Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Soccer Moms and Other Updates

Apocalypse? Not Now! and Pestilence in Pumpkin Spice are going through their final tweaks with my formatter. I swear it doesn't matter how many eyes I have on a manuscript. Invariably, I will find a typo or five when I go through the e-book and print files. So, Jaye is slipping the final corrections in, and the Kickstarter backers will have their e-book copies before the end of the month.

In the meantime, I'm working hard to finish up A Measure of Knowledge. I'll have one more sample chapter to post next week. I know how I'm ending the book now. It leads into a one-off, Invasion!, which you can skip if you don't think it adds to the Justice mythos. Or get your library to purchase a copy and borrow it, so you can check it out before buying it yourself.

However, I think Invasion! will be funny as heck, so I hope you'll check it out anyway.

If you don't like Invasion!, blame it on DH. It's all his fault for asking what would happen if Anthea and Sam Ridgeway ever met.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A Measure of Knowledge - Chapter 4

Recently, a reader asked me point blank whether Sister Shi Hua would survive until the end of the Justice series.

I want to say I do my best to avoid the Bury Your Gays trope for the sake of the trope. That doesn't mean people aren't going to die, because let's face it, these folks are in a war whether they like it or not. People die in wars.

But to answer the reader's question since I'm sure others have the same question, yes, Shi Hua survives. That doesn't mean she won't have to make more compromises regarding her sexuality along the way though.

And if any of this discussion is surprising or shocking to you, you might want to reread the first seven books.


We retreated to the Temple of Light so Shi Hua had a chance to rest in her own bed before we attempted to contact Biming. I sent Gina and Elizabeth back to Balance along my winnings from tonight’s Mill tournament.

My fellow justice joked she would keep the bag of money. To which, her future chief warden threatened to resign because she couldn’t work with a dishonest justice. Neither of them realized I planned to buy farewell gifts for both of them before they left Orrin. In fact, I’d already placed the orders with the smiths under contract with our Temple.

As for the rest of my winnings, I just hoped I’d live long enough to figure out what to do with the money. I was so used to the order of Balance taking care of my immediate needs. It hadn’t occurred to me to spend anything. Well, beyond my basic stipend with which I bought treats on Bakers Street.

Balance help me, I hadn’t even been able to do that for the past year. Not with the rash of attempts on my life since I was sentenced to the Balance seat of Orrin. My chief warden put his foot down when it came to me even thinking about leaving Balance without an escort. With closing the tunnels beneath Orrin, I couldn’t even sneak out any more.

Meanwhile, the ambassador had a lively…discussion with Sisters Yin Li and Shi Hua in their own language I made an effort to ignore until I heard my name. Quan finally took Shi Hua’s side and sent Yin Li back to the embassy with the suggestion her son Yin Shang needed her more than Shi Hua did. Yin Li was obviously not happy about his decision, but she bowed deeply before she mounted her horse and left with two of the Jing guards.

While Shi Hua retreated to her bedchamber, Talbert, Ambassador Quan, and I joined Luc in his private dining room. Neither the Jing guards nor our wardens were pleased about being excluded in this discussion, but after tonight’s events, I needed a break from their constant worry rubbing against my mental shields. It was worse than a poorly fitted boot chaffing my heel.

“Po?” I said gently after I removed my cloak and gloves and took my chair. “Is there anything we can do for you?”

He blinked and looked at me from across the table. “I’ve never had the chance to see my nephews.” Out of everything he might have said, family sentiment would not have been my first guess.

“The layers of guards around the imperial palace—” Luc started.

“From what Shi Hua and Anthea describe, this attack was planned.” The ambassador waved his hand. “Maybe years in advance. Quick surgical knife strikes at all the Temple leadership at the same moment. It stands to reason those same targeted attacks hit at our guilds, our schools of philosophy, the nobility, and yes, even the imperial family.”

He closed his eyes. An expression of sheer agony crossed his visage. “I never wanted the throne. Yet, my greatest fear may be coming true.”

“We don’t know what’s happening exactly,” I said.

“I don’t want to be forced back home,” Quan said. “Not this way.”

“Sometimes, we have no choice in our duties,” Luc murmured.

Before I could chide Luc for his insensitivity, his evening assistant Edberth entered with a tray. More Jing black tea from the scent. It was rapidly becoming the only thing to get me through my day. Or in this case, my nights.

Quan wasn’t the only one who feared the news from his homeland. Until I knew the fate of my fellow justice, I would have difficulty sleeping. Nightmares of my own experiences with demons would make sure of that.

