What Do You Want for your Kids?

I’ve met a lot of people from many different cultures around the world and one thing I know for certain they all had in common was they wanted the best for their kids. I’ve wondered on occasion what parents would say if they were asked “if you could make a list of the top three things you would want your kids to be doing when they aren’t in school or asleep, what would they be?”

My priorities might be a little different than others but I think most parents would agree they would want one of those three things to be reading. There is no doubt that reading improves educational performance among all ages and all achievement levels. The best part is it doesn’t matter what your child is reading. It could be a comic book, a history book or a story about pirates. The more children read, the better they get at learning.

Books have a unique magic that other media cannot duplicate. They inspire something called the “fictive dream,” where a reader and an author work together to create a story that takes place entirely in the mind. Active minds create opportunities to learn, whether it is facts on the page, new words a young reader has never encountered before or just dreaming about what a faraway place or time might have really been like. There is no activity a child can engage in that can be potentially more rewarding.

My other two priorities would be going outside to play and explore and either playing or practicing music or a musical instrument. I have to admit those two are my based on my own experiences as I was heavily involved in both sports and music growing up and in school.

Because I know how rare educational opportunities can be for some families, I make it a priority to include “learning moments” in my LadyStar™ and Ironjammers™ stories. I introduce real-world concepts like why iron creates sparks in this excerpt from Dawnsong The Last Skyblade:

“We should keep one candle lit all the time, huh?” Jessica said.

“Especially at night, otherwise we won’t be able to see at all. This place is going to be pitch black after dark,” Shannon added.

“How come it makes sparks like that when you hit those rocks together?” Cici asked, playing with the little pieces of flint.

“It’s ’cause of iron!” Jessica exclaimed. “I remember when me and Talitha were in the Dandelion Guides and went on the nature tour! We learned how to make campfires and torches and lots of stuff. If you take something real hard and hit it against a piece of iron, it makes sparks fly because iron burns in the air!”

Talitha nodded, confirming Jessica’s explanation.

Just enough to introduce the idea. Kids who read this might be inspired to go look up the rest of the story. There are numerous moments like that in each book. I plan ahead to make sure I have plenty of opportunities for learning moments. It makes my LadyStar and Ironjammers novels more than just novels. I want them to be inspirational and encourage readers.

I’d like to encourage you to consider a LadyStar story for your next book purchase. I think you’ll agree they help make learning fun and will make your son or daughter want to read more.

If you’d like to see some sample chapters from Dawnsong The Last Skyblade, you can read them in the Library-Tron.

Reading more is always a good thing.

The Astonishing Failure of the Windows Operating System

I am frequently asked to explain why I am so virulently opposed to Windows. Full disclosure: I’ve been using Windows personally and professionally for more than 30 years, so I have a few unpleasant experiences upon which to base my opinions.

Windows is without doubt the most incompetent commercial product ever invented by man. One of the key reasons many people take up Linux and/or switch to Mac OS is because they are so fed up with Windows and its comprehensive failure to function properly that they are willing to abandon all their familiar applications, risk losing all their data, forsake all their games and spend weeks, months and possibly years of their lives learning a different operating system. Millions of them are also willing to spend thousands of dollars on new hardware. At no other time in human history has a commercial product ever caused people to act this way, mainly because at no other time in history has a commercial product ever actively worked against its customers the way Windows does.

I have a three-decade career in IT. I’ve worked as a software engineer for companies larger than Microsoft. Nevertheless, whenever I boot Windows I am still beset with incidents like the one I experienced this morning, where it took me no less than forty minutes to attempt to change the default application for opening text files to Emacs on Windows 10. After nearly an hour of fighting, I gave up and resigned myself to the fact that I cannot open my files with the application of my choice.

This, of course, leaves aside the fact it takes up to nine minutes for Windows to boot to a usable state. I define “usable state” as one where I can open an application and use it. Windows also perpetually displays the wrong time, even after it is corrected again and again.

I have a fairly recent version of Linux Mint that boots in 20 seconds on the same hardware. Linux also manages to display the correct time of day somehow.

These are my text files, on my computer, in my home directory no less, yet Microsoft decides. This isn’t accidental, boys and girls. Microsoft making decisions for you is how they force you to use your property as they see fit.

It goes without saying that I can open text files in Linux with whatever application I choose. The reason this is true is because there is no financial incentive for Linux developers to interfere in my day to day work.

For those of you gearing up to send me comments like “works fine for me,” note that my problem is not unique. Also note the multiple suggested workarounds in that Stack Exchange thread and the fact each one failed to solve the problem. For my part, I manually edited the registry entries and Windows ignored them. If you do have a solution and everything works fine for you, please post your instructions in that thread so everyone can benefit.

Apparently there is some crucial corporate objective for Microsoft in making absolutely certain Notepad is the default application for opening text files. Oh, and by the way, it should be pointed out Ronald Reagan had just been sworn in for his second term when Notepad was new. Microsoft finally got around to updating it a few months ago after forcing the world to endure cheap failed software for more than 30 years. What if we had all those wasted man-hours back? What dollar value could we put on that?

