The Wilds of Togo – An Excerpt from “The Dark Tides”

FANTASY WARRIOR by chriscrazyhouse

FANTASY WARRIOR by chriscrazyhouse

One of the premises of the world of Forever Avalon is that people have been coming to the island for centuries through a portal in the Bermuda Triangle. When you think about all the ships that crossed the Atlantic over hundreds of years, the story of La Amistad brought to mind what would have happened if an African slave ship crashed on Avalon. What type of society would come from former slaves coming into their own on an island of magic. From that, I created Togo, a small island sitting off the eastern coast of Avalon.

It is here that these former slaves have created their home, seperate from the medieval world of Avalon. Like the real world today, the years have not quelled the old hatreds and feelings. It was Bryan MoonDrake that tried to bridge that gap of distrust to bring the two cultures together. Here is an exceprt from The Dark Tides that shows their first meeting:


Bryan stood in the Gathering Mount, awaiting his fate at the hands of these outcasts of Avalon. He watched closely as T’Ronga spoke with Chief B’Rrak; their conversation heated and quite vocal at times. T’Ronga seemed to plead for the Gil-Gamesh to speak. Bryan hoped
he found an ally in this Togo warrior. Finally, Chief B’Rrak relented and returned to his throne. T’Ronga signaled his men to bring the Gil-Gamesh forward.

Th e Togo warriors nudged Bryan toward the throne, still surrounded as he approached the Skull Th rone. Chief B’Rrak waved them off as they stepped back behind Bryan. The throngs of people who lined the streets started to file into the Gathering Mount. Their curiosity had brought them inside to see what Chief B’Rrak will do with the stranger.

“Gil-Gamesh, you stand in the presence of B’Rrak, Great Chieftain of Togo,” T’Ronga proclaimed. “Step forward and be heard.”

Bryan bowed to the Chieft ain. “I am honored Chief B’Rrak. I am Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh of Avalon. I humbled to be able to speak with you.”

“Do not thank me Gil-Gamesh, thank T’Ronga,” B’Rrak denoted. “Th e only reason you are still alive is because he says you are a man of honor. You asked for an opportunity to speak, so speak!”

Bryan collected his thoughts, carefully putting together his words so as not to off end B’Rrak or the people of Togo. “I have been overwhelmed by everything I have seen since I arrived on Avalon and Togo is no exception. You have truly built a wonderful life for yourself here.

“I will not pretend to understand the hardships you or your ancestors went through when they arrived on Avalon. I have read stories about the slave trade at that time in our history. It was barbaric and unforgiving; but while you have lived here with the hate and contempt for the white man for hundreds of years, slavery of your people ended in the real world. You see, I am not from Avalon, I am an Outlander.

“So much has changed since your ancestors survived their journey and arrived on the shores of Togo. Africans now live, work and worship side-by-side with the white man. In fact, the barriers between the diff erent races are practically non-existent. It happened in the real world and it can happen here. As the Gil-Gamesh, I can help bridge the gap between Avalon and Togo and build a new and lasting relationship.”

“Togo has prospered without the help of you, Gil-Gamesh, or anyone in Avalon,” B’Rrak shouted from atop his throne. “We will not bow down and pay tribute to the white king.” The large gathering of people cheered loudly, encouraged by the Chief’s words.

“And no one is asking you to Chief B’Rrak,” Bryan continued. “All I have heard since my arrival on Avalon is praise and respect for Togo. You have the fi ercest warriors equal to any knight and powerful shaman on par with the great wizards on Avalon. We would love the opportunity
to learn more from each other. Th e potential is unlimited.

“I didn’t have to come to Togo as part of my Grand Tour of Avalon, but I wanted too. I wanted to reach out to you, to all of you. Th e time to open relations between Avalon and Togo is now. All I ask is that you give us a chance.”

“A chance? A chance for what? To stab us in the back and return my people to a life of slavery? Th at’s all the white man has ever wanted!” B’Rrak condemned.

“With all due respect Great Chief, you’re wrong!” Bryan interrupted. A hush fell over the audience. No one had ever spoken to the Great Chieft ain before. “This is the time for us to prove you wrong about the people of Avalon, to show you that we are not like the people who
enslaved your ancestors.

“A wise man once spoke of a world where his children would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. He said, ‘Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.’ His name was Martin Luther King, a son of African slaves, who believed that all people of all races could live together in peace. It was a dream he was willing to die for. Don’t let that dream die here too. You cannot live in hate when there is an opportunity for peace.”

T’Ronga was moved by the Gil-Gamesh’s words, as were some of the people in the audience. Never before had they heard anything like this from anyone from Avalon.

“Your words touch many here Gil-Gamesh and though your heart may be true, there are many on Avalon who are not as willing as you,” Chief B’Rrak said. “Maybe someday there can be peace with Avalon, but I do not think this is such a time.”

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you Great Chief. May I have your permission to leave Togo in peace?” Bryan said as he bowed to Chief B’Rak.

