Anthony St Clair

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Author Profile

Anthony  St Clair

Fantasy author and beer writer Anthony St. Clair has walked with hairy coos in the Scottish Highlands, choked on seafood in Australia, and watched the full moon rise over Mt. Everest in Tibet. The creator of the Rucksack Universe series, Anthony has traveled the sights and beers of Thailand, Japan, India, Canada, Ireland, the USA, Cambodia, China and Nepal. He and his wife live in Eugene, Oregon, and gave their kids passports when they were babies. Learn more at www.anthonystclair.com.

Books

Wander: A Rucksack Universe Novel

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Follow the Black Road. No friends, no texts, no nothing. In Morocco, Wander just wants a solitary birthday walk. Instead, two strange trees lead the lone traveler to the ultimate journey. Marooned in a scarred world both different and familiar, Wander tries to make sense of an Ireland that has no Internet or Guinness, but abounds with odd companions. Wander falls in with Awen, a mysterious old woman, and Faddah Rucksack, a bewildering ragged man. He's as out of place as Wander but must confront past mistakes and a shadow threatening the future. The unlikely trio undertakes a difficult adventure of the road—and the heart. Their only path is a place none travel: the Black Road that remains after a world-altering catastrophe. From a surprise in the Irish Sea to England's Black Cliffs of Dover, Wander confronts the promise and peril of seeking home when your heart is caught between two worlds. The Rucksack Universe series combines alternate history, speculative fiction, myth, adventure, globetrotting, and intrigue—all with well-poured pints of beer. Library Journal says Anthony St. Clair’s storytelling has "universe building reminiscent of Terry Pratchett," and readers say they love the Rucksack Universe's unique combination of "quirk, wit, travel, and magic.”

Book Bubbles from Wander: A Rucksack Universe Novel

The road none take

There are roads we all follow. There are crossroads we ponder. And then there are the roads that none dare travel. What if the road that no one will set foot on is the only road left to you? Where will it take you? From those darkest shadows, will you find a light? When you are so lost, will you find a way? Follow the Black Road. WANDER available Friday anthonystclair.com/wander

Forever the Road

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Their entwined fate becomes his impossible choice. A strange eclipse looms above India's city of the smiling fire. When an ancient evil awakens, the world teeters on a razor's edge of life and annihilation. Rootless globetrotter Jay wanted Agamuskara to be just another place he visited, but the strange object in his backpack has other ideas. In the global secret order of Jakes and Jades, destiny-changing Jade Agamuskara Bluegold stands above the rest, all the while keeping up appearances as the humble proprietor of the Everest Base Camp Pub & Hostel. However, she struggles to untangle the terrible future she foresees and to ignore her doubts about her past choices. Despite themselves, both Jade and Jay befriend the evasive, stout-quaffing Faddah Rucksack—a man without a destiny who seems determined to direct their own. As fires rage in a land of ash, a backpacker, a bartender, and the world's only Himalayan-Irish sage become trapped between their entwined fate and an impossible choice. FOREVER THE ROAD is a captivating page-turner in Anthony St. Clair's Rucksack Universe. If you like Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, or Octavia Butler, you'll love this ongoing fantasy series of globetrotting intrigue. Buy the book to start Anthony St. Clair's tale of travel twists and turns today!

Book Bubbles from Forever the Road

Living in a mashup world

My wife sent me a foot-stomping, arm-waving rendition of "Titanic's" Celtic Party Song, complete with fiddle, bagpipes, drum, and dancing. There's just one thing. The musicians and dancers are Indian. Yup. Right down to the bagpiper (she calls herself the Snake Charmer, here's her Patreon: patreon.com/thesnakecharmer). Watching this clip filled me with elation (here's a link so you can see too: http://bit.ly/TitanicIndia. And reminded me of one of my favorite scenes in Forever the Road: A pub with musicians from different cultures jamming away, Indian, Scottish, and more. People say to write what you know. What I know is a mashup world, where cultures sometimes collide, sometimes entwine. The way traditions meld into something new, yet that remains true to its various roots. It's glorious. It's a world I love being part of. Kimchi in my burrito. Bagpipes and tabla. From our news to our politics to our entertainment, I'm full-up on seeing how people are when they acknowledge only the worst in one another. I'll take our vivacious mashup world. It reminds me that who we are gets better when we focus on the best in each other and in ourselves. Are you a Wanderer? patreon.com/anthonystclair

The heroes are in the background

Wonder Woman. Ant-Man. I dig hero movies, larger-than-life, kicking butt and looking awesome, front and center before the watching world. Hero movies make it easy to forget an intrinsic truth about most heroes. It's easy to think the entire world is watching all that hero stuff. That everything is front and center, on full rockstar display. But it's not. Zoom out the perspective, and you realize something else. Heroes work in the background. They occasionally go into the spotlight, but most of their work goes unseen and unknown. Art reflects life. Us real folks? We live our daily lives, do our work and play, do what we hope makes the world a better place. Where's all that happen? Behind the scenes. In the background. In our small unseen corners of the world. That's what the heroes do too. Because—and this is the secret—the heroes are us. All our potential (just not the metahuman/supernatural part). But the do the right thing at the right time part. Because it's not about being seen. It's about doing what needs doing. Heroes work in the background because that's where the need is. Just like we do. Like what you see? Get stories and more by joining Anthony's Wanderers, my exclusive patrons on Patreon - patreon.com/anthonystclair

Coffee: The drink of ultimate perception

Yesterday, I made coffee in my magic mug. When my wife and I got married, we were gifted 12 tankard-style mugs. Most of them hold 12 ounces of coffee. One holds 13. I never know when that mug is going to turn up. When it does, I always feel a little thrill. After all, I'm a hygge-loving hobbit and a man of simple pleasures. But I like knowing that there's just this slightly different mug, that holds a little extra coffee—the drink of ultimate perception. People sometimes ask if I'm more like Rucksack or more like Jay. But you know who I'm like the most? Jade Agamuskara Bluegold. For better or worse, she's the character whose personality most resembles my own. Including her voracious love of coffee. She uses coffee to clear her head and focus. Just like I do. Maybe I'll need to give Jade a magic mug. When I have mine, I always feel a little extra excitement for the day. Maybe it's the extra coffee. Or maybe it's that a little magic goes a long way. Like what you see here? Get stories and more by joining Anthony's Wanderers, my exclusive patrons on Patreon - patreon.com/anthonystclair

Every story is a chance to answer yes or no

Whether working on novels or articles, I'm always struck by a common element in every story I write and every person I talk with. Life is all crossroads. No. That's not even it. The crossroads isn't choice. The crossroads is the opportunity to choose. Every story in the world, from real-life to fiction, is a chance to answer yes or no. Change. Crossroads. This way or that way. All come together, ultimately, in the same consideration. Sometimes it's a minor thing. Sometimes the direction of your life depends on the answer. And yes, sometimes even the course of the very world depends on the choices each person makes. I like to say that the theme of all my work is that life needs love and joy, no matter what else. The way that gets expressed is by what we say yes or no to. How will you answer the questions in front of you? Like what you see here? Get stories and more by joining Anthony's Wanderers, his exclusive patrons on Patreon - patreon.com/anthonystclair

Remembering Anthony Bourdain: Body's an amusement

I'm writing this on June 8, 2018. When I woke, my phone dinged the news: Anthony Bourdain, dead. My wife and I are Bourdain fans. Parts Unknown keeps us in touch with our wanderlove. Bourdain's irreverent yet deep commentary was a great reminder that life should never be taken too seriously, but good living should be done with vivacity and authenticity. Pretensions are best lost at the airport. Bourdain spoke his mind. He spoke his heart. His rollicking, jaunty stroll through the world was a reminder that you could find a place anywhere, as long as you trusted in the best of others and tried to bring your best to where they lived, worked, strived, roamed. His quip that the body's an amusement park, not a temple, reminds us that there's a difference between appreciative and sanctimonious. I'm sad. Bourdain, like Terry Pratchett, is one of those now gone who I wish I could have met. Bourdain took his own life. What darkness got him in the end, we may never know. But my hope is that somehow he still knows how much light he brought others. He's a reminder of the joy, love, and striving that I try to bring to all I do. And with him gone, I'll do all the more. RIP and cheers, Anthony Bourdain.

