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Happy Holidays! Uncle Ant’s Tips & Gifts Guide 2017

Uncle Ant’s Tips & Gifts Guide 2017

Bruce Lee once said, “Absorb what is useful. Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own.” After working in content since 2000 and being self-employed since 2011, I’ve gotten to encounter many a thing that adds value to my day, to my life, to my work, and to my family. So this year, I thought I’d share some of those things and tips with you. If they’re useful, please use them and pass them on. Happy Holidays from your Uncle Ant 🙂

Jump to what you want

Reading

Organizing

Writing & Publishing

Cooking

Craft Beer

Travel & Wonder

Reading

Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache/Three Pines series

Set not just in Quebec, but in the brilliance and darkness of the human heart. These books are technically murder mysteries, and I’m not usually a mystery fan. But the poignant beauty of these books, the vivid characters, the reminder that murder and life are both ordinary and extraordinary, these are among the many things that will have you understand why anytime I pick up a Gamache book, my wife knows that I’m pretty much gone for the weekend. Another perk: reading these books will tell you the 4 statements that put you on the path to wisdom. That alone is worthwhile.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

While Sir Terry left this world in 2015, the 34 books in his landmark series live on. Irreverent and hilarious yet deeply insightful and serious, Discworld is a potent reminder that fantasy is just a lens through which we understand our own world—and a touch of laughter is a good way to digest difficult truths.

The Rucksack Universe

Naturally, I’m a bit partial to my own work. Take travel, magical realism, soak ’em in beer, and you get the Rucksack Universe series. In addition to the 4 titles currently available, I’ve got 2 manuscripts soon to be published, and have a bunch of shorter pieces in the works too.

Organizing

Ultimately, there is no system, there is only your system. I know there are lots of various systems on the market, but none of them have ever interested me. My system is a mashup of tools that work well for me, my family, and my own circumstances and peccadilloes:

BulletJournal

I’ve carried a notebook and pen since I was 17, and I doubt I’ll ever stop. The biggest evolution I’ve made in my notebook habit? BulletJournaling, or bujo for short.

My notebook nowadays is for jotting down ideas, keeping track of the day’s personal and household tasks, and trying to get down various observations and recollections about my kids as I try to keep up with their growing up. While I don’t use the larger notebook they focus on, I love the BulletJournal system for organizing my pocket Moleskines and Leuchtturm1917s. BulletJournaling has made a big difference in how I use my notebooks. Here are some of the things I use daily:

  • Page numbers. Yes. The simple, humble page number. All the years of carrying a notebook, but not once did I think to number the pages. That’s why I mention it here. For Moleskines I have to write in the page numbers, but Leuchtturm1917s have them pre-printed.
  • Index. My Index organizes my bujo by headings and page numbers. When I needed to duck back into a note from my Business Master Class or my son’s ideas for a pizza party, I just need to check my index and thumb to the page.
  • 15 pages of 2-column list space. The first 15 pages of my bujo are for lists. Task comes to mind? Down it goes. I organize lists by heading (listed in the index of course).
  • Daily pages. My daily page has the date, followed by a “1 2 3 RTM” (I use this to remind me to do 3 tasks from the 15 pages at the front of the bujo, along with tasks in Remember the Milk). I list out any notable events for the day, along with bulleted things I need to do.

Remember the Milk

Do not constantly write down repeating tasks. I repeat: do not constantly write down repeating tasks. Have a tool that does that for you. If every day I had to write down “write 1,200 words a day,” I’d get annoyed—I should be working on the 1,200 words! Remember the Milk has free and paid services for you to choose from, along with a range of device apps and their web interface (which is what I use). The free level currently gives me what I need: scheduling tasks but, more importantly, setting tasks to repeat. Life is a series of many regular things with occasional surprises, and Remember the Milk helps you keep track of the regular while being ready for the new stuff.

Google Calendar

The sharing features alone make this a must-use for me. My wife, also self-employed, uses Google Calendar to manage her personal calendar along with her studio’s teaching calendar. By sharing calendars with each other, we can easily know what each other has ahead for the day and don’t cross-schedule things for when one of us is supposed to the primary parent for our two kiddos.

A 2-page document in iWork Pages (or Word, Google Docs, whatever lights your match)

Each Monday morning, I pull up a 2-page template in Pages. The first page is 2 columns, organized by client (and that includes the articles/copywriting side of my business, plus a separate heading for fiction). I list out all the week’s tasks for each client/assignment, bulleted with an empty checkbox (once a task is done, I change the bullet to a checked checkbox). The second, one-column page has space for notes and observations about the week, as well as tasks that I won’t be handling in the current week, but that need to be tended to the following week (or added to Remember the Milk for future scheduling).

Writing & Publishing

Scrivener

For years Scrivener has been my workhorse for all my projects, from freelance articles to books. With Scrivener I can organize my notes, structure my outlines, and do all my drafting. “Snapshots” make it easy to do version control as I refine drafts. And Scrivener’s compiling function helps me generate files in any format I need.

Vellum

Until 2017, I used Scrivener for my production e-book files. Scrivener remains my primary tool for planning, managing, and writing all my writing projects. Starting in 2017 though, I began switching production to Vellum for all my e-book and paperback files. Vellum has been on the scene for a while, and many small publishers have begun using it for their e-book files. In 2017 Vellum added paperback options, and that made it a no-brainer for me. Instead of a offering a big suite production and design tools, Vellum focuses on providing a few simple options that authors and publishers can choose from to produce professional e-book and paperback files that work across all major distribution channels.

Apple 10.5” iPad Pro with Logitech Keyboard Case and Apple Pencil

2017 was a year of tech upgrades for me. The 10.5” iPad Pro with the Logitech Keyboard Case has become one of my most important tools. The iPad itself is my second screen, and I use it regularly for research and social media. The Logitech keyboard has good size and spacing, and feels like using a regular laptop keyboard. As a fast typist, I also find it quieter than most computer keyboards, making it much nicer to use when, say, transcribing notes during a phone interview. I also use my iPad Pro as my main travel system, for daily writing production, taking notes, checking in with my wife and kids, etc.

The Logitech keyboard uses the iPad’s smart connectors for power and data, so there’s no battery to charge. A simple tug separates the case-protected iPad from the keyboard, for when you just need the screen. I also like the convenient sleeve for the Apple Pencil.

I also recommend completing the package with the Apple Pencil. From marking up scanned documents to drawing in the Linea app, I’ve found the Pencil to be a useful tool that brings the iPad’s functionality full circle.

Some have said that the iPad Pro now is a laptop replacement. Personally, I still use a laptop as my workhorse, but the 2017 iPad Pros are a big step forward for tablets.

How to put your own e-books out into the world

The nuts and bolts of generating e-book files and all that are beyond the scope of what I can talk about here. My rule of thumb is that wherever you can directly load e-books to a channel, do it. Here’s where and how I recommend you sell your e-books:

  • Amazon KDP. This puts your titles for sale on Amazon and gives you access to its global sites as well. I do not recommend making your work available exclusively on Amazon though, via their KDP Select program, but that’s a choice you’ll have to make yourself based on your own goals and circumstances.
  • Kobo Writing Life. This Canada-based company is the major e-book player in Canada, but they also give you access to markets in over 180 countries. The team there is top-notch, full of experts who know their stuff and want to help authors and publishers get their titles to the right readers.
  • Apple iBooks. Every Apple mobile device includes their free iBooks app. The iBooks store has solid merchandising and a global team.
  • Draft2Digital. They came on the scene a couple of years ago and have been really impressive with their intuitive interface, focus on services that work well for authors, and their growing network of e-book channels. You can load your e-book to D2D, and choose from dozens of retailers to distribute too (including Kobo and iBooks, but again, I believe in going direct wherever you can. Wherever I can’t load directly, I use D2D.

