Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Secret of Bramble Hill by Sue Owens Wright

Sue Owens Wright is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction. She is an eleven-time finalist for the Maxwell, awarded annually by the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) to the best writer on the subject of dogs. She has twice won the Maxwell Award and earned special recognition from the Humane Society of the United States for her writing. She writes the acclaimed Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series, including Howling Bloody Murder, Sirius About Murder, Embarking On Murder and Braced For Murder, which is recommended on the American Kennel Club’s list of Best Dog Books.

Her nonfiction books include What’s Your Dog’s IQ?, 150 Activities for Bored Dogs, and People’s Guide to Pets. She has been published in numerous magazines, including Dog Fancy, Mystery Scene, AKC GAZETTE, Fido Friendly, The Bark, and Animal Fair. Her work also appears in several anthologies, including PEN Oakland’s “Fightin’ Words,” along with Norman Mailer and other literary notables. Her newest novel is The Secret of Bramble Hill.

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About the Book

In April 1946, Tessa Field returns to Bramble Hill in the quaint Cornish seaside town of Covington Haven, England, after learning of her aunt Emily Maxwell’s drowning in a boating accident. The moment Tessa sets foot on the grounds of Bramble Hill, long-dormant psychic powers are stirred in her. Through a series of eerie manifestations and unexplained mishaps, she senses an entity in the house is trying to make contact and reveal dark secrets. Tessa narrowly escapes being trampled by a horse ridden by the handsome aristocrat and writer Peter Tremayne, a childhood friend. Upon their unexpected reunion, Tessa is immediately attracted to him, and he to her. Yet, despite their budding romance, she soon becomes distrustful of his true motives. Convinced that her aunt did not die in an accident but was murdered, Tessa investigates and soon becomes entangled in a web of deception, betrayal, and treachery that threatens her very life.

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Keep reading for an interview with the author:

Why did you decide to be a writer?

It wasn’t so much decision as destiny. I was drawn to the written word very early. The first toy I remember playing with was a red Cressco Reversible Spelling/Number Board. It had moveable wooden tiles with letters on one side and numbers on the other. Guess which got the most use? I loved to read. When I was eight years old, I enjoyed reading Judy Bolton mysteries, and I even tried writing a mystery of my own at the time. The notebook with beginning chapters is long gone, but I’d love to see what I wrote back then. Later on, I majored in English at college and wrote poetry and essays. Some were published, but many years passed before I would write books and see them published.

What genres do you write?

My Beanie and Cruiser Mysteries are cozies, and my standalone novel, “The Secret of Bramble Hill,” (Black Opal Books) is a historical thriller/paranormal romance. I have also written several nonfiction books on dog care and was an award-winning pet columnist for many years.

What inspires you to write?

I have been most inspired by my dogs and beautiful Lake Tahoe, where my dog lover’s mystery series is set. Adventures at the lake over the years with many beloved basset hounds find their way into my novels. They have provided me with endless material, particularly the humor in my books. Bassets, with their long ears, short legs, and sausage-shaped bodies, are just natural clowns and always good for a laugh. I’ve worked on my mysteries while visiting at The Lake of the Sky, as Tahoe is known to the Native American Washoe tribe of my protagonist, Elsie “Beanie” MacBean. The fresh alpine air sparks my creativity, too.

How often do you write?

I write several hours every afternoon at my favorite coffee shop, except I'm a tea-total.

How long does it take you to write a novel?

At least a year, sometimes longer. I completed a draft of my second mystery in four months, but it required a great deal of revision. Haste makes waste in writing, too.

If you could be one of your characters for a day, who would it be and why?

I’d like to be my character, Beanie, in the Beanie and Cruiser series because she gets to live in her own cozy mountain cabin at Lake Tahoe all the time, while I only get to visit now and then. She’s living my dream life in that regard.

What authors have most influenced you?

I’ve been most influenced by William Wordsworth, The Brontës, and Stephen King. I studied the English poets in college and wrote a lot of poetry back then. The first thing I ever published was a poem. A quotation of one of Wordsworth’s poems appears at the beginning of “The Secret of Bramble Hill.” It fits my protagonist, Tessa Field, perfectly.

If you could choose an author to be your mentor, who would it be?

My writing professor, John Dufresne, author of “Louisiana Power and Light”; “No Regrets, Coyote”; "The Lie that Tells a Truth, A Guide to Writing Fiction"; and others, has been my only mentor. His fiction writing workshops were definitely a turning point in my career.

