R T Kaelin, author of "Progeny: The Children of the White Lions"
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I'm happy to interview R T since I enjoyed his book so much!
First question I'll throw out there to let him introduce himself.
So R T tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write Progeny?
A little about me?
I was born and raised in Ohio and continue to live here. Although, the snow on the ground right now reminds me that I would really like to move to Phoenix. I’m married with two kids (who are partially the reason I started writing…more on that later). I’m a Reds fan and a long-suffering Bengals fan. I like to cook and would love have a tiny apartment in Firenze where I could write. My Italian is awful, though (as in I speak none), so that will need to be a long-term goal.
What inspired me to write Progeny?
The short answer is (in order) good books, a game, bad books, and some kids.
The long answer…
When I was younger, I used to read all of the time (and write, too). I chewed through books like a…large, ferocious, book-chewing animal would. When I went to college, I discovered I had less free time than before and my leisure reading suffered. After I graduated and got a job, I had even less free time. Then I got married, had kids and had almost no free time; I nearly stopped reading books for fun. I would still get through a few books a year, but nothing like I used to.
Two years ago, I made the conscious decision to start reading more, making time in my life to read again. Coninciding with a family vacation, I made a trip to the bookstore to pick up a few books to read by the pool and stood in front of the shelves, wondering what I would like. Not sure where to start, I deicded to buy a book that I had read in high school that I had loved: Magician by Raymond E. Feist. It was fun, sort-of-remembering the story, but experiencing it for the first time in mumble-mumble years. To my happy surprise, I discovered that Feist had written a lot more books in his world that I had never known existed. So…I dove into them. As soon as I finished one, I bought the next. Eventually, after a few hundred years exploring Midkemian history, I ran out. However, the fire had been reignited.
During that period of marathon reading, I had also joined a local gaming group. I had never played any sort of paper and pen game before, but it sounded fun, so I decided to give it a shot. After a few months as a player, I offered to run a campaign for my group. For those of you that have ever played anything like D&D, you might understand that this can be a large undertaking. It absolutely was, but I thouroughly enjoyed it. In between sessions, I wrote short stories for the group about what was happening to their characters and the feedback from them was incredibly positive. The writing bug in me was awakened.
So, I was running a game campaign and I had just finished all of Feist’s novels. I began to search around for something else to sink my teeth into.
I happened to pick up three books in a row that did could not hold my interest. The characters felt one-dimensional, the story was contrived (especially bad for a fantasy novel), and I would laugh aloud at all the wrong places. Fatefully, I then made the audacious comment, “I could write something better than this.”
So, I challenged myself to try.
That was the impetus behind me deciding to write. “All” I had to do then was figure out how and what.
Yes, Progeny is a fantasy novel that takes place in the Oaken Duchies, a country in the fantasy world of Terrene. But my favorite fantasy stories were always the ones where the characters felt 'real.' I wondered how was I going to accomplish that. Write what you know, right? I chose to write about two of my favorite ‘characters’ in my real world.
The personalities, attitudes, and mannerisms of Nikalys and Kenders, the two main characters in Progeny, are modeled after my own children, Nikalys and Kennedy. Crafting the world and writing the story became a labor of love. I wanted to write a great story that was not only loosely-based around them, but I wanted it to be something for them to enjoy as they get older and learn to read. Nik and Kennedy are much younger (6 and 3) than the characters (17 and 16) in the book, so I had to imagine my kids down the road a decade or so. Still, their personalities and relationship with each other shaped everything about how the characters reacted to the challenges facing them.
To sum it up, what inspired me to write Progeny were good books, a game, bad books, and some kids.
Good opening question. I look forward to more – fire away.
Oh, one last thing about me: I like pie. Pecan and grape. Not together, though, that would be strange…
Ok, I've been waiting to ask this. The Magic system. How did you come up with it? It's unique (at least as far as I've read) though it holds some similarities to other systems. Did it come whole cloth? Did you fight with it's development? Did you consciously or unconsciously 'borrow' from other authors?
What a great question! I am curious about the answer, too. I'm going to star this thread and lurk about a bit. Maybe I'll come up with a question, later.
Honestly, the first idea for the Strands came to me in a dream. No joke.