Cooking

Cooking is my hobby and avocation. I’m not a man of many hobbies—I don’t woodwork, I’m not into cars, and knitting is my wife’s domain. But I cook. Boy howdy, do I cook. In the kitchen, I believe in quality tools, and often follow the recommendations from trusted sources such as America’s Test Kitchen. I’m not particularly interested in the latest and greatest cookbook, and I’m not interested in meal prep services such as Blue Apron. I also don’t believe that cooking has to be some poncy, all-consuming task—I’ve got a business to run, a wife to be with, and 2 kids to steer to adulthood, after all. Cooking is essential to who I am though, so here are things I use to make my kitchen time both more fun and more productive:

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Kitchen Magazine and Milk Street Radio Podcast

A fan of Cooks Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen for some years, I wondered what founder Christopher Kimball would do when he left the company in 2015. After taking a chance on his endeavor, Milk Street, I wish he’d left even earlier.

As much as I love CI and ATK, I consider them more informational and educational. There are many recipes that I simply do not imagine myself ever making, though it’s fun to read about them—they simply aren’t reflective of how my family and I typically eat or how I cook. With Milk Street, though, it is totally different. Milk Street draws on cooking traditions and ideas from the entire world—just like I do. The magazine is built from an understanding that anyone, anywhere needs to get dinner on the table. They don’t necessarily want to faff about with it all evening on a weeknight… but they still want to deliver an excellent homemade meal. When I receive a new issue of the every-other month magazine, I can prepare anything in it. I’ve half-joked with my wife that receiving Milk Street means we’ve pretty much gotten our meal list for the next two months.

I’ve been thrilled with the recipes and the new insights on how to approach new foods, familiar foods, and fresh ideas. Milk Street helps me make my cooking craft better than ever. In addition to the subscription magazine (and I recommend springing for the print and tablet combo), I also listen to their free, weekly hour-long podcast. The interviews are fascinating, and there is some familiar content from the now-defunct ATK podcast.

The Splendid Table Podcast

For over 20 years, The Splendid Table has informed and inspired cooks and those who love to eat. As much as I respect departing host Lynne Rosetto Casper, who is retiring at the end of 2017, I am excited about the new host, Francis Lam. He brings a multicultural aspect to TST that fits well with today’s listener. I also like the new themes the show has been doing, tying together the stories in an episode in a way that brings greater depth to a topic or aspect of food and cooking.

The only kitchen knives you need

When I was in Thailand in 2003 and 2004, I went to street stalls/food carts all the time. The folks preparing food there often used just one knife, usually an 8” or 10” chef’s knife. They did everything with it, from big chopping to fine detail work. They don’t have time or inclination to futz about with lots and lots of knives. So pick a good knife, learn to use it well, and rock it hard.

  • 8” chef knife or 7” santoku
  • 8” serrated bread knife
  • 3.5” paring knife

For your primary kitchen workhorse, choose your own adventure: either an 8” chef’s knife with a Japanese-style edge, or a 7” santoku. Get both if you really want (or need 2 workhorse knives for you plus someone else in the house), but really, one is all you need. The 8” chef is the traditional European-style knife, and the santoku is the overall wider knife that is lovely for chopping and scooping work. Some find a santoku too small, and some find a chef’s knife too big and overbearing. I feel at home with either, but I would suggest you pick the one that feels best in your hand.

I know some people obsess about carbon steel versus stainless steel, and I don’t give two cabbages. I only care about modern steels that combine the best of both. While my own knives are a German brand (called Solingen, the house brand at a knife shop I worked at some years ago) with a thicker European-style edge, if I were buying new knives today I would go for the thinner Japanese-style edges.

Find a knife that feels good in your hand and that is high quality. If its edge in any way resembles the micro-teethed crap that you see for cheap in most stores, it’s not for you. I haven’t confirmed but am pretty sure those are made from the serrated metal strips from aluminum foil boxes.

A good set of kitchen knives will last all your days. Unless you have specialty cooking needs that require speciality knives, don’t worry about anything else. From these basics, expand out only into what you need for your kitchen style (if you carve a lot of meat, sure, get a carving set; if you fillet a lot of fish, yes, get a fillet knife), but otherwise, these are all you need.

Cast iron

Lodge 12” Cast Iron Skillet

I don’t know why I was so resistant to cast iron. Wait, yes I do. I thought it would be expensive to get and a time-consuming PITA to maintain. With my Lodge 12” Cast Iron Skillet though, neither has been true. Some years back, my in-laws gifted me a double-burner cast iron griddle, and that has been a most useful addition to my kitchen. Back in 2016 my wife and I finally got a skillet. I bake in it, sauté in it, you name it. It’s been a welcome addition to our kitchen, and gets busted out throughout the week.

Do you bake? If I were to get another cast iron skillet, I’d get the 10.25” Lodge cast iron skillet. Most cast iron baking recipes call for a 10”, so if you bake, I’d recommend snagging that too. Amazon also has a 3-piece set that gets you the 8”, 10.25”, and 12” Lodge cast iron skillets.

Cooking acidic things in cast iron

I don’t worry about cooking acidic things such as tomatoes. Based off Milk Street and ATK’s recommendations, I keep acidic ingredient cooking to under half an hour.

The best way to clean & season cast iron

I know there are some folks who think of cleaning cast iron in a manner reserved for extreme religious views. If you’re one of those people, you may want to consider skipping ahead. If not, well, I warned you. Contrary to common belief, cast iron is easy to take care of—but no, you don’t do that useless oven nonsense you saw on YouTube. Don’t sweat soap and water either. If you need to use soap and water to get rid of a difficult, stubborn bit of food, don’t worry about it. I generally use a nylon scrubbing brush and some hot water. Usually that’s enough. Sometimes I use a paper towel and kosher salt. For really stubborn stuck-on food, I have indeed used a green coarse scrubbie pad and soapy water.

Once I’ve cleaned my cast iron, here’s what I do to maintain or restore the seasoning:

  • Place the wet cast iron cookware on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high.
  • Once the water has evaporated and the pan is visibly dry, pour a teaspoon of oil into the pan.
  • Use a paper towel to rub the oil all over the cookware. (For sided pieces such as a skillet, some oil may come back down the sides and pool in the corner. Wipe out the excess with a paper towel.)
  • Turn on your range fan, set a timer for five minutes, and leave the cast iron alone. The oil will smoke—and it should, because that means it’s chemical structure is changing to the polymer it needs to become. That practically non-stick surface that good seasoned cast iron is known for? That’s the oil breaking down and changing chemically to bond with the metal.
  • When the five minutes are done, turn off the heat and let the piece cool.

Milk Street has some tips here and here on how to clean and season cast iron (and to restore it after heavy-duty cleaning too)

Craft Beer

The best craft beer

Yes, there is one. And yes, I believe that my choice is absolutely right and correct. And it is this:

The best craft beer is the one you have in your hand right now.

There you go. Drink and be merry.

How to get amazing craft beers

I don’t know where you live. As you likely know about me, I live in Eugene, Oregon, one of the best beer cities in the US. We’re home to over a dozen breweries and cideries, and from grocery stores to specialty bottle shops such as The Bier Stein and 16 Tons, we have access to amazing curated craft beers from all over the world.

If you have places like this where you are, then make sure you are giving them your business. If there is a beer you want that they don’t have, odds are the beer buyer will be happy to take your suggestion and do what they can to get it in. The folks in these places are experts and professionals, and they love craft beer as much as they love making sure their customers can get the best stuff available.

But craft beers might be harder to come by for you. If so, then here’s what I recommend:

The beer clubs at Monthly Clubs.