When did you first consider yourself an author?

Several things affirmed that realization for me: When I saw my books on the shelves of bookstores I once dreamed of seeing there; when I won Maxwell Awards from the Dog Writers Association of America for the best writing on the subject of dogs; when my books were featured in the media; and last but by no means least, when I saw my fourth novel, “Braced for Murder,” on the American Kennel Club’s Best Dog Books List along with many of the classics I admired as a child.

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?

John Dufresne’s sage advice never fails me: “Place seat of pants in seat of chair.”

What do you enjoy doing aside from writing?

I’m a pastel artist, I play the harp, and I love to ride my bicycle. I often ride to the coffee shop where I write, a 12-mile round trip from my home.

Are you a pantser or outliner?

A bit of both. I fill a notebook with characters, plot ideas, and scenes before I begin writing a book, but then I allow the characters and plot take me where they want to go. Nothing’s set in stone.

How do you come up with the titles for your books?

The title is usually the first thing that comes to me when writing a book. I’m good at thinking up clever titles. The titles for dog books are easiest for me, though I didn’t create the titles for my two nonfiction books on dog care, the publisher did. I could have thought up better ones if I'd been asked.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently writing the sixth installment in the Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series. I’m also working on a memoir.

Do you have any advice for other authors?

Submit only your best, well-edited work to publishers. Revise, revise, revise. And as my canine sleuth, Cruiser the Basset Hound, might say: Follow your chosen path and stay on track. Take time to sniff the roses, and leave your mark along the way.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Ms. Creant: The Wrong Doers! by E. A. Barker

E. A. describes himself as a collector of ideas and a purveyor of dot connections. He attempts to present his findings in an entertaining fashion in an effort to encourage people to read—especially men who are reading far too little these days. E. A is an advocate of education for its ability to affect social reform and actively promotes the idea that a global conscience is possible.

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About the Book

Ms. Creant: The Wrong Doers!
Life With Women: The Long-Awaited Instruction Manual

This book was created for everyone from young adults to seniors. It was written from a male’s point of view, speaking to men who are endlessly struggling to understand the opposite sex. For women, this is a fascinating journey inside the male psyche. The book gives a young reader a glimpse of the future, with a recommended time-line for key life events. Mature readers, who have already experienced much of what is discussed in the book, should come away with a new found understanding and perhaps even closure. Ms. Creant is a controversial, entertaining, yet informative look at everything which influences human behaviour including: relationships, life, health, biology, philosophy, sociology, theology, politics, genetics—even physics. E. A. Barker shares twenty-four “inappropriate” stories of life with women. The author based these stories of women behaving badly on his real life experiences, spanning four decades of his search for an ideal partner. The lessons taken away from the book will serve to help readers make better choices, become more aware, grow and change—at any stage of life.

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Keep reading for an interview with the author:

Did you have a hard time sharing your work with the public?

You will definitely feel some anxiety baring your soul to the general public.

What inspires you to write?

Worry for humanity.

What is the quirkiest thing you've ever done while writing?

Writing naked.

Do you prefer ebooks, print or both?

I love paper books. I love libraries and bookstores. I am very concerned about a future where thought and knowledge can be deleted at the press of a button.

What made you decide to self-publish?

(E. A. is grinning here.) A complete and total lack of interest by the traditional publishing world.

What is the best thing about self-publishing?

Larger royalties and complete control of: cover, title, interior, pricing, and marketing.

Would you recommend self-publishing to other authors?

Only if they fully understand what will be required of them to get their book noticed.

Are you a pantser or outliner?

I am a fly by the seat of my pants outliner. First I wrote a memoir, then the outline changed to include humorous quotes. Next, I inserted the more scientific parts and the outline was redrafted again. Finally, the outline was again altered as the extra chapters were written.

How long does it take you to write a book?

Ms. Creant required four years of my life: one year researching, one year writing, nine months of editing and publishing work, and now I am in the marketing phase which will continue until October of 2017.

Do you write about real life experiences, or does everything come from your imagination?

As I am a nonfiction writer, Ms. Creant is very much about real life experiences.

Do you ever base your characters on people you know?

All of the thirty-ish people discussed in the book are or were quite real.

What inspired your current work?

A seemingly endless string of women who did not understand themselves.

What was the hardest part about writing your latest book?

I had to relive every heartbreak of my life and it took an emotional toll while writing it. The upside is I achieved the closure I was looking for. I am happier today.

