IT’S HERE! The Prequel: “The Walls in the Middle of Idumea.” (And it’s a great place to start reading the series.)

The prequel I’ve been promising is now on Amazon! (There’s no greater feeling than waking up in the morning and seeing emails from Kindle Direct that begin with “Congratulations!”)

This shorter book (180 pages) is a great place to start reading the series. It works as both background and teaser, giving insights to characters you already know (if you’ve read the series) or will encounter later if this is your first introduction into the Forest at the Edge series.

Since it’s a smaller book, the paperback is only $6.50 and the digital download is only $.99. I’ve also committed to always providing my books for free here on my website. Click here for the .pdf version of the entire book. It’s copyrighted and to be used only for your reading pleasure, but you may share it as you wish.

I realized earlier this spring that Pere Shin’s story about the servants in the king’s mansion needed to be told, especially now when we have so many people ignorant of what’s really happening around them. The servants were naive; but today, too many people willfully don’t care to know what’s going on. That only enslaves them, not frees them.

From the back cover:

 Newly appointed as High General over the Army of Idumea, 40-year-old Pere Shin knows he’s only a figurehead. He’s hardly the typical officer: he’s cheerful, overweight, and bribes his favorite enlisted men with sweets. The army only expects him to sit quietly out of its way.

But Pere Shin has other ideas. There are secret groups to be exposed, and wrongs to be righted–he just has to find out who, and what, and where they are. As he does, he discovers more problems than he anticipates. So when his teenage son Relf offers to help, Pere decides that now may be a good time to give Relf some early command school training. That’s not the first decision he’s going to regret.

Taking place four decades before Book 1 of the Forest at the Edge series, this prequel tells the story that later inspires Pere’s grandson, Perrin, to go beyond the barriers that hold him back to expose what’s really goes on behind the walls in the middle of Idumea.

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On Greece, Rome, leaning against ancient temple columns, and . . . oh yeah, a new book coming soon!

To my horror I realized today that it’s been over two months since I’ve posted here. The past couple months of teaching high school–with my students taking the AP English Literature exam (scores are released this weekend–biting my knuckles), helping with Junior Prom (I got to be the MC announcing students, but I held back from using my full <announcer voice, voice . . .voice>), getting the school’s literature and arts book published (thank you, Amazon), helping students write graduation speeches (“Why aren’t you mentioning me?”), and grading finals (did they answer all the questions? Just slap a 90 on that.)–well, all that took every last minute of my days.

Then, the last day of school on June 14, my husband and I took off for sheer indulgence to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary, since we’ve never really celebrated any of our past anniversaries beyond eating a piece of cake. We left our family, flew to Rome–just the two of us–and took a cruise to the Greek isles. It was my first passport, our first cruise, our first major trip anywhere. (People on our ship asked us if we took “practice” cruises before, and I just stared at them, not realizing that’s a thing. Matching t-shirts on cruises are also, sadly, a thing.)

Some of my students, after hearing where I was going and responding to my pictures on Facebook, said, “Man, you must be RICH to go on this trip!” (Forgetting that we’re school teachers in America.)

I replied with, “Not by any stretch. I’m working a second job for two summers to pay for it, we planned our port excursions on our own to save money, loaded up on the breakfast buffet before we left the ship so we didn’t have to eat until we got back for dinner, and for souvenirs we collected sand in test tubes and rocks off of beaches. In Rome we found a grocery store and bought local food for meals, paid only for two guided tours (Delos and the Vatican) and otherwise purchased guide books or just sidled up to other tour groups to listen in on what we were seeing in Athens, the Colosseum, Olympia, etc. We didn’t purchase the drinks package on the ship (picked up our own soda off-ship), walked for miles every day or took local buses and trains instead of taxis, and THAT’S how you afford a Mediterranean vacation!”

I never imagined I’d actually write a paragraph as I did above. Such a trip never was a possibility, only a dream. Yet it happened (after a GREAT deal of planning and saving). I’m still surprised we went through it, and that nothing horrible happened as a result. (I’m guilty of believing that if I try to do something fun, the cosmos will come back and bite me later. It still may . . .)

If you’ve read my books, it’s no secret that I borrow from ancient Greece and Rome: architecture and ruins, leadership and armies, “bread and circuses.” I’ve researched a great deal of their societies to create my own in the Forest at the Edge series.

In Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon,  I gave Perrin and Mahrree experiences I’d never had (ok a little wish fulfillment in my books). I also gave them a way to remember it:

 . . . Mahrree gazed again at the large painting that nearly covered the wall in their little gathering room. For their anniversary a few weeks ago, Perrin had asked a landscape artist to create for them a painting of the ancient temple ruin where they had trekked so often.

