Ronins, Thorns and Burns, Oh My!

It’s been a while. My bad. It happens….I’m not a blogger by nature, more of an author with two kids that capture the majority of my focus, but I reckoned it was time for me to put my shoulder to the grindstone and get busy here. So, my first blog in months will be something near and dear to my heart…book reviews. No worries, no spoilers.

First up: Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire trilogy. This is a dystopian fantasy of epic proportions and the protagonist (if I can call him that) is one Jorg Ancrath, a prince estranged from his father by pride and magic. Now, listen here folks, Jorg Ancrath is most likely the best anti-hero to come around in a long damn time. I’m not saying he’s a Thomas Covenant kind of anti-hero (first trilogy), no…he’s a metric shit-ton more villainous than that. If Dexter and Tyrian Lannister had an illegitimate love child, it would be Jorg Ancrath, he’s that great of a hero/villain.  Now, it’s an awesome read just for the main character, but you should pick up a copy for the storyline as well as the fine prose. The Broken Empire trilogy is very possibly the best fantasy of the 21st century so far and Mark Lawrence is a strong new voice in the genre.

Next one on the hit parade….The Heart of Ronin by Travis Heerman, the first book of the Ronin Trilogy. Set in 13th century Japan, it has all the earmarks of a great fantasy…cool monsters, intrigue, a tender love story, swords, lightning swift pacing and delicately crafted prose that immediately hooks the reader in. If you like history, dig nifty swordplay and love something slightly different than the usual medieval European-esque fare, you MUST pick up a copy of this book.

Last but no least is Quincy Allen’s Chemical Burn. This is a mixture of Sci-Fi, detective noir and tech thriller that will have fans of smart assery cheering. Justin Case (yes, that’s the hero’s name, I shit you not) is a different kind of detective, a mixture of the Terminator and James Bond with a dash of Phillip Marlowe thrown in for flavor. This book has it all, femme fatales, cool techno baubles, and bad-ass fight scenes. This is a fun read for fans of The Dresden Files and other thrillers that deal in the fantastic.

Those three books are the ones that stick out in mind, the ones I enjoyed the most in the past few months and I wanted to share them with you in the hopes that you will discover them for yourself. Now, I will go back to writing the sequel to The Judas Line called The Judas Codex. Currently, this manuscript is starting to eat my life and it’s time I start biting back.


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A book review: A Whiskey Jack in a murder of crows.

Books are strange. Sometimes reading them is like trying to stay awake in a freshman Philosophy class and sometimes its like riding a roller coaster while high on cold medicine. The great works (Germinal, Mark Twain, War & Peace, The Silmarillion) all make me feel like I’ve eaten a satisfying meal and there’s no loud noise, no jarring of elbows or stamping of feet, just a quiet lassitude and a full stomach.

A Whiskey Jack in a murder of crows isn’t a great book, not by a long shot, but it is a good book. For me, reading it was like sitting in front of a fireplace sipping an ice cold vodka. The slow burn of the alcohol, the toastiness of the fire…relaxing. Satisfying.

Enough with the metaphors. I was given this book by the author, Sam Knight, at AnomalyCon in Denver a couple of months ago and I finally managed to wade through my To Be Read pile and cracked the book open. So here goes…

This is not my usual fare (which is sic-fi, fantasy and all shades in-between). In fact, it is a cozy little murder mystery set in the heart of California’s wine country where a man by the name ofJack Tabor has retired to heal after losing everything. Scarred inside and out, Jack just wants to be left alone and mend, but life has a way of slapping away complacency and respite. Soon Jack finds out that all is not peaceful in Rainbow County and that there are people out in the big bad world set on killing him.

That’s the set up. Here’s the punch line…this book starts slow, it’s a character study as well as a drama, gradually pulling the reader into a world as well crafted as any by Raymond Chandler. The dialogue is reminiscent of a David Mamet script as well as the aforementioned Chandler, but fresh enough to have its own stamp of originality. The action, when it comes, is bold and brutal (almost Tarantino-like) but not gratuitous. In fact, the story unfolds like a slowly blossoming flower, each petal revealing more and adding the beauty of the whole. The ending might be a little too neat and tidy, but neat and tidy is preferable to sloppy and incomplete.