What if Kenmore or Whirlpool had shipped a refrigerator that randomly reached temperatures of 150 degrees for an hour or so a couple times a month?

So for those of you wondering, that’s why serious people use something other than Windows when it comes time to do serious work. Those who do not are just better at tolerating failure, wasted money and wasted time.

LadyStar for Warrior Moms and Warrior Dads Chapter Three: A Good Person

Remember when I was asked to describe LadyStar in only a few words? It’s much easier to describe my main character than it is to cover the whole story, because Jessica Halloran is easy to recognize. I wrote her to be a “human ray of sunshine.”

I have been frequently distressed at how mean many fictional characters have become over the years. When I was growing up, I had Looney Tunes and Mister Rogers to look forward to on television. While those cartoons sometimes got a little rambunctious, there was never any bitterness or gloom in them. Fred Rogers remains one of the greatest role models in the entire history of television. Not once did Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ever have a negative message for viewers.

The LadyStar story has a positive moral core because of Jessica. She is relentlessly optimistic and positive. Her friends call her a “goofball.” All of the girls do their fair share of teasing each other, but when push comes to shove, Jessica is almost always the reason the LadyStar characters prevail in the face of peril. She’s their heart. But there is more to it than Jessica’s happy personality.

In the story, Jessica wields a magical sword called Dawnsong. It is a weapon of nearly limitless power. Initially, it is disguised as a golden ring. Over the course of the first book, Dawnsong: The Last Skyblade, the characters discover that both the ring and the sword respond to honor, valor and selfless acts of kindness and goodness. When Jessica helps others, heals her enemies, tells the truth and avoids subterfuge and treacherous behavior, she becomes more powerful. She is literally a source of light in the story, since several of her magical abilities cause her to give off a soothing golden glow. One of the key symbolic images in LadyStar is the fact Jessica is never in the dark.

This isn’t to say Jessica doesn’t run into obstacles. The necessity of her moral foundation leads her into more than a few dilemmas through her adventures. The other characters’ powers aren’t bound by the same kinds of restrictions on their behavior, so they sometimes push the boundaries and force Jessica to continually examine and sometimes adjust her approach. In the process, the other characters learn that sometimes the ends don’t justify the means and vice versa.

The moral journey the LadyStar characters take is just as important as the choices they make. I believe this is the essence of any coming of age story. Jessica can bless and strengthen her friends, not only making them stronger but amplifying their powers as well. This ability not only reinforces her role as the positive and encouraging member of the group, but it also underlines how important teamwork is.

When Jessica and any of her teammates work together, they get more powerful. When Jessica and the whole group work together, they can accomplish the impossible, and frequently do just that. Jessica doesn’t lie. She never uses violence unless necessary. She prefers to defend instead of attack. She eschews subterfuge, disguise, poisons and deception. She almost always announces herself and challenges her enemies face to face. She is charitable. She gives away most of the wealth she is given. She shows mercy and gives quarter, sometimes to a fault. These values sometimes put her at odds with her friends, but for Jessica, doing the right thing always prevails.

Now, what if they were all heroes?

Strike Battleship Argent Chapter Three

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Starships at War military science fiction series Strike Battleship Argent

The newest crop of hotshot officers readily agreed there was something almost magical about the way modern warships were constructed. Jason Hunter had fallen deeply in love with the third-generation ships of the line the first time he had seen the design, and the Argent was most assuredly the “prettiest girl at the prom” when it came to the Captain’s Corps and their bragging rights.

Hunter was a self-admitted romantic. He often opined there was no more glorious creature in all creation than a “maiden resplendent in all her finery.” This was usually interpreted by colleagues and rivals alike as a fanciful metaphor for the unblemished Citadel-class hull Seven-Four-Zero.

Command One approached the enormous weapons platform from her port quarter. He tapped the transponder indicator with a gloved finger in the academy-approved manner to make absolutely sure his shuttle was transmitting multi-frequency encrypted “friendly” signals on all of Argent’s pickups. He knew what his baby was capable of if she detected an unauthorized scanner contact inside her command zone, and he knew well the only thing worse than being vaporized by your own ship’s point defense was knowing that your ship had opened fire on eighteen cases of 30-year-old scotch.

Green and white running lights glimmered. A ship of the line was a vessel engineer’s expression of sheer power. The shape was meant to convey an intimidating potential for destruction. Her formidable engines, mighty main batteries and lithe energy weapon emplacements were breathtaking even for someone not acquainted with the design genius. The soaring main hull gave the enormous vessel a majestic profile. Her sweeping triple flight decks were as innovative as they were formidable. Hunter’s ship could launch and recover squadron after lethal squadron of smaller ships ranging from deep space fighters to surface mechs.

Argent was brand-new. There were some inboard spaces where crew recruits swore they could still smell new paint. Some of the officers had to admit they had never seen so much expensive hardware in such pristine condition all in the same place before. Hunter had made a point of “walking the decks” and visiting every compartment, berth and space within hours of receiving orders to take command. He knew a 23-year-old Skipper already had his share of challenges to overcome. Breaking tradition would be nothing more than tempting luck, and all Captains, young or old, knew one thing about Skywatch duty: Luck was at least as important as everything else put together.