The Shins had expected a small picture, but the artist, knowing how much they loved the site, created an immense painting of breathtaking realism of the entire area, with details and colors that left both Perrin and Mahrree speechless.

But the best part was that she had included both of them in the painting, smiling and leaning on either side of a pillar at the top of the stairs of the crumbling temple. They were only a few inches high, but even then the detail was astonishing.

They discovered later that the artist had been surreptitiously following them. Their grandchildren, in on the surprise, had found occasion to ask them to lean against things so that the artist could quickly sketch them at the correct heights. . . .

On nights like this, Mahrree stared at the painting and wished she and Perrin were at the ancient site again, as they had been dozens of times, all alone. . . .

The last time they did it was just a few weeks ago, for their 44th anniversary, just before they’d been presented with the glorious painting.

When Dave and I paid off the trip and realized we were actually going (although I kept thinking, Some disaster will strike and we won’t go; Greece will slip into the ocean, Rome will erupt in a giant volcano, I’ll get a horrible stomach flu . . .) I told my husband that all I wanted were a couple of pictures of us leaning against an old pillar. He hasn’t read the books (although I’ve used him on several covers) so he was a little confused by my request, but he was willing. (I wish you could see his, “Are you serious?” expression. After 31 years, I’ve seen it MANY times. He’s learned it’s just best to go along with things to keep me happy. That’s why we’ve been married for 31 years.)

On the island of Delos, we asked a man with a camera like mine to take our picture. (Here’s a travel hint: always find someone with a nicer camera than yours to take your picture; people with only phones have no idea what they’re doing.) The wind wasn’t too helpful, but the excitement–for me, at least–wasn’t blown away as we posed at the Temple of Isis (not the current ISIS, but an ancient one, fortunately):

Two days later we were in Olympia where the ancient Olympics were held for a thousand years, and whoa–more columns to lean against! So again I recruited a photographer, and my husband gave me that same puzzled look, then gamely leaned against another column:

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I see these photos from just a couple weeks ago and I still can’t believe that I was allowed to visit some amazing places. I still marvel that I’ve been allowed to have nine children, to teach high school students, to write an entire books series, to meet so many marvelous people . . . sometimes life is just too good.

No, I amend that: very frequently life is just too good. When you stop and analyze it, and realize what opportunities it gives you, it’s overwhelming. We have to sit in the grass and just whisper, “Thank you.”

Even if the cosmos does decide to come back one day and bite me in the rear because it’s my turn for a new trial, I’ll still have had all of this. Too much, and too good.

Oh, and did you notice what I put in the title about a new book? IT’S TRUE! I’ve written a prequel about the first High General Pere Shin and the servants of King Querul, and it’s nearly ready to be published! (Ok, so I had a few minutes here and there the past three months, and surprisingly I produced a new book with that time.)

I plan to release it this summer, now that my life has slowed down a little, so watch for updates and a LOT more posts about The Walls in the Middle of Idumea, a Forest at the Edge Prequel.

And no, you do NOT have needed to read the series to read the prequel. In fact, I think it’ll be a good lead-in to the rest of the series, especially since it’s only about 180 pages (not as daunting as some of my other books). So if you have any friends that have been interested in reading, tell them they can begin here!

The Walls in the Middle of Idumea–coming very, very soon!

Book 6 Cover: Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming in May!

A few tweaks and edits still need to occur, and the back cover needs some adjusting, but I simply couldn’t wait any longer to show you the cover!

Book 6 front cover

Finding a model stand-in for an older Perrin Shin was, I was sure, going to be difficult. I needed a tall man with whitening hair and a presence.  I mentioned my quest to my oldest daughter, and Madison immediately begin sending me links to professors she’s worked with during her undergrad and graduate school years at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I felt quite awkward “analyzing” these professors for Perrin-like qualities, as if on some kind of bizarre dating ritual. (I apologized in my head to their wives, and to my own husband, as I carefully scrutinized each candidate who had no idea he was part of this evaluation.)

Among the profiles was Dr. David Crandall. In fact, he was the first recommendation that my daughter blurted out. Madison has been his head TA for some years now, and when I saw his picture, I gasped.

Perrin Shin is an Oxford-trained anthropologist?!

I asked Madison what he’d think about standing in as a model, and she said, “He lives among the Himba in Africa every summer. You’re not going to find a more chill man anywhere. I’m sure he’ll do it!”

So I wrote an email, then rewrote it and rewrote it, a lengthy message trying to explain to him the book series, the character, what I hoped he’d be willing to do (dress up, walk around in trees, wrangle little boys), and I sent it off, holding my breath.

