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  1. Tears of the Dragon Boy by Ricky Synopsis: A boy is changed by his world's storm, increasingly becoming dragon-like. When he and his brother are outlawed and his parents are killed, can he face down the people accusing them, to win justice, or will he give in to the urges of his inner dragon? Book link (Read it here): Tears of the Dragon Boy Reader comments: I do not have words to express my feelings. The sorrow of the loss, the anger at the injustice, the sour taste of revenge, and at the very end, the exhilaration of the happy ending. It gives us so many mixed emotions. As much as i hate to cry at stories, this one made me do it, and do it in a big way. it's really a beautiful story, with more then enough action to keep me interested. This is one that i also strongly recommend. What a great story! ... I fell asleep at my laptop last night and just finished this morning. A great read and I look forward to a sequel! Bravo! and well written. I enjoyed this very much and loved the ending. This was a wonderful story. I'm glad you had the inspiration to write it. Extract: “They’re coming,” Malageth said to them both. At this Mantu and Bimeny both stood and started looking around. “Not this moment,” Malageth said, “but rest assured, they will come and when they do, you can’t be here. They can’t let this go. They will bring guard from the other provinces. And no one is going to believe you, if you tell them why you killed Gandoo. No one knows how many they have killed to hide their dirty little secrets.” Malageth said, looking at the horizon as if to see torch fire at any time. “Let them come,” Bimeny said with determined purpose. “I’ll just take care of them the same way that I took care of Gandoo and the guard.” “Bimeny, when they come back, they will come with legions. They will shoot you before you would even have a chance to take flight. Or they would hold a knife to my throat to make you give up.” Malageth explained. “Where will we go?” Bimeny asked her, taking her hand loosely. Looking into his eyes she lovingly said, “I can’t leave Reentu. You and Mantu will have to go alone.” Review by Adam. A 14 year old younger brother to the hunk of the elder - he who is to go through the big coming of age event which seals his entire future - inadvertently gets too close to the action and.....well you see the title of the story, right? Ricky has here masterfully crafted a mid-sized story if, were it in print, I'd be buying copies as stocking-fillers this coming Christmas for any children for whom I am due to buy gifts and who are aged between 11 and 14. The tale has just that right balance of adventure, fantasy, the success of right over evil, and those moments of sadness. The title character is Bimeny, who together with his girlfriend - who leads a strong female character cast throughout the saga - shares a wickedly dry sense of humour. Tears of the Dragon Boy is seemingly set in a fantasy world with strong resemblances to Europe of the 10th/11th centuries. The author builds his story and the various moments of crisis with panache, keeping his readers on the edge of their seats and rooting for their heroes throughout. Ricky chooses character names well, making up new ones with alliterative skill. In the same way, whilst creating his make-believe boys and girls, he made them believable by not only giving them seemingly fantastic powers, but allowing them human errors too. So Bimeny, in a flight of anger wants perfectly normal revenge: "He wanted them to see their child killed before their very eyes so they would know the pain that he felt,"(sic) As in so many stories, I felt that this one was front loaded, that is the early chapters were far more detailed than the last few. It was almost as if Ricky had become bored with his own creation and wanted to get it over and done. A strong ending is often something lacking in stories today; they tend to go out with a fizzle rather than a bang. Perhaps that is what the author intended, however. Further, there were a few cases where the story would have benefited from a touch of good editing, but then I am a bit of a grammar freak. But writing a mediaeval story and mentioning a balaclava is a trifle anachronistic! Honestly, though, Tears is a dream of a tale which I have already emailed to all my contacts as a MUST READ and, for children over 11, as the best story I have yet reviewed for Castle Roland. Ricky, ***** Adam INTERVIEW First up, thank you for agreeing to take part. Mostly these author interviews are focused on the book that's been reviewed and a little on you yourself as an author. Straight off your career as a writer of fiction sticks out as being a little different. What I mean, is that you had a large handicap to overcome, namely your dyslexia. Do you think this first book was the beginning of triumphing over that difficulty? It was very well received and won readers choice back in 2015. Well it didn't happen until I was around 50 years old so I think I had developed work arounds for most things in life. What I also didn't mention is that what I wrote took 3 years to edit into something worth reading and it took the help of some really great people. Until I wrote TOTDB I was not at all well-read. I'm embarrassed to say the number of books I read by choice was less than my fingers. When someone would ask if I had read . . . I'd stop them and tell them that if it wasn't written on the back of a Wheaties box I probably never read it. That has all changed now with text to speech I am a voracious reader. You have written a number of books, not just this one. So having found a way to write, despite your drawbacks, why stop in 2015? I’m presuming you did stop. I haven’t looked at all your writing, but I did see that back then you said, you had only one unfinished book. That book was TIC, and it never did get finished. What happened? The short answer is life. But that would not be the complete answer. In truth, I spent several years mentoring a young man who had been through a series of nightmarish events. I grew to love him as a son. And it was the kind of hell most people would not live through. He became my everyday concern for a long time. For a very long period it was a task to just keep him alive. When you exist in that constant concern and fear, it's hard to be creative. I'm happy to say he survived it. He got the proper mindset and turned 18. He started a new life and is living it. So I've been writing short stories to try and revive that writing spirit. I'm getting back into the spirit of it. I've actually written a bit of the sequel to TOTDB. But don't look for anything anytime soon. Okay, looking at Tears of the Dragon Boy, I’m not sure too many authors would quote Hamlet, “But therein lies the rub!” in their opening chapter. It’s not after all a common expression. Does this indicate you are a well educated individual who studied Shakespeare and English literature, or it just popped out? ROTFLMGAO! Uhm, no. High Screwl drop out, got a GED in the army. Don't get me wrong, I'm not stupid. I went on to be a video engineer and traveled the world. I'm a journeyman glazier, did purchasing for a multimillion dollar technology company, spent 23 years as a licensed private investigator. But higher education was not in my resume. I owe that to my mother. She was a very unique woman. We were dirt poor but mom spent a lot of time teaching us that poor was just money. Knowledge was where the real power was. By ten years old I had been to just about every kind of church you could imagine. JUST to learn about them. Even went to a Chinese green tea mass. (The green tea sucked I might add. But hey, I was 10.) Our teachers told us we were unusual kids because we could speak a little on almost any subject. She would dissect commercials asking us things like, what DIDN'T they say. Or it says it's only this much per month but how many months? When we came home from school we never knew what we would hear. Tchaikovsky, Jim Neighbors, Tex Ritter, The Beatles. You never knew. The oldest brother was the Shakespearean fanatic. So I probably got it from him. I think some of it is from our DNA. I had two older brothers and an older sister. All of them brilliant. The oldest spoke 26 languages and wrote 24, the other two were only spoken languages. The next brother, broke the genetic code for gerbils when he was 14. It revolutionized science because back then gerbils were imported only for labs and this gave them the ability to create identical lab animals. My sister can build an empire out of peanut shells. She was brilliant in business. Then there was me. By the time she got to me, she just ran out of genes. I guess you have some method for coming up with the character names, or perhaps you just invent something that sounds like it might work. Elder Gandoo sounds awfully like a version of Gandalf? How did you find all these character names? An interesting question. When you write other world fantasies you have to have rules to structure your world with. These rules sustain the bubble of disbelief for the reader. Mine had very few. Things like how time was measured, how direction was indicated. And names. Bill or George would be too grounding. And I did have some basic rules for names. Elder Gandoo was not at all magical and certainly wasn't derived from Gandalf. I like to think the characters chose their own names. I did find the dialogue seemed at times to be out of character, out of context. Let me explain, the setting , background, descriptions, and character names, all conjure a medieval epoch fantasy, but the dialogue often reverts to modern Americanisms. Example: Man, I’ve seen it and it ain’t pretty. I’m glad I’m not in your shoes. You have any kids?” Mantu asked. You also use “pops” etc. Were you aware of this? What do you think now, in hindsight? Nope. Missed that completely. There are certain colloquialisms that just flow and aren't too grounding. Of course that is if you're American. But hey, it's the first thing I ever wrote! If that's the worst you found then I'm completely happy. The story is, I found, quite gruesome. There is a lot of bloodshed and burning people slowly and painfully to death. In one way it reminded me of those fairy tales I got read to me as a child, Hans Christian Andersen etc., they gave me nightmares. I guess I’d have to rate this story age 11 and upwards. What are your own thoughts on the gruesome aspect of your story? I agree with the age range. In fact I would put it at 12 or 13 depending on the maturity of the child. I didn't so much write the story as let the characters do it. I did have moments of pause. But then I glanced over and saw the video games my own son was playing and threw my concerns out the window. I did try and temper the gore a little though. Getting back to you as a writer. You said, I think, you had this story in your head a long time, spoke to your wife about writing it, and she told you to go do it, that she would read it. Not quite the response you were looking for, but it kicked off your career. Did your wife play any further part in your writing? Negative. She would often be found snooping over my shoulder but never said a word. Of course when I started to write it I was almost in a trance trying to type it as fast as the characters gave it too me. I marathoned it into existence. Was it just that prompt from your wife, or what else inspired you to overcome your handicap and get it written? A great achievement. An easy answer that one. I woke up one morning with the story in my head. The characters would not leave me alone until I wrote it. You have to understand that I did not plan to write a story and even the rules of the world came to me from the characters as I was writing it. And it was not written and rewritten. There were no "drafts". There was the story written and then the editing to make it coherent. I did not revise any scenes. I have no idea where the impetus for the story came from. I was certainly not inspired by anything I read because I did not read! It can’t, I would think, be all entirely your imagination, but there most likely are things, books, films, etc., which have influenced you putting the story together. Was it your imagination that decided dragons gorged themselves on horses? What external sources influenced the story? The characters wrote the story. I just wrote down what they said. Didn't you notice that it's almost entirely dialog? Like I said, I went from just going to write down the story outline and give it to a ghost writer, somebody that could write. The next thing I knew, I was looking at 469 pages of story. I didn't stop writing until I couldn't keep my eyes open or had to go do a show someplace. I even wrote on my breaks in the shows I was doing. I was obsessed. I was convinced the only way to free up those few remaining brain cells that were still shaking hands together was to write it and get it out of my head. This was your first book. I have to ask you this question: the story is not a gay story, there are no gay characters. This is not a criticism, but why publish on a gay story site? I wasn't out to the world then and I didn't KNOW about online literature. When I found out that there was gay literature online I was on it like a pack of cub scouts on a pack of skittles. And most everything else I've written are either true stories about my boys or gay fiction. A funny story here, After TOTDB my son, then 15ish I think was always rushing over to my computer to see what I was working on. I would always task out to something else when I saw him coming. Finally it was becoming a challenge. He would try and sneak up and I would close my computer. Finally I had enough and I had just written Roll Call, I think. I printed out a few pages and waited for him. He showed up and I handed him the pages. They were rather graphically written. My son is absolutely straight. I asked him to critique this author. He read, and said, "The guy is a great author. He's very . . . descript. It's not my kind of story but it's well written." I said, "Thank you. I wrote it." And that's how I came out to my son. I had published it online on a couple other sites that were of mixed types, gay and straight. Saber Peak was one of those. When it merged with CR, it was just brought in. It is the reason that photos are now on the site. They saw the awesome cover art that Jordan Patchak was kind enough to do for me and they said "We HAVE to have this" And there you are. You went on to publish this book on Amazon under the name John Odom (the link is highlighted for readers), how successful was the book in print and as an ebook? Would you encourage other authors to self-publish? John Odom is my real name. I used the pen name Ricky in honor of the boy I first had a crush on. I've sold some. But unless you are going to spend the time or money to market it the people will never know to look for it. And it was a pain in the ass understanding what format to use. I guess finally I need to find out if you will ever continue to write and perhaps finish that book TIC? Yes, I have to get back into the mindset. I know how TIC goes but I have to get my head back into it. I am doing shorts and even trying my hand at a little bit in the RU world with the story Arthur. I'm working to get back to being creative because I love writing. Thanks once again for taking time out to share your experiences about writing with us. As a footnote for those of you who have been following these book reviews and author interviews, this is the final one. We may perhaps be back with something else in the New Year, who knows? From myself, William King and our team, Adam, Mark, and Jay, cheerio for now. ebook and paperback Tears of the Dragon Boy is available as an ebook or paperback from Amazon (click link below). Tears of the Dragon Boy on Amazon - ebook and paperback.
  2. Billie Joe's Journal - Book One By Rick Beck. Growing up gay, in small town middle-class America, hasn't gotten much easier today than it was twenty years ago, when this was first written. The question is, as it always has been, can a teen or young adult survive being who and what they are? BOOK LINK https://castleroland.net/story-synop/?id=2690 Extract I looked at Raymond studying the shadows on the floor. He didn’t seem like the same guy I met in Hank’s truck. Even his expression and the way he carried himself had changed. Holding him with my naked stomach against his naked back made him shiver for a few minutes. He grabbed my arms and held them hard and close to his chest. I could only feel him crying. I tried to just be part of the warmth. It did seem to fight back my own demons. I don’t know if it did anything for Raymond’s. Reader comments The story is awesome in that you can relate to each person... It makes you smile and at times teary eyed... It is a fine story that is well worth the time to read. Review by Mark Christensen I will admit right off, this was a hard story for me to read and review. I like to read to escape the world and it’s troubles but this story immersed me in Billie Joe’s ‘not so nice’ world and would not let me go, as much as I thrashed around, trying to escape. Reading this was like watching a train wreck - horrible to watch but you can’t stop looking - and I suspect that was one of the author’s intents. However, the ‘train’ is beautifully written, flows well and has some memorable characters in it. Initially, I was not fond of Billie Joe as he appeared to be a self centered typical teen with an attitude. Then his friend commits suicide and Billie Joe needs to go find a community where he fits in and can be accepted. He travels to stay with his brother, meets his life’s love on the way and then when they have to separate for a year, Billie Joe hits the road for San Francisco. He meets both good and horrible people, is forced to do and exposed to things no one should have to see and experience and although you want to shake him and tell him to stop it and get to safety, by calling his brother, you understand why he needs to explore this world. The author forces you to acknowledge that young homeless gays are exploited, used and abused and their plight is usually ignored by the vast majority of people. I dare anyone to walk by a homeless teen on the street and not think of their plight after reading this story. I don’t know if there are any autobiographical elements in the story but if there are, the author has risen above the story elements and hopefully is proud of himself. This story will make the reader run a gamut of emotions, ranging from heart warming to heart stopping moments and every emotion in between. There are three books to this story and will I read the second and third book? You bet. I want to see if Billie Joe has found his equilibrium and lifelong love after his gut wrenching book one. And that is a sign the author has done his job well, that while journeying through a dark place, a reader still wants to tag along for the rest of the story. INTERVIEW The following is a series of conversations between myself and Rick Beck the author of Billy Joe's Journal. Unlike previous author interviews which have taken the format of questions and answers, here the reply from Rick is much more far ranging. He explains not only how he came to write the book, but how he became an author. His response covers some important LGBTQ issues and history, these include the AIDS epidemic and the treatment of homeless gay youths. Rather than interject my questions to Rick I prefer to give you his response, which I have simply put into what I hope is a logical order. HOW BILLY JOE'S JOURNAL CAME TO BE WRITTEN. I did not set out to write gay novels. In January of 1997 I went in search of a gay love story. I had learned to use the computer the year before, and was just then exchanging email with a couple of friends. In late March of 1997 I found the Nifty Archives. It wasn't nifty and it turned out to archive 4800 of some of the worst two and three page sexually twisted renderings anyone could imagine. I was repulsed and left the site after trying to read two or three of the offerings. I never got beyond the first paragraph. It wasn't simply bad writing. It left me feeling sick. After leaving Nifty, I paused to think about what I'd found. I found no gay love stories. I found no gay stories of any kind. In 1997, gay people were loathed and hated in most circles. I began to wonder what would happen if I wrote a gay love story. I'd written in junior high and high school. Once I began learning the computer, I was writing again. I decided to write the first chapter of a love story and see what happened after I sent it to Nifty. I'd know after one chapter if I wanted to continue, and since there was no downside, it's difficult to be more loathed and more hated, but hey, I was willing to give it a try. There was another thought. There might be other gay men out there looking for gay love stories. 