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Finding the End

Finding the End

After waking in a strange funk, likely caused by falling asleep while watching a Scottish crime series and hearing shouts and gunshots in my sleep, I have the rough outline for the unwritten remainder of Thieves Honor.*

This novel was supposed to be completed in December 2015, but life has its own plans and stories take their own time.

I wanted to advance, but a voice nagged at the back of my mind, so I returned to the beginning of the story and revised or cut passages that had never quite satisfied. Something was missing, too. Like the forgotten spice for the soup, a minor plot element had been left out — and its absence, while not making the story unpalatable, certainly made it less interesting.

When Ray Gun Revival magazine went into hiatus, I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I’d planned for three “seasons” of the Thieves Honor serial; for the novel, however, time and material had to be condensed, and the story itself needed to change.

As of this morning, about three years or so later, I know roughly how to do that.**

There’s much to be said for outlines, but I don’t think or create in linear fashion. My mind needs time to hike over wide wide tracts of unconnected wildernesses and brings back ideas I would never have considered but for the wandering. And if I don’t start writing something, a story may never actually be written before it is forgotten.

I plod when I’d rather soar, although some of my best short story work has occurred under a looming deadline. That’s usually after I already know the characters and story goal well enough to fit the puzzle together at the last minute.

It’s good business to produce books quickly so one can build a paying audience and solid readership. There are exceptions to that, of course; a certain famous fantasy writer is known for his slow production rate, but he hasn’t lost his audience.

I wish I wrote faster. My mind is teeming with untold stories.

 

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* If this is the result, maybe I should fall asleep to noisy Scottish crime dramas every night. 😉 After all, in the novel, there’s a dead character with a Scottish burr who “haunts” Finney, the ship’s pilot.

** For readers in the know, Carson Quinn, son of a famous pirate, and Rebeka Bat’Alon, the rebellious daughter of a port governor, are making a comeback in the story, turning their bit parts into pivotal roles. The mystery of the ghost ship Elsinore will be solved, and there’ll be another visit to the outcast colony living in the abandoned mines of the Devil’s Eye.

Readers were first introduced to the colony in “Shooting the Devil’s Eye”, a short story in Raygun Chronicles, a space opera anthology.

 

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Granite

Granite

Ideas from unexpected places? Happens all the time.

This week, while writing story notes in a spiral-bound notebook, I was listening to episodes of “Ancient Impossible” on the History Channel.* When I’d hear a historical detail I wanted to remember, I’d jot it on a separate page from the story notes.

In Dragon’s Rook, I wrote about a mountain city carved from granite.** However, I didn’t reveal how it was carved. Granite is serious stone. It doesn’t like to be cut.

However, there are examples of granite cut in ancient times, and they were the subject of a couple segments on “Ancient Impossible”: How did the ancients cut a large core of granite — a cylinder with evenly-spaced narrow grooves spiraling down its length — and how did they cut a slab that is marked as if by a circular saw, a piece of technology that no one expected to have existed then?

And that reminded me of something that should be incorporated into the next book, Dragon’s Bane: How was the city of Elycia carved into a mountainside composed mainly of granite?

Not gonna tell you. Yet. 😉

But it makes sense inside the story, and it explains one detail mentioned in Dragon’s Rook — the grooves left in the stone cliffs.

I want to go write that material right now, but I’m still finishing Thieves’ Honor, a space opera novel, which I hope to have complete by the end of the month. And then it’s back to Dragon’s Bane. And, after that, The Unmakers, a novel of paranormal suspense.

Anyone else listen to TV rather than watch it? Must come from all my years of having a radio but no television — listening is now a habit.

** The Mount Rushmore carvings are granite.

 
 

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Book Bag

Book Bag

I used to have a book bag, a cloth receptacle for hauling my loot back and forth from the library, either when I walked or when I rode my bike there on a Saturday. Nowadays, we have digital bookbags — Kindles or Nooks or other e-reading devices — that are much lighter and more compact than the paperback-stuffed backpacks of yesteryear.