In the end, I finished the book well satisfied, happy that I had read it, which is as good a praise as I can offer to any body of work out there. Kudos to Sam Knight for the entertainment and for a well thought out, nicely crafted read. Before any of you say ‘hey, he gave you the book, of course you’re going to hand out a favorable review’, remember this: If I didn’t like it, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

Exit, stage left.

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To Blog or Not

Man, it’s been a long time since I visited my blogsite and I realize that even though I am a writer, I have very little to say. That is, outside of my books. Perhaps I am lazy, or blocked, or even naturally reticent. Who knows? What I do know is that I am doing myself a disservice by not sharing my thoughts and promoting my work through this blog.

Okay, enough of self-recrimination, let’s get to the meat of the matter….Me.

On the bad side of the block is my book I, Monster, which garnered zero approval from various notables among the sea of literary agents out there. Looking back at the manuscript, I realize I need to give it a serious re-write. I understand my mistakes in the book, some of the dicier plot points, but I think the story, as a whole, stands strong. It was about mid way where I lost the true thread of the story, where it needs a strong hand to steer it in the right (or write) direction. When I am done writing my current BSI book, I will tackle that. Let me tell you, though, the vast collections of rejection letters cluttering my email folder is pretty damn sobering. Just when you think you are getting into the groove of the writing business…WHAM! reality smacks you in the ass with a wet shovel. It’s sobering and ego-deflating. Almost as much as American politics.

Next month, May, or the following month (June, obviously) I will be at two (2), count ’em, two book signings at Costco. One in Park Meadows and one in Thornton and I am stoked because not will people be purchasing my books (all 3 BSI books will be displayed), but I get to interact with grown-ups for a change (love my kids, but talking to a 5 and a 7 year-old all day limits the conversation to Wii and Spongebob). The great folks at Camel Press have set the whole thing up and I couldn’t be happier. Well, that is unless Natasha Henstridge shows up at my door with a slice of cheesecake, but that’s a different story…

Will these two events be the major gigs this year? Actually, no. This month, on the 19-21st, I will be at StarFest signing books, participating on some panels, rubbing elbows with some other writers and hopefully catch sight of Ben Browder, who is one of the celebrity guests. Actually, I would prefer Claudia Black (what man with an ounce of testosterone wouldn’t?), but you can’t have everything, no matter how hard you try. Be that as it may, it promises to be a terrific geekfest filled with overweight Klingons and women in corsets with their jiggly bits hanging out. A good time had by all.

That’s about it for the life and times of this intrepid writer. I work (part-time), I herd two kids (full-time), am a husband (also known as the guy without the vote) and I write (also full-time, but much more enjoyable). Things are going well, I left my haunt in San Francisco has arrived on the shelves with great critical acclaim, The Judas Line has been nominated as one of ForWord magazine’s Book of the Year (in Fantasy), and I am chugging away at the fifth book of the BSI series (Omaha Stakes). Soon I will be outlining the sixth book in the series (The Spirit In St. Louis) and the sequel to The Judas Line, tentatively titled The Judas Codex.

That’s all for now. For those of you who downloaded or purchased the hard-copy of my books, I thank you very much and I will dedicate my next work to you. To those who actually read, or have read, my blog, please remind me to write some more as I tend to get lazy and complacent.

To everyone else…take care…

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Now that the drama is over…

Yes, this Fall I was political, Facebooking and Tweeting my opinions hither and yon and I am pretty damn sure that I pissed a few you people off with my outspoken ways. For those angry with me all I can say is, ‘Tough noogies, folks, our country was built on free speech and the trading of opinions.’ A little bald and brash, but that’s how we Americans roll, dudes.

Now that Mr. O is back in office, the Tea Party is having a collective meltdown, Boehner and McConnell are slitting their wrists, non-white voters are standing proud, the LGBT community is doing the happy dance, women can be safe in the knowledge we aren’t heading back to the 1950’s,  and Fox News is still denying reality, it’s time to get back to what’s really important, what really matters to the majority of our fellow Americans. Yes, that one burning question you all are asking…..”What are you doing now, Mark.”

Good question. Glad you asked.