Hunter had his enemies. At least three flag officers directly opposed his rapid promotions, but when faced with the realities in his jacket, that gleaming Skyshield Legion decoration on his uniform, and his short, fiery billet as Flight Leader of “Yellowjacket Nine,” where he became the first Ace fighter pilot under the age of 20 in fleet history, even the most shrill objections were inevitably quieted.

What he had was the respect of the men and women he had fought with. There were some things even Skywatch Academy couldn’t teach, and there were some collars where a Captain’s insignia belonged, age be damned. There were also some ships that needed a crew up to the task of following a Captain like Jason Hunter into battle. The officers that recommended his promotions had high expectations, and Hunter knew that no matter how accomplished his crew became, he needed even better officers.

Re-assembling those officers was the Captain’s current mission.

After expertly landing Command One on starboard flight deck three, Hunter powered down and disengaged his shuttle’s controls. The atmosphere normalized and the environmental computers balanced pressure between the shuttle interior and the crowded, magnetically sealed seven-acre flight deck before the airlock indicators switched to green. Hunter’s commlink went live and the familiar voice of the ranking crew chief sounded from the omnidirectional crystal speaker in the Captain’s uniform collar.

“What have ya got, Skipper?”

“I’ve got the hard stuff, Chief,” Hunter punched the hatch interlock and opened the shuttle’s side door. Duncan Buckmaster was always a welcome sight. He was at least twice Hunter’s age, with the service stripes to prove it. Within an hour of learning the Captain had requested his assignment to one of the most prestigious commands in the entire line, he had become Hunter’s staunchest ally. The speed with which he shaped up the Argent’s flight crews was the stuff of legend. He was three weeks from mandatory promotion to Master Crew Chief: The highest non-commissioned Skywatch rank.

“Good to have a non-trainee command officer back aboard, sir,” Duncan said as he activated the shuttle’s disembark ladder. “Everyone’s been nervous as a new bride’s first Thanksgiving around here with the junior division in charge, and I’m starting to feel like a dad left home with all the kids.”

“Chief, I can only promise you this: When I finally round up my truant officers, you just might long for the days of the junior division. I’ve got some of the fleet’s biggest delinquents waiting for us on Jupiter Five, and we’re going to blow the roof off of Scary’s.” Hunter slapped Buckmaster’s shoulder. “Why don’t you take the hop down with us? We’ll set you up with a steak and a stein and tell some story!”

“I appreciate that, sir, but you told me before we left Oil Can City you wanted Paladins, T-Hawks and Wildcats ready for action in two weeks. Well, today is day ten. I’ll take that steak if you’ll take two out of three.”

“Point conceded, Chief. Let’s call it a rain check.” Hunter turned and pointed as he made his way to the magneto-lifts. “I owe you one. If I don’t deliver in a week, you have an open invitation to the Captain’s table for dinner!”

“Much obliged, sir. Where do you want all this hooch?”

“Just put it somewhere customs can’t find it in case we get waylaid!”

Hunter synchronized his personal chronometer with shipboard time and jogged to the flight level lifts. This was one party he couldn’t be late for.

Dawnsong Chapter Seven

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my LadyStar™ fantasy adventure series Dawnsong: The Last Skyblade

“I’ve got light green, dark green, three kinds of green that ain’t even green…”
– Ranko Whelan

Secret Tunnel Entrance
South Barrotog Claim
Three miles northwest of Berrypatch Grove

“I’m not going down there! There’s no telling what might be in that tunnel!”

“Ranko, it’s five feet away!” Shannon replied. “Just get one of those coins. You’re faster than us.”

“If it’s so safe, why don’t you go?” Ranko asked.

“Because that tunnel is made for short people like you,” Shannon replied, putting her hands on her hips.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Alanna said. “Cici, go get one of those little coins and bring it right back. And don’t go any further into the tunnel.”

Cici lit up like a light bulb factory at being chosen for something important by Alanna. She scrambled down the waterlogged wooden stairs to the muddy base of the tunnel. The girls had gathered on the east edge of the barley field, under a line of thin willow trees. Talitha had already remarked on the fact the tunnel had to be artificially made, since it was square in shape, with clearly defined corners and edges. It also had a wooden trap door almost covering the entrance, which at least partially explained why it wasn’t completely full of water from the rainstorm.

“Hurry up, Little Bit!” Ranko urged. Cici knelt and picked a handful of the smaller coins out of the mud and even snagged the big one before she clambered back up the stairs. She dumped them in the grass and all the girls gathered around to look.

“They look heavy,” Jessica said, picking one up and turning it over. “Ooh looky! They have little crowns on them.”

“Is that the same language as the book?” Alanna asked, indicating the lettering on the largest coin. Talitha shook her head.

“These look like copper,” Jessica muttered.

