It’s Christmas time again, so let’s be politically incorrect for a change!

My Christmas tree is already up!

Let me start out by saying that I try not to be political in my blogs. In today’s society, espousing one’s political views can cause you world’s of hurt from the “trolls” whose only joy is to write terrible things about you from one end of the net to the other. That being said, I tend to be very politically incorrect when it comes to Christmas.

What started out as a reason to party and let loose centuries ago, with pagan sensibilities mind you, has become a time of family, celebration, and religious worship. It’s also caused many people to get a stick up their ass if you even say “Merry Christmas” to them.

What is wrong with Merry Christmas? All you’re doing is wishing someone a glad tidings at this festive time of year. It’s not like you’re flipping them the bird, yet some people want to stop us from saying Merry Christmas “in case” it offends someone. Anything I might say could offend anyone at any given time. That’s why we have freedom of speech in this country. Saying Merry Christmas to a perfect stranger is no different than wishing them a good morning/afternoon/evening; but if you’re one of those people who gets offended by it, you’re what’s wrong with society today, not me.

We need to put the fun back into the holidays and take out the stress. I love movies like “The Christmas Story” and “The Walton’s Homecoming Special” because they speak of a simpler time when we took the time for family, community, church and holiday spirit. It was about Christian, Jew, Agnostic or atheist. It was about the joy of Christmas.

I will admit, I do hate it how the holidays are slammed one into the other. The day after Halloween, every store is already decorated for Christmas. You don’t even get a chance to breathe. I saw a Christmas commercial for Best Buy on Halloween night. It was ridiculous.

I learned an interesting tidbit this year. President Franklin D. Roosevelt actually wanted Thanksgiving to fall the 3rd Thursday in November, instead of the 4th, to give retailers the extra week of holiday shopping. It’s strange how that isn’t necessary today because we’re shopping for Christmas from 1 November to 24 December with online shopping and aggressive retailers. Even “Black Friday” isn’t a thing anymore because some stores open on Thanksgiving night.

I understand this better than most because I live with a wonderful woman who eats, lives and breathes Christmas 24/7, 365 days a year. My lovely wife, Georgiene, listens to Christmas music, watches Christmas movies and keeps that joy of Christmas alive all year round. Though I sometimes find it annoying in the middle of Summer, it has given me a better appreciation for the holiday.

So, as we march into the last 25 days of Christmas, I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanza! And for the rest of you trolls out there, Bah Humbug!

To write, or not to write … That is the question!

97b6276dfde6d2999d4d01ac9bb1a735Being unemployed is not all it’s cracked up to be. I spend most of my time searching job sites, applying for at least five jobs a day, going through tons of emails filed with job search results and rejection letters, filing for unemployment, going to job fairs … It’s a bloody mess.

On top of all that is the urge to take this time and finish writing my next book. I want to do it but my conscience won’t allow me too. I have a responsibility to my wife and my family to lift myself out of this hole I dug and get us back on track.

That’s what happens when you don’t worry about where your next paycheck is coming from for more than 30 years. You get complacent and relaxed to the point where you don’t think you could ever lose your job. You’re invaluable and they can’t do it without you. That’s what I thought, because as the saying goes, it’s hard to fire a federal employee. Trust me when I say, it’s not!

So now the dilemma, to write or not to write. I know my wife doesn’t want to see me writing  anytime soon because it’s one of the reasons I’m in this mess in the first place. I was working on and editing my novels at work. Though, in my opinion, it never took me away from my job, that’s what got the ball rolling. Within a year of the investigation, I was fired … a first for me. I’m not proud of that fact but I have to put it behind me and move forward.

Writing is how I identify myself, it’s who I am. I am a writer and I love it. I love to see my words come together on a page, I love telling my stories, and I have so much more to tell. I can’t imagine not writing, but right now, it’s not paying the bills. I have to juggle between finding a job and continuing to write.

This is worse than writer’s block. I usually use this blog to talk about things I’ve learned and experienced as a Sailor, a self-published author, and a certified geek. This is not what I want to spend my time writing about but, in a way, it’s therapeutic.

The day after I was fired, I was called by my lawyer. She was contacted by people on the base (where I worked) because they saw something I write on Facebook and were concerned I was going to hurt myself. I can honestly say that it did cross my mind, but then I realized that it would only create more problems for my family and friends., I can’t do that to them.

