Which Characters are Based on Val Muller? – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Val Muller will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC and a download code for The Girl Who Flew Away, a download code for The Scarred Letter, a print copy (US only) of The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and an ebook of Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Pieces of Me: Character Creation
Val Muller

A question that frequently comes up in interviews is: which (if any) characters are based on you?

The short answer? All of them. In each character, there is a little tiny piece of me, even a piece that happened only in passing. Maybe it was that angsty moment in middle school when a teacher yelled at me for standing on the tape instead of behind it. I came home and wrote a journal about how she made me want to be a horrible student. I had all these plans to sabotage my grade just to make her feel terrible. She was a science teacher, and I vowed to hate science for the rest of my life. I outlined what it would be like to be a bad student, how I would end up with a disappointing career that I could pinpoint on her. Rage practically jumped off the page. Later that week, I forgot about it and continued my status quo of getting mostly As and enjoying science class. But for a moment, I was filled with the motivation to teach her a lesson by sabotaging my grade just to make her fail as a teacher. Several minor characters in my works are based on that experience. A tiny seed motivated them to stop caring about their work as students—and in many cases, they actively didn’t care, working hard to tend to their image as a rebel.

In The Man with the Crystal Ankh, one of the friendships becomes embroiled in anger. While I never had that serious of a falling out, I certainly had little fights with my friends, and the emotions were real. So in that sense, both sides of the fight are little pieces of me.

While some characters are based on little bits of me, others are inspired by a sense of wonder. In Faulkner’s Apprentice, protagonist Lorelei goes down a dark path. I have never gone down one, but like most teens I’d been exposed to the potential to do so, and I can’t say my mind didn’t wonder what it would like to simply scrap the rules of wholesome living and be bad. Lorelei was based on that sense of wonder, and the fact that she is torn about it mirrors how I might feel as I headed down that path.

When it comes to character creation, this is one way to go about it. I think of each character as a tangent to me (uh oh, I used a math analogy. That’s not like me at all—must be one of the characters speaking!). I tap into that minor experience or thought, and build a character around it. I find that the creation is authentic, and the character thus feels real.

The other way I create characters is to base them off of people I know—friends, family, enemies, coworkers. But there’s a big catch there. Of course I don’t want them to know they’re muses or models. I don’t know who originally suggested this term, but a piece of writing advice I’ve been given is to create characters the way Frankenstein created his monster: take pieces of other people, and mix them up to such an extent that it’s no longer clear who inspired what.

For instance, for every story I write, my mother asks me if “such and such” trait displayed by the mother figure in the book is based on her. She’s intentionally reading into the work, looking for pieces of herself. She’ll sometimes say things like, “I wasn’t that crazy, was I?” I’ve had to recently tell her that that isn’t the case: perhaps the obsessive nature of the character in question came from a teacher or guidance counsellor I had in high school. Perhaps the way the character squints when she reads came from a middle school math teacher. But maybe one quality, perhaps the way the mother in the book is concerned about her daughter, perhaps that comes from my mother. There’s always a sense of relief when she realizes that she isn’t all of the character.

So the “Frankenstein” method is another way to create characters: brainstorm a list of traits from people you’ve encountered over the years. Think about how the “connotation” of those people or traits might fit into one of your characters. For instance, I’ve always hated going to the doctor, so I used some of my angst about my pediatrician and combined that with a less-than-effective administrator I once encountered and a power-hungry teacher. They all combined into the character of a high school principal. Someone asked me, “Who in the world did you have as a principal who was that slimy?” The answer: no one. He was a compilation of many people, and there’s no way those who inspired his character could pick out one trait from the next.

Sometimes, to make sure my characters are authentic—and to make sure I know them—I will throw them into a scene together that has nothing to do with the novel I’m writing. They might all go on a shopping trip to Wal-mart or meet for coffee. Throwing them in that scene together allows me to see how they might interact, who might gravitate together. More importantly, the quiet character sitting in the corner tells me that he needs more development because I don’t really understand his personality. In such a practice scene, when all the characters insist on their next lines and actions, I know my characters are ready for the page.

Everyone’s heard the legend of the hollow oak—the four-hundred year curse of Sarah Willoughby and Preston Grymes. Few realize how true it is.