“They make coins out of copper here?” Shannon asked.

“I guess,” Jessica replied. “We got one mama coin and eight little baby coins.”

“I told you we found treasure-land,” Ranko said. “There’s probably a lot more in the part of the tunnel we can’t see. We have to explore the rest of it!”

“I am not crawling around in that muddy tunnel!” Shannon said.

“Even if it means we can find more coins?” Jessica asked with a smile. “Come on! We can pretend we’re explorers and we’ll be rich after we find buried treasure!”

“You be an explorer. I’m going to stay right here where there’s no mud in my hair.”

“If there’s a lot of these little coins, we’re going to need something to carry them in. Little Bit, go back to the barn and get one of those bags you found,” Ranko said. “Hurry quick.”

Cici bolted. The older girls knew she would treat the request like she was competing for gold in the 4×100 relay, so it wouldn’t be long before she got back.

“You’re going in there?” Shannon asked in an incredulous tone.

“Yep. If there’s a monster in there that eats copper coins, I’d rather find out about it during the day,” Ranko replied.

“There’s a monster in there!?” Jessica’s voice became more than a little squeaky.

“Oh, my goodness,” Talitha whispered.

“If there is, it’s six against one. Well, five and a half,” Ranko replied as Cici ran up with two of the dingy cloth bags. Ranko took one and threaded it through the thin belt in her jeans.

“We’re going to regret this,” Shannon said as Ranko slipped down the wooden stairs and crouched.

“Leave the trap door open for light!” the red-haired girl said as she ventured into the tunnel.

Jessica looked around at the other girls. They were all watching the tunnel entrance expectantly. “I’m going with her,” she finally announced.

“What?” Shannon asked. “Are you crazy?”

“What if she needs help? I’m going.” Jessica gingerly navigated down the stairs and disappeared into the tunnel.

Ranko stopped when she noticed the passageway was getting brighter. She looked back and saw Jessica.


“The boss wasn’t kidding when she said you were glowing, was she?”

Jessica shook her head and smiled.

“I guess we won’t need a torch then. Come on.”

“It smells like moldy pond water in here,” Jessica said. “Yucky.”

It wasn’t long before the tunnel opened up considerably. Ranko slid down a muddy ramp of sorts and found she could stand without having to hunch over. When Jessica arrived, the low-ceiling room was illuminated well enough to see an upright wooden door was installed in a stone wall at the opposite end of the chamber. In this part of the tunnel the floor looked completely dry.

“That’s a sconce.”

“What is?”

“That!” Jessica was pointing at a black metal frame of sorts attached to the wall next to the door. “You put torches in them so you can see.”

“Okay, Miss Smarty, riddle me this. Remember how the boss said the tunnel should have a bunch of water in it?”

Jessica nodded.

“The water would run down that passageway and in here. Where did it go? This room should be waist deep from all that rain yesterday!”

“Okay, but look at this!” Jessica hunched and made her way across to the opposite corner and crouched. “There’s a drain here, like the one at the place my dad gets our car fixed. Maybe the water did run down the tunnel and into here and then drained away.”

“I know Miss Shannon said no spooky talk, but this place is getting really weird.” Ranko’s voice lowered to a whisper. “This is all too perfect. Someone had to have built all this. Someone has to be living here!”

“Let’s open that door and find out!” Jessica whispered back.

“Nope. We take all this back to the boss. We need a plan, and we can do better than ‘the redhead and the goofball charge through the weird door in the monster cave.’”

“But where do you think the rest of the treasure went?”

“It’s probably all behind that door with the monsters. Let’s go.”

As they climbed back towards the wooden stairs, Jessica looked back to make sure Ranko was kidding about the monsters. The two girls finally emerged from the trap door. Ranko closed it and sat on top to make sure nothing escaped from the tunnel.

“There’s a door down there. It’s not just a muddy passageway, and Goofy saw a sconce where they might put a torch.”

“Great. Let’s put a big rock on the trap door and call it even,” Shannon said, folding her arms. “Sounds like we weren’t invited anyway.”

“Why would they dig a tunnel under a farm?” Cici asked.

“It’s the last place anyone would look,” Alanna muttered. Then she snapped her fingers. “A hideout! Enken did say this farm was abandoned. Maybe this is an underground hideout of some kind?”

“That makes sense. They must be storing all their stolen coins down there,” Ranko said.

“Yeah, but who is storing stolen coins?” Alanna added.

“These are stolen!?” Jessica exclaimed. “Then we gotta give ‘em back!”

“To who?” Shannon asked. “The chickens?”

“Whom,” Talitha said quietly.


“No, silly! Whoever the hideout people stole them from!” Jessica replied. “If I lost a bunch of baby copper coins and a big mama coin I’d want someone to bring them back to me. Wouldn’t you?”

“So what’s your plan, Doofus? A frontal assault or do we sneak in there by dark of night and try to pick the lock?” Ranko asked with a sarcastic look.

Jessica shrugged and made a sound like “idunno.”

“I say we get one of those big shovels and smash the door with it!” Cici announced.