I guess that’s why I do this, why I write. It’s very comforting to watch what you say come together in a flowing message. You bare your soul as a writer, giving life meaning in every word you write. It may not make sense to some people, others may discover the truth behind the meaning, but in the end, it’s how it makes you–the writer–feel.

Right now, I feel a little lost, but I have faith in my God, my family and my friends that it will be a better day. So for now, I will continue to write. It will help me become a better writer and it will help my heart, mind and soul get through this rough patch.

As Scarlett O’Hara proclaimed, “Tomorrow is another day!”

When life gives you lemons, trade them for some limes and make a cocktail!

ba426c39-1691-42d8-a323-c17077cd46e1I usually don’t get personal in my blog. I try to focus on the things I love—faith, family, writing and all this geek! This week, I have to be serious because I’ve got some really bad news. After 30+ years of service to my country, as a Sailor for 23 and a civil servant for the last seven, I was fired from my job. For the first time in 30 years, I find myself unemployed.

I won’t go into details, so as to save myself from further embarrassment and humility, but safe to say it was my fault. I just didn’t think that, after all my years of service, this one mistake would get me fired. Unfortunately, it did.

If find myself at a crossroads. I’m 52-years-old, slightly overweight with only an associate degree in education. My experience in writing/editing and public relations is way up there, but without that piece of paper, many companies won’t take a chance on you.

I keep trying to find the silver lining in all of this and all I can find is that I now have more time to write. I can focus on the third book in my trilogy and continue marketing my books in hopes of gaining some recognition. Just before I was fired, I received word that one of the studio reps I pitched too at Pitchfest 2015 in New York asked for copies of my books. This could be the break I need to take my writing to the next level.

Unfortunately, the other shoe fell off and I was fired. From good news to very, very bad news, it hasn’t been a good week. As you can imagine, I have been on an emotional rollercoaster this past week. I’ve gone from feeling completely lost, a total failure to a glimmer of hope and faith that God will get me through this.

I have always had faith in God, believe in him, but I was never a religious person. I tried so many times but I always found an excuse not to go to church or pray on a daily basis. I don’t mean to get religious here with you, but I just wanted you to know what’s been going on inside me.

Everyone keeps telling me that, “when one door closes, another one opens” and I want to believe that. It’s just hard when you’re trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage, car payment, etc. I want to believe that things will get better but it’s hard when your actions have hurt so many in the process. My wife and my kids are also facing the brunt of me being fired and that puts a lot of guilt on me.

I guess I needed this opportunity to vent a little, and I appreciate you being there for me by reading this blog. I hope I can find the courage and fortitude to get back to writing, because it is what I love to do best. Right now, though, it’s hard to focus on writing a novel when I need to be writing my resume.

Any advice or kind words would be appreciated in the comments below. It’s going to be a long jaunt to reach the end, but to quote Clarence the Angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life” — A man with friends is not a failure!

Quoting Winnie the Pooh is the key to a successful life

screen-shot-2015-02-23-at-9-13-28-pm-12-quotes-from-disney-movies-that-taught-us-important-life-lessons-png-274887I never thought that the things I learned from watching a Disney movie would resonate to being successful today as a husband, father, or a writer. I was so surprised to see that, when I did a Google search for inspiring quotes, a lot of them are from a Disney movie or something else I watched as a kid.

Even when I look back at watching these movies when my own children were growing up, you sometimes miss those inspirational moments for the laughs, the action and adventure or even through the sad story. Yet, it these quotes that resonate still today. I thought I would share with you some and see if you remember when you heard it watching a movie as a child or with your own children. It might make you think twice about some things.

“The very things that hold you down are going to lift you up.” – Timothy Mouse, Dumbo

“You control your destiny — you don’t need magic to do it. And there are no magical shortcuts to solving your problems.” – Merida, Brave

“Oh yes the past can hurt. But you can either run from it, or learn from it” – Rafiki, The Lion King

“No matter how your heart is grieving, If you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.” – Cinderella, Cinderella

“Man has always learned from the past. After all, you can’t learn history in reverse!” – Archimedes, The Sword in the Stone

“A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” – Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh

“Sometimes the curiosity can kill the soul but leave the pain.” – Alice, Alice in Wonderland

“Life’s not a spectator sport. If watchin’ is all you’re gonna do, then you’re gonna watch your life go by without ya.” – Laverne, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

“The things that make me different are the things that make me ME.” – Piglet, Winnie the Pooh

“If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.” – The Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland

Walt_Disney_1946I want to leave you with a final thought from Walt Disney himself. He said, “The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.” Those are words to live by. We can all take a lesson from these simple childhood memories and turn them into the passion we have for our work, our family and our life in general today.