Here are a few suggested additions to those book bags:

1) The Big Shutdown by John Whalen

TheBigShutdown

The Big Shutdown. An entire planet is about to be made obsolete. Chaos rules as Nomad gangs terrorize what’s left of Tulon’s cities. Jack Brand, ex-Army Ranger, semi-retired Tulon Security Officer, searches for his missing sister, Terry. His journey takes him from desert wastelands to a domed city, and beyond. Along the way he meets the unforgettable Christy Jones, But love will have to wait until Brand finds his sister, and soon the last ship will leave for Earth.

“The Big Shutdown” is a new, revised edition of “Jack Brand,” a space western classic first published in 2010. Out of print for two years, Flying W Press brings it back with an introduction by Johne Cook, Overlord of Ray Gun Revival, the e-zine where the stories that became a novel were first published. Also included is an additional story from Whalen’s “This Raygun for Hire.” series, featuring Frank Carson, a futuristic trouble shooter for hire.

2) The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly by various authors, and compiled by the editors at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly magazine.

HFQ 6x9 front cover ONLY-cropped

Tales gathered from frozen pre-history, sweltering jungles, and smoky mead halls, legends of this world and whispers of other worlds briefly glimpsed — here then are gathered works of adventure and danger, love and fury, seventeen of the best from the early days of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.

Fiction by Richard Marsden, James Lecky, William Gerke, R. Michael Burns, Christopher Wood, Robert Rhodes, Dariel R. A. Quiogue, Jesse Bangs, P. Djeli Clark, and David Pilling.

Poetry by Danny Adams, Joshua Hampton, W. E. Couvillier, John Keller, Megan Arkenberg, Joshua Hampton, and David Sklar.

Introduction by John O’Neill of Black Gate Magazine.

3) The catalogue of books available at Oghma Creative Media, which publishes a wide variety of genres, including this recent offering:

TheJudasSteer

Is Blood Thicker Than Water?

Three years ago Aubrey Fox’s husband, a Pittsburg County Undersheriff, was discovered in a remote pasture, dead from an unknown assailant’s bullet. With few clues and even fewer leads, his case went cold. Aubrey was left to mourn as best she could, a loss made even greater for lack of closure. Who killed Mark and why? Meanwhile, life went on with two teenagers and a herd of cattle to feed.

When the local sheriff pays an unexpected visit and hints that someone higher up has reopened her husband’s case, Aubrey begins her own investigation. What she finds on his computer casts a wide net of involvement, but who pulled the trigger? Who would believe the results would render the face of organized crime in the United States as wearing a Stetson and hand-tooled Lucchese boots.

4) And, although this book has been out since the end of January 2015, it is now available on Kindle Unlimited, and is free for a few days (until Saturday, November 14):

Dragon's_Rook_Cover_Keanan_Brand_Susan_Troutt

 

Captain Gaerbith is heir to a secret: the location of a lost sword he cannot touch. In a village far from the battlefield, Kieran the blacksmith remembers nothing before the day when, as a young boy, he was found beside a dead man, a dagger in hand. Maggie is a healer’s apprentice, and earns her way as a laundress. Her shadowed past and crippled hand make her an object of suspicion and ridicule.  Far to the north, the king’s daughter—Yanámari—plots to escape the royal city and her father’s iron control.

King Morfran seeks a Kellish blacksmith who can recreate the lost sword, false proof of Morfran’s right to the throne. However, the true sword is made of etherium, the only metal capable of harming Dragons, and it can be wielded only by a descendent of Kel High King.

Forces are aligning, old prophecies are fulfilling, and in the east a fire glows in Dragon’s Rook.

Note: Apologies for the varied sizes of the book covers. No favoritism or slight is intended.

 

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For Your Reading Pleasure

For Your Reading Pleasure

In the middle of October, an international crew of authors — with the considerable aid of Plaisted Publishing — produced two volumes of short fiction: Awethology Light and Awethology Dark. Both are free as e-books, but are also available in paperback for a reasonable price. A Christmas-themed anthology is also in the works.

