Kal’s Liberty Con 34 AAR

The latest Liberty Con is come and gone. I had a blast. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Liberty Con is a Science Fiction and Fantasy literary convention with a very high percentage of writers in attendence. It’s not uncommon to encounter NYT Bestselling authors in the hallway.

There are always interesting conversations to be had and many of the panels are awesome, with many authors, editors, publishers, artists, and other professionals. More, Liberty Con is like a family, with everyone being friendly & welcoming.

What made Liberty Con 34 even more special? For one thing, it’s been a couple years (due to lockdowns) that we could meet in person. I got a chance to see people I haven’t seen in quite a while. For another, it’s a distilled environment of all things science fiction and fantasy. I always meet new people and learn new things.

This year there was a lot of catching up with friends, meeting new readers and authors, and generally spending great deal of time talking and listening. It can be hectic and a bit frenzied moving from one end of the hotel to the convention center and back (especially when you’re like me and you inevitably left something and have to go back a few times).

The convention is amazingly well-run. For those who have attended a lot of conventions, you know how important that is. For those who don’t… well, believe me, a well-run convention will draw more and better writers and professionals and is supremely worthwhile.

The convention staff put a tremendous amount of effort into things and it showed in everything. I can’t stress enough how well everything worked.

For actual events, I was on two panels: World Building in Epic Fantasy, moderated by David B. Coe, with myself, Michael Falciani, Chuck Gannon, and DJ Butler. It was a fun discussion and the different views on world building, especially regarding how much is too much, provided a lot of discussion and fed into a lot of questions from the audience.

I moderated a panel, Train as we Fight, which was a discussion about the realities of military training and writing about it as well. I had Tom Kratman, Mike Massa, and Rick Partlow on the panel. All of them provided some great discussion.

Other things at the convention that I thought were fantastic:

James Schardt ran a miniature painting studio in the crafting room. As a gamer, I thought it was really awesome, and he 3D printed models, had brushes and paints, and infinite patience, especially with how many younger attendees swarmed him on day one. Really one of the best parts of the convention and I hope it happens again in the future.

The Con Suite, always amazing, was running on the 16th floor. Liberty Con serves actual food at their Con Suite, and the draw of good food & awesome people makes for a great setting. I had conversations there with script writers, aspiring authors, scientists, and others.

Many conventions have an Author’s Alley, the one at Liberty Con rotates through hourly, so there’s always new and different authors, every time you walk past. It is tremendously great to walk past, see friends and fellow authors, and to strike up conversations. As an author, it’s awesome to have the opportunity to pitch my books to prospective readers.

All in all, Liberty Con was a fantastic time. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend attending. Tickets for next year go on sale 15 July of this year (getting tickets and a hotel are the hardest part, which tells you something).

New Release: Valor’s Inheritance

Valor’s Inheritance, the fifth Children of Valor book, is now live!

https://amzn.to/3tDTMKR

“Blood is inherited and virtue is acquired, and virtue in itself has a value that blood lacks.”
— Don Quixote

Jiden Armstrong has lost nearly everything.

Her home world and most of its people have been captured by alien invaders. All too many of the cadets and personnel she served with have been killed in the defense of their planet. The Century Planetary Militia’s starships and fighters thrown away by Admiral Drien to cover his cowardly retreat.

All that is left is a meager inheritance for the survivors: a handful of ships, off-world accounts, and refugees willing to give all they have to save their homeworld. Multiple factions of survivors compete to control those resources. Some, like Jiden’s grandmother, want to build up a force to liberate their planet. Others, like Admiral Drien, want to gain the support of a stronger power and let others do the bleeding to save Century.

Jiden, as before, is in the middle of it all. She will have to manage meager resources while she trains up new recruits to save Century. Because whether they can acquire more resources or not, the Centurions are going to save their people. Jiden knows that in the end: all the wealth and power of Century doesn’t matter; the true inheritance of Century is the willingness to shed blood to save it.

A Note About Valor’s Inheritance

For those interested, I figured I would share some of the “behind the scenes” writing craft that went into writing the sixth Children of Valor book. Part of the delay in releasing Valor’s Inheritance has been that there are multiple stories I want to tell, especially as characters head in different directions.