I am writing, still. Have a manuscript which I think holds promise called I, Monster which is making the rounds at various literary agencies and I am on the first pages of a historical fantasy called The Sword of Alexander. Hopefully it won’t suck. Wouldn’t be the first work I tossed in the rubbish bin this year if it does suck. I have failed more than I succeeded, but I think that’s the curse of anyone trying to fulfill their dreams: you have to failure is always a possibility. And you can’t be afraid to fail because if you are, the game’s over before it’s begun. You have to develop a thick skin, thick enough to stop a .22 automatic and a few callouses on your soul are not a bad thing, it’s all part of the experience of being an artist.

Yeah, I called myself an artist. Now that I’ve had 3 books published (please, feel free to purchase them) and I am contracted for 3 more (yay me!), I realize that my art is slowly morphing into a business. Not a great business, but a business, nonetheless. Weird.

My advice to all you would-be writers who haven’t finished a book yet is: Don’t be afraid to screw up. Keep at it and don’t let anyone tell you that you suck….believe me, you’ll be telling yourself that plenty of times, you don’t need anyone else tossing in their two cents.

Now, I want to give a quick shout-out to a guy named Steve Montano. He’s the author of the Blood Skies series. These are big, bold books…think steampunk on steroids whilst huffing spray paint. The metaphors hit with the precision of a scalpel and the imagery evokes equal parts blood, brutality and beauty. If Tolkien’s Middle Earth had a drug addled, ADHD, manic and slightly schizophrenic little brother, the world of Blood Skies would be it. Montano is the type of writer most us fantasy type authors want to be…bold, brash and fearless with a dash of insanity for that spicy tang. Check them out, they aren’t expensive at all. You’ll thank me.


I’m Mark Everett Stone and I approve this message.

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A mind is a terrible thing….

It’s been a while since last I blogged. Reality has a way of peeing in the punch bowl and I’ve been so busy with family, writing, family, conventions, family and the occasional writing that I have totally spaced the blogging aspect of my career.

Yeah, I said ‘career’. Strange how a passion can become a profession, even if it doesn’t pay worth beans and is more frustrating than a four-year-old on caffeine. But I chose this as my Holy Grail and have been content to do so, even if I want to scream at the heavens every now and then.

So, to catch up: I attended GalaxyFest as a vender and my books were very well received. It helped that my good friend Shay Fabbro (author of the awesome Portal of Destiny series was there. Thanks Shay!). Then came StarFest in April. They asked me to be a guest. How cool is that? Talk about your ego boosts! The people running that shindig were very nice and accommodating and I had more fun than most humans should be allowed to have. And now June is here….Time for Denver ComicCon. Once again Shay and I will leap into the breach to schlep our books and hobnob with the other authors/geeks. Should be a blast. Who knows, I might dress as Spiderman!


Next I will attend MiliHiCon as a guest. Very cool. Once again, an ego boost. Then next year I will hit AnomalyCon as a guest and, once again, StarFest. Talk about filling your geek quota for the year!!

Now, the nitty and the gritty: I am two, count ’em two, books ahead on my BSI series. The third book, I left my haunt in San Francisco, should be out in 2013 and I have finished the first draft of Chicago: The Windigo City. I think I will start number five, Omaha Stakes,  this winter. Keep your fingers crossed that it will turn out to be a good ‘un. I have high hopes.

On the darker side of my particular profession….I have started and tossed three different stand-alone books. First one died at 20k words. The second at 28k and the third at an enormous 55k. WOW. Why did I do that? They sucked.

I had no IDEA I would be shitcanning so much material! It is humbling, daunting and not a little bit frustrating. My saving grace is that my wife, Brandie, reads most of my material and gives me an honest opinion as to the quality. I’ve come to trust her judgement and am relieved to do so. Let me tell you, without her I would be grinding out some serious caca. She keeps me centered.

A great deal of thanks goes out to a new friend, David J. Kowalkski (author of the bestselling The company of the dead). He and I have talked quite a bit and that worthy gentleman has allowed me to bounce a few ideas off his Australian noggin. Thanks David.

Never thought writing and self-promoting would be this hard, but it has been a lesson in humility. A serious reality check I don’t want to cash, but must if I want to stay in the game, and for me, it’s the only game in town.