Sarah Durante awakens to find herself haunted by the spirit of her high school’s late custodian. After the death of his granddaughter, Custodian Carlton Gray is not at peace. He suspects a sanguisuga is involved—an ancient force that prolongs its own life by consuming the spirits of others. Now, the sanguisuga needs another life to feed its rotten existence, and Carlton wants to spare others from the suffering his granddaughter endured. That’s where Sarah comes in. Carlton helps her understand that she comes from a lineage of ancestors with the ability to communicate with the dead. As Sarah hones her skill through music, she discovers that the bloodlines of Hollow Oak run deep. The sanguisuga is someone close, and only she has the power to stop it.

No good deed goes unpunished when freshman Steffie Brenner offers to give her awkward new neighbor a ride home after her first day at school. When her older sister Ali stops at a local park to apply for a job, Steffie and Madison slip out of the car to explore the park—and Madison vanishes.

Already in trouble for a speeding ticket, Ali insists that Steffie say nothing about Madison’s disappearance. Even when Madison’s mother comes looking for her. Even when the police question them.

Some secrets are hard to hide, though—especially with Madison’s life on the line. As she struggles between coming clean or going along with her manipulative sister’s plan, Steffie begins to question if she or anyone else is really who she thought they were. After all, the Steffie she used to know would never lie about being the last person to see Madison alive—nor would she abandon a friend in the woods: alone, cold, injured, or even worse.

But when Steffie learns an even deeper secret about her own past, a missing person seems like the least of her worries…

Enjoy an excerpt from The Man with the Crystal Ankh

She picked up the instrument and set it onto her shoulder. A calmness passed into her, as if the violin exuded energy—as if it had a soul. The varnish had faded and dulled. Its life force did not come from its appearance. She brought the bow to the strings, which was still rosined and ready to play. Dragging the bow across the four strings, she found the instrument perfectly in tune.

Sarah took a deep breath and imagined the song, the way the notes melted into each other in nostalgic slides, the way her spirit seemed to pour from her soul that day.

And then it was happening again.

She had started playing without realizing it. Warm, resonant notes poured from the instrument and spilled into the room. They were stronger, and much more powerful, than those she was used to. This instrument was different than the factory-made one her parents had bought for her. Rosemary’s violin was singing to the world from its very soul. And it was happening just as before. Sarah’s energy flowed from her body, causing her to lose consciousness and gain perspective all at once. She rode the air on a lofty run of eighth notes. She echoed off the ceiling with a rich and resonant vibrato. She flew past the guests, who had all quieted to listen to her music; flew past the table of cold cuts and appetizers and up the darkened staircase, where she resonated against the walls and found her way into the guest room. There, she crept along a whole note and slid into the closet.

As the song repeated, she twirled around in the closet, spinning in a torrent of passionate notes. She searched through the notebooks and books on the floor and on the shelves, searched for an open notebook, for something she could read, something that might make her feel tied to the place. Otherwise, she might spin out of control and evaporate out the window and into the sky. She found her anchor on the floor in the darkest corner of the closet, a large parchment—maybe a poster. The notes spun around her in a dizzying way as she tried to stay still enough to read what was on the paper. It was a difficult task; now, with every beat her body downstairs tried to reclaim its energy.

About the Author:www.CorgiCapers.com.

Val’s young adult works include The Scarred Letter, The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and The Girl Who Flew Away and feature her observations as a high school teacher as well as her own haunted New England past.

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E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (37 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Meet E.C. Max, a lovable know-it-all. He has many misadventures while solving everyday problems using science and technology. His inventions and experiments usually have wacky, unexpected results.

Slap that mosquito as you read how Max deals with pesky pests in E.C. Max, Kid Genius Critter Camp!

If not for the bugs that bite and sting, camping would be the perfect vacation. Can E.C. figure out a way to solve this problem?

E.C.’s invention was creative. He put so much thought into making something that would shoo mosquitoes, ants, and other critters far away from him and his dad. There are a few different things these insects don’t want to be around, so he made sure to include all of them in his invention. The only thing I liked more than reading his description of it was seeing if it really worked once he had a chance to test it.

There were a few minor pacing issues in the beginning. E.C. needed some time to explain who he was, why he was a kid inventor, and where he got all of the equipment he used. While I enjoyed reading his funny and informative explanations of all of these things, they did slow the plot down a little bit.

With that being said, I was hooked on this story as soon as E.C. and his dad started their camping trip. The main character and his dad had so many fun experiences once their tent was set up and they had time to explore their surroundings. I liked seeing how they passed the time in the woods and what they thought of their father-son trip. They really seemed to get along well together.