“We can plan based on the possible scenarios we face.” Talbert met each of our gazes. “I’m not trying to be morbid. We can expect the best, but we must prepare for the worst.”

Luc chuckled. “That should be your Temple’s motto.”

“The best case scenario is the Temples rally, and they and the schools work with the imperial army to deflect the invasion in Chengzhou.” Quan murmured his thanks to Edberth when the former Light head of household handed the ambassador a cup of tea on a saucer.

“The worst case scenario is the Temple of Death triggered their last resort spells, and the nation of Jing no longer exists,” I said bitterly.

“The Jing Temples of Balance and Death are aware of the techniques you and Chief Justice Elizabeth developed in Tandor, aren’t they?” Edberth continued pouring tea as if we weren’t talking about the potential destruction of the entire Old Continent. Thankfully, he didn’t mention that our idea cost the lives of the surviving Tandoran Death clergy and our own High Sister Bertrice.

Luc looked as surprised at Edberth joining the conversation as I felt.

“Yes, they know,” I said.

“Then trust them to protect the civilians as best they can.” Edberth handed me a cup of tea. “It’s no secret the rest of the world thinks the queens and Temples of Albion and Eire failed, but they saved as many of our ancestors as they could before they activated the last resort spells.”

He continued pouring as if he were discussing the weather. “Not even the Jing clergy would do so without due consideration. I pray matters in your empire do not go so badly they must consider such a drastic course of action, Your Highness. Have faith Light and Knowledge will help them find a way to defeat the demons.”

Those were the most words I’d ever heard Edberth speak at one time. Not even when he served my maternal grandfather Kam as head of household here at the Temple of Light had Edberth been so vocal.

“Wise words, Edberth.” A ghost of a smile crossed Luc’s face as he accepted his own cup of tea. “It’s a pity you decided to cut back on your duties.”

“It was time for Istaqa to take his place within the Temple, High Brother.” Edberth inclined his head. “Shall I prepare any food for you and your guests, sir?” He made a point of looking at me.

I held up my left hand. “No, thank you. I am too worried to eat.”

“What?” Quan mockingly exclaimed. “A day has come where the chief justice of Orrin is, dare I say it, full?”

“You didn’t see the size of the bowl of mashed vegetables she ate at Thief earlier tonight,” Talbert teased. “You’re older now, Anthea. You keep eating the way you do, and you’ll end up as round as Kam.”

“My previous seat didn’t exercise like his beloved granddaughter does,” Edberth said. “You have nothing to fear, Chief Justice. And I believe we still have some almond pastries.”

“Thank you, Edberth,” I said graciously. Istaqa’s obsessive behavior as head of household was starting to make sense. However, there was no real reason to compare himself with Edberth. Nor did the former head of household interfere with Istaqa’s duties. It was simply convenient to keep Edberth on staff in case Luc needed assistance in the middle of the night.

With a start, I realized this was the first time guilt didn’t plague me over the loss of Luc’s left foot.

Edberth smiled at me and left the dining room.

I waited until the door closed behind him before I glared at Talbert. “I may eat like Kam, but I don’t drink wine by the barrel like he did.”

“Which is a good thing,” Luc said dryly. “The Orrin Light accounts show an excess for the first time in years, which is yet another reason Brother Garbhan was sent to spy on me.”

I cocked my head. “Reverend Father Farrell is complaining because you’re not spending enough on wine?”

“More like Lord Aleister is complaining his revenues are down, and the Pana Valley Temple of Vintner reported the losses to their home Temple,” Talbot commented.

“I don’t suppose Light could order extra barrels and trade them, could you?” I asked.

“I suppose I could give them to Talbert for gaming prizes if you would prefer wine to gold,” Luc teased.

“I like the gold.” I shook my head. “Besides, a portion of my winnings will go toward assisting Elizabeth in setting up the new Anacapa Temple of Balance.”

“That should be the responsibility of your home Temple.” Quan frowned. “Surely, your Reverend Mother doesn’t expect you and the Orrin Temple to provide the supplies and coin—”

I held up both hands. “Calm down, Ambassador. I’m using it for gifts I was planning to purchase for Elizabeth and Gina anyway. I can now amend the order with Govind for some additional ornamentation.”

At a knock on the door, Luc automatically reached for his crutches. I couldn’t blame him. My fingers wrapped around the hilt of my dagger, and knives sprang from sheaths hidden beneath Talbert’s sleeves and into his hands.

