Blog Tour: Author Extraordinaire - Michelle McLean

Hello everyone! I have the extreme honor of hosting a published author on this humble establishment that I call my blog. Author Michelle McLean is currently on her blog tour to promote her new book: Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers.

Where was this woman when I was in high school? Where was this book? Oh, how I wish I could go back in time to all those days when I sat there in class, chewing the eraser end off my pencil, with a blank page in front of me, wondering why the teacher demons would bestow such torture on this helpless student's soul by making her write an essay. AHHH! Horrible flashback moment!

Okay... okay... I'm all right. But, what if you are a parent whose children are experiencing such problems now? Would you really banish them to the depths of "Term Paper Gehanna" without the appropriate tools to succeed?  Here is the book that describes essay writing in user-friendly terms and examples to take the mystery out of pen/paper/lengthy dissertation work.

The newest addition to Career Press’s best-selling Homework Helpers series is a fun, user-friendly guide that takes the confusion out of writing essays and papers for students of all ages. Unlike other books that are so full of technical jargon they confuse more than help, Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers uses straightforward language and simple steps to guide students through the essay-writing process.

Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers

· Describes in detailed "plain English" each element and step involved in writing a dozen different types of essays

· Includes a rough, edited, and final draft sample of each type of essay discussed

· Explains the necessity of proofreading and citing sources, providing tips and instruction on how to accomplish these tasks

· Presents step-by-step instructions on how to write a great SAT essay

Students of all ages can find help on writing essays for every major subject in high school or college. Beginners will find guidance on the basics, while those further along in their educational careers can adapt the detailed instructions for more in-depth assignments.

This book is available at Amazon, B&N and Borders.

Author Michelle McLean was kind enough to answer some questions concerning her book and breaking into the non-fiction writing market. So, let's have a chat with this wonderful woman.

Michelle McLean is a writer and the Chief Editorial Consultant for PixelMags, LLC. 

In addition to her non-fiction work, Michelle writes YA historical novels and other children’s books. 

If she's not editing, reading or chasing her kids, she can usually be found in a quiet corner working on her next book. 

What made you decide to write this book?

In doing some refresher research for a few How To posts I was doing for my blog, I became very irritated at the overly complicated and under-explained guidebooks and websites I was coming across. Some only listed the rules with no explanation how to get the process started. And some went overboard on explanation, but did so in a way that even I could barely understand. I just didn’t get why people had to make the process so complicated and confusing.

My goal with it is to help people, especially students, get through their assignments with the least amount of pain and confusion possible. Essays are something that everyone has to write, whether they want to or not. Being confused by the process doesn’t make it any easier.
Was there anyone in your life that inspired you to write this, or who presently inspires you in your writing career?

Mostly my brother and sister. I was always helping them with their essays (in fact, my brother is still in college so I’m still helping him) :D My sister would sit down and ask me “what now? What now?” over and over until I’d almost written the whole essay for her :) She knew what needed to be done but had no idea how to go about doing it. I kept them in mind as I wrote this book.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers when it comes into breaking into the non-fiction market?

Start building your platform. Most authors nowadays are expected to help promote their own books, but this is especially true for non-fiction. Publishers not only want a great book, they want to know how you can help sell it and if you have an audience base already in place, your chances of getting published will be much better.

Having said that, if you have an awesome book idea, something that people need or will be interested in that isn’t all ready out there…go for it. My platform isn’t the best one out there. But my book was one that generated enough interest publishers were willing to take a chance on me. There are a lot of writing guidebooks out there, but none that I could find that actually walk you through every single step of the process, in plain easy-to-understand English, providing fun examples the whole way. 

Do what you can to build your platform, and then let the book speak for itself.
Are you planning any bookstore tours, workshops, or attending seminars? If you have attended any, such as writing workshops, which would you recommend?