For a while, I considered changing the format, switching to third person, which would have allowed me to write from the perspectives of other characters in the universe. That was the plan for a while, which is why at numerous times the next books were going to be a separate series (War of Valor). Instead, I chose to keep writing with Jiden Armstrong as the main character. These other stories I’m going to spin off in separate novels. I made a deliberate choice to keep the existing format as: a) it’s what the readers are familiar with and primary interest is in Jiden Armstrong (I would assume), and b) those other stories benefit from standing on their own and I can give the characters and stories more attention.

It was a difficult decision for me to make. I spent a lot of time outlining and weighing out the differences between the two. Honestly, it might have been a bigger decision for me, mentally, than mattered to my readers. But it was about determining the best way for me to tell the story, so in the end, I had to be mentally good with it.

What comes out of it is I already have essentially three series in the universe: Children of Valor, Forsaken Valor, and Rising Wolf / Fenris Unchained. What I plan to do is spin off individual novels with specific characters in addition to these existing series. The first planned one is already outlined and I’ve begun work on it, and focuses on some of the people left behind on Century after the invasion.

I have ideas for a few other spin-offs, but I don’t want to bog down the main-line stories too much. It’s going to be a bit of a balancing act, writing the three series in this universe, spin offs, and still managing to write my other universes (Eoriel Saga, Shadow Space Chronicles, and others).

But that’s the fun part of writing, finding the time to tell all the stories, right? *Sobs quietly into beer*

That’s all for now, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed the insight into what went into writing Valor’s Inheritance.

Coming Soon: Valor’s Inheritance

I’m happy to announce that Valor’s Inheritance, the sixth book of the Children of Valor series is coming 17 June!

“Blood is inherited and virtue is acquired, and virtue in itself has a value that blood lacks.”

— Don Quixote

Jiden Armstrong has lost nearly everything. 

 Her home world and most of its people have been captured by alien invaders.  All too many of the cadets and personnel she served with have been killed in the defense of their planet.  The Century Planetary Militia’s starships and fighters thrown away by Admiral Drien to cover his cowardly retreat.

All that is left is a meager inheritance for the survivors: a handful of ships, off-world accounts, and refugees willing to give all they have to save their homeworld.  Multiple factions of survivors compete to control those resources.  Some, like Jiden’s grandmother, want to build up a force to liberate their planet.  Others, like Admiral Drien, want to gain the support of a stronger power and let others do the bleeding to save Century.

Jiden, as before, is in the middle of it all.  She will have to manage meager resources while she trains up new recruits to save Century.  Because whether they can acquire more resources or not, the Centurions are going to save their people.  Jiden knows that in the end: all the wealth and power of Century doesn’t matter; the true inheritance of Century is the willingness to shed blood to save it.

Kal’s June 2022 Forecast

June is here, and there is a lot going on!

I’m happy to say that the next main-line Children of Valor book, Valor’s Inheritance, is complete and will be coming this month! More to follow on the details of that launch (including cover, blurb, and more). I do want to say that part of the delay in this book was me determining the best way to tell the many stories in the Star Portal universe that I want to get told.

Also this month, I’ll be attending Liberty Con at Chattanooga, TN (June 17-19). Liberty Con is by far my favorite convention and it’s been too long since I’ve been able to see everyone there.

I’ve outlined and begun work the next Star Portal universe book, which is a spin off from the main series. My goal is to get that done this month. I’ve got a lot going on with a new job, still unpacking/getting settled in to the new place, and all the rest, but I am making steady progress writing again.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading!

Hi there! A Moon Knight Review

So… what exactly did I watch?

You might ask yourself that very question as any given episode of Moon Knight wraps up, whether it is the first or the final one. For some perspective, take a mix of Deadpool, a mix of Venom, a heavy splash of the 1990’s The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.

There’s a lot in there, a lot going on. The show takes some hits from some people as being “slow paced” and not enough action. I’d counter that by saying that it is part of the way they are telling the story, which is meant to be a bit of discovery and the audience learning things along the way.

For some valid criticisms: it’s a disjointed, confusing mess. It’s done that way on purpose, sort of, but there’s a hefty dose of “well, this will blow the audience’s mind.” It’s not a standard superhero narrative. I had to read into the Moon Knight character (thanks to the various wiki sites) to find out that Moon Knight is borderline anti-hero, for innumerable reasons.