I had spent a couple of months building the world, fleshing out the people, cultures, history, landscapes, etc. The one thing I kept putting off was how I wanted magic to work; I could not come up with anything I liked that did not feel hokey. I figured I would settle on something eventually, so I immersed myself in everything else about the world. Terrene took over every spare, waking thought I had. Apparently, it also wormed its way into my subconscious.
One night, I had a dream. I could not tell you what it was about, but to this day, I can still see this weave of glowing, gold strings floating together, hovering in the air while slowly shifting as if alive. I woke up and immediately wrote down “The Strands.” In thirty seconds, I had the idea of the nine types of Strands and their unique colors. Another thirty seconds later, I knew exactly how they would work together. Weaving Will with Fire in a certain pattern could create a bundled, burst of fire for the mage to control. The right Weave of Soul and Water together could craft a near-sentient being of water. Mixing the Strands together in different patterns and strengths could produce a number of incredible possibilities.
Now, I prefer low-magic worlds, so I did not want to give so much power to everyone in Terrene. Therefore, nearly everyone who could sense the Strands (a low number already) is only able to touch a handful of the types. In addition, how adept they are with one type might vary greatly from another. For example, a mage might be a natural when it comes to the crackling orange of Fire, but barely be able to see or grasp the wispy white of Air. What Weaves they can do would be very, very different from another mage that is adept with only Life and Stone.
I fought a little with the system’s development throughout writing Progeny, but only in the sense that I had created boundaries that my characters were forced to operate within. Rather than change the system, though, I let the story and plot reflect the challenges they faced. I think the book ‘feels’ more authentic because of this. Ingenuity and cleverness is as important as magic for the characters that can touch the Strands.
In all honesty, I do not think I borrowed from other authors. If so, it was unintentional. About the only thing I can think of is that Robert Jordan used the word ‘weave’ at times when referring to magic.
One last thing about the Strands: I was intentional about leaving the descriptions of the patterns of combined Strands vague, focusing on the colors and interactions instead. Since only people in Terrene that can touch the Strands will ever see the patterns, I wanted the reader to feel special; I wanted them to use their own idea of what these colorful (or sometimes not) Weaves looked like.
Great interview so far! Haven't read the book yet but I'll definitely add it to my TBR!
I suppose I can throw out a question too, how do you think the Reds are going to match up against the Cubs this year? Oh wait... this is probably supposed to book related... you mentioned that you nearly stopped reading for fun after your kids were born, are your wife and kids readers? What books/authors do they enjoy?
Thanks for visiting with us!
I take care of toddlers nearly daily and I totally get not being able to do much reading while kids are biting your knees. It does get better when they get older, and I amuse myself by reading the books I buy for them, too.
I loved hearing how you created the Magic in your book. I heard that a good working definition of creativity is knowing somethings fairly well, and then coming to a place where you can combine them in a new way. Very creative of you.
Your kids are still too young to have read the book, yes? I'd be interested in what they think of it when they do get to the age of reading it.
Fun! More questions.
FYI - Just got back from dropping off a copy of Progeny at the local library. They're wanting to do some sort of event around the book, so that will exciting.
elbakerone – You’ve asked a very poignant question. First off, Nik and Kennedy are too young to have a favorite author. Nikalys is in 1st grade and just learning to read, so the books he reads center around dogs named Danny and taking baths. Earth-shaking prose it is not. Kennedy is only three, so we’re more focused on letters and numbers at this point.
My wife… well, she is a self-proclaimed non-reader. She is Type A personality all the way and it’s very difficult to get her to sit still for more than a few minutes. She does not even like going to movies because she feels they are waste of time. To be honest, she’s only on chapter 14 of Progeny. Yeah… her husband wrote a book and she’s been reading it since prior to publishing and she’s got the chapter 14. Hey – some people love books, others, not so much. Even if she never finishes it, I love her to death. Best wife and mom, ever.
maggie1944 – Interesting that you should say what you did about creativity. I have found the writing process to be a constantly evolving beast. Some things in the book (and series) are planned an incredible amount of time in advance. Other things… they take me by surprise.
I’ve been giving a talk to local high schools about creative writing, and I speak about not being afraid to let the story take you where it goes. For example, one of the main characters (and a lot of people's favorite) in Progeny was an accident. Without giving away too much, I will try to explain. Each chapter is from the point of view of a different character (writing in this manner felt natural and effortless). Now to be clear, I do not mean that there are forty different points of view over forty chapters. I just mean that the story unfolds from different characters’ perspectives, jumping back and forth as the story dictates.