Warden Tadhg opened the door, and Edberth entered with the tray of pastries he’d promised. Both he and the warden studiously ignored all of us, including Quan, sheathing our weapons.

“Thank you so much, Edberth,” I said as I reached for one. I frowned as I noticed every single pastry had a bite torn out. I looked up at Luc’s evening assistant.

His face heated. “I’m sorry, Chief Justice. All the wardens and the Ambassador’s guards insisted on checking the food.”

Luc rubbed his forehead while Talbert and Quan chuckled. I merely shook my head in weary resignation and bit into the almond pastry. “This tastes like Deborah’s recipe,” I said around the mouthful.

Edberth smiled gently. “Gifting me with a few of Deborah’s recipes was the compromise High Brother Kam and Chief Justice Thalia came to when he tried to hire Deborah away from Balance.”

I swallowed the suddenly hard lump of dough. “Please tell me you are jesting.”

“I would never make light when it comes to a Temple’s kitchen staff, m’lady.” Edberth turned to Luc. “Do you need a fresh pot of tea, High Brother?”

“Yes, please, and an extra cup for Sister Shi Hua,” Luc responded.

Edberth bowed and retreated from the room once again.

I held up the almond pastry. “I have half a mind to spit in Little Bear’s porridge tomorrow morning.”

“They’re only trying to protect us,” Luc said as he reached for a pastry before passing the platter to Talbert.

“No, they didn’t have the manners to ask for some themselves,” I muttered.

“I’ve warned my own wardens to be careful about any refreshment offered,” Talbert said. He passed the platter to Quan, who held up his hand in polite refusal.

We were all quiet as we slowly consumed our treats and sipped our tea. The silence was preferable to acknowledging the uncomfortable truths we faced.

I was licking the last crumb from my thumb when there was another knock on the dining room door. This time, only the men grabbed their weapons. I grabbed another pastry.

Shi Hua entered followed by Edberth with a fresh pot of tea and an extra cup and plate.

Luc opened his mouth, but Shi Hua held up her right index finger.

“With all due respect, High Brother, don’t say a word.” Her finger made sharp slashing motion. “Just don’t.”

“Chao?” I guessed.

She groaned and sat down next to me. “I swear my son knows as soon as I walk into my chambers. Mateqai had put him down to sleep a half candlemark before we returned.”

A trill of part amusement, part resignation, and part sadness from Luc tickled my mind. The Issuran Temple of Light didn’t allow women in their order, though many other nations did. It had been an adjustment for everyone in Orrin to have a priestess of Light, especially for Luc’s staff. On the other hand, the priests and wardens quickly learned to take her seriously, especially when it came to unarmed combat in the practice yard.

Then the breeding edict came down from the home Temples last spring. Having a woman in the Temple had been bad enough. Having a baby like Chao caused more chaos than a demon incursion.

At least, the home Temple of Light hadn’t insisted Luc try to sire another child after the loss of his and Sister Claudia of Love unborn son. It had taken much counseling from Child for Luc and Claudia to deal with their grief. And even more counseling for me since my birth mother murdered the babe in an effort to fuel a demon spell to destroy the city of Orrin.

“Warden Mateqai missed his calling.” I pulled the platter closer to Shi Hua.

She selected one of the pastries, stared at it, and examined the remaining treats. “Why do they all have bites missing?”

“Overprotective wardens,” Talbert, Luc, and I said at the same time.

Edberth set the cup of tea he poured for Shi Hua in front of her. “I’ll bring your eggs and cheese once you finished with your attempt to contact Jing.” He bowed and left again.

“Are you all right, Sister?” Concern was an expression I’d never seen Quan wear, but he was obviously worried about Shi Hua.

She fixed him with a glare. “When you have children, and they poop and spit up on you and never let you sleep, then we will talk, Your Excellency.”

Quan’s left eyebrow rose, but she continued glaring at him. She was hardly a quiet, demure woman. However, she rarely snapped at anyone the way she had tonight.

Luc wouldn’t correct her in front of members of other Temples. Talbert hid a slight smile behind his cup. And technically, I couldn’t reprimand her since I was not her Temple seat. However, I could use one of High Sister Mya’s techniques she used on me after a demon grimoire nearly drove me mad.

I laid my hand on her arm. “We’re all scared of what might be happening in Chengzhou, none more than you and Po. However, lashing out at each other isn’t going to help your friends and family.”

She slumped in her chair. The pastry fell from her right hand, hit the edge of the table, and broke into multiple crumbs before hitting the hardwood floor.