Kris Kalef has put together teams of knowledgeable people who can source the best of anything, from chocolate and cheese to wine and beer. He’s given me behind-the-scenes peeks, and I like what he and his team do. Their curated monthly subscription clubs give you access to things you might not be able to easily access. They also do special exclusive offers you can’t get elsewhere (such as one they did with Eugene’s Alesong—incredible beers that are not always easy to come by). Check out their clubs and get great craft beer to your door:

That said, though, I can’t possibly leave you hanging. I do have a few beers to suggest you get your hands on. Naturally, availability varies, and it’s not also to source a specific beer. But if you can, here are some of my personal faves:

Ninkasi Helles Belles

When Ninkasi ramped up their lager production a few years back, I wondered how it would be. I love Ninkasi’s brand, I love their company, and they have wonderful people working there. But I’m not a hophead. Yet from the moment I started drinking Ninkasi’s lagers—from their Pravda and Lux to their now-flagship Helles Belles, I was hooked. Lager’s give you nowhere to hide—either you bring your A game to every batch, or you’re just wasting water. Helles Belles is clean-flavored, both light on the palate yet packing great flavor from its balance of malt and hops. A regular everyday beer for me.

Anything from Alesong Brewing

Founded by Doug Coombs, Brian Coombs, and Matt Van Wyk (former brewmaster at renown Oakshire Brewing), Eugene-based Alesong Brewing busted onto the scene in 2016 and took home a gold from the Great American Beer Festival their first year. From their Strawberry Symphony to their Shake Your Tree Wild Ale with Peaches, they approach beer the way the world’s great winemakers approach wine. They also may actually be wizards and alchemists, but I have yet to confirm that on the record. Anything you can find from them, snag a bottle.

Yachats Brewing

In a similar vein, I’ve been really impressed by this recent brewery, headquartered on the Oregon Coast in the wee town of Yachats (pronounced yah-hots). Their boysenberry ale was my personal highlight of the 2016 KLCC Microbrew Fest, and everything I’ve had from them I’ve really enjoyed.

If you only need/want/can afford one type of beer glass for those beers when a pint glass won’t do…

The variety of beer glasses available is absolutely staggering. Those glasses exist for good reason, as they do accentuate characteristics of the beers they are designed for. That’s all well and fine, but not everyone wants or needs their kitchen to have more glassware than a typical bar. Not every beer is best served in a pint glass though, so here’s my suggestion…

Get a really nice wine glass.

That’s right. Hold your nose if you must, but just as wine glasses are designed to bring out the best in wine, they often work really well for beer. Personally, I’m a fan of the Riedel New World Pinot stemmed glasses (and got a set for me and my wife for Christmas 2016). Focus on any glass with that tulipy design: bulbous bottom, narrowing at the top: you’ll get the full color of the beer, and the narrowed top will concentrate aroma and effervescence.

Travel & Wonder

To inspire you and get you off the couch: Atlas Obscura.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the curious places of the world. As much as I love fiction, I’ve always enjoyed that there is far more oddity in our own real world as you might find in any story world. There aren’t many things that I read every single day, but Atlas Obscura is one of them. Its stories of fascinating places and curious bits of history are a reminder that this world is as varied as it is interesting, and will never stop surprising you.

Travel Rick Steves Radio & Podcast

Back around 2001 or so, Rick Steves gave a talk in Eugene. He had a friendly wonder to him, a kindness and curiosity. He had a way of both setting people completely at ease, while also inspiring them to want to jet off around the world. (I also bought a money belt from him, which to this day I still use on my international trips.)

I’ve also seen Rick referred to as “the Mister Rogers of travel,” and that is a fairly apt description. Nowadays, in addition to Rick’s guidebooks (including his classic, Europe Through the Back Door), Rick offers trips, his free PBS show, and a wonderful weekly podcast. While Rick’s guidebooks and tours focus on Europe, the podcast is global in scope. I’ve learned about places I want to go—such as markets in Provence, France—and I’ve been inspired to learn about parts of the world and its history that I did not know about (such as Graham Robb’s The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts). The free podcast is about 50 minutes, and I highly recommend you add it to your must-listen.

A money belt

I’ve been to a few places on this wee world of ours, and I’ve always been glad that I have my money belt strapped to my belly. It holds my passport, spare cash, and any tickets or other important documents. It’s given me peace of mind knowing that I had those essentials with me, instead of leaving them with my backpack or in a supposedly safe hotel safe.

Tip: on days you know you need something from your money belt, such as flying from the airport, when you get where you’re going, head to the restroom and get out what you need from the privacy of a stall.

A lightweight rain jacket and a good hat

Living in western Oregon since 2000, I consider an umbrella something that’s really cute for my kids to use. You’ll find this sentiment common with Northwesterners, and we know about living with rain and doing lots of stuff outside, often, yes, while it is raining. A lightweight rain shell is often all you need (with appropriate warm and base layers underneath, of course).

However, I cannot abide hoods. They compromise my peripheral vision, and that just drives me mad. So I instead have a narrow-brimmed fedora. It looks snazzy, keeps my head dry, and I can maintain good visuals on wherever I’m wandering for the day.

Happy Holidays!

Wherever you are and however you celebrate, I wish you and yours all the best. May next year be better than this year, and may you know peace, striving, fulfillment, and perspective.

P.S.: Some links are affiliate links, which earns me an affiliate commission for any purchases you make.




Free Rucksack Universe Fiction: Stars in your beer

Stars in your beer - B.S. Trotter - Rucksack Universe Anthony St. Clair

From The Lost & Found Travels of BS Trotter

Originally published in London Rising

Okay, we all know that after a couple of pints you can, well, see things. But for Londoners they were not expecting to see strange things in their beer.

I want to make a distinction here: they are seeing strange things in their beer, not because of their beer. We all sometimes see strange things because of beer, typically because we should have stopped about five pints back.

Street lights turn weird for me. After I’ve had a few too many I always find that the street lights, instead of just shining and being bright, in fact have a sort of halo. The light hangs in cloudy rings around the light bulb, as if the lampposts were strangely camouflaged angels. Sometimes I think I’m seeing the world how painter Vincent Van Gogh saw things when he painted his famed Starry Night.

Then I realize I probably just need a kabob and my bed.

However, Londoners are seeing the strangest thing in their pints. Reports and calls and letters have been flooding in to London Rising that all over the city, when someone first picks up a brimming-full pint of their favorite blackest stout, they see a star inside.

Folks, that’s not fancy talk from a humble itinerant reporter suddenly aspiring to be a poet. That’s what people have said, over and over and over. The same thing.

A star.

They look at their pint, which is dark as night sky, and in the middle of the beer, it’s as if they see a small spark. It’s there just a moment, then it either fades or simply can’t be seen anymore or wasn’t there to begin with.

First Call Brewing declined a request to be interviewed for this story. However, the cheeky buggers did point out that no stars are used to brew Galway Pradesh Stout.

Keep those reports coming in, though. I’ve heard it said that after a good pint you can understand the universe. Like you I didn’t expect to see the universe in my beer, but I’ve a feeling the universe is a better place for it.

The Rucksack Universe is Anthony St. Clair’s ongoing beery travel fantasy series of myth, intrigue, and adventure.




Free Rucksack Universe Fiction: Brewing School Launches in London

Brewschool - BS Trotter - Rucksack Universe

From The Lost & Found Travels of BS Trotter

Originally published in London Rising

BrewSchool has opened in London, England. Focused on “brewing brewers,” the teaching operation will train prospective professional brewers in all aspects of the beer industry. Areas of training include developing recipes; the brewing process; equipment selection, ordering, installation, and maintenance; finances and regulation; scaling business; packaging (kegs, bottles, and cans); marketing; and serving beer.

Founded by longtime homebrewer Zara Porter, BrewSchool is an interesting new initiative in the industry. “BrewSchool gives women and men the opportunity to understand every aspect of this ancient and complex process,” says Porter. “By the time students graduate BrewSchool, they will be ready to bring value to any of the world’s breweries, or start their own.”

Porter’s younger sister, Branwen, is the newly appointed second-in-command at First Call Brewing, which recently regained its independence from Deep, Inc., and left London to return to its roots in New Galway, Ireland. First Call is among over a dozen breweries that have already pledged support for BrewSchool and its first class of graduates.