I haven’t attended any workshops…I have a masters in English, so my writing experience comes from many, many years of writing my own essays and papers (several of which are used as examples in my book actually) :) But I am going to be appearing at my local bookstore in March and again at the end of the summer for their bi-annual teacher resources event. I will be working on putting together an online writing workshop as well and should have some more information about that in a few months.
Thank you, Michelle McLean, for the interview and the opportunity to be a part of your author blog tour! Parents, help your children to make homework, and essay writing, an easy and fun learning experience by picking up this book: Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers. Now available at your local bookstore and retailers.

Blog Chain: I'm scared... are you?

Hello again everyone! I'm back with the blog chain. Let's get to the scary, teeth-chattering, make-your-hair-stand-on-end, heart-stopping question of this post. This round's question was posed by Christine as she asks...

What is the main character of you current WiP MOST afriad of, and why? Don't use a previously finished work. This is all about discovering the inner motivations of your current characters - the ones you dn't know that well yet.

I had to think about this question, not so much about the character's fears, but which character I should base this blog chain on. A lot of my projects are completed, and the stipulation had to do with talking about a character's fear from the current WIP still rolling around in the bubbly stew juices on the back burner inside my head. But I decided on my character called George Bastion.

He's something of a mystery in himself, a janitor working in a music theater. He is an oddball, someone who seems harmless yet has such a commanding presence when he wishes to show it. Think of Forrest Gump with a push broom. George has a secret crush, an obsession, on a theater actress named Mabel. Borderline stalker? Yes, but there is more to it than this.

Mabel is the typical egotistical actress who wants her name in the spotlight, but is upstaged by another theater diva. Mabel begins to have thoughts of getting her time in the spotlight, even if it means getting rid of the competition, and she has big plans to use George in her scheme.

Sorry, I've digressed. I don't really draw up character sketches of the WIPs. I'm the type of someone who doesn't WANT to know how the story goes before I write it. I want the story (or blog post) to flow off the top of my head. I seem more creative in such a manner. So, at the moment, I'm just working out the plot, and the plot gets stranger.

Although I've portrayed George as a simpleminded janitor being taken in with a scheming actress through his puppy dog adoring love, don't let this deceive you. Like any great actor of the stage, George is one of the best. He has to be, since he isn't exactly human... or rather, he is not even alive.

Did I just confuse a lot of people?

Okay, George is... I don't know. I haven't really hashed it out yet. An alien? No. Zombie? Nuh-uh. Bloodsucking Twilight pretty boy vampire? Sorry, no available donors around.

He's... I haven't really established this bit about him. But I do know a bit of his fears. He doesn't have any guilt. He isn't afraid of losing his love. The greatest fear my character has is... cats.

Yes. Cats.

Cats reveal who he is. Cats... well, let me show you a sample from the chapter that talks about it.

With hands jammed into my jacket pockets for warmth, I strolled down the street while whistling and humming. She lived closer than I had expected, as I walked the four blocks until arriving at a large three-storey house sitting a little more alone than the other buildings nearby. No lights brightened the rooms inside. I knew she was unmarried from the letters I had read in the glove box. Miss Cameron Weltz. A pretty name. Not as pretty a name as Mabel, but she was not as pretty a woman as my Mabel.

I walked along the pathway toward the back of the house as I found a locked fence door and climbed over it using one hand. The building had a stairwell leading toward the locked basement door. A pathway brick worked well to break the door knob off and one swift kick had the entry open. I shuffled my way past stored furniture and boxes toward the steps, where I heard a growling sound from the other side of the door at the top.

I grunted and turned the knob without hesitation. The laughter burst out from my mouth before I could stop it as I entered the kitchen. The little Pomeranian hopped in place by the livingroom entry, its fierce yaps directed at the intruder. I strolled toward the refrigerator, found a Tupperware bowl of chicken salad, and dumped the food on the floor in front of the dog. Then I laid the empty container into the sink. She ate the salad up immediately, her tail wagging happily.