A better world isn't fantasy

Our world is so full of hurt. There are the old hurts from mistakes and atrocities throughout history. There are the new hurts of extremism, ideological divides, old hurts that don't get healed, and a persistent refusal to see the better in others. The headlines scream every day of the latest crisis, and all that is good fades beneath what makes us scared. In the midst of all that, I sometimes wonder why I do what I do. Fantastical books set in an alternate version of our world, full of beer and travelers and societies that, overall, function pretty well. I use a calamity as a catalyst for people to decide once and for all to live their better selves, and the world is becoming a better place. When I think about my stories that way, I realize that my wee Rucksack Universe becomes about as fantastical as fantasy gets. A better world must be fantasy, since it certainly isn't real. Yet that's also why I write the stories I write. I'm done with death and blood. I'm done with violence and outrage. I'm done with the worst of ourselves. If my wee stories can help remind us that there's more to us than our fears, differences, and anger, then maybe a better world isn't fantasy after all.

The goddesses are all around us as old women

My great-grandmother, Grandma Crews, passed some years ago, but only when she was darn well good and ready. She was a little shy of 90—and it took 6 strokes to knock her down. Until then, she'd been a vibrant woman. She loved her family, church, and pizza. She lived in a big house in central Virginia. Maintained about a half-acre garden. She may have even still been cutting her own firewood. At the least, I wouldn't fancy the chances of anyone suggesting she not pick up an axe. My Grandma Denise is similar. Health issues have slowed her down a little the last few years, but she still does more with her life than most folks in their 20s and 30s. She loves life, is grateful for each day, and is one of the first people I call when I need guidance in life and business. I like to think that if I can age with half the vitality as these two women, I'll be doing just fine. It's also no wonder that some of the most important characters in my stories are old women who are practically goddesses. Because fantasy is a mirror and a lens. And when you look more closely, you find that goddesses are all around us as old women.

Go to your room

Have you seen that meme about childhood punishments—you know, like going to your room or staying home from a party—have become your adult goals? Yup, that's totally me. I love my house. In fact, my wife and I like to joke that really we're just hobbits, only our feet aren't furry. Sure, I enjoy the occasional shindig, but many of my greatest happinesses happen inside the four walls of my home. Jade can be like that too. I don't often let on about this, but of all my characters so far, Jade is the one that I am the most like. She has an unsettled quality to her that I have often identified with. She is amiable, but she is introverted and knows when she needs to recharge. That's why, like me, Jade considers her room a sanctuary, a haven, her own slice of the world. Our rooms, our homes—there is a need in us for somewhere that is for us and us alone. Sometimes it's a room. Sometimes it's a part of your soul or memory. No matter what, it takes on a special quality, daresay a holiness. It is where, from the small part of the world that is yours, you can connect both to yourself and to the rest of all things.

I miss street food

My wife and I sometimes watch Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, and between that and various food podcasts I listen to, I am having a major craving for street food right now. Things on sticks anywhere in Bangkok. Samosas all over India. Noodles at midnight in Chiang Mai. Street food is the heart and soul of so many places. Street food is where you watch the world go by. It's where you can both relax yet be in the thick of a place. It's affordable. It's good. And it's the stuff that will haunt your travel dreams no matter where you are in the world. What street food do you wish you were having right now?

The moments that make us

Looking back on my life so far, I can see more clearly so many of the moments that have shaped the person I am and the direction my life has taken. My life completely changed when I went on a student exchange in Scotland during college. That turned me into a wander-prone international traveler. But what if I hadn't taken that trip? Who would I be now? Where would I be? How would I be the same person? How would I be different? I think about that for my characters too. With Jay, in this bit from Forever the Road, he was never planning to travel. Didn't have an interest. But when his parents died, it completely changed him. They were about to retire, and they were going to spend their final years traveling. But they never got to—so Jay is now taking their trip for them. So many moments make us. So many things that might seem inevitable can be just a matter of circumstance, a zig or zag when the other would have brought an entirely different life. It's the same for characters too. Who they are. Who they could have been. And how they hope that who they are lines up at least somewhat with who they want to be.

Every traveler has a first trip

When we meet Jay in Forever the Road, he has been traveling for years. What began as a way for him to keep a promise to lost loved ones, has become his life and lifestyle. Over the years, too, Jay has become more than just a traveler. He and his travels have become the stuff of legend. Yet even for Jay, the world's greatest traveler, there was a first trip. And that first trip was full of exhaustion, and nerves, and a big, big moment of thinking that maybe this was all a bad idea and he should just go home. And that's before it's like his backpack has come alive. Those first steps define us. Those moments of rededicating to yes instead of no, can guide the rest of our days. It certainly will for Jay.

No winter in this world

Well, not literally. The Rucksack Universe has winters and it has cold climates, but I just noticed something about my stories. It's February as I write this, and the forecast threatens snow. Which makes me think about where and when I set my stories, and I noticed something that hadn't occurred to me before: I have yet to set a story in winter or in any sort of snow. I think I know why, too. I'm not a cold-winter person. Give me my Oregon rain and my beloved-knit sweaters, and I'm fine. But I don't do snow and chilly chimes. Maybe my imagination doesn't either. In any case, it has me thinking about spring. And how even if there's snow on the ground tomorrow, there will be green, rained-on grass somewhere in a story I'm working on.

Travel guide to a fantastical world

Grounding the fantastical in the real is so much of the fun of what I get to do with the Rucksack Universe. I like to tell my kids that something doesn't have to be real to be true. When you get down to it, a lot of what we do in fiction is use something that isn't real to help us understand what is true and real in our own lives. As a lifelong traveler, guidebooks have been a big part of my wanderings. That's why I decided that each Rucksack Universe story would begin with a snippet from a made-up Guru Deep travel guidebook. It sets the stage for the story, and offers a touch of intrigue. And they're always fun to write.

First time Jade and Rucksack met...

So many times I've turned to this scene in Forever the Road. And I've always wondered: in this story, it's understood that Jade and Rucksack were meeting for the first time. But there was always something about their dynamic. Their conflict. Their familiarity. It got me thinking. What if this book isn't the story where they first meet? I'm working on that one now :)

Wait, how is she described?