In addition to setting up shop in London, Porter has also negotiated certifications and special offers for BrewSchool graduates. Students will be eligible for business planning services, apprenticeships at small breweries and large operations such as First Call, and will also be eligible for special financing offers for new business startups.

BrewSchool offers a new way to get into the esoteric industry. “Brewing will always rely in part on the apprentice model and being a self-starter,” says Porter. “However, all brewers benefit from an understanding of the full process, and they can then build on this strong foundation of knowledge and training depending on where their professional journey takes them.”

Porter is embarking on a two-month world tour to promote the school, develop and further relationships with breweries abroad, and recruit students. The first formal training sessions, each lasting six months, are expected to begin early next year.

The Rucksack Universe is Anthony St. Clair’s ongoing beery travel fantasy series of myth, intrigue, and adventure.




Rob Widmer & McMenamins: 2 new craft beer articles

Thirsty for news about Oregon’s craft beer industry? Check out these 2 new articles by me in the October 2016 issue of the Oregon Beer Growler (more in the print and digital edition too):

Brewing Review and Outlook With Rob Widmer – Oregon Beer Growler

The Track for Craft Runs Through McMenamins – Oregon Beer Growler




The old man: the final sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

The Lotus and the Barley, a Rucksack Universe travel fantasy novel by Anthony St. ClairToday is the final sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY! I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride—and remember, we’re only a few days away from the release of the fourth Rucksack Universe adventure…

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:

Buy now from Amazon.com

Get it on iBooks

Buy now from Kobo

The book will also be available in trade paperback. Through June 11, you can enter for a chance to win 1 of 10 signed copies! (US only)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Lotus and the Barley by Anthony St. Clair

The Lotus and the Barley

by Anthony St. Clair

Giveaway ends June 11, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

Sneak Peek: The old man

THE OLD MAN HADN’T noticed the man in black before, but if he had, he didn’t know what he could’ve done differently. Picking at loose threads on his ragged gray coveralls, he drank the rest of his sample and stared at the man in black while making sure he couldn’t be seen.

The man in black drank the women’s homebrew as if it were GPS itself.

Staring down at his empty cup, Gabsir Abrigs hated to admit it, but it damn near was.

It was missing one thing though—only he didn’t know what. Not even the brewmaster knew anymore.

Before he could look away, the smaller of the two women, the quiet one, caught his eye. Before the man in black could turn around and see him too, the old man left the pub.

He had to get back to First Call. It was infuriating enough that Faddah Rucksack was back in London and sure to meddle. The brewmaster would be angry too—angrier even than about having to hear about the Malt and Hops sisters again. But he really needed to change his mind and try some of their homebrew.

Want more?

Pre-order THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY e-book from:

Buy now from Amazon.com

Get it on iBooks

Buy now from Kobo

Enter the Goodreads Giveaway from a chance to win 1 of 10 signed paperbacks (US only):

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Lotus and the Barley by Anthony St. Clair

The Lotus and the Barley

by Anthony St. Clair

Giveaway ends June 11, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway




The taste-off: the next-to-last sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

The Lotus and the Barley, a Rucksack Universe travel fantasy novel by Anthony St. ClairIt’s the next-to-last sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY! I hope you’ve enjoyed these wee tastes of the fourth Rucksack Universe adventure.

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:

Buy now from Amazon.com

Get it on iBooks

Buy now from Kobo

The book will also be available in trade paperback. Through June 11, you can enter for a chance to win 1 of 10 signed copies! (US only)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Lotus and the Barley by Anthony St. Clair

The Lotus and the Barley

by Anthony St. Clair

Giveaway ends June 11, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Tune in tomorrow for the final sneak peek!

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

Sneak Peek: The taste-off

“ZARA KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT tasting beer,” said Branwen. “She can taste a hop substitution while stuffed up with a head cold.”

Rucksack and Zara locked eyes and grinned. Then they each took a long draw of their pints.

“You bottled this ten days ago,” Rucksack said. “And since you did the boil on your stove, there’s some caramelization.” He took a smaller sip, moving it around his palate before swallowing. “But you anticipated that and compensated by adding more hops to increase the bitterness.”

“Is that all you notice?” Zara asked.

“The New Galway Gold hops have been less bitter this year,” Rucksack replied. “All that damn rain in Ireland. Ah, o’ course. So you also bumped up the roasted barley and used a hotter roast,” he added. “That was risky. Easily could have come out too astringent, out of balance.”

It’s like he was there with us, Branwen thought. It’s like he’s reading my notes.

“But it didn’t,” Rucksack continued, and Zara’s eyes brightened as he said, “Because you lowered the temperature while steeping the malted barley, to enhance the sweetness of the sugars being drawn out!”

They all clinked glasses and drank more stout. “It’s been ages since I could talk that level o’ detail,” Rucksack said. “Thank you.”

“Same to you,” Zara replied. “I’m… impressed. You really know your beer.”

“I didn’t know we had a brother,” Branwen said, nudging her sister.

“Oh, saying I was long lost would be putting it mildly,” Rucksack said.

“You’re not going to hit on us, are you?” Zara asked. “Because to put it mildly, you’re wasting your time.”

“Thank goodness,” Rucksack replied. “For a moment I thought you were going to hit on me.” He drank more of his pint, which was now almost empty. Then he stared at a spot over Zara’s head, then Branwen’s, almost as if he were reading something?

“You two really know your stuff,” Rucksack said. “This homebrew is amazing… but it’s not a clone o’ GPS.”

The smile fell off Zara’s face. Branwen’s breath paused.

“It’s the closest I’ve ever encountered,” Rucksack continued. “It’s a damn sight better than the swill passing off for it here tonight. It’s certainly making me feel more myself. But it doesn’t have the secret.”

“So we’ve kind of made GPS,” said Branwen, “only not GPS as it’s supposed to be, but as it is right now.”

“I suppose you could put it that way,” said Rucksack.

“How are we supposed to figure out what na Grúdairí themselves don’t know anymore?” Branwen asked. “That magic, that secret—it’s gone.”

Zara snorted.

Branwen stared at her sister. Before she knew it she said, “You don’t believe in the secret, but something can be real without anyone else believing it. Existence is truth, and it doesn’t give a damn about being believed in. You don’t believe in the secret, that’s your deal, but don’t mock me for what I think.”

Eyes wide, Zara sat back and said nothing.

Rucksack stared from one sister to the other. Again he stared above their heads. Then he was silent, as if he had traveled deep inside his self, into some private world that even from the outside felt as big as the universe. “You said you had studied the lore o’ GPS,” he said slowly. “What have you learned about what it was, and what it is now?”

“For eons there has been the beer,” said Branwen, “and some have said that without the beer the eons wouldn’t have happened. Wherever there has been joy or grief, a hard day or a good day, a lonely drink or a lively party, there has been Galway Pradesh Stout. All around the world, from taps and bottles, the beer has poured. No beer has been as popular or long lived as GPS.”

“Exactly. Today should be like any other day,” replied Rucksack. “People went to the pub after work. Couples opened bottles at dinner. Friends clinked glasses as they watched the match. Some savored their last pint, some their first. Solitary drinkers ordered another GPS, thick and black, with a pillowy-white head like a snowdrift. The stout brings it all into focus, the boldness o’ life, the black and white, the grays and bright colors. It’s said that a pint o’ GPS can make the world make sense, if only for a while. So dry and bitter on the tongue, GPS snaps people back to life, but what really brings them back, time after time and pint after pint, is what’s hidden inside.”

Branwen nodded. “Something was different that day. The beer wasn’t right, but that wasn’t all of it. People realized the beer hadn’t been right for a while.”

“That’s exactly the thing,” said Rucksack, “and it’s been happening all over the world.”

“Where have you been to notice?” Branwen asked.

