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My first book. The one where my muse woke up and demanded attention. And I listened.

“Daughter of Hauk” will forever hold a special place in my heart. If not for this story, I wouldn’t live the life I do now.

Enjoy.

         “Arwenna, honey, wake up.” There was urgency in her mother’s voice. Sleepily, she sat up and rubbed her eyes. It was still dark, her mother’s face barely recognizable. “Honey, we have to leave right now. Hurry and get some shoes on.” Lyssa stood as if ready to run at any moment.

            Arwenna slowly got out of bed and put her shoes on. Before she had time to grab a cloak, the house lit up with a reddish glow. Looking out her window, she saw the house next door explode into flames. The roar of the explosion made her cover her ears.

            Lyssa grabbed her hand and began to run out of the room as more explosions went off.

            Outside there was confusion and panic. The air was thick with smoke and screams. Arwenna shrank in horror as she saw creatures beyond comprehension attacking all around her. Her mother pulled her along the back side of a barn, trying to shield her. Arwenna bumped into something and looked up, screaming.

            It was tall, at least as tall as a grown man. The legs were more like an animal’s, with hooves and knees that bent the wrong way. The skin was grey, as if death itself had touched it. A massive chest and pair of arms that looked like they could tear a person in two made her eyes go even wider. The face was nothing but a contorted snarl of hatred, with tusklike teeth. Red eyes looked down at her.

            Lyssa turned swiftly and shoved Arwenna behind her. She was holding a short sword in the manner of one well versed in self-defense. “Run, Arwenna!” She glanced back for a moment at her daughter. “Run! Now!” Arwenna stumbled, then obeyed the command of her mother and began to run blindly.

            She did what she could to dodge arrows streaming her way, as well as the bodies of the fallen. She stopped behind a wagon and looked back to see if her mother was following. Her eyes widened in terror.

            The creature had Lyssa in his grip. Her feet dangled off the ground as he pulled her up to face him. It ignored the sword buried within its shoulder. With a roar, he broke her in half and tossed the pieces aside like kindling. Arwenna screamed, but the creature did not hear her.

            More villagers were being slaughtered; others were being corralled into the center of the village. Most of them were her playmates. A lone horseman approached them. The visor of his helmet was down, but she could see wisps of smoke coming out from the bottom.

            “Is this all of them?” a voice demanded of one of the creatures. The voice was inhuman and grated down Arwenna’s spine like a hot knife.

            “All we can find, Lord Corse.” The beast sounded worried that his report would be found lacking.

The creature on the horse looked at the group of children, searching. He dismounted and started to examine the faces of the children. With some, he pulled aside the neck of the tunic as if searching for some kind of mark. He finished his examination and mounted his horse again.

            “The child is not here. Kill these, and keep searching.” He turned his mount and walked away, oblivious to the screams of the dying villagers.

            Arwenna turned away, unable to watch the slaughter of her friends. After a moment or two, she scrambled towards the fields in front of her. The corn was tall; it should hide her at least for a while. She ran blindly, tears streaming down her face. It seemed like an eternity before she reached the main road on the far side. She collapsed in exhaustion and grief behind a group of boulders.

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This book is dear to me, for several reasons. One of which is the way women are viewed in the world. It bothers me that too many are denied an education, are sold off, or otherwise demeaned simply because of their gender. By doing a role reversal, I hope I was able to bring a unique spotlight to this problem. After all, if it’s okay to do this to girls, shouldn’t it be okay to do it to boys?

 

The wagon bounced hard, jolting Arine awake. Rubbing her eyes, she looked around at the landscape. It was early morning, just past dawn.  The forest was familiar in the dim light. Home wasn’t far off. She stretched her arms towards the sky, willing the muscles in her back to wake with the rest of her.

She shifted a bit in the bed of the wagon. It was laden down with several boxes and bags, as well as a few other people from her village. Theos wasn’t isolated, but it wasn’t on a major caravan route either. Odd peddlers and such passed through often enough. Still, once or twice a year several of the tradesfolk banned together and made the run to Recor for supplies.

Arine moved aside the oilcloth covering the bundle next to her. The leather underneath it remained dry. It wasn’t the rainy season, but she’d spent far too much of her mother’s money on it to run the chance of spotting. Their shop was the only one for days in any direction to either have shoes made or repaired.