A quirky mashup of genres, my story “Modern Mythology” opens Awethology Light, but there’s enough strangeness in it that I might get away with recommending the story as a non-scary Halloween read.

However, the Dark volume — which I have not yet had the opportunity to read — contains the kinds of stories its name implies. So you could keep this book open on your e-reader and be entertained tonight in the pauses between trick-or-treaters at the door. 🙂

Note: Light is okay for older children and teens through adults. Dark, however, might be best for ages 18 and up.

awethology-covers

 
 

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If Not Peace, Goodwill

If Not Peace, Goodwill

Today and tomorrow mark the 100th anniversary of “The Christmas Truce” (herehere, and here), which sometimes gets a dismissive response, because, after all, the war continued after Christmas, when the same guys who sang carols and exchanged gifts returned to their guns. And yet I am still awed that such a thing happened at all. Fear and enmity were set aside for one night, for one day, and people were simply people, longing for home and hearth and for peace on earth.

c. KB, February 2013

c. KB, February 2013

Our world is being torn apart by people who, by way of violence and fear, try to make everyone bow to their version of a god, to their version of how the rest of us should live or think or believe.

We demand a certain vocabulary, a certain perspective, and call it tolerance. We slap labels on those who do not conform. We shame, we shout, we misconstrue. We judge and assume and abrogate. We elevate externals and miss the heart.

Every time I watch the episode “War Stories” from Firefly and hear the part about the apple grenades, I think of The Christmas Truce. (Weird, yeah, but that’s the truth.) I recall friends whose smiles hid betrayal, and wish it were not so.

Familiar sayings — blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours burn brighter; crushing someone else does not make you stand taller; shouting down your opponent does not make your message heard — can become meaningless slogans, but I have always admired folks who stood for what they believed and did not back down. I’m not talking about belligerence or violence or arrogance, but a true, firm belief that right was right and that someone must stand for it, even if standing alone.

This is, perhaps, a disjointed post, but it reflects my thoughts after reading this morning’s round of news stories: more death, more mayhem, more confusion and lies. For one day, may we have peace on earth. Or, if not peace, at least goodwill.

* —– * —– * * —– * —– * * —– * —– * * —– * —– ** —– * —– *

For the next twenty-four to thirty-six hours, I’m out. Time for a mind cleanse and a fast from internet news and social media. I can’t bring peace to everyone, but I can bring perspective and a bit of calm to my own corner of the world.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Journeys, Life, Stories

 

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Clint & the Gang

Took this photo at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, Missouri, last summer:

classic Clint Eastwood Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, MO (c2014, KB)

classic Clint Eastwood
Hollywood Wax Museum
Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Makes me downright nostalgic.

So does this, although the artistry is somewhat less than that performed on ol’ Clint:

classic Star Trek crew Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

classic Star Trek crew
Hollywood Wax Museum
Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Maybe Westerns and outer space, mashed together, is why I love Firefly so much, and why I can’t escape the Old West influence in my writing, whether that be space opera, modern fiction, or even medieval fantasy.

I was raised in the West and the South — I live on the cusp of the West even now — and that independence of spirit and manner of speech creeps in, even when I’m not aware. Not gonna fight it. Just gonna embrace it.

 

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Justice, Mercy, and Motive

In his recent thought-provoking blog post, Hard Time, fellow writer Fred Warren discusses crime and punishment in Star Trek.

He writes:

Punishment was often surprisingly harsh, given Star Trek’s rosy view of the evolution of future society.

That reminded me of discussions I’ve had lately with Bubba and Bubba’s Wife (my brother and sister-in-law) about integrity and agenda in storytelling, religion, and politics, and how mixing the three can either be brilliant or a train wreck, and can often highlight hypocrisy or gaps in logic.

My comment on Fred’s post:

My recent thoughts in similar vein to your post, stuff I’ve been pondering about storytelling and characters and real life:

1) There is something in the human makeup that demands justice — to be visited on someone else, not on us, or it’s “not fair”.
2) We want revenge for what’s done to us, but mercy for what we do.
3) The same folks in Hollywood who are demanding gun control and “talking it out” with our enemies are getting rich on movies involving gun violence and an-eye-for-an-eye responses to people who do the heroes wrong.