“Last place I stayed a while was India. I had to deal with some nasty business, but that’s another story for another time. I just got to England a couple o’ days ago. Crossing Asia and Europe I kept encountering dodgy pints, and I realized there was more afoot than dirty lines or a keg left in the sun.”

“And now you’re really noticing that something is wrong with GPS,” Branwen said. “Because this is where First Call Brewing is headquartered?”

“That’s it in one,” Rucksack said. “All this time, people have turned to GPS because it brings them a sense o’ the universe filling them up. It gives a moment when the world makes sense. That moment hasn’t been happening for a while, but people are malleable, forgiving, forgetful. They ignored it, figured it must be them. But it’s happened too many times, and what’s more, the beer is getting worse. Something’s wrong with GPS, and people know it now. But more than that. Something’s rotten in the brewery o’ London. I’ve tried and tried over the years to appeal to the brewmaster. His second-in-command, Gabsir, and I go way back, though not necessarily as best mates. They don’t want my help.”

Zara sat forward. “Because of Guru Deep, I bet.” Bitterness cut through her voice. “Branwen and I can’t stand him.”

Rucksack smiled a thin, sharp smile. “That makes three o’ us. I’m going to sort this out. From the brew kettles o’ First Call, all the way up to Guru Deep’s office at the top o’ the feckin Lotus if I have to.”

“But Deep Inc. took over First Call decades ago,” Branwen said. “What with Galway being destroyed in The Blast, First Call was weakened, had lots of problems, and eventually Deep Inc. took advantage of that. Brewmaster Samara was still in charge when it happened, before she passed leadership to the current brewmaster, Arthur Celbridge. Now Deep Inc. owns two breweries. First Call makes Galway Pradesh Stout, and Deep Brewing brews Deep’s Special Lager. Are you thinking Guru Deep is trying to do something to First Call and GPS?”

“Yes,” said Rucksack, “because it will do what he seeks: hurt me and hurt the world.” A darkness had fallen over Rucksack’s eyes. Long-simmering hostility radiated from him like heat from a boiling brew pot.

“Sounds like you two go way back,” said Zara.

“I’m a thorn he can never quite get out o’ his side, though I try harder.” Rucksack grinned. “I’ve been opposing Deep Inc. since the company’s early days, back when it was run by his grandfather. I’ve always considered the Deeps a pack o’ shysters at best.”

“Deep Inc. began about fifty years after The Blast,” said Branwen, glaring at him. “You look pretty young for a hundred and thirty.”

“It’s not nice to ask a fella his age,” replied Rucksack. “Deep Inc. was mostly fake medical cures then, and tent-revival sermons about the illusion of the world, but always accompanied by the reality o’ the collection plate.” Finishing his pint, Rucksack leaned forward. The clamminess had left his skin and the sweat had dried. His eyes were clear. Behind the darkness, a fire burned. “A few decades ago, Guru Deep came up in the company, doing inspirational talks and self-help books, got famous for his ‘Find Your Third Eye In Half The Time!’ feel-good enlightentainment shite. Today he’s got that, the breweries, his travel guidebooks, and various complicated financial dealings. Over the past few decades he’s built a global empire. Now we’re at a culmination. I’d bet a year’s pints that Guru Deep took over First Call precisely so he could eventually destroy the brewery and the beer.”

“He’s just a big business blowhard,” said Zara.

“Some say Guru Deep is ridiculous, a sparkling nothing with a big smile and a bright suit,” said Rucksack, lowering his voice. He looked over his shoulder and scanned the pub, then turned back to the sisters. “He’s a showman for sure. But make no mistake. He does far more than all the things we just said. For months I’ve been disrupting Guru Deep’s operations. At three in particular—in Marrakech, Mexico City, and Moscow—I saw things that made me wish I was having a nightmare: experiment pits. I shut them down, but the people there… those who had survived… I did what I could, but I can only hope they’ll find a way to live again without screaming. Guru Deep had huge labs where shady and discredited scientists were using people as lab rats. It’s not fake cures anymore. He’s experimenting with reality. Poking at it. Trying to tear it. And seeing what happens to people when you do.”

The sisters leaned back. The air in the pub and the blood in Branwen’s veins felt cold. “Why… Why would he do that?”

“Some people want to rule the world,” said Rucksack. “Guru Deep considers that a lack o’ ambition. He has his sights set far higher. There are those who say the world is an illusion, the dream o’ a sleeping god.”

“That would figure,” said Zara. “Let me guess: Guru Deep doesn’t want to wake the god. He wants to take its place.”

Rucksack nodded. “He hides it well, but everything he does conceals his true self and his true purpose. Guru Deep is one o’ the most dangerous people in the world. Whatever his ultimate plans are, he’s setting them in motion.”

“What can you do about it?” Branwen asked.

“Luckily,” said Rucksack with a smile, “I’m one o’ the most dangerous people in the world too.”

“Who are you, anyway?” Zara asked.

“I’m Faddah Rucksack,” he replied. “The world’s only Himalayan-Irish sage. The hero o’ old and the hero o’ now. He who flew and he who fell. He who lost and he who is trying to regain and restore. I am ten thousand years old. I am the fire o’ life, the tiger’s roar. Time and again in history, I have been the one who kept this world not only turning but thriving, saving lives and ensuring tomorrows. And I am the one who, yet again, will stand against Guru Deep.”

Branwen grinned. I’ve been searching for the secret, she thought. I think I might have found it… And now I have also found someone who can tell me I’m on the right path. She looked at her sister—and even Zara had a brightness in her eyes beyond her usual smoldering hardness and skepticism.

Rucksack’s smile fell away. “I’ve a horrible feeling that I can’t stop him though.”

“What?” said both sisters.

“You are amazing brewers,” said Rucksack, “and I believe we’re meeting for a reason. I trust you—it’s in the beer, who you are, how you make it. You know something I don’t. Something Guru Deep doesn’t. Something even na Grúdairí and the brewmaster don’t know anymore. I can’t stop Guru Deep.” He looked from Branwen to Zara and back to Branwen. “But I reckon we can.”

“How?” Zara asked.

Rucksack nodded at the briefcase. “How about I show you?”

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Irish voice with a Tibetan face: a sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

The Lotus and the Barley, a Rucksack Universe travel fantasy novel by Anthony St. ClairWe’re almost to the end of our sneak peek adventures with THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY. Here’s today’s.

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:

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by Anthony St. Clair

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THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

Sneak Peek: Irish voice with a Tibetan face

TAKING HIS BRIEFCASE, the man got up and Jade the bartender followed. When she came out from behind the bar, the two walked side by side, and she carried an empty pint glass. They seemed to know and respect each other, yet a wariness lay between them. As they approached, Branwen thought she heard the bartender say “ghost,” and the man shook his head and tapped the top of his skull. The bartender only shrugged in reply, as if acknowledging good effort to avoid saying it wasn’t quite enough.

“Good evening,” said Jade. “Zara Porter and Branwen Porter, meet my friend Faddah Rucksack. He is finding our current GPS stock a bit… disappointing.”

“You think my opinion o’ it is merely disappointed?” Rucksack’s accent clipped the “th” sound into a mere “t.”

What’s his story? Branwen thought. Irish voice with a Tibetan face. Even here you don’t come across that every day.

“I’ve drunk horse piss that tasted better than that sour swill. I’d bet my two old swords there isn’t a worse keg in all the world.”

“What a safe bet,” Jade replied, “since you don’t have those swords anymore.”

“And how I wish I could find them and get them back.” Rucksack waved his hand. “Details, details. But off the point. How in the world could you put that keg on, Jade-bloody-London?”

Jade’s elbow moved so quickly Branwen almost missed the dig into Rucksack’s ribs.