Without giving too many details away, their whole discovery storytelling would sort of fall apart if we watched the show chronologically (not to mention that a good chunk of the storytelling takes place inside the head of a character).

As far as actors, Oscar Isaac does a fantastic job, especially given just how chaotic the plot and shoots must have been. May Calamawy, the damsel not so much in distress does a good enough job, though there were a couple points where I could tell that they wished they could cast Rachel Weiss from The Mummy (yes, the similarities were that strong). I don’t think the writers quite had the chops to pull off Evelyn from The Mummy, which is a bit of what they were going for. Ethan Hawke makes an acceptable villain, if a bit too preachy at times, which is pretty standard for a Marvel villain.

Is it the best show ever? Not hardly. The afore mentioned disjointedness can be irksome. There are a number of missed tie-ins with mythology, and there are sections that they just leave hanging (only to try and cram a lot of it into the final episode, if they address it at all). It is entertaining and amusing with enough twists and turns to keep you coming back for more. The humor is fun, the transitions are bizarre, and the whole show feels like Moon Knight and Deadpool need to team up for a buddy cop antihero movie.

All in all, if you already have a Disney Plus subscription, it’s worth a watch.

Long Belated Update

Hey everyone. Apologies for the long delay in posts. A lot of my life is dictated by the Army, and I’ve been in a lot of suspense over my next assignment, location, move, etc since early November of 2021, with a number of highs and lows involved.

The drama, anticipation, and effort of finding out where I would be working, where we’d be living, selling our old house, finding a new one, changing my child’s school, and all the other dozens of things that come with moving cross country.

My state of mind while dealing with all that has been focused first on getting my family through it all, closing out my previous assignment, trying to maintain my own sanity, and doing some writing when I could. To add to that, my last job at my last unit was extremely busy and as fun and rewarding as it was, it consumed a lot of my free time with meetings, phone calls, and just time spent thinking about how to get things done, right up until I was passing things over and headed for the door. Posting to the blog, has, along with a dozen other things, taken a back-seat.

We are finally moved into our new home, in the process of unpacking, I’ve started my new assignment with the Army, and, yes, I’ve managed to get some writing done and will have a new book coming out very soon.

I’ve also outlined and started writing up new blog posts, including this one, and have some content coming over the next weeks and months that I hope you all will enjoy.

That’s all for now and thanks for reading!

New Release: For the Love of Death

Death has a crush on a mortal and there will be hell to pay…

Someone or something is killing musicians in a ritualistic fashion.  The FBI is investigating me because my cases dealing with magic and things that mortals aren’t meant to deal with don’t make for clean reports.  My old partner doesn’t trust me any more and my new partner isn’t read in on all the crazy magic stuff.

All that I could take, except my guardian angel is distracted by the killer’s latest target.  It gets worse than that, because that distraction might just be something more.  He’s falling for her, and if I can’t protect her from the killer, he might just Fall for real.  So I’ve got to buckle down and find the killer… for the Love of Death.

https://amzn.to/3BRwYJS

For the Love of Death Snippet 2

Find Snippet 1 here.

In scoping out the bar, I hadn’t even noticed a pair of drunks who’d been snoring in their drinks.  As Amanda went for the jar, the two of them popped up from their table, any pretense of drunken stupor gone, drawing submachine guns from inside their coats.

The bartender had already brought up a saiga shotgun, and I was drawing my pistol aimed at him, even as Sam snatched up a heavy beer mug and threw it hard.

The mug struck the end of the bartender’s shotgun and spun it around just as he squeezed the trigger.  The shotgun blast caught both of the fake-drunks: a heavy slug ripping through the back of the one, out his chest, and into the front of the other, both of them tumbling, opening fire in death with their sub-guns, the roar of gunfire deafening in the small space.

Sam’s hand came down on my shoulder and he spun me around, the world seeming to slow as he let me see a bit of how he perceived the world.

I could see the gunfire from the two dying men scythe into a group at a booth to my side, bullets from the dying men cutting through the three people there.  Any horror I might have felt was stilled by a combination of Sam’s perfect vision and the realization that all three in that booth were armed, weapons falling from their hands as they, too died.

