Setting The Board, Book Three of Preparations for War, is now available!

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Joe and his wife Asina were coming home to Hell.

Calmena was a primitive planet where descendants of abductees were enslaved by enemies of humanity, hoping to breed docile servants. It hadn't gone well for anyone.

A century ago, the Empire found the planet and began using it to trace the fractal demons back to their home. Joe and Asina's role has been helping the human slaves throw off the demonic yoke, always careful to camouflage their help as native ingenuity. In that century, Calmena has gone from isolated villages at the demons' mercy to independent towns and cities.

But the real power of the fractal demons was never on Calmena. When the fractal demons prepare to strike at the Empire, the Imperial missionaries must blunt or divert the blow, lest it completely crush the nascent Calmenan freedom.

PS: If you missed it, Book One, Preparing The Ground is on sale for 99 cents in e-book.

PPS: I do apologize that Setting The Board is Amazon exclusive for the moment. The plan (subject to change) is for it to go wide in a couple months.

Setting The Board

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I'm waiting for one more beta reader at this point to finalize the manuscript, but I have a deadline to meet, so I will have Setting The Board uploaded and available at by Tuesday (the 20th) at the latest.

Calmena was Hell.

It was a primitive planet where descendants of abductees were enslaved by enemies of humanity, hoping to breed docile servants. It hadn't gone well for anyone.

A century ago, the Empire found the planet and began using it to trace the fractal demons back to their home. But they also began helping the human slaves throw off the demonic yoke, always careful to camouflage their help as native ingenuity. In that century, Calmena has gone from isolated villages at the demon's mercy to independent towns and cities.

But the real power of the fractal demons was never on Calmena. When the fractal demons prepare to strike at the Empire, the Imperial missionaries must blunt or divert the blow, lest it completely crush the nascent Calmenan freedom.

1. Go ahead and introduce yourself.

I am Alexan, Jarl of Ygg in Treemount, on Migurd.

2.Tell us where and when were you born.

I was 'born' in the Empire of Humanity as a splinter of an ultsi. I became an independent entity when he made a mistake that ended up severing his soul from himself.

3. How would you describe yourself?

My physical description changes as I wish it. Mentally, I am inquisitive. But the most salient feature to most people is that I have become an Eternal. Think of me as equal to one of the gods of Olympus or the Aesir of Valhalla.

4. Tell us about where you grew up.

I suppose you could say I grew up where the attitudes of my original were formed, as an ultsi of the Fifteen Families in the Empire of Humanity. The competition for mastery and power is fierce and Darwinian, and the death rate is high. You must always be on your guard, and doom can strike without warning at any moment. There are limits, honored by those who play the Game of Houses as in the best interest of all, but all of its players are driven to achieve.

5. How old are you?

You could argue that I'm about one year old. Or you could argue that I am several 3600s, as I have the generic memories and skills of my original.

6. Did you have a happy childhood? Why/why not?

I didn't have a childhood at all as most people use the term. I was born adult. My original's was happy enough in the way of the Fifteen Families, but childhood to them is a precious time to learn as much as you can. There is not a lot of leisure. But he was loved by his family and taught well.

7. Past/ present relationships? How did they affect you?

I know my original was married and had many lovers, but those were soul-bound memories that I did not inherit. I have looked up the names of his wife and descendants, his parents and siblings, but I have no actual memories of them or of the times he spent with them.

I have bound myself to a fellow Eternal, the Lady Petra. We have one daughter Catharin, born roughly a year into our marriage. I have another child, a clone that became infused with a soul, in spak stasis waiting upon the right time to bring him into the universe.

8. What do you value above all else in life?

The life and happiness of the Lady Petra, my wife. She has had more than enough pain and hurt for a lifetime of any length. The well-being of my daughter Catharin.

9. What are you obsessed with?

Learning. Preparations for likely threats.

10.How do your beliefs make life better for yourself and the people you care about?