She bounced along with the wagon as the sun continued to climb over the horizon. Reaching a hand into her tunic, she felt the small bundle within. A smile crossed her face. Ian would love the colors she’d chosen. The pencils were a good quality, and far more expensive than she would normally have spent. There wasn’t much she could give her brother that would make him as happy, though.

A smile crossed her face at the thought of her brother. While only two years younger than she was, he was small for fourteen. Ever since the accident that had claimed their father’s life, Ian had lived in a world of his own creation. He could hear well enough, but rarely spoke to anyone besides Arine. She was the only one in Theos who could understand him. Not even their mother could. It seemed to Arine that their mother had given up trying to help Ian before she finished burying her husband.

For all his problems, Ian could draw beautifully. Sometimes she’d find him curled up at the hearth, charcoal and parchment on the floor next to him, where he’d fallen asleep while drawing the night before.

The creaking of the wagon seat alerted Arine, breaking her out of her reverie. Elaine looked down at her. “Last bend coming up, Arine.  Wake the others.” The older woman turned back around, her long silvery braid swinging slightly.

Arine pushed a stray lock of her coppery hair out of her face before slowly waking the two others in the wagon with her. More had wanted to come on the run, eager to see the sights of Recor, but there wouldn’t be enough room for them and their goods on the return trip home. Winter had been brutal, depleting stores below normal levels. Only four of them went this time, but the shopping list had been long.

The trees parted, giving way to the clearing where Theos sat. Arine took in the familiar houses and shops, dominated by the inn that took up the area behind the central well. Their wagon had been spotted already. Women poured forth from the buildings, voices calling out for help unloading, as they eagerly watched the wagon creep forward.

Arine kept silent, letting Elaine and the others answer the questions being put forth by everyone at once. She could barely keep the voices separate. Quickly, the wagon was emptied of all but the leather for Arine’s mother and Elaine’s own purchases.

Jumping down from the wagon, Arine reached in and pulled the leather bundle towards her. Her eyes scanned those still near the wagon, but Ian wasn’t among them. That’s strange, she thought. Normally he’s right here to carry the leathers for me. Puzzled, she rearranged her own pack and lifted the package from the wagon bed.  At least the shop wasn’t a long walk away.

Struggling slightly to keep her hold on the package, Arine found the latch to the door. The door swung wide at her urging, announcing her presence with a loud bang as it hit the interior wall. Arine carefully maneuvered past the tables and racks of wares, grateful her mother had put off rearranging the store until she returned. Arine put the package on the back table with a grunt.  Leaning on it for a moment, she called out, “Ma!  Ian!  I’m back!” When she didn’t hear a reply, Arine removed her pack and placed it quietly on the floor behind the table. The door to the work area was cracked open. A small knot of fear formed in her stomach. She moved to open the door, looking inside the workroom.

Her mother sat at a workbench, her back to Arine. The small fire, just big enough to keep the room comfortable, burned merrily in the fireplace.  Tools were placed on various surfaces, waiting to be used. The chair Ian preferred sat empty.

“About time you got back, Arine. Though Elaine said it might take a few more days, given the lists of stuff everyone wanted.” Her voice rang in Arine’s ears. The tone was wrong.

The older woman shifted, turning around to face Arine. Her dark hair was disheveled, strands fought against the tight braid she usually wore. “Did you get a decent amount of leather for me?”

Arine scanned the room. There was no sign of Ian. Not even a sketching. Those normally cluttered the corner of one of the tables. “Yes, Ma.  I put them out on the table. You should be ok for a while.” The fear in her stomach was growing. “Ma, where’s Ian?”

The woman stood. Grabbing a thick cloth, she moved a steaming kettle away from the fire. Calmly, she poured herself a cup of tea before responding to Arine. “He’s gone. Caravan came through, saw his drawings. Offered me good money to take him with them. Said the Domines loved having artists in their houses.”

“You sold him?” Aghast, Arine’s voice shook with shock and fury.

“Not really. It’s not like I could’ve gotten him a wife around here, Arine. He’s not worth much to anyone. If the Domine likes having a mute fool for an artist, why shouldn’t we get a chance to profit?” Reaching into the pocket of her trousers, the woman tossed a small pouch onto a table. The heavy clink of coins echoed in the room. “That’s your share. Go ahead. Take it. It’ll go to your house, anyway, so might as well enjoy it now while you’re young.”