Chief B’Rrak sat in silence then motioned to T’Ronga. “You may go Gil-Gamesh. May the Gods smile upon you through the rest of your journey,” B’Rrak blessed as T’Ronga led Bryan out. The crowd parted as they moved through, allowing them to leave the Gathering Mount. Some of the people bowed their heads in respect to the Gil-Gamesh, something never done before on Togo. Chief B’Rrak watched his people as he considered what the Gil-Gamesh said.

Five things I’ve learned about self-publishing

self-publishing-in-india-whySelf-publishing my novels has been a learning experience for me, and I will admidt an expensive one. Between my two books, “Forever Avalon” and “The Dark Tides,” I’ve put out a little over $10,000 in publishing, travel expenses, setting up book signings, a publicist and more. To some people, that’s probably right up there with people spending thousands of dollars on extreme Christmas decorations or collecting Ty Beanie Babies.

I have to admidt, it wasn’t an easy decision for me either. As much as I love writing, I know that publishing these books has to be beneficial for me and my family, not just a boost for my ego. I honestly believed that my stories about the world of Forever Avalon can and would bring that financial success to me. That’s why I decided to self-publish.

When I first started the process of finding someone to publish my book, it was a completely different story. I honestly thought that once someone read my manuscript, I would get that call, sign with an agent and be able to retire, spending my days writing about the things I love. However, that wasn’t how it happened. Rejection letter after rejection letter showed me I had a lot to learn. If I wanted to see my story in print, I’d have to pay for it myself.

So what did I learn from this experience? First and foremost, be prepared for the expense of self-publishing. If it’s something you truly believe in and want to pursue, be prepared for the cost. There are a lot of little expenses you don’t realize once you start down that road. I’m talking travel expenses, book signings, advertising and publicity, not to mention editorial changes and corrections. In the end, they all add up.

Second, don’t rely on spellcheck when editing your book. Most self-publishers don’t edit your novel unless you pay per word. I missed so many errors in my first book I had them pull it to make the corrections before re-issuing it. This then falls back to the extra costs I talked about before. When you’re doing this on your own, you’re not going to catch every mistake, so make sure you have an extra set of eyes looking over your manuscript.

Third, pick a good publisher. There are many companies out there for self publishing, but the best ones are associated with big name publishers and offer a large variety of services, not just formatting your manuscript and slapping a cover on it. Do your research and you can find the publisher that fits you best.

Number four, patience is a must in self-publishing. I found myself checking numbers and sales each and every day. You can’t delude yourself into thinking that your book will be an overnight success, selling millions of copies in the first month. You’re one book in a world where thousands of books are published each and every year. You have to find your niche and hope they like it.

Last but not least, never give up on yourself or your book. Being a writer isn’t easy and, for those of us working hard at our craft, it takes a lot of dedication and practice, practice, practice. Keep writing and believe in yourself and your novel. As my wife always tells me, “Put your faith in God and the rest will fall into place.”

Faith and family, that’s what it’s all about.

A child with autism brings hope to the world of “Forever Avalon”

April is Autism Awareness Month!

April is Autism Awareness Month!

Seeing that April is Autism Awareness Month, I thought it’d be appropriate to talk about it from an author’s perspective. Autism is a neurological disorder that affects millions of children around the world. In 2014, one in 68 children in the United States were diagnosed with some form of autism.

When I began writing “The Dark Tides”, I never expected to use autism as part of the storyline; but it had occurred to me that disorders like this were never diagnosed or even suspected in medieval times. That made me wonder how a world of magical fantasy would be able to treat something like autism.

Here is an excerpt from “The Dark Tides” where Sarafina, Ashley and Stephanie discuss the strange behavior of Sarafina’s son, Thomas. I hope that by showing autism in my novel, it will help bring some awareness to it and give hope to those who deal with it every day .


As they made their way down the pier, a familiar face was waiting for them. The last time Ashley saw Sarafina, she was a proud Shield Maiden of Avalon, a warrior equal to any knight. Now, a different woman stood before her. Almost nine months pregnant, Sarafina looked more matronly than knightly. She traded her armor for a flowing dress, one that was barely able to contain her pronounced belly. Her long blonde hair, normally braided and worn up for battle, now flowed over her shoulders. Her face, beautiful as ever, was glowing. Motherhood
agreed with her.

Standing next to her was her husband Nevan, Captain of the Guard for the Gil-Gamesh. His blonde hair and good looks fooled some, but most knew he was a fierce warrior and talented swordsman, worthy of his position. His love for Sarafina grew over their years of service
together with the Gil-Gamesh. Once married, Sarafina was forced to give up her life as a Shield Maiden.

Between them stood a small boy, no more than fi ve-years-old and the spitting image of his father. Thomas was as handsome as he was impatient. He fidgeted relentlessly, wanting to run and give his grandparents a welcome home hug, but he knew better and waited

Bryan saw his grandson fidgeting and opened his arms to greet him. Thomas couldn’t wait anymore and ran out, jumping into them. Th ough not his grandson by blood, he treated Thomas as if he were his own. He watched both Sarafina and Nevan grow up since he arrived on Avalon. So to him, they were family.