Do you have any advice for other authors?

It is a job and you will have to work very hard or spend lots of money to be a success. Learn the process before publishing. There are far too many authors who believe they can see their own mistakes and who believe they can do everything themselves. They are essentially putting out unfinished works only to become upset when they receive a poor review due to editing or proofreading issues. You need a handpicked team. Alpha readers cannot be fans. Fans will tell you that your story is amazing and are rarely qualified to speak to the quality of your writing. Use a qualified editor and prepare to be devastated by what they point out. It will make your writing and your book better once you come out of the depression they caused. Expect to rewrite sections. Expect to flush out ideas. Expect to add chapters and even change the ending. Ms. Creant was an eight chapter book intended as an e-book only release when I wrote The End for the first time. It became much bigger and better, now having the potential to reach a much larger audience. When you are sure you are done, don't publish it. Give it to a qualified proofreader for line editing (punctuation and grammar changes). They will see the missing words that you believe are there. They will make punctuation changes to make each sentence more reader friendly. If you self-publish or are published by a small press, make sure you have a marketing budget to produce arc's, author copies, promotional items, launch events, websites, social media campaigns, e-mail campaigns, snail mail campaigns and plan to exhibit your book in the world's largest book conventions. Be aware, you must do all this within the first year after release. Lastly, beware of the social media time suck. All social media work will never equal the sales generated by REAL world door knocking. Popularity, a.k.a. likes, follows, shares and re-tweets will not pay the rent.

Do you have anything specific you'd like to say to your readers?

Thank you and I hope you found something within the pages that made you consider new possibilities.

Friday, 25 August 2017

The Itching Scars by Mohy Omar

I'm an indie author, self-published. I'm borderline that was misdiagnosed as bipolar. Long story short, the medication messed with my head so I took a pen and paper to fight back.

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About the Book

A collection of short stories dealing with different kinds of scars we keep. They never said being human could be this hard. They never told us about the scars we would carry. They only told us that this is what it means to be alive.

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Keep reading for an excerpt:

I'm in love with death. Call me crazy but I am. Throughout the centuries death has been wrongly depicted as black, skeletal and frightening. Look at paintings of it since the beginning of time tell me if I'm wrong. Grim reapers or pale figures engulfed in an ominous aura. Rulers of the underground in most mythologies. But that's a grave misconception. Death is beautiful. She has long black silky hair. She's neither thin nor fat. Her eyes smile brighter than her full lips. She smells like life and her touch feels like love, exactly how a permanent embrace ought to feel like.

Call me crazy, but I'm in love with death.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Savour - Art and Poetry meet by Vijaya Gowrisankar

Vijaya’s fourth book of poems, “Savour – Art and Poetry meet” was published on April 30, 2017. Her first three books of poems, Inspire, Reflect, and Explore are all best sellers. Her submissions have been published in Silver Birch Press, Nancy Drew Anthology, Poetry Marathon 2016 Anthology, Sometimes Anyway: Pride in Poetry Volume II, Forwardian, Triadae Magazine, iWrite India, Dystenium Online, and Taj Mahal Review anthologies. She has appeared as guest speaker in colleges. A participant in the Poetry Marathon 2016 (24 poems in 24 hours, 1 poem per hour), she has reviewed and edited poetry and fiction books. She participated in NaNoWriMo 2016 and completed her first novel in November 2016.

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About the Book

Savour - Art and Poetry meet is my fourth book of poems. It is a book of ekphrastic poems. The book has 58 art work featuring 19 artists and 73 poems in 20 different poetic forms against the art work. Five of the artists are associated with Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. Each art work and each poem is inspirational and fills the reader with positive emotions.

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Keep reading for an interview with the author:

Did you have a hard time sharing your work with the public?

It was hard to overcome the initial internal struggle that I had with myself to share my poems with everyone. People hesitate to read poetry, thinking it is very complex. My instinct said I was writing good poems and it needed to be out in the world, for everyone to read. So I edited them and read them aloud, till they resonated with me and then published it as my first book Inspire.

What inspires you to write?

Everything around me inspires me to write. Nature, situations, emotions, failures, success, and incidents shared by friends and colleagues.

How often do you write?

I try to write at least one poem every day. The length does not matter. Some days, I just draw a blank and scribble random thoughts that have no connection.

What is the biggest obstacle you face as an author and what do you do to overcome it?