Zara stared hard at the man. Then she smiled. “I hated to tell you, Jade,” she said, “since you were so nice to let us have our homebrew tasting here. But there is something off about the GPS. It’s not just the Mirror & Phoenix, though, and we know you’re the best in the city about storage and cleaning. At least the past year, every pint of GPS we’ve had hasn’t been right. But lately, and especially today, it’s just been terrible. The balance is off. The sourness isn’t just a note; it’s a whole damn out-of-tune band. And what’s up with the bitterness? There’s hardly any lately. It’s like they’re not getting enough hops for the brew.”

“I’ll talk to my supplier,” Jade said, coolness in her dark eyes. “In the meantime, I thought if my beer was unacceptable, Rucksack might be interested in your homebrew.”

Rucksack grimaced. “Now, come on, Jade, you know I only drink GPS.”

“Not at the moment you don’t,” Jade replied. “Though if you’re going to be so damn stroppy, I suppose I could always give you a Deep’s Special Lager on the house. Not like you pay for anything anyway.”

“The source o’ my credit always compensates you,” Rucksack replied. “Just because I have drunk horse piss doesn’t mean I want to repeat the experience.”

Zara laughed. “That would be preferable. At least horse piss would taste like something. Deep’s Special Lager is like eating snow. About all you can say for it is it’s cold.”

Rucksack stared hard at the sisters, then he smiled too. “All right, all right, Jade,” he said. “You’re trying to do me a kindness. Please forgive my rudeness. I’m not exactly at my best right now.”

For a moment Branwen thought Jade was going to smile. “Given the circumstances,” Jade replied, “I’ll give you a pass. But remember, you even being here is still… tentative, as far as The Management goes.” Branwen could hear the capital letters, as well as a lot unsaid in the silence that followed. “No one has forgotten Hong Kong,” Jade added. “And what just happened in India will be remembered for many years to come.”

“As, I hope, will be the fact that there continue to be years to come,” replied Rucksack. “But I promise I’ll be a nice lad.”

Jade chuckled. The lights of the pub danced on the dark skin of her high cheekbones. “Sure. And I’ll just go fall off the beer truck.”

“And what do you have to do with this beer?” Rucksack asked.

Jade smiled. “It’s all the sisters,” she replied. “It’s out of my influence.”

Rucksack said nothing, but his eyes widened. He and Jade stepped back as some men came to the table. “Ah,” Zara said, “your timing is perfect. We were just closing up.”

Branwen looked at her sister. “I thought we were—”

Zara poked her in the ribs, then handed over homebrew samples.

Branwen glanced back at Jade and Rucksack, who were talking about something, but too low for Branwen to hear anything except Rucksack saying he would leave the briefcase with her later. Then Jade and Rucksack stared hard at each other, as if reading something.

Zara and I have been coming to the Mirror & Phoenix for years. I’ve never seen Jade act like this before. Who is this guy?

Then Jade went back to the bar, and Rucksack walked up to the table. Closer to the man in black now, Branwen could see the pain and weariness in his face, an agony in the brown-black eyes like a dying fire begging for more fuel. “Are you okay?” Branwen asked.

“You’re kind to ask,” Rucksack replied, pulling up a chair, sitting down, and setting the briefcase on the table. “Suffice to say that I’ve had a rather busy day and it took more out o’ me than I expected.” He smiled. “Sometimes I forget I’m not as young as I was. That… sometimes things are different.”

Zara removed the empty sample cups and pulled off the tablecloth, revealing an ordinary pub table. “Well, it’s not GPS,” Zara said, “but we think it’s pretty darn close.” She picked up the empty glass Jade had left. Reaching under the table, Zara pulled out a large plain brown glass bottle and another empty pint glass. “The little keg is empty. Fresh one for you, sir.” She popped the cap and a hiss made Rucksack smile. Then Zara began to pour stout into both glasses.

“You pour it like GPS,” Rucksack said.

Branwen nodded. “My sister and I clone it at home.”

“That’s quite a challenge. I’ve encountered, shall we say, attempts at it, both commercial cons and homebrew hopefuls. No one has ever been able to clone GPS.”

Zara paused to let the initial pour settle. “And how would you know that?”

“GPS is a… passion of mine.” Rucksack nodded his approval at her pour.

“There’s a line between passion and obsession,” said Zara. “When it comes to GPS, which side are you on?”

“Never was much for lines,” Rucksack replied. “I’ve had my share o’ other beers, for what they’re worth, which combined doesn’t add up to one perfect pint o’ GPS. If you name a pub anywhere in the world, I can tell you how the GPS tastes there. Who pours it best, who rushes, who needs to clean their lines. I can tell you which brewery the keg came from. I’ve drunk GPS in just about every place in this world there is to drink it, for longer years that you’d care to count. It’s been quite a while since I was in London, and I’ve had a… difficult day. Let’s just say you have no idea how ready I am for that pint.”

“It’s almost ready,” Zara replied, topping up the pints. “You should know the pour can’t be rushed.”

Rucksack smiled, but he still trembled. “GPS has a secret,” he said, “something special that makes it unlike any other beer. Trouble is, no one knows.”

Zara let the full glasses settle again as the rich foamy head collected on top. “Don’t get all mythical and mystical on me. There is no secret to GPS. We just make damn good homebrew, and First Call makes GPS. They’re the biggest brewery in the world, and they know what they’re doing. Brewing GPS is all just impeccable ingredients, perfectly designed and fabricated equipment, and flawless brewing technique. That’s all you need to make a perfect GPS.”

“The First Brewer invented GPS thousands of years ago,” said Branwen, glaring at her sister. “There’s lots no one knows, but we’ve learned as much of the lore as we could. It’s hard to separate fact from myth.”

“That line is far blurrier than most people realize,” said Rucksack.

“So you think you know GPS?” Zara asked.

Rucksack nodded.

Zara handed over one pint of homebrew and raised her own. “Okay,” she said, “then tell me about this beer.”

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The sisters, the bartender & the beer: a sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

The Lotus and the Barley, a Rucksack Universe travel fantasy novel by Anthony St. ClairOnly a few more sneak peeks to go! THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:

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The Lotus and the Barley by Anthony St. Clair

The Lotus and the Barley

by Anthony St. Clair

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THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

Sneak Peek: The sisters, the bartender & the beer

WHILE HER SISTER ZARA handed another small cup of beer across the small table to the old man in gray, Branwen watched a trembling man in black enter the Mirror & Phoenix and take a seat at the bar. A small briefcase, black with chromed steel edges and corners, clattered when he set it on the polished mahogany. He wiped sweat from his bald head. His skin was brown as Tibetan dirt, but nonetheless he looked pale, clammy, like a thin shell left after the insides had been hollowed out.

“I’d drink this every day,” said a woman Zara had given beer to earlier. “Na Grúdairí must be so proud.” She carefully pronounced the Irish word for “beer brewers” as “gruh-duh-ree.”

From their little table at the far end of the pub, Branwen could feel the tightness in the air around her sister, like the moment after a lightning strike before the forest catches fire. Zara’s short purple-and-yellow hair didn’t stand on end and her black combat-booted legs didn’t lash out in one of her vicious kicks or knee strikes, but her dark brown eyes, the same as Branwen’s, widened. The two women had been enjoying pints at this pub for as long as they could legally drink, but drinking those pints wasn’t what Zara ultimately wanted. The bartender, Jade London, had reminded Zara of that as they set up their homebrew sample table that evening. The people were just trying beer, Jade had said, not making pronouncements on Zara’s personal destiny.

Zara stared at the woman and said nothing, only gave a thin smile as the woman disappeared into the crowd that filled the pub. “I’m going to pour more samples,” she said, her face a little pale as she leaned over to move the white tablecloth and pull tasting cups from a box under the table. She set a cup under the brass spout of a squat black cylinder on the table. Brass piping gleamed in the pub lights. A thin glass vial running up the side told Branwen the pressurized miniature keg was getting low, but they could still pour a few more samples. Zara turned a four-point black handle above the brass spout, and dark beer flowed into the tasting cup, foaming as it landed.