Anyway, I got to a point in the story that I wanted to revisit somebody, but I wanted to do it from the point of view from someone other than that person. I crafted a character with the intention to have him be around for one chapter. Halfway through, I realized I loved writing from that character’s perspective. Therefore, I adapted things. I modified things to incorporate the new character into a very prominent role.
In the end, the story was infinitely better for it.
Keep the questions coming – this is fun.
Oh… elbakerone – As long as the Volquez and Cueto stay healthy and Votto can get close to last year’s numbers, Reds will easily take 1st in NL Central. Sorry, Cubbies.
Difficult to ask questions when I haven't read the book, but Readafew's encouraged me to seek it out and from what you said above it sounds like my sort of story!
Other than Feist who else do you enjoy reading?
Have you got plans to write more books? Is Progeny the start of a series or does it stand alone?
Since I started writing, my actual reading has decreased – ironic, no?
Other authors I’ve really enjoyed: Christopher Paolini, Ken Follet, Stephen King, and some Robert Jordan. Speaking as an author – I must say the detail Jordan goes into is astounding. I would love to see his notes surrounding WOT. I know mine that I use to keep things straight are extensive; his must be a number of volumes by themself.
Regarding if I plan writing more books: Absolutely. Although, that was not the original plan. A little explanation is in order:
First, the ‘official’ title of the book is Progeny; subtitled The Children of the White Lions. That is how it is registered with Bowker (the ISBN people). Progeny is meant to be Volume 1 in a series - ask readafew about the ending...it sets up book #2 perfectly. I had thought the series would be four books when I started, but throughout revisions to the overarching plot, I am thinking it is more like five.
Progeny is a small-press book. And by small-press, I mean Terrene Press is my publishing company - I am the owner. I went through the traditional query letter process but most literary agencies were scared off at the length of the book. So, after some great advice and a lucky contact with an awesome copyeditor (great story – check my blog, I share it there), I decided to prove that Progeny was a great book that could build a fanbase. And I am glad to see the reviews that are coming in are supporting my personal belief in the story.
I had promised myself I would not write more until I saw what happened with Progeny. I essentially have been working two jobs for over a year – my ‘regular’ job as well a writing, editing, and publishing the book. However, as soon as I was done writing the Epilogue for Progeny, I just KNEW how the second book in the series was going to start. So, I started writing it. I needed to see the story continue. I had created characters that I felt deserved to see how everything played out. Oh, and I love writing. Love it.
So, here’s to hoping that Progeny is successful enough that #2 Working Title Withheld in The Children of the White Lions series can be shared with everyone. If you like the book, tell someone about it. I am keeping my fingers crossed that a national publishing house might take notice. I am doing what I can to promote it, but I am not EOS, TOR, or Knopf.
Well reading_fox stole my question I had planned on asking this morning and RT has at least hinted at another question I was going to ask so, I'll try this.
Overall I found the editing of the book to be fairly high quality. Other than the first 2 chapters I didn't find any more 'errors' or bad grammar than I've seen in books from large publishing houses (and actually quite a bit less than a few I've read recently). How much revision and cleaning did your editor help you with? How did you find that process? Do you think he/she helped the book a lot or just caught errors for you?
To be sure that I’m answering everyone’s questions clearly, I’m going to highlight the question and who it's from before answering it.
readafew: “How much revision and cleaning did your editor help you with? How did you find that process?”
Early on in the process, I had someone read chapters for feedback on content and got a bunch of good suggestions. But editing of plot, characters, etc. was me. Donna, my official copyeditor, did not edit Progeny for content.
I had read/edited the thing numerous times before she saw it. She did a line-by-line copyediting pass over the book and was beyond awesome. As she copyedited, she found a couple hundred of little things throughout: dropped words, duplicate words, wrong words (I have a problem with ‘may’ vs. ‘might’ as I write). She fixed a ton of stylistic things and punctuation. Thanks Donna!
Overall, I found the process to be enjoyable, although waiting for feedback and the edited chapters was difficult.
readafew: “Do you think he/she helped the book a lot or just caught errors for you?”
