Category Archives: Pirate of Panther Bay

Pirates, Aliens, and Cats, Oh My!

I will be signing copies of the Pirate of Panther Bay, St. Nic, Inc, A Warrior’s Soul, and Renegade at My Favorite Books in Tallahassee on Saturday, July 18, 2015, from 11 am to 1 pm. If you are in town, come out and join me as I talk about these books and others, including the forthcoming Tortuga Bay.June2015-signing

 

I will be joined by Bruce Ballister, the author of Dreamland Diaries and Orion’s Light. These popular sci-fi novels are great for young adults and adults, and Bruce’s stories are characterized as “science fiction with a southern accent.”

 

We will be joined by Chris Widdop, author of Velcro: The Ninja Kat and Velcro: The Green Lion. Check out Chris’s blog for insights into popular culture and media, including timely movie reviews. Need I say more?

I’ve not met Chris before, but he lists Edge of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Interstellar among his top five movies for 2014. I think we’ll get along well.

Don’t forget to visit my updated website for the newest news!

See you on Saturday!

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Pirate of Panther Bay: “A Thrilling Caribbean Ride”

An excellent review of The Pirate of Panther Bay by award-winning young adult author M.R. Street appeared recently on one of the Tallahassee Democrat’s community blogs. M.R. Street, author of The Werewolf’s Daughter and Hunter’s Moon, recommended readers find “a hammock swaying in a balmy breeze and hold on for this thrilling Caribbean ride.”

The review is quite extensive and appeared on the TWA blog. I think this is the essence of  her take on The Pirate of Panther Bay,

“Staley’s swashbuckling adventure takes place in historically accurate settings.  His research into the Caribbean region and time period (1780) encompasses the political dynamics, attention to detail of ships of war, and sailors’ superstitions.  The battles at sea are breathtakingly realistic, with cannon balls whistling by and swordfights that require both skill and psychology.  Staley deftly creates a lead character with multi-layered texture:  a scared former slave girl who at a young age has lost her first love; but who is, at the same time, a self-assured young woman with military cunning and skill.  As I read The Pirate of Panther Bay, I flinched each time Isabella was whipped in her cell in El Morro.  Why doesn’t she just give up?  She is beaten mercilessly, emotionally and physically.  But her will to survive is fueled by her mother’s prophecy.  Before Isabella was even born, the spirits told her mother what Isabella’s future would hold.  To Isabella, the prophecy is a promise that this is not how she is meant to die.”

View the Official Book Trailer here.

Buy The Pirate of Panther Bay here.

 

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“St. Nic, Inc.”, “Pirate of Panther Bay”, top amazon rankings

Southern Yellow Pine Publishing ran a special on the kindle e-book versions of St. Nic, Inc. and The Pirate of Panther Bay on September 11th and 12th, and the results were phenomenal! Both books climbed to the top of amazon’s kindle ebook rankings in their respective categories:

  • Both books reached overall rankings in the low and mid 30s for action adventure.
  • St. Nic, Increached #5 under “suspense” and #6 under “thriller/adventure” in the kindle ebook rankings.
  • The Pirate of Panther Bay reached #1 under “sword & sorcery” for children kindle ebook rankings and #5 for “action/adventure”.

Thank you to everyone who made this promotion so successful!

(Now, feel free to write a review at amazon.)

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Lessons in Writing Styles: Cussler vs. Clancy vs. Staley

One of the great benefits of Beta Readers–those brave souls willing to read drafts of your work before presenting it to the world or a publisher–is their insight into your writing style. Sometimes we resist these comparisons–as happened in this case–but they often yield a useful perspective that helps us define our own style and gives us a marketing angle as well.

This came home to me recently while my Tallahassee-based critique group was reading an early draft of St. Nic, Inc., my fourth novel released in August 2014.  After reading the opening chapters, critique group member and aspiring novelist Emily Timm said “Your book reads like a Clive Cussler novel.” After a few chuckles from the other members, she added, “and I mean that in a good way.”

Now, at this point, I was a bit embarrassed. I had never read a Clive Cussler novel, although I knew he had sold a lot of books. In fact, he’s sold millions, and his books have been on the New York Times best seller list twenty times. But this information was really useless to me as a writer, and I didn’t know how to process it. I wasn’t sure if this really was a good comparison.