We humans think we’re better than we really are. We also forget that old but true cliche — actions speak louder than words — and the Biblical principle that, intentionally or not, we will speak what’s in our hearts.

Listen to movie viewers or book readers. Stories are most satisfying when the guy gets the girl, the bad guy gets his just desserts, and good triumphs over evil.

But who is good, who is evil, and what is just?

It’s human nature not to see ourselves as the bad guys. We’re the heroes of our own stories, and anyone standing in our way is a villain.

Not necessarily so. That person might be an antagonist, in that their goals oppose or obstruct ours, but they very well might not be an enemy.

And none of us are as heroic and pure as we’d like to think.

Whenever I stood against unreasonable demands in my old job, or outright breaking of policy simply to serve someone’s selfish ends, I was called names, verbally slapped down by the individual and by my superiors, and threatened with firing. Simply because these people didn’t get their way, they wanted me to pay a price, usually demanding my livelihood as fair exchange.

In those instances, my job was to be a brick wall, to do the right thing because it was right.

My motives were not pure, however. I’m stubborn. I can be proud. I don’t like people pushing me around. So there was a high degree of “I’m gonna outlast you” tenacity that didn’t serve me well. In fact, it cost my health and my peace of mind.

When I finally left and moved to an entirely different state, it took months for me to deprogram from that stress. Later, with objectivity and honesty, I could see that I hadn’t been as right as I thought. I, too, had been the antagonist to others, had made their time difficult when they worked with me. In an effort to be the manager and keep things running smoothly and correctly, I was sometimes more rigid than I needed to be.

I’m also not much of a “people person”, so working with the public is exhausting. The less of it, the better. I made mistakes in working relationships and in public relations. I didn’t mean to be an enemy, but I was certainly an antagonist.

But would firing me have solved any of the problems? Would it have been just? No. I can say that with honesty.

Oh, sure, the immediate obstacle — me — would have been eliminated, and people could have their way in this or that, but the real problem for all of us goes deeper than the surface.

The real problem is the heart: who we are and what we want, why we want it and what we’re willing to do to get it.

And, if we step over the line into evil, are we willing to pay the price justice demands?

Or, as I wrote above, do we demand justice of everyone else, but mercy for ourselves?

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Characters, Journeys, Life, Stories, Uncategorized, Writing

 

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It’s All about Me (bwah-ha-ha-ha!)

It’s April Fool’s Day here in the States, but I promise — cross my heart — everything in this post is true. 🙂

Well, except for one thing. The title is true and untrue at once. Stick around. You’ll see.

The proper title should be this: Sharing My Writing Process — An Experiment. This post is part of a blog hop, and my invitation came from Travis Perry. There’ll be more about Travis and the hop when I reach the end.

But first, the questions:

ruins in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (cKB)

ruins in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (cKB)

Q     What are you working on?
A     I’m revising and doing last-minute rewrites on an epic fantasy that is planned for publication in summer or early fall. It’s a book I gave up on, but for which I have regained a new appreciation. The first half of a duology and weighing in at over 200k words *, Dragon’s Rook is still very much an unfinished work. As I enter the last handful of chapters, I realize 1) endings are difficult to get right, and 2) there’s a stinkin’ lot of story left to tell.

I’m also writing a modern urban fantasy — vampires, swords, cell phones and such — called The Unmakers. It’s a strange tale, and I’m not always sure how to approach it, but I like it and can’t wait to tell it. The story owes its sensibilities to Bram Stoker, medieval knights, film noir, the Old West, Christian missionaries, and teenage ghost hunters. Yeah. See why I’m not sure how it’s supposed to be told?

I once vowed I’d never write about dragons or vampires, but what do I do? Write about dragons and vampires.

