts, making a situation easy to grasp can sometimes maintain its interest level.

On the other hand, when we write, it’s far easier to show what’s going on inside a person’s head in real time.  I mean, isn’t that how reading works?

A writer is basically giving readers the words to use to create images and situations in their imaginations.  Fundamentally speaking, audiences can all do this on their own without books.  Books just make it easier because they don’t need to compose the words themselves.  Thus, reading a book is a lot like the instruction manual that tells us what to think to experience great tales, and when that instruction manual is the exact thoughts a character is thinking?  Even better!

Circumstances are unfolding, a situation becomes deeper and more challenging, and depending on the perspective an author is writing from, we can watch the inner monologue of a character change as things are happening in the moment!  Especially from a first person perspective, I can watch a character’s mindset grow and change and evolve from the beginning of the story to the end.

I can see a character be angsty and whiny in one part of a book, and their inner monologue show a confident, powerful being by the end because of the circumstances they endure.  Sure, they can act different between the beginning and end, but I want to know something about the characters that we ask about everyone we know in real life.

“What makes you tick?”  Quite honestly, people…that’s why I’ve read books in the past.

If I want to see people doing things and examine every aspect of their movements, gestures and externally displayed emotions, I’ll watch a movie or TV show, because I can actually SEE the characters in question.  If I don’t want my experience complicated by inner monologues, but I want to battle and work hard to bring a character to the end of a journey, I’ll play a video game.  These are media that are primarily action and dialogue, with a hint of Cal Lightman-esque face and body reading.

If I want to know what’s going on inside characters’ heads, I’ll pick up a book.

The idea and premise behind “Showing Over Telling” is that a reader should be able to envision what a character is physically doing so that they can let their imaginations examine a person’s behavior.  And although I don’t disagree with that (I was informed recently that a WIP of mine does this and agree 100% that I’ve done it a bit too often in the past), I’m inclined to believe, at least when it comes to stories written in first person, that the medium of writing isn’t quite being used properly or even to its fullest potential when too much action, and not enough internal thought processes, are described.

Writing in a third person perspective feels different, as the omniscience of the nameless, faceless, identity-less narrator hovers over the characters.  It mainly shows the personality of the author by occasionally peeking into specific characters’ minds at specific times to show the reader key pieces of information.  However, it’s my belief that when writing in first person, it’s far more fun and engaging to experience thoughts as a character is having them, than just having that character describe everything they’re doing.

I think that’s the thing that creates the most distance with that particular perspective, because no one in their right mind goes about their day, thinking out and describing everything they’re doing as they doing them.  Whether we’re busy as bees at work, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, straightening up our respective areas, visiting family, hanging out with friends, having a fist fight, etc., we’re having thoughts.  We’re thinking to ourselves, making internal judgments, silently preening or cutting others down, whatever.

Think of it this way…when a person has self-esteem issues and sees a therapist, they’re occasionally told to look at themselves in a mirror and speak to themselves over and over, saying things like “I’m beautiful,” “I’m important,” “I’m attractive,” and other positive descriptions, the logic being that by repeating (and even merely vocalizing) these things to oneself, eventually one begins to believe.

Writing in first person can be the same way.

The temptation for a reader is to fit oneself into a character’s shoes and what better way to do that than to verbalize the thoughts of a character on the page.  Obviously, every character can’t be relatable to every single reader, and not every reader needs to feel they relate entirely to a character in order to enjoy the fantasy.

It’s all a matter of an author presenting readers with characters that have interesting enough ideas and thoughts, characters that take away some insightful lessons from their circumstances.  In some cases, showing can be less important than telling, and in other cases, telling can ruin things.

It’s said that as authors, we need to have confidence in our work.  But always remember to take what you say on paper with a grain of salt, at least at first.  Once you’ve thought it through, let the confidence flow freely.

Travelocity's Lack of Customer Service Can Ruin a Perfectly Good Vacation


Travelocity claims: “Everything about your booking will be RIGHT, or we'll work with our partners to make it right, right away.

That’s a whole lot of pretty sounding words that make you think the company is going to go above and beyond to make you happy, but those words mean nothing special. As a service provider, if Travelocity accepts money from you to provide a service, they are required to provide the service they have been paid for. Pretty words or not, that’s the bottom line.