Then, another reader (but not a critique group member), Mark McNees, said St. Nic, Inc. “artfully combines the action of a Tom Clancy novel with the insightful social commentary and multiple levels of experience as George Orwell’s Animal Farm.” Two more great cites. The contrast in writing styles between these now deceased writers was potentially significant: Orwell wrote in a class literary tradition while Clancy wrote action-adventure-technology thrillers. 

While I am very familiar with Orwell’s work, I wasn’t well versed in Tom Clancy’s, except for watching a few movies based on his novels. Tom Clancy was a genre buster and one of the few writers to have their inaugural novel (The Hunt for Red October) shoot to best seller status.  Still, I understood the genre pretty well, and I was curious how my writing style compares to Clancy’s.

The only way to find out was to read their books. What I found was quite revealing.

Of course, my writing style is different–neither Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, or George Orwell. In part, this is the result of my focus on writing for young adults and middle school readers for the first three novels. St. Nic, Inc. is written for the general fiction market although it is accessible to young adults. These readers want fast plots, plenty of action, and a gripping story. The rule is the less description, the better. In this way, Clive Cussler’s style, although he is geared toward adult markets, is well suited to my approach.

But I also included layered characters with arcs that peak at different times based on the trajectory of the main plot and subplots. Thus, my stories aren’t as straightforward as Cussler’s, and my characters experience significant life changing events that influence how they view the world. Like Clancy, I strive to make my fiction authentic. The Pirate of Panther Bay attempts to stay true to the real world of pirates and the historical context in which the characters live. The Path of the Warrior series attempts to ensure the martial arts self-defense skills are authentic and realistic, set within the context of middle-school bullying and violence. These values permeate the stories and books.

So, where does St. Nic, Inc. fall? Of course, it’s a little bit of each. I admire the lean writing style of Clive Cussler even if it won’t earn him accolades from the literary elite. (Of course, readers love it.) While I would like a little more flourish when reading Cussler’s novels, the action and pace keep me engaged, and I’m not sidetracked by subplots or thinly disguised attempts to be classic fiction. The characters and stories are straightforward, and that suits his fans (and publisher). These are very easy reads, the epitome of escape literature. I like Clancy’s commitment to keep the adventure-thriller grounded in reality and the characters more layered and complex. This also has turned out to be a highly successful strategy, and it probably reflects his own personality as a writer. While still escapist in its approach, Clancy’s novels require a bit more patience and enjoyment of the journey.

Based on the comments I’ve received from readers, St. Nic, Inc. seems to reflect a happy evolution of my writing style, one that embraces a lean writing style with layered stories. I am pleased to embrace comparisons to all three highly successful (for different reasons) literary giants. I’m not sure I would have made these connections, and become more confident in my own writing style, if hadn’t been for the prodding and candid observations of my beta readers, friends and critique group.

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Southern Yellow Pine Publishing Lists Books by SR Staley

Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, a publisher specializing in southern topics and authors, is now selling the following titles by SR Staley:

Check out all the titles and their growing stable of authors here.
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Book Signing: June 22nd!

Come see and talk to SR Staley as he signs copies of his novels The Pirate of Panther Bay,  Warrior’s Soul and Renegade at Tropical Smoothie Cafe’ in Centerville, Ohio on Saturday, June 22nd, from noon to 2 pm. The store is located at 6241 Far Hills Avenue in the Washington Square Shopping Center (behind Dorothy Lane Market). 

He will be appearing with science fiction author C.L. Gregoire who will be signing copies of his novel Death Spiral
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Marketing the author, not the book

When I began writing fiction, I was reluctant to focus my marketing efforts on me (the author). I didn’t think I had the marketing cache’ to sell my book, The Pirate of Panther Bay. Pirates were cool, but I didn’t see myself as a personality that could make my book successful. Believe me, this wasn’t because I couldn’t talk about the subject; I teach for a leaving, so I am quite comfortable filling space with my voice, even on subjects I don’t know much about! 