I think a lot about my characters, where they come from, what they look like. Though you might not know it from my descriptions. I actually deliberately leave a lot of descriptions vague. That's partially because I like to let readers have the latitude to envision characters their own way—and in whatever image they want. With some characters, though, such as Jade Bluegold and Faddah Rucksack, I do like to make it clear that they are brown. In many ways my fiction worlds reflects the real world, and both are diverse and full of complex people with a range of characteristics, after all.

One of the traveler's treasures

Like Jay, I've always loved flipping through my passport. Looking at the stamps that mark where I've been. Daydreaming at what stamps might someday cover the blank pages. Despite the official function of a passport, I can never go over how there's also something romantic about them.

The best at what she does... but with a rebellious

Writing Jade Bluegold is so much fun for me. And honestly—you know, just between you and me—at this point Jade is probably the character most like me, so that may have something to do with it. Jade is considered the best at what she does. But she also has a certain rebellious quality when it comes to her job. She doesn't always like to do what she's supposed to do. I'm about to embark on a new Rucksack Universe story, called Cloud Fortress, where you and I will get to find out why.

Cloudy with a chance of eclipse

Part of the fun of fantasy is getting to thumb your nose at things like physics and meteorology. Story is about telling the truth, not portraying reality, after all. So, yep, there's an eclipse. On a cloudy day. But the eclipse will be completely visible. Because story. And it's more fun that way.

What happens when the eclipse comes?

We're staring down the brink of our own coming eclipse. And here, an eclipse is coming too—but the stakes will be far, far higher.

Eclipse Sale

If like me you have some eclipse fever, I've put my book Forever the Road on sale. In it a "mirror eclipse" marks the moment where the world stands at the edge of life and death, light or dark, yes or no. E-books are 99¢ anywhere, and signed paperbacks are $11.99 through my online store. http://www.anthonystclair.com/rucksack-universe/forever-the-road

What's that about an eclipse?

Luckily, the August eclipse will not be a mirror eclipse. Go back to your knitting.

Do bartenders rule the world?

How many times have you gone for a drink and left feeling like something about the world made more sense? I wonder a lot about the conflicting yet interdependent roles of choice and circumstance, decision and destiny, in our lives. I've also emptied glasses in a fair few pubs over the years. And at some point it got me thinking: what if bartenders were in charge of helping people steer the courses of their lives? It would explain a lot.

On a train in India at night, watching lightning f

While my stories are made up, I do draw some from my own travels and experiences. This scene is drawn very much from life. One night in India, in 2003, I was on an overnight train. At one point I stood in the vestibule between train cars, and just stared out over the night. In the distance, lightning flashed. And it occurred to me that if someone—most definitely not me—were just crazy enough, they might try to get away from it all by leaping from the train and seeing where they wound up. I stayed on the train, but that question stayed with me too, ultimately taking form in this passage.

The sun burns dark. The sun burns twice. Choose yo

In every story I work on, I think about how the forces of destiny and decision push and pull at us—and at each other—guiding and changing the course of all things. What I find especially interesting, though, is how hard it can be to tell the difference between what we decide and what is a matter of consequence and circumstance. Or if there's a different at all.

The $20 terminal to terminal taxi ride

In 2003, after traveling for nearly a day, around 2 in the morning I stepped out into the New Delhi night to a swarm of taxi drivers. I was supposed to ignore them, I knew that much. I was supposed to go find the shuttle bus that would transport me, for free, from the international terminal to the domestic terminal, where I would relax until my flight to Varanasi in the morning. But I was tired, and it was hot, and I gave in. Next thing I knew, i was in a white taxi, being driven by someone who kept asking if I really wanted a hotel instead (he likely would be getting a finders fee). I resolutely said no... but when we got to the terminal, and I realized I hadn't changed money yet... I parted with a $20 bill. To go between airport terminals. Not my smartest moment as a traveler, but I hope that $20 served my driver well.

Dog Discworld's Luggage = Traveler's Backpack

I freely confess: I based Jay's backpack on my own. It's a large black North Face pack, and it used to have a zip-off daypack, but the zipper on that broke years ago. My backpack has dirt, coffee drops, chip crumbs, chocolate bits, and a whiff of alcohol from 3 continents. When I really wax fantastical, I wonder what happens when you combine organic material, sweat, and the collective sensory experiences of many countries and cultures into one piece of baggage. What can I say? I can't help but consider a traveler's backpack a cross between a dog and the Luggage from Terry Pratchett's Discworld.

I love India—but the names of the local hooch provided me endless amusement when I was there in 2003. All the names in Forever the Road I made up... but they're not far off the mark. Anyone want to join me for a Royal Stag, Officer's Choice, Director's Special, or Jolly Roger?

Not that kind of travel

Often when people think about characters traveling, it's luxury cars and first class plans and all that jazz. Not my travelers. They get around more rough and ready—and aren't afraid of some jostling.

How much time has passed?

Like Terry Pratchett, I typically prefer the flow, timing, and suspense of section breaks instead of chapters. When I have to deal with the passing of larger spans of time, I use acts. Between Act III and IV of Forever the Road, a year passes. That's not all that happens. Across the world in London, the book The Lotus and the Barley happens during this year. Astute readers of that book may pick up on something near the end of Lotus that picks up here, at the end of Forever the Road.

Now that's a superpower

My characters tend to have more understated powers and abilities. Jade might not be Supergirl, but I think there's a lot to be said for your mere touch putting any drink to its proper temperature.

Buddha Matrix

Sometimes people ask me what Rucksack looks like beyond this sort of basic description. I pretty much imagine Rucksack as a cross between the Dalai Lama and Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus from The Matrix.

The Lotus and the Barley, a Rucksack Universe Novel

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Their entwined fate becomes his impossible choice. A strange eclipse looms above India's city of the smiling fire. When an ancient evil awakens, the world teeters on a razor's edge of life and annihilation. Rootless globetrotter Jay wanted Agamuskara to be just another place he visited, but the strange object in his backpack has other ideas. In the global secret order of Jakes and Jades, destiny-changing Jade Agamuskara Bluegold stands above the rest, all the while keeping up appearances as the humble proprietor of the Everest Base Camp Pub & Hostel. However, she struggles to untangle the terrible future she foresees and to ignore her doubts about her past choices. Despite themselves, both Jade and Jay befriend the evasive, stout-quaffing Faddah Rucksack—a man without a destiny who seems determined to direct their own. As fires rage in a land of ash, a backpacker, a bartender, and the world's only Himalayan-Irish sage become trapped between their entwined fate and an impossible choice. FOREVER THE ROAD is a captivating page-turner in Anthony St. Clair's Rucksack Universe. If you like Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, or Octavia Butler, you'll love this ongoing fantasy series of globetrotting intrigue. Buy the book to start Anthony St. Clair's tale of travel twists and turns today!