I believe in cooperation out of mutual interest. I believe that facts must be the basis for all decisions, so evidence must be ruthlessly examined. I believe skills must be shared. As a result, Petra and Catharin are learning what I know. We are wealthy as such things go, secure as is reasonable, and by all evidence, happy.

11. Biggest fear?

That something will cause pain to the Lady Petra.

12. What line will you never cross?

In the mold of my original, I can never go against the interests of humanity as a species, or the Empire of Humanity as a whole.

13. What is the best thing that ever happened to you?

The Lady Petra deciding I could somehow help her escape her curse. It became so much more.

The worst?

The moment the Lady Petra informed me that others from the Empire of Humanity had been to the realm of Aescalon.

14. Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?

When I realized what the situation was with my original, and that I had to leave the Empire as a result of him dying.

15. Biggest secret?

If I told you what sort of thing it was, I'd have to destroy you utterly.

16. What is the one word you would use to define yourself?

Driven, as are all ultsi. Even though I am not technically ultsi.

17. What is your current goal?

As the second novel of Connected Realms opens, I am most concerned with understanding the divine ecosystem that the Lady Petra and I have become part of.

I now have a cover for Setting The Board (Book Three of Preparations For War)

Some people have said it's too busy, but that's combat. I have only two minor complaints, and one of them is a virtue from an artistic standpoint. The other is that a rifle that features prominently is too modern, but everything else is true to a scene about a third of the way through the book.

STB book cover.jpg

Got caught in the finishing crush for Setting the Board, the third book in Preparations for War, after Preparing The Ground and Building The People Climactic scene got a little draining, then I finished the working draft Saturday night, spent Sunday on the story checking and editing pass, and sent it off to the Betas. It's kind of scary how much I like it, so the betas will probably remind me of something obvious I missed. I had hoped to finish the necessary happenings in the story of Joe and Asina with Setting The Board, but it was not to be, so there will be a fourth book in the series. Look for Moving The Pieces after I've finished the next project - I may have to write it at the same time as Politics of Empire 3 (tentatively: The End of Parenthood)

Started The Monad Trap - sequel to The Fountains of Aescalon. I was going to write The Bubbles of Creation next, but I decided that story would be better told after this one. Here is the first line as I have it written now:

"Somehow, I always thought there was more for a god to do."

I haven't read your book. But kill any idea that a blurb is a synopsis. Stake that sucker right through the heart, burn it to ashes, and bury them at a crossroads.

A blurb is a sales pitch.

A *short* sales pitch. No more than 30 seconds read aloud in a conversational voice. Shorter if you can.

Keep in mind two rules:

KISS: keep it short & simple. Make it to the point. Don't confuse the reader with multiple threads at this point. Pick the easiest or best and sell that plot or subplot.

AIDA: Attention Interest Desire Action. You have their Attention. Grab their interest *fast*. Stir a desire to tell more of the story. And then tell them how to take action to fill that desire - usually implied or indirect, rather than 'buy this book to find out!'

Remember this and you'll write good blurbs.

Tales of Magic and Destiny Amazon link

Begins well, falls off at the end, still four star material overall

I'm generally hesitant to read multi-author short story anthologies, because so few are worth reading, but I was asked to accept an Advance Review Copy of this one. and was pleasantly surprised as the stories near the beginning were solid stories with decent twists and characters who think.

Stars Above Shadows Beneath by Maria Haskins - a guardian awakened. Little bit of a rocky start as it was kind of deus ex machina, but kept me reading.

The Rogue of Averrath by Tom Jolly - puzzle solver who turns magic back on the wielder, very enjoyable

Chanter by Tawa Wood - A student's plan to overcome his shortcoming fails, and doesn't. A teacher helps surreptitiously.

Virtue's Blade by Rob Edwards - Cute little short about accepting a charge laid involuntarily and the difference a willing choice makes.

Fortified by Hall Jameson - AN uninvited guest earns a welcome.