Arine stared at the pouch, her mind reeling. Ian had been sold. Like a piece of property. His only sin being born a boy. Slavery was illegal, but the Domines usually looked the other way when it came to boys.

“When did you do this?” Arine struggled to keep her voice neutral. However, if she could get information on when the caravan came through, she might be able to go after him. She kept her eyes on the pouch, unable to look at her mother.

“Two, maybe three days ago. The caravan didn’t stay long. Lynn’s stores in the inn were already fairly low. There were too many for her to feed beyond that.” Her slurping of tea reached Arine’s ears. “Pretty sure Lynn did some trading of her own. Saw a few new boys cleaning tables for her today. I’ll bet you saw them as well. She would’ve sent them out to help unload Elaine’s wagon.”

Arine’s mind worked frantically. Two or three days’ head start! Very carefully, she reached out and took the pouch from the table. It was heavier than she expected. She’d need to find Bess first. Her friend could get all sorts of information from the new boys at the inn, and probably already had.

“I’m a bit thirsty from the trip, Ma.  I’m going up to Lynn’s to have a drink or two, recoup a bit. Don’t wait up.” Keeping a tight rein on her anger, Arine darted from the shop before anyone could stop her.

 

***

 

Two days later, Arine sat in an inn in some town. She’d lost track of names, of what direction she’d gone, searching for the caravan that now owned her brother. And of how much ale she’d had.

“This seat taken?” A voice, barely above a whisper, asked. Before Arine could raise her head to reply, the speaker pulled out a chair and sat down.

“You ready to listen to options, or are you still wanting to wallow in grief?” the voice asked.

Looking up, she took in the speaker. Dark hair pulled back in a braid, brown eyes that saw everything. The hilt of a sword peeking up past her ear. “What options?” she croaked, her voice raw from the alcohol.

“My mistress tasked me with seeking out those who had lost much, those who would do anything to regain what was taken from them. I’ve been following you since you left Theos. Heard you’re searching for your brother.” The young woman leaned in across the table. “She can train you, my mistress. Teach you how to save other boys from a fate like Ian’s. And, one day, may be able to find him for you.”

Arine shook her head, trying to take in her words. “And in return?”

The woman sat back in her chair. “Nothing. Mistress Bryn does not command loyalty, but earns it. The only question that remains is if you’re willing to follow me.”

“Follow you where?”

“To Sanctuary.”

Arine's Sanctuary

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Yep! Time for another teaser!

I hope you all like this sort of thing…gotta admit, it’s fun for me to do!

‘Amari: Three Tales of Love and Triumph’ is a collection of the first 3 stories about the Amari race. I say ‘first 3’ because I can honestly say I haven’t given up on the world entirely. There may be more stories yet to come.

Christoph leaned back in his chair, pushing his empty plate away. “Not sure I should say this,” he hesitated, “but I think Alaric’s a better cook than the ones in the palace.”

“Only from necessity. Trystian was the real chef among us.” Alaric stood, picked up his plate, and moved to the small counter that served as their kitchen area. “Christoph, how about some air?” he asked.

The other man looked at him, confusion on his face. Alaric pointed over to their wives, deep in conversation.

“Oh, ah, yeah,” the man sputtered. “Sounds good to me.”

The pair left quietly. Alaric knew Fin was close to the end of her pregnancy. She hardly left their home now, complaining about how lonely things could be. Having Lyssa and Christoph come over to eat was his idea. Fin was so used to people around her, she didn’t take solitude well.

The two men settled into a pair of chairs that sat underneath a small overhang. “She’s giving Lyssa ideas, you know.”

“Those two get enough ideas between them to change the world. Putting them together may have been a mistake,” Alaric laughed.

“She wants us to have a child. Started talking about how secure things are now, that my line needs to continue.” Christoph leaned back in his chair, running a hand through his hair. “I just don’t know that I’m ready for fatherhood.”

“No one’s ever ready for it, Christoph,” Alaric replied. “You do have a bit more pressure on you than I ever did though.”