'It Happened on a Bus,' began with Billie Joe leaving home to stay with his brother. After his best friend killed himself, he needs to go in search of himself. He has never gotten along with his brother, but it's a reason to leave home. On the bus, Billie Joe crosses paths with the soldier Carl. They discover each other. Remember, everything at the Nifty Archives is totally sexualized. There are no sentences not leading to or away from a sex act. I would try my hand at having Billie and Carl become sexual. I wrote and sent in the chapter the day I found Nifty. I went about my business and at eight that evening I checked my email. Twenty emails came out of my inbox. At the end of each email was the same notation: 'Don't stop writing this story.' I had no plan beyond writing a few chapters of a love story. I would write four or five chapters. I already had my answer. People would read what I wrote and they wanted to read real stories and not simply descriptions of sex. HOMELESS GAY YOUTH – THE BOOK AND THE REALITY. Once in Seattle, I had to make up my mind where the story would go. Readers were still asking for more. I decided I'd give it to them. The topic that took Billie Joe away from Seattle and SEATAC, was a subject that concerned me. A long time ago, while hitchhiking around the U.S., and yes it was safe and no I never was threatened. It was a wonderful journey filled with caring people and amazing discoveries. While in San Francisco, I made it to San Francisco, The Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman's Wharf, and Powell St. As cities go, and I loved Seattle's charm and friendliness, San Francisco was seductive. I eventually found my way to the Castro. It was amazing because of the people, but it was amazing because of the street kids. I met one right away and he showed me where to go to get fed and to sleep inside overnight. Each day there were places you could go to get fed no matter where you were around the Castro. There were houses where you could crash on the floor if you wanted to sleep inside. I learned a lot about the kids and the people. It was the most loving atmosphere I'd ever experienced. The owners of the homes, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals that I met were concerned that the kids should not be in a desperate situation. That trip I learned about love. I was young enough to travel with the homeless kids. It wasn't a harsh life. The streets were not dangerous because there were so many safe houses. Ten years later, traveling in my work, I returned to San Francisco as the Moscone Center was being opened. I inevitably ended up in the Castro. I went looking for the kids I once ran with. I found the kids. They were as plentiful as before. They were even younger. They sat in doorways with their hands out asking for money. I gave some money. I fed a few at a diner that was still there. Gone were the safe houses and the generosity. The streets were dangerous and kids got in cars to make enough money to survive in doorways and such. Once Billie Joe got on the ramp on Route 5, hitchhiking away from Seattle, I decided he'd go to San Francisco. He'd become a street kid. It would be hard, harsh, and mean, but Billie would survive. If this was going to be my first novel, it was going to have a purpose. I'd always related to homeless gay kids and I knew there were more and more out there all the time. People needed to know they were out there and they needed help. As with most kids, the last thing any kid wants is to end up in the system. The system is homophobic, run by the toughest kids, and worse than being on the street. When you are locked up with the dangerous kids, you can't run away. The state does to the homeless kids what it does to most people who have no power, they claim to be helping them while spending as little as possible taking care of them. SEX, LOVE, AND CHANGING TIMES. Because Nifty stories were so sexual, my story was very sexual. I intended to put a sex scene in each chapter. The stories I found were all sex all the time. Once I'd started down that road I stuck with it. The two sequels to 'Billie Joe's Journey,' 'The Return Home,' and 'The Center', are not nearly as sexual as the original story. By the time I wrote the sequels, I was an established writer on the Internet and I'd found Awesome Dude, a site where the literature is read before it's posted and only real stories make the cut. I waited ten years to do the two sequels, because they wouldn't have worked at Nifty and once I found a place where they would work, I wrote them. In late 2003 and early 2004, I had three major eye operations. I had to stop writing. I couldn't even look into the glare of a computer screen. I gradually lost contact with writing, the Internet, and even email. In the later stages of 2005, I began to hear the buzz on television shows about 'Brokeback Mountain.' I realized that if they were making a movie about homosexual love, I might be able to start writing mainstream gay literature. It seemed like the time was right to write for a larger audience. I sat down and wrote The Farm Hand before March of 2006. I still consider it one of my best stories. I realized anyone could read it and not go away feeling assaulted. I realize that the stereotypical gay stories, 'Will & Grace,' or 'Queer As Folk,' are what's thought of as being representative of the LGBTQ experience. There is a problem with the accepted stereotypes in 'gay' media. The first day I opened my email after writing the first chapter of 'It Happened On A Bus,' twenty emails came out. One third, eight of those emails started the same way, 'I'm a married gay man.' As a construction worker, truck driver, and all around independent fellow, I rarely went to a gay bar or lived inside the inner city gay ghettos. What I realized the day I wrote that first chapter, there were a lot of gay men like me. THE GAY COMMUNITY The story, 'Billie Joe's Journey', was not a warning to gay kids not to run away from home or get thrown out of their homes. No, no matter what, gay kids will leave home when they can't tolerate it any longer. Gay kids will be thrown out of good Christian type homes. How many of you ran away or were driven out of your homes? We know we are related to each gay child. One day we will take responsibility to see that homeless gay kids belong to us. We are the only ones who can relate to their experience. We know how lost and lonely they feel. The LGBTQ Nation is all of us. We are very, very, young as a people. Most of us can relate to being the only gay person we know. I was the only one when I looked up the word homosexual in the dictionary sitting at the dinner table. One day we'll have LGBTQ lawyers, institutions, and we will take responsibility for homeless gay kids. We'll see that they’re housed, fed, clothed, and educated in a fashion that makes the most of their potential. Or we can let the state lock them up and hold them until they're eighteen and then open the door and say, 'Good luck.' Billie Joe's Journey is about seeing the problem and doing something about it that helps the kids without destroying any hope of a future they might have. When I began to write Billie Joe's Journey, I knew some young gays would read it. I tried to write something they could read and not laugh at it. I wrote about the harsh reality of the streets. Yes, in that context, it was a warning, but there was always hope. Billie Joe went in search of himself. He went in search of what it means to be gay. As most of us can relate to being highly sexualized, it's not over the top. It's simply presented as one chapter after another and the sexual component was in each chapter. Few homeless kids don't face the reality that they have only one thing of value on those mean streets. As a LGBTQ Nation that we will become, we need to take care of our kids. We need to give them a place to go. For the last twelve years I've been writing mainstream gay literature. In time I hope it can be read by mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters that discover they are living with or know someone who is LGBTQ. Like it isn't time for us to demand to take care of our kids yet, it's not time for mainstream gay literature to be on straight folks reading list, but as we become more integrated as a people that are a part of this society, we'll do what's right. Less then ten years ago, Prop 8 passed in California. It was like being gut punched. California, the beacon of liberalism had failed to do the right thing. Gay marriage died that day. We had not put up a proper fight and we'd lost big time. Today we have gay marriage in most states. We have gone farther in the last ten years than we'd gone in all the years before. Once we were the only one we knew and today we are the LGBTQ Nation. We need to grow as a people and we need to take care of each other and make sure that no one is ever alone again. It's what I try to present in my stories. You can read one and feel hopeful. I try to write about how many ways there are to be gay. I write about the unlimited possibility for each person who comes out. There are as many ways to be gay as there are people. I also write about where gay people are found, everywhere. Billie Joe's Journey was a tough story to write, because I decided to write about something that concerned me and that was very real. It is honest and as heartfelt as I could make it. Billie Joe made it and he returned home to finish high school, 'The Return Home,' and then he went back to San Francisco to do something about the homeless kids on the streets there, 'The Center.' This is the story behind the story. This is how Billie Joe's Journey was written and why. I hope it leaves an impression on you and you come away realizing that all gay kids are our kids. We know what they are going through. AIDS I posed the question to Rick: “Given that we are at the debut of the AIDS crisis (in the story), there are two questions here: why would kids ignore the risks? Why would they be so promiscuous?” There are two parts to this answer. As a cross country trucker, big rig driver, from early in the eighties until into the nineties, I was always on the move in the middle of America somewhere. In America the word AIDS wasn't mentioned by the president of the United States until 1987. By then 25,000 men were dead of AIDS and 10,000 haemophiliacs, mostly children. The only thing on the news about AIDS were the preachers calling it 'God's plague on the gay.' There was no conversation about AIDS and the ones there were didn't deserve a response. In the mid nineties, after AZT became available, I learned my best friend and roommate from when I was first on my own died of AIDS. Upon calling his mom, I'd spoken to her before, and she said, 'Oh, Donnie died of a brain tumour.' She then described a hundred and sixty pound athletic man who died at eighty-eight pounds. He'd wasted away, but he died of brain cancer. What I knew about AIDS in 1997 you could put on a 3x5 index card. We knew nothing, because AIDS wasn't talked about until it began to kill straight people. Then there was concern. At the end of The Gulf & the Cove, the Epilogue is titled 1980s. I tell what I had learned about what did happen in America in the eighties. Gay men were victims of a political and religious genocide to wipe us out. The politicians and the preachers danced on the graves of gay men. The nation sat by quietly and watched the dying. When I found Nifty and I decided to write, I knew I had to write something sexual. I met the kids in the Castro for the first time in early 1968. They accepted me as one of them and I ran with them. As I said it was an amazing experience. When I returned to the Castro as a cross country trucker delivering AT&T phone equipment to the new Moscone Center, I got to park my truck in the city center, until my turn to unload. I was there three days and I went back to the Castro. AIDS was gaining a foothold in the major cities, but even in the major cities, the knowledge about what AIDS was and how you got it was sketchy. I was hardly aware of AIDS at all. "Clusters of gay men in the inner cities are dying of strange diseases that kill no one. Their immune systems seem to be compromised, doctors say." I wrote Billie Joe's Journey being true to what I knew. In the case of AIDS, in 1997, I knew little. Once I was off the road and living where I could pick my media and seek out the truth about AIDS, it was no longer an instant killer. In fact, one of my earliest readers had AIDS since 1985. He thinks he had it as early as 1983. He was on AZT. Larry invited me to visit him in San Diego. It's the last drive across country I ever made. My eyes were about to go bad and I didn't drive after 1999. A tough road to go down for a truck driver. I came away from Larry's being very angry. I now knew and was friends with a man who had survived the genocide, but the fact we were left for dead became real to me. It's a different day. When I wrote Billie Joe's Journey, I was naive and uneducated concerning AIDS. I have been scolded for not having the boys practice safe sex. I understand that narrative. If I wrote BJJ today, it would be very different, but when I wrote it, I was as honest as I could be to the boys I wrote about. It wasn't meant to be a quick easy read. I was writing a novel and I wanted it to mean something. A FINAL WORD By the time I left Larry's in 1998, I knew my job was to offer hope and encouragement. I would do it my way. I would offer options and choices for LGBTQ people. I won't write the stereotypical gay line. I had a reader send me an article from Hawaii. James wrote, 'If you wrote vampire stories, you could make a fortune.' A woman in Hawaii made $84,000 dollars one month on her vampire stories. I wrote James, 'I'd rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon.' I've been told if I just didn't have gay characters in my story, I could sell them with little trouble, but my characters are gay and they live their lives in a world that still isn't very accepting or friendly. All you need to do is read the notes kids committing suicide leave behind. They are gut wrenching. If I can save one of those kids from that fate, what I do is a success, regardless of the pay I receive. Anyway, off the soapbox. Some questions, inquiries, can't be answered yes or no. My life is long and atypical. I don't claim to be anything but what I am. I'm a flawed man who happens to be gay and I was unable to follow societies instructions. I lived my life my way and when push came to shove, I learned to write and I wrote for a people who have little in the way of literature to support and make them feel good about who they are. I've tried to correct that and some day my stories might be found and read by more than a small fringe that gets their literature via the Internet. Because those sites give away the stories, they have no commercial value. No one is going to promote stories they can't enrich themselves off of. Why in the world would a successful gay media want to promote free stories. What's the point? Time will be the best judge of that attitude. There is the answer to the two situations you presented me. I'd always like to do more but I've said enough for today. Thanks, Will. You've given me a good reason to tip toe down Memory Lane. I would like to thank you for taking time out to reply to my questions, and I'd also just add that personally I was hugely impressed by the quality of your writing, how you handled the subject matter, in fact the whole book. Thank you. Extra - What's happening today. Writing BJJ was a journey in itself, because of how it came to life. I have tried to explain what I wrote in the interview. My writing has always been more about presenting an alternative to stereotypical gay literature. My primary goal, offer hope and encouragement, especially for the young. I view my writing as mature. The best thing I ever did was to stop writing when I had some difficult time with my eyes. I stopped dead and I didn't turn on the computer for most of two years. When I did, I saw my work differently and as I wrote something in response to 'Brokeback Mountain,' my writing entered a new phase. There were attempts to publish books on Amazon and I found a great editor and a new place to post stories. In 2014 I began work on The Gulf Between Us. At chapter four I started to understand this was going to be a gay epic and the two main characters were amazing as evidence of my life's experience. I'm now finishing book 3, The Gulf & the Cove. This is my gay epic. It follows the boys from shortly after entering their teens and as G3 ended, they were turning 30. For all the years of work I've done, these are my best stories and my best characters. I've merged the history they live through, weaving it into their lives. It also documents my life and times.
  3. Always and Forever by David Lee Synopsis: Cast a stone into the still waters of a pond and watch the ripples. As the ripples encounter other objects in the pond, new ripples flow outward. Like life itself, you just never know how those ripples will affect all the others they encounter. Book link (Read it here): https://castleroland.net/story-synop/?id=1927 Reader comments: David Lee has been one of my favorite authors for a long time. I am so excited he is posting here. He has a huge collection of stories and in my opinion all are very well written. Loved reading Always and Forever and got to the end wishing there was more. Extract: “No, let me finish. I cannot wish for you to be what you are not, and I don’t hate you. I only hate to have you guys facing the prejudice and bigotry that you’re going to find in our world at times. Son, I love you more than anything. I have come to care for you too, Alan. And I couldn’t help but notice the looks you give each other. I don’t mean that you’re obvious, but there are subtle looks like spouses use to communicate with each other after they’ve been married for a while, and you guys have them. That tells me you’re more than buddies.” “Oh, Dad!” was all Brad could get out as he dropped hands and hugged his father fiercely. INTERVIEW First, thank you for agreeing to take part, and let’s get straight into the questions. You are welcome! Thank you for taking the time and effort to do this. From the detailed description of the school year leading up to exams, the Prom night, and end of year, you were either drawing on your own experience or you happen to be in the teaching profession. I’m not sure the latter supposition doesn’t have some truth in it given the musings of the Principal about staff meetings and the reactions to the cancellation of the usual end of year meeting -“Principal Carlson made the final announcements of the year. These included a date change for the girls’ softball game against St. Mary’s and the cancellation of the staff meeting that was to be held the next morning. The latter was met by cheers from the entire faculty, ...” So, the inevitable question, how much of your personal life is in the book? Having taught at the high school level for several years, I do draw on experiences I’ve had. I think most of us fall back on the familiar. This was my first attempt at writing fiction, so I depended on what I knew. It is not, however, autobiographical. I still tend to use bits and pieces of my experiences as a teacher in stories about teens. In “Zeke” which was written a little over a year after this one, Zeke and Brad were inspired by a couple of guys in a theater workshop who were close buddies. One of them was a wrestler and had the kind of personality which inspired the other guys on the team. To my knowledge, neither of these boys was gay, they just provided a beginning point. When reviewing your book I said, “The inevitable, at least as concerns American society, religious self-examination touches Alan’s thoughts.” Referring, of course, to the continuing debate about what the Bible says about homosexuality. This is a two part question: firstly, as I stated, this very much concerns American society, because America is a country where Christianity and church going have a significant impact on society. That is not to say there are not large Christian, usually Catholic, lobbies in other countries, but church going is still, well going strong in America. How big an influence do you think the church has on how people conduct themselves? You do after all paint a picture of forgiveness, reconciliation, and embracing all. I think the Church in the US still has an impact on society in general. The push from the religious right to move us back to the 1950’s by ending abortion and getting rid of same-sex marriage shows that at least a percentage of people want to impose their values on everyone. Some have referred to them as the “Christian Taliban” in their zeal to pass legislation to control other people’s lives. My personal opinion is that Christians should forgive others and accept people who are different from themselves without passing judgment on them. Homophobia and xenophobia have no place in my world-view. Secondly, is whatever the bible says, or doesn’t say about homosexuality really of any importance? It’s not what the scriptures say about same-sex relationships but how the Church at large has traditionally interpreted them. We know that Jesus didn’t say anything either way. In Old Testament times, man on man sex was used as a way of dominating and humiliating your enemies. Conquerors would rape losers as a way of rendering them ineffective, so their followers wouldn’t respect them. The men of Sodom and Gomorrah treated strangers in that fashion. The biblical prohibition on their actions had nothing to do with same-sex affection. The story of David and Jonathan is a beautiful love story between two young men. I suspect it was a physical as well as an emotional relationship. The great mistranslation of the Bible is the King James version. Instead of taking up more time standing on my soapbox, I’ll recommend a book by Jack Rogers entitled, “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality. The author was a man who could read the earliest bits of writings in their original languages. He says it much better than I can. His original intent was to create a curriculum for teaching against homosexuality. In doing his research, he did a complete 180 degree turn. I think his conclusions can be trusted. I think, when reading this story, like quite a few similar gay novels, you can’t help but smile at a world viewed through rose coloured spectacles. Where gay characters abound, good triumphs over evil, and whilst if not totally understood, gay couples are accepted and embraced. Did you adopt this theme for the feel good factor, to give a positive view point on homosexuality, or as a dream of a better world which can be read in fiction, but may not exist quite as portrayed in reality? Hmm… I suppose it’s a combination of things. I want to promote a world in which gay couples are treated like everyone else. I know that’s not always the case. Some people have it really bad. In those cases, romantic gay fiction is a kind of escape. I hear from young readers occasionally who tell me that my stories gave them the courage to come out, and that they were thankful at how their families and friends accepted them. One guy confessed to his crush on his best friend, only to find out that his bud felt the same about him! A number of serious issues are touched upon in the book. These include abuse, bullying, rape, religion, tolerance, teenage pregnancy, suicide, the list goes on. Whilst I don’t think that you in any way did an injustice to any of these topics, it is inevitable that there was not the possibility to give much depth. So for example, Alan's mother forgives her mother for pushing her to have an abortion and wanting nothing more to do with her, not speaking with her for the last eighteen years. It was an element intrinsic to the storyline, but it does in some way leave the complex interwoven plot as the main theme and those other areas somewhat glossed over. In hindsight, what do you feel about the number of important issues raised, and was there any particular reason that there were so many? I suspect the reason so many topics are covered is that it was my first story. I wanted to do more than I probably should have in such a short space. I’ve dealt with some of those issues more fully in later tales, I think. I’ve already touched upon the church and religion, but I would like to come back to this topic once again. It is an aspect of the story that permeates through virtually all the characters lives. There is a scene in chapter ten where the boys, who are away with their friends on a sort of religious retreat, find a quiet place in the church to pray. Tom enters: - He picked up the Bible from the rack. There was a marker in the middle and it opened up to Psalm 27. His eyes fell on verse 10: “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” As the afternoon light streamed through the stained glass windows, Tom looked up toward the life sized crucifix. - This is almost a scene of redemption, a reflection on how Tom's life has turned around, and somewhere behind all this is the theme of salvation through Christianity. Does Christianity play such a large role in the book because you yourself are a committed and practicing Christian, or is it simply there as a reflection of American society? I ask this question because the world portrayed is so alien to me and I am surprised that almost every character is either already a believer or else finds their way back to Jesus. I am aware of just how large the Evangelical, “born again,” Christian movement is in the States, perhaps around a quarter of the population. Add to those numbers the milder version of Christianity shown here, and you must be getting on for nearly half the country following one church or another. The best figures I found put the US at 62% church going Christians and Europe somewhere around 20%, the UK was at 18%. Perhaps you can see how, from a non-American point of view, the religious aspect portrayed is completely alien? I am a practicing Christian in a main-line church. I am NOT an Evangelical. I was brought up in a more conservative tradition, but not as far right as people like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. lead their followers today. In college, I attended a weekend religious retreat at an Episcopal convent similar to the one where Tom had his “encounter” with God. I can still picture the crucifix in the chapel. While I didn’t have his experience, it seemed like a setting in which he could turn his life around. Okay, having more than covered the religious topic, let’s look at the overall composition. For myself, I would best describe this book as light reading, even with all the dramatic parts that get touched upon, the suicide, rape, etc. If I were listing the ingredients, it would be something like, a serious helping of religion with a good deal of sex (both homo and hetro), overlaid into a book sprinkled with story parts and topped with little incidents. The whole is tasty, if maybe just a little too heavy on the sex, but it’s a matter of taste. How would you best sum up this book, and did you follow a similar recipe for later books, improving, as we all hopefully do, with practice and experience gained? I agree with you that there is quite a bit of sex in this story. Since it was my first tale, I thought a good sprinkling of sex was necessary to keep my readers interested. Some of my subsequent writing has less emphasis on the physical aspects. However, the details sometimes reflect the, um, horniness of the author at the particular moment…. My long-time readers have told me that my writing has improved over the years. Since “Always and Forever” was first written about 14 years ago, I hope that is true. Many of them continue to read my stories because of the plots. Some say that they tend to skip over the sex scenes. If you were to read my more recent postings on Castle Roland, like “Family Matters” or “Unexpected Guest,” I think you’ll find plenty of love but fewer graphic details. I do recommend reading my longer stories in chronological order because characters from earlier ones tend to have cameo roles in later ones. However, each tale is complete in itself. Thank you once again for taking part and giving up your time to talk to me and the readers. Oh, and just as an amusing aside before we end: I had to look up “shirttail relatives,” I’d never heard the expression! I thank you! I’m honored to have the opportunity to do this. “Shirttail” relatives is a common expression in the Midwest and it never crossed my mind that it was regional in nature. I’m sure I do that with a lot of others as well. Review by Mark. Always and Forever’ follows two young men in their senior year of high school in a Midwest location. It is the author’s first story and later was updated to correct some errors. As the story progresses, more characters with different issues are drawn into the story to help round it out. Alan and Brad are out on the track, being observed by the high school principal as the story opens and as the chapter progresses, it had a good emotional feeling to it, then at the end, wham, a darker element is introduced. I will admit to you all, I did something I have rarely done in the past and read the ending. I was really liking the story and was so drawn to see what happened. And no, will not reveal the ending to you. Read the story to find out. For a first story, it is a well written one with characters you come to like and want the best to happen to them. There are very few editing corrections needed, which is always nice. The author does introduce some religion into the story, but at a level which, for those who are not religious, hopefully will not be a turnoff but will satisfy those who look to a higher power. I thought it a nice balance between the two camps. And the religion also helps to illustrate the divide which exists in the country. The dialogue was satisfactorily written and flowed smoothly. Plus the scenes of intimacy, both gay and straight, were authentic and ably handled. Love is the main theme of the story and the author shows us its power. At 16 chapters, it should not intimidate readers looking at a huge number of chapters before they even start. I do have one issue with the story however. It should not stop anyone reading this wonderful story and ‘Always and Forever’ is recommended to read. I wonder if readers will also feel the same way when they reach the end as I did. The story was sweet and well written but I liken it to an apple past its prime. The flavor is there but the inside is lacking enough substance when chewed. I wish the author had delved just a bit deeper into each character and situation and the outcomes were always positive, at times a bit too easily achieved. This may be partly due to it being his first story and therefore the issue can be waived off. I have read other works by this author and I do think he has risen to the challenge. Review by William King. The author has a style which gently introduces each new sequence in the storyline. From the boys first encounter, the run in with Tom, through the sleepover study weekend and Sunday morning church. The inevitable, at least as concerns American society, religious self-examination touches Alan’s thoughts - ‘was it an abomination for two men to lie down together?’ Thus all the ingredients have been thrown into the pot, a budding relationship, an abused outcast simmering to breaking point, a caring, discrete, gay art teacher. The stage is set for a battle royal of emotions, prejudices, and drama! This book is written as a series of delicately woven cameos that weave together to unravel an intricate web of interconnections. There are a lot of positive images and actions which serve, rather like a fable, to surmount and overcome the negative. There are no cliff hangers, and any surprises are only there if you weren’t paying attention, because where the plot is going and the twists and turns are never buried very deeply. For a first novel I believe the author has proved himself to have the ability to create an intricate entanglement of characters and subtle drama. He is able to touch upon serious subjects and recount what amount to life changing events in a subtle, but never superficial manner. Yes, perhaps, there was a lot more that could have been explored within the story. The development might have evolved more slowly and the characters could have gained more depth. But having said all that, the book works perfectly as it is, with a composition of short scenes making it an easy read. All in all very well done, the detail is in the multitude of character interplay. A romantic drama which in its own fashion is rather unique. --------
  4. Protecting David – Book One by TA - Terry Synopsis: When it comes to protecting the ones you love, how far would you go? There are a lot of "Protecting ***" stories out there. This is the original, against whom all others are judged. Book link (Read it here): https://castleroland.net/story-synop/?id=2507 Reader comments: This is a THE story that stuck with me and eventually led me to try and write myself. I can only hope to write like this some day. Do yourself a favor and read this story. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll get mad, you'll feel happy. And above all - you'll want more! I have loved this story for a long time and its one of those that I can go back to the beginning and reread over and over again. Extract: David started to wiggle and pull my hand out of his shorts. “No fucking! Fucking is exertion! I promised Dr.Kramer that you’d rest.” “Okay, David, I promise to be good. Tell me about tomorrow.” David lay down on my left side, our heads almost touching. He picked up my hand while he talked and played with my fingers. “Well, Frank and Marcy and Mike and Elizabeth are coming in Frank’s car and the boys will be driving Mike’s car. Should be here about two o’clock. I figure the boys will be able to use the pool while us ‘old’ folks sit around and talk. I told Frank to tell them to bring their suits. I figure that while they’re in the pool they can fool around a bit.” “How do you figure they’re gonna manage that without everyone seeing them?” David laughed. Review by Adam. Virgin buff ex-marine meets emerald eyed gorgeous guy and it's love at first sight. An adopted silver blond tot and a multi-million dollar company follow. Without shooting the plot to bits, I think I can reveal that Protecting David, at least at first glance, follows the all too familiar formula which is regrettably becoming one of an ever diminishing clutch being re-honed, re-tweaked, or re-burnished to try to squeeze one more drop of a fresh twist of a new story out of a far too hackneyed plot. But, Protecting David isn't one of these! It is saved from this Armageddon by good writing, something lacking in most of those trying to emulate this story of Mark, David and little Alex as they wend their ways through Mid-western life, California industry, Beltway politics, and a little bit of German travel for the sake of - well I'm not sure what. The story is terribly American. The innocence of it would be impossible of anything written by a European or an Aussie or a Canuk. But that makes it so cute. It is like an adult, gay nursery story. Nothing big goes terribly wrong that can't be put right easily. The tale is a pleasant, placebo for all the nasty, hurtful, gay attack and hate stories which have been the stock in trade of authors these past years. Protecting David is the salve on the wound of so many stories telling of how badly gays have suffered. Here Mark and David prosper and nothing really bad happens. David is a business genius with the ability, and contacts, to manipulate small change into rows of zeros after a significant integer. He also ....but I can't tell you that. I can't tell you that either! Just don't take David at face value - or any other part of his body for that matter. Mark, on the other hand is easier to deal with. He's just in looooove! With David, of course. But also with armaments. I told you this was a very American story, didn't I? His new love is Alex. How he arrives is a plot twist I shan't divulge. It's the only implausible twist in the book, unless US law on adoptions is drastically different from those elsewhere. But who cares? It's a great story. And it's loads more likely than many I've read. Alex is a keen four year old I felt didn't grow enough and needs more depth. Whereas other characters, like curmudgeonly, yet loveable and down-the-line loyal general Frank are fuller figures. I got to know the inner Beltway crowd a bit in the 90s when my oldest was at St Albans and here the author has really nailed to a tee some of the atmosphere of the circuit and the individuals one met. If I have a problem with this story it is one from the position of non-gays reading it. You may say, "So what, it's a gay story. It's no business of straight people what we write!" Which presumes that gays never read straight authors! No, I constantly am confronted with the attitude that gay men (and I'm not discussing hormone charged teens here) are constantly focussed on sex. This story, where David and Mark constantly "fuck" (but never make love, I noticed) only reinforce this stereotype that gays are "just like fucking rabbits!" Having said all that, I finished the story feeling it was knowledgeable about what it wrote. It developed it's pace and characters well, though I feel I didn't really get to know Alex enough, and it was credible. What is more, for those who are more into this "romantic" story genre than I am it will undoubtedly leave a big question unanswered. When is the next installment? Review by Mark. I read this story some years ago and if I had written this review back then, it would be somewhat different than the one I am writing now. Not to say I would write a completely different review but over the years, as I have read many gay stories and romances, I have broadened my horizons, as most of us do over time. Mark and David are the main characters and during the story you meet their friends and son and all the various characters who serve to populate their world. Join them as they move locations, build corporate empires, have medical emergencies, serve as role models, be exemplary parents, and still remain very much in love. This is the first book in a series about the two men and their family and the entire series covers decades in time. I enjoyed reading the whole series as the younger generation takes over from the older, providing a continuity that is refreshing as you know all the characters and their past. The writing is crisp, the dialogue sparkles and the story is well written. You come to care about Mark and David and relish the love they have for each other as they face their challenges head on. The characters are real and have real emotions, which help you relate to them. When Mark wants to throttle a homophobic man causing trouble, you can understand the passion behind it. Overall, the story is very romantic and the love between the two characters is real and evident. That love is why I read these stories. It helps make the world a better place. I did have several issues with the story, especially after re-reading it and admittedly they are purely my opinion. As much as I believe there is love at first sight in the world, the way the story started was a stretch for me. A tiny part of my brain was thinking, ‘Really?’ when reading the beginning. And as much as I like a good sex scene, I felt the author went a bit overboard on the sex in the beginning. A good sex scene should help the story evolve, not be a reason the story exists, as it felt during the first few chapters. However, they were well written and you could not help but feel the passion wash over you. Finally, a lot of stories are divided between characters with money and those not so fortunate. As a piece of escapist romance, I can understand the pleasure of reading a story about people who have money. However, I think at times a story can be enhanced when characters face life without a well padded bank balance. I do recommend the story - heck, the entire series - to people looking for a story about two people who deeply love each other and show the world what that love can mean to their friends and family, down through the years and generations. It is a feel good story and if it helps a person cope with today’s world, all the better. INTERVIEW by Adam If you have read my stories on The Castle, you will know that I tend to write for younger readers than you do. Consequently, in preparing my questions I thought it wise to ask two gay friends from different cultures to read your story and see if the questions they sought to pose you were similar or the same as those I had devised. One friend was a middle aged Spaniard from Bilbao and the other an university senior studying in Massachusetts, but originally from Virginia. I am a fourth generation white East African. So we are a pretty cosmopolitan trio. It would have been better if the "interview" was structured so that I could ask follow-up questions to replies to earlier ones, but this email method of posing queries is not conducive to that. So we'll do the best we can, eh? So, Terry, here goes: Your story of David, Mark and their adoptive son Alex could so easily have fallen into the trap of becoming formulaic, and thus a big yawn. You're right about the trap of writing this type of story, and friends who are writers too, have warned against it. But I never intended the story to be one thing or another. I created the characters and let them write the story. Readers have often asked me what was coming next and I usually say that it's up to the characters. It's like I'm watching television and writing down what they do. In addition to that, I think I'm kinda writing and creating characters that I've missed in my own life. It's like psychotherapy. Obviously, you must have been aware of there being scores of these "rich man adopts kid and everyone lives happily ever after" stories out there. What did you do at the outset to set your story apart from the herd? I didn't do anything. Mainly because I wasn't aware of those stories, although because of what I already said it wouldn't have made any difference. Were there times in writing when you pulled yourself up and said, "Oops! I'm dangerously close to becoming a slave to the norm here. I have to introduce a new twist to maintain my uniqueness."? Never. I never gave that any thought. Many writers introduce into early stories some elements of autobiography. Without being too personal, are there incidents in this story which draw on events in your own life experience? Yes, there are scenes that come from my life, more so in The Good Doctor series, but also in Protecting David. You've tended to downplay tensions between David and Mark in the story. In fact, throughout it is a feel-good tale, with barely a bump on the road of life. Was this written as an antidote to all the grim tales of darkness surrounding gay life which has been written over the past 20 to 30 years, a balm to sooth the pain of the hurt of the dark years of the late 20th Century? No, it's just how I thought the characters would live there lives. One of the criticisms straight, or at least non-gay people often make when in ignorance speaking of gay men is all are sex crazy and focussed on sex beyond anything else. While I recognise that this is a story, and thus maybe partly designed to titillate, isn't there some justification in the argument that the constant focus on "fucking" in this story, rarely referred to as love making incidentally, simply perpetuates this false perception of gays as human rabbits? Absolutely! There was a lot of sex in the early chapters, but readers told me they just skipped over that part, so, I thought, "Why put that in?" You have obviously enjoyed writing this story. It is a credible representation of inside-the-Beltway life, as I experienced in the 90s. With this knowledge and your skills as a writer, together with a story obviously left only party told, what are your plans for Mark, David and Alex? It would be a shame to put those Tuscan olives to waste! Oh, those olives won't go to waste. Christopher has big plans for them. Finally, my European colleague asks me to inquire whether you ever wonder why characters in stories based in the US, such as yours, invariably show themselves to be far more unaware both of their own sexuality and of how to relate to others at even early teen years? I love this question because it highlights just how crazy we are as a country. We are the most insanely religious country on the planet and a country that ends up producing people who are very well educated, and other people who are as dumb as a box of rocks. When I was growing no one mentioned sex, ever. When I was in the Navy I was stationed in Iceland for two years and there were light years of difference. I worked with a guy who was having an affair with a woman in a town near that base and it drove him crazy that they'd be having sex and her kids would sometimes look in and watch them. When he complained about it she said, "How else are they to learn about sex?" Anyway, it always seems like European countries do a better job of getting a certain basic level of education into everyone. Thanks, and feel free to add a comment, particularly about your future writing projects, perhaps why you began writing in the first place. And, please, object openly and vociferously here if you think any of the questioning has been unfair or irrelevant. Thanks again. Adam Extra Protecting David is book one of a series. If you enjoyed this book you can follow the series on the CRVboy site (list of stories and link below). Protecting David I (complete) Protecting David II : Growing Up (complete) http://www.crvboy.org/stories/ta/s003/c01.html Protecting David III : Alex’s Story (complete) Protecting David IV: Finding Christopher (complete) Protecting David V : The Brothers (complete) Protecting David VI : Christopher Grows Up (in progress) The Good Doctor (in progress) Lost and Found (in progress) All these stories are on CRVboy, under the name Audette T – http://www.crvboy.org/authors.html
  5. Rumors of War – Book One by Cynus Synopsis: There's a war coming between Heaven and Hell, but first it starts on Earth. For Damien, it was a new High School at the start of the year. A fresh start. Maybe he could finally make some friends. The first friend Damien makes, turns out to be a demon. What could go wrong with that? Book link (Read it here): https://castleroland.net/story-synop/?id=2988 Reader comments: Wow, loved it so far! Well written, good flow, empathetic characters, what's not to like? Full of intrigue and suspense. I Love this story such a unique prospective on a classic concept. A great take on the Heaven/Hell genre. I simply loved it! Extract: Nodding again, I reached for the necklace only to have my arm suddenly grabbed from the side and wrenched painfully behind my back. I tried to turn to see who was grabbing me when a large hand gripped the back of my head and forced it down to the table. I could hear Veronica shouting something that sounded like her pleading for them not to hurt me, but I was in such a state of shock I couldn’t even process it through the pain. A moment later I gained control of my senses, and I realized that I could barely hear Veronica, and her voice was getting further and further away. I could just see out of the corner of my eye that there was a large man standing next to the table, and he was drawing what looked like a very long knife from within his suit coat. My instinct kicked in suddenly and I realized they were about to kill me, and I began to struggle against the one who held me still, but it was no use. I watched the knife raise in the man’s hands and come slicing through the air toward my neck. I closed my eyes and prepared for death as best as I could. Reviewed by Adam Demons and dragons and angels, Satan and Lucifer, Hell and Heaven, and a great Druid named ........Keith. Well, not quite everything need be exotic! In Rumours of War, Cynus has created a fabulously addictive teen romance featuring bisexual high-school freshman and psychic Damien (of course) and mysterious, body-perfect, gay Marc (with a 'c'). However, will hyper sexual Veronica prove to create a menace or a menage? The pace of this story about a war between angels and demons, where in a way humans seem almost to be bystanders in the most part, is well balanced between action scenes and typical - for pubescent teen boys that is - bedroom ones. I suppose I should re-phrase that. The pace is well balanced between different types of action scene! Cynus has not produced a deeply philosophical treatise on the struggles of gay, bisexual and straight lifestyles in the context of demonic wars in an existential environment. Nor do I assume he intended to do so. Few young people face such challenges. But Damien did. And what Cynus has done so marvellously in Book 1 of Rumours of War is to salivate the taste buds, get them flowing for later volumes. I know that I want to know how Damien will balance his humanity, his ancestry, and his new-found powers. Will he be successful in holding on to Marc through the frenzy of a probable war? Who shall die? - for in most good war stories somebody important always dies! This is not a run-of-the-mill kids as Super Heroes tale. It at least has begun with the potential of being far more. Cynus, my man, Great Beginning. Five ***** from me as a Teenagers' Gay/Bisexual Adventure Romance. I cannot say better than that!! Reviewed by Mark. In the interest of disclosure, I admit to having edited a lot of Cynus’ stories. The stories to review for the Critic’s Corner are assigned to us randomly and just the luck of the draw gave me this one. He is a dream to edit as there are very few corrections to make or suggestions to relay and if I were being paid by correction instead of volunteering, I would starve. And no, he did not pay me $5 to write a good review. Rumors of War starts off with a high school student on his first day at a new school and quickly turns into an exciting story as he gets caught up in prophecies, a battle between Angels, Demons and love. Hell, Demons and Angels in the story are not the traditional entities we think of and Cynus mixes it all up to add an interesting dimension to the story. Damien and his protector Marc (not spelled with a k, as he insists…) are caught up in the age old battle being fought and Damien learns he is the first male descendent of a famous personage from the past. There are turncoat enemies (or are they?) bad guys and a jealous friend among the cast of characters. Just as you think you have a handle on the story, a development at the end of the first chapter teaches you Cynus can misdirect with the finest. The story is not too long and is the first story in the trilogy. Some readers may well wish for more chapters, while others will think it is just right. I think a few more would have been ok, but he wisely does not make it too many. I have looked at some stories and seen what seemed like an endless number of chapters and it made me wonder if I wanted to start reading the story. Cynus is a master wordsmith and his writing flows well and pulls the reader along effortlessly. Dialogue sparkles, the characters are real and engaging and before you know it, the chapter is over and you can’t wait to read the next one. You come to care about the characters, the sign of an excellent author, as he weaves his word magic over the reader. Cynus writes varied stories and if you read more of him, you will see how wide ranging his stories can be… from Asian gangsters to humorous Halloween stories to laugh out loud moments from a failed grand coming out gesture. One thing you can be sure of, his stories are well written and are a delight to read. Reviewed by William King. This is a curious book, aptly titled, and not without its