“Okay, we’ll all go to lunch and you let us know how that works out,” Ranko replied.

“No! You’re supposed to go with me!” Cici said with a big smile. “I’m just a little kid!”

“Nah, I’d rather go out for pizza. You can be the too-short shovel guard,” Ranko said, reclining on the door and pretending to yawn and go to sleep. Cici ran over and punched her shoulder. Ranko playfully grabbed at the younger girl’s ankles as she danced out of reach.

“I have a better plan,” Alanna said with a confident smile.

Devils Demons and Dead Men Chapter Four

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Kings and Conquests LitRPG series Devils Demons and Dead Men, available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore.

“It won’t work.”

“It will work.” Garrett Wyland was one of a scarce few game company CEOs who was equally credible in either cargo shorts and a tank top or a $3000 suit. At the moment, he was impeccably outfitted in the latter, as he was due to make a presentation to a room full of investment bankers within the hour. Running alongside was a surprisingly un-burnt-out developer from the user interface team. His job was to create on-screen controls players could use to configure Fairly Unusual’s games.

“You can’t give that many options to the players! They’ll get confused.”

Garrett turned the corner, walking swiftly along the carpeted corridor towards the gleaming glass-enclosed conference room where he was due to make his presentation. He had authorized a ridiculous lease for the crappy building his exploding company previously occupied, but Wyland and his accountants learned their lesson quickly. If your bank balance is worldwide news, it’s tough to negotiate reasonable costs for basics. So Wyland did one of his trademark hype for value deals and scored one of the most prestigious office complexes in the Los Angeles area. From the south side of the building, the Santa Monica beaches divided some of the most expensive restaurants in the world from the sparkling blue Pacific. The inviting waters stretched to the horizon.

“Players thrive on too many options. Not only will they understand them, they’ll take the time to meticulously try each one and compare it to all the others. Then they’ll write a 20,000 word blog post to tell everyone else about it. Half the stuff we know about these games we learn from the players three months after release.”

“They’ll need help.”

“They’ll write their own. How do you think we make these games profitable in the first place? Any money we don’t spend writing rules we can spend on TV commercials.” Wyland handed the user interface production notes back to the developer and swerved into the conference room. As he made his way to the head of the table, he passed more than sixty people, including investors, vendor representatives and most of his own senior staff.

“Ladies and gentlemen, today’s subject is this.” He picked up a dry erase marker and wrote the word “ambition” on the board. “We’re not going to follow market wisdom. Not with what we’ve got riding on this project.”

“Contributors won’t be happy,” Brody Gray replied as he poured yet another soda over ice in an expensive water glass. “Future stockholders won’t be happy. By all indications, they’re looking forward to a traditional massively multiplayer experience.”

“Contributors are never happy,” Wyland replied. “The first rule of crowdfunding is this: The only real appeal is in sending in money so you have a ticket to complain for 18 months. Stockholders don’t care about anything as long as their shares go up. Half of each side will gripe no matter what we produce. Let’s just presume that’s the cost of doing business going into the backstretch.”

“It’s going to present us with some publicity issues,” Janice Powell added. “The last thing we need is the entire Internet complaining about how much our game sucks.”

“After what we’ve endured over the last two weeks, that publicity would be like sitting poolside at the Miss America pageant hotel.” Nobody was entirely sure who said that, but more than a few heads nodded wearily.

Wyland raised his voice a bit so everyone could hear. “Folks, one thing I am going to cultivate with an almost obsessive consistency in this project is controversy. I want the Internet to complain from the moment this game is released until our players are all admitted to senior living communities. I want them complaining about this game side by side in their adjustable convalescent beds during applesauce hour. When one of them dies, I want their 99-year-old best friend to be sitting front row during the service muttering about their unresolved arguments on character balance. Understand? I want this game to piss off the world, because pissed-off people are mounted knights in the kingdom of word of mouth.”

“What if they sue?” one of the investors asked.

“Then we walk into court and defend.”

“What if we lose?”

“We appeal. Chuck, how many legal obligations do we have to our crowdfunding contributors and audience?”


“Can you please explain why so everyone will understand?”

“Legally, if I give money to you, it’s a gift. You are obligated to do absolutely nothing. This is doubly true if I am giving you money under a terms of service agreement in exchange for you building some kind of speculative project like a video game. I have no legal recourse at all if the project fails. I am issued no stock. There are no ownership documents. There is no contract. I own nothing. Even if there were some kind of contract, force majeure would absolve you legally and since everyone in this room is sitting behind about 11 corporate entities, by the time Joe the video game fan unravels the legal taffy wad, some mail drop in Nevada will be dealing with the paperwork anyway.”

“How do you know all that?”

“I’m a member of the California Bar.”

“Where did you graduate law school?”


“Did everyone get that? If you need it in writing, Chuck’s crack staff will draft something this afternoon.”

“Garrett, we can’t just do a pat answer like this. We’re talking about a ten million dollar project now. There’s more to this than just a bunch of guys in a garage now. This building alone is going to provide the entire fan base what they’ll claim is proof we were just in it for the money.”