Bryan kissed Th omas on the cheek and set him down to give Stephanie a chance to adore him with affection. In the meantime, Ashley reached out to Sarafina. “Oh my God, Sarafina, it is so good to see you!” Ashley began to cry at the sight of her half-sister. “You look absolutely beautiful.”

“Oh Ashley, if only that were true …” Sarafina groaned, one hand on her lower back as if to brace herself. “I’d rather be fighting a horde of goblins than carry this child one more day. I swear this baby will be the death of me.”

“Now darling, remember what the doctor said … You need to stay calm,” Nevan cautioned as he tried to reassure his wife.

“Nevan dear, I love you but please stop telling me to calm down or I swear I will cut off your …”

“Now Sarafina, you know we’re only looking out for you and the baby,” Stephanie interjected.

Sarafina listened to Lady Stephanie, took a deep breath and calmed down. “Yes mother, I know …” she complained. Just then, Sarafina spied Andrew for the fi rst time. “And who is this handsome young knight?”

Ashley took Andy by the arm and escorted him over. “This is my husband, Andrew St. Johns. Andy, this is Sarafina and her husband Nevan.”

Andy gave a slight bow to Sarafina and Nevan, thinking it was the proper protocol. Sarafina, however, ignored protocol and gave Andy a heartfelt hug.

“It’s so good to finally meet you Andrew … You look exactly like Ashley described you.”

Nevan reached out to shake his hand. “Welcome brother. I promise to help you make your transition to Avalon as easy as possible. Although anyone who can wield Róta and Myst is already making great strides,” Nevan added.

“Ah, I barely recognized them …” Sarafina exclaimed. “It’s been awhile since the twins have been out of the weapon’s rack on the Morning Star. Th ey don’t accept just any man to wield them. My, my Andrew … There is more to you than meets the eye.”

Andrew blushed, not knowing what to say. This was the first compliment he received since his arrival on Avalon. Just then, Thomas scooted between them and hid behind his mother’s skirt next to his father.

“Now Thomas, that’s very rude,” Sarafina admonished her son, pushing him out in front. “Say hello to your Aunt Ashley and your Uncle Andrew.”

Thomas turned around and quickly hid behind Sarafina’s skirt again. He peeked around to look at Ashley and Andrew. “It’s alright, don’t be shy … They’re family,” Sarafina assured him.
The little boy just waved hello to them, sheepishly. Ashley bent down and reached out to Thomas, who pulled back behind his mother’s skirt even more.

“It’s very nice to meet you Thomas,” she said. The little boy hesitated at first but then, quite gingerly, took her hand before moving behind his father this time. Nevan picked him up and carried him toward the waiting carriage. Ashley walked with Sarafina and her mother, curious about Thomas’ behavior.

“He’s a shy guy and not very talkative, is he?” Ashley noticed a sudden sadness fall over Sarafina and Stephanie.

“He doesn’t talk at all,” Sarafina explained. “We don’t know why, he just won’t say a word.”

“Is he mute? Is there some medical condition preventing it?” Ashley asked.

“No, nothing …” Stephanie replied. “The best doctors on Avalon have looked at him and can find nothing wrong with him. He cries when he’s hurt or upset, but he just won’t speak.”

Ashley thought about things for a moment. “He may be autistic …”

“What is that?” Sarafina worried. “Some kind of disease?”

“No, no …” Ashley assured her. “It’s a developmental disorder. It usually appears when a child is about Thomas’ age. It affects their social and communication skills.”

“Is there a cure for it?” Sarafina begged, looking for some hope for her son.

“There’s no cure Sarafina, but there therapy we could use to try and help him. I was studying special education at the university as part of my teaching degree. I can try …”

Before she could finish, Sarafina hugged her sister tightly, a tear rolling down her cheek as a sigh of relief. She wanted to try anything to help her son and Ashley gave her the first glimmer of hope.

“Oh thank you Ashley,” she cried. “I had given up all hope of hearing my son call me mother.”

A tear welled up in Ashley’s eyes too. She felt a sense of pride in the thought that she could do something to help Thomas, something no sorcerer or alchemist could do.

The Shield Maidens of Avalon – An Excerpt from “The Dark Tides”

Shield Maidens, the warrior elite of Avalon.

Shield Maidens, the warrior elite of Avalon.

When I think of the word “Shield Maiden” I am reminded of where I first heard it used. In “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” Aragorn calls Eowyn, a “Shield Maiden of Rohan.” It was from this that I created the Shield Maidens of Avalon, women devoted to God, King and Country, selfless in their duty of protecting the Knights of Avalon in battle. These warrior nuns (as I like to call them) are elite warriors on par with the Knights of the Round Table. The two share a special relationship, almost symbiotic,  that is built on honor, duty and trust. It’s one that the Gil-Gamesh and Sarafina, his adopted daughter, share; but theirs transcends that even more. Here is an excerpt from “The Dark Tides” that demonstrates how deep that relationship is. See if you can catch how I named my Shield Maidens.