 I stepped over the lapping hairball and turned on the light as I studied the living room. It was a very nice house. The style bordered on industrial frou-frou as the bold colors on the walls accented the paisley-colored drapes and upholstery. Surrealism paintings sat at deliberate angles while shelf units held cherub figurines and china teacups. Lace doilies rested on the coffee table shaped like a giant hand with fingers holding up the glass. My face frowned at the contradicting sights. Then I sighed in comprehension.

The woman had a roommate.

This news should have made me happy. I was hoping the man lived with her as a steady boyfriend. Yet nothing in the house supported this possibility, especially when a feminine voice shouted from upstairs.

“Pipple, stop making all that racket!”

Pipple? I scratched my head before scrambling out of the way of the rushing dog. The Pomeranian dashed toward the stairs and wagged her tail again while staring upward. She sat on hind legs with front paws boxing at the air as the stairwell light flicked on. A sleepy yawn told of the roommate’s descending body.

I shifted back toward the kitchen. I closed the basement door then lifted up the tablecloth and scooted underneath. My body knelt under the table and my ears listened to the footfalls of someone entering the living room. Then a hissing noise caused a shiver through me. I shifted around on my heels.

The Persian cat sat curled on a kitchen chair, his fur fluffing out as the feline looked twice as large. His yellow eyes dilated as he fastened his perpetual glaring face at me. In fascination, I dared myself to reach out toward him. My hand neared, as I watched the skin flake off and the bones of fingers dry as they began to crack. The painful groan lifted from my throat as I snatched my arm back. I shifted my bony hand into my jacket and hissed at the cat, unable to scramble from under the tablecloth as the roommate’s footsteps entered the kitchen. He hissed back, too frightened of me to run away. We were at an impasse.

A door clicked open and clinking rattles filled the kitchen as the roommate huffed. Then the door slammed and her footsteps strolled toward the sink. A growl escaped from her mouth.

“Ah. Cameron! You knew that chicken salad was for my midnight meal at work tonight. And you didn’t even bother washing the dish out. Again!”

A faucet squeaked and water splashed into the sink. A plastic bottle made a raspy whooshing noise distracting the woman’s ears from the low growls erupting out of the cat’s throat. I sneered and scratched at the air with my fine hand. He mimed my action, his foreleg held out and clipped claws no longer a threat to a normal person. The tablecloth rustled at one side and Pipple’s face appeared. She gave a yap, the cat growled, and I rolled my eyes.

“Pipple, leave Sydney alone.” The empty kitchen chair scraped across the tiles as she pulled it out. Then the chair rammed back under the table and struck my arm. I held in the grimace as the second chair pulled out carrying the cat along. His claws clutched the seat as the roommate tugged him up. She gave one big yank and pushed the chair back.

“There, there, Sydney. It’s all right. That naughty Pipple won’t hurt you.” The roommate crooned at the cat before her voice barked louder than the dog’s yaps. “Pipple. Go to your bed. NOW.”

At a chastised whine, Pipple retreated from under the tablecloth. I followed after, shadowing the roommate’s footsteps as she walked out the kitchen. She dumped the cat on the couch, as he scurried into the litter box to hide out. The roommate took the steps slow as I paused by the answering service, staring at the blinking red light. 

That's about all I can tell you, literally. This chapter ends here and I haven't gotten back to it yet. But if George becomes afraid of something else more than cats, I'll let you know.

Anyway, you can read Eric's post tomorrow. And Sandra posted about her character's fears and it is quite interesting!
Blog news! I have the special honor of being a host to Author Michelle McLean's book tour. So stop by, share in the wonderful new book release smell, and give your congratulations (I also hear that if you leave comments, you can win nifty stuff from author Michelle). Come on and share in the fun!

Interested in a Full Manuscript Critique?

Sure you are! Who doesn't want one?

So head on over to Maria Zannini's blog and find out all the cool rules for it. Then come back and thank me with wonderful praise and chocolate martinis.

Blog Chain: Celebrate your strengths and weaknesses

Ah, we have arrived at the first new blog chain of 2011! Ce-le-bration time, C'MON! Let's celebrate!