Thanks for your attention…and don’t forget to check out The Judas Line, out Sept. 1st. You can download a snippet if you head out over to the Camel Press website.

Hasta la vista, baby.

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Khantara, a surprising read

I am not a Romance guy. Nope, not at all, no way, no how, call in the dog and put out the cat. Give me anything else to read and I am one happy dude. Not that there is anything wrong with Romance as a genre, or romance in real life (I am married, after all, and know how to be all romantical with my wife and whatnot), but I just can’t read the stuff. So, I apologize to all the Romance lovers out there…don’t hate, just relate.

That being said, I decided check out Khantara by Michelle Franklin because I heard her writing was evocative, beautiful, witty and her imagination was off the hook. Ms. Franklin was kind enough to gift me with a file copy of the book, so I put in my TBR pile and started slogging through all the books in front of hers.

A couple of weeks ago I finally made to Khantara and with great anticipation, I began to read. If you haven’t figured it out by now by the first paragraph, it is a Romance. A Fantasy Romance.

Boy, was I bummed, but I kept on reading.

Khantara is a giant, a 9ft tall slab of muscle who is the leader of his people. He is a peerless warrior, but gentle and kind…a paragon of virtue and virility. The kind of man other men (myself included) wish they could be. This fearsome, but wise, giant meets Anelta, a woman considered little more than property by her people, and so begins a rather tender and endearing voyage of discovery and romance that surprised me by its literary grace.

I am the son of an English professor, raised on Shakespeare, Homer, Mallory and Camus, so I have some idea what constitutes elegant writing. At least, I think I do. And I’m willing to bet some real money that Franklin’s efforts here meet the criteria handily. Think of Jane Austen meets Stephen R. Donaldson (although without Donaldson’s penchant for using words even English teachers wouldn’t recognize) meets Anne McCaffrey. The prose is so well written and the characters so real that I completely forgot my dislike of Romance and floated in the story. The dialogue is well realized and clever while the world-building is imaginative and well-conceived.

Don’t expect a lot of fighting, great battle scenes and visions of gore; it’s not that kind of book. Think more of the flow of a gentle river…not that exciting, but pleasant and comfortable…something in which you can comfortably immerse yourself.

Usually I am not surprised by a book or a movie (I saw the twist coming a mile away in the Sixth Sense) because there is very few new things under the sun, but this one took my by the lapels and shook me until my teeth rattled. It was the most pleasant surprise I had received in quite a while and I must hand it to Ms. Franklin, she knows how to write a hell of a book.

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A Geek In A Geek World

Yeah, I am a geek and I admit it, so going to GalaxyFest in Colorado Springs to schlep my books was a no-brainer. I am writing this wonderful blog post from the table I am sharing with the fabulous Shay Fabbro, the author of the Portals of Destiny series.

Apart from having to administer adrenalin to Shay (she had a fangirl moment when Denise Crosby hugged her, causing a coronary), the Fest has been a blast. People are dressed as Star Trek characters (of course), Babylon 5 characters, Star Wars characters, while some have their best Renfaire outfits on. There are also quite a few SteamPunk costumes present. Looking around, seeing all the outfits and strange people in make-up and odd doo-dads affixed to their bodies, I have come to one, solid conclusion: I am really heroically well-adjusted.

Actually, the geekfest and nerdism is endearing and fun. The people are nice and friendly and the whole place has a carnival air that I find enjoyable. It doesn’t hurt that they seem to love my book Things to do in Denver when you’re Un-dead…a true sign of good taste. My only problem seems to be the desire to buy from all the other vendors because there are tons of good shwag to be had here. Hold on, there’s a Sandperson here who is perusing my books…..

…Ok, back. Nice guy, but he was run off by a rogue Jedi who I think was his wife. Or whatever….you can’t really tell with Sandpeople.

So, as I sit here on a fun Sunday afternoon staring at people in colorful clothes (and trying not to stare at a few ladies almost wearing theirs), I have to say that I am glad to have attended and I will have to check out the Denver ComicCon in June.

Maybe I will even dress up for the event. How about as Indiana Stone?

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Still writing, still reviewing…Check out Jack Remick’s ‘Blood’!