Wolf Scout by Jeannette O'Hagan - tale of forbidden romance. A little long, but enjoyable.

Out of the Dust by Leo McBride - A desert village, a sandstorm and a very dangerous man.

A Sword of Bone by Aaron Emmel - disappointing. A natural talent discovered - and discarded.

The Fearsome Lambton Worm by Kerry Buchanan - This was where quality took a nose dive. Mary Sue squared.

The Heroine's Journey by Brent A. Harris - A sidekick steps out from the shadow of her heroic partner. Enjoyable enough.

It's Always Sunny at the Fortress of Bones by Jaleta Clegg - Nothing remarkable here. Okay, yet derivative.

Asherah's Pilgrimage by Ricardo Victoria - An original story yet I had trouble feeling sympathetic for anyone, and the smart-aleck dragon with a modern attitude kind of spoiled any chance the story had to attain a real mood or point.

Just then he moved. And I don't mean lazily like he'd done with the gangbangers last night. I think this was really the best he was capable of. "Ahhh!" I started, frightened, but bit down on my tongue. I actually did poop my panties a little, it was so sudden and so fast. I wasn't even certain of the direction he'd moved, but my guess was correct. The sword I'd seen last night was in his hand. I saw a blue swirl start to form over the dining table, three dimensional, the dirty ugly dark greyish blue you sometimes see between small gaps in storm clouds when it's getting to be really late in the afternoon. By the way ScOsh reacted, I could tell the gangbangers were a day at comparison. A body started to coalesce, a body like nothing seen on Earth except maybe drawings from some demented horror artist somewhere. It stood mostly upright, and it was kind of symmetrical but that was where any semblance to anything Earthly ended. It had five arms, three on its right side and two on its left, and they were offset by apparently random small amounts from the line you'd think of as the appropriate 'side' - as if a man had an arm sprouting from near his nipple, and another from back near the shoulder blade. It had four legs, but the arrangement wasn't anything like square or rectangular pattern of Earth animals. It was more like a trapezoid, large side to the creature's right. Each arm had a different arrangement or implement or both on the end, and most of them were large nasty-looking claws. As far as I could see, the legs were solid and club-like, no toes or hooves or even feet. There was no neck and the head was weighted heavily to the creature's left. The ugly blue that had marked the swirl was its primary color, shading to a sandstone reddish color at the end of the limbs, with ridiculous bright green fluorescent tufts of something that looked like a cross between feathers and hair here and there based upon no scheme I want to figure out. I'm pretty sure I screamed somewhere in there and finished the job I'd started in my panties, and I'm not at all ashamed of it. You think you can do better in equivalent circumstances, be my guest, but don't get me involved. Then it opened its mouth - a gaping maw that hadn't been visible before then at the bottom edge of its head - and I saw a nightmare of teeth and I'm not sure what. It stood a bit taller the ScOsh and about five times his mass, by which I mean it crushed my dining room table without me even having a chance to hope it would trip over the pieces. It made the start of a noise that can only be called a scream crossed with a roar at about 160 decibels. ScOsh stood waiting behind it until it started moving, then calmly and without wind-up cut it into two from side to side just above mid-"torso", then reversed his cut and cut through the head in a downwards motion, pulling out when he met his first cut. As I have said, he was fast when he wanted to be. The thing just about had time to realize it was dead as it crumpled, bleeding two colors, the ugly blue and an equally ugly color that reminded me of a dull forest green.

I was standing there mesmerized by the spectacle trying to process what had just happened and ScOsh said, "The rules of the game just changed"

This was an author interview I did that asked me about a character in my WIP. She's not the viewpoint character, but she's one of the two main protagonists.

1. Go ahead and introduce yourself.

My name is Asina di Bernard, or following the customs of my husband's family, Asina Bernard.

2.Tell us where and when were you born.