I should have frozen time and rescued the treat. I couldn’t bear the loss of an almond pastry.

“You’re right, Lady Justice,” Shi Hua murmured. “My apologies for my behavior, Your Excellency, High Brothers.”

The Temple bells started tolling. Third Evening. Time to learn the truth.

If they could.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

A Measure of Knowledge - Chapter 3

Here's the unedited version of Chapter 3, A Meassure of Knowledge.


Talbert magically amplified his voice. “All junior clergy are to return to your Temples immediately.”

There was a great deal of grumbling among our subordinates, but I understood their resentment of being left out during major discussions. Elizabeth, the former chief justice of Tandor and the soon-to-be chief justice of the newly formed Duchy of Anacapa, whispered to Yanaba and Erato.

I stood and added, “Your seats will inform you of our additional findings. But considering this is a foreign ally, please allow us the discretion of diplomacy before you all get your hackles up over being excluded.”

Most of the clergy weren’t sure whether to be insulted until my justices and half of the Wildlings laughed. That seemed to ease everyone else’s minds.

Quan approached me. “Findings?”

I lowered my voice. “Let the sanctuary clear first. Then, we’ll explain everything.”


It took nearly a quarter of a candlemark for the visiting clergy and their wardens to gather and don winter cloaks. At the same time, Thief’s staff cleared tables and brought in steaming pots of black Jing and Meca bean teas.

Yin Li stayed as well on the pretense of the ambassador’s trusted advisor. She wasn’t simply an Imperial concubine. Known to only a few in the room, Yin Li was a priestess of Love, Quan’s personal bodyguard, and Shi Hua’s aunt. As fierce of a fighter as the young Love priestess was, I knew I never wanted to face Yin Li in battle, but I’d definitely want her on my side.

The chief wardens who had not attended this evening’s entertainment were alerted. Since Elizabeth remained at our impromptu convocation as a courtesy to a visiting seat, my own chief warden Little Bear brought his second Gina. She had accepted Elizabeth’s offer to become her chief warden when she moved to the islands this spring, so it only made sense for Gina to assume some of those responsibilities.

There had been a time when all wardens had been excluded from a convocation of the Temple seats. However, with the spate of demon attacks over the course of the last year and a half, it seemed unwise not to include those who were responsible for Temple security. Knowledge was essential to preparedness as Little Bear constantly pointed out to me.

Once Cedar Grove and Shi Hua returned to the Thief’s sanctuary and the household staff departed, Talbot warded the huge room. I sat with the statue of Thief to my back and pulled my hood as forward as I could to keep from squinting at heat from the fires.

Han took the seat to my left and muttered, “You should have been in Conflict, Anthea.”

“Why is that?” I asked softly.

“You’re the only one besides me, Jax, and Talbert who keeps their back covered and sits where they can keep an eye on the doors and windows.”

I chuckled. “I’m afraid that’s sheer experience, my friend.”

It could have been worse. Elizabeth sat between Leocadia and Mya because she still had problems being around men after the tortures the skinwalkers who had taken over Tandor had put her through for a year. I couldn’t imagine being so damaged I couldn’t sit between Han and Quan as I did now.

Shi Hua and I related each of our impressions during the brief contact with Justice Mei Wen. Cedar Grove had blocked the emotional response from Mei Wen, and Shi Hua was able to recall a little more than I had. Flashbangs detonated in the streets. The amplified voices of officers of the imperial armies giving orders. The whoosh of thousands of arrows launched at the same moment.

Quan took the news without comment. He wore a solemn mien as he played with the gold beads that decorated the ends of his long moustache. Finally, he exhaled and said, “I believe Brother Jian of Light is our backup if we cannot contact Reverend Father Biming at Third Evening local time.”

“And Brother Fa after him.” Shi Hua sounded so damn tired. I could understand why. Exhaustion tugged at my eyelids, and I didn’t have nearly the contact with Justice Mei Wen that Shi Hua did.

“Are they both in Chengwu?” Luc asked. Shi Hua shook her head. “No.” She glanced at the ambassador, but he showed no reaction, so her attention returned to Luc. “When I was assigned to the ambassador, Reverend Father Biming made sure my additional contacts were in three different Temples and assigned to three different cities. Justice Mei Wen was appointed as the emperor’s legal advisor five years ago, which is why she is also in Chengzou.

“It’s the middle of winter.” High Brother Ben of Vintner rubbed his chin. “With this year’s storms, we may not get conventional word until next spring.”