Branwen tucked a wayward lock of black hair behind her ear. She tried not to stare at Jade the bartender, but it was always hard to look away. Jade was medium height, slender yet solid—Branwen had seen what one punch could do to a man twice as tall and three times as broad. Jade’s rich dark brown skin gleamed beneath the overhead lights. Her hair was cropped close, except for a long section near her forehead that flowed down her cheek to her jawline.

Wearing her usual white button-down shirt, black pants, and a blue bow tie, Jade the bartender didn’t take the man in black’s order, but moments later she set a pint of Galway Pradesh Stout in front of him, as if she had been expecting him. The black beer was the night sky poured into a pint glass; the thick white foam on top always made Branwen think of new snow. Relief passed over the man’s face. The tension in his body eased. Beer slopped on the bar as his shaking right hand lifted the pint. Even from where she sat, at her and Zara’s white covered table at the end of the pub, she could see that his left hand, clad in a black leather glove, was smaller than his right.

The man took a long, deep swallow of the stout. For eons Galway Pradesh Stout had been the world’s most popular beer. Today GPS was brewed on every continent except Antarctica—though many said it was drunk enough there to compensate.

For a moment he paused. Branwen knew he was savoring the stout’s smoothness, the interplay of roasted barley with a sharp bitterness of hops, underlaid by a tang that was a counterpoint to both flavors yet also a connecting thread. Branwen recognized the moment well, given all the times she and her sister had spent tasting GPS, examining every nuance of flavor, texture, aroma, and finish.

Sometimes I wonder if we should get some sort of best customer status, Branwen thought. But it’s all for one purpose, one goal—

A horizontal fountain of beer blasted out of the man’s mouth and showered the bar below.

Jade the bartender went over. Branwen couldn’t hear their words, but she had an idea of what was going on.

I thought Zara and I were the only ones who’d noticed.

After a heated exchange, Jade did something Branwen did not expect. She took away the pint. Then Jade the bartender pointed at the sisters.

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The man in black: a sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

The Lotus and the Barley, a Rucksack Universe travel fantasy novel by Anthony St. ClairIt’s time for today’s sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY!

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:

Buy now from Amazon.com

Get it on iBooks

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The book will also be available in trade paperback. Through June 11, you can enter for a chance to win 1 of 10 signed copies! (US only)

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The Lotus and the Barley by Anthony St. Clair

The Lotus and the Barley

by Anthony St. Clair

Giveaway ends June 11, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Tune in tomorrow for another sneak peek!

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

Sneak Peek: The man in black

THE MAN IN BLACK ran across the plaza, and the guards followed. After all, that’s what guards do. Especially if they want to continue doing things like receiving paychecks and having a pulse.

Outside the massive building, the clanging of the alarms faded in the distance, dominated by the sounds of a vibrant city at night, and stopped cold by glass that, it was rumored, could stand up to a grenade blast. Now the sounds of pounding feet and fast breathing were all that could be heard. That, and the usual cries of things like, “Stop, Faddah Rucksack, stop!” and “We will shoot!” and “Who the hell would’ve thought he could run so fast?”

The first cry made Rucksack chuckle. Did anyone ever follow such ridiculous commands?

The second cry was something he had known going in, but it still concerned him. Ever since the incident in Hong Kong years back—the memory still made Rucksack shudder—the world had decided it was tired of guns. It was rare you saw firearms, other than with specialized military units or certain hunters. But he couldn’t allow himself the luxury of surprise. Of course Guru Deep’s guards would be armed. Rucksack thought of the small briefcase he held by the handle in his gloved left hand. Given what he’d taken, he was surprised they weren’t shooting already.

At least he could find comfort and humor in the third remark. Despite the humid summer evening making sweat bead on his bald brown head and dampen his black silk clothes, Rucksack couldn’t help but smile. Not that he liked running, but you didn’t survive as long as he had without being able to leg it faster than the people trying to kill you. Rucksack believed the world was best experienced at a rambling walking pace, though briskness was acceptable if you found yourself late for happy hour. But at his age it was nice to know he could still outpace the young guards, despite how they kept fit both by Guru Deep’s PEFFER program, the Personal Everyday Fulfilling Fitness & Empowerment Regimen, and a soul-deep fear of what would happen if their physical conditioning was found not to be up to snuff.

He couldn’t let such thoughts distract him though. The smile faded to a line as firm as the horizon. The timing now was everything, and if it was off even by a few seconds…

Rucksack ran faster.

The Maya Plaza fanned out from the Lotus in all directions. In the daytime the park was serene and lovely, a bright public square with a dark private heart. Now the shrubs and trees were black. He’d planned the escape route to keep well away from the lighted paths, but now the trees were working against him. Dark branches snagged at Rucksack’s clothes, plucking at the knotwork buttons that ran down the center of his long untucked black shirt, scraping his neck above the mandarin collar, and pressing like tripwires over his shins where long ties wrapped the bottoms of his pants for extra silence.

The shouting voices were closer.

He ducked around a tree, pausing a moment to evaluate where the guards were. By now they were converging from all sides, with some surely heading to the edge of the park to trap him inside. But if he made one slight change to his course…

Rucksack started running again, leaping a row of shrubbery and dodging more trees.

A high root grabbed the toe of his boot.

Instead of resisting the change, Rucksack followed the new direction. He launched forward, tucking his body and holding the briefcase more tightly.

He winced. The damn left hand had been all but useless ever since The Blast. He would have preferred to hold the briefcase in his other hand, but he had to keep the right free, no matter what.

Soft grass cushioned his back as he somersaulted. With the momentum came a memory, an old power, an old trick that had always worked well. Momentum to energy, energy to force. The focus was everything, and he focused now, pulling the energy from the grass, the ground, and his body, compressing it, targeting it. When his feet hit the ground, as he stood from the roll, he unleashed the force inside. A tremor like an earthquake passed through the park. Men yelled. Some stumbled and fell.

Rucksack grinned. It was almost like the old days. More importantly, it bought him time—but he knew he’d pay for it later. Assuming there was a later.

He passed through the last row of trees. Beyond the green of the Maya Plaza, the steel, glass, and concrete of London surrounded the park. Night muted the colors, but come dawn the reds and oranges, the blues and greens of the city’s bright buildings would make the park seem dim and monochrome, as if it should try harder to enjoy itself.

The voices of the guards were so near now.

Rucksack listened more closely.

So was another sound—a low, deep rumble—the difference between escape and capture, or worse.

There was still time.

The first shot rang out. Behind him, bark exploded.

The guards closed in on him. Fifteen men, all taller and broader than he was. All with guns out. It had been decades since Rucksack had seen one, let alone fifteen.

Rucksack’s boots hit the sidewalk that ringed the Maya Plaza. A few meters of concrete were now all that separated him from escape. At the far edge of the sidewalk, a low metal railing marked the edge of one of London’s busiest roads.

The guards still yelled. Another shot ruptured the air. This one passed by his shoulder blades, ending in a loud ping-bop when it hit the lamppost nearby.

But Rucksack ignored the guards and the guns. He focused only on the sound, focused only on making the timing, the angle, the momentum just right. The approach, the moment, had to be perfect. He was nearly there, and from the sound, so was it.

Then, from behind a mailbox, a sixteenth man stood and blocked Rucksack’s path. He stood taller and broader than the others. Rucksack couldn’t see his face, only a smile, only a motion that could be anything—

The tremor had been taxing. Using so much energy now was risky, potentially too risky. But it was the only thing he could do if he wanted to escape.

He swung. His left hand roared with agony as the metal briefcase hit the man’s outstretched hand. Something clattered on the pavement, out of sight, but Rucksack kept hold of the briefcase. It was still latched. Everything depended on what was inside. But he was out of time. He didn’t stop, couldn’t stop—it was everything or nothing. Rucksack hadn’t survived what he had survived only to die now, hadn’t regained what he had lost just to lose it all now, on a dark sidewalk south of the River Thames, to some patsy guard who had no idea what he was really doing or what it really meant for him, or for London, or, for that matter, all the world—perhaps all of existence itself.