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp should be read by inventors and science-lovers of all ages.

The Very Stuffed Turkey by Katharine Kenah

The Very Stuffed Turkey by Katharine Kenah
Publisher: Cartwheel Books
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (36 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

A Thanksgiving story featuring a large turkey with a big problem…

…he’s been invited to EVERYONE’S home for dinner!

With five homes to visit — Horse’s, Pig’s, Sheep and Goat’s, Cow’s, and Mouse’s –Turkey knows there’ll be a ton of food to eat. But there’ll also be friends and their families who can’t wait to celebrate the holiday with Turkey! Can this very plump bird make it through every meal without bursting?

A silly, read-aloud story featuring food, friends, and one hilarious turkey!

Turkey’s eyes are much bigger than his stomach. How will he ever be able to eat five Thanksgiving dinners in one day?

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this tale was that the menu at every friend’s house depended on what kind of animal they were. For example, the horses served foods like oat cakes and carrots because those are things that real horses eat. It was a lot of fun to see what each animal’s version of Thanksgiving dinner would be. Some of the dishes they served were pretty creative, and it made me grin to think of them baking such special meals for themselves and for Turkey.

I would have liked to see the main character feel able to say no to more food when he was completely full. He ate to the point where it was physically uncomfortable for him. While I’m all for enjoying good food over the holidays, I also think kids should be encouraged to listen to their bodies and wait before they eat more if their stomachs begin to hurt. There will always be leftovers on holidays like this one!

The friendships between all of the animals were so sweet and supportive. I especially liked seeing the kinds of games they played after one meal ended but before the next one began. Everyone played very nicely together and were great role models for the audience. This is something I really like finding in stories for preschoolers and young children.

I’d recommend The Very Stuffed Turkey to anyone who is looking forward to Thanksgiving this year.

Katie Saves Thanksgiving (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin

Katie Saves Thanksgiving (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin
Publisher: Picture Window Books
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Pedro’s and JoJo’s families are on their way to Katie’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. But they get stuck in a snowstorm, and the Woos’ oven suddenly breaks. Katie wonders what kind of Thanksgiving it will be without sweet potatoes, pie, and most of all, friends.

Sometimes everything that can go wrong does go wrong all at once.

The chances of an oven breaking at the same time that a friend’s car gets stuck in the snow are low, but this sort of thing can happen. Seeing how Katie reacted when everything that made Thanksgiving special to her was taken away made me smile. She was such a good role model even though she was terribly disappointed by the change of plans. This can be a hard thing for people of all ages to handle, but she did a great job of expressing her sad feelings without allowing them to ruin her day.

There was a plot hole in this story that was never resolved. It involved what happened after Pedro and Jojo’s vehicle became stuck in the snowstorm. I was expecting the characters to spend more time on this problem than they did, so it was surprising to see how little attention that part of the plot received.

One of my favorite sections of this book happened while Katie and her family were trying to decide what to do on Thanksgiving now that their friends were no longer on the way and they couldn’t cook the foods they normally liked to eat then. Not only was the choice they made a kind one, it fit perfectly into the spirit of Thanksgiving and what it means to truly celebrate this holiday.

Katie Saves Thanksgiving was a short, cute read that I’d recommend to anyone who has ever had something go wrong during the holidays.

She’s Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci

She’s Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (299 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

“The summer I turned ten, my life took a fairy tale turn.” So begins Reema Ben Ghazi’s tale set in Morocco. Reema awakes one morning to find her skin has changed from whipped cream to dark chocolate. From then on, every few years she undergoes another metamorphosis, her color changing successively to red, yellow and ultimately brown. What is the cause of this strange condition and is there a cure? Does the legend of the White Buffalo have anything to do with it? As Reema struggles to find answers to these questions, she confronts the reactions of the people around her, including her strict and unsympathetic mother, Lalla Jamila; her timid younger sister, Zakia; and her two best friends, Batoul and Khalil. At the same time, she must deal with the trials of adolescence even as her friendship with Khalil turns to first love. One day, in her search for answers, Reema discovers a shocking secret – she may have been adopted at birth. As a result, Reema embarks on a quest to find her birth mother that takes her from twentieth-century Rabat to post-9/11 New York. Reema’s humanity shines through her story, reminding us of all we have in common regardless of our particular cultural heritage. SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW, which will appeal to Teens as well as Adults, raises intriguing questions about identity and ethnicity.