If a company doesn’t provide a service then why would you use them?

Simple answer: You shouldn’t.

And that brings us to my story, and why I will never use Travelocity again. You might consider your options as well, but don’t just take my warning at face value, hear my recent travel woes and see for yourself the lack of service I’ve been given by this company.

I originally booked through Travelocity because they offered a good deal on my flight from Las Vegas to Austin. We were scheduled to fly July 14th on Froniter Airlines flight 674 from Las Vegas (McCarran International Airport) to Denver (Denver International Airport) and then connect on to flight 212 from Denver (Denver International Airport) to Austin (Austin Bergstrom airport). Our flight from Las Vegas to Denver was delayed due to mechanical issues with the aircraft, (it was fixed at the gate). We arrived in Denver with enough time to make our connecting flight; however, that flight never took off.

Due to hail damage Frontier Airlines had begun canceling flights departing from Denver International Airport.
http://travel.usatoday.com/flights/post/2011/07/hail-storm-fallout-denver-cancellations-soar-into-hundreds/177360/1
http://travel.usatoday.com/flights/post/2011/07/frontier-hail-delays/177182/1

It would have been beneficial if Frontier Airlines had alerted us to these impending cancellations before we took off from Las Vegas, as it effectively stranded us in Denver.

Travelocity was unable to assist us with this due to the extreme hold times on Frontier Airline's customer service line. (Both my husband and I placed phone calls and hold times were over 2 hours long) We were advised to speak to customer service directly. So, our only recourse was to speak with Frontier Airline's customer service (in the airport terminal) and be re-booked onto a different flight. The line for customer service was well over two hours long and included literally thousands of stranded passengers.  My daughter (7 years old) and I waited in the line until we were finally assisted by an (understandably) exhausted customer service rep. She informed us there were no flights from Denver to Austin that we could re-book on, until the 17th of July (remember folks, this happened on the 14th of July). This was unacceptable. She offered us a partial reimbursement for the trip but made no other arrangements. I was not, nor am I still pleased by this particular representative’s lack of service, but we had very little choice. Being told we were stuck in Denver for 4 days of our vacation was not an acceptable option. We opted for the partial refund for the leg of the trip serviced by Frontier Airline's flight 212 from Denver to Austin and were told to pick up our bags at baggage claim.  A refund was to be processed within 2 weeks. While this was happening, my Husband (still in Vegas) was working to get me and my daughter booked onto a new flight using Southwest. (That cost us $312 out of pocket)

We exited the terminal and proceeded to Baggage claim to locate our bags, but they were nowhere to be found. Another hour and a half wait to speak with customer service told us they were already heading toward Austin. Apparently some of the flights were still leaving, we just couldn’t get on one…

Frontier Airlines is now on top of my “Do Not Fly” list, but this particular post is to focus on Travelocity’s failure, for that, I have to also explain Frontier Airline’s as well.

Thank you Frontier Airlines, who (owned by Republic Airways) works under the motto : “A whole different animal" represents our promise to you. Simply put, our goal is to do the little things that make a big difference to you.”

Yes, stranding us in Denver while shipping our bags ahead of us is most certainly a “little thing” that will make a huge difference in my decision to ever use your airline again.
http://www.frontierairlines.com/frontier/who-we-are.do
http://www.frontierairlines.com/frontier/who-we-are/company-info/our-difference.do

Republic Airways, (the parent company of Frontier) works off of a similar “sounds nice but doesn’t mean crap motto”: “Republic Airways will continue to build customer loyalty and brand preference for our airline partners through consistent, seamless customer service.”

Seamless customer service would not have had us waiting in two separate lines for customer service (one at the terminal and one in baggage claim) to solve our flight and baggage issues.
http://www.rjet.com/settingacourse.html

Over 10 hours later we did finally make it to Austin and sure enough, our baggage was there waiting for us, in the Frontier Airlines Baggage claim office, but because it was so late (12:00am local time), no one was there in the office to retrieve them for us.