“I know,” he sighed. “One day I’m glad I’m the king, the next…”

“You want to run away from it.” Alaric finished for him. “I know that feeling. Far too well.” For a moment, he let his mind drift back to his childhood back on the island. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. There were times, when his brother was sick, he prayed for him to recover. If only to spare Alaric from inheriting the throne.

“You know, Fin told me something about you when you were gone. Wouldn’t mind getting the story from you, though.”

Alaric turned, his brow furrowed. “Just what did she tell you?”

“When I told her you were heading back to Lorien, she asked if Kaerdan was still on the throne. Though she didn’t use those words.”

“Exactly what words did she use?”

Christoph looked away, watching the few people wandering the street. “She called him ‘not even half the man his brother is. And a rotten bastard that needed to be slit open’.”

Alaric laughed, but there was no mirth in the sound. “That sounds like him. And her.”

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Am I going to get the full story?”

Alaric looked down the street, choosing his words carefully. Christoph had been nothing but kind since they came here. No reason not to trust the man. But his own experiences with royalty made him leery. “It’s a long one.”

An elderly woman, flanked on each side by a youth, stopped in front of them. She bowed once, with great care, at Christoph.

The king rose, holding out his hands to greet the woman. “Great Mother, you honor me tonight. Will you now let me release you from your bondage?”

Alaric looked closer. A small iron bracelet encircled the old Amari woman’s wrist. Strange, he thought, Christoph set all the Amari free when he came to the throne. Why is she still wearing that? It was the first time he’d seen any Amari in Caerlynn wearing any iron.

She nodded, “The time is come for the truth to be said. For all stories to be told.” She leveled her gaze on Alaric. “Fin must learn the truth before her child comes. Before the first truly free Amari comes into this world. One whose parents never knew the burden of being a pet.” She dug a withered hand into a satchel that hung across her body. Withdrawing a worn leather book, she looked back at Christoph. “I accept now, the freedom you have offered. And then I will discharge my most sacred task and give this to Seraphina nan Grear.”

Christoph’s hands moved to the woman’s wrist. “And I am grateful, Great Mother, that I am honored to be the one to free you at last.” He slid the bracelet across her bony hand, pocketing it as soon as it left her body. Standing aside, he watched as the old woman entered the house.

“Who was that?” Alaric asked, confused. “I’ve never seen her in town before.”

Christoph settled back into his chair. “She was ancient when the raid happened on Uamh nan Amari. Stayed with Lyssa, raised her. Every other Amari my father chained deferred to her. I’ve tried, every year since he died, to get her to let me release her. She always said it wouldn’t happen until her most sacred task was near completion. I never asked what that was. It felt…wrong for me to do so.”

Alaric rose and started to move toward the door. Christoph stretched out an arm, blocking his way. “I wouldn’t, my friend. Whatever is going on in there is for Fin and Fin alone. I know that much. I know you’ll be told, in time. There are no secrets between the two of you. For now, though, I think we’ll be out here for a while longer.”

Settling back into his chair, Alaric kept a wary eye on the door. “I suppose so. But what do you propose we do while they’re in there?”

The king smiled. “You did say the story was a long one. Looks like we’ve got the time.”

Nodding, Alaric replied, “Yes, I think you’re right.”

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Hey! It’s election day, so I hope you’ve voted. Don’t need to know who you voted for…this is a politics free zone! LOL! Just hope you made sure your ballot was cast!

For Teaser Tuesday, I give you an excerpt from ‘Alaric’s Bow’!

Kai stuck to the shadows, avoiding the revelry of the wedding feast. A sense of dread had encompassed him since the arrival of the bridal party the day before. Something was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on what.

Kaerdan and his new wife, Jenny, sat at the head table, their fathers flanking the happy couple. Her blonde hair shone in the candles illuminating the hall. Kaerdan did have a preference for fair-haired ladies. In that, he would be happy.

It was his mother, however, that drew his attention. She rarely left her rooms any more, claiming illness. Tonight, though, no sign of sickness decorated her pale face. If anything, it glowed in triumph. And why shouldn’t it? Her firstborn married, ready to continue the family name. Soon, he would be King.

His father rose from his place, chalice in hand. “Today was a glorious day! A wedding, a new treaty, and a successful hunt! Kaerdan is truly gifted and his prize sits radiant beside him. To the happy couple!”