As soon as Reema adjusts to one new skin color, her complexion changes yet again. Will she ever discover why this is happening?

While this book had a large cast of characters, I never had any trouble remembering who was who. I appreciated how much attention Ms. Colucci paid to all of the small details of her characters’ lives. She made them come to life so vividly in my mind that I was able to keep track of everyone even when multiple new people were introduced at the same time.

The pacing was slow. As fascinated as I was by the premise, it was difficult for me to stay interested in the storyline at times because it took so long for the main character to find any clues at all about what was happening to her skin or whether or not she had actually been adopted. It was interesting to read about the ordinary details of her daily routine like what she ate for meals, but there were so many of these scenes that they slowed down the plot and distracted me from the mysteries of this character’s life.

Reema had a complex and difficult relationship with her mother that included a lot of conflict between them as she was growing up. Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that showed how this relationship evolved as the main character began to make her own decisions in life. I found it intriguing to see how things changed between mother and daughter over the years. Watching Reema attempt to understand why this part of her life was so complicated was one of my favorite parts of this tale.

I’d recommend She’s Like a Rainbow to anyone who is in the mood for something thought provoking.

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Puffin Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

All anyone wants to talk about with Mama is the new “ding-dang baby” that’s on the way, and Gia is getting sick of it! If her new sibling is already such a big deal, what’s going to happen to Gia’s nice, cozy life with Mama once the baby is born?

Adding a baby to the family changes everything, and who’s to say it will be for the better?

The main character was such a sweet and adorable kid. I enjoyed seeing how she reacted to the excitement of her family as they all prepared for the new arrival. One of my favorite scenes involved a cousin asking this character if she wanted to hold that relative’s baby. Mia definitely had strong opinions on this topic, and she wasn’t at all afraid to share them with anyone who was listening.

I was a little surprised by how long it took Mia’s mom to realize that her daughter was feeling jealous and uncertain of the baby that was on the way. She was such a loving and attentive parent in general that I wondered why she didn’t notice the first time Mia was uneasy around this topic. With that being said, she was still a doting mom and this is a minor criticism of a story that I otherwise thought was really well written.

Jealousy is a tough emotion to deal with no matter how old someone is. It can be even more difficult for young children who haven’t much experience managing it yet. This topic was handled with humor and sensitivity in this tale. What made the storyline even better was that it gave such a positive example of how to handle this feeling without feeling overwhelmed by it.

I’d recommend Pecan Pie Baby to any family who is expecting a new addition soon.

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Genre: Children’s, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Another inky evening’s here— The air is cool and calm and clear.
Can it be true? Oh, can it be?
Yes!—Bat Night at the library!

Join the free-for-all fun at the public library with these book-loving bats! Shape shadows on walls, frolic in the water fountain, and roam the book-filled halls until it’s time for everyone, young and old, to settle down into the enchantment of story time. Brian Lies’ joyful critters and their nocturnal celebration cast library visits in a new light. Even the youngest of readers will want to join the batty book-fest!

Not everyone who goes to the library is human.

This is one of the cutest picture books I’ve read in a long time. As soon as I saw the blurb, I couldn’t wait to see what bats would do when they somehow managed to visit a library. Somehow the idea of them flying around in there was even more delightful once I was able to see for myself what these bats thought of their experience there. The description of their evening was completely accurate, but it also left plenty of details to be discovered later on by the audience.

Wow, what great storytelling! I don’t want to give away any spoilers for the bats’ adventures, but I will say that I was completely charmed by how they decided to spend their time. They were excited like many youngsters would be in this situation, but they were also gentle and sweet little creatures,. Even the youngest bats who had never been on this trip before and didn’t really know what to expect knew just how special this visit was.

The rhymes that described the bats’ activities were creative and lovely as well. They were written in ways that appeal to both adults and young children because of how many different things the bats did to amuse themselves in the library overnight. Some scenes were silly, and others were serious. They were all beautifully written, though, and I enjoyed them even more the second time I read them.