My partner was still in the process of grabbing for the fence who still had the urn or vase or whatever it was clutched in his arms.  At the sound of gunfire, Amanda Ashburn transformed her grab into a dive to the floor.  At the far end of the bar, the two patrons who’d been trying to get the bartender’s attention had drawn weapons, too.  Seriously, is no one in here what they seem to be?

Under other circumstances, I would have gone for cover myself, but Sam’s hand held me in place like an iron bar.  I wasn’t sure if he was simply that confident of protecting me or if he just  wanted me to watch his handiwork.

The two pistoleers at the end of the bar were shooting at Amanda, the bartender, and maybe at me.  Sam didn’t even move, he just smirked at them as the bartender, still spinning from the impact, continued his spin as he fired off the rest of his magazine, one shot blasting the top off a beer tap, spraying both men in the face and throwing their aim off.

The bartender’s third shot caught one of the men in the throat and sent him backwards, while the fourth shot caught the other in the chest.  The bartender’s fifth shot went into a beer keg, blowing the top off and sending the beer tap rocketing back into his face, snapping his head back and dropping him back behind the bar, either dead or unconscious.

Eight people had died in as many seconds or less.  Under other circumstances, I would have been horrified.  With Sam, the only noteworthy thing was that all of these people had been armed and something of a threat to me and that he hadn’t leveled the whole place.

He let go of my shoulder, “You and your partner should leave, now, Ari.  Before things get too wild.”  He said it with a calm cheerful smile, as if he would quite like it for us to stay longer.

I moved.  Amanda had rolled to her feet, protectively clutching the bag of money to her chest with her right hand while she had her gun out with her left.  She didn’t flinch as I rushed over to her and the pair of us sprinted to the door.

On our way out, I shot one glance over to the corner, where the five I had noticed were still seated, watching us.  They’d made no hostile move, but the woman with the spider tattoo watched us leave with cold eyes.

Without knowing why, I could tell that she was sizing us up.  The violence and bloodshed that had just happened didn’t matter to her in the slightest.   The attackers who’d just died were as unimportant to this woman as the lives of insects.

Sam joined us, appearing at my side and falling into step with me as we got out into the street and headed for my car.  “Oh, Ari, the next few days are going to be so much fun…

***

For the Love of Death: Snippet 1

Chapter 1

I knew I was in trouble when death walked into the bar with a big, shit-eating grin.

And boy do I mean that literally.  Samael, the Archangel of Death, stepped into the bar like he knew exactly what was going to happen and that he was going to love every second of it.  I’ll back up a bit by saying that Sam isn’t just the Archangel of Death, the sort-of designated sniper of the preternatural world, but he’s also on a special assignment as my guardian angel.

When I say that, most people would think I was crazy.  It gets worse, believe me, because my guardian’s role is to protect my mortal soul and my physical body, and he’s of the mindset that the best defense is a really good offense.  Most times that meant he settled for killing any humans or preternatural creatures that threatened me in imaginatively gruesome fashions.

But he would do that with a superior smirk, maybe even a jaunty grin.

I don’t know that I’d ever seen him this happy with himself.  Except, just maybe one time, in a distant, dusty mountain range when a couple hundred insurgents had been trying to kill me.

This is bad, this is really bad, I thought to myself.

The first thing I did was look over at my partner.  Special Investigator Amanda Ashburn was seated with the fence we were here in this particular crappy bar to meet.  Under other circumstances, we would have some kind of backup, both of us working for Colorado’s El Paso County Sherriff’s Department.

Unfortunately, we weren’t here on official business.  We had asked one of Amanda’s contacts in the Catholic Church to translate a list of names, they had asked us for a favor in return.  Something had been stolen from a church and a middleman had arranged to get it back.  The fence who had it was jumpy and the Church hadn’t wanted to set a precedent where they rewarded people for stealing from them, so they wanted us to acquire it and turn it over to them.

The fence in question had been looking for exits ever since Amanda sat down at the table with him.  His nervous darting glances had grown more frequent and I’d already had a sinking feeling as this had dragged on longer than a simple transaction should have taken.  Father Terrence, Amanda’s contact with the Church, had given us a substantial quantity of cash to buy the item back.  He hadn’t been too specific on what it was, just a small box, possibly locked, that was the prize.