twists and turns. I have to admit that I was wondering about the story, where was it going? How would things ever be resolved? After all it is a short book, seven chapters, but then it’s book one of a series. The ending took me by surprise (although of course the story continues), and left me with a wonderful feeling of having just read a little gem of a tale. The hand of a skilled and gifted author is at work here, as he weaves and circles through the story, taking the reader on a journey with Damien and Marc. The supporting characters are great, from the “punkish” Veronica with her multiple piercings and a streak of red hair, to the acerbic Keith, from whom Marc calls in several favours. There are some great lines, “We had a lot of our deeper conversations over killing each other in video games.” The author masterfully evokes a gateway into another realm: “That was when all my notions of what was normal in the world completely erupted. I felt something deep within me start to stir, as if it were some memory I had placed in a dark secluded section of my mind, to only touch under certain circumstances. It was apparent that I had met those circumstances now, and as I tapped into this unknown piece of myself, I felt a power like nothing I had ever experienced overwhelm me.” Now the world has changed, as do some of those in it, and we are confronted with mystical creatures. “The form was monstrous yet somehow familiar, as if something out of a dream. It was black and scaled. It sported large leathery wings on its back, and a tail whipping back and forth between its legs.” Do I have any criticisms? Perhaps the playing down of the life threatening situation our protagonist finds himself in, as if everyday one gets attacked by a gang of murderers over dinner and saved by a guy who transforms into a devilish creature. But then again, when viewed after finishing the book it only makes me smile, and I think that is intentional. I have to admit to being a fan of the author and having read some of his other books. This story is a coming out story with a difference. I recommend it to you, it’s an easy read, and it has a whole lot more in it than you might imagine at first glance. INTERVIEW At first glance, when you start reading, this book seems a little light. It’s short in chapters and initially feels lacking in depth. However, once you start getting into it, and it is an easy read, you can read it all in one sitting, then you get to, what I found to be a great ending (although the series continues), and you look back and think, there was a lot more to it. My question: is this lightness intentional? Did you plan it to, as it were, have hidden depths? There is after all a lot in there, from telepathy and telekinesis, through to an interpretation of religion. This is a tricky question for me to answer, because at the time I wrote "Rumors of War" I didn't know enough about writing novels to really set a tone intentionally. As some readers may know, this is the first novel I ever completed. I ended up relying on tropes probably more than a professional writer would, and didn't spend as much time going through afterwards and polishing it up/fleshing it out, either, which I would be more concerned with doing now. I definitely planned for it to have hidden depths and wanted it to be complex. I don't know how it is for other writers, though I assume there are as many who agree with me as those who do not, but I appreciate a story which can accomplish several purposes at once, as long as there aren't too many and they all serve to be complementary. I can't say I always achieve that, but it is always the goal. For some people, the religious theme will be the most important part, for others it'll be the psychic abilities, and for others it'll be the struggle of an LGBT teenager trying to survive. I strive to give enough variety that there's hopefully an interest for everyone. The theme of demons and angels, broadly speaking, recurs in another later book you wrote, Rivers of the Dead. Is the magic, dark versus light, good and evil, something which fascinates you as a writer? In a way, definitely, but in another way, no. I'm less concerned with the battle between opposing forces as I am with the balance of them. To me, good and evil are often matters of perspective. Often, we are quick to label someone as evil when from their perspective they are good. I look at my books as a conversation about perspective and try to humanize my villains as often as I demonize them. I want the motivations of my villains to feel natural and believable. I want my readers to understand that someone would choose to act in that way. The same logic applies to when I play with Darkness and Light. For me, darkness does not mean evil, and Light does not mean good. In my work I've explored thieves and gangsters who become heroes. I've made villains of heroes of legend, and I once turned a beautiful and peaceful woman into the worst killer in the world. Light and Dark are merely facets of the soul, they exist in all of us, and do not define us any more than any other part of us. This book and others of your novels often deal with the struggle of being gay in a rather difficult often hostile, unaccepting environment. Almost the theme of a journey to salvation, although in this particular book the protagonist, Damien, seems to get a much easier ride as a bisexual, rather than outright gay person. Why is it that you return time and again to the same theme, the struggle with being gay? I wasn't ready to face the demons of my own past when I wrote "Rumors of War", which is why Damien escaped the same treatment which some of my characters receive in other works. I suppose the answer to this question is twofold: Firstly, because of my own struggles, a lot of the writing I connected with online were in a similar vein. I connected with characters who were struggling with their identity, and so when I took up writing I ended up writing similar themes into my own stories. Secondly, I have long struggled with my own identity. My sexuality is complex, as I think everyone's is. I've never found a label which truly fit me, which has always left me with a bit of uncertainty in my life. I've since come to terms with that fact, that I don't need the label for myself, but I still explore themes of identity in my stories because I'm trying to understand myself and accept myself through the struggles of my characters. They act as a canvas for me to explore my inner truth. And I could add an addendum to that last question. Why do you often pick up the struggle between being gay and religion? I grew up in an extremely conservative, religious environment. I was raised in the Mormon Church, and was constantly preached to about the evils of homosexuality. I don't know if things would've been different with my parents if I'd come out earlier. They might've accepted me over time and stopped preaching. I like to think that they would've chosen love over their religion, but a part of me knows it could've easily gone the other way. The Mormon Church has had a long history with deconversion therapy. There are histories of trials at BYU involving shock therapy and other horrific tortures designed to try and change a person's sexuality. There are also boys' ranches where they would send wayward teenagers to be brought into line with the church's teachings. My parents were both firmly in the Mormon Church, and with how they spoke sometimes, I know I might've ended up at one of those ranches. I say all that for context. Religion and I had a complicated history. I grew up thinking myself unworthy of love, unworthy of human connection, really. I believed I was an abomination for the way I felt about my male friends. I believed I would lose everything I loved and cared about if I gave into those feelings. That psychological torment still weighs heavily on me, and I developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms to get me through. The battle between myself and my faith left me with depression, eating disorders, insecurity, self-loathing, and an overall sense of unworthiness for anything good in life. I'm healing, but I am still scarred. If, by exploring the subject, I can help a single teen reader realize he's not alone and that it can get better, then I'll have considered my writing worth something. You are a talented and prolific writer, when did you first start writing and decide to publish your work online? 2013 is when I published my first short story at AwesomeDude.com. It's "The Drawbacks of Being a Monster", if anyone is interested. "Oak Shadows" was written a week later, and I was hooked from then on. I started "Rumors of War" in November of 2013, and it took me until March of the following year to finish it. During that time, I wrote at least one other short story, "Is Love a Miracle?", around Valentine's Day. Completing my first novel was exactly what I needed. I wrote "The Navigator" from start to finish in April, then started "Shadow Honor" immediately thereafter. I first started writing when I was a kid. I probably wrote my first short story in the second or third grade, a bit of Star Wars fanfiction, if I recall correctly. I've always enjoyed it, though I could never manage to finish a project until NaNoWriMo 2012. While I didn't finish that novel, I did finish the goal of writing 50,000 words in one month, and it made me want to do it again the next year. I did, and that gave me "Rumors of War". I personally like the approach you have adopted for a number of books, like Rumors of War, to divide them into short books and make a mini series. Did you plan this approach whilst writing the book, or was it something you thought of after, and why did you decide to do it like that? I wish I could say it was part of some grand design, but really I just do whatever feels right at the moment. In the case of "Rumors of War", I had three climactic events and simply felt that by separating them more cohesively would give my readers a better chance to sit back and absorb those climactic moments. How much does your real life effect your writing? What I mean by that, is your personal experiences, your upbringing, is there a lot of you in your books? There is a lot of me in each book. There's always at least one character I really put myself into. In the case of "Rumors of War" there are two. I always wonder if people can guess who they are. One is Keith, but I'll keep the other a secret and let you all guess. In writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, I wouldn't say I use too many real-life experiences, though even in those genres I try to focus on the emotions. The emotions are always real, the characters are always based on aspects of myself, though that's not all that they are. I'm connected to every single one of them, however. Leading on from that last question. Why write? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? Is it therapy? Or because you simply enjoy it? Writing is a means of exploring my greatest passion. I love to connect with people, I love to understand people, and I love to explore the different ways we think. If it were up to me, I'd be doing it through Anthropology, Linguistics, and travel, but unfortunately my life didn't work out that way (Or at least, it hasn't so far). Writing, however, offers me a medium to translate my emotional draw to those subjects into art. It's a little bit therapy, it's a little bit because I enjoy it, and it's a little bit because it allows me to connect with people. Finally, not an easy question, but in your opinion, what is it that makes a good author? I don't know that I'm qualified to answer this question. In all seriousness, the secret to being an author at all is to put one word after another until you've made a story. The secret to being a good one is practice and repetition, and learning to correct your mistakes and learn from them so you'll make fewer. Eventually, when you've done it enough times and made enough of those mistakes to teach you what you need to know, you'll be good. Do it some more, you'll be great. Do it some more, you'll be an expert. You never reach perfection though. Perfection in art is impossible, because that would deny the purpose of art. The purpose of art, in my opinion, is to attempt to make sense of an ever-changing world. Perfection implies a static state, and no such state is achievable in art of any form. What makes a good author? Change. Extra If you enjoyed "Rumors of War", consider "Rivers of the Dead" your next read. TITLE: Rivers of the Dead SYNOPSIS: Caleb is about to embark on a journey of new beginnings when he leaves the small-town life behind for college. There's just one problem: Ethan. After a disastrous spell creates a lethal misunderstanding, Caleb puts his life on hold to find some way to save Ethan's soul, even if he must challenge Death itself to do it. EXCERPT: In this scene from Part 1, Caleb seeks a way to bring back Ethan's soul with the help of his witch friend, Liz. Together, they seek out one who has traveled the path of death before, but is everything as it seems? Liz opened her mouth and began to speak, her voice steady and powerful, like a prayer. “Brother Orpheus, Lord of Music, he who has descended to the depths of Hades, I beseech you. I beseech you in your wisdom and your experience, grant us this boon. By this offering,” Liz paused, and Caleb realized it was time to add the ingredient pouch, so he tossed it into the flames. It combusted almost instantly, as if it had been eager to burn. Liz continued, her voice taking on even greater force. “Show us the path, the path by which we may find our lost love. Show us the path to Death. Show us the doorway.” Caleb let his gaze be drawn into the flames, doing as Liz had said he should. He started with the image of Ethan’s shoulders, and how he longed to hold them, to wrap his arms around his best friend and tell him he loved him. This thought connected him back to the journal resting in his backpack, and the warmth which seemed to radiate from it, embracing him back. He held onto that image, the desire to comfort and be comforted, as Liz continued. “Open the door to us, Brother Orpheus,” Liz yelled to the abyss of the cave beside them. The words echoed in the dark, bouncing off the unseen walls of the cavern, giving them a sense of life as they bellowed their response. Caleb’s desire to comfort his best friend morphed into the sight of Ethan’s eyes as they stood on the side of the road. Those eyes, filled with so much pain, so much longing for peace. Caleb wanted to give Ethan peace, to make those eyes smile and laugh again as they had when they were younger. To go back and prevent Ethan from ever thinking he wasn’t loved. “Open the door!” Liz screamed at the dark. The light breeze from before picked up in intensity, sweeping into the cave as if in answer. The flames flickered and danced as they nearly died from the force of the wind, but then the wind disappeared and the flames surged back to life, crackling with energy. Caleb gripped the knife tighter, thinking of Ethan’s eyes. And then he saw them in a different light, the echoing chasm of pain they’d reflected when Ethan saw them kissing. How Caleb longed to return to that moment, to pull back from the precipice of that instant of perceived betrayal before it took all three of them over the edge. How he longed to take it all back, to make it right, to give Ethan the kisses he deserved and not the one that sent him away. “Grant us passage to the beyond! Grant us the way to Ethan Pallet’s soul!” Liz roared, and the fire responded, exploding with energy as the flames shot even higher, the smoke billowing up into a cloud of pure darkness which seemed to gather like a thunderhead above them. Caleb swore he could hear a distant crackle of thunder, as if a storm were also on the horizon. That storm was a frantic, primal surge of energy, rippling in and tearing everything apart. The imagery drew Caleb in deeper, to the image of rain pouring all around him, the dark storm within his soul. Everything around him darkened like the light in Ethan’s eyes the day he died, the way he’d looked at Caleb as they kissed, blood flowing from his wrists like the floodwaters of the evil storm threatening to destroy Caleb’s heart. The knife had done the deed, had killed Caleb’s love and hope as surely as it had killed Ethan. He rolled the knife in his hand, and the thunder answered, rumbling in response. It wasn’t the knife that killed Ethan, but a knife was a knife. A knife for a knife, Caleb thought. “Let this man’s love be the key, let his love open the way!” Liz cried, and Caleb felt a surge within him as Liz began drawing on his energy. It was like the orgasmic energy he’d felt before, except instead of activating his pleasure, it accentuated his pain, drawing it out fully. Caleb saw Ethan clearly now, leaning against the tree, his blood flowing freely as his eyes locked onto Caleb’s. Now his eyes were filled with lucidity, and his mouth was contorted in an infernal scowl. ‘Why did you do it, Caleb?’ Ethan asked in Caleb’s mind. ‘Why did you kill me? This is all your fault. I’m dead because of you.’ The guilt was overwhelming, overtaking everything else in Caleb’s psyche. He wanted to run, to hide, to escape the image before him, but it existed in his mind, trapping him in the moment where Caleb could do nothing but watch Ethan die. ‘A knife for a knife. A life for a life. If I could give myself up to let you live, I would. I would sacrifice myself for you, I would.’ Ethan’s mouth head tilted to the side, and with a quirky grin he said . . . You can find out what happens here: https://castleroland.net/story-synop/?id=3717 Cynus has his book Rivers of the Dead published on Amazon as a Kindle ebook and also as a paperback. There are links to all his books on the published authors page: https://castleroland.net/hall-of-published-authors/ He has his own sponsorship site, the link is below if you would like to take a look and maybe help a struggling full time author. Latest stories and advanced chapter readings! https://www.patreon.com/Cynus?ty=h
  6. Coupé by D'Artagnon Robby never intended to be anything more ambitious than a stay at home computer geek. Funny how strange the world can turn on you when you are given a push. Sometimes you have to look deeper than just the surface of things to see the truth. Read the book... extract: We don’t often think enough about how much a touch can affect us. I mean, I know I go on a lot about how sex is sooo good, and yes, sex is a lot of touching. But touching isn’t sex. And in this instance, Juan needed to feel it on his skin as well as in his head and heart that he wasn’t alone. That we weren’t going to trick him or leave him out in the cold like his old motley had. Touch, if nothing else, is very grounding, and he needed that kind of foundation. Trust and touch often equate to the same thing. And I’m talking about touching with emotion, not with lust (although I like that kind too) or with anger. I guess I should have said touching with empathy, since anger is an emotion as well, but I think you get the picture. At any rate, Kenny reached across and rested his hand on Juan’s other shoulder, briefly. We were in a totally public place and we couldn’t just give him a hug, as much as my Satyr nature was urging me to. This was probably the scariest thing to ever happen to him, and being reminded of it so bluntly while we were still glowing with absorbed Glamour only made it more real to him. reader comments: Wow! I love this story so much. Even if I am 70 years it is just the kind of story I love. Just finished the latest chapter and oh WOW!! It just gets better and better I thought the chapter was just about perfect. Dialog, action, new subject matter, emotions, caring, love, you name it. I just finished reading the story of Robby and Kenny and I enjoyed it immensely! I have to say that the story is quite impressive. Although the narrator tends to meander at times, there is just the right mix of action, suspense, adventure, and romance to keep the pages turning. So, have just finished Coupe and I have to say that I thought it was fantastic. the reviews: Review by Adam. Robbie is your bog standard, computer infatuated, geek teen. Enter Kenny the son of a light saber class instructor at the Y and the Universe changes. That, in one line is the precis of Coupé. However, D'Artagnon has built a truly masterful tale around the art of fencing, using the beauty of the French terms used in the sport to add frisson to the already electric action he depicts in this classic, exciting tale of good cast against evil. But, with several twists. The greatest being the roughly 315 degree turn readers need to take to watch Robbie become Robyn....but all becomes clear. Sort of, ...by stages....in magical literary ways. Indeed the author does have many literary tricks up his sleeve. The biggest, of course, his imagination. The parallel world he describes and in which the detailed characters evolve wild adventures is a wonderous device. But other writers build castles in the sky. What D'Artagnon has added is his Pythonesque sense of humour. I don't know if he intends this story to be parody, but a fantastic parody it is. And that is what makes it so absolutely fantastic as an adult read. For teenage readers, just get off on the thrills. For grown up humour, just love Cold Comfort Farm and Coupé! With burger bars turning into fae burghers' bear pits, tutors turning into trolls, geeks to goats, and relatives becoming relative, the whole of Robbie's known world to age 13 suddenly becomes......well, unknown. There are so many zeros missing. This is a fun story. Just fun. I suppose the usual caveats preclude my even suggesting the inevitable conclusion to the story, but there are tragedies along the way. It is not all laughter and zany good cheer. Unfortunately, the plot twists were more obvious the further into the story one delved. Maybe writer or just imagination fatigue set in. I think we all empathise. But, as has been said of many classic tales, such as Treasure Island, Kim, and Harry Potter, I'll say of Coupé: it's a cracking good yarn! Review by Jay. This wonderful action filled adventure is sure to please. The story about two New England boys, Robby and Kenny, is a full on rollercoaster of emotions. A fantasy tale of two boys, complete with detailed descriptions bringing to life their personal interactions and the situations they encounter. It puts you right in the mix with them as they advance through the story. At times bringing a tear to your eyes and at others a smile to your lips. It will surprise you with accounts of their present and past relationship and keep you interested, hanging on every word. The author's passion for detail and explanation does make some chapters very long. So you best grab a drink and snack, then sit back for a ride full of adventure. The story contains some very good advice that can be used in your everyday life. This story will make you think and relate to events you may have encountered. Even though I prefer more breaks between chapters than the author gives us, I was still so captivated by it I could not lay it down. If you enjoy this story as much as I have, then I am glad to tell you the saga continues in "Riposte - Changeling" and "Riposte - Werewolf" by the same author. This story was more than fun to read. Even if it is a fantasy/Sci-Fi story, as I have said, you may still find the advice it gives invaluable if you care to take it. the interview: Hello and welcome D'Artagnon. There is a certain writing style that you adopted for this book. I don't know if you carry the same style through to other books. It’s an interesting approach, because it’s first person narrator. Which means our protagonist and hero Robby French whom the book is about, is telling us the story himself. Not just relating the events, but including little asides to the reader. Chapter recaps at the start of some chapters and observations he wants to relay in his conversation with us the reader. The style of narrative is both telling the story and having a conversation with the reader. Would you like to tell us a bit about how this writing style came about? Sure. Like so much else, it goes back to my teachers. The most prominent of them was my 8th grade English teacher, who’s name I cannot recall now, oddly. I do remember that she was very obstinate in building our vocabulary. She encouraged us to write loquaciously, as 8th graders are notoriously lazy, especially in their writing assignments. I was guilty of that, as well. One of the many lessons she applied was that writing should be to the point, accurate and precise, but also “complete.” By which she meant that a writer should leave all parts of a statement clear to the reader, without just accepting your reader knows what you are talking about. Explain completely. Other teachers imparted the ideas of writing conversationally, leading a reader, dropping clues and such. In Coupe in particular I wanted to put the reader into the character’s head. My first story in this genre, “Educating Max” was written third person. Parts of that felt like they would be better if we actually heard Max’s thoughts from Max himself (which is ironic since that story is about an emerging telepath). So when I formed the idea of Robby/Robyn’s story, there was never a doubt in my mind that the story needed to be almost like a diary. And quickly, I don’t think Coupe would have had the same impact if it wasn’t from Robby’s point of view, exclusively. He has a unique point of view. There are some subtle, and perhaps not so subtle, reflections on life, the universe, existence, and being gay. Whilst this is not “Animal Farm” and not a satirical look at the world through the guise of a ‘fairy tale.’ Not quite, anyway. It does seem like you had some points and possible statements about life you wanted to get across. Am I right here or off the mark? No, you pretty much nailed that one. Much of Robby’s ramblings does reflect the nature of Changelings, their duality of beings who have a measure of immortality but at the cost of continually starting over in each reincarnation. So, to a degree, Robyn’s centuries of experience, wisdom and knowledge is still in the foggier parts of Robby’s still maturing adolescent brain. He’s obviously a smart character and one with his own opinions. A larger part of the story is dealing with how a kid his age begins to realize he’s part of a much larger world. Or in the case of the Coupe characters, worlds. At the beginning, Robby didn’t know about so many things that become important to him. That being said, as a writer, I tend to let the characters tell me where the story is, where it’s going. Robby is discovering his sexuality the way we all do at that tender age, trial and error. He may be on the “hero’s journey” but I wanted his observations to be slightly different from mine. I also decided early on that this would not be written as a perfect story with predictable plot points and completely satisfying resolutions to all the bits and pieces throughout. It’s more like real life and dreams in that way. Some things start and never finish, some you find yourself in without a lot of knowing how or why. Things go that way. Literature aspires to emulate real life, but often tries too hard, gives you a formula you have to fill. I think you have to accept sometimes that you don’t always know, it doesn’t always resolve to, using a musical reference, a clear major chord ending. I would have to say that even the name of the story has a bit of significance. I use a lot of fencing terms throughout the narrative. A “coupe” is a cut over or a slicing attack, often towards the legs. Literally, the characters are getting hacked at for much of the story, in different ways. They say the first cut is the deepest; we’ll find out. You make some bold statements, which I can completely understand, but which might nevertheless alienate some of your readership. Example: “With all the pride and power and self-assurance of a boy, not some stereotyped flamer or dancing nancy-boy.” What you're saying here, if I got this right, is that Robby is a boy who happens to be gay because he "likes" other boys. And him being a gay boy doesn’t make him effeminate. What about those “dancing nancy-boys” out there reading that? Aren’t they going to think, “well darling **** you?” And they have that right. I can only speak from my own experience here. Growing up, I was very closeted. I was raised in a Catholic household, had no connection to the “gay community” of that time. Gays who were “out” or “obvious” were very much treated poorly at that time. Sadly, I participated in some of that through my speech and deeds. I was a scared kid who just went with the flow of things. This was the early days of the AIDS epidemic, or the “gay cancer” as it was sometimes called. Any young gay kid who had that part of his life in the shadows kept it out of sight. The fear was real, as were the dangers. In some places around the world, that’s still very true and very frightening. I was already one of the “indoor” kids. I wasn’t very coordinated, early on, was horrible at sports, was big into science fiction and fantasy well before it was popular in my age group, and to be very blunt, was picked on by the other boys for it. Because of where my birthday falls on the school calendar, I was the youngest in my class and my family tend to be late bloomers as far as puberty. So I was behind the curve as far as physical development, which was one of the only ways boys back then figured their place in the pecking order. I was, in short (ha-ha) an easy target. So, with that statement about stereotypes, I can only say that I write what I wanted to read when I was that closeted kid, looking for someone to tell me that what I felt was okay. That I didn’t have to fit into ANY stereotype, that I could be just who I already was without having to “change” because I did have sexual impulses towards other boys. The stories around at that time never showed gay people in positive lights, or as anything other than effeminate, weak, comic relief characters. The only openly gay character on TV, that I know of, was Billy Crystal on “Soap,” a show I never really saw as a kid, only later in re-runs. Young-adult literature was not exactly brimming with adventure stories featuring gay lead characters, because, and let’s be honest here, in the 80’s there was no mainstream understanding that gay kids came from normal homes. Many places in America believed that homosexuality was something that only happened in the “bad” parts of big cities. That it was an aberration born of drugs, music, perversion, that sort of thing. I hope that in my stories young gay kids (assuming such kids read my stories) can find something they can identify with. It is easy to identify with Peter Parker, a regular kid who has to deal with both superhero problems, as Spider-Man, and every day high school problems just as himself. My goal was to strike a similar chord. I wanted to let our little brothers know that they’re okay, whoever they are, and they don’t have to fit the mould of someone else, whether contrived or overly played up. We all know people who are various degrees of “camp” in their lives. We all also know many gay men who don’t advertise their preferences in their daily existence. We don’t go to work as the “Gay car repairman,” or the “queer restaurant worker” or the “homo IT professional” or any number of such things. I’m not ashamed of my life, who I live with, whom I love. But I also don’t feel the need to open a conversation or first meeting with “hello, my name is Robby. I’m an openly gay, formerly religious, sci-fi geek and gamer, I play guitar, vote mostly Democrat and used to be a teacher.” Fortunately, a lot of kids these days don’t have the same level of fear that I went through. Being gay is more accepted now, for which I am very grateful. Too many horror stories from that bygone era tell us of young gays who were persecuted, assaulted, in some cases even killed. I know he was an adult when it happened, but we need to keep in mind things like the case of Matthew Shepard, and the case of a young teen athlete in Massachusetts from the late 90’s, who was assaulted by his teammates because they thought he was gay (never to my knowledge confirmed if he was or not), actually holding him down and inserting a banana into his rectum. Cannot forget, shall not forget. We’ve come a long way, but for each person, figuring out how your own feelings affect who you are still can be a confusing, scary thing. In this story, I hoped to give a little context to it. So, if those who are more effeminate feel alienated by the story or by how Robby comes to his own realizations about himself, I invite them to look at their own decisions at that time. I am not making a claim that any one choice is right or wrong in the reader’s life. I am saying that the decisions you make, the choices you take do reflect how you look at yourself and the world. And be yourself. Being someone else is an actor’s job, not a person’s life. Be you – act you – live you. Others will look at you differently for how you carry yourself. Projecting a sexuality or openly describing your orientation is a choice in how you live. While it may seem to some (in this case, the Robby side of Robby/Robyn) that being gay is to be effeminate or appear weak, it is the strengths inside yourself that you barely know you have that will guide how you choose others to see you. There is no one path. So do give Robby/Robyn a little room to grow in his estimations of life this incarnation. He’s still getting his hooves under him and people on all sides are trying to Undo him already. His elder side is catching up, but he’s still got a lot of growing up to do. And has been hinted at before, he’s been a girl in previous incarnations. Whilst I'm quoting from the book, you do have some marvellous descriptions: “In that instant, I knew that while I was still Robby French, a kid going into 8th grade, who loved computers, his small family, his hometown, the scent of December snow, the kiss of late spring sunshine and the scent of apples and leaves come the fall, that while all these things helped define me, that I was someone else as well.” For some reason this made me think of: “You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you're listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.” - The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Those descriptions make one reflect on who we are, where we have come from and where we are going. They are emotionally and spiritually uplifting. I don’t think you set out with that in mind, to achieve anything more than just a good story, nevertheless I think you went some way to succeeding in this respect, and I think from what I know, your book influenced more than a few young gay people in a positive way. What do you think about that? First, good book. I haven’t read Perks in a while. Probably need to pick it up again. That and Baby Bebop. Part of the style I wanted to use with Coupe was putting us in Robby’s head, getting his perspective. So I really wanted to show not only his experience and how his views shift over time but I needed him to be how readers go from the somewhat muted ways of the real world to the brighter, shinier, more vibrant and often larger than life aspects of the Dreaming. Plus, I wanted to put readers into the mind-set of “Robby-think” at how he does things, sees the world. He’s an evolving character, finds out the world is bigger, wilder, crazier than he thought, even being a self-professed computer geek who just wanted to stay indoors and live on the internet. One of the reasons I wanted to put such descriptions out there was in an attempt to get readers to take a second look around themselves. The world can be beautiful, odd, confusing, difficult, startling, enlightening, all in just your everyday existence. We need to look for such things and appreciate them for what they are, what they mean. Even if such perceptions are just about ourselves. If any of that makes sense. Your book does fall into the category of books – if such a category exists – which start off normally, then a few chapters in spring a total surprise on the reader. It wouldn't have been such a shock if the book was labelled fantasy, but not knowing where it was going, I was reading it, engrossed in a young boy breaking out of his shell of loneliness, suddenly to be smacked in the face with altered reality and a parallel world, back from the future comes later! In hindsight, perhaps it might have been nice to forewarn the reader where the story was going, because I could see some people closing and setting aside the book at that point? Stories have a life of their own. If we knew where it was going at the first page, why bother plowing through to the last? It is the journey that is important, otherwise every story would be the same. And, yeah, I intended to make the story turn left suddenly. You don’t always get warnings about what’s ahead on the road. I feel if the story had some kind of “warning” like that, no one would read it. Sure, might be missing an advertising opportunity there, but surprises make things more interesting. Cliff hangers are good for that, but they are only one tool in the writer’s tool kit. The arrival of the unexpected is something which gives you something interesting, rather than the “all these stories wind up this way” feel. Like I said, I like to write what I wanted to read as a kid. Talking about the imaginary world that you created in this book. Was it all your own doing, or did you draw your inspiration from other sources? The parallel universe is really an amazing feat of creative imagination and one hell of a trip! Would love to claim it was all me, but I can’t do that. The world I write in for these stories is part of a role playing game universe. The origin material is from a company called White Wolf Publishing, and this setting is referred to as the World of Darkness. It involves multiple different supernatural aspects from vampires, werewolves (like Cody and Nick in Last Place), changelings, wraiths, mummies, and all sorts of those nasty things that go bump in the dark. I used to play and actually run games in that environment, which White Wolf calls the “storyteller” system. The material for the game was very deep, very rich in history and folklore. I felt like it was a great universe to set stories in. And the Dreaming and the Umbra are aspects that appeal to me, the spiritual nature of the universe and how dreams create reality. So while I cannot take credit for the environment, I hope I illustrate it well enough that others will enjoy it. It certainly gives the boys much to play about in, as well as giving the dark things a way to poke around also. Other influences which creep into my writing come from authors I enjoy. Mercedes Lackey (a wonderful person!), Stephen King, Robert A. Heinlein, HP Lovecraft and Edgar Rice Burrows prominent among them. I was also a big X-Men fan (before the comics and movies screwed them up, different discussion, heheh), obviously love Star Wars and role playing games. So, a lot of these influences will start showing up in the stories after Coupe. I should also point out that a lot of what goes on in Canterbury is a mash up of many influences. The town it is based on has a lot of historical and literary confluences. It is the town that inspired the Archie comics series, was a setting used by HP Lovecraft for his Huskatonic University and town of Arkham, counts poets like John Greenleaf Whittier and Robert Frost as area residents, has the first statue of a woman (bearing a tomahawk, no less) on North America, the river that runs through it gave its name to one of the first “ironclad” warships developed in the American Civil War, has a nearby site which is arguably an archeological wonder going back to the Viking era, and is part of the region that was linked to the political term “Gerrymandering” (look up https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering ). You seem to enjoy describing the magic in detail, like when you are illustrating the healing powers of the Umbra: “Picture if you will everything that exists around you. Now only picture the things that are more constant, the things that have been in exactly the same place for decades. Buildings, trees, geological features, that sort of thing. Now cast it all in a continuous gleam of moonlight. Anything natural is there as its ultimate, purest form. Anything man made, has all these cobwebs all over it.” I can't help but think that there is more to these descriptions than just your imagination at work. It is almost as if you are recalling some real life parallels, meditation or other experiences. More than simply remembered dreams, I feel completely immersed in an altered reality. So my question is: where do these descriptions come from? I do love to put a pin in a moment and try to get as much sensory overload into it as possible. Guilty pleasure, I guess. The Umbra features heavily in the “Werewolf: the Apocalypse” game, and it begins to show up more in “Last Place” and subsequent stories. It is a realm that “Shadows” physical reality. A place of spirits, energy and mystery. If you travel away from the Earth into the Umbra you can wind up in other realms, other dimensions, even places that make absolutely no sense. Even the realm of the dead (cre-ep-py!). So, part of the imagery of the Umbra is based on the werewolves’ cosmology, where three cosmic forces are out of balance: the Wyld, the Weaver, and the Wyrm. Without going into too much detail here, the Wyld is raw creation, the Weaver is static pattern and stability, and the Wyrm is natural decay. A long time ago, the Weaver got upset that the Wyrm kept digesting her things (even though that feeds the Wyld bringing forth new things), and she ensnared the Wyrm into her pattern-web (lots of spider imagery here). So, Weaver goes crazy, traps Wyrm, then the Wyrm decided to just devour everything in order to free himself. The Weaver’s servants, little spider spirits, put webs on things in the Umbra to link physical things to the pattern-web. So the older something man made is, the thicker the spiderwebs. Spirits are native to the Umbra and things without “awakened” spirits typically can’t go there without something else either dragging them in or there being a place where the barrier between physical and spiritual is very thin. Werewolves are creatures of both spirit and flesh, and favored by many powerful spirits. They can travel to the Umbra relatively easily. Other spirits will show up in other stories. The Dreaming, on the other hand, is a place we all know well, or at least our own little parts of it. Those in the know can travel through it to other people’s dream realms, or even to other places within the Dreaming and between one place and another. Even other dimensions, similar to traveling in the Umbra. The two are related, although the exact nature is never completely clear. There will be an example of traveling in the Dreaming in a couple of the stories. Not sure if that answers your question. Whilst the story, and adventure progresses, and the drama, there are plenty of surprises. Whilst all this is going on, it seems nevertheless to take a back seat to the development of Robby and Kenny discovering themselves and the magical world around them. In a way, the story is much more about their relationship and self-discovery, than about the adventure in which they find themselves. Is that a fair assessment, or do you feel it was a big part, but not the whole? What I mean by that is, do you think you could or would, take the story forward without those two main characters in the lead? I suppose your answer will be no, because it would be like Lord of the Rings without Bilbo or Harry Potter without Harry. Except of course those are much more singular heroes, any thoughts? Well… every story has its unique qualities. I think that what makes a story good, any story, is character development. If they don’t learn, grow or in some way change, then it is more like a TV show where all the conflicts are resolved at the end, reset for next show. So, while they are in self-discovery mode, the way that my characters go through that self-discovery is the same way everyone does, by experience and reflection. It is difficult to say how things would be different for them if they didn’t have this centuries old rivalry, access to magical powers, warrior skills and ancient memories impinging on their world. Might be more boring for them, might be more intense of a personal relationship without everything else getting in the way. The story is how they deal with the world and each other. Also, it’s not easy to look at yourself sometimes. The truth of the mirror isn’t in how things are swapped sides from reality, but how much you see as you look in more deeply. The bigger part of growing up is knowing who you are inside. Learning to recognize that takes time and, curiously enough, reflection. I could not let slip a little aside that you weaved into the narrative, a commentary on modern history, but one which is rather reminiscent of those type is conspiracy theories, the likes of which include an alien spaceship in Area 52, or that there was never a moon landing. You say: “If you want to analyze it down to what it really was, Hitler’s war was motivated by a lack of love as well, and look how many people suffered for his own problems with his Jewish father.” That is one of those completely unsubstantiated claims for which most of the evidence points to it being untrue. Why sneak that observation into the narrative? I think that there is a lot which we don’t know, and fear of the unknown leads to speculations. Robby/Robyn is a kid. He sees history through a very specific point of view. I think that as a writer I have to step away from being the character and listen to the character instead. So, there are a mix of things he sees, things he puts his own spin on, and things he sometimes flat out gets wrong. Our little Satyr isn’t a writer, after all. I like to sneak many different things into the stories. Sometimes overt things to give readers something to think about. Sometimes subtle things. For example, there are occasionally anagrams thrown in. Kenny and Mitch’s last name is Tannagord, which is an anagram of D’Artagnon, as is the Countess’ name, Donna Trag. In other stories, I’ve repeated certain words in “establishing” chapters. Check out “Lost Boys” and look for the word “seam,” and “break free,” in the first several chapters. I said this before, but I have to wonder if everything you have created in this story is entirely from your own imagination, or have you borrowed bits and pieces, here and there? In particular the Glamour and the cantrips, are those your inventions? Glamour and the cantrips involved with it are part of the “Changeling: the Dreaming” game. I use a little license in how they are used, but the game system has lots of leeway as far as all of that. Robby’s constant hearing of distant thunder and tinkling bells and other sounds from the Dreaming is something I embellished for dramatic purposes. He makes a lot of statements that may be considered oaths, especially based on the nature of the Treasures he carries. There must be a lot of things in common across the genre of magic worlds within worlds. The idea of parallel universes co-existing is not new, but I’m not sure where the concept of two universes existing side by side, as in your book first appeared. I have read at least one other book with the same concept, something that must be quite difficult to write. The complicated nature of the story gets rather well described when Robby, Robyn, has a dream before confronting the Dragon, in which he appears as both persons simultaneously. Was that you the author having a little chuckle to yourself about the convoluted nature of the whole tale, or were you trying to get something more specific across to the reader? Changelings have a complicated relationship with reality. They live in our world as the person they were born and raised as, but they also have that immortal being living within themselves. There are times when the two sides are separate, but other times when they need to act as one. Even in dreams, though, that separation can sometimes show where the internal stresses may lie. I will say this. That dream sequence was done with the idea of dreams being important, prophetic even. We see things going on there that are hinted at in earlier chapters and, without giving away anything, there are a lot of hidden meanings going on in that dream which show up in other stories. I tend to use dreams as a way to either explain, foreshadow or encode important information. It is an altered state of being, which pretty much describes life as a changeling in general. One more thing Robby and Kenny will have to trust Robyn and Kay to understand, even if they don’t… yet. I could carry on with more questions, but it would be unfair to you and the readers to make this interview too long. I would like to point readers in the direction of the author forum. Having read all the comments there, and your replies, which in some cases are quite long, and always interesting. There is a lot more to be gleaned about you, the author, and the book on the forum. Finally, D'Artagnon, thank you very much for taking the time to reply, and also, thank you for a great book. the extra: Where to next? "The sleepy riverside town of Canterbury, Massachusetts is like many other towns throughout New England. It has its picturesque Victorian homes, quaint shops, rugged and kind villagers, and a fierce loyalty to each other. It also has, as so many small towns do, its secrets; some of them old, dark and dangerous, others just things lurking beneath the surface, pretending to be something normal. "Enter Robby French, self described computer geek, future 8th grader at Canterbury Combined Junior & Senior High School and complete slacker. No ambition, no plans, He just intends to play games and avoid chores over the school break. However, his 13th summer is about to be hijacked in ways he's never ever dreamt of before. Which is good and bad, because he will rediscover parts of himself he had somehow forgotten, find himself with treasures and strengths he never knew he had and possibly make something he never really had before... a true friend. Oh, and possibly find himself way in over his head. "Coupe is the first step into the wild world of the Canterbury Knights, a series of stories where not everything is as it at first seems. The first of several books in the series form a story arc called "The Boys of Summer" although baseball is only rarely discussed. The other books in this arc are Last Place (a short story) https://castleroland.net/story-synop/?id=1690, The Riposte (Combining the characters of Coupe and Last Place, The 5th Age (still in production) and Bolt from the Blue (also still in production). These stories develop around Robby French and his growing group of friends, allies, adversaries and family ties, and the adventures, secrets and mysteries that link them." RIPOSTÉ – CHANGELINGS https://castleroland.net/story-synop/?id=1699 What do you do when you've defeated a dragon and brought the love of your existance back from the brink of oblivion, all before the end of your 13th summer? You get on with your life and try to be normal. Sadly, fate has more in store for Robby and Kenny. The adventure from Coupé continues... now. RIPOSTÉ – WEREWOLVES https://castleroland.net/story-synop/?id=1707 When you are chosen for greatness, it doesn't always mean it's a smooth ride. Cody and Nick find that being young Garou is a lot more involved than at first would seem. The adventure from Last Place continues...Now!