“We are just in it for the money.”


“The fact we’re doing so well is precisely why we can’t allow what might happen someday to affect our ambition today, Janice. Now, let’s move on to the ten features.”

“How long did you reserve the room for?” one of the senior developers quipped. Some of the attendees chuckled. The room darkened and the projector filled one wall with an enormous image of the sword-and-shield-reminiscent Kings and Conquests logo. The word “balance” appeared in the center of the screen. Then a red line crossed it out and a red circle appeared around it. Wyland turned and faced the meeting.

“Hit me.”

“What does that mean?” Brody asked.

“KNC will not be balanced. Balance is boring. Balance kills fun.” Wyland replied.

“So, what are we going to do? Make it imbalanced?” audio engineer Tyler Briscoe asked.

“Absolutely. This game is going to be hilariously imbalanced. I don’t want players to know what’s going to happen from one minute to the next. Balance is a prison, and I’m not going to waste capital paying a bunch of code monkeys to sit and adjust a spreadsheet day and night for ten years.”

“You’re deliberately trying to provoke an argument, aren’t you?” the same investor asked. “Players will go nuts if they think they are being picked on. They’ll claim they aren’t getting what other players get.”

“We’ve already discussed annoying the Internet. There is no better advertising in the world than a bunch of highly motivated complainers, especially Internet people. In fact, we should buy them all webcams and let them spit and hiss and pound the table on Videowall day and night. The more they huff and puff, the higher our subscriber rates go.”

“That could backfire.”

“Good. The more complainers, the better. If we get a thousand of them I’ll throw them a party at the Chestnut.”

The investor shook his head. “Look,” Wyland continued. “I know it’s risky. In fact it could be reckless, but I’ve seen what happens to the companies that play it safe. They plod along, one sleepy step ahead of their burn rate, just trying to get to release day without being overcome by the wolves. That’s not Fairly Unusual. We’re going to walk out on stage birthday party naked, grab a microphone and start singing ‘America the Beautiful’ with the wrong lyrics, because the louder the audience shouts and the more they shake their fists, the more TV cameras will get pointed in our direction. And TV cameras equal sales.”

“Then with all due respect, who buys our game?”

“Everyone. I will personally award a brand new Sovereign 7GL 650-horsepower Gullwing to the first player to reach max level in Kings and Conquests.”


“A two million dollar supercar? Most games would produce a winner in a few months,” Brody said.

“Try weeks,” someone else added.

“The first guy to get to level 3 will be one of the most famous players in the game, and he’ll be too scared to leave the Inn,” Wyland replied. “Death is permanent in KNC. You die, you start over. You die, your subscription cost goes up. You die, you don’t get your stuff back unless you’re the first to find the body, you have the right skills and you escape alive. A lot of the creatures in our game will be well aware of the potential for regular delivery of hot meals near a corpse. Assuming they don’t just eat the corpse and throw all your stuff over a cliff first.”

“What’s our max level?”


“And you think people have the patience for this?”

“They’ll attack it like Norse warlords, and KNC will reward them by beating them senseless over and over again. They will squeeze that water skin for the last drop of even the slightest taste of victory.”

“What keeps them from getting frustrated?”

“Nothing. I hope they get frustrated. I hope they rage against every injustice in the game, because we will have an endless supply. That will motivate them to keep playing.”

“They’ll give up.”

“If they give up, then for them, the game is over. Then they can run to the Internet and broadcast to the world how much of a loser they are.”

“Mr. Wyland, forgive me for my ignorance. I’m not as familiar with gaming culture as you are.” Eduardo Catalan was a senior representative from the Ponferrada Group. His Spanish accent was still rather thick, despite the fact he had been assigned to his hedge fund’s North American offices for many years. “Isn’t the business model here one of rewards for continued play?”

“Let me ask you a question, Mr. Catalan. What is the difference between a game that takes a subscription fee and rewards you with easy-to-obtain treasure and a vending machine?”

“I think the metaphor you would prefer would be a slot machine, Mr. Wyland,” Catalan replied.

“That’s even better. A slot machine is a mechanism that pits a casino against a player to see who runs out of money first.”

“Then should we not be looking for ways to make our game a pleasant experience?”

“Absolutely. I think exhilaration is pleasant, and I think a lot of our players would agree. Wouldn’t you?”

“I’ve never played video games much.”

“Mr. Catalan, the most thrilling moment in Kings and Conquests will be when you and your fellow level two players barely make it back to town on a rainy, lightning-flashing night with the ass in your pants missing.”

The room roared with laughter. Even Mr. Catalan’s face broke into a smile as he shook his head.

“That’s the experience I want to get across. I want players to be continuously aware the world in our game is unsafe. That will set KNC apart from the theme park simulators it will be competing against. I want the prospect of sundown in our game to scare people to the point where they don’t want to visit the next room in their own in-game house. Meanwhile, there will be a rather lucrative achievement for the most spectacular in-game death.”