Th e Crooked Goose was well known as an establishment that specifi cally catered to the lowlifes of Avalon. It sat at the crossroads of the Vanir Road and Hadrian’s Pass on the outskirts of Blackbriar Forest. Like many inns and taverns along the roads of Avalon, the Crooked
Goose was a place for travelers and locals to eat, drink, relax and conduct business. But anyone stopping there usually found themselves robbed blind or their throats cut come morning.

Th e inside of the Crooked Goose was dimly lit as most of the people visiting the establishment preferred the dark. Th e drinks were strong and intoxicating while the women were loose and homely. Humans, Dwarfs, Dark Elves and even some goblins and other dark creatures liked to meet in the Crooked Goose. Most of the time, they’re looking for any opportunities for underhanded work on Avalon, from simple robbery to an assassination.

Th e Gil-Gamesh lets this establishment stay open because he always knew where to look when trouble started or to fi nd information. Sarafina knew that too which is why the Crooked Goose was the first place she visited in her search for Lord MoonDrake. He’s been gone for nearly a week now. Th e fact that he hadn’t turned up dead yet meant they’re keeping him alive somewhere, probably torturing him.

Sarafina kicked the door in unceremoniously, blinding most of the patrons inside as the midday sun poured through the door. She was flanked by four of her sister Shield Maidens, dressed in plate armor and carrying various weapons from swords to pole arms. Sarafina walked in slowly, not saying a word until she found the right spot so she could see everyone in the room.

“Caleb Guoyle!” she shouted. “I want to know where that rat hides. Whoever tells me what I want to know will more than likely leave this place alive.”

“Now just one minute here!” a voice boomed from behind the bar. Elmer McElroy moved out from the bar, slowly shift ing his rather large frame. He’s been running the Crooked Goose for more than 50 years, since he killed the previous owner and took from him. He looked fat but
that was misleading. McElroy was strong as an ox and a resilient fighter. He once broke a trolls arm while arm wrestling with it. Elmer chomped down on his cigar and strutted over toward Sarafina. His receding hair line was more prominent with his hair pulled back into a ponytail. It also highlighted his enormous forehead, squinty eyes and bulbous nose.

“Just who do you think you are missy, coming into my establishment and threatening my customers,” he argued as he got right in Sarafina’s face. Elmer took a long drag on his cigar and blew the smoke right at her. “Now I suggest you get out of here before you end up like the

Sarafina turned away, as if to leave, but in one swift motion, she drew her sword and swung it at Elmer, cutting off the brute’s nose and half his cigar in one swipe. Elmer dropped to the floor, holding his face as blood spurted everywhere, agonizing in pain. He grabbed his apron and pulled it up to his nose to try to stem the bleeding.

Th e other Shield Maidens drew their weapons and surrounded Sarafina while she walked over to Elmer. Even though they were outnumbered, most of them knew better than to pick a fi ght with a Shield Maiden, especially one that’s extremely pissed off . Sarafina grabbed him by the collar and placed her sword at his throat as Elmer continued to scream at her.

“You bitch!” he shouted. “Look what you did to my nose!”

“You’re going to lose something a lot more precious than that if you don’t answer my question,” she said as she shift ed her sword from his throat to his groin, cutting through his pants and poised right at his manhood.

“Easy, easy lass!” he protested. “I don’t know where Guoyle is. He moved into some keep hidden in the Fenris Mountains. That’s all I know, I swear!”

“You’re going to have to do better than that,” Sarafi na declared, cutting away a little more pants as her sword grazed his thigh.

“Wait! Wait!” he pleaded. “There’s a troll, Usage is his name, I think. He used to live in some old keep in the Fenris Mountains, or so he said. He’s living in an old stump of a wormwood tree near the western opening to Blackbriar. You can’t miss it.”

Sarafina pulled her sword out and let Elmer go. She stood up and stared down the others in the Crooked Goose. “Rest assured, if I have to come back here, no one will be leaving this place alive.”

Sarafina turned to leave with the other Shield Maidens right behind her. Th e sounds of horses could be heard as the maidens rode away from the Crooked Goose. As soon as they’re gone, the bar quickly emptied as patrons didn’t want to be around in case Elmer gave her some bad information. All Elmer could do was sit on the floor in excruciating pain, hoping he never saw that Shield Maiden again.

Th ey rode straight through as Sarafi na continued on her search for the Gil-Gamesh. “He wouldn’t give up on me, I won’t give up on him,” she pondered as she rode toward Blackbriar and the troll named Usage. Even though the sun was high in the sky, Blackbriar Forest lived up
to its name as the thick overgrowth kept the interior of the woods dark. Th e Shield Maidens slowly entered the forest until they spotted the fallen Wormwood tree just as Elmer described.

About 100 yards off the road sat the downed tree. It fell toward the path with the roots sticking up at the far end of the tree. On the other side of the roots, obscured from view, the soft glow of a fi re could be seen.