After all, we never truly want to grow up, do we?

Happy Fourth of July! It’s okay to be patriotic!

year_of_the_water_dragon_by_ross_sanger-d4mvn3c

Happy 4th of July!

First and foremost, I want to wish everyone a Happy 4th of July! I hope your weekend is filled with fireworks, barbecue, family and friends. As a retired veteran, I am always proud to be a part of our nation’s birthday. I like to think it’s a sense of pride, although some in the world today might see it more as arrogance.

Is it arrogant to be proud and patriotic? I don’t think so. People have pride in their looks, in the job they do, in celebrating achievements through life, like graduations. What’s wrong with pride in one’s country?

To me, that pride is transcendent of not only who you are but where you live. People who come to America from other countries are proud of their heritage but that changes when they raise their hand and take the oath to become American citizens. I’ve witnessed such a ceremony and, believe me, it’s a very emotional moment when an immigrant proudly calls him/herself an American for the first time.

In the Forever Avalon series, Lord Bryan MoonDrake starts out as a simple Sailor, devoted to God, duty, country and family, while serving in the U.S. Navy. That patriotism—that pride—transcends when he finds himself stranded on Avalon, after he discovered his extraordinary  lineage with one of the original Knights of the Round Table.

At that moment, he changed his loyalty, devotion to duty and his patriotism from the United States of America to Avalon. Though his world changed completely for him, he took it in stride as he stepped up and assumed the mantle of the Gil-Gamesh. Instead of answering to the President of the United States, he now answered to the King of Avalon.

This may seem simple enough plotline for a story but it’s really not. A lot of thought and emotion goes into decisions like this. The real question is, what happens if those loyalties are tested?

This is a tease for the next installment of the Forever Avalon series I’m currently working on, tentatively title The Outlander War! I hope to have it finished by the end of the year. Now, those of you who’ve read The Dark Tides know what little twist I’m talking about; and for those of you who haven’t read it yet, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to pick up my book. I guarantee that, after you do, you’ll be eagerly anticipating the third book.

In any case, I guess what I was really trying to say is that, though it may not be “politically correct” to be patriotic anymore, I wear it with a great deal of pride. I am proud to have served my country, I am proud to live in the greatest nation on the planet and I am definitely proud to be an American. Have a safe and happy Independence Day! God bless you and God bless the United States of America!

The Dark Tides is now available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.

Forging the love between a father and child, Knight and Shield Maiden – An Excerpt from “The Dark Tides”

Knights_zps02364200The love between a parent and a child is a force to be reckoned with and, make no mistake, that love extends to adopted children too. I never meant to touch on the relationship between a parent and an adopted child when I was writing Forever Avalon or The Dark Tides, but it presented itself quite plainly.

Imagine if you were separated from your family and, during that time, you came across a child that was alone, lost and without anyone to care for them. What would you do? This is exactly what happened to Bryan MoonDrake during his Grand Tour of Avalon.

In this excerpt from The Dark Tides, you’ll see how the relationship between the Gil-Gamesh and Sarafina, his adopted daughter and Shield Maiden, came to be. It was a relationship forged in tragedy but strengthened by the love between a father and child.

***

The Convent at Glennish Hills was a holy place for both worship and battle. It was home to the Shield Maidens of Avalon. The sounds of song and prayer could be heard from inside the church while the clanging of steel resonated just outside in the courtyard. It was a dichotomy in both sight and sound but its purpose was singular … To provide the knights of Avalon with the finest warriors to fight alongside them in battle.

In a small courtyard away from the main training area, the Gil- Gamesh raised a practice sword over his head, waiting for the next attack. His opponent was a 15- year- old girl. Sarafina gripped her practice sword tightly with both hands, watching Bryan’s every movement, waiting for an opening to strike.

Her small frame looked bigger than it was, covered in leather armor for protection. Her long, blonde hair was braided up to keep it out of her face. She had a strong, determined look on her face. The Gil- Gamesh took a step back and Sarafina seized the moment to strike.

She lunged forward at Bryan, hoping to catch him off-balance. He swung downward to block her thrust, knocking her sword away. He spun and tried to catch her from behind, but as he swung his blade down, she countered his attack before she elbowed him in the stomach and shoved him back.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa … Time out! Where’d you learn that one from?” Bryan asked his young charge.