Finally settled in, with luggage and after a good night’s sleep, I decided to check on my travel itinerary. I had hoped that since I had added travel insurance, I might be able to have the cost of the additional tickets through Southwest reimbursed. When I inputted my Trip ID (Travelocity’s way of tracking each itinerary), I was shocked to find out that my tickets had completely disappeared from the system. My daughter, still had tickets however she was still listed as being in Denver, waiting for her replacement flight to Austin on the 17th of July.

Now, I’m a computer person, I understand glitches happen, so I gave it a bit to see if the information would correct itself. It did not, so on the 18th (5 days into the trip), I made a call to Travelocity to inquire about the missing ticket and the discrepancy with my daughter’s flight plans.

Because my flight had been deleted from Travelocity’s system, the initial representative I spoke to (non-American) was unable to locate me. It took over an hour of speaking (read: working through his heavy accent and repeating myself many, many times) with him and having him research the original itinerary to find me and attempt to put the pieces together of what had gone wrong with my Trip ID. The phone call ended with him having to research further where the glitch in the system was. He assured me I would receive email confirmation of both tickets and suggested that if I did not receive these email confirmations, I should call back.

24 hours later, (now the 19th of July. 6 days into the trip) it was still not fixed. I still had no tickets home and my daughter was to fly alone (not going to happen) on the 30th of July. So I made another phone call. This representative (another non-American) began assigning me new confirmation numbers that were not linked to my Trip ID (please note that the Trip ID is how Travelocity keeps track of your itinerary. The confirmation numbers are Frontier's specific numbers that coincide with  their own system). Neither Travelocity’s nor Frontier’s website could show me any information linked to these new confirmation codes I was given. 

This resulted in another phone call to Travelocity Customer service. It is now the 20th of July (7 days into the trip). I explain to yet another non-American customer service representative what has been happening and that I still do not exist on Travelocity’s website, nor do my confirmation codes work anywhere on Frontier’s website. The rep assures me that the codes are good and that I have tickets booked and confirmed but cannot provide written confirmation of this. I must take it all on faith that when I get to the airport on the 30th of July, I will have a flight home for both me and my daughter.

Now, I’m not a very trusting person. I paid good money for these tickets and because I no longer exist under a Trip ID that was assigned to me, I am extremely wary of just “showing up” at the airport, so I demand written confirmation.

It is now the 24th of July, 11 days into the trip. I have made a phone call every day and been brushed off each time by promises of a supervisor calling back or their specialist team handling my issue. I have spoken to rude customer service individuals, Ryan in particular (he was non-American but refused to give me a name other than Ryan.). I have asked for supervisors (Spoke with non-American woman this time) who apologized but could not fix the issue and, just as with all of the others, could not provide me written confirmation of my ticket to Las Vegas. She was however, able to provide me 2 duplicate confirmations for my daughter, then blamed a “glitch in the system” for the inability to provide my confirmation.

After all of this, I am still being told to take it on “faith” that my tickets are good and confirmed on Frontier. If they are confirmed, then why can no one provide me written confirmation? If a “glitch” in their system is preventing them from confirming my ticket in writing, I ask, how am I to trust the verbal confirmation they are giving me? Will the gate agent at the airport just take a verbal assurance from me that a ticket exists? How about TSA agents, will they let me through security based on my word? I think not.

It’s been well over a week since my first phone call. If Travelocity’s motto is: “Everything about your booking will be RIGHT, or we'll work with our partners to make it right, right away,” I ask you, what exactly does “right away” mean?

Travelocity has failed to provide the very basic of service to me and it seems all of the “work” involved in attempting to make it “right” has been done by me, spending many hours of my vacation time working to ensure that I will be able to make it home safely.

Beyond the fact that I have had to do all of the legwork (daily phone calls) , Travelocity has not even offer even the smallest amount of appeasement for the lack of service they promised but have not provided. This is no way to treat a customer and the reason why I am writing this blog now. I want others to know of the troubles I’ve had and the lack of care Travelocity has shown in correcting the matter and keeping me as a customer.

My story could easily be yours. Customers are nothing more than a number in Travelocity’s system, and as it stands, my number (Trip ID) still fails to show me as a passenger, so I am less than nothing in their system.