  7. the book reviews and author interview Saga of the Elizabethon Tarheels by Sequoyah. You can find and read the book... here an extract “You’re saying he’s gay?” Sheriff Anderson asked. “No, I wouldn’t make that statement since around here it’s never a statement but an accusation, but given what I have seen of him and his work, if I had to bet, I’d bet he bats for my team.” You could have heard a pin drop after Mr. Cobb’s statement. Art teachers are often accused of being gay, and I had never heard a hint that Mr. Cobb was, but he had just outed himself. the book reviews REVIEW by Mark Christensen. This is the story of a group of teens about to graduate high school and their journey to find love, friendship, and their future. Don’t let the 67 chapters put you off. I admit to wondering about the length and whether I should start it and I was glad I did. The chapters read quickly and the story flew by. I kept wanting to keep reading after I started. Marcus and Justin are the main two characters, long time friends who discover they are in love. Adam and Bobbie are their close friends, whose path to love is a bit more bumpy than the guys journey. The characters are well written, the dialogue sparkles and the plot is well done. The story takes place in North Carolina, just weeks before and right after graduation, though Key West also plays a significant part in the story. The main characters and their friends, face all the trials present in today’s environment and meet them head on. I particularly liked a passage when Bobby explained the love between Marcus and Justin, to a friend upon learning about the new couple. It should be required reading for the entire country. Although the story does not break new ground in the genre, it is well written, enjoyable and a good read. The ending leaves you wanting an update on the group, perhaps down the road in 5 to 10 years to see how they have helped change the world for the better. If you want a heart warming story, well written and with characters you will come to care about and root for, this story is for you. REVIEW by William King. This story gets off to a great start, by chapter five I was almost in tears as Marcus junior related his life and that of his best friend Justin. In tears because of the tragedy which Justin had to deal with. At the same time I was filled with expectations and doubts, in very much the same way that Marcus was himself. Overcome by a friendship from which he craved more, but by which he was compelled to deny his true feelings in order to preserve that same friendship. This tale was building slowly, simmering to a possible boiling point. The author takes his time to introduce us to Marcus' world and in so doing he creates the perfect backdrop for what should be an epic story. There is a balance between narration and sometimes spicy dialogue: That morning, when she slammed a frying pan on the stove and asked in a ‘don’t fuck with me, kid’ voice, “Bacon, eggs and toast?” before she said good morning, I knew it was on big time. Or better still when Marcus forgets himself when talking to his mother: “But Marcus, she’s such a nice girl….” “Nice girl? At the prom last year I was asleep when something hot and wet on my cock woke me up. It was Mary Beth giving me a blow job — and she was no amateur...” I do have criticisms of the book, whilst a gently simmering plot is fine, by chapter sixteen it seemed we were more involved in the author's analysis about being gay than the story. There are some scenes that don’t ring true, in particular when Antwon relates his personal history in detail. He is after all an employee, and has only met Marc briefly. One can suspend belief when it comes to the country club set, the amount of wealth on display, even the ready acceptance of a poor boy as part of the ‘clan,’ but some of the interaction between the friends around issues of being gay and or black, are a little off key, even tending towards stereotypical. By the time we reach chapter nineteen, not quite one third of the way through, the mundanity of the narrative is beginning to swamp the story. “Yeah, well, I think a swim is in order,” I said as I piled out of bed and ran — literally — to the toilet. I finished my business, went back to the room... “After the necessary time on the toilet, I washed my hands and splashed cool water on my face and was ready to go.” The author really is almost describing every little detail and the appeal of the vibrant action filled start is waning. One more account of Marc and Justin's sexual interaction will be one too many. This book has a lot about rationalising gay relationships and imparting knowledge to teenagers about how to have gay sex. A sort of gay relationship and sex manual for the young, couched in a novel with religious overtones. “I suddenly had an image of the crucified Christ, only it was Sandy on the cross. I wondered if Adam was one of the thieves and, if so, whether or not he was the penitent one.” Overall, for me the novel is far too long, the good parts of the story, the action were overwhelmed by the daily trivia. There was too much reflection by the author using his characters to debate what being homosexual means. There was too much sex, too much divergence from the core story, which delays the plot moving forward. I think it would have been a much better book were it a third as long and I wouldn't have had to skip through large chunks. But read it for yourself, because some people will love being totally immersed in this world and will welcome the detail. the interview I understand that you are or were an Episcopalian minister? Certainly there is some religious discourse vis a vis homosexuality and the church, there are also a few references, such as the “narthex” (an architectural element typical of early Christian and Byzantine basilicas and churches) a word I had to look up. Having this background must have influenced your story writing? Of course, any experience influences one's writing one way or the other. Leaving aside the religious dimension, you are also a Doctor of Psychology, and there is some debating the state of being homosexual in the book. Something which you subtly introduce via the storyline. I presume this was intentional? My degree is a PhD, Doctor of Philosophy and yes, the debating homosexual is intentional. I must admit to finding your book long, a personal view, some readers may enjoy being immersed in the detail of the characters everyday life, but I felt the action at the start was dissipated by the minutiae of ordinary life. Did you plan the novel to be this detailed, or did it just emerge like that? This novel, as well as all my writing tends to be very detailed. While there is always an element of non-reality, I strive for a sense of "It could have happened." Elizabethton is a real town in Tennessee about 20 miles through the Cherokee Forest to North Carolina. Did you choose to locate your story there because you know the area? Could you also answer the question, why Elizabethton Tarheels, because looking up Tar Heels I was referenced to a North Carolina men's basketball team? The setting is actually based on Elizabeth City, NC., but given a fictitious name to allow flexibility. When we reach the end of the book, after a number of adventures and quite a large character list, a lot has happened, but as you admit yourself not everything is tied up and resolved. This does beg the question how much of the novel was planned, how much was spontaneous, and how did you determine where to end the story? I guess the novel is about 50% planned and 50% spontaneous. Based on the events in the story, it seemed to be a good stopping place. This book was written some ten years or so ago. At the time you did hint at a possible sequel. I wonder did you ever consider revisiting the characters and continuing their story? I considered and started working on a sequel, but nothing came of it. Being one of your earlier novels, and also along the way you picked up an editor, how do you think you writing has changed, if it has, over the years? Not sure except the sex scenes have generally become less graphic. I guess we have to leave it at that. I would like to thank Sequoyah for sharing a few words with us.
  8. the book reviews and author interview Pathos by Arthur. A story about a rags to riches young teen; he discovers that his world has just changed into something he could never believe would ever happen; especially to a boy in his situation and low station of a life that was meant to be that of a common dancer and rent boy. Read the story... an extract After seating himself behind the desk, Leon looked up and smiled at Andre with reassurance. “I must tell you Andre that I have never in all my life seen such a boy as you, you have good manners, you dance like an angel and your skills in bed are beyond any normal pleasure boy, now, as you saw I am a member of the Council but I am also far more than that, do you know much about politics?” “No Leon, as you know I am only twelve and I will never be in a position where politics will make a difference to my life as a pleasure boy.” “A good honest answer, now what would you say if I told you I have a position for you?” reader comment Thank you for the beautiful story, I was sorry to read the last chapter as I was looking forward to Andre spending his money on the people of the Seventh Quadrant. the book reviews REVIEW by Jay. This is a sci-fi story about a young pleasure boy, Andre, and his rise to fame and fortune. It takes place on the pleasure plant Pathos. The adventure takes our hero from a poor seventh quadrant rent boy to joining the elite of his world. This amazing story will carry you through his humble beginnings and personal loss to the very heights of his world. Along the way you will be taken on an emotional ride of highs and lows that will captivate you and keep you reading his story. From the unorthodox way he meets his lover Aldred to the heart of the Palace city, I found the journey a totally enjoyable read. The author, Arthur, is well know to the Castle Roland community and this seems to be a recurring theme for him, rags to riches of a poor boy. We see the themes in "Drummer Boy" and "The Twilight Galaxy Motel". This works well for him, be it a fictional historic novel or a sci-fi story. His ability to keep your interest from the very start to it's conclusion is a testament to his skills. In this story some of the details of players change. It is noticeable but not distracting. It did somewhat abruptly end and left you wanting more. I think in this case it was done intentionally. It left me with a lot of unanswered questions. Maybe one day he will revisit this story and expand it in another book. As it was open ended that suggests there is more of this story is to be told. Your visit to Andre's universe and world is a fun story. One which I enjoyed and one I would like to read more about. REVIEW by Adam. Pathos - A teen bedtime story by Arthur. Andre, of course a super sexy young teen, is being preened for entry into the boy sex business by his mother.....yes you read that correctly. The remote planet of Pathos - and surely no planet in any universe in any plane in the Multiverse (yes, I'm into quantum mechanics) can be more ill signatured - seems to have its GDP heavily dependent on the boy lovers travel business. So enter our delectable Andre, and turn on almost the cliché rags to riches story with a twist, of rather The Twist, danced solo for two hours to a one stringed guitar ( I'm being slightly sarcastic here). The story has everything a fairy tale boy's bed time story could wish for: adventure, riches, a bit of tearful tragedy, sex, a beautiful Prince (this is a gay boy remember), and a few surprises along the way, including hints of danger. The plot is spoiled by one scene of uncharacteristic and unnecessarily graphic depiction of man on boy sex, but otherwise this is a very lovely tale. I have a classically gay- trending 12 year old cousin (once removed, of course) who lives in Cyprus at present. If I excised that one scene I mentioned, I would happily send him this story. It is this type of fresh, happy, uncomplicated, dare I say home town story that if one character changed, the Prince to a princess no one would blink an eyelid. This absurd 18 year rule in the US is an anachronism which simple stories such as Arthur's show up clearly. This is a story I recommend to any teenager. (Except for one paragraph). I'm always nervous of spoilers in writing reviews, but you've gathered that Andre is an erotic dancer. Well, he proves to be not AN erotic dancer, but THE come-hither and slither dancer of the millennium! And he manages not only to keep it up, but to keep his multi hundred man audience up for two hours or more, if you get my drift. The money and riches roll his way. So does another offer, of which I'll tell you nothing. It's covert, after all. But the prince's looks aren't so covert, nor his other physical reactions to Andre, obviously a much more practiced sexual animal. The sensuality Arthur expresses in the dance sequences are breathtaking. He is less successful in his boy seduction passages. Maybe he didn't attend a boarding school! Overall though, a good read if I were a generation younger. OK, who am I fooling, two generations !! the interview This book, Pathos, is a rags to riches tale that gets our young hero and his mother out of their difficult financial situation, almost poverty, to super rich beyond your wildest dreams, in record time. It’s a theme you used again with your very successful novel Drummer Boy. Is it just coincidence or is there a story behind the poor boy makes good? I think that my natural penchant for the underdog is the main driving force for not only Pathos and Drummer Boy but also for some of my other works. It seems to give most readers a good warm fuzzy feeling to have the underdog rise above the poverty he finds himself in. The novel is very much told by the narrator and whilst it is well written and engaging, this approach does distance the reader from forming an immediate close connection with the young boy Andre. Although of course we grow to love him, but I never felt like I was actually inside his head, looking out through his eyes. Did you intentionally keep this distance, or is it your style of writing, your preferred method, rather than say lots of dialogue, or telling us the protagonist’s thoughts? I am not sure why I did that but it may be that certain stories seem to make me feel like they should be in the third person rather than a sort of biography. When trying to put myself in their place so that I can get a feeling for their situation I am more often than not inclined to write in the third person. I am not sure if I actually have a writing style as I am always trying to do something new; I guess I get bored easily. Given the narrative approach of the novel it does sort of lend an impression of being voyeuristic. Andre, our eleven year old, doesn't sound much like an eleven year old boy, not when he speaks, or how he acts. Perfect in all ways, the young boy prostitute, is ready to service the desires of his customers whilst we, the readers, look on. Much like Leon watching his son and Andre having sex. In exactly the same way, nothing is graphically pornographic, maybe titillating. Was there an idea with this story to achieve a mildly erotic response in your readership? Good point and I think the simple answer is that I am trying to improve my writing style and content so that it is raised above the normal grunt and groan that is so often found in gay literature. For my own personal reading I am inclined to nowadays look for a story that has a good story line and makes use of titillation rather than pornography; if you really tear it down to the basics there are only a few ways to have sex and they have all been done over and over again. I often blame my alter ego Loki for things but for me to sit and write for some time I need the stimulus of throwing red herrings into the mix as well as asking the reader to look deeper into the story than what is just written on the page. Drummer Boy is a good example of that and, even though I did receive a small number of emails about the lack of sexual contact, my answer was to read more closely. Thomas had two boys that he was involved with almost from the beginning but it is written in such a way that a reader must look beyond just the words on the page. It is very much an adventure fantasy, in part a sexual fantasy clothed in the genre of Sci-fi. Looking back at this story do you think you achieved a good balance between the sex play and the realism of the story? To be more precise, the young Andre is a very well endowed boy, who looses his virginity in an orgy of sexual intercourse over a virtual non-stop marathon of thirty hours. Even boosted by the fantastic alien equivalent of Viagra, sustaining such sexual prowess was, well, fantastic! I know that some may not believe me on this point but I NEVER pre-plan any of my stories; I may have the first two or three paragraphs in my head but from then on I just write what comes into my head when I see the blank page in front of me. I try to let the theme tell me what and where it should go which makes for some interesting results but also brings with it some terrible problems of continuity as some readers may have noticed. This scene was one of those; it just felt right at the time and felt as though it was fitting for that scene. Again I try to put myself in their place or situation and then let my mind run free and hope for the best. I said it is an adventure fantasy, the adventure and intrigue are gripping and you move the story along at a terrific pace. But perhaps things move a little too quickly? That is not to say I ever felt it was rushed, only that there may have been scope for a slower pace and more detail in the build up and revelations. Everything was there for an amazing story, but it all happened very fast. Having gone back and re-read the story I am inclined to agree with you on that point; there is little doubt that I could have done better in the build up but I hope you will forgive me for saying that, even though it is an old tale I was then and even now am still trying to work on storytelling and this was one of the first that I started to veer away from my normal style. The stories that followed this one were beginning to take shape more into what I was trying to do which was bring more feeling and life into the characters. Did you consider that the subject matter, a young boy prostitute, might provoke some adverse reactions? I personally found it very entertaining and unlike your later historical tome (Drummer Boy), this book has gay characters and a gay storyline. Did you receive a positive response from the readers, or did you have to deal with negative comments? What made you move away from writing with a gay theme, because Drummer Boy has none of the same elements we see here in this early work, except the action? There was little reaction to this story in either context being as it was only posted on Nifty at the time and we all know that on the Castle there seems to be a finer appreciation of content and the work the authors do. Once again I think the later tales were a result of my own boredom with the same old sex themes and I was looking for something with a little more grit in the story line with any sexual content being of a minor concern. Finally, I would like to ask you how you go about getting such a masterful storyline plotted out? You must I suppose plan the scenario and elements that unfold and get resolved? Do you have any specific approach in how you write an adventure story like Pathos? To be frank I have really little knowledge of how I get to a story theme; most if not all the themes come to me usually early in the morning while still in bed in the lazy dazed state before you really wake up. Being retired I am inclined to stay up late into the night and then spend long hours in the morning letting my mind run free. It is from these day dreams that stories come to mind and; if I like the feel of it then I get on the computer and away we go with little to no idea of what or where it is going. The only time I may use any form of planning is when I need details that I am not sure of and for those I go to Mr. Google for answers or take situations from my own life experiences. When I dropped out of school in what we called the 3rd form (about 7th grade in the US) had I been told I was going to write stories or tell tales I think you would have heard the laughter all the way to the Kremlin. As far as planning goes I have no idea how to do it let alone make that sort of thing work for me; once again I can only say that I let the story line and the characters dictate to me where the story is to go and I think Pathos was the first one I had written that made me realise for me it was the best way to go. A big thank you to Arthur for taking part in this interview for our readers. Athur has his very successful book Drummer Boy: Honour Thy Family available in print and as an ebook from Amazon.