Instead, I focused my marketing efforts on the content. I had, and still have, really cool, interesting content: a girl pirate captain who was an ex-slave, fast paced high-seas action, high-stakes plot points; romance, and realism. The problem was at the time that I didn’t have a marketing platform. I didn’t have access to the pirate blogs or communities. I didn’t have a marketing footprint in the genre or in schools where I saw a natural market. The Pirate of Panther Bay was my first novel. So, I focused on the cool characters.
I’m beginning to change my tune, in part because of the insights provided by Sam Henrie, CEO of my publisher. In Wheatmark’s Marketing Letter (March 2013), Sam talks about the “Secrets of Sharks,” a riff on the TV show Shark Tank where venture capitalists seek out and fund new projects. As Sam explains:
“The sharks bet on people over ideas. They consistently pass on product and service ideas they love and believe in because they don’t believe in the business owner’s passion or ability to market and sell–or sometimes simply because they don’t like them. Readers are the same: you’ll have to sell them on the author before you can sell them on the book.”
I think Sam is right on the money. Readers need to connect to the author before they buy the book. The same is true for book buyers at bricks and mortar book stores, and librarians, and teachers. 
I’ve seen this in operation over the past year where I have been coordinated a book sales booth each Saturday for the Tallahassee Writer’s Association at Downtown Marketplace. The authors that sell the most titles, in every case, are the ones that are volunteering in the booth. They are there to connect with potential readers. Many of the titles that are sold without the author in the booth are purchased by readers who know or are familiar with the authors. This is true even though the volunteers are actively selling all the books in the booth, and many of those books have great content. In fact, for the fall 2012 period, one author accounted for 20% of the sales, and that author was the one who consistently manned the booth throughout the fall. The correlation is remarkable. 
Notably, the class adoptions for my books have all come from personal relationships I have built with teachers, not anonymous marketing materials such as flyers or advertisements. 
Thus, my marketing platform ultimately has to be about me, the author. The very personal relationships I build with readers will ultimately determine my success. I’ll have more to say on this soon in the context of my books on bullying and self-defense, A Warrior’s Soul and the award-winning Renegade.
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What Danica Patrick and Denzel Washington Tell Us about Character

Two articles recently spurred my thinking about characters and character development in my novels. 

The first was an article by Virginia Postrel at Bloomberg.com on why actors such a Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, and Clint Eastwood are wildly popular and their characters seem to have enduring impact. (Hat tip to fellow author Tori Eldridge for alerting me to this article and, for full disclosure, Virginia is a former colleague of mine.) Virginia’s point is that the most successful actors, artistically and in the public image, are “escape personalities”; they have traits that audiences can project themselves into, including elements of their own lives. In essence, sitting in a movie theater, you experience the movie through the character because, as a viewer, you identify with the character and actor as well as what they represent, on screen and off. 
Notably, these characters don’t just represent professional depictions of characters; they also represent popular virtues. Virginia writes (Bloomberg, 21 February 2013):

“In different ways, the three stars [Hanks, Washington &
Eastwood] all represent similar audience yearnings — above all, the desire for
moral significance. Even when they take on ambiguous or immoral roles, these
stars always inhabit a universe where right and wrong have weight and
consequence. Hanks embodies decency. Eastwood represents inner-directedness and
order. And Washington
portrays the high-stakes struggle for righteousness and honor — all the more
so when he plays fallen or villainous men.”

I find this is true for my characters in my books when my readers respond to them. My readers don’t just see the characters as something to be consumed. They experience the story and the book through the characters because they identify with key character traits, perceptions, or other elements of their personalities. I’ve found this to be particularly true for Maria, the self-conscious seventh grader fighting bullies and gangs in her urban middle-school in Renegade, and Isabella, the defiant escaped slave captaining a pirate ship in the 18th century Caribbean in the Pirate of Panther Bay

This brings me to Danica Patrick, the first woman to win the pole position (lead position at the start of the race) at the Daytona 500, the Super Bowl of stock car racing. Patrick has been around the racing world for a long time, first in “open wheel” Indy cars, and then for the past several years in stock-car racing. Since winning the pole at the Daytona 500 last Sunday, Patrick has seen interest in her and her popularity rocket into the stratosphere. NASCAR’s top stars–men–are now bringing their daughters to meet her when last year she was all but ignored. More relevantly, the daughters are asking their fathers who she is, and their fathers are (fortunately) embracing their sports newest celebrity. 

Patrick was in a gym recently when a crewman from another team
walked up and showed her a video of his kids holding up a magazine with Danica
on the cover.

“They said my name and he said, ‘I have no idea
how they know who you are,’ ” Patrick said.

Patrick marvels at the attention and attraction
she has for kids.