The lesson learned here is this: It’s better to book directly with the airline than to use a package service agency like Travelocity.

Once I get things solved with Travelocity, I still have to fight with Frontier to get my reimbursement for flight 212… But that’s a blog post for another day.

Travelocity Board  Of Directors

Author Spotlight with Chloe JonPaul





K.S.  Hello and welcome to the blog. I am very excited to have you here. Why don’t we start off with a small introduction? Tell us a little about yourself. 

I’ll simply share a few things I’ve accomplished since the age of 50.  Otherwise it would be too lengthy (smile).

I have three published books since 2003: 2 non-fiction, 1 fiction
I won the Title of Ms. Maryland Senior America 2003
In 1996, I was the recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship Seminars Abroad award to South Africa

I was Lead facilitator for the Alternatives to Violence Project in prison and community workshops on conflict resolution for ten years

I was State representative for the National Family Caregivers Association’s caregiver community action network 2006-2008

I have traveled to all 7 continents of the world –fulfilling a lifetime goal in 2005.
       
K.S.  Any interesting writing quirks or stories you would like to share with my readers?

I think the quirkiest story I can share is that I actually trashed this novel after I wrote it.  My good friend Helene retrieved it saying, “You are NOT throwing this away!”  So I took it back, shelved it somewhere, and practically forgot about it until last year when I began seeing things in the news about teachers that are actually in my novel that I wrote back in 1991.  I said to myself: “Wow! Everything I’m reading is actually in my book!

K.S.  When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? What sparked the desire to pen your first novel? * see below

I have always loved to write – even as a young child but I never really thought about doing it seriously.  As an adult, I wrote occasional articles for small magazines and newspapers.I started writing my first book in 2002. 


K.S.  What genre do you write?

My first 2 books are non-fiction and the novel would be considered literary fiction.

K.S.  What would you say has inspired you most in your writing career? Or, who is your favorite author and why?

My high school English teacher, Margery Harriss, was a great inspiration for me.  Now, laugh if you will, but Isaiah in the Old Testament and the Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are my favorites.  They contributed to the Greatest Story Ever Told!

K.S.  What does your family think of your writing?


My family has no interest whatsoever in my writing and I no longer share anything with them. I’m certain that I am neither the first nor the last in this category.

K.S.  What was one of the most surprising things you learned while creating your book?

Perhaps the most surprising thing was being able to get “inside the skin of the male characters – capturing their thoughts, words, and actions.

K.S.  What inspired you to write your novel?

This came about as a result of having experienced the joys and sorrows of being a classroom teacher as well as the union activist I had been in the past… and as Vera says in the Prologue: “ because the story that claws at my brain and keeps me awake nights has to be told.”
I had lived much of what your readers will discover in reading about the problems teachers face in the classroom. 


K.S.  Can you tell us a little about your novel?

  This is what is on the back cover:

Vera Harriss, Deidre Fletcher, Mark Pettingill, and Stu Martel are elementary school teachers in the fictional town of Blevins, Maine whose secret, private lives change dramatically as you read.
  Vera, who is about to retire, vents her anger during a Board of Education meeting with a speech that brings the audience to its feet. Why does Deidre, an exceptional teacher, leave the job she loves to become a corporate trainer down South?  Then there is Mark, the perennial job hunter looking for a corporate position with more prestige and pay but then turns down the perfect offer when it finally comes through.  Stu, one of the most popular teachers in the school,struggles with a deep, dark secret that he can only share with Deidre.  What causes Stu’s untimely death?

Vera Harriss, Dee Fletcher, Mark Pettingill, and Stu Martel are eager to share their intriguing secrets and entangled lives with you.



K.S.  Where can we find your novel?

If your readers visit my web site, all the major bookstore locations are listed there.

K.S.  Do you have a website, fan site, or Blog that we can visit?

My web site is www.chloejonpaul.com.  I have a fan site on Facebook for This Business of Children.

K.S.  Do you have any closing advice to aspiring writers?

My closing advice is simply this:
* Identify your target audience.
* Network with like-minded people.
* Prepare an outline of what you want to accomplish.
* Set a date for completion.
* think POD: persistence,organized, determined