Sarafina and the Shield Maidens quickly dismounted to access the situation and determine the best course of action for them. “Okay, Merida … You and Ariel go around the right. Aurora and
Snow will come with me around the left . Move quickly and quietly so we can jump out at the same time.”

“Why do I always have to go with the princess?” Merida complained, her thick Brogue accent running her words together.

“Who’re you calling a princess, princess?” Ariel snapped back.

“Zip it you two or you’ll have more than an angry troll to deal with!” Sarafina retorted. The Shield Maidens drew their weapons and started moving toward the roots. Shield Maidens were well versed in all forms of combat but each carried a weapon unique to their personality and
skills. Merida knocked an arrow in her long bow while Ariel wielded a trident. Sarafi na and Aurora both drew long swords while Snow carried a large hammer with a pick-axe on the backside. They moved in unison until they reached the root of the fallen tree.

Fantasy – What a Wonderful World!

Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American writer and cartoonist.

Theodor Seuss Geisel was a writer and cartoonist known for his children’s books.

According to the immortal Dr. Seuss, “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.” There’s an element of truth in what he said that we can relate too.

When I was growing up, I was always called a dreamer, living my life in a fantasy world. I would watch cartoons and read comic books, even into adulthood. It never really bothered me, and today, it turns out it’s actually cool to be a geek.

That being said, I think fantasy is the best of all the genres because of its ability to cross over from one genre to the next. When you look at James Cameron’s Pandora in “Avatar” or George Lucas’ many worlds in the  “Star Wars” series, it sits on par with the wilds of Westeros in “Game of Thrones” or Middle Earth from Tolkien. These are worlds created from the minds of these amazing writers.

That’s what I love about fantasy … It can be anything you want it to be but it is usually grounded in some form of mythology. That’s why I chose Avalon and characters from Arthurian legend for “Forever Avalon” and “The Dark Tides” novels. It gave me a great base on which to build my fantasy world.

Though the names and places are familiar, the world in which the sit is all my own. From the depths of the Gilded Halls of the Dwarves of Avalon to the splendor of The Elven Kingdom of Alfheimer and the darkness at the heart of Blackbriar Forest, this is my world … My Avalon!

I will admit, it helped being a “Dungeon Master” in my youth but that just brought it all together under one dungeon, so to speak. To put it quite literally, my imagination was blended together like a fruit smoothie, pouring out onto the pages of my novels.

This past week, I was speaking to a group of high school students at my alma mater, Phillipsburg High School in Phillipsburg, N.J. They asked me about my favorite authors that inspired me. I said the usual, J.R.R. Tolkien and Michael Moorcock, but I left out some of the most influential.

Ridley Scott's "Legend" from 1985 starring Tom Cruise.

Ridley Scott’s “Legend” from 1985 starring Tom Cruise.

C.S. Lewis, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs took us to far flung worlds out of time and space. Their words still resound today in books, movies and television. That’s what it means to be a great storyteller!

One of my favorite fantasy movies is Ridley Scott’s “Legend” with Tom Cruise; not really considered a blockbuster but a visually stunning film. Seeing Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness is an image seared into my mind whenever I think of something that represents evil. The Elves, Fairies, Goblins and creatures were perfect in its simplicity and that’s the beauty of it.

That’s what I put into the design of my interpretation of Avalon … Simple yet memorable. I think of it as simply stated in this quote by author and cartoonist Lynda Barry … “We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality. We create it to to be able to stay.” Truer words were never spoken …

The Face of Evil – An excerpt from “The Dark Tides”

Morgan le Fay by Lisa Iris

Morgan le Fay by Lisa Iris

Every story needs a villian, but in “The Dark Tides” we have a whole slew of them–from both history and legend and some from my first book, “Forever Avalon.” Under the direction of Morgana le Fay, these unsavory types have one goal in mind … The domination of Avalon and the death of the Gil-Gamesh. Here is a taste of what they have in mind in this excerpt from “The Dark Tides” novel:

Deep within the bowels of Idlehorn Mountain, Mnenock the Goblin King looked in awe of his growing fleet of airships. More than 20 ships now filled the vast cave in Idlehorn. Its entrance, hidden by simple illusions, disguised the immense hanger for him to spread his evil across Avalon.

Though they couldn’t duplicate the Gil-Gamesh’s technology, they scavenged what they could from other ships they captured or destroyed.

Even then, the goblins needed help to make them work. They used gnome and human slaves to bring the ships back to working order as goblins didn’t have the skill nor coordination for intricate woodwork or the technical know-how for the steering and wings.

Their skills lay in ironwork. Goblins were known for forging the toughest iron weapons ever made. With pools of liquid metal pouring out from the lava pits under Idlehorn and their immense strength, goblin weapons and armor are prized by every thief, brigand and cutthroat on Avalon. They didn’t have the craftsmanship of the Dwarves or Elves, but their iron had no equal.