And with those song words, let's begin the party as Sandra has the start of the 2011 celebration blog chain question:

What do you think your strengths and weaknesses as a writer are? Did you have to develop your strengths, or did they come naturally to you? How are you trying to overcome your weaknesses?

I would say that my one weakness was not preparing to do this blog chain, so I hadn't put all that much thought into it. Then my smartphone went off with a reminder my turn was today.

Me = almost flaking out on this round. BIG weakness.

Okay, I believe my biggest weakness is my wordiness. Yes, I've come to admit that for a long time now, which goes to show that I'm still fighting against this particular demon. I use too many words to get my point across.

And my strengths? I love developing a good twist ending. I like to say I can do dialect very well and I have no problem with developing transitions from one story arc to another, fitting in the pieces and able to keep the main focus of the plot together. Another strength is that I'm a good little panster, able to write off the top of my head without planning while (hopefully) still creating an entertaining story... sorta like this blog post I'm doing at the last minute without any planning.

All my talent is natural. I've never took any classes for creative writing. I don't have any degree for it. Most of my writing is quite natural. Whenever I wish to develop a new writing skill, I use my blogs. I create stories there and find out new ways in developing plot, entertaining characters, and perhaps LESSEN ON THE WORDINESS!

Well, that's about it. I'm going to get some leftover cake and New Year's Day drink and continue to ring in the new year into the next blog question. Read Cole's post and Eric's post on this topic.

Recently, I wrote a bit of a story on my other blog to bring in the 2011 new year. It's sort of a spur-of-the-moment freestyle piece. So there are very few editing and revisions done to it. Just a little bit of something, perhaps an ongoing writing piece I'll keep coming back to when time allows. Enjoy and leave any writing advice if you wish.

There has never been a new thought, a new word, a new story, a new way of looking at things or a new way of inventing something. Whatever idea you create now has been developed before. The only difference is how the idea is perceived, how it is used, and whether the person succeeds or fails...

The assistant shook her head and closes the door, leaving the scientist's nameplate and his idea of thought-provoking office decor behind. She approached the lab table and the white-robed shape with a perpetual bent to his back. Her nose wrinkled at the bright blue flash and the odor of burnt metal wire.

Solder on, mighty soldier. For your country needs you...

The assistant took a seat at another table, pulling out the romance novel from her jacket as her mentor worried away at his latest invention, something to do with human sound frequency. The assistant opened the novel to the dog-eared page of where she had left off in the story: the love triangle heating up between the virgin Duchess, her lowly chimney sweeper lover, and the pompous Baron high off his status as he stalks his love with false righteousness.

Duchess: I've never meet a man who could fill my heaving bosom with the fruits of passion.

Chimney sweeper: Sweet lady, I am but a lowly man. All that I own is the sweeping brush. All I am given is this mere six-pence and perhaps a spare end piece of three-day old bread. These things are my life, and I thought my life was content. Yet I've found something that I've never thought I could be given, or was within my status to have. Your love has left me wanting more, more than just sweeping out chimneys and eating stale bread...

Duchess: Hush! Did you hear a crackling from the nearby mulberry bush? I think the Baron has followed us to our secret meeting place.

Chimney sweeper: He is a man full of his own pride, his own ego, and his own justice. His mind is gone, obsessed for that which he cannot have by force. He wants you, my lady, and shall pursue you until that obsession is sated.

Duchess: But his obsession's gratification may not be what he desires. Quickly, my love. I see the glint of metal flashing in the foliage. Unlace the top straps of my bodice piece. There you will find the small dagger. Sate the Baron on what his obsession has led to...

"Ah, I think I have it now. Come over here, Lizzy."

The assistant sighed and dog-eared the new page as the book slipped into her lab jacket. Elizabeth strolled to the scientist's table, studying the wire-y mess of transistors and circuit boards. The contraption looked like a ninth-grade science project that might erupt lava, or more than likely just erupt completely into oblivion, at the clicking of the switch.