I also want to finish Thieves’ Honor, a science fiction serial I originally started as a NaNoWriMo project back in 2007. Then I resurrected it and posted pieces on my old blog. Johne Cook, an Overlord at Ray Gun Revival, read an episode or two and invited me to write for the magazine. When RGR went into hiatus, Thieves’ Honor was incomplete, which is how it remains today. However, you can read episodes of it here. (click links at top of blog page)

a view from Mount Magazine, Arkansas (cKB)

a view from Mount Magazine, Arkansas (cKB)

Q     How does your work differ from others of its genre?
A     I strive to make the fantasy epic and heroic while still letting people be real. Other writers do, too, and many stories are far grittier than mine, but I don’t want to mistake “grit” for “realism”. Sure, folks misbehave and kill each other, and it’s an ugly world out there, but people can be decent, brave, patient, and all the “soft” stuff that doesn’t seem to be mentioned as often as violence, sex, and messed-up people.

Yes, there is violence, sensuality, and messed-up people in my stories. But there’s also hope. I like hope. Makes me get up each day and keep trying.

Q     Why do you write what you do?
A     Why, indeed?

I write whatever interests me. I hated research papers in school, but now educate myself by researching whatever captures my fancy. Sometimes it leads to unexpected stories, sometimes it enhances what I’m already writing, and sometimes it lets me meet interesting folks I might never meet otherwise — modern blacksmiths, for instance, or medieval re-enactors.

Some stories begin as dreams or what-ifs, some began as challenges from other writers, and one story (unfinished) came to life when I was ill for a long time and unable to leave my bed much. I was bored, weak, kept falling asleep whenever I tried to read, so I let my mind wander.

Q     How does your writing process work?
A     Dragon’s Rook started out as a short story almost twenty years ago, and looked far different from the sprawling chihuahua-killer it is now. The rook in the title originally only had one meaning — a chess piece — and that meaning obliquely remains. There’s a chess-like game referenced in the story. However, rook gained other meanings as the story grew: blackbird, a place to nest birds, a tower, and a cheat.

the dragon who used to keep me company on my old writing desk, and the inspiration for one character in Dragon's Rook (cKB)

the dragon who used to keep me company at my old writing desk, and the inspiration for one character in Dragon’s Rook (cKB)

The dragons, though? They were an unexpected development, meant only to be brute beasts. Then one started talking. Then it laughed. And then the story changed.

So, process? It’s messy.

As a young writer, I tried following all kinds of advice: where to write, when to write, how much to write, how long a story must be, how a story must look, all sorts of formulas, but imagination shriveled up and creativity died.

Then someone asked the right questions:
1) So what? Who cares? (What’s important in the story, and why?)
2) What’s driving the story: the plot or the characters?(Just as our character determines our actions, choices, and words in real life, so do fictional characters decide what happens and what to say, strongly influencing the plot.)

I ditched the advice and the bogus rules, and started writing what I wanted, how the stories demanded to be told. Ideas returned, and for a time there were nights I never slept, trying to record the ideas flooding my mind. (Not a recommended way of living, especially if one must go to a job on a regular basis, as I did.) After a long dry spell, not only did I write novels, but short stories, poems, essays, freelance articles.

But I don’t write every day, and I don’t write in the same place or at the same time of day. Formulas and schedules don’t work for me. **

Sometimes I have nothing to say, sometimes I can’t write fast enough. I’m still learning to be okay with the silences, when ideas hide and words refuse to obey.

* —– * —– * —– * —– * —– *

Now, about those other writers who make this post’s title untrue:

Travis Perry, blogger at Travis’s Big Idea, and author of several speculative stories, invited me and a few other writers to participate in this “blog hop” on how we write. (I was supposed to post yesterday, but there were other words to be written.) If you like magic mixed in with your science fiction, check out his fun short story, “A Little Problem With the Dilithium Stone“, a fan’s homage to Star Trek and fantasy tales.

L.S. King, a friend and fellow writer, is also participating in the hop. Her newest novel, Sword’s Edge, is now available and gaining excellent reviews.

K.M. Alexander, not part of this loop but participating in another branch of the blog hop, has answered the same four questions on his site.

If she’s up for it, I’m challenging Suzan Troutt to add her own contribution.

Now, go forth and write!