Sometimes, the Goblin King used human pawns to get him the materials and supplies he needed to keep his fleet up and running.

Today, though, he waited for his ultimate payoff that would aid the plans of Lady Heather and the great Morgana le Fay.

A horn bellowed from outside as his guards notified all of an arrival, one the Goblin King had been waiting for. He watched as his goblins guided the massive airship in. It was larger than any ship in the Goblin Fleet, albeit a familiar one … The Reaper, former flagship of Lord Kraven Darkholm. It was confiscated by the Gil-Gamesh for an insult his cousin made toward Lady Stephanie MoonDrake, but now it had returned home.

The canvas wings folded back once the mooring process began. The human sailors scurried about the deck, securing sails and tightening down the lines. Once the ship was tethered, it set down on mooring blocks and the gangplank was lowered. Sailors filed off the ship in a quick, disciplined manner, led by their captain as they rushed to a second airship waiting to be brought in.


The flag of the legendary Pirate King, Captain Henry Avery.

The captain walked up to King Mnenock, exuding confidence in the swagger of his every step, but Captain John Henry Avery was no ordinary man. He was the descendant of the most ruthless pirate to sail the Caribbean—Henry Avery, the legendary “King of the Pirates” as some say. When Avery disappeared around 1696, people thought he retired to a quiet life, living off his riches. Instead, Avery and his crew found their way through the barrier to Avalon. He continued his pirating ways, plundering the coastal cities around Avalon’s shores. He even made his own town in the hidden North Seas off Avalon. A haven for his pirates, their kin and any others who wished to join called Barbarossa.

John Henry was carrying on the traditions his family laid down by taking them into the air. The Gil-Gamesh’s airships opened a new chapter in pirating for the Avery family. He carved out a reputation for himself, hoping one day to surpass that of his ancestor.

Unlike some of his crew, Avery preferred a well-groomed appearance. His long black hair was flowing and carefree, his beard neatly trimmed and his clothes emulated his rank and status. He wore an eye patch over his left eye, a gift courtesy of the Gil-Gamesh during one of their many encounters. Around his waist hung his sword Crossbones, a broad cutlass with a jagged edge on top. Th is was the sword of his ancestor and signified his status as the Pirate King.

John Henry stepped up with his first mate Rajesh Singh, an Indian sailor and devout follower of the Cult of Thuggee—worshipers of Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Death. They bowed to the Goblin King, a sign of respect but nothing more. Avery was here to do business.

“As promised your majesty, I give you The Reaper, returned home to Idlehorn,” John Henry cajoled showing off his prize.

Mnenock smiled, something he rarely did. “Indeed Captain Avery … Your reputation precedes you. And tell me,” he cackled, “how did you obtain this magnificent ship from the shipyard in Emmyr?”

“Well now, if I told you that, you wouldn’t need me now, would you your majesty? I have to keep some of my secrets,” he remarked, holding back his sarcasm so as not to offend the Goblin King. “Let’s just say I called in a lot of favors to get this for you; and I hope you will hold up your end of the bargain?”

Mnenock’s smile turned to a snarl. He felt insulted by Avery and though every fi ber in his being told him to kill these humans on the spot, Mnenock knew he needed them. “I never disappoint an ally Captain Avery.

Gr-tah-ah!” Mnenock shouted to his goblins. They carried out two large trunks and set them down next to the Goblin King. He waved and the goblins opened the trunks; one was filled with weapons and armor—the finest to come out of the forges of Idlehorn—while the other contained gold and silver coins and an assortment of jewels. It was a fine “pay day” for Captain Avery and his band of pirates.

Mnenock watched as Rajesh picked up one of the swords and inspected it closely, checking its weight and edge, swinging it around him an experienced swordsman. When he was satisfied with the workmanship, he nodded to Captain Avery before placing the sword back in the trunk.

“It’s always a pleasure doing business with you, your majesty,” he announced, tipping his hat and spreading his arms as he bowed. “If you ever need anything else, don’t hesitate to contact me. I am your humble servant.”

“Well, that’s refreshing to hear,” came a voice from behind. Lady Heather stepped forward, examining The Reaper as if she were seeing an old lover for the first time.

“Lady Heather,” Avery remarked, bowing courteously to Heather. “It is surprising to find such a beautiful flower in this patch of thorns.”

“Why Captain, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were flirting with me,” she professed as she continued to inspect The Reaper.

“Not at all dear lady, I was just admiring what I see before me; but even the most beautiful of creatures can be deadly.

“I heard about what one of your followers did to the Gil-Gamesh,” Avery continued. “It was a nice diversion for me and my men when we went to grab The Reaper.”

“That was my intention,” Heather interjected, still ignoring Captain Avery as she continued to admire the airship.

“And how did you know what we were doing dear lady?”

Heather smiled as she finally looked at John Avery. “You have your secrets Captain and I have mine.”

“As I said … You are cunning and deadly but with an incredible lack of precision.”

“Really? And why do you say that?” she inquired.