"And this is suppose to be the next big invention of the century?" Elizabeth's eyebrows shot up, seeking to migrate into her sandy blond hair.

"It is the next big invention of..." the scientist looked down at his watch "... April 5 of 2007 at 11:34 am. Whatever will be the next big invention of April 5, 2007 at 11:35, we will have to wait and see."

Elizabeth sighed, "And what, oh great mentor seeking his sixty seconds of fame, is this going to do to help humanity?"

The scientist spread out his hands above the invention as if bestowing good graces upon the machinery lightly humming. "This will save people's lives. Can you imagine a soldier out in the field, needing specific orders relayed to him about an ambush seen over the next ridge by a helicopter pilot, but the pilot unable to communicate with him by normal means? Can you imagine a way to tune into that particular soldier's hearing, his "signature frequency" that is unique only to him? Can you imagine sending out a warning that only his ears can pick up and his mind perceive? Can you imagine the implications?"

"I imagine some pervert having fun sending out dirty messages to unsuspecting women and believing he can get away with it." Elizabeth snorted and rolled her eyes.

"Come now, Lizzy. Think of the greater good. Men in distress contacting medical aid while in battle without giving away their position. Soldiers cut off from the rest of their battalion could arrange rendezvous coordinates while avoiding hostile forces."

"We work in the secret weapon's branch of the State's military department. 'Greater good' and 'military weaponry' means someone at one end of the tool is going to come to a messy end. Why invent something with the potential to hurt someone? Can you imagine, doctor, a convict getting away with killing everybody in a McDonald's by claiming someone else was manipulating him to do so through sound frequency? It gives new meaning to 'the voices in my head made me do it' in every court plea."

The doctor sighed. He swiveled his lab seat and pointed at his door. "Lizzy, you've read the plaque on my door, the one under my name. 'There's no new idea or new invention that hasn't been thought of before.' I've thought of this invention, but I won't allow my ego to believe that nobody else is smart enough to come up with the same invention. And what if that someone was an enemy to our country? I work for the military where my inventions can be used out in the field. Yes, I realize it could lead to hurting them also. But I have to keep holding on to that sliver of hope that my invention will save soldier's lives during combat."

"I only know that use of something can lead to misuse." Elizabeth stared at the soldering tool. It still smelled of burnt wire in the air. "Just because a person is smart enough to invent something doesn't mean they are not dumb enough to use it for a deadly purpose."

"There is nothing new under the sun," the doctor shook his head...
Michelle Thompkin's Diary
Journal entry 12: May 2010;

I would say this was an ordinary day that was part of an ordinary life. I would say my existence wasn't very significant to either myself or to other people. But I don't believe that is the case anymore. I've been hearing things, voices in my head. I want to think I was imagining them.

But I can't think that anymore.

I suppose if I told other people they would just roll their eyes and snort or give me funny looks like I was out of my mind. I can only imagine what a shrink would think if I told him the voices were harassing me in every way imaginable in my life.

Yeah, the shrink would think I've gone crazy.

But I know the voices are real. I know because they are familiar to me, familiar to the point where I've actually met the people beforehand. And the voices are the same to those people. There is also one little thing that brings me back from having everyone, including myself, into believing that I might be taking a headlong dive over the cliff of insanity.

Other people have heard the voices too.

But let's start from the beginning, when the Starbucks barista was filling up the napkin container as I sat in the lounge chair, sipping on a vanilla cafe mocha, as the voice called out, "BITCH!"

Nobody in the cafe turned their heads to look around at the offender to our coffee-sipping silence. Nobody except me and the barista, who frowned and stared about until our eyes momentarily locked. Then the woman scooted behind the counter and disappeared into the back of the store.

She couldn't blame me for calling out the derogatory word. The service I received was fine. Besides, the shouting voice had belong to a man and only one man was in the store. He was asleep in the chair next to mine.

to be continued...