Book Bubbles from The Lotus and the Barley, a Rucksack Universe Novel

Change is how we grow ourselves and grow into ours

A little over a week before I'm writing this, I was in Hawaii. My family and I were hanging out with sea turtles on a beach in Kauai. It wasn't an ordinary vacation though. We were celebrating my wife being in cancer remission for 22 years. Over those years, she's changed. From child to woman. Student to professional and entrepreneur. She's become a wife and a mother. She bakes, knits, sews, and is far better with plumbing that I'll ever be. Since getting back from Hawaii, we've had more change. We just moved my wife's studio—and have rocking plans for a new one. Our son started first grade, and our pre-school daughter is realizing she can write her name. Change. Always. The only constant and all that. That change comes to my writing too. There are changes afoot. Growth happening. I see it in my characters. They are always growing into themselves, and yet always growing so that those selves are changing. Best lives. Truest selves. Better world. It only happens with change. I know some of the changes to come, but I know there will be plenty others I didn't expect. And that's okay. We grow. We change. And so does everything else, right there with us. Are you a Wanderer? patreon.com/anthonystclair

Decision and Destiny

When we go through a major life change, the next part of our path brings many decisions. When we lost something, what do we try to regain? What must we accept and move on from? What is our new destiny, and how do our decisions inform it? For Rucksack, my "hero of old, hero of now," that's something he faces in every story. What should have been a day of culmination for him, instead became a day of calamity that nearly killed him. Ever since he's been trying to find his way in the world. Sometimes he confronts losses from that time, and he has to decide what to do. These swords are a big decision. It's also in the name. One sword is Decision. The other is Destiny. (Trouble is, no one knows which is which.) After losing them to his nemesis years ago, Rucksack is certain that while there are many things he might have to let go, these swords are something he damn well wants back.

It's all about renewal

I got a Facebook note today that in 2013, my wife, son, and I were amongst the cherry blossoms at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, Japan. That memory is one of my fondest. Seemingly endless rows of pink and white. Freshness in the crisp air. All around, a sense of transformation, rebirth, renewal, new possibility. It's early spring as I write this. The Oregon air is frostier than I would prefer this morning, but the sun is shining, and I'm quite fond of that. No matter the weather though, I'm getting back in touch with the reminder that spring tells us of renewal. That change happens, and we can choose to change. The thing about renewal isn't its inevitability. It's that it's a constant possibility, as long as we accept it and live it. I'm looking into spring and looking into myself. What is it time to change? What is it time to renew? I guess we'll find out, as this new season unfolds.

The slow death of greatness

You know the old saying that it isn't the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop at the end? Stories often focus on the sudden stop. Often, however, the fall began long before. That's the case here. A glorious company, renown throughout the world. Now, its once-proud headquarters has fallen into neglect and disrepair. The people who care about it do the best they can, but they are being choked off by people in charge, who don't care—or, rather, they care far more about something else. That said, don't bother thinking that this has any sort of symbolic merit or comparison with our current world.

Spring should be a time of new beginnings

In many cultures, spring is regarded as a time of new beginnings. In Japan, for example, spring—with its world-famous cherry blossoms and plum blossoms—signifies the right time to move to a new place, start a new job, or begin other new journeys or ventures. That's exactly how two sisters feel right now too. Zara and Branwen Porter want to start their new dream. They've toiled in their current life and want to move on, move up. But at every turn, no matter how good they are, they can't break through. Spring should be a time of new beginnings, but suddenly it's becoming one of stasis... and of endings. Unless something big changes...

The many faces of Nia Fox

At first glance, Nia is just a workaday assistant, like plenty of people in the Rucksack Universe and in our own regworld. She's devoted to her job, supports her boss in countless ways, and ensures that Deep Inc. runs smoothly, even in the midst of all the chaos that comes when moving into a brand-new headquarters. Under her calm surface, though, Nia is in ceaseless danger. She is learning things she should not be learning—at least, to a certain perspective. She is poking holes in the facade that surrounds her. And all that while, she is searching, searching, for a liberating yet dangerous truth. She's fast becoming one of my favorite characters, and I'm so glad she's ready to tell me more about herself.

What makes loyalty?

So far in the Rucksack Universe, The Lotus and the Barley is where we first meet Nia Fox. From 41 stories high in central London, she's strong, brilliant, kind, sends Feckniss a-twitter, and seriously rocks a salwar kameez. She's also Guru Deep's personal assistant. After Deep Inc's CEO, she's the most powerful person in the company. No one and nothing gets to Guru Deep without going through Nia. There's a lot about Nia we don't know though. Her rise began five years ago, and her loyalty to Guru Deep and Deep Inc. have never wavered. Or have they? After all, what makes loyalty? Loyalty is our belief that we serve the ideals of someone whose ideals match ours. Someone who inspires us. Yet loyalty is a fragile thing, and Nia's loyalty is about to be tested in some big ways. Not in this book though. Nia Fox is another character I've been wanting to do more with, and she's going to feature big in some short fiction and other works I'm scribbling away on. Loyalty is everything—as long as it's earned.

Most fantastical books ever

Genres are such tricky little beasts. I don't know that anything I write will ever nicely tuck into a genre category. But I do know this: my books are some of the most fantastical books ever. Know how I know that? There are no wizard or elves, no legions of dark forces or even flat worlds on the backs of cosmic turtles. But there are people of all sorts of backgrounds getting along. There are people not getting shot every day. There are people who have decided that what a person does and says matters more than what they look like or who they love. Given our current world, if that's not fantastical, then I don't know what is.

2 sisters and a big dream

When I think about the things that I consider crucial to life, people working toward their dreams and goals is a big one. When it's two people who already share so much, what are the strains and challenges that come from working together toward a shared dream? In The Lotus and the Barley, I wanted the core characters to be two sisters. They're young adults, working toward their dreams, dealing with setbacks, and trying to keep pushing forward no matter what. In this scene, I wanted to show them close to their dream—yet, of course, so far. The thing about these sisters, Zara and Branwen, is how unflappable they are. They keep at it. They know what they love, they know what they want to do. It's like they're just trying to turn the world so the world gets that too.

Beerpunk starts with cool growlers

Ages back, I saw a growler/dispenser that looked a lot like this. I beerpunked Zara and Branwen's a bit more, because, after all, good beerpunk starts with a cool growler with plenty of brass.

The Hong Kong Incident

Nope, not a new thriller. But the aftermath of The Martini of Destiny was a bit of a shot heard 'round the world. The consequences reverberate here, through the books I'm working on right now, and in ways that I have yet to explore. And yes, if you're guessing that's because I live in the US and really dislike the level of gun violence here, you're right. I don't know how to change the world. But I can try to figure out some ways that I wish the world could be different.

It'd just commemorate a battle or something

When creating a London that is similar to ours yet is very different, I wanted to have little nods, analogs from the world of the Rucksack Universe to our world. One of these is the Square of Ashes. It's a place that serves as a memorial to those who died in The Blast. But for those of you playing the home game, it also sounds a bit like... Trafalgar Square. In my story world, there is no Trafalgar Square, because alternate history. But there is this other place, that is similar but different. It's one of the fine lines an author walks: making a world that be distinct yet recognizable. Though really, I just think it makes things more fun.

1984ish

Something my copy editor and readers have told me about The Lotus and the Barley is how much they like—and feel a bit chilled by—all the 1984ish slogans like this one.

Deep in the past

Part of the fun of The Lotus and the Barley was introducing Guru Deep. He's creepy yet charismatic, and I've hardly begun exploring the conflict and personalities between him and Rucksack. But the Deep lineage and Rucksack go back a ways. Just this morning I was revising a section of my next Rucksack Universe book, codenamed Roadsong. This new book is set 100 years after The Blast, but before any of the books currently available. In Roadsong, Rucksack and another character save a stranger in a burning building... a stranger in an orange suit. Hmmm...