“No one, I was improvising,” Sarafina fired back, still ready to continue her sparring practice. Bryan couldn’t believe how much Sarafina had learned in three years at the convent. She was definitely on her way to becoming a Shield Maiden.

“Alright then, have it your way,” he said, sword at the ready as the sparring continued. Sarafina didn’t hesitate and lashed out as soon as he was set. She swung fiercely, back- and- forth, throwing everything she had at the Gil- Gamesh. Bryan countered every blow, letting her think she was winning.

“Eo Ire Itum! ” he chanted quietly, under his breath and he suddenly teleported behind Sarafina. When she turned around, his sword was on her throat.

“Hey, that’s not fair!” she complained. “No magic!”

“It’s called improvising, remember?” he retorted. “Besides, do you think any wizard won’t use magic because it’s not fair? You have to be ready to adapt to any situation and be prepared for any possibility.”

“Well … Captain McLoughlin says I one of the best students she’s ever had,” Sarafina proclaimed proudly.

“From what I’ve heard of Captain McLoughlin, I would take that as a compliment. She rarely gives them out but it is definitely well deserved.” Sarafina enjoyed the praise from the Gil- Gamesh and rushed over to hug him. Once she did, Sarafina realized her error in protocol and let go.

“I’m sorry Sir Bryan, I forget my place sometimes,” she apologized, regaining her composure. Bryan knew the limits on contact with the young girls in training, but he ignored it as he leaned down close to whisper to her.

“Well, when we’re alone like this, I don’t think a hug is totally out-of-place,” he confided in her. Sarafina was happy to hear that and hugged him again.

Bryan felt an overwhelming surge of love and pride. Sarafina filled a void in his life since his arrival on Avalon, that of family. She was like a daughter to him and he treated her like one of his own.

The two started walking back toward the main compound, enjoying this time they have together. The conversation varied from her training as a Shield Maiden to her relationships with the other girls and, of course, the Gil- Gamesh’s latest adventure.

“So, how did you escape from the Swamp Witches of Durley? I mean, they had your weapons and you and Sir Thomas all tied up, ready to be cooked in the pot!”

“Ah but you see, there is a dragon that lives in the Durley Swamp called a Naga,” Bryan explained. “It looks more like a giant two- headed cobra but it’s still considered a dragon. I was able to befriended one when we entered the swamp, as kind of a back- up plan; you know, just in case something went wrong.”

“That seems to happen to you a lot, doesn’t it?” Sarafina zinged back at him sarcastically.

“Do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?” Bryan cajoled. Sarafina quieted down and listened. “Anyway, unfortunately, the Naga are rather slow-moving, so it was taking quite a while for it to get there, so we had to stall for time.

“When it looked like one of us was going to go into the pot, Thomas and I started arguing about who they should cook first. You know, who would taste better, who was meatier, etc.; and this lasted a good fifteen minutes. By that time, the Naga showed up and attacked the witches while we got ourselves free,” he concluded. “Not my best plan, but it worked out in the end.”

Sarafina loved hearing his stories of adventure and looked forward to the day when she would share in them as his Shield Maiden. “Can you tell me some more about your family in the outside world?” she asked.

Bryan’s heart sank and his eyes sullen. He tried not to think about Stephanie and the kids that much, though they do come to his mind each and every day. It’s as if somehow he was still connected to them, across time and space, beyond the magical barrier that surrounded Avalon.

Sarafina saw the heartache in his face and back pedaled quickly. “No, never mind, I’m sorry for bringing it up,” she said.

“No Sarafina, it’s alright,” Bryan interrupted. “I don’t get to talk about them that often and it’s nice to have someone so interested in them.” Bryan sat down with Sarafina along on the steps outside the main training area. He took out his pocket watch and opened it up. Though it didn’t work anymore, the picture inside still held the memory of his family.

“You never told me about this picture,” she asked, pointing to the watch. “Why are you all wearing funny hats?”

“Well, it was Christmas and Stephanie, my wife, she loves Christmas. She listens to Christmas music all year round, watches Christmas movies too.”

“Movies?” Sarafina thought for a moment, trying to remember what he told her about movies. “Oh, I remember. Those are they plays you watch inside a little box, right?”

Bryan couldn’t believe how she remembered that. She seemed to be a sponge when it came to stories about the outside world. “Yes, that’s right. Anyway, we all dressed up and went down to the photographers and Stephanie pulled out these hats for us to wear. Now at first, I refused. I mean, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that hat, but she always had a way of convincing me to go along with whatever scheme she had.