My daughter asked to see my email after the fact, and then she sighed. “Mom, he’ll read only the top line and skim the rest. He’s a busy man!”

But I’d already sent it, had oversold it, and my doom was sealed.

Until he responded a couple days later with, “Sure, why not? When?”

Uh . . . ok! I made costumes, I checked calendars for travel (I don’t exactly live near BYU), and found an afternoon he was available.

On the day of the photo shoot I became anxious and nervous, and during the two-hour drive I kept thinking, I’m asking a grown man–a stranger–to dress up so I can take pictures of him. Who does this sort of thing?! I don’t always do well with real live people. But I couldn’t back out now, as my teenage son frequently reminded me in the car when I’d start to hyperventilate again.

My entourage and I met him at the duck pond on BYU campus, where mature trees grow up a hillside. Dr. Crandall smiled amiably—yep, very Perrin-like—and strolled over to greet Madison, his right-hand woman in managing his dozen freshmen courses and teaching assistants. Intimidated by his height and presence, and that I was about to order him to do my bidding, I handed him the shirt I wanted him to wear. He put it on, looked around cheerfully, and said, “Now, what exactly are we doing again?”

I nearly snorted. Madison was right—he hadn’t read my explanations (there had been follow-up emails where I wrote him short stories, and he responded with a short sentence). I was struck by the notion that he didn’t have time to read my emails, but because he appreciated my daughter’s work, he willingly gave up half an hour to help Madison’s mother with whatever she was up to.

Feeling flustered as I always am when I try to tell people what I do (I’m horrible at marketing myself), I gave him the exceptionally condensed version of the Forest at the Edge series, and explained the set-up for the shots we’d be taking.

He nodded benignly and said, “All right, tell me where to walk.” He was so laid-back, so easy-going, I could have led him into Hades and I think he would have merely looked around and said, “Interesting architecture.”

Instead, I did the next worst thing: I released upon him a five-year-old and a two-year-old. Then I said, “Just try to walk with them, while I go far, far away up this hillside and take pictures. Boys, stay with Dr. Crandall,” knowing full well that wasn’t going to happen.

For the next half hour Dr. Crandall gamely tried to keep up with, drag along, or find the two preschoolers as they wandered off, got distracted, or got excited. [When you read the book, you’ll see how fitting the whole scenario was.]

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“Dr. Crandall, we’re losing one . . .”

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“Now we’ve lost the other one . . .”

In the meantime, my son-in-law Austin Pearce and I took photo after photo, hoping that something might work since we’re not experienced action-shot photographers.

Eventually, we decided we had enough shots. Dr. Crandall took off the shirt I gave him and said, teasingly, “And a star is born! Good luck with your book.”

“I’ll let you know how it goes,” I said bashfully. “It’s part of a series. Umm, I’ve got a couple of readers. Actually, the series has been downloaded about thirty thousand times, so yeah—you just might become famous!”

See how I’m such a goober with real, live people? This is why I write, so I can hide behind a computer and not face anyone and babble goofily at them. In his field, Dr. Crandall is already famous. (His own book, The Place of Stunted Ironwood Trees is cited in this recent article.)

Once I looked at the pictures on my laptop, none were what I was hoping for. Initially I had hoped to capture profiles or sharp, distant images of Dr. Crandall, nothing too close or detailed, because I want readers to picture the characters as they wish, without cover art over-influencing or taking too much away. But none of those shots had worked.

Slightly discouraged, I remembered that none of my book covers have been what I originally wanted, but have turned out in surprising ways. I began to fiddle with half a dozen photos, when this emerged.

Book 6 front cover

And suddenly, it was perfect. Dr. Crandall gripping the two-year-old’s hand while earnestly watching the steep terrain he was leading him up (does he have perfect hair or what?), the curious/cautious expression on the littlest boy’s face, the other boy working to maintain balance—suddenly it was representative of many aspects of Flight of the Wounded Falcon, metaphorical bits I hadn’t anticipated but were manifesting subtly, and I knew I had my cover. The trees, the background, the angles, the motion—I never would have been able to stage that purposely.

I contacted Dr. Crandall’s secretary recently so that I could send him a thank you gift, and found out that he’s already in Africa again, hanging out with the Himba and a bunch of students for the summer. How chill is that? (Did I use that word “chill” properly? Shows how un-chill I am. Is “un-chill” a word?)

So chill, my friends–Book 6 will be coming soon in May (after a few more tweaks, a few more edits, and a proof or two). I can hardly wait to share it with you.