The biggest obstacle is changing the impression of readers that poetry is hard and it is not for them. I have not yet overcome it. People read my poems when I share my work with them. Most of them are surprised that it is simple to read and understand. My dream is to reach out to at least one person in every home and change the impression that poetry is hard. Someday...

Do you feel the support of family and friends is helpful to you as an author?

Support of family and friends very encouraging. I can see their reactions live when they read my work. Reactions, both positive and negative, help me improve and write better. I also feel a divine connection when I write and that feeling helps me overcome any insecurity or indecision.

What is the best compliment you've ever received as an author?

There is a child in my building. She is around 5 years old. Her mother knows limited English. This child memorized my poem 'Angels' in English and recited it in her school competition. The teacher was awed and so was I, when she recited the poem to me.

Have you ever had a particularly harsh critique?

Yes, many. I received statements like - "The poem does not have a rhythm or it does not resonate. It should be written in a certain manner". I used to feel very hurt, emotional and tried to justify my poems at first. Now, I just take it with a pinch of salt. Once a poem is out in the world, every reader can interpret it the way he/she wants to. Once I accepted that, I was at peace.

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?

"You don't have to take every feedback and incorporate it into your poems. Take only what resonates with the soul of your poem".

How do you come up with the titles for your books?

The first three titles - Inspire, Reflect and Explore just came to me when I was writing the book or compiling it. The titles just came to my mind and it resonated. "That was it". For the fourth book, I started with a different title. Once the book was complete, I felt the title did not fit in with the book and the content. My publisher and I brainstormed back and forth, till Savour - Art and Poetry meet struck the chord.

What inspired your current work?

In November 2016, during my trip to Jodhpur, Jaipur, and Jaisalmer, I came across artists for whom painting was a passion, not just a profession. The seed to collaborate with them took place in my mind. My publisher suggested I do a complete book of paintings and poetry. I started reaching out to artists – within India and internationally for this collaboration. The artists who agreed and whose work fit into my vision are featured in this book.

What was the hardest part about writing your latest book?

Savour is very different from my first 3 books. The first 3 books were just my poems and I went about my thoughts and my feelings. Savour was based on the art work. I learnt new forms of poetry. Different forms fit different art work. Getting this combination right was the key in this book.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Clarence by Stephanie Baruffi

Stephanie Baruffi lives in New Jersey with her husband and three sons. She is an Early Literacy Specialist and obtained her Master’s Degree in 2014. She is also a NJ state certified Reading Specialist. ‘Clarence’ was written in memory of her late grandfather, for which the book was named. He loved his big family and truly did have a big, beautiful set of ears!

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About the Book

Clarence is a fictional story based off of real-life characters and family situations. "Clarence, A Story of an Italian Bot with Big Ears and Bir Problems" is about a young boy who doesn't seem to fit in with his loud family or his classmates. He knows he has enormous ears and is fearful that the children at school are right about him and that he doesn't belong, that is until his Nonna steps in and gives him something special to carry around with him in case he needs to be reminded that he is wonderfully made. This is a story about how knowing where you can from helps you to appreciate who you really are, no matter what anyone may think. Main topics include bullying and multicultural issues.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Clarence’s family gathered around the dinner table. At the head of the table sat Clarence’s father, who had just finished a long day’s work at the family business. After he prayed with the family, they dug into a delicious Italian meal that included chicken cutlets, homemade meatballs, and pasta Fagioli. Each night during dinner, the family hollered back and forth across the table. Everyone talked in multiple conversations as Clarence watched and wondered why. Clarence was a shy boy and didn’t seem to understand why everyone shouted, especially all at once! As Clarence looked around the table, he noticed that each member of his family had black hair, brown eyes and dark skin. He also realized that all of their ears were of normal size and each of them seemed to look much like the other. But Clarence was the exception. He thought that maybe the kids at school were right about him. This made Clarence lose his appetite, so he asked to be excused. Nonna the Great followed Clarence into his bedroom.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A Matter of Revenge by Laura Elvebak

Laura studied writing at UCLA, USC, Rice University, and Beyond Baroque in Venice, California. After taking a directing class in Houston, she co-wrote, directed and acted in a one-act play. She optioned three screenplays to a local production company and co-wrote a script for the 48 Hour Film Project.