  9. the book reviews and author interview Faced with mutiny and reports of an eminent civil war the men and women assigned to the USS Ronald Reagan and her escorts, shake off the yoke of a tyrannical President and take matters into their own hands. Leaving the Mediterranean Sea behind, they sail full speed right into enemy controlled waters. Dawn's Early Light - Click the book link here to read it. an extract Sinclair pointed at another screen. “Are those Apaches engaging each other?” Three Apaches began firing on some of the other aircraft in the area. Everyone watched as an Osprey maneuvered into position, then opened up on the front of the school, ripping through the concrete just as easily as the bullets ripped through the children who were still trying to protect their parents. One of the Apaches was hit and lost control and slammed into the school. Everyone stared in silence at the horrific scene. Norris looked at another screen “What the fuck is that?” reader comments I just completed Dawn's Early Light -- what a story! That ending scene was a killer,... These stories are just too good to wait for! the book reviews REVIEW by Mark Dawn’s Early Light is a story in the Revolution Universe. If you are unfamiliar with the Revolution Universe, the underlying premise of all the stories is: What happens when the sitting United States President refuses to step down after someone else is elected? Who will stop him, and what lengths will he go to keep his power? Civil war is brewing in the USA and an aircraft carrier group in the Mediterranean is faced with a huge decision. Which side to join? And what will they do after they decide? The world as they know it has now become one of unknowns, hazards, moral dilemmas and sacrifices. Join Captain Norris, Bucky and the rest of the men and women of the Ronald Reagan and its battle group as they make their way through the uncertainty of what lies ahead. The characters in this story are very well portrayed and real. The author does a great job in bringing you their emotions and thoughts as they are dealing with the unprecedented crisis. Their pain at lost comrades becomes yours and their little successes along the way make you want to join in rooting for them. The military aspect of the story is well handled and authentic and although a major part of the story, it does not bog the reader down nor bore. The author might think about a military glossary at the end for those unfamiliar to military acronyms however. The story grabs the reader from the start and does not let go. Personally, I came to care about these people and what happens to them, a sign the author can write and has the ability to grab a reader. Partway through the story, there is an aside ‘mini-story’. I highly recommend the reader does read this as some action takes place in it, which may leave a reader who did not read it, wondering where some characters and a plane came from, at the beginning of a later chapter. My only negative issue with the story is that I highly recommend the author have an editor or proof-reader look over the final draft of his stories. The editor would catch all the grammar and punctuation issues which distract. The story and reader would be better for it and a story of this quality deserves it. This is the first part in a series and it ends making the reader want to dive in immediately to the next section. No cliff hanging ending, just a satisfying lull in the action. If you want a well thought out, satisfying, roller coaster ride of a story, with men and women who face a situation they never imagined could happen and how they deal with it, look no further. Sit down, strap in and hang on! REVIEW by Adam. Captain, later Admiral Norris is the epitome of the Annapolis A* graduate. A widower who has also tragically lost his only son, Ken Barber has built this central character of his Revolutions Universe book as a man torn between tradition and honour. A conscience rent twixt the Book of Admiralty Regulations telling him to sit and do nothing while Rome burns and tearing up the book. The trouble is the Rome Norris sees burning is his home! Enter then a cast of fascinating characters. Among the most gripping are a gay Navy SEAL commander, his gay brigadier of Cavalry - after all no American adventure is complete without the cavalry coming to the rescue eh! - and a 12 year old gay genetically enhanced General. No please, that you'll have to read about. And it all works. The ships, the aeroplanes, the operations, the ....well I don't want to say everything was plausible, but it was great adventure. And the central theme of evil president trying by every means possible to stay in power including the use of fake news has an interesting ring today. I love it that the author checks his facts. Too many writers today just write and don't bother to check on the veracity of what they say. So Ken obviously has spent much of his childhood on Disneyworld. He researched Bermuda. He knows about the workings of the Navy. Like most US people I know, he has an inordinate knowledge of firearms. The whole story is a wonderful adventure of Boys Own ilk. Norris is the John Wayne of the waves, a True Grit character, riding his fleet to save the women and kids from the bad gang. I only wish the story's flow hadn't been totally destroyed by "And Justice for All" when suddenly a giant aeroplane arrives from nowhere, new characters we've never heard of. What the hell was in the author's mind to allow this? Either negotiate to meld the two stories, or divide this story in two cleanly. But this? Nonsense. It is literary hara-kiri. The Revolution's Universe is a family of stories I generally enjoy, not because I find the general premise plausible - that the American people, however politically naïve they may be and easily swayed by mass media, would actually sit still whilst such a scenario took place - but because of the stories such an idea engenders. I see strong characters like some of the UNIT, and some of the Geeks and Hugh and so many others. This is what Dawn's Early Light lacks so far. Ken has failed to light a fire inside any of the key characters which has warmed him enough so that if he died on the page I'd shed a tear. And that's the difference. In code, you'll understand if I say I did for A but not for B. But A for Action and Potential. And A* for bringing gays in the US military to the fore. the interview Firstly, before I hit you with our questions, let me just say I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Let me also say that your book really presents a lot to get your teeth into and consequently the questions are rather drawn out. Well here we go! I have to ask you this question, because the whole story is one hell of an action packed book with a rather unique plot revolving around an internal conflict in America, a disputed presidential election and all the consequences that follow. Then nearly at the end of the book, chapter twelve, you hit us with aliens from a parallel dimension. Why? It reminded me of a top US TV series from thirty years ago, Dallas. They had one of the lead characters knocked down and killed, then ran a whole season only to have his wife reveal at the end that everything was a dream. That show ran for another four seasons, but lost all credibility and never got back the top spot. So why aliens? When “Dawns Early Light” was first brainstormed by the Revolutions Universe group the intention was to keep it separated from the rest of the books. Very quickly we realized that would not be possible and we had to find a way to integrate the Sci-Fi elements. We thought the best way to do that was to make it a shock factor. Bucky and Norris’s response was how I hope most readers responded, let me quote Bucky “What the fuck?” The Revolutions Universe is a constantly changing fluid concept that we all try to keep up with. Sometimes this throws an author into an area or genre that is way out of the norm. It’s a constant challenge to make the different genres and writing styles work together. Do we always get it right? Hell no, but we are constantly learning and adapting ourselves and hopefully getting better and better. I love reading science fiction but hate writing it, trying to adapt a story that was based in a modern, realistic time frame to the science fiction elements of the Revolutions Universe was one of the most challenging things I have had to do as a writer and it actually made me take a step back for a few weeks. A quote from Roland "I think we broke Ken." There are a good handful of major characters in this novel and lots of supporting secondary roles. I felt that we were following events through the eyes of Admiral Norris and Bucky. However, with so many characters it is at times difficult to keep track of everyone and what was happening. I was wondering how, when writing the story, you kept tabs on the characters and events. Did you draw up some sort of list or plan, or simply keep all the characters and plot in your head? As far as the number of characters, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. In an actual naval carrier group there are well over 5000 men and women. Add to that the us army groups we have absorbed along with the French and English forces and we are looking at force of over 50,000. Most of the senior elements in a military unit of that size have very specific, very precise jobs. So every time we run into a situation we have not encountered before there is some expert waiting in the wings for their moment in the spot light. I have taken some liberties with this and have had major characters assume some roles they would not have in the actual military but I try to keep this to minor things to keep the realism on point. One of the most common bits of positive feedback I get are. "This really nails life in the Military." That’s important to me. I try to use correct military terminology and equipment. Having spent 8 years in active duty military service I know how important accuracy is to a readers that may be Veterans or active duty military. Fun fact I spent 8 years as a US Army Reconnaissance specialist (Scout). I was not in the Navy so writing Navy stories takes a lot of research. And often times I have made the mistake of using Army language and terms instead of Navy and typically the Navy guys out there do not hesitate to point it out. Is this difficult to manage and can it make it difficult to follow all the characters? The answer to that is yes and yes. Every character that is even mentioned is listed on a spread sheet with as much information as possible. That spread sheet has hundreds of entries. Just a side not the original intention when first dreaming up this story was that this would be Bucky’s story however The very first time Captain Norris entered the story he took command and the story took on a very different shape than originally intended. This required hours of re-planning with Roland and Al Norris. But all three of us loved the impact Aggy was making as a no frills, gruff, no nonsense character and took pleasure in reworking the whole concept. Considering all the detail in this book, from the military stuff, through the many characters and mission events, each with their code names, you have to say that there was an awful lot going on. I had the impression that you started off with detailed events, then later sort of fast forwarded. So that in the latter half of the book it was no longer the tactical aspect, using the military jargon, but much more the strategic. We were there when the casualties from the mission to recover the original constitution document and other precious papers landed on the USS Ronald Regan, but we skipped the action. It did leave me with the feeling that there were some detailed bits missing, gaps you had decided to leave as we jumped rapidly forwards. Was this a conscious choice to progress the story quickly through events or did you perhaps decide that several battle scenes would be too much repetition, or was it because the missing bits get filled in by other books? For the missing pieces in the story like the “monuments men mission” this entire mission was covered in detail in “New Beginnings”. The details were left out of “Dawns Early Light” (DEL) to show that so much is happening in the Universe it can’t all be seen from one perspective. This happens periodically in a universe series. Its either that or the readers read the some plot line 10 times from 10 different perspectives. We have yet to figure out the best formula to fix this issue in Universe Stories. Some of these “plot holes” are intentional as a setup for a latter story line. Chapter 14, the penultimate, brings us right back into the action, zooming in on local events and on Admiral Norris, Bucky and Adam. Previously and throughout the novel there is a very definite drawing of good guys versus bad guys. There is a lot of gung ho, and righteous indignation. We have the ‘top gun’ scene with the Admiral and Will in an F18, we have the Veterans' parade. It’s very entertaining, typically American, we all cheer for the heroes and because of that we know in the end they will win. Did you consider the other angle, the view from the opposite side, perhaps having things less clear cut, less black and white, and dare I say, closer to reality? Or was it always determined this would be a good triumphs over evil story? Your last question was the most difficult. In my mind this was always a good triumphs evil story but as things have progressed the darkness that has encompassed the world has effected the characters as well. Some of them are starting to get tired and jaded. There are a few times that Norris or Bucky have to make Choices that deeply trouble them. This becomes more prevalent as the story continues. Keep in mind the story has to evolve with entire tone of the universe. One author in the collaboration can change the tone of all the stories. I think what you're you seeing is the constant flux of the different writing styles. I like to write action, the righteous indignation, heroes are the good guys and they smite the bad guys type of stuff. My favorite saying is I like to write ordinary people doing extraordinary things. How ever I have to change my tone, style and pace slightly to match the rest of the universe at times. The other side of the scale the bad guys if you will seeps through. The idea that some Ashwood supporters honestly thought this was better idea for the good of all. Blissfully unaware of the impact Ashwood could have on the entire planet. The story line will constantly sway back and forth from the Good triumphs over Evil to the side as more and more is discovered about the Advisories. War is hell and things get muddy and confused. People get killed and hurt that is reality and this story was always so suppose to be based in reality and to show the true horrors of war. I think, I have a long way to go to accomplish that. The story will get darker before it gets lighter and big things are coming. I don’t want to give anything away but the whole concept of the story will change directions soon immersing the readers into the entire war in the US and beyond. Thank you for those well thought out questions. And thank you Ken for taking the time to talk to us about your book and the Revolutions Universe of which it is a part. the extra Thanks to Zach Caldwell here is a little tribute to Lance Corporal Dawson, Norris's Driver. the discussion forum for more views and comments.