Heh...I guess I just answered this. Donna way a copyeditor for Progeny. Content and story editing was me.
reading_fox: "Is there an ebook version available?"
Right now, no. But I'm considering it for the future. There is a stigma around small-press/self-published books already that I'm having to deal with. And an even greater one for books that go straight to ebook format.
I want to push Progeny as a traditional book, first.
Ok here's another one, it's about the number nine, I noticed there are nine kinds of strands and the gods are grouped into nines as well. are those two coincidence or is there a bigger plan?
readafew: "I noticed there are nine kinds of strands and the gods are grouped into nines as well. are those two coincidence or is there a bigger plan?"
Hmmm... Tough to answer.
I will say this: There is intent behind most everything in the book. Some things jump out at readers, others might not. Little items or tidbits that might not seem germane to the story of Progeny were done for a reason.
Intentionally vague enough for you?
#16"There is a stigma around small-press/self-published books already that I'm having to deal with. And an even greater one for books that go straight to ebook format"
Really? these days it seems to me that every new release (from all but the most stick-in-the-mud publishers) goes straight to ebook as well. I agree that ebook only titles are sometimes looked down upon. But a notable proportion of the market now only reads ebooks. I'm unlikely to buy unknown pbooks. I'm more likely to try an ebook, because that is now my prefered reading medium. They're also easier for unestablished authors to independantly offer worldwide.
Like I said, I'm considering it. The book itself has only been out for six weeks, so I could definitely do a ebook release in the future.
IMnot so HO, people will always look for reasons to separate their ideas of wheat from chaff. Silly. I am sorry there is a stigma against both small presses and ebooks. It seems so silly to create artificial reasons for liking or not liking a work of art.
Ok, I've been trying to find a couple minutes today to think of a question to ask and here it is!
Would you mind describing (in your opinion) the best and the worst reactions you've received on your book.
Overall, the most negative reactions I’ve received were contained in the rejection letters from the literary agencies: “Not for us.” I can totally understand how they would arrive at that conclusion after reading a one-page query letter and none of the book.
To answer this question completely, I should break it down into a table with different categories. On the side would be “People I know” and “People I don’t know.” Across the top would be “Before reading book” and “After reading book.”
Allow me to explain myself…
From “People I know” and “Before reading book:”
Most reactions were somewhere between “You wrote a book? Cool!” to “You wrote a book? …… Seriously?”
From “People I know” and “After reading book:”
Near universal reaction: “My goodness! You’re really good. I can’t believe you had this in you. I loved it! When’s the next one coming out?”
From “People I don’t know” and “Before reading book:”
The reaction has been: (crickets) Remember… I’m self-published, so most people have never heard of me or the book. I believe the average reaction could be summed up with, “meh – so what?”
From “People I don’t know” and “After reading book:”
Everyone’s reaction: “I really, really liked it. When’s the next one coming out?”
The reviews and feedback I have received have been 99% positive. One guy I know did not love some of the relationship stuff between a couple of the characters, where as friend of my wife’s loved that same aspect. What was common was they both loved the book; it seems to appeal to a very wide audience.
People I’ve never met who have written reader reviews are globally gracious and effusive in their praise. The comparisons to bestselling authors of the genre have been equally incredibly awesome and extremely humbling.
Woo hoo! I am sure you have enjoyed all these "I enjoyed it" reviews! Have you tried getting a big publisher to pick it up and reissue it? (I am completely ignorant about publishing, so I don't know if this is a normal next step.) I am wondering what is the next step to get even more exposure for your book.
maggie1944 – Publishing is changing. I’m not sure what the new ‘normal’ is.
Traditionally, when you would write a book, you would submit a query letter – a single page introducing you and your book – to literary agencies or publishers. Literary agents might request chapters and then pick you up if they liked what they saw. They would then shop your manuscript around. If you sent a query letter directly to a publisher…well…good luck. They get countless letters a day. Nearly all of the big publishing houses will not even accept unsolicited queries. Meaning that if you are new author, getting past the front door is close to impossible.
Based on advice from a contact I made, I was encouraged to go the route I am: Publish the book on my own first, prove its viability and quality, and see where to go from there.