She is the author of the Niki Alexander mysteries, Less Dead, Lost Witness and A Matter of Revenge. Niki Alexander is an ex-cop turned counselor for a teen shelter. Her standalone, The Flawed Dance, takes place in Philadelphia in the late sixties, about a young woman fleeing from an abusive lover and hides in the demimonde world of go-go bars and mobsters. Laura is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters-In-Crime, The International Thriller Writers, and The Final Twist Writers and has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Good Reads, and Amazon Author Central.

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Skype: laura.elvebak53

About the Book

When two young runaways break into a wealthy man's home, with horrific consequences, ex-cop and teen shelter counselor, Niki Alexander, comes to their defense. She soon discovers their motive had been to uncover a crime more heinous than two children could handle alone, and she is determined to finish what they started...

Get it today on Amazon!

Keep reading for an interview with the author:

Why did you decide to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer for as long as I remember. As a child I couldn't go to sleep until I knew the story and saw scenes in my head, including the previews. Later my dream was to live in the Left Bank of Paris, ride a motorcycle with a sidecar for my typewriter, and live on my writing as I toured Europe. Never got to Europe, but I still dream.

Where are you from? Does your area have a good writing community?

I presently live in Houston, Texas, and enjoy a great writing community. I am a member of Mystery Writers of America and serve as treasurer and newsletter editor for the Southwest Chapter. The Houston members meet monthly for lunch and a speaker. Another Houston writers group is The Final Twist, whose goal is to publish an annual anthology. I'm a founding member and past president. Houston also has one the best independent bookstores for mystery writers in the country, Murder By the Book. They have hosted all my launch parties.

Do you have a "day job"?

I am a retired former legal secretary. To supplement social security and my writing income, I work part-time as cashier for PetSmart. It gets me out of my cubby hole to meet the public and get inspired.

What genres do you write?

Mysteries and suspense because that's what I love to read.

What inspires you to write?

A cause that I'm passionate about. I'm an activist at heart. I want to shine a light on a problem without preaching. The Niki Alexander mysteries all call attention to the plight of teenage runaways and throwaways, what can and does happen to them. Women's causes are the inspiration for the books I'm writing now.

What authors/books have most influenced you?

Books by Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, among many others.

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?

The best writing advice is never give up, but also to improve as you write.

What is your writing process?

I start with an idea and write a loose synopsis. I have to know my characters thoroughly and it helps to write a sketch of each listing their goals, their strengths and failures. Then I put those aside and start writing.

Do you ever base your characters on people you know?

Many of my characters are inspired by people I've met. One character that surfaces in the last two Niki Alexander books was Tara Barlow, who lived on the street for a time, and who served up a wealth of information about runaways and street kids. She became a good friend of both my daughters, always eager to clean their houses, babysit their children, and give timely advice.

Have you ever gotten an idea for a story from something really bizarre?

I am always on the lookout for ideas and sometimes find them at the most unlikely places. As part of my research for the Niki Alexander books, a friend took me to the street church for runaways. Held weekly in a parking lot near Covenant House in Houston, I was introduced by the pastor who encouraged the kids to talk to me. The most bizarre story was from an earnest older teen who confided that he knew there was an undercover FBI agent among them looking for potential terrorists among the runaways. I was unable to follow through to find out if he was right, but it did inspire a plot twist.

What are you working on now?

The start of a new series about a female investigator for a defense attorney.

What inspired your current work?

The causes that concern women today and have been brought to light recently.

Do you have any advice for other authors?

Never give up your dream and keep learning.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Stone of Mercy (Book 1 of the Centaur Chronicles) by M.J. Evans

I am a graduate of Oregon State University. Upon graduation, I spent five years teaching at the middle school and high school levels.

About twelve years ago, I was able to combine my passion for horses with my love of writing. I researched and wrote three equestrian trail guide books for the Denver area. By “research” I mean that I spent every Friday riding my horse on a new trail, be it on the plains or in the mountains. The result of that work was the publication of "Riding Colorado-Day Trips from Denver with Your Horse," "Riding Colorado II," and "Riding Colorado-Day AND Overnight Trips with Your Horse." All of these books have made my horse famous!

Nine years ago, I began writing a trilogy that combines my love of horses, writing and fantasy. "Behind the Mist" was released by Langdon Street Press in January of 2011 and the second book of the trilogy, "Mists of Darkness" was released in 2013. The final book of the trilogy, "The Rising Mist," was released in 2014. This Trilogy was awarded the Gold Medal from the Mom’s Choice Awards in December, 2014.