“It’s funny, I hated this picture at first but it grew on me and I consider it one of my favorite pictures now,” he said, staring at the picture in his watch.

“It reminds me of a special moment when we were so happy together.” Sarafina looked at the watch and imagined herself as a part of that happy family. It made her feel so good inside but sad at the same time. It was something she never had nor ever will. Bryan noticed the change in her demeanor.

“What’s the matter Sarafina?”

Sarafina hesitated at first, not sure if what she wanted to ask him was appropriate or not. “Sir Bryan, may I ask a favor of you?”

“Of course Sarafina, anything …” The young girl gathered the courage to ask him.

“Most of the girls here either have parents or some kind of relative to call on, but I have neither. I know you visit me as often as you can and I can’t tell you how much that means to me, but …”

She hesitated for a moment, but Bryan pressed her to continue. “Yes, go on …”

“Would you mind if, in private moments like these, would you mind if I called you father?”

Bryan was taken aback by her request but couldn’t help feel honored and humbled being asked by this young girl to be her father. He had lost his own children and Sarafina helped fill that particular void in his life. A tear rolled down his cheek as he is overcome with emotion. How could he say no to her?

“Sarafina, I would love for you to call me father and I hope and pray I can live up to your high expectations of me,” he said.

Now it was Sarafina’s turn to start crying as she jumped up into Bryan’s arms to hug him. For the first time since he arrived on Avalon, Bryan felt completely at home. “I will speak with Mother Superior about visiting you more often and even about the possibility of you coming to visit me on Emmyr.”

SKU-000941753The Dark Tides is now available for purchase at AmazonBarnes and Noble and iUniverse.

The first time they met – An excerpt from “Forever Avalon”

This week, I’ll be signing copies of The Dark Tides at my first book signing at Barnes and Noble in Easton, Penn., on Wednesday, May 20, at 7 pm. I thought I would kick things off with an excerpt from my the first book in the series, Forever Avalon. This is the book that started it all for me as an independent author and, for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to read it yet, I want to give you a glimpse into the world of Forever Avalon as you to read about the first encounter between the Gil-Gamesh and his family, just after they arrived on the island.

* * *

51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“We need get moving and get you somewhere safe before more bounty hunters come looking for you,” he said as he walked past them and down the beach. “Everyone, follow me.”

“No!” Stephanie shouted. “We aren’t going anywhere with you until you tell me who you are, what’s going on here and where the Hell we are, because this certainly ain’t Bermuda! I mean, I appreciate you saving my life and my children’s lives, but we’re not going anywhere with you until I get some answers,” she demanded.

The Gil-Gamesh stopped in his tracks. He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head and sighed. “You’re still as stubborn as I remember,” he said as he turned around and stared at her. “And still as beautiful too.”

Stephanie was stunned by what he said to her. Puzzled, she started to look at him very closely. She pulled her children in close, as if to protect them. “What? What do you mean? Who are
you?”

The Gil-Gamesh reached up, pulled the metal sheath off his face and dropped it to the ground. He pulled the hood of his cloak down, revealing long brown hair, peppered with streaks of gray at his temples. His face was older since they last saw him. He had a beard now with streaks of gray running through it. It covered a face they remembered as neat and clean-shaven. In his eyes, they saw something familiar. There was a look of pride … one of caring and love.

Stephanie saw her husband, Bryan Drake. The children saw their father, and he was alive. The shock was overwhelming, but the joy even greater.

“Daddy!” the children shouted in unison, running over to him. He knelt down and reached out—hugging his children close—feeling the warmth and love he thought he’d lost. He held them in his arms, his grip tighter and stronger than they remember, as he kissed each one of them.

“I’d never thought I’d see these wonderful faces again for as long as I live,” he exclaimed as tears welled up in his eyes.

Hunter held his father’s face in his hands, pulling it so Bryan would look right at him. “What happened to you Daddy?” he asked.

“Yeah, when’d you get all medieval?” Rose chimed in.

“You’ve got that 80’s rocker look with your hair, Dad. It’s so retro,” Ashley added, stroking her father’s hair.

Bryan just smiled and laughed. “Well, it’s a long story.” He stopped and looked past the children over at Stephanie. She stared at him and wondered if what she saw was real or just an illusion.
Bryan let go of his children and walked over to her. He took off his gloves, reached out and touched her face.