A gleam in the dark

Ever have one of those nights at the pub when you've had just enough to drink that the whole world makes sense? I like to think it's as if in the midst of all life's darkness and obscurity, we find a wee gleam in the dark—just a little light to show us that there is one. Out there in the universe. And inside ourselves. This theme—the gleam in the dark—is at the heart of all my work. I just a did a wee article-style flash fiction story on this too. You can check it out for free on my website, anthonystclair.com: Free Rucksack Universe Fiction: Stars in your beer http://wp.me/p3zrGS-2B8

Drinking this beer is like eating snow

As a beer writer, I get a lot of insight into the people and processes behind the US craft beer boom. Before all that, many years ago, I was once just a college kid... who hated beer. This was before the current craft boom, when beers like Corona and Heineken were considered fancy. I tried my share of, shall we say, standard beers. I detested them all. (Seriously, at college parties I would drink wine coolers instead of beer.) Travels in Scotland and Ireland taught me that beer could actually be good, and after moving to Oregon I came to understand the growing world of good beer. So when bringing beer into the Rucksack Universe, I had to have an amazing beer... countered by a horrible one. One that was sweeping the world... yet all that could be said for it is that it was like eating snow: at least it's cold.

A colorful London

When your imagination destroys a city and then you rebuild it, you get to decide to make some big changes....

The stolen swords

The stolen swords? Yup. In the book I'm working on right now, codename Roadsong, Rucksack has the swords, and both are ship-shape. Yet in The Lotus and the Barley, not only does Guru Deep have the swords, one of them is also broken. For those playing the home game, no, I haven't yet published the story about how Guru Deep wound up with Faddah Rucksack's swords. But I'm working on it :)

A practical alchemy

Miracles truly are both extraordinary and ordinary. After all, the process might be Rube Goldbergian-convoluted, but isn't it indeed a sort of miracle that transforms sunshine into beer?

The worst decision is indecision

When I was coming up with the character of Feckniss, I delved into the flaws in my own self. Sometimes I can be indecisive, afraid to make a choice and stand with it. That was true especially in the years before leaving my old job and setting off on my own as a self-employed freelance writer and author. There are many flaws and bad choices with Feckniss, but to my mind, the most tragic thing about him is his indecision.

What is the sound of no profit rising?

Behind every organization hawking enlightenment, there's going to be some graphs and spreadsheets and a hard-nosed look at the bottom line. Deep Inc. ain't any different.

A lot of dark and a bit of light

Sometimes I think a pint of stout must be a metaphor for existence.

Homebrewers have the coolest beerpunkiest gear

Back in 2007, I brewed my first beer, and here and there over the years I've done a bit of brewing. It's incredibly fun. But nothing beats the gear. Homebrewers work with all sorts of cool stuff, steel and brass, copper and wood, you name it. Brew gear can look really modern, or it can look like it came out of a steampunk story.

Guru... Trump?

This note from a reader makes me both laugh and shudder: "FYI, I can't help but imagine Guru Deep as a dark skinned man with Donald Trump hair." And to think that some of his nefarious operations are in Moscow. Little did I know my fiction might start to imitate fact...

Deep saffron

I came up with the name "Guru Deep" years ago while traveling in India. As the character came to life, I imagined Guru Deep in an orange suit, blazing and bright. it wasn't until researching The Lotus and the Barley that I learned that reality was backing up my imagination: the orange in the Indian flag is a color called deep saffron.

The day Feckniss was born

Before becoming a full-time author and freelance writer, I worked as the web editor at a national sale company. It was a decent job, but over the years was getting insipid and increasingly Dilbert-like. One day I was on a conference call. I'd been on more and more conference calls lately, often one- or two-hour calls where I would need to speak for about twenty seconds. It was inane and maddening. On this particular call, I kept thinking about a version of myself that did not try to make any changes. That was terrified of doing anything different. Someone who embraced the cubicle as some sort of safe place instead of a three-walled prison. At that moment, the character of Feckniss was born.

Elsewhere in the Rucksack Universe

The Hong Kong incident? See The Martini of Destiny.

Where is the Lotus?

When constructing an alternate world that is similar to your own, one of the challenges is making things different yet recognizable. When working on The Lotus and the Barley, I had to look at London as it is and reimagine it to the world of the Rucksack Universe, where London had been completely destroyed in 1834a. I also tried to peg things to recognizable landmarks. The Lotus, for example, occupies the same area where The Shard rises in our world.

1984?

"ILLUSION IS REALITY" is one of many posters and curious sayings in the global company Deep Inc. Readers have said it reminds them of George Orwell's 1894. Can't imagine why.

Guidebook blurbs in a fantasy novel?

The beginning of every Rucksack Universe book includes an excerpt from a "Through the Third Eye Guidebook" about the place where the book is set. These guidebooks are part of the Through the Third Eye series from Guru Deep. The excerpts give a snippet of insight into the similar-yet-different world of the stories. As a long-time traveler, I'm a reader of guidebooks such as Lonely Planet and Rick Steves. Travel is a big part of my stories, so it made sense that guidebooks would be too.

The Blast?

Oct. 16, Year AB 0 (in our world, 1834). To this day, the cause of this world-changing explosion is still unknown.

Home Sweet Road

Science Fiction & Fantasy

For centuries the Awen's duty has passed from woman to woman: guard the three relics from those who would control the world. But no threat has come to Aisling's hostel door at Ireland's western edge, and the newest Awen has yet to prove herself. Then Jay and Tiran arrive shortly after a more powerful relic has vanished from The Blast Memorial in the ruins of Galway. Now Aisling wonders who she can trust: her mentor Jake Connemara, or the two travelers she both suspects and is drawn to. The time of Aisling's test has come. If the Awen fails, one of these men will bring the world to a terrible fate. HOME SWEET ROAD is a captivating page-turner in Anthony St. Clair's Rucksack Universe. If you like Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, or Octavia Butler, you'll love this ongoing fantasy series of globetrotting intrigue.

Book Bubbles from Home Sweet Road

Even when we are standing still, we still are on a

My wife was teaching at a fiddle camp here in Oregon. Our kids and I enjoyed 4 days of camping, romping, and darn fine fiddling. I also thought about Aisling, the Irish fiddling hostel proprietor who is much more than just the person behind the front desk, the person who misses her travels and knows she won't travel again. When Home Sweet Road came out in 2014, there was still lots I didn't know about Aisling. Or rather, a lot she hadn't yet told me about herself. Over time she's opened up. While at fiddle camp, I began to see Aisling's journey anew. I've thought a lot about Aisling as a child, and about the Aisling we meet in this book, and I know more about her decisions and destiny to come. But I didn't yet know a great deal about the years she spent traveling the world, before returning to Ireland to do something she never thought she'd do. Now I'm starting to understand. The key is Aisling's fiddle. Music was Aisling's life, and her wish to follow her music is what took Aisling around the world. Fiddle camp started to show me how—and what it'll mean for her stories to come. Because even when we are standing still, we still are on a road.