Bats at the Library is a fantastic bedtime story for readers of all ages. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

October YA Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Day Moon by Brett Armstrong

Day Moon by Brett Armstrong
Tomorrow’s Edge Book One

Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Inspirational, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (376 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Stargazer

BoM LASR YA copy

In A.D. 2039, a prodigious seventeen year old, Elliott, is assigned to work on a global soft-ware initiative his deceased grandfather helped found. Project Alexandria is intended to provide the entire world secure and equal access to all accumulated human knowledge. All forms of print are destroyed in good faith, to ensure everyone has equal footing, and Elliott knows he must soon part with his final treasure: a book of Shakespeare’s complete works gifted him by his grandfather. Before it is destroyed, Elliott notices something is amiss with the book, or rather Project Alexandria. The two do not match, including an extra sonnet titled “Day Moon”. When Elliott investigates, he uncovers far more than he bargained for. There are sinister forces backing Project Alexandria who have no intention of using it for its public purpose. Elliott soon finds himself on the run from federal authorities and facing betrayals and deceit from those closest to him. Following clues left by his grandfather, with agents close at hand, Elliott desperately hopes to find a way to stop Project Alexandria. All of history past and yet to be depend on it.


Finding Nine by Suki Lang

Finding Nine by Suki Lang
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (264 pages)
Age Recommendation:16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

This is a story of John, a 16 year old who loses his mother to cancer. During the last year of her life she writes a series of eight letters for her son to read after her death. Designed as a treasure hunt, the letters take John to a place his mother left long ago, where he meets a family he knows little of.

The object of the hunt seems to be to find a perfect spot to place his mother’s ashes. But John soon discovers the letters are his mother’s way of helping him move through his grief, and of letting him know she will always be by his side. The journey he takes is about finding hope in the love of two people who welcome him with open arms. And John’s arrival is a gift never expected but long hoped for by two of the people his mother left behind. Through the natural order of things a son is given the opportunity to fulfill a mother’s last wish and to discover her many secrets yet untold.

Sometimes death leaves everyone who loved the deceased with many more questions than they have answers. This is even more true when someone dies before their time.

The descriptions of the places John went and the people he met were nicely written. I especially liked the scenes that showed where his mother had grown up. He knew so little about her childhood that it was wonderful to see how he reacted to all of the pieces of her past he was finally able to to put together.

There were pacing issues. I noticed them the most after John had read the first few letters from his mom and was beginning to dig deeply into what her life had been like before he was born. As interested as I was in the premise of this book when I first began reading it, it was hard for me to pay attention to the plot at times because of how slowly it moved.

Grief is a complicated subject. I was pleased with how Ms. Lang approached all of the different emotions someone can feel when they lose a loved one. John laughed at some of the stories he uncovered about his mom on his journey. In other scenes he felt everything from sorrow to surprise to anger to nostalgia. It was interesting to see how the author explored what happens when someone has so many conflicting feelings about death and grief.

Finding Nine should be read by anyone who has ever needed to grieve the loss of someone they really cared about.

The Day My Fart Followed Me to Hockey by Ben Jackson and Sam Lawrence

The Day My Fart Followed Me to Hockey by Ben Jackson and Sam Lawrence
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

If you and your child love to read together, then you are going to love reading along with Timmy and his Fart as they play hockey together!

The Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey is a beautifully illustrated journey of Timmy and his best friend the Little Fart as they attend Timmy’s first hockey tryouts. Chaos and laughter ensue as the Fart attempts to help out his best friend the only way he knows how.

If you enjoy reading funny books with beautiful illustrations and love having your child read along with you, then make sure you grab The Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey.

Discover and giggle along with Timmy and his best friend on their exciting day at the hockey arena!

Everyone farts, but only some people get to carry their gas around with them forever.

Little Fart was full of great advice for Timmy. I especially liked how positive and encouraging he was when Timmy began to worry a lot about whether or not he’d make it onto the hockey team. This isn’t something I ever thought I’d say in one of my reviews here, but that fart was a very loyal friend. It was adorable to watch these characters figure out how to help Timmy feel better so his tryouts would go well.

The only piece of constructive criticism I have for this story has to do with its editing. I noticed multiple sentences that had punctuation errors in them. Some of them were missing commas, and others had more commas than they actually needed. As this was a picture book, the errors stood out to me even more than they usually would because many pages only had two or three sentences on them.

With that being said, the storyline itself was hilarious and fantastic. I giggled out loud more than once when I was reading it. The scenes that showed Little Fart trying to understand why Timmy was anxious and how he could help his friend feel better were just as funny as they were heartwarming. I also liked the fact that the fart jokes were silly instead of gross. This was the perfect angle to take for a story that was about so much more than passing gas.

This is the second book in a series. It can be read on its own or out of order.

The Day My Fart Followed Me to Hockey should be read by anyone who is in the mood to laugh.