I am still in the ‘prove its viability and quality’ stage. From the reviews at Amazon, I think I am starting to do that, but I have a way to go: http://www.amazon.com/Progeny-Children-White-Lions-Kaelin/product-reviews/061542...
Without naming names, someone involved with my book had been a part of another self-published book that was picked up by a national publisher and went on to #1 on the New York Times bestsellers list. A movie was made from the book and subsequent volumes to the series were published and did as well as the first. I would be lying if I said I did not hope for a similar turnout, but I am trying to be pragmatic about it.
maggie1944, you say, “I am wondering what is the next step to get even more exposure for your book.”
Me, too. Doing things like this chat is one thing. I’ve been speaking at local high schools, discussing creative writing and using the book for examples – I have quite a few more schools lined up in the future. I’ve an online interview coming up on January 19th at http://www.theauthorsshow.com. I’ve been doing book giveaways here and at goodreads.com (where I’ve been blogging about my experiences throughout http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4468635.R_T_Kaelin/blog). Additional reviews should be coming in shortly. I’ve contacted B&N Small Press department with a marketing plan and hope for some regional placement of the book in stores nearby.
But the one thing that will always sell books is positive word of mouth. It will just take longer for a small-press book to get that campaign going.
Thanks. All your answers have been very interesting. I am wishing good luck to you with this challenge! I think LibraryThing is a great place to start....
This has been an interesting thread.
Not a smart-aleck question: Why did it take 700 pages to tell your story?
Good luck with your writing career.
deniro - The short answer is: I didn't tell the story. It told itself.
I knew the main plot, but often times the story took me in directions I had not expected. Sometimes I backed up and got it on track, but most of the time the path the tale went was better than what I had planned. So, I went with it. It might be an overused phrase, but it was a very organic process.
I'm trying to tame the word count in book 2 without railroading the story.
Progeny is a big book, but if it's a book you enjoy reading, should that matter? I hate when a book I love is over.
I've a question for readafew: did it feel too long to you?
I can answer in more detail later. I've written this one on my phone on the way to going snow tubing with the family. :)
I thought I was the one asking questions! ;)
Do I think it was too long? short answer no. Could it have used a little tightening here and there yes, did it feel bloated? no. Could you have told the same story in 400-500 pages? not nearly so well in my opinion. I like well told fantasy epics and IMO this is one.
i have not read your book yet but i am sure whatever you have written that shall be anattempt to add to the treasure of knowledge. i would like you to write on Baloch problem in pakistan.
I was curious....so here's a link to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baloch_people
Really, I don't mean to encourage the hyjack of this thread; so, I am asking another question....
How much research do you do into real life stuff in order to tweak it and find some rich details for your writing. Is it all out of your imagination and the knowledge you already have, or do you begin to follow your curiosity and do some new research?
maggie1944 – “How much research do you do into real life stuff in order to tweak it and find some rich details for your writing?”
Quite a bit, actually.
Early on, when I had ideas for locations, I found it was much easier to start writing descriptively if I had a point of reference to start from. I would have a general idea of what a place would look like, so I’d go off and do image searches until I found something that really captured what I had in mind. I’d print it off and tape it on the wall. Whenever I was writing about that area, I’d stare at the picture and try to imagine myself being there. Once I fully invested myself within a place, I no longer needed to imagine it – it felt real to me, like I could step outside and be there.
Other things might not be so readily apparent (although a few readers have caught on to some things). To keep a consistency within a group of people (race or culture), I took inspiration from current or historical cultures in our world. Words and idioms from certain languages were combined together to keep the flavor of words ‘tasting’ right to the reader. I was diligent about keeping the ‘strange’ words to a minimum, but when I used them I wanted to stay consistent.
“Is it all out of your imagination and the knowledge you already have, or do you begin to follow your curiosity and do some new research?”
A little of both. I have wide-ranging interests: I know very little about a lot of things. When drawing from my thin personal knowledge on a subject, I absolutely have to delve into more detail from other sources. It’s funny… your question is quite relevant to right now. This very afternoon, I’ve been prepping for a chapter in the second book that will involve something new to the overall story that has required some significant research on my part.
I have some of that irrepressible curiosity, too. Writing is a great way to justify questing around a bit. I enjoyed hearing about you posting a picture on the wall, I can just imagine your doing that. Thanks for the interesting answers.
Ok, this one is for my own information.