Avery walked over to Heather, staring her down, face-to-face. “You left the Gil-Gamesh alive. I don’t know how you got your man on his island without being detected, but Lord MoonDrake will discover how and he will be more resolved than ever to hunt you down and kill you.

“And I for one do not want to be around when happens,” he reprimanded as he turned to leave. He signaled his men to pick up the trunks and bring them to the Flying Fancy.

“I left him alive for a reason Captain Avery,” Heather shouted. Avery stopped and turned around. “Don’t you want to know why?”

Avery’s curiosity had gotten the best of him as he motioned for her to continue.

“You are correct, I let him live; killing him was never part of my plan. But getting my follower on Emmyr undetected was. I now have the ability to bring an army to the floating isle without the Gil-Gamesh ever knowing about it,” she exclaimed, looking over to King Mnenock who cackled softly in agreement.

“I want the Gil-Gamesh alive so that when I destroy his precious Avalon right before his very eyes, I can watch him suffer the pain of failure. When I cut off the heads of his wife and children, I can watch him suff er the pain of grief. And when he has suff ered all the pain and all the heartache as I have these past eight years, I want him to look into my eyes and know that I have beaten him … Right before I cut out his still beating heart and hold it in my hand,” she extolled, twirling the Orb of Veles in her hand.

“How would you like to see that Captain Avery?” she concluded, flirting slightly as she touched him on the chest. “How would you like to see that and get your revenge on the Gil-Gamesh?”

Avery thought hard about what she said. He saw the confidence in her every word, something he rarely saw in people who tried to plot against the Gil-Gamesh.

“Alright milady, you have my attention.”

Lessons learned from a 23-year career in the U.S. Navy

I can honestly say that I never intended to join the Navy when I graduated high school. I pictured myself as the next Stan Lee or Jack Kirby, fixated on attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and becoming a comic book artist. It was my first time living away from home and I made a lot of mistakes that eventually brought me right back home with Mom and Dad. Needless to say, my prospects of getting into another college or even a job were slim. That was when my retired U.S. Marine Corps father suggested (for lack of a better term) joining the military.

I wasn’t thrilled with the idea but there weren’t many options for me. You see, I come from a military family. My Mom and Dad were in the Navy and Marines respectively. My brother, sister-in-law, two uncles were Marines, one uncle and a cousin were Sailors and my grandfather served in the Navy in World War II.

Chief Journalist Mark Piggott aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) circa 2002.

Chief Journalist Mark Piggott aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) circa 2002.

The one thing I wanted was a career and training, and the U.S. Navy offered me all of that. As a Navy Journalist, I learned writing, broadcasting, photography, graphic design and public relations. Over the years, I travelled halfway around the world and back, visited many foreign countries and experienced cultures far and wide. Like they advertised, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure!”

Those experiences resonate through my “Forever Avalon” and “The Dark Tides” novels. Bryan Drake went from a Chief Petty Officer, a leader of men, to the champion and protector of an entire island. It’s the same feelings all veterans feel–duty, honor, courage and responsibility–that made Bryan give up his family and his home to become Lord Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh. He put the people of Avalon ahead of his own personal needs.

Even after his family was brought to Avalon years later, he was torn between his responsibility to his family and his duty to Avalon. This is something the men and women of the armed forces go through each and every day.

Everytime I had to say good-bye to my wife and kids, I felt like I was abandoning them by leaving them on their own. It’s not easy when you have to leave them for six months to a year at a time, missing birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. That’s what made the homecomings so much more sweeter and rewarding.

It’s that same spirit of selfless devotion to duty that I tried to instill in the Gil-Gamesh. He is a warrior, tried and true, ready to fight for what he believes in; but deep-down, he’s a family man at heart, whose love for his wife and kids is the only thing that keeps him going. I think anyone who wore the uniform knows that feeling.

The Navy gave me a great education and great experiences, but it was always coming home to my family that meant the most to me. The Gil-Gamesh has that same drive and determination, coming from a long line of warriors who put duty to Avalon above all else. Remember, faith and family gives us the courage to face our fears and do what’s right.

The Death of a Friend – An excerpt from “The Dark Tides”

I can honestly say I never really thought about death or dying until I started writing my novels. I’ve experienced death before, both my grapndparents as well as friends and shipmates, but not in that way. Even as a Sailor, deployed in harm’s way, it rarely crossed my mind because I always felt “if it happened, it happened.” Yet, when writing my novels and having to kill off characters that I created, I couldn’t help but break down and cry as I typed those pages. I couldn’t just kill characters on a whim, even for the sake of the story. I breathed life into them, with every stroke of the heyboard, and it was difficult for me to actually have to do it. This is just one of those examples from “The Dark Tides.”

The inspiration behind the character, the "real" Lt. Charles C. Taylor, USN, Flight Leader for Flight 19 that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle on Dec. 5, 1945.

The inspiration behind the character, the “real” Lt. Charles C. Taylor, USN, Flight Leader for Flight 19 that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle on Dec. 5, 1945.