I was born in Yonskarr's Hold on the Karnel Peninsula of Hashiboor Continent, Calmena approximately two prime fortytwo Imperial years ago in terms of personal duration. That's four sixty-fours, three eights and six in local reckoning.

3. How would you describe yourself?

My husband describes me as naturally short and petite. Two ififths twentyone, weight about fiftytwo prime, hair about half a shade on the sandy brown side of blonde, blue eyes. Even in the circumstances of my youth, I was shorter than most. But my physical characteristics change when I want them to. The most important thing about my husband and I is that we are married. The second most important thing is that I am a Second Order Guardian, trained on Earth after I was rescued from the circumstances of my birth, and nothing can ever take that from me. The third most important thing is that I intend to liberate my homeworld from the fractal demons and the agaani so that nobody will ever again have to endure what I almost couldn't.

4. Tell us about where you grew up.

An agaani hold, barely keeping the fractal demons at bay. Primitive, dirty, and brutal. Starvation was an omnipresent threat. The fractal demons could descend upon us at any moment, and the accommodations we made to forestall that were soul-crushing. I was a slave, but in reality, we were all slaves; slaves to the situation and to the needs of the community. Men were expendable workers or soldiers, women were child-bearing machines who were also responsible for some work or some training of the warrior boys. My parents died when I was young, I did what work I could until my woman's courses started to flow. Thereafter, I still did what work I could but my primary function was childbearing.

5. How old are you?

I am not certain, and Yonskarr certainly kept no records of the slave children. We think I was six eights and two or three in local reckoning when I was rescued, but that's simply a best guess based upon my memories. In Imperial terms, about twentyeight. In Earth terms, probably nineteen or twenty. That was two prime fourteen years ago standard Imperial years personal duration. I've lived roughly 113 Earth years in all.

6. Did you have a happy childhood? Why/why not?

No, I did not. My parents died when I was young, and even before that, I was a slave working the fields and anything else the shagra-ma needed us to. As soon as I became fertile, repeated rapes were a fact of life for me. I'd had a miscarriage before my daughter, and another after. My daughter tested as agaani, which boosted my slave caste to shagra-my and made me a caregiver for children, but it also meant I was raped even more often because they knew my children could be warriors or mothers of warriors. I would not have been permitted to see my daughter after her she achieved the age of two eights - they would have taken her from me for training. I was battered, malnourished, and fading. I had accepted that I would probably soon die as my parents had. Only the threat to my daughter Tellea posed by the fall of Yonskarr's keep forced me to protect her.

7. Past/ present relationships? How did they affect you?

Basically every male shagra-no and some of the shagra-ma in Yonskarr's keep treated me like a sexual plaything. It wasn't something they really chose; it was required of them by the situation. When I was rescued, the Imperial charity that sponsored me paid for a series of healing sessions, both body and mind. The body was much easier. For the mind, I was offered a choice, and I chose to want a normal life. I wasn't going to let my experiences on Calmena keep me from being happy, keep me from being a normal wife and mother as well as anything else I wanted. Their healer, a wonderful man named Jelaar, healed my mental and spiritual pain, and helped me put it in perspective against the fact that those people and that situation no longer had any power over me. I occasionally dated although I wasn't sexually active while I was being trained on Earth - I knew who I really wanted. Unfortunately, the characteristics of survival I'd absorbed on Calmena meant I was damaging my daughter Tellea and her ability to adjust to Imperial society, so I gave her up for adoption to a clan family associated with the Imperial military on Earth, although we have maintained a relationship since then.

When I was offered a position on Calmena helping them learn what they needed to know, I encountered Joe almost immediately upon arrival. We were married soon after and have been married two prime twelve years, or in Earth duration, a little over 92 years.

8. What do you value above all else in life?

My husband and four children. Next to that, who I have become. I have led nations of Calmena and their armies. I have helped push back the fractal demons away from most of Calmena. I have learned things no Calmenan would have dreamed when I was born, and I will continue to grow in the years to come.