I have also written another award-winning fantasy titled "North Mystic" published by Black Rose Writers. This allegory of the Revolutionary War won first place in the Purple Dragonfly Awards for fantasy in 2014.

In 2016, I released, In the Heart of a Mustang. This story is not a fantasy but it is all about horses. This coming-of-age young adult novel has won the 2016 Gold Medal from the Literary Classics Awards in Young Adult General Fiction and the Silver Medal in the Nautilus Awards.

My current project is a four-part series titled “The Centaur Chronicles”. I am excited about this new middle-grade fantasy. The first book, “The Stone of Mercy,” was released on Oct. 1, 2016 and has received the Gold Medal/First Place award for Young Adult Fiction from the Feathered Quill Awards.

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About the Book

Be it known throughout the land that The rightful heir to the throne of Crystonia will be the wearer of the Silver Breastplate with its four stones of light: The Stone of Mercy, The Stone of Courage, The Stone of Integrity and the Stone of Wisdom.

By tradition, the ruler of Crystonia will be the one in possession of the Silver Breastplate. Yet the rightful heir has not appeared and the throne that sits atop Mount Heilodius has stood empty for a century and a half.

The kingdom is being torn apart as the biggest and strongest races battle for control. Even the herd of peace-loving Centaurs has splintered into two factions, one awaiting the promised bearer of the breastplate, the other seeking power and control over the land.

Unbeknownst to all but a very few, the Silver Breastplate has been created. In due course, it is presented to a sixteen-year-old Duende girl named Carling, one of the tiny descendants of the fairies that once filled the land. But the silver breastplate is not complete. In order for its wearer to have the skills to rule the land righteously, the young Duende needs to find the four stones of light that are needed to finish this magical source of power and authority.

This is the riveting story of Carling’s quest. She, along with her friends, must risk their lives to save their land and fulfill the assignment given to them to complete the silver breastplate.

Award-Winning Author M.J. Evans takes the reader on another fantastic adventure. Immerse yourself in her fantasy world of Centaurs, Cyclops, Ogres and the Duende.

Get it Today!

Dancing Horse Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Chapter 1
The Breastplate

The blacksmith’s foot expertly pumped the bellows as he turned the piece of iron first one way then the other in the bright orange coals. The glow emanating from the little forge provided the only light as the sun began its descent behind the western hogback. Intense heat caused bands of sweat to roll down the narrow patch of skin that separated the smithy’s thick black hair from his single bushy eyebrow. The long brow served as a miniature breakwater, sending the sweat to the right and left before releasing it to run down the sides of his round, puffy face in great droplets. None of this mattered to the Duende, who was accustomed to the discomfort imposed upon him by his chosen profession.

The strip of metal was now glowing brightly in the same shade of orange as the coals into which it had been thrust. Tightly clasping the iron with his fire tongs, the smithy pulled it from the forge and quickly turned around toward his anvil.

The shock of seeing the tall, thin, hooded figure looming over him caused him to drop the metal strip, sending it bouncing off his boot and leaving a burn mark on the leather toe. The metal clanged loudly on the ash-covered stone floor. His breath caught in his throat.

“I’m sorry that I startled you.” The deep, sinuous voice came from beneath the gray hood that covered the stranger’s head and concealed his face.

“I…I…I wasn’t exactly expecting anyone,” stammered Ashtic, the village’s only blacksmith. His heart pounding, he wiped his glistening forehead with the back of his sleeve, painting it with a streak of soot, then rubbed his hands on his scarred leather apron. “May I help you with something?”

“My name is Vidente and it is I who have come to help you and your race.” The stranger stood up even taller before continuing. “A queen is soon to be born who will bring peace to the land. She will be one of your kind. She will be a Duende.”

“A Duende?” echoed Ashtic in the squeaky voice typical of all the Duende, dubious that a queen could be chosen from his race.

The Duende were shy, quiet creatures, descendants of the fairies that once populated the land. Their features were fine, their ears pointed, remnants of their fairy heritage. They were known and respected as artisans who kept to themselves. They were also recognized for their intelligence coupled with wisdom, but had never been considered as the source for a monarch due to their small stature and peace-loving ways. Yet, no other race had been able to maintain the throne for longer than a decade, and now the land of Crystonia had been without a ruler for the past century and a half. For the same amount of time, there had been no peace in the land while the larger, stronger races battled for leadership. The Centaurs, Ogres, and Cyclops all wanted to conquer and maintain Mount Heilodius, the designated location of the empire’s seat of government.

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