I hadn’t dared ask what might have happened if someone had already opened the box and taken whatever was inside.  In just the past nine months, I’d seen all kinds of things that normal people would think were impossible.  There might be nothing in the box, the box might be what was valuable, or what was inside might be incredibly dangerous, melt-your-face-off like the Ark of the Covenant from the Indiana Jones movie.  At the time, it had seemed like a simple favor to go and pick it up.

Now I was wondering just how badly I’d screwed up by not asking for more information.

The supposed fence didn’t look like the typical scum-of-the-earth criminal type I would have imagined.  He was young, he wore trendy-looking sunglasses and designer jeans.  He had a gray hoodie up over his head and the sunglasses hid his eyes.  From this angle, I couldn’t get a good look at his face other than in profile in the shadows from his hoodie.

 I scoped out the room, not really certain what I was looking for, but knowing that there was something I’d missed.  The first thing I noticed was that the bartender’s entire demeanor was off.  Not only was he ignoring several patrons, but his attention was in the direction of my partner and the fence, rather than anywhere else.  No, not just there, but also on the far corner.

There was a group seated there, three men and two women.  They hadn’t stood out the first time I scoped out the room.  They looked similar enough to other bar patrons, except as I looked at them, their attention was focused anywhere and everywhere except on the table with my partner and the fence… or on me.  One was one her phone, another was reading a beer list.  The other three were ostensibly casually talking, but they all kept pausing as they talked, as if they weren’t keeping track of the conversation or weren’t focusing.

They were all remarkably fit and healthy for this sort of place, too.  Up north in the Springs, they could have passed for military, maybe, except for the fact that they all sported facial tattoos, which wasn’t allowed.  One of the women had some kind of spider web tattoo that ran up the side of her neck and onto her face with a remarkably life-like spider crawling up onto her cheek.

One of the men seemed to notice me looking at them and he said something in a low tone to the woman on her phone.  She didn’t look up, but I saw her say something in return.

Samael, the Archangel of Death, walked calmly over and sat down across from me, partially blocking my view.  “Ari.”

“Sam,” I tried to lean over to see around him, but in truly typical fashion, he managed to shift and block my view of the suspicious men and women without needing to move at all.  Sam outwardly looked rather plain.  He could have passed for my brother, if I wasn’t a family-less orphan, anyway.  To me he appeared tall, lean, with olive skin, blue eyes, and raven-black hair.  He looked to be dressed professionally, suit and tie, which should have stood out in a place like this.

I knew from experience that most people would be hard-pressed to realize there was someone at the table with me, and harder pressed to describe what that person looked like.  I also knew that his presence, like most of what he termed the preternatural, would distort electronic recording devices like security cameras and cell phones.

And, when he wanted to, his physical form could shift, despite his apparent size and stature, to be bigger or smaller or, in this case, to block my view of potential threats, just because it amused him.

“You seem happy,” I couldn’t help but begrudge him that.  The past few months had felt like everything and everyone were conspiring to irritate me.

“Some days I enjoy my job more than others,” Sam replied, just as I saw motion over by Amanda.  I looked over to see her set a black canvas duffle bag on the table and the fence reached down below the table and pulled something out of a similar black duffel bag.  His had a symbol of some kind on the side, it looked a bit like some kind of Japanese kanji, though I couldn’t see it well from where I sat.

It wasn’t a box.  At least, it wasn’t like any box I had ever seen.  It was some kind of big clay jar, about eighteen inches tall, maybe eight inches wide at the widest, and tapering at either end.  The fence set it on the table and it seemed to have far more weight than any object that size should, thumping on the table with a echoing thud that penetrated the far corners of the bar.

All conversation ceased.  The entire bar went still and I saw everyone’s attention had gone to the table.  The fence noticed and he scooped the jar back off the table and slid his chair back in a squeak that echoed through the still bar.  Amanda was looking at the jar in with confusion and curiosity.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” I muttered.

Sam’s smile widened, “Sometimes, Ari, you can be remarkably perceptive.”  He stood up from his chair, shrugged his shoulders a bit in a motion akin to a boxer preparing for a bout, and his next words made my stomach sink, “And here… we… go…”

Amanda reached out to try and stop the fence and then all hell broke loose.

***

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