“What’s a theme park simulator?” one of the investors asked.

“That’s a massively multiplayer game where every adventure location is set up like a theme park ride. You line up with four random people, and then you all sit in a little car that propels you through the attraction. Then you get a balloon at the end,” Tyler replied.

“Exactly. That’s fine the first two or three times you play, but there’s no potential for exploration. No surprises. In fact, a lot of those games punish players who get out of their metaphorical automatic car! Not so with KNC. Every moment in our game should be a life-or-death balancing act between risk and reward. Every discovery should fill players with ruthless greed. Look! A treasure chest! This might be the gold haul that sets them up for the next ten levels. Or, it could be a trunk full of snakes. What it isn’t going to be is a grind fest with an autoloot button.”

“There’s always some genius out there who will have it all figured out in a week,” Janice said with a smirk.

“Good. Kings and Conquests will pose one and only one question to Captain Video Game and his team of finger-twitching geniuses: You think you can you beat the system? Because in this game, the system beats back.”

The Pub

MALIBU, CALIFORNIA – Southern California developer Fairly Unusual Games today announced the opening of their brand new worldwide corporate headquarters. Company spokesperson Jacob Brewer explained the completion of a state-of-the-art seaside office perched along Pacific Coast Highway overlooking world-famous Zuma Beach had been accelerated to help the company complete its first retail game.

Mr. Brewer also announced the company’s crash preparations for the upcoming GamesWest Supercon, where it is expected they will present players and the media with a first look at their ambitious debut title, Kings and Conquests.

Fairly Unusual made history only last week, becoming the first game developer to raise $125 million in crowdfunding revenue. More than 85,000 people have participated in the campaign CEO Garrett Wyland is calling “The Ultimate Gathering of Heroes.”

Devils Demons and Dead Men is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!

Dawnsong Chapter Six

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my LadyStar™ fantasy adventure series Dawnsong: The Last Skyblade

“I trust my weapon.”
– Alanna MacLeese

I was going to put a day for this but I don’t know what day it is here yet. Talitha says there’s a calendar here called an astral calendar, I think? Anyway it’s got all these circles and to find out what day it is you have to see where your circles touch the other circles and then there’s a line from this circle to that circle and I’m getting jumbly puzzles just writing about it. I’ll figure out a day to put for this later when Talitha figures out more of that book she got.

Today Ranko found the jackpot! There was another wooden shack on the whole other side of this big farm house, and inside we got all these farm tools! Let’s see, there was a pitchfork and a shovel, and a plow blade, and a bag of dirt, and lots of little empty cans, and tons of gloves. We have enough gloves to last us for a million years now!

Anyway, inside the other shack we found an oil lantern and a little container kind of like a vase that is about halfway full of oil for it. There were two shacks. Did I tell you that part? We found the farm stuff in one but there was another one that was the other one from before, I think.

Okay, so it finally got sunny after it rained for a whole day and a half, but we still only use the lamp at night so we don’t run out of oil. Sometimes I like when it rains but I still like sunshiny days best. I bet if we find another wooden shack there will be more oil in it, but Alanna still said we should be careful about burning the lantern too much. I hope we don’t find any more gloves, though, or we’re going to run out of places to put them. We only have twelve hands!

I’m not too sure about this ring. I know Talitha says I have to be virtuous and courageous and honorable so it’s more powerful, but I don’t know if I know how to do all that stuff! It sounds hard! I mean I would never lie or steal anything, but I think there’s more to it than that. After me and Talitha read more of the book, we noticed it kept going back to the word ‘honor.’ I’m pretty sure I know what that means, but I’m still not sure. I guess I’ll just have to do my best. I wonder when I’ll find the sword? I hope it’s not scary or something. I’m pretty sure it won’t be. I really like my ring. It’s pretty and I really like wearing it.

I hope Enken comes back soon.

Cici Ryan clumsily pushed her way through the side door of the farm house. Normally she would have had no trouble with the wooden handle and lock, but at the moment, her hands were full. She carefully walked through what everyone had agreed was at least some kind of kitchen and arrived in the main room where Alanna, Shannon and Jessica were enjoying a bowl of apples they had picked from the farm’s nearby orchard.

“What is that!?” Shannon exclaimed.

Jessica put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing.

“Is it alive?” Alanna asked.

Cici stalked over to the table and practically poured the enormous orange cat on to the wooden surface. It didn’t move. It just laid there as if it had been hit with knockout gas.

“I found him in the barn. He was sleeping on a big pile of those cloth sacks we found yesterday,” Cici exhaled. “His name is Hikousen.”

Jessica peered at the huge cat’s fuzzy face. “Well, he’s purring, so he must be alive, at least.”

“That creature weighs forty pounds if he weighs an ounce! How did you carry him all the way here from the barn?” Shannon asked. “For that matter, how does he eat? That gigantic thing couldn’t catch a mouse in a million years!”

“Because I’m strong!” Cici replied, as if announcing the most obvious thing in the world. “My mom and dad never let me have a pet, but Hikousen is my pet cat now.” Cici started stroking his ears and back. Hikousen moved just enough to make his other ear reachable, then didn’t move again.