I don’t read a lot of thrillers, but when I do it is usually James Patterson, John Sanford, or Joseph Garber, all masters of the craft. However, being one of the select who now belong to the Camel Press family, I had occasion to read a book call Blood, by Jack Remick.

Much to my chagrin, I have come to realize that although I LOVE this book, I had not bothered to post a review! Boy, do I feel like a prize idiot, considering that I write reviews on this very blog and on Slacker Heroes. I can only apologize to the talented Jack Remick for not writing one earlier.

Some would call Hank Mitchell a sociopathic killer, some would call him an unfeeling automaton who kills merely for money. Some might say that he is a damaged human being seeking an elusive something to complete his personal voyage of discovery. I happen to think that all these descriptions apply. As a protagonist, Mitchell is certainly not one you root for day one, but with surgical precision, deft wordsmithing, and blistering heat, Remick creates in Mitchell a bizarre anti-hero you can’t help but feel connected to.

The story bursts forth with uncompromising passion and honesty to wrap the reader in the blanket of Mitchell’s strange little world. Now, I am not one to empathize with efficient, cold-blooded killers. Not my cup of tea, but there are exceptions to every rule and this one is mine. At the heart of this story it is sad and poignant, wild and paranoid and even downright surreal, but no matter how odd, how bizarre, it grips the reader with furious tension.

I am not going to tell you more about the book than I already have. I will leave the joy of discovery for you. What I will say is be prepared for a gamut of emotions as you read. There are very few books that, when I finish, I say ‘wow’.


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A painful time away and a couple of long over due reviews

Hello. I’m back. Really! This is not a test or a clever way to sell ShamWow, I am really back after a couple of months of painful, brain-bending writing. Not fun. Found out firsthand how ugly it can be when your mind takes a long stroll off a short pier.

Let me explain…

In Sept. I began a new book called Unwilling Gate and it was going to be cool. Had it all mapped out in my mind how it would lay out: thrills, chills, a gorefest, horror, urban fantasy, paranormal, suspense, the whole ball of wax and the kit-n-kaboodle.

Yeah, right.

At the end of the month I took a look at the 50k words I had written and realized one very important thing: it sucked. Big time.

How humbling is that? From great reviews for Things to do in Denver when you’re Un-dead to a major-league suckfest in 3.2 seconds. I felt worse than a politician who got caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

Needless to say, I did the only thing I could….I drank. Quite a bit actually. And took a serious amount of Prilosec. How could I write when what I produced wasn’t worth being chopped up for ukulele picks? I drowned my sorrows in vodka (of course) and amaretto and cursed my muse up one side and down the other.

When I finally sobered up, I realized the ginormous ass I was, behaving like a pouting 4-year-old and went back to the computer to type another story, but this time I would make it work! This time I would make myself and my ancestors proud of my artistic scribblings. This time I would hit the friggerty mother lode.

Of course that’s not how it worked out. What happened was I sat and slaved like a mad dog to produce the third book in my BSI series, I left my haunt in San Francisco. The book has merit, I believe, but is it one of my better works? I have no clue.

The experience with Unwilling Gate tore out the underpinnings from my certainty, from my confidence and shook me to the core. Looking at your work and realizing it’s crap will do that to you. We all want to write the next great American novel. We all want to be Steinbeck or Hemmingway or Faulkner and what I realized is that I just need to be Mark Stone, no matter where it leads me.

Okay, angst for the memories, let’s get to some long overdue reviews. I feel like three different kinds of crap for not posting them before and there is no excuse, safe to say that I was too busy being a dipshit to get the job done. So…here goes:

Legends Reborn (The Light Of Epertase) by Douglas Brown. I received the ARC a long time ago and it took a while for me to read it, not because I didn’t want to, but because my TBR pile is off the hook. Eventually, I got around to reading it and am very glad I did. The book follows Rasi, a man blamed for a crime he did not commit and has been sentenced to fight against a monster called a rashta. He wins, but at what cost? Well, I won’t spoil it for you except to say the book turns into quite a nice little military fantasy that I enjoyed very much. It took a few chapters for the book to really capture my interest, but when it did, it held on with both hands and a couple of claws.