Rucksack’s swinging hand led his body into a spiral. As he turned he planted his left foot. He spun his body and his right leg rose, bent—and then one kick showed the sixteen men with guns what real firepower was.

The guard flew backward, but the power behind the kick had only begun to strike. As Rucksack lowered his foot to the ground, a flat smacking sound rolled past his ears as the man bounced off the low metal railing. But the sound was more than sound.

Behind him, guns clattered on pavement as the shockwave made the other fifteen guards double over or stumble back. The guard at the railing fell to his knees and his forehead thudded on the pavement. Rucksack ran forward. The other guards recovered quickly, some running toward him while others scrabbled in the shadows for their weapons. Men lunged. A hand slid off his shoulder. Fingernails grazed his wrist.

But that could not matter. He listened to the rumble again. It was here.

One guard’s fingertips glanced off a boot and smacked the concrete. One foot braced on the back of the hunched-over guard, Rucksack’s brown-black eyes winced at the blinding gaze that stared into his very soul. The railing clanged under the next step.

With a roar, Rucksack leaped toward a red wall.

Like a charging tiger, the terrible sound paused all hearts and breath. Then Rucksack was in midair, hanging over the pavement, flying toward a street teeming with speeding traffic.

The driver of the bright-red double-decker bus shifted gears and sped up, aiming to beat the stoplight before it changed. The engine’s rumbling was the sweetest sound Rucksack had ever heard. He reached out his right hand, grabbed the handrail just inside the open doorway at the back of the bus, and stepped on as lightly as a sunbeam, swinging the briefcase to his side.

The guards stood open-mouthed and watched the bus rumble away.

Grinning, Rucksack waved to them until the Maya Plaza and the Lotus were out of sight at last.

Then, unable to stand anymore, he collapsed on a seat and began to shake.

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The Lotus and the Barley

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After the Alarm: a sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

The Lotus and the Barley, a Rucksack Universe travel fantasy novel by Anthony St. ClairWant a sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY? Over the next few days I’m pulling back the cover so you can have an exclusive taste of the 4th Rucksack Universe adventure.

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:

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The book will also be available in trade paperback. Through June 11, you can enter for a chance to win 1 of 10 signed copies! (US only)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Lotus and the Barley by Anthony St. Clair

The Lotus and the Barley

by Anthony St. Clair

Giveaway ends June 11, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Tune in tomorrow for another sneak peek!

THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY

Sneak Peek: After the Alarm

NO ONE KNEW ABOUT the problem until the alarm rang, but Feckniss imagined the man in the orange suit at the top of the world was the only one who smiled about it.

From Feckniss’s cubicle much lower down the world on the third floor of the Lotus, the phone line clicked, then droned. Guru Deep had ended the conference call. A few minutes later, Feckniss’s gray-suited manager Blanders stepped into the cubicle. He stood next to the “ILLUSION IS REALITY” poster, which some said was the true mission statement of Deep Inc.

“What’s going on, sir?” Feckniss knew they could speak freely. At this late hour, no one else was in the Lotus except for Blanders, the assistant Nia Fox, and Guru Deep himself, the man in the orange suit at the top of the Lotus, London’s highest skyscraper and currently the world’s tallest building. Despite the third floor being empty, for a moment Feckniss thought he heard a snicker, brief yet packed with cruelty and condescension. Then he thought of Guru Deep, and Feckniss shuddered with awe and relief.

Guru Deep hadn’t said a word during the briefing call. He never did, but anytime Feckniss and Blanders were in a meeting, the line was open to Guru Deep’s office. Only Blanders and Feckniss did the talking, but Guru Deep’s silences resounded more than any words, a presence like a stalking tiger or a thunderhead filling the horizon. But Feckniss could imagine him standing there: Guru Deep. The Great Leader, He Whose Third Eye Saw All The World That Was And Could Be, was the President and CEO of Deep Inc. Dealing in finance, self-help seminars, travel guidebooks, breweries, and other initiatives—that Blanders hinted at but never explained—over the last few decades Deep Inc. had become of the world’s largest and most powerful companies.

On this call too Feckniss could feel the brilliant gravity of the leader’s presence as they discussed the enemy’s latest disruptions—and their effects on quarterly profits—of less-than-public Deep Inc. operations in Marrakech, Mexico City, and Moscow. “Guru Deep sees all and hears all,” Blanders said, “even if you don’t see or hear him. Guru knows. These developments trouble him. The enemy hasn’t been such a problem for Guru Deep since Kyoto, and that was decades ago.”

“What happened there?”

“At the rate you’re progressing,” said Blanders, “perhaps you’ll get to visit his office someday and ask him about the two curved swords behind his desk. It is quite a story.”

Feckniss could picture it as clearly as if he were beside the Great Leader himself. Guru Deep would be staring out over the dark London night from the north window, forty-two stories above the city that had rebuilt itself after being burned to the ground by The Blast a hundred and thirty years ago. The Lotus had recently opened as the bright, brand-new, orange glass-and-steel world headquarters of Deep Inc. In the black of the evening, Guru Deep’s trademark orange suit, a deep saffron like the flag of India, would shine like the sun against his brown skin and eyes. And there, somewhere near his massive desk, where he led his empire, two curved swords would shimmer with the power of the story they had to tell.

Feckniss shuddered at the mere idea of being there, in that office, with the man whose empire spanned businesses and industries around the globe. And one of those industries, what was about to happen, had been the subject of their call—

“Of course I can’t say for certain,” Blanders said, his voice flat as a coffin bottom and returning Feckniss’s mind to the third floor. The pale taut skin over his skull always reminded Feckniss of a balloon about to pop. Smoothing the impeccable gray wool of his lapel, Blanders smiled, which meant the corners of his mouth briefly twitched upward, then fell back down as if embarrassed to be caught trying. “But I believe we can safely surmise that the enemy has taken it.”

“Just as Guru Deep expected,” Feckniss replied. “Though wasn’t the Lotus designed to keep out that individual?”

Again the near smile. Blanders tapped the side of his nose. “Guru knows. Though I’m sure he’ll have Ms. Fox order a full security audit to find and remedy whatever lapse or flaw led to this breach. Damn new building and new protocols—of course the enemy managed to find some weakness, no matter how small, that he could exploit.”

Feckniss nodded. “Of course. We are so close now. Guru Deep knew the enemy would come, didn’t he?” Again the brief grin. “I see. Guru Deep wanted him to come. Will it affect the plans? Will it disrupt our progress toward Operation—”

“Only in ensuring our success,” Blanders replied. “All endeavors are easier when your enemies complete your work for you.”

“Does he know the secret?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Blanders said. “What we have long ago set in motion, his actions cannot stop. All that matters, Feckniss, is that through our teamwork and Guru Deep’s guidance, the time has come. Tomorrow proceeds as planned.”

“It will be no more?”

This time the smile remained. Bloodless lips curved into an upside-down scythe. “Its end,” he said, “is only the beginning.”

Want more?

Pre-order THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY e-book from:

Buy now from Amazon.com

Get it on iBooks

Buy now from Kobo

Enter the Goodreads Giveaway from a chance to win 1 of 10 signed paperbacks (US only):

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Lotus and the Barley by Anthony St. Clair

The Lotus and the Barley

by Anthony St. Clair

Giveaway ends June 11, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Tune in tomorrow for another sneak peek!




Hi.

Anthony St. Clair - Travel Fantasy Author / Craft Beer Writer / Business Copywriter

Author and copywriter Anthony St. Clair has specialized in online content since 2000, blogged since 2004 and is the author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series.

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Rucksack Universe

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