There will be a test

I think a great deal about the way life tests us. In stories we often see the big challenge, from some sort of temptation, to a task the hero must complete or fail at. The reason stories focus so much on all these tests, is that it's one of the things we can glom onto from our own real lives, and try to make some sense of all that. For most of us, though, life's tests are smaller and quieter. They're the decisions we make every day, at work and at home and with family. The tests are the things we say yes or no to. The dreams we neglect or strive to bring to life. They're the choices, like Dumbledore said, that make us decide between what is right and what is easy. We will likely never face world-teetering contests. But every day we face contests of self. How we meet those challenges big and small not only defines us, but defines the greater world we live in too—meaner or kinder, more hopeful or more despairing, more fearful or more welcoming. There will be a test. It's called life. And it comes every day we draw breath in this world.

My imagination roams where I once walked

Many many years ago now, I lived in Ireland on a work visa. I based in Galway, and once took a long weekend up to Clifden, in the Connemara region to the west. Now, obviously, Clifden is not exactly the center of the world. It's not some recognizable place like Hong Kong or New York or London. But Clifden resonates with me. Always has. Always will. Part of it is the hostel owner, who hand-drew me a map of things to see (which I still have). Part of it is the Irish breakfast I feasted on one morning. Part of it is all the walking I did around there, roaming through fields and castle ruins and up to the top of a cliff overlooking at the sea. Clifden got into me, and it's still there. It comes through in my fiction in so many ways. That's the thing. Travel isn't about how renown a place is to anyone else but you. The significance of a place is the meaning it takes on for you, what you learn from it, and how it becomes part of you for the rest of your life. Clifden is part of me. And it's part of my work. And now, some of it is part of you.

A sign of where to go

What if you wanted to know where to go, and there really was a sign that could tell you? I've always been a little obsessed with signs that have arrows pointing to other places. I love that reminder of distance and direction, and that this world is both so much smaller and so much bigger than we often recognize in the immediate moment of where we are. Now and again, my characters get a similar hint. There's a sign that, when you look at it, shows you the different places you can go—or where you need to go. It's not always pleasant, but at least it's always true. If only life could be that way, huh? Then again, maybe it already is. Only we don't need a sign. That sense of path and direction is already in us, as long as we pay attention to the sign inside that tells us where we are, where we want to go, and where we need to be.

The woman she almost was

How many times have you reflected on the crossroads of your life? How many times have you looked back and seen the path you took—and the paths you could have taken instead? Anytime Aisling picks up a fiddle, that's what she sees. In Home Sweet Road, we meet her as this person with a secret purpose. But she nearly wasn't that person at all. She as nearly someone else completely. Earlier in her life, she ran away from all that—for reasons that I will be getting into down the line. From a young age, Aisling loved to play the violin. As a child she resolved that she would grow up to make her living and her life from her music. She traveled the world, rejecting the destiny that was supposed to be before her, because she wanted to make a different choice about her life. Yet she came back. Now, she doesn't make a living as a musician. She plays her fiddle regularly at the local pub. And every time she does, she has to stand at that crossroads again. Between what she thought she was going to be—and who she is instead.

She did go home again

Many of us are familiar with stories where someone wants to see the world, wants to leave where they came from, but they wind up never going anywhere. Those stories take us into the longing hearts of people who wish so badly that they could be somewhere else, anywhere else but here. Then there's Aisling. What's it like when you see the world, and want to keep seeing the world, but instead go back to where you came from? And it hasn't changed—but she has. Aisling has her reasons for coming back to Clifden. She has her reasons for seeming like a regular hostel proprietor, who just likes to take care of travelers, then go to the pub and have a few pints while playing her fiddle in the musicians' circle. But those reasons also give her a longing in her heart. A longing for the road, but also a longing to belong in the place where she needs to be. It's a longing that grows with her as she becomes more and more the person she needs to be. But what will it mean when she is home, and always home, and the world is always right beyond her door?

Sibling rivalry when you're not actually siblings

Aisling grew up around three people: her mysterious grandmother, the itinerant and intriguing Faddah Rucksack, and the kind bartender, Jake Connemara. In his work for the The Management, Jake has many tasks, and his little outpost pub at the western edge of Ireland is actually one of the most important places in the world. His favorite duty though, the one he considers the most crucial to his time as a Jake, is to help an orphaned girl feel safe and at home. Over the years Jake and Aisling become as brother and sister, and help each other a great deal. That's not to say there isn't some sibling rivalry though. Their dynamic changes when Aisling becomes the Awen of Ireland. Suddenly, Jake must also serve a role of mentor and guide—which annoys the hell out of Aisling sometimes. She wants to find her own way, trust her own self, and she wants Jake to trust her more too. She's got the world on her shoulders in ways he doesn't know—and she's determined that he understand she's up for the job.

All the light and shadows that are her

Over the past few days, Aisling and I have been chatting a lot. Or, rather, she's been telling me about herself, and I've been writing it down. For ages I've been trying to understand Aisling's past better. How she came to be raised by her grandmother. Why she ran away as a teenager, why she came back. Figuring out more about Aisling's character has been a reminder of how much our lives are light and shadow, known and unknown, revealed and misunderstood. She has so much before her, as a character, but now I'm seeing just how much has gone in to shaping who she is—and how much of my story world is. Going to be some fun writing to come out of all this. I can hardly wait.

When someone tells you their deepest secrets

Home Sweet Road came out in 2014. Its central character, Aisling, is this new guardian and inspirer, a muse and sage and warrior, all in one. Her character has fascinated me. Over the last four years, I've thought about Aisling a lot, wondering about her past and future. For a long time, I didn't really know. Just like people you know outside your head, the characters we meet or create in stories don't always tell us everything about them. Lately, though, Aisling is telling me everything about her life. Her childhood, on up to when she became Awen—and believe you me, that is quite a winding road. I've got a feeling there are lots of stories waiting to be bloomed into this new spring...

The troubles of destinies not working out

There are so many things with Aisling that I've yet to explore. As the new Awen of Ireland, there are so many things she knows to be true... but there is also much that she is still learning. As she reveals more of her character to me, I keep learning so much about Aisling. Her childhood. Being raised by her grandmother. And what happens when decisions and destinies clash. She has some rocky times ahead... but she's also had plenty before. Yet there are things she's soon to learn that will change her understanding of her role as Awen forever.

When destiny looks you in the eye

Lately I've been thinking about this moment in Home Sweet Road, when Aisling tells Jay about the special sign outside of her village. It's one of those wonderful signs that has pointed boards that show you how far you are from other parts of the world. I've always loved these signs. In this section, Aisling talks about building that sign when she was a girl. And how, at the end of it, one of the people helping looked her in the eye and told her she would be magnificent. Was he seeing her destiny? Or just trying to inspire a young girl?

Galway Ruin

Galway Ruin—and, over a hundred years on, the Memorial Center that is now there—gets a wee mention in Home Sweet Road. We'll go there again in Wander, and lately I've been fiddling with some more stories about Aisling, and a connection between her, Rucksack, and Galway Ruin. Thinking about this part of the Rucksack Universe always makes me wonder: what is the extent of life's ability to come back from devastation?

How the extraordinary keep it ordinary

Aisling is the next Awen of Ireland, one who has to know her own light so that she can help others find their own, no matter the darkness within or without. But even she has to live in a regular world. Like Superman adopts the persona of Clark Kent, Aisling seems to the world like just a simple proprietor of a hostel out in western Ireland. That's by design. The hostel is also something I want to have more fun with. How did she wind up running a hostel? And what surprises has she faced along the way?