* And that’s after pulling out about 20k words to streamline the book. Yup. It’s a monster.
** For writers who do work better with schedules or particular parameters, check out the advice on the Nail Your Novel blog.

 

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Launch Day!

It’s the official launch day for Raygun Chronicles, the space opera anthology inspired by Ray Gun Revival.

[Visit Goodreads for a chance to win a free copy.]

Cover^small

I am privileged to have a story included among others by far more famous and skilled authors. My story is “Shooting the Devil’s Eye”, a standalone prequel to Thieves’ Honor, the serial I wrote for the magazine.

Should you be in need of short science fiction to read, you can catch up with Thieves’ Honor here on the blog: Season 1 or Season 2.

Thanks to a group of fellow serialists and other writers, I hope to finish the series during the coming year.

Meantime, here’s a sample from “Shooting the Devil’s Eye”:

Finney landed the ship with nary a bump, shouldering between two larger vessels, as cozy as a bird in its nest. Air sighed out from the slip, creating a vacuum that held the ship steady while docked. It could only be released by the harbor master—a measure supposed to prevent pirating, but this was Vortuna, and piracy was its stock in trade.

That was no fuel off Finney’s engine. Wasn’t her ship.

The all-clear sounded. She unstrapped, stood, grabbed her duffel from the locker, and exited the wheelhouse, thudding down the companionway in boots two sizes too big. Hers had been stolen at the last port.

The captain, arms folded, blocked the passage. “Was it something I said?”

“Twenty percent share.” Finney held out a hand. “And a new pair of boots.”

“Thirty percent, and you stay aboard for the next run.”

“It’s been a week, ship’s time. Can’t have you gettin’ too fond of me.”

“Too late, darlin’.”

Finney adjusted her grip on the duffel straps, her other hand still extended. “This can just as easily become a fist.”

The captain rubbed his bruised jaw, and grinned. “See the purser on your way out.”

A new bag of colonial coin weighting her bag, and the purser’s leather boots on her feet, Finney strode down the gangway and onto the noisy wharf.

Remember to stop by Goodreads to enter the drawing for a free copy of Raygun Chronicles!

And then I promise to shut up about the book for a while — at least here on the blog. I make no promises otherwise. (wink and a smile)

 

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Raygun Chronicles — Coming Soon!

A few years back, one of the Overlords at Ray Gun Revival magazine — Johne Cook — stumbled upon a comment I made on a blog somewhere, wandered over to mine, and discovered my science fiction serial, which I was posting a few hundred words at a time.

It didn’t have a title then, just a placeholder: “Space Pirates”.

I’d already been reading Johne’s serial over at RGR, so when he invited me to join the crew, I was honored.

And terrified.

You mean, put my work out there for the world to read? One chapter at a time? What if I change my mind about the story’s direction? What if I write myself into a corner? There aren’t any take-backs, y’know! Once it’s done, it’s done.

photo-mainI took the challenge.

And wrote an awful lot of crap.

But I had fun, too.

So did readers, who weighed in on the characters. I received e-mail about why the hero was a jerk (yet strangely likable), or with guesses as to who was the mole aboard the Martina Vega.

Now, six years after the first words were written in the space pirates yarn that became a blog serial that became Thieves’ Honor, an origin story — “Shooting the Devil’s Eye” — is appearing in Raygun Chronicles, an anthology including some reprints from the magazine, as well as several original stories from RGR authors and others.

The book is being released at Orycon in early November, and then will be available to the great wide world December 3, 2013. The awesome cover art is by Paul Pederson.

RaygunChronicles“Shooting the Devil’s Eye” shows how freelance pilot, Fiona Grace (Finney), navigates the fiery seam of a ruined moon and accepts a permanent berth aboard the aging freighter, Martina Vega, owned by Captain Kristoff, a war hero turned smuggler (and occasional pirate).

Although the serial didn’t end before Ray Gun Revival went into hiatus, I’ve re-edited and re-posted all the existing episodes here (Season 1 and Season 2), and hope to finish the entire story within the next year or so.

 

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