Do you have an estimate of how long the next book will take to get it ready for publication? I want to know because I want to read it!
Well... it sort of depends on the success of Progeny. And for that, I'm really relying on my current, small fanbase to help spread the word.
As soon a few more reviews roll in, I'm going to see what I can do to get some notice for it at large publisher.
I am actively writing book two in the series and would say I've recently passed the halfway point in writing the story (which is a combination of writing & editing as I go). But even once I'm done writing, the detailed, line editing must commence.
Plus, it's not inexpensive to publish a book in this fashion. Sure, the actual publishing costs are low, but the money I'm sinking into trying to promote it is greater than I anticipated. But, I believe in the story, so I'm willing to do it.
I guess the answer is... I don't know.
I'll say this: The story has expanded like you would expect in the second book in a series, encompassing more of the world, and the people in it. Progeny focuses on the initial growth of the chracters, Book 2 opens up the world and gives them a chance to see what is really going on.
I always wonder when I read a book, how many of the characters are based on real people in the author's life? Looks, personalities, etc. So how many of your characters have real-life counterparts? And when you run out of truly interesting people from your own life do you find yourself paying closer attention to strangers you run across daily hoping to pull some little nuggets from them?
“How many of the characters are based on real people in the author's life? Looks, personalities, etc. So how many of your characters have real-life counterparts?”
In a way, I partially addressed this back in post #3. But only in the sense that the two main characters are modeled after my own children.
Beyond them, there are a few other characters partially modeled after people in my life. Early on while writing, I found it helpful to write from an empathetic point of view. Instead of forcing a character to drive the action, I chose the events and wrote how a character would naturally react to them. It felt authentic to me to write in this fashion.
So, until the characters had developed their own sense of personality over the course of the story, I would start writing as though the character was someone I knew. I then would write how I thought that person would react in certain situations – what they’d say, do, or feel. Over time, the characters in the book evolved away from the initial inspirations (except Nikalys and Kenders…their personalities are still like my children’s) but they still are rooted in a real person.
“And when you run out of truly interesting people from your own life do you find yourself paying closer attention to strangers you run across daily hoping to pull some little nuggets from them?”
Absolutely, but in an ala carte fashion. If I see an interesting-looking person, or notice a unique physical or personality trait in someone, I try to make note of it. Some I use, others I don’t. I find these little details can add a lot of flavor to a character – even minor ones. And if the minor characters are memorable or ‘feel real,’ then the whole story is better.
Chat participants and lurkers alike:
All day long today, January 19th, you can listen to a 15 minute interview with me at http://www.theauthorsshow.com.
In the interview, I talk about why I started writing, a few details about the book, and what some of my inspirations are.
Since today is the last day of the chat, I wanted to thank everyone who stopped by, read, or asked a question.
Good days ahead...
Good luck! I hope a big publisher realizes the worth of your book, or better yet word of mouth makes it a sensation without the publishers overhead! Hope you hang around, thanks for taking the time to chat.
Thanks for you answers. I found your responses to be very interesting and enlightening. Good luck with this book making the big time, and the next book finding its place in the line of winners!
FYI - New review on Progeny:
"This novel is a fantasy about family, legacies, strengths, coming of age and also magical powers..."the strands". Anyone who enjoys adventure stories or magical and paranormal I would suggest you give this a try. For me, Progeny is in league with both The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings and far better than Harry Potter - Progeny has a wealth of depth to it that I haven't seen in many books."
I know some people were asking about an eBook version for Progeny.
I looked deeper into it and decided to give it a shot. So... here it is on Kindle:
The free sample takes you up through part of chapter 6.f
Made a short trailer about Progeny that incorporates the kind words of this review as well as one by LT's very own readafew:
Another great review:
"Cleverly conceived and expertly crafted, Kaelin demonstrates great talent as a writer with this work. The grand scale world-building, rarely seen in a debut novel, is on par with current greats of the genre such as Brandon Sanderson (Warbreaker) and Jim Butcher (Furies of Calderon). Though it nears seven hundred pages long, the epilogue comes far too soon; but the story holds great promise for future adventures in the series. Overall, Progeny is a fantastic book! "
Followed up by an interview with me:
Just as an FYI:
The first bunch of short stories inspired by Progeny are available for the Kindle for $.99 at:
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