Brown strides familiar grounds with this story, but in a way that proves his capabilities as a storyteller. He also took what could very well have been a run-of-the-mill fantasy and created something fresh and new. Hard to do in a genre trampled on by so many. Kudos to Mr. Brown, I look forward to the sequel.

King’s Envoy by Cas Peace. Okay, received this ARC roughly the same time as Legends Reborn with the same result: I let my work eat my life and my TBR pile to overwhelm me. By work, I mean my artistic endeavorings. By artistic endeavorings, I mean my writing. By writing, I mean the things that dribble from my brain into the computer. Be that as it may, I once again let something good slip through my fingers.

The book follows Taran, a young man who feels the need to learn more about his magical craft and must do so by finding a teacher in a different ‘Realm’. This is a well written fantasy about courage, friendship and mystery. Instead of grabbing the reader by the ears (like Mr. Brown’s wonderful stylings), Peace gently leads you by the hand down the road to a rich fantasy that could have been trite, but instead became a moving piece of work. I could say more, but I do so detest spoilers. Let’s just say that you should not only uncover it from the wealth of fantasies out there, but also discover it.

Both of these books stand out and kudos to Rhemalda Publishing for picking them up. I hope that more people will find these diamonds in the rough.


That’s it for me, I have blathered on long enough. Until we next meet, fellow travelers, adios.

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I review Gabriel’s Return and trip up all over myself

It has been a long time since I set virtual foot on my blog page that I almost tripped over the previous posts. Cleaning up is going to be a bitch, I see.

Well, on to the business at hand, shall we?


Writer Steve Umstead (whose book Gabriel’s Redemption I reviewed earlier this year…go ahead and read the review, it’s right here. I’ll wait) (Finished? Good, let’s continue) has done it again, another Evan Gabriel book, the dreaded sequel, Gabriel’s Return. Now I know what you’re asking yourself, “Mark, (which is strange if you name isn’t Mark) why do you say ‘dreaded’?” Good question and the answer is simplicity itself: Most sequels that I have run into suck the big banana.

Thank goodness that didn’t happen here. With nary a hitch in stride, Umstead returns with a slickly written story that is well paced and so well written I am starting to feel a little jealous here. I mean, whoda thunk that a self-published author could pop out a well edited, well crafted, well thought out book?

The Big 6 publishers certainly don’t want you to think they can. They would have you believe that quality work can only be produced through their efforts. Good thing that Umstead has the ability to prove them wrong.

Evan Gabriel and his team head off on a mission to save hostages from terrorists. Yep, that is the only spoiler I will allow, which is quite a lot for me. Now, down to the meat and potatoes of the matter; the characters are well written and believable, the dialogue crisp and well thought out as was the plot-line.

Yes, it is a good story well told and well executed. I hate, and I mean HATE giving books stars, or a numeric value based on my opinion. I mean hate it like I would hate wearing fiberglass underwear, so I will forego the pleasure of pigeonholing Mr. Umstead’s fine work with such base values. Instead, I will say this: this remarkable indie author writes like a young Ben Bova, full of verve and raw energy, without all the gratuitous swearing that many of today’s writers rely so heavily upon.

Good Job, Steve.


Now, you are probably wondering about me. Don’t blame you, I really am a fascinating fellow. In the last couple of months I attempted a little bit of a departure, called Unwilling Gate. It was an Urban Fantasy about possession, hate, greed, and redemption. Boy, did it suck. Not just the kind of sucking you get from a John Norman book, but the major, hurricane force suckage that Laurel K. Hamilton seems to indulge in these days.

I couldn’t tell you what happened, not for the life of me. I was grooving, in my Zen place just typing away and I decided to check out what I had written for the first 40k words or so.

Damn, it read like Roger Zelazny if he’d been a drunk pagan Goth with dyslexia and severe mommy issues. By the time my eyes had reached halfway through what I had written, I had to scrap the project. If not for my sake, then for the sake of humanity. THINK OF THE CHILDREN, MAN!!!

Ahem. Sorry…got away from myself. Where was I? Oh yeah, scrapped projects. The one good thing is that I am now writing, more successfully mind you, the third in the Kal Hakala BSI series, I left my haunt in San Francisco. Don’t worry, it doesn’t suck.

Until next time, dear readers…ciao.

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