“I have no idea. I don’t get it either,” she
said. “I don’t know where it is coming from. I don’t know if it’s something
that they see on TV that doesn’t seem to be so obvious to a parent or if their
kids, once they are in school, if it’s part of some curriculum. I’m not really
sure.

“I think it’s an interesting thing, though. It’s
very flattering and it’s a fortunate situation to find myself in. I enjoy being
inspirational to these kids. I’d love to know why.”

Given Virginia’s insights in her Bloomberg article, we now have an answer for Danica Patrick, and the answer is relevant for authors more generally: Patrick has become a personality that stands for something much greater than her role as a driver, or even a woman driving in a male-dominated sport. She has become a public personality through which average, everyday people can project their own lives through Danica’s experiences as a top level driver. That’s why to her fans she will be known as Danica, not Ms. Patrick–her fans will live through her on the track and off, and it will be a personal relationship, not a formal one.
We aspire for the same level of identification with the characters we write in our novels. When our readers start projecting their own lives into the experiences of our characters in our stories, we have hit a home run, artistically and professionally. 
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The Social Importance of Literature

In reading Death Spiral, a new science fiction novel by CL Gregoire, I was struck by the political nad social commentary embedded in the story, action and characters. On the one hand, this shouldn’t have surprised me. Social commentary has been an important element of science fiction for a long time. I don’t always think of social commentary when I’m reading other forms of fiction, however, but I should. Good stories involve conflict, and conflict almost always involves a moral dilemma of some kind that must be resolved. The nature of this resolution is implicit commentary on a society or community’s values and ethics.

Sometimes, this commentary is is subtle, like in the story of 13-year old Andy Broome in M.R. Street’s award winning book Blue Rock Rescue. Andy must navigate the complexities of adolescence while redefining his relationship with his father after his mother dies a terrible death. The way Andy confronts the demons that haunt him from his mother’s death is a form of social commentary focused on acceptance, forgiveness, fear, and ultimately bravery. The story ends up being a quintessential coming of age story for Andy, and it’s thoroughly American in context and point of view. Andy resolves his problem, not the town or his father. Andy’s individualist journey is an American one and imbeds a form of social commentary through his character’s ethical behavior.

My novels tends to be more self conscious. Isabella in the Pirate of Panther Bay struggles quite explicitly with her individual identity as an escaped slave commanding a rogue pirate ship. The moral and ethical dilemmas she faces over the value of life and her choice of profession are fundamental to the conflicts the drive the story and its ultimate climax in the heat of a bloody high-seas battle. Similarly, Luke and Lucy must grapple with fundamental questions of right and wrong while confronting physical violence in A Warrior’s Soul. How far one should go in using violence, even for self-defense, reflects choices and values made by individuals and communities more generally.

But this really isn’t new. Social commentary has been imbedded in fiction of all kinds, including the pulp fiction of Horatio Alger, Jr. and Jules Verne in the 19th century and Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and Edgar Rice Boroughs in the 20th century.

I discuss these issues more extensively in a longer post over at Blogging Authors for those interested in reading more.

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Is Violence Necessary in Children’s Literature?

Conflict is the essence of story, but does conflict need to include violence and physical aggression in children’s and young-adult literature? I’ve discussed this issue before in a youtube video and take the issue up in print over at Blogging Authors in a guest post published today. My short answer is “yes.”

As much as we may want to purge violence from our lives and our kids lives, the truth is that violence is a part of our reality. The recent shocking videos of bullying ranging from Karen Kleiner bus monitor case in Greece, New York to an ambush of a kid in Chillicothe, Ohio High School are ample evidence of this. But, it’s not just bullying–child soldiers populate rebel armies in Africa, children are being massacred in Syria, the drug trade ravages inner-city neighborhoods in the US as well as abroad. Systematically ignoring this violence when it is part of our every day lives does a disservice to our readers.

I know this might sound self-serving–after all I write young adult novels about pirates, bullies and martial arts–but I also think the forthright way in which my stories grapple with real world violence is one of the reasons why readers (and parents) appreciate them. Indeed, several of the reviews of A Warrior’s Soul have recognized that the main theme is that violence is not the answer.

Dealing with violence is inevitable if authors want to seriously address real issues facing kids (and their families). Our responsibility as authors is to embrace this as fact and deal with it in an ethically and morally responsible way by writing engaging stories with characters that either make the right decisions or face the consequences of making the wrong ones.

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