Caves. All the caves.

Today I wrote a pivotal scene in an upcoming Rucksack Universe book. The scene takes place deep underground, beneath a mountain. In Home Sweet Road, the final pivotal action takes place in a cave. In Wander (which you may have seen me talk about previously under the working title Roadsong), Rucksack has been asleep in a cave for a hundred years after The Blast. In The Lotus and the Barley, First Call Brewing's maze of tunnels and chambers reminds me a great deal of a cave. Must have been the bit of caving I did in college. I've always liked caves. They are symbols of the unknown, of the subconscious, of death and rebirth. They are refuges, prisons, the homes of secrets. No wonder they're in my stories all the time.

Never mess with the grandmothers

Today I was going through my Chief Reader's edits on Roadsong/Wander. It got me thinking about Home Sweet Road. While this book happened after Aisling's grandmother's time, the grandmother still hangs over the story. Aisling looks up to her, and feels guilty about her. There's still so much Aisling has to learn about her grandmother, both good and bad. Like all of us as we come to understand our elders as complex, real, fallible people, Aisling too is going to have much to learn.

The guardian's grandmother

When Home Sweet Road came out in 2014, people said they hoped to learn more about Aisling's grandmother. I wanted too as well—grandmas mean a lot to me, and I loved walking the world with the Awens. Now I'm working on stories that happen before Aisling's time, and her grandmother is at the center of everything.

The sign that shows your path?

I've always had a thing about those signs that show how far away other places are. I figure it came from growing up always knowing I was going to live somewhere other than where I was born. Those signs were inspiring. There was something about getting that sense of how big the world was, and how near or far other places lived. So when it came to working on Rucksack stories, I loved the idea of a sign whose cities changed depending on the person looking at the sign. Maybe it's destiny. Maybe it's a reminder of choice. But either way it's something I want to do more with in the stories.

It's just not coffee.

Recently, I was at a friend's house and nearly mistook her jar of dry black tea for ground coffee. I don't think I've made a face like that since I was a kid turning up my nose at a suspect meal. But it's true. Sure, tea has it's place... In other people's mugs. Tea... it's just not coffee. I really ought to make a t-shirt of that.

Jakes and Jades

Bartenders the world over... all named either Jake or Jade. But why? Is it a name? Their real name? Is it some sort of title? And what are they up to when they move in a way that you can't actually see or follow?

A sign for the rest of the world

You know those signs you see in some places, that show you're X miles from Y farflung place? I'm a total sucker for those signs. I love them. Always have. I've always loved the context of knowing where I am in relation to Somewhere Else. Usually, Somewhere Else isn't as far away as you might think.

Connor in the Wheelbarrow

Aisling is a renown fiddler, and if there's a tune, she either knows it or can pick it up quickly. To the best of my knowledge, there is no such tune (yet) called "Connor in the Wheelbarrow." That was just me giving a wink to readers—my son, Connor, to this day loves a ride in the wheelbarrow. That said, my violinist wife has kicked around composing an Irish tune to this effect. I'll let you know if she does.

World's greatest traveler

Part of the fun of travel is sitting around a pub or hostel common room with other travelers, usually with some beverage of a fermented variety, and swapping stories. Sometimes people tell their own stories, and sometimes they tell stories they hear on the road. Usually it's hard to say how much is real and how much is, ahem, embellished. But it's always good fun. I like to think that I have that spirit going on in talking up what could be the world's greatest traveler.

All the world is stamped in her passport

It really is, too. Before accepting that she was the Awen of Ireland—its guardian, guide, and muse—Aisling ran away from home and spent a long time traveling the world. The reasons she left and the reasons she returned ultimately are the same...

Based on a real hostel in Connemara

In 2000 I lived in Ireland for a few months. Once weekend I bused up from Galway to Clifden, on the western edge of Ireland between the hills and the sea. The hostel I stayed at was the basis for the hostel in this book. The owner was a wonderful man, older, with those brilliant blue Irish eyes. The first morning I was there, he drew me a map of all the places I would walk to that day, as I explored Clifden, the eighth wonder of the world. All these years later, I still have the map, and I still have the memory and wonder of his excitement and that day's wanderings.

The grandmother

When Home Sweet Road came out in 2014, in the back of my mind I knew that at some point I would want to talk more about Aisling's mysterious grandmother. While Home Sweet Road takes place years after said grandmother has passed on, her shadow looms large over Aisling, her past, and her future. Fast forward to 2016 and 2017, and I've been actively writing about Aisling's Grandmother. Her life. Her times. And how many things have come to pass because of her power and her pity.

Ireland of life and imagination

In 2000 I lived in Galway, Ireland, for a few months. As a recent grad, I was able to get an Irish work visa—how can you pass that up? One of my fondest memories is spending a few days in Clifden, which is nestled between the hills and the sea. I loved this little town. The hills are otherworldly. The hostel indeed is the stuff of legend—and the proprietor indeed steered me toward an Irish breakfast that, to this day, still sticks to me. It's no wonder that this place figures so much in my fiction, for it certainly figures so much in my life.

The Martini of Destiny

Science Fiction & Fantasy

One drink changed everything. Influencing a man's fate should have been another day behind the bar. Bartender Jake Hongkong has served The Management longer than any other Jake or Jade, but now he doubts his role influencing people’s destinies and decisions. Declan is directionless and scared when he comes to the pub, yet one drink is all it takes to give him the courage to make a life-altering decision. Deeply shaken by something he wasn't meant to see, Jake doubts more than ever, and consequences ripple through destiny and the world. Soon one martini will forever alter lives and fates... especially Jake's and Declan’s. ** A Rucksack Universe Fantasy Novella ** This riveting fantasy novella is part of the Rucksack Universe series, the exciting world of wit, adventure, and beer that fans call “buoyant with a unique humor, twist and focus on international travel,” and “perfect for fans of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.”

Book Bubbles from The Martini of Destiny

How did we get here?

As I write this in June 2018, it's been 5 years since the release of my first Rucksack Universe book, THE MARTINI OF DESTINY. This story sets in motion so many things. Among them, the story brings up so many questions about my mysterious hero, Rucksack. What was his role in The Blast? Why does he only wear one glove? What is the mistake he's trying to find redemption for? Will he find that redemption? We'll soon get to find out more of the puzzle that is Rucksack, the world's only Himalayan-Irish sage, hero o' old and hero o' now. On Oct. 19, 2018, I'm releasing WANDER. The next Rucksack Universe novel serves as a sort of prequel. Set 100 years after The Blast scoured England and Ireland, it's an adventure like nothing I've written before or like you've seen in the Rucksack Universe--or anywhere else. Wanderer, you can learn more about the story here. It's going to be quite a ride: anthonystclair.com/wander

The regrets of choices that seemed so great at the

When I think about the Jakes and Jades, the destiny-slinging bartenders in my Rucksack Universe stories, I think of people who have chosen a whole lot of perks for what seems like not a lot of trade-offs. It's a bit like the Jedi. Master the Force, get a lightsaber, be part of this elite group. But the Jedi have to give up everything and be unattached. Same with the Jakes and Jades. They walk away from their lives, and there is no going back. They gain various abilities, sure. But like the Jedi, a large part of being a Jake or Jade is doing what you're told. When that's your life, no matter the perks, sooner or later you bristle at the constraints. Wonder how you can break free. Wonder what other choices you should make. The choice still seemed great at the time. Maybe it is still. But all changes come with a down-the-road time of reflection, questioning, doubting—and then either rededicating to the good and bad of your choice, or making a big change yet again. And, hopefully, understanding that eventually that choice too will confront you with regrets and doubts, no matter how great a decision it seemed at the time.