The sound of fast approaching footsteps made all the girls look up. The front door banged open. “Boss! You need to come see this!” Ranko shouted in an out-of-breath voice as she pointed back in the direction of the south field. “I think we found the hidden treasure cave of treasure-land or something! I left the Professor to guard it!”

“You left Talitha to guard something!?” Shannon asked as she and the others hurried for the door. “I think we need to work on our job responsibilities list!”

“Hey, there were only two of us, and if we wait for the Professor to run across that field, it would be dark already! Come on!”

Hikousen snored.

LadyStar for Warrior Moms and Warrior Dads Chapter Two: Teamwork

Growing up, I played a lot of sports. I joined numerous organizations for kids my age including scouting, a swim team and finally marching band in both high school and college. The one thing all those experiences had in common was the primacy of teamwork and sportsmanship. I learned how important teamwork was for success in life from participating in those clubs and teams. I found out what it was like to be a champion, and why I was able to participate in so many victories. I’ve been asked on numerous occasions to describe the LadyStar story in as few words as possible. Business executives call it an “elevator pitch.” I’ve gotten pretty good at rattling off shorter and shorter summaries of my work over the years.

Now I can describe it in one word: Teamwork.

That word raises eyebrows from time to time. You see, all seven of my main characters are girls between the ages of 11 and 18. Unfortunately in American popular culture, we don’t do a very good job of portraying girls working together as a team. When America encounters more than one fictional teenage girl, they are usually rivals.

If you’ve spent even a little time watching television written for teenage audiences, you will instantly recognize how central rivalry is in many storylines. I call it the “homecoming queen syndrome.” The show starts with many girls, and ends when one claims the tiara and all her rivals are destroyed. That’s not a healthy message. It becomes destructive when it is portrayed as normal. Treachery and bitterness are a reality, to be sure, but they certainly shouldn’t be presented as goals or as a basis for success in life.

In LadyStar, Jessica and her friends work together as a team to overcome challenges and obstacles. Each character has a different personality and brings different strengths and weaknesses to the group. Throughout the story, the girls put a great deal of effort into learning how to work together. They don’t always agree, but they never become bitter or hostile to each other.

There are no attitudes. There is no unacceptable language. The characters don’t betray or sabotage each other. This basic focus on teamwork becomes very important later in the series because each character develops different powers and fighting abilities. They quickly learn to depend on each other. Jessica Halloran’s adventures powerfully reinforce the values of friendship and teamwork chapter after chapter.

We’ve never had a problem teaching young boys the vital importance of teamwork. There is no reason we can’t teach exactly the same values to girls. Communicating those values is one of the reasons I write these books. You can be sure when I write an adventure series for boys, teamwork will be one of its core values as well.

But teamwork alone isn’t enough.

LadyStar for Warrior Moms and Warrior Dads Chapter One

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for considering the LadyStar™ fantasy adventure series. LadyStar for Warrior Moms and Warrior Dads will take no longer than fifteen minutes to read. It will describe why I believe the LadyStar series is important, and why I think my characters will serve to inspire, strengthen and encourage young readers like your child.

When we started this project all the way back in the summer of 1998, we knew we were setting some pretty ambitious goals for ourselves. My artists, my editor and my technical staff are some of the best in the world at what they do, and now I believe we’ve succeeded in launching one of the best action-adventure book series available today.

My name is Shane Lochlann Black. I’m a science-fiction and fantasy adventure author. I’ve been writing professionally for video games, television, major corporations and my own publishing company for more than 25 years. I’ve written and published more than 90 books in the last seven years. I’ve worked in animated television, children’s educational and interactive software and merchandising and licensing for numerous popular characters. I hold the degree of Bachelor of Arts in English Education. I’m academically qualified to teach the English language up to the high school level. My university emphasis was creative writing. Both my parents were award-winning television and newspaper journalists, so I come by my writing talent honestly.

When I first set out to bring Jessica Halloran and the Ajan Warriors to life, I was in the process of writing an episodic video game script. My company had invented a point-and-click adventure playable in a standard web browser. I needed characters and a story.

My first thought was to license another company’s characters, but that proved to be more expensive and time consuming than I thought it would. So I created a story world called LadyStar.

My first adventure game went on to rather impressive success given its limited production values. It became clear after a while that the characters and world I had created were far larger and had far more potential than just one game. As I explored all the options available to me, I adapted the story to other media and watched it grow. We published a print manga. We published a web comic with more than a quarter million readers. We produced a full line of licensed merchandise. We recorded an audiocast. I wrote a 79,000-word novel which remained my best-selling book for three years. Each time we developed and released a new product, the story got stronger, the characters became more interesting, and the world they inhabited became more vivid. All we needed was something to bring it all together.

So in January of 2017, I sat down to a blank screen to reboot my series. I wrote an original full-length fantasy adventure novel called Dawnsong The Last Skyblade. I believe it is the finest work of my career so far.

Let me explain why.