Kai shifted through the people near him. Gifted, indeed. The only thing his brother had ever been able to do was take credit for someone else’s deeds.

He needed air. The hall was nauseatingly sweet, between the overabundance of the beeswax candles to the boar—his kill—roasting on the spit. Winding his way through the drunk wedding guests, he made his way to the upper gallery. Outside would’ve been preferable, but he knew better. At some point, he’d be expected to go forward and pledge his loyalty to his father and brother. Not that the words meant anything to him. He stopped believing in the vow after seeing how little they meant to Kaerdan.

“Where’s the Historian?” his father’s voice boomed through the arched hallway. Kai smiled a little. The recitation of the family line would take a good deal of time. Tradition, yes. But it also gave him enough time to breathe some air not saturated with sweat, ale, and food.

“Kai,” Holly whispered from a recessed doorway. “Do you trust me?”

He blinked at her, puzzled. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I? It’s not like you can lie to me.” He flinched at the anger that flashed across her face. She didn’t need the reminder of her status.

“You need to come with me. Now.” Reaching out, she pulled at his hand. Her voice tumbled over the words.

In the back of his mind, he heard the Historian drone on. He was covering the family fast. The old Amari had been with them since he was an infant, and was tasked with remembering each birth and death. Every family on the island kept a Historian to prove noble birth.

“Holly, I can’t. As soon as Old Josiah is done, I have to go down and make my pledge. If I miss that, Father will have my hide.”

She licked her lips, her gold eyes darting past him. “Kai, there won’t be any way around that. Once Josiah is finished, things are going to go bad for you. Quickly.” She pulled on his hand once again. “Please, I beg you. Come with me now while you can still run.” Her eyes welled up with tears.

“Run? What am I running from?”

The hall below became silent. Too silent. He heard his father’s massive oak chair slide across the floor. “Josiah, you forgot one of my sons. Why did you not add Kai to the list?”

Tearing his arm from Holly’s grasp, Kai turned and looked down. Something knotted in his stomach. Whether it was fear or apprehension, he didn’t know.

“I am Amari,” the old man croaked. “I cannot lie. You asked for a recitation of the legitimate line. I have given you that.”

Susana, his mother, spoke across the chamber. Her voice snapped with irritation and fear. “No, Josiah. Kai is true born. He should be on your list.”

“Prince Kai is son of his Majesty, yes. But not by you, my Queen. He was begotten on an Amari brought over after a raid. You traded your own stillborn son to his mother so he might live. His only saving grace being his eyes were that of his father, not his mother. Kai is half Islander, half Amari.”

The assembled guests broke out in a fury of voices. Kai staggered back against the wall, stunned. He was half Amari? Kaerdan’d have him in chains the moment he saw him.

Something pulled at his wrist, hard, insistent. He looked, afraid it was a guard. Already he could hear his brother demanding both Kai’s attendance and a blacksmith. Holly stood next to him, her face full of compassion. “Kai, please. We have to get you away from here, now. Before it’s too late!”

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Hey everyone!

Like I said yesterday, I’m trying some new stuff. Last Monday interviews are going to be on hold. I’m still on the fence if I’ll post stuff on Mondays or not…we’ll see. LOL

However, I want to start giving out more teasers! Starting today, and as often as I remember, I’m going to post a teaser from one of my books!

Today, I’m happy to share a short story from my anthology, “A Stab At The Dark”!