Han snorted. “It was a year before we learned of the takeover of our own sister city of Tandor. What makes you think we’ll learn what happened in Chengzou before a demon army sails into our harbor?”

Leave it to the high brother of Conflict to give voice to my own fears.

I cleared my throat. “If all else fails, Sister Shi Hua, would you be able to contact your mother?”

She looked at me uncertainly. “I could, but she’s a farmer.”

“Certainly there’s a Temple in your home village?” Leave it to Luc to ascertain where I was going with my questions.

“Of course, but—”

“This may be the advantage of me learning the Jing language,” I said. “If the ambassador, High Brother Luc, and I join the link with you, your mother, and the priest or priestess she trusts in your village—”

“We could tax her abilities,” Quan protested.

“She’s stronger than you give her credit for,” I retorted.

“She just gave birth.” Quan glared at me.

“Four weeks ago,” Shi Hua snapped as she abruptly stood. “I’m fully healed.”

Cedar Grove rose, too, laid a hand on Shi Hua’s shoulder, and whispered in the Jing priestess’s ear. Slowly, both women sat again, though Shi Hua gave the ambassador a rather murderous look.

“Anthea and I can boost Shi Hua’s resources,” Luc said. “And you’re the highest ranking Jing official we have to prove our identities.”

Yin Li cleared her throat. “With all due respect to you, Ambassador, and you, High Brother, it might be better if I participate instead. I personally know the Love sisters in Yintze.”

“All of this is moot if we can contact Reverend Father Biming tonight.” Talbert sat with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped together. The pose showed just how worried he was.

But then, so was I.

“Let’s take this one step at a time,” I said. “We’ll try to contact Biming tonight. If we can’t, then we send messages concerning the situation to Queen Teodora, the Matriarch of the DinĂ©, and the King of Cant at first morning. They can alert their own distance speakers and triangulate until we get an answer from Chengzhou.”

Surprisingly, the other Temple seats agreed to my idea. They also agreed to retreat to their own Temples with my promise to give them an answer about whether tonight’s efforts were successful or not. In turn, I asked them to pray to their own deities for our success.

When they left, Quan looked at me and shook his head. “I never thought I’d see you ask your colleagues to pray for their deities to intercede on your behalf.”

I chuckled as I donned my winter cloak. “I hope the other Eleven take pit on me. I know damn well Balance won’t answer my prayers.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

What a Kickstarter Ride!

The Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse campaign on Kickstarter ended last night with 237 backers pledging $7,639. Yep, that $7K more than my original goal of $600!

For everybody who contributed, THANK YOU SO MUCH! (Yes, I'm shouting. I've also been happy dancing around the house.)

I've had to place orders for additional amounts of physical reward items. I assumed 50-100 backers based on my mailing list and social media reach. My initial planning didn't take into account all the additional backers from Brandon Sanderson's promotion of my Kickstarter. I've already been in contact with one of the backers who pledged for the "Name a Character" package. I need to contact the other two folks this afternoon.

So far things are running fairly smoothly. My biggest worry is we'll have another paper shortage when it comes time to print the trade paperbacks.

For those of you who want to purchase Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse, I've started entering the pre-order information on the retail websites. I'll update the Soccer Moms series page as links go live.

In the meantime, I need to write, write, write as I wait for my packages to arrive!

Next week, I'll go back to my regular format--posting sample chapters from A Measure of Knowledge.

Until then, take care and stay safe!

Monday, April 4, 2022

Status Report - April 2022

Things have been a little crazy at Casa Harden during March. The highly successful Kickstarter campaign for Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse was the highlight.

However, my FIL fell in his apartment on the date of the official launch. Broken hip, broken hand, and nasty cut on his forehead were followed by surgery on the hip and a nasty antibiotic-resistant staph infection. To top off the issues, the staff at the rehab center rushed him to the ER when his heart enzymes went wonky. Twice. Needless to say, the situation has put a crimp in both mine and DH's work schedule.

What does that all mean?

Things are still on track for Soccer Moms, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed it remains that way. The slippage came with A Measure of Knowledge. I could finish it in time for its original April 15th release date, but editing and formatting would be haphazard at best.

So, to make sure everything is done properly, I moved the release date back to May 15th. I apologize to everyone who pre-ordered the book, but I want to make sure you get a quality product.

In the meantime, there's two days left on the Kickstarter, and there's lots of new stretch goal rewards!

Thank you, everyone, for your generosity and your patience.