“Still as beautiful as in my dreams,” he told her, sweetly and sincerely. She reached up and touched his hand. She spied the wedding band on his finger—the one she put there over 20 years ago.

“Bryan, is it really you?”

He pulled her close and kissed her passionately. She’s hesitant but melted in his arms when she realized it’s really him. Stephanie wrapped her arms around him and returned the kiss, reigniting the passion and love she thought she’d lost.

He released her, still looking into her eyes. They’re both crying as tears ran down their cheeks. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed waking up to this face.”

She smiled at hearing that. “No, I look terrible,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. Then, reality sank back in and a thousand questions came to mind.

She pushed off him and got very serious, very fast. “Bryan, what’s going on? Where the Hell are we and why are you dressed like that?” she demanded.

The kids then chimed in with their questions. “What were those creatures? Were they really trolls?” Ashley asked. “How did you make that dragon appear? Are you a wizard or
something?” Rose inquired. “Those swords are so wicked … can I see them?” Hunter jumped in.

Bryan put his hands up to quiet them down, “Sh-h-h … all right, listen to me,” he said. “I know you have a lot of questions, but right now, I need to get you somewhere safe.” Stephanie tried to interject, but Bryan interrupted her. “Listen to me, Stef; there are more hunters like Biscuit out there looking for you,” he said, calling her by that familiar nickname he always called her.

“And I can’t protect you out in the open like this.” He walked down the beach in the direction he was heading before. “There’s a lighthouse just a few miles down the beach,” he said pointing
the way. “You’ll be safe there, and I promise, once we get there I’ll answer all your questions.”

Stephanie looked at Bryan, not sure whether to believe him or not. “Please Stef, you have to trust me. This is not the time or the place to sit down and talk. We need to get moving … now!”

She saw the honesty in his eyes and sensed the danger he mentioned as being very real. She didn’t want to endanger her children, so she had no choice.

* * *

I hope to see you there at my book signing. I always love the opportunity to speak with people about the story behind my book series.

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
patiently.

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.

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 magic behind the “Forever Avalon” series

“Imagination is the beginning of creation,” according to George Bernard Shaw. Where does the imagination begin and where will it take you next? For me, it started with a game.

I began playing Dungeons and Dragons in college in the early 1980s. I had always been interested in medieval fantasy, magic and the supernatural and this was an opportunity to escape the monotony of college and work by spending long weekends doing nothing but ordering pizza, drinking beer and playing D&D with my friends.

I took my books and dice with me when I joined the Navy in 1983. I found many Sailors who played and we formed a tight-knit group, playing on off-duty hours in whatever space we could find, from the mess decks to an aircraft elevator maintenance room.

This is where the Forever Avalon series began. It started as a recurring dream. I was a young Sailor, separated from his new wife and child by thousands of miles of ocean. When you combine that with 16 hour workdays and 3-4 hours of D&D, it can lead to troubled sleep.

I started having these dreams about falling overboard in a storm and finding myself on an island of medieval magic and fantasy and trying to survive in this new world. Eventually, my family came into in my dreams, as a way of bringing me closer to them during the long deployments at sea. It seemed like every time I went to sea, the dream was right there with me. Even after I stopped playing D&D, I still had the dream throughout my 23 year career in the Navy.

My last deployment was in 2001 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. It was then I decided to start writing it down. It was a long process, putting together the dream as one story.

I used my family as inspiration for the Drake family in Forever Avalon. Their unique personalities, quirks and mannerisms made it easy to create these characters. Lord Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh, was based on the last character I played in D&D. He was a Half-Elf Fighter/Thief/Magic User who wielded two swords, wore a cloak of invisibility with many pockets that acted like a “Bag of Holding” and a dragon as a familiar. This was the beginning of Forever Avalon.

I also wanted to fit my story into a mythology that was familiar to people. That’s when I decided to incorporate the Authurian legend of Avalon, Merlin, Percival and Excalibur, taking a “what happened next” approach in the mythos. This completed my book and, to tell you the truth, once I finish my first novel, the dreams went away and I never had it again.

After I published Forever Avalon in 2009, I immediately started writing my next book in the series. I originally wanted to do a prequel, to tell the story of Bryan MoonDrake’s life on Avalon before his family arrived, but my heart wasn’t into it. I wanted to continue the story where I left off. So I took the pages I already wrote for the prequel and used them as flashback sequences to help tell the story of The Dark Tides.

Like the title says, “Avalon is forever” and I want to continue telling the story of the MoonDrake family wherever it will take me.