Death’s Agent

            The cigarette tip flared for a moment, breaking up the darkness of the alley. A figure leaned against the wall. Wisps of smoke floated about his head. The shadows of the alley obscured his face, which was what he wanted. Few would ever admit to seeing him. Even fewer would survive if they did.
The alley itself wasn’t much different than thousands he’d waited in before. Rodents gave him a wide berth, scurrying about in the piles of trash and human waste. He really didn’t mind the rats. At least they didn’t try to bum a smoke from him.
He glanced up once. The apartment window, dark as the alley, gave off a light that few could see. He was one who could. The pulsing red light was starting to fade. He glanced at his watch. 3:51 am. It wouldn’t be much longer. By 4:00, he would be able to go in and put the light out.
He raised the cigarette to his lips, only to find it was nothing but ash and filter. Cursing, he added it to the small pile just to his right. Judging by the size, he’d gone through at least two packs since he got here. A black-gloved hand reached into the pocket of his coat. He fumbled about, finally pulling another pack out. Absently tapping the pack against his other hand, he glanced at the window again. The light wasn’t getting any dimmer. He might finish this pack while he waited.
The sound of cellophane mixed with the chittering of the rats. He put one of the cigarettes in his mouth. One hand put the pack away, the other searching for his lighter. Flame flared as he lit up, briefly illuminating his face. The rats ran at the sight.
He inhaled deeply, enjoying the familiar rush of the nicotine. Something different happened, though. He coughed. Not a simple cough, but one that threatened to tear out what lungs he may have left. Doubling over with the effort, he rode out the spasm. When it finished, he leaned against the wall. His breath came in gasps.
It was then that he saw the other figure in the alley.
“Been here long?” A woman’s voice drifted towards him.
“Too long, if you ask me. Not sure where the intel came from, but this one–” he gestured up towards the window “–isn’t ready to go yet. Judging from the light, he’ll be here a while.”
The woman walked towards him, her stiletto heels making no sound on the pavement. She glanced upwards, then turned her attention back to him.
“He’s not the one who will be leaving tonight.”
A scythe appeared in her hands, slicing downward. Her watch beeped. It was 4:00 a.m. He may have been one of Death’s best agents, but the chain smoking needed to stop. Now.

Be sure to pick up a copy! I’m going to be using universal links so you can find the books no matter what country you’re in!

myBook.to/astabatthedark

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Happy Halloween everyone!

Samhain is still a few days away, but why not have some fun today? LOL

Now, I know a lot of you might have been expecting my normal ‘Last Monday with…’ interview. In accordance to the time of the year, I’m changing things up!

First off, I decided to take a break from one of my FB accounts. I’d created a new one a few months back, in hopes to better connect with my readers. The joke was on me, though, as 90% of the people who wanted to be friends had ulterior motives. Scam artists, unsolicited dick pics, pleas to help sponsor them to the U.S., and a score of men who couldn’t understand that I set my boundaries and not them.

Basically, it was a whole lot of lost time blocking people who had no interest in me as an author. Yeah, I’m not wasting my time any more.  When it got so bad I started to feel gross before I even logged in…it’s time to change things up.

My original FB page is still operational, and will continue to be so! I encourage you – plead or beg might be better words LOL – to go there and like the page. Keep on top of what’s going on beyond this blog!

https://www.facebook.com/KateMarie-Collins-217255151699492/

Last weekend, I was honored to be a guest author at an inaugural comicon! Renton City Comicon was a BLAST! So hoping they do this again. I hosted a panel, met some great people, and sold a few books.

Now that it’s done, and knowing that I’ve got booked weekends for a while, I’m determined to get working on ‘Consort of the  Successor’ like mad. Today was a mess with writing time, due to having to get things put away after the con! But I know where the story is going to go. The big picture is set, the subplots ready to be woven in when it’s time.

In the Wiccan calendar, Samhain is our new year. We celebrate the passing of those who have died, and prepare for the renewal of both the earth and our own soul. Now, more than ever, is a time to clean house. I’m not talking about a physical cleaning. A mental, emotional one. It’s time to finish grieving and start living again. To know that the great Wheel that our lives are tied to is about to turn upward to light and life again.

It gives me a sense of purpose I haven’t had for a few months now. One that reminded me that I still have a lot to give in the way of stories and wisdom. To acknowledge my past, but not let it hold sway over the now.

Oh, and if you’ve read ‘Mark of the Successor’, I have one teaser for you before I go. Iris is far more than a bad girl now!

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Hey!

I know, it’s been two weeks without a post. October has been, without a doubt, busier than I anticipated. And it’s not slowing down any time soon!

Renton City Comicon is coming FAST! 11 days and counting! I’m excited, nervous, and about 20 other different emotions. I want to make a good first impression because this is my first guest slot at a con. And I want to be invited to more!

So, last week something happened that was both big and small at the same time. October 11th would’ve been my parents’ 48th wedding anniversary. I’m sure they celebrated, in their own way, in whatever afterlife they’re in.

To commemorate the day, I released a new book. ‘Amari: Three Tales of Love and Triumph’ is now live.

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Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MCRZ9H7

Go forth and conquer!

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