Bryan could sense the sadness. The normally cheerful and sassy women were somber and tearful. He was quickly directed to Madam Sonjay’s personal room where Sir Charles had been taken too.

Charles lay in a large bed, covered in heavy quilts. His bandages were soaked with blood as Madam Sonjay sat next to him, dabbing his head with a cool compress while giving him sips of good Elvish wine. Like the girls in the brothel, Madam Sonjay was sad and upset but she tried not to show it. Her fancy dress was covered in blood as the Gil-Gamesh surmised she was the one who tended to his wounds.

When Madam Sonjay saw Bryan, she kissed Charles on the forehead before leaving his side. “I’m sorry milord, I did the best I could, but without a proper doctor I’m afraid that my best won’t save him,” she told Bryan, her eyes tearing up as she broke down and cried. “I tried everything I could to keep him alive until you got here, I just wish …” Madam Sonjay stopped as she became inconsolable. Bryan tried to comfort her in her grief.

“It’s alright Minerva, it’s not your fault,” Bryan told her. “Thank you.” He gave her a kiss on the forehead before walking over as he sat down next to Charles. Charles coughed as he opened his eyes and glanced at Bryan.

“You took your time getting here,” he joked. “How’s the little stray doing?”

“She’s fine, sends her best,” Bryan said as he leaned in to Charles. “I wish I had gotten here sooner though, it must have been a helluva fight.”

“Those Brood … They’re big and ugly, but stronger and smarter than regular goblins, if that’s even possible,” Charles sputtered. “You need to be prepared when you meet them.”

“I will, don’t worry about that right now,” Bryan reassured him. “You can help me put together a strategy once you get back on your feet.”

Charles coughed again, a little bit of blood trickled out of his mouth. Bryan wiped it away. “Don’t bullshit me Chief. You and I both know I’m not going to make it.” Bryan sat silent, trying to contain his emotion. “Don’t feel bad Bryan, I’ve had a good life …” Charles added. “I’ve lived a lot longer than most expected. It’s just my time.”

Bryan clasped Charles by the hand. “No, it’s not …” he cried through the tears. “I still have so much more to learn from you.”

“You don’t need me to teach you anything more Gil-Gamesh. You’re more than ready to survive whatever Avalon throws at you. Besides,” Charles said as he gasped for air. “I want to see my parents … My family again. Now, I finally … finally … can …”

With his last breath, Charles Taylor died … A Naval Aviator and a Knight of Avalon. Everyone in the room bowed their heads in silent prayer. Some of the girls broke out in tears. Bryan let go of his friend and folded his hands across his chest before he reached up and closed his eyes.

He stood silent, alone in his thoughts. When he turned to the others, they looked to him for guidance and comfort. Bryan couldn’t find the right thing to say as the words escaped him.


Creating the world of Forever Avalon

It’s easy to create something when you’ve got such a great subject to work with. I remember watching movies like “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “Excalibur” and the first animated version of “The Hobbit” as a teenager. Right then and there, I was hooked on swords and sorcery, fantasy and adventure. I grew even more enamored when “Dragonslayer” came out in 1981. I saw that movie over and over again when it was first released. The special effects for the dragon were remarkable.

The world of Forever Avalon might have come from long, sleepless nights of Dungeons & Dragons, but it was built on something that already had a mythology. The story of King Arthur, Merlin, Morgana le Fay and the Knights of the Round Table was steeped in legend across time in many different cultures.

It was in those myths and legends that I came up with the concept behind the series … What happened next? They say there is always fact somewhere behind the myth, and that led me to one simple question: Why doesn’t magic exist in our world anymore?

Of course, the answer is because it now exists on Avalon. When King Arthur died, Merlin saw this as an end to the “Age of Magic” in our world, but magic was all he’d ever know. He had to take precautions to keep magic and those “touched” by magic (dragons, Elves, Dwarves, etc.) alive forever.

This is where my story begins, with Merlin using his powers to bring everything magical to the island of Avalon. Now I know that in most mythology, England is considered Avalon, or more specifically Wales. That may be, but my Avalon had to be somewhere separate from the real world. So I created Avalon as an island unto itself.

I have to admit that by doing this, I am cheating a little. Instead of creating an entirely new world like the Westeros in Game of Thrones or Middle Earth in The Hobbit, I’m using one that already existed. I think of this as more of a comfort for readers, making it easier for them to immerse themselves into the story without needing a lot of back story to fill in the gaps.

Plus, you add to it the many different cultures and interpretations of a single mythological creature and you come up with hundreds of varieties to choose from. Lord Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh, is a DragonMage and Lord of Dragons. In researching this part for my novels, I discovered thousands of varieties of dragons from every corner of the planet.

This is why I built my world of Forever Avalon and The Dark Tides around established mythologies. People from India, African, Scandinavia and anywhere else in Europe will find something they can relate to in my novels. To me, a world of magic, Avalon is a refuge for all types of magical birds, beasts and dark dwellers.

Take a step into the world of Forever Avalon and I know you will find something in there just for you!