9. What are you obsessed with?

Before I am killed, this I vow: I will eliminate every single agaani hold and eradicate every single fractal demon of any caste from the face of Calmena.

10.How do your beliefs make life better for yourself and the people you care about?

The Empire doesn't just talk about people being as important as they make themselves; they live it. One day Calmena will be an Imperial planet, where the people are free to become as much as they care to work for.

11. Biggest fear?

That the rulers of the Empire have miscalculated and the fractal demons will win the next war and all of humanity will be plunged into a never-ending night of slavery and torture.

12. What line will you never cross?

With the stakes as high as they are, I haven't encountered anything that I can promise I will never do. But I will never harm another human more than there is need for.

13. What is the best thing that ever happened to you? The worst?

My husband was the best. From the moment he helped rescue me, beaten, battered, and slowly dying, I knew I wanted to be worthy of him. The second best is that nothing even close to what I endured will ever happen to me again.

14. Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?

The day I accidentally let slip to my mother-in-law that I'd been shagra-my, and discovered she actually knew what it meant. Mrs. Bernard has definite opinions. Joe had to intervene with an ultimatum to his mother, and if I hadn't already given her a grandson, even that might not have been enough.

15. Biggest secret?

My husband and I have been in mental rapport for most of two prime since he went operant; I'd be dismayed if there were anything either of us hasn't discovered about the other.

16. What is the one word you would use to define yourself?

Improving. I am better than I used to be, and I will be better still sixty years from now.

17. What is your current goal?

My husband and I are teaching the Calmenans about marine diesel engines. I have a little bit more developmental work to sponsor in the petroleum and aluminum industries, then we are going to teach our people to fly.

From my first draft for Setting The Board, which will be number three in the Preparations for War series:

"Dammit, was this some kind of suicide pact you idiots made?"

We'd just had the first fatality in our new facility. A workman named Kodos had been killed when his team neglected to secure the mobile crucible before opening the sluice to fill it. The crucible had been pushed off station by the force, and Kodos had taken the stream of molten metal full on, with predictable results. Not only did I have a dead workman, I had my only operational furnace out of service until we could clean up the mess, which involved the time for the spill to cool as well as the actual clean up. There were blood and charred remains mixed with cooling steel all over the area, and the less said about the smell of burnt human, the better. "It could just as easily have been all of you! Do you want your wives to be widows? If so, please don't make it happen in my factory!"

I was pretty sure Kodos' short, blood-curdling scream had scared them more than my rant, but there was no way I was letting this violation of safety pass without driving the lesson home. "You're all going to come with me to break the news to his widow, and after it's all cleaned up, you're each going to spend an entire shift unpaid, practicing the safe operation of moving the metal from the furnace to the forms while the furnace stays cold! No shortcuts! You idiots thought you'd save five breaths it took to secure the pot, and instead it's going to take three days to get this line back into action! I even painted nice big pictures so you could see what had to be done if you forgot! Breaking the safety rules doesn't help things go faster - it brings the line to a complete halt! If I have to replace you to save your lives and my factory, I'll do it!"

Eyes downcast, the foreman of the gang, Vodran, apologized for his failure, "I'm sorry, sir. It won't happen again!"

"It better not!" I told him, "It's expensive to train a whole new crew, but if you boneheads can't remember a few short, easy steps, I'll be saving myself money! That goes for all of you! Watch each other, make sure the steps are done in the proper order! Saving five breaths doesn't help when it shuts the line down for three days! Both your lives and your jobs are in each other's hands!" Their wages were significantly above most workmen in Yalskarr; losing their jobs would be painful.

I'll follow, bringing the widow our death benefit, Asina told me. That way it would remain our little secret - if thinking their families got nothing in the event of their death made them work safer, it was worth the deception. Eight gold wouldn't replace her husband, but it would keep her and whatever children from starving for a while. It was better than a year's pay for most people.


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