The long road of making good on past mistakes

No one's past is a perfect place. Not mine. Not yours. And definitely not Faddah Rucksack's. When Rucksack comes into this pub in Hong Kong, he is finding his way toward a path of redemption for, well, for a lot of things. He's uncertain. He misleads and prevaricates. For someone who for so long had a pretty set destiny, he is still trying to get used to being unmoored. But he keeps going. He doesn't shy away from making new mistakes while seeking to rectify old ones. He keeps going, because he knows that redemption never comes to those who stay still.

Absinthe... Coffee... Water... Stout...

The other day my wife and I were talking about The Martini of Destiny. "I love this one," she said. "Of course I'm biased. But I love how you structured it. I keep wondering, too, when you're going to come back to those concepts about the absinthe, coffee, water, and stout." That conversation has been on my mind a lot. There's been the martini... but there's a lot more around these other beverages and their roles in the stories of the Rucksack Universe. What will that next round be?

Jakes and Jades

Upcoming Rucksack Universe stories have been thinking about these words a lot. The bartender has a certain mythological quality to them: sage, mentor, comforter, mystic, near-wizard. To which I ask... what if they were?

When a stone falls

Of late I've been thinking a lot about this moment in The Martini of Destiny. So much in the Rucksack Universe turns on the axis of this scene. Everything that Declan thought he was going to know in his future... he loses. Then there's Jade. I deliberately didn't have her as part of this story. Part of the fun of working on the Rucksack Universe is bringing in different perspectives at different times. And right now, as I work on Cloud Fortress, we not only get to learn much, much more about Jade Bluegold, we also get to see the consequences of this moment in the Tiger Balm Gardens.

The otherworldly garden in the middle of Hong Kong

I've been working on a presentation about the importance of setting in story. It's had me revisiting this section of The Martini of Destiny. The strange, phantasmagoric scene of the Aw Boon Gardens was so perfect for this scene. Though given that I also know what happens to the Gardens, that's going to be even more fun for a future story.

Some advance reading for Cloud Fortress

This week I started drafting a new Rucksack Universe story, called Cloud Fortress. In it I'm going back to the early days of Jade Bluegold, a character from Forever the Road. Integral to that story is the events of The Martini of Destiny... especially this section here.

This book came out nearly 4 years ago...

...And it still amazes me. I had a 6mo baby at home. I was trying to build my business as a freelance writer, and on top of it was trying to get my foot in the door on indie publishing and getting a Rucksack Universe title out in the world. With The Martini of Destiny, I finally did. Looking back, and seeing how the universe is growing and changing, it blows me away that so much is underway because of this first wee book. Thanks for being along for the ride.

Why do these bartenders have weird names?

Jake Hongkong. Jade Agamuskara Bluegold. Jake Connemara. Jade London. Why do Rucksack Universe bartenders have such weird names? The bartenders in my stories are all part of a special order. They work for the mysterious "The Management" (who you may have seen in this world from all the signs and flyers they tend to post). Known as the Jakes and Jades, these bartenders are assigned jobs in special pubs around the world. Far more than bartenders though, they influence the course of decision and destiny for people everywhere. Jakes stay in one place for their entire service, and their last name reflects where they serve. Jades are more complicated. They go where they are needed most. Their middle name reflects where they are, and their last name is based on their eye color. While not superhuman, they are metahuman. They don't get sick, they have great longevity, they have listening skills that enable them to listen even to inanimate objects, and, above all, they can make any drink ever mixed or imagined, and at their touch any bottle of booze goes to its proper serving temperature.

Beyond New York and London

Now, don't get me wrong: I love New York and London. There's a reason they're among the world's preeminent cities. But they're not the only ones. Far from it. Give me Edinburgh, Mumbai, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney, Bangkok, Santiago, Addis Ababa, Hong Kong too. It's a big, big world, and far bigger than just the English and the Americans. Has been for a long, long time, even if our cultural and media mythologies are slow on the uptake. So in my stories, I envisioned a world where Asia was more ascendent. Where cities like Bangkok and Hong Kong were what the world looked up to the most.

The Tiger Balm Gardens of Hong Kong

When I first learned about these surreal gardens in Hong Kong, I was blown away. Concrete sculptures depicting scenes from Buddhist mythology? And a massive white pagoda? Then I tried to figure out how I hadn't known about this place when I was briefly in Hong Kong in 2003. Sadly, that's because it isn't there anymore: the gardens were demolished to make way for apartments. A fact that I will most certainly be using down the road in one of my stories.

What makes the world turn

More and more I realize that these few words rule everything I work on in the Rucksack Universe.

Greatest City in the World?

I've had the fortune of visiting some of our world's amazing cities. From New York to New Delhi, Bangkok to Edinburgh, Tokyo to San Francisco, I love the character and vibrancy of major cities. But when it came to developing the Rucksack Universe, I knew that my major cities—the world's greatest cities—would be different. There's a much more prevalent multi-cultural aspect to my world. How the US developed is different. London burned down. And that's led me to some different takes on the world's cities...

What did happen to Rucksack's hand?

Regular readers have likely noticed that when asked why his left hand is messed up, and covered with a black leather glove, Rucksack never gives a straight answer. But I will tell you that sooner or later, you'll find out the truth.

Based on a true story

And also a real rock. I have a thing about worry stones. My dad gave me one when I was a teenager, and ever since I've always carried some sort of little stone in my pocket. One in particular, though, is really significant. When I was 20 I visited Oregon for the first time. While on the coast, I found a round, smooth, thin, red and black stone. I carried it for years, during travels in Scotland and Ireland, during much turmoil and change in my life. The stone reminded me of my decision to move to Oregon. Later, when I did, I left the rock in a meditation rock garden in rural Douglas County. But the memory stays—and so does the significance of that stone.

A different Hong Kong

In the world of the Rucksack Universe, Hong Kong isn't a British colony... and it's also not part of mainland China. It's an independent city-state. The city is considered the world' most eminent city, and is a melting pot of cultures, peoples, and ideas. I barely scratched the surface of all this when I was working on my first book, The Martini of Destiny... but boy howdy is there more fun to be had here.

What does destiny taste like?

A bit like black licorice.

Drink Deep's...

... Make Every Night Special!

Guru Deep Guidebooks

Since the Rucksack Universe is based in globetrotting travel, I riffed on backpacker/indie travel guides such as Lonely Planet and Rick Steves to create my own "Through the Third Eye" guidebook series. Each book starts with an excerpt from the guidebook for that book's setting. (Guru Deep is the name is a character we'll meet later in the series.) These snippets also give us hints of other aspects of the world and how it's different from our own—such as how, in the Rucksack Universe, Hong Kong isn't part of China but is a sovereign nation.

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