  10. Spotlight on Brave Lake Manor by AB the book reviews and author interview the book Brave Lake Manor by AB The Jarrow family were brought together by one tragedy only to have their lives torn apart by a second. Now Peter, the eldest of four brothers, must assume the role of father and take responsibility for his younger siblings. Together they must face the trials and tribulations of adolescence, the growing pains of the twin seven year olds, and the malicious intentions of some dastardly adversaries. With a new life in the country comes new friends, new challenges, but also those with evil and deadly intentions. Read the book - Brave Lake Manor by AB an extract “I…uhm…shouldn’t have, but I ehmm followed you three upstairs earlier…I sort of…heard everything…no don’t be afraid, I will not tell anyone anything…and I really, really do not mind since I am also gay,” he said in one breath and really fast. “I’ve known since I was ten and I’ve…well sort of…have had a crush on you since I was twelve…but you know until now I really didn’t know how or what to say to you…and then I started going to Jack’s dojo and unwillingly hanging out with that jackass Terry and I thought I would never have a chance to…tell you…I think I was also afraid of you being straight and outing me to the whole town and/or school so I said nothing…but then today I saw you running upstairs almost in tears and just as I was coming to see if you were alright, Ryan and Jason got to you first…and well…you know the rest…” Timmy said as fast as he could, taking in breaths only when he had to breath. reader comment “Let me just say your story touched me in so many ways it ain't funny. I loved it and the ending was perfect. I sure hope you write some more.” the book reviews REVIEW by Jay. What an amazing story of bravery, perseverance and growth. You may find yourself totally lost in this story, feeling right in the thick of things as you read, so much so that you cannot help but get emotionally involved. At times you will cry tears of joy, the whole gambit of emotions is in play and I enjoyed every bit of it. This story of four young brothers is sure to warm your heart. The eldest brother Peter finds himself forced to grow up faster than he thought, whilst Ryan the next oldest is navigating a minefield of teenage emotions. An adventure of adolescent life and relationships that come crashing down on him in more ways than one. The youngest of the four, twins Malthe and Christian are so much alike in many ways, but different in others. You will easily sympathize with them all. I particularly related to Peter, he has to keep the family from falling apart, deal with his own relationships, and defend the family from unseen dangers. Finding himself in the role of a father to these boys was not what he expected his life to be. The best quote which I feel sums up the story is when Peter is questioning his role of father, "But I'm guessing deep down in your subconscious you have many conflicting emotions your happiness and needs conflicting with your desire to look after others and your brothers". You may get this if you care to read this awesome story. I found the chapters a bit long and would have liked more breaks within them. There are a few grammar mistakes and maybe a few word changes that could be made. I found later on in the story that when the author was relating events from different points of view he could have been clearer. You could get lost and a bit confused, as I did, but I got back on track quickly and still enjoyed myself. The interaction between the boys and their friends is described well. The intimate relationships are hot to say the least, but I didn't find them vulgar in anyway, actually quite pleasing and enjoyable. If you like tales about personal growth and a family conquering adversity, then you will love this. I have to say that this one is – A Must Read! REVIEW by William King. There are some caveats if you are going to read this story. First, you need to be able to see past the mixed up English prose and rewrite it in your head as you read. Second, you have to suspend belief at the often improbable scenarios and read it with the idea that it’s a good yarn. Thirdly, you need to know that it depicts scenes of a sexual nature between young boys. You have to think of this story like a brilliant children's book or a great comic strip. Chapter Two had me smiling, then laughing when Peter and the boys arrive at the manor and are greeted by a butler and three valets. There’s also a maid, cook and chauffeur. But it's the estate manager Peter has to deal with and he soon puts the lazy no good sleaze in his place, “Do I make myself, absolutely crystal clear worm?” He tells him. The more I was reading, the more light hearted the book was becoming, a great adventure straight out of Boy’s Own, complete with Latin inscriptions over the door and quotes from Plato. Was the author trying to impart a little education and culture to his readers, the glossy mahogany doors to the bedrooms were, “carved after a different renaissance painting, this room was carved after Caravaggio’s “Amor Vincit Omnia”, the next one after Tintoretto’s “Veronica Franco” I wondered what exactly “a cult Swedish backpack” was and whether the author owned one just like Malthe's. The only thing I have ever owned that was Swedish and you could carry things in, no it wasn't a Volvo, it was one of those blue bags from IKEA! It's the way the author writes the English language, which he struggles with, that being in the right frame of mind matches the adventure and is also mildly amusing, “Okay guys select your bikes,” he told them and waited by the counter as he chatted up the owner. I'm sure he meant – chatted to the owner, but chatting up the village bicycle shop owner made me smile again. Some of the comments are just so funny I had to laugh, “He had a sneer on his face that made him look like a banshee from a fantasy novel. Ryan decided almost instantly that he didn’t want to be his friend in this world or any other.” Sometimes the comments get quite crude, “He was horny all day, all night, every day and night, anything with a hole seemed…well…fuckable and desirable.” Malthe, the seven year old twin to Christian, Peter and Ryan's adopted younger brother, is the philosophical genius. “It is not that I desire or not for anyone to either understand or not of what I speak of…I only desire the creation of thought and the spark of intelligence in others. An answer understood directly has failed its purpose. One must think an answer as well as a question through. They should be…food for the brain,...” There is more in this book than you might assume through casually reading. You get to know how much they weigh, how tall they are, plus other body particulars. When they go out anywhere they usually end up eating so you get to know what’s on the menu, the kids seem to love smoothies of all varieties and Peter is apple pie. It's odd how as a suddenly bereaved family they go from Peter, the older brother not knowing what to do and desperately thinking about getting a job, until his best friend points out the manor. He forgot they owned a massive run down estate in the country, complete with butler and staff. Somehow with the estate comes loads of money for new bikes, some furniture, and Ryan is spending a hundred dollars in the amusement arcade. As I said previously it’s a great tale, you have to take some things with a pinch of salt, which is why I thought it would make a great comic, it reads rather like a comic strip. The good guys are good and the bad guys are fat and ugly! The book builds slowly to a tumultuous crescendo which will shatter your senses and send your emotions haywire. It really is a fantastic drama that deserves to be read. the interview The title of the book Brave Lake Manor is taken from the village where the family residence is. It doesn't actually become clear that the story takes place in England, until the Epilogue, when Ryan takes the Eurostar to London. I was convinced that with a name like that it was a village in America or Canada (you write in British English). How did you come up with the name and title? Did you intend to be vague about the country it was set in? Yeah, in a way it was meant to be vague, I've lived in the UK but I also like New Zealand, although I've not yet been there, so up until the end I wanted it vague hoping/wanting people to think on which country it is set on. I think I read that English is not your first language, something which is clear from the often peculiar phrases and juxtaposition, even sometimes misuse, of words. How difficult was it for you to write? People commented on this, as we did in our reviews, but overall I got the impression from those comments that it was not a big issue, the story transcended the language barrier. What do you think, did you get any real complaints about this? I skimmed through a little of your more recent book Star Wars : Darklight, and I felt that your mastery of English, and hence your writing, has improved over these last three or four years. Would you agree? If you do agree, then is this improvement simply due to your own learning, or have you been helped in any way, for example by an editor? I've not received a complaint -yet- that a story/chapter was unreadable because of English not being my mother language, but yes I have received proof comments, (this should be like this or that bc of that or this rule etc) and to a large degree I have made changes to that effect. And yes, my grasp/writing has improved, I think, after some years of writing stories but I've also had an editor after BLM, I think he's also a member of CR and an author, Ricky Beck. I don’t want to start a huge debate about sex in books, but I am interested in your opinion on this topic. There are some graphic sex scenes in the book, they are not out of place, I found them in keeping with the storyline, and a lot of readers seemed to like a little spice in the story. In hindsight, what do think about the sex scenes? Do you still have the same scenes in your books, or have you changed your approach? I think that it all depends on what kind of genre/story one is writing. 50 shades of grey wouldn't be 50 shades of gray without the graphic scenes I've been told it has, and Lord of the rings would not be lord of the rings if it had graphic sex scenes in it. I was inspired to write Brave Lake Manor from reading one of Hunter's stories "Kyle's ten golden rules". It had an ending which caused me some emotional upset (good kind) and somehow that lead to BLM. And due to personal reasons as well from some abuse from my childhood I envisioned it having the sex scenes so it had sex scenes but it wasn't about the sex, it was not about boy meets boy they have wild pornographic unrealistic sex that even experienced adults don't have and then that's it end of story. Your other books are not in the same genre, but are Sci-fi and Fantasy, although I thought there was a hint of mysticism in the character of Malthe and his interpretation of the world, his mathematically detached view, and the secret writings which we never really discovered. Does your heart lie in the realms of Sci-fi and Fantasy or might we expect another adventure like Brave Lake Manor? I did get a lot of emails desiring a sequel to BLM but I don't think it'll happen and yes my heart does lie closer to fantasy/syfy. I like some mystery in the world. I think everyone wanted a BLM sequel so that they could learn of Malthe's secretive writings but if one looks/reads closer the clues are all in there of what's in them, with some imagination perhaps but they're all in there in the story and I like some mystery in the world. As a friend once put it, "The story is just a snapshot of the characters' lives, what happened before is explained in the story, what happens after is up to everyone's imagination." And finally, to end our interview. Brave Lake Manor was your first book and despite the language handicap and the errors and traps that we all fall into as new authors, it was nevertheless very well received. Judging by the comments, it was a minor success, not at all bad for a first book. Was the reaction of those readers who commented and wrote to you very important and did it affect what you did next? I think feedback to an author be it positive or negative is always important, maybe even more so in this free capacity that has no other payment positive, encouraging feedback is the only payment. So yeah I dunno if I had received no feedback or supremely negative feedback I may or may not have written another story, but it was positive and it did endear me to continue. Thank you AB for taking the time to give us your views. the extra Looking at the three pictures above, the first one – top left – is Jack, that’s obvious. The last one, at the bottom is Sebastian, but who is the other one? You'll have to read the book to find out! the discussion If you would like to continue the discussion with the author, or read other comments on the story - click here. the book Read the book - Brave Lake Manor by AB
  11. Spotlight on Invisible by Eric Aune the book reviews and author interview the book Invisible by Eric Aune. Chase and Ethan were friends in elementary school, but as they moved into Middle School their interests began to split. Ethan became athletic and popular, while Chase found Photography as art and began to really connect with the camera. By the time they started High School, they had different sets of friends and Chase becomes invisible to Ethan, even though as boys they were nearly inseparable. Ethan involved in cross country and Chase in the arts with his photography. Their paths cross at a Cross Country event during their sophomore year. Ethan is competing and Chase is there to photograph the event for the school newspaper. Because he knows he's invisible, he keeps his distance until something happens to Ethan, then Chase must become visible once again. But does he go back to being invisible or will he finally be seen in a new light? Read the book - Invisible by Eric Aune an extract Chase was sleeping comfortably holding onto the arm that was wrapped around his chest. He opened his eyes and smiled at the arm that held him. He snuggled up to it and moved back until he could feel the warm body behind him. The arm tightened a little when it felt his movement. A short time later he felt a light touch of breath and then lips on the back of his neck and he giggled because it tickled a little bit. The lips kissed all around the back of his neck and his giggles increased. He opened his eyes and turned around until he was looking into Ethan’s smiling face... reader comment “Thank you for sharing this love story with us ! It's a true winner.” Johnny C from San Francisco. the book reviews REVIEW by Jay. Have you ever felt inviable, ignored or just not appreciated? I know I have. I guess everyone has at one time or another. Now add in the emotions of teenagers. What a mess it can turn out to be. The drama that three teens can make never ceases to amaze me. The author brings to life three leading characters. Chase, a shy young man, unimposing and lacking self confidence. Ethan another teenager, athletic, popular, but he lacks self-awareness. Kristi, a self absorbed, needful, and conspiring young lady. This triangle of friends is on course for confrontation and a realization that may surprise you. The author takes you on an rollercoaster ride of emotions. Anger that makes the blood boil. Happiness that brings a smile to your face. Sadness that will bring a tear to your eyes. Love that will warm the coldest of hearts. Even though there is a bit of weakness in grammar and structure, it does not distract from the story. I could see that a bit more expansion on the intimacy between the characters would have added to the story for me. The drama is intense. You cannot help but cheer Chase on. Thinking a little bit more about Chase, I always find myself rooting for the underdog, but that’s just me, I’d like to see him prevail. Pour yourself a drink, or go and grab a snack, then sit down to read. The first couple of chapters set up the story, a little more time spent here than I like, but it still worked. Once you have started reading you won’t want to put it down. It left me wanting a bit more, wondering what happened next! REVIEW by William King. This novella reads similar to a fable, like Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with a moral to teach us. The premise that you might not remember your best friend from three years ago maybe a stretch of the imagination but it's quickly forgotten in the emotional whirlwind of events and a necessary vehicle for the story. As I started reading it seemed to be a nice story told in a gentle fashion, but wow was I in for a surprise with the drama hitting right at the end of the first chapter, was this some kind of divine retribution? I had no idea, but had to read on. You can't help but get drawn into the book. Perhaps the story is best summed up in this scene where Chase is alone with his friend, “He glanced at the door once again and then leaned down close to Ethan. He paused for a moment as he looked at him and then lightly kissed him on the lips. He then spoke low enough so that no one who was not nearby could hear him, “I’ve always loved you Ethan...” There begin the trials and tribulations of a lost friendship which for at least one of the two boys might be something more. It is easy to sympathise with Chase our protagonist, but I did wonder at times about the way the author described him, not that he was small for his age, nor that he was reserved, but when he “giggled” it seemed he was younger than his fifteen years. This is an uplifting story that taps the emotions. It is also somewhat idealistic, set in a real world situation that might be straight out of a children's television show, it has exactly that feel, it’s real, but is it realistic? Whatever you decide I have no doubt you will enjoy reading it, because despite any criticism I might make, it is a great heart rending story. the interview The first thing that hit me when I opened Chapter One was, what a great picture. Did you have that picture before you wrote the story, just happen across it, or went searching the Internet? A couple of years ago, I was talking with some of the other writers and admins for the site over Skype. This is a common occurrence with us. We talk to each other a lot about story lines, especially since we are all writing in the RU [*Revolutions Universe – see commentary]. The admins had this thought that we should attach pictures to the stories on CR [Castle Roland] and they were asking the writers if they had any ideas of what pictures they wanted for their stories. I thought that wasn’t a bad idea, so I started looking around the net as did a couple of the admins. I think I was the one that found this picture and I thought it fit the story well. So, the picture came after the story was written and posted. I originally wrote the story about 5 or 6 years ago and it was posted on Sable Peak Ranch website, which is where several of us posted stories until Castle Roland was re-started. What inspired you to write this story about a relationship lost and rediscovered? I saw a movie on Netflix, To Save a Life. It was about two friends, one black and one white who were good friends in grade school up to 6th. When they were 12, the black kid saves his friend by pushing him out of the way of a car and becomes injured so that he has a permanent limp. By high school, the white kid is popular, a jock and all that, the black kid isn’t, probably a consequence of the permanent injury. The black kid is sort of invisible to his former friend since they run in different circles. Eventually the invisible one does something that makes his former friend re-evaluate his life and the way he had treated the boy who had been his friend when they were younger. I took the premise of that movie and wrote this story. Only I wanted them to reconnect in a positive way. Did you have the whole story mapped out when you sat down to write, the beginning, middle, and ending? No. I knew the beginning and the idea of the story. I don’t think I was even sure of the end. I toyed with the idea of having something closer to the movie as the ending, but scrapped that because I wanted a better ending and decided that I wanted them to be together at the end. For the rest, I let the characters tell me the rest of the story as I went along. The idea that Cross Country would be what first started the reconnection process is because when I was a Freshman, I ran Cross Country and a number of the Scouts in my troop, over the years have been part of the Cross Country team at the High School and I’ve attended a few of their meets. There were probably other influences on which way the story went, stories or books that I read, movies I’d seen. At least some of the influence is from other stories where the smaller kid is treated as invisible for many reasons. Some are self-imposed invisibility. They don’t want to be noticed so that people don’t learn their big secret is one that I’ve seen as a theme in many stories. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids like that out there. Others are because of something about them, that they are deemed invisible. But the middle part of the story came as I wrote it and the end fleshed itself out as I neared it. I always knew it would be a novella. The idea I felt was too long for a short story and too short for a novel length story. You are still writing today, and this novella is something you wrote a few years ago, do you think that the way you write has progressed in terms of your technique and style? Yes, I think it has at least a little bit. Some parts of my style hasn’t changed much, but I know for certain some of it has changed, especially when I look back at some of my first, but I think even from this story to now, there has been some changes. Looking at one of your more recent stories – You Can't Go Back – whilst a different genre, it’s interesting that there is a protagonist who has a little brother, like Chase in this book. Is this theme common in your writing, just a coincidence, or drawn from your own life? Well I am the oldest of 4 brothers (I had a Brother, Step Brother and Half Brother. We had sort of a Yours, Mine and Ours, family. Like the old Lucille Ball movie from the 60s). Thinking on it, I have had several pairings like that in my stories. I don’t think it is necessarily because of what I had or did not have growing up. My brother was the closest in age to me, 1 year and 5 months younger. My Step Brother was 4 years younger and my Half Brother was 8 years younger. My brother and I shared a room as we grew up and had a lot of the same likes. Whereas my Step Brother was a brat as a kid, and a dick as an adult. Needless to say, we were never close. My Half Brother and I were close as my Brother and I when we became adults. I think it is more that I liked the dynamic of two brothers who cared for each other and who are good friends all their lives. How much of yourself, or real situations that you have lived through, do we find in your stories? There is the adage, ‘You write what you know’. I use a lot of my knowledge of the places I’ve been and things I’ve done in the stories, but I don’t think I use much in the way of actual situations I have lived through. So I guess the short answer is maybe sometimes and maybe not other times For instance, a lot of my stories begin and/or take place in the Southern California area, because that is where I grew up and live. So I know the area. A few have had experience as Scouts, because I’ve been a Scout Leader for many years, so I know how they work. Some have a military background or are current military, because I am a veteran and so on. Since I have worked in the medical field for many years, I bring that knowledge when needed as well. In fact the doctor that treats Ethan in the Emergency room, Dr. Corners, is the name of a doc that I worked with several years ago. I got to know him outside of work a little bit and became friends with his oldest son. So all of that helps when I wish to set a scene or situation and I think that is probably the most that I take from my life. I don’t think any of the characters that I’ve written are much of a reflection of me, but maybe of some of my experiences, usually colored to match the character’s experience. Thanks to Eric Aune for taking time out to share some insights into the book and his writing. the commentary The Revolutions Universe is a series of books written by a group of Castle Roland authors which tells the story of what happens when the sitting United States President refuses to step down after someone else is elected? Who will stop him, and what lengths will he go to keep his power? the discussion Book discussion thread: If you would like to continue the discussion with the author about the book. Click this link. the book Read the book - Invisible by Eric Aune
  12. Published a couple of years ago, this is a very good read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here is my review: This book takes you on a road trip that is different from the usual type of story, because it is a journey to be read on many levels. Throw into the mix an adventure plot worthy of any detective novel, and altogether you have an exciting, emotional tale, and one which is full of insights and reflections. We start this journey with the struggling musicians who befriend our protagonist as he joins them in moving from one gig to another. He becomes the navigator who shows them how to read a map and find their way. But Silas Drake is much more than a simple navigator, he is a boy cast adrift on his own journey of self-discovery and reconciliation. “He was hurt sometime in his past, I mean, of course he was or he wouldn’t be living on the streets, but it was more than that. He was hurt by people close to him, that he thought he could trust. He doesn’t know yet that every performance is different,” Those words express the struggle that Silas has with himself, a personal combat that spills over into the lives of those he meets. There is the discovery of a terrible secret and the overwhelming need to help the friends, who like Silas himself, have their own history to come to terms with. A history that may only truly be resolved by taking some risks. This ultimately leads to the final climax at the end of the novel, where like all good thrillers, the different threads of the story come together. If I have any criticisms, it would be that perhaps the character of the ‘bad guy’ – all good thrillers have their bad guy – is a little superficial. His actions are plainly laid out, but we never get any great insight into him. Then again, the book is not about him and his part is no more than a supporting role in the drama. I could easily recommend this book, it’s a great read. https://www.castleroland.net/library/chapter/cynus/nav/nav_001
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