Welcome, Anthony St. Clair!

We are excited to welcome Anthony St. Clair to the Highlighted Author. From business writer to fiction writer, Anthony shares his rich experiences as a world traveler in each of his books. Hope you enjoy this feature on his newest release, FOREVER THE ROAD, A Rucksack Universe novel! –Jo Grafford, Highlighted Author Co-Hostess

A Note From Anthony

anthony-stclair-lowresThere was probably some magic moment, standing by the Ganges River in Varanasi, India, in 2003, when I knew that I would have to set a novel in India. I can imagine it now: me standing at the water’s edge, my little black daypack making my back its own river of sweat as the humid, sunny air tried to braise me. I would’ve been staring at the brown water, amazed at how many people were using it for bathing, laundry, and cooking. I would have been musing about life’s complex paradoxes: rich and poor, filthy and clean, sustaining and debilitating, profane and sacred, fantastical and real.

Then somebody probably tried to get me to buy something, and I forgot all about that grand inspirational moment.

The fact is, my two months in India over a decade ago planted the seed that in time would become my third book, Forever the Road. Other travels, other people met along those journeys had planted seeds too, seeds that in time became the characters readers are meeting in my books and will meet throughout this series. Like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, my Rucksack books have no set order, and readers can travel with me to this world as long as I draw breath. (In fact, the next 2 books are in progress right now.)

Prior to all this, I’d been writing for businesses and publications and such since the 1990s, and I was about 12 or 13 when I knew I would be a writer. But it wasn’t until 2011 that I focused on the stories that I needed to tell.

Tom Robbins talks about how themes of joy, transformation, and liberation permeate all his books, and I share that thinking. My stories focus on what drives us not merely to survive, but to thrive, to be fully ourselves in this life. Not merely to grind through the day-to-day, but what pulls us from bed with a smile in the morning, what we know that if we haven’t done by the time we pass on from this life, we’ll be hoping like hell for another chance.

Whether a reader is a traveler or not, I hope they finish my stories with a pounding heart and an excited, determined glint in their eyes. I hope they give deeper kisses. I hope they do something that scares the pants off them but that they’ve been yearning to do. I hope they live the world and their lives more fully than ever.

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Forever The Road, A Rucksack Universe Novel

kindlecoverTravel. Destiny. Beer.

The world’s greatest traveler never thought he’d be staying put.

Jay had planned to move on after marking Agamuskara, India, off his list of places to see. Then two strange men steal his passport, and the long-roaming loner stays in Agamuskara to find it. After years of globetrotting with no companion but his trusty big backpack, Jay befriends the stout-quaffing, ever-grinning Faddah Rucksack, the world’s only Himalayan-Irish sage. Now Jay finds himself being steered toward an unknown fate by a man who lost his own destiny long ago.

No Jake or Jade is better than Jade Agamuskara Bluegold at slinging drinks, destinies, and decisions. Yet after spending ten years helping The Management keep the world turning, the solitary, mysterious bartender at the pub at Everest Base Camp has begun to doubt the life she chose over another path. When Jade’s uneasy friendship with Rucksack leads her to help him unravel the mystery at the heart of the city, Jade finds her loyalties changing in ways she never could have imagined.

When the bartender and the backpacker meet, forces are set in motion that won’t just change the world forever—they might end it. Then Jay accidentally awakens an ancient evil, and only Jay, Rucksack, and Jade stand between it and its terrible purpose: destroying all life in a smiling fire.

The Rucksack Universe

The Rucksack Universe is 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.”

Available now on:

Other books by Anthony

Book #1 and Book #2 of the Rucksack Universe series are also available in e-book and trade paperback:

The Martini of Destiny: http://www.anthonystclair.com/rucksack-universe/the-stories/the-martini-of-destiny

Home Sweet Road:http://www.anthonystclair.com/rucksack-universe/the-stories/home-sweet-road

Guru Deep Says:

“Agamuskara shares its name with the river that runs through India’s holiest city, which is also its unholiest. While no records survive to tell us when Agamuskara was founded, local lore maintains the area was settled by the first people to come to the Indian subcontinent. History also does not explain why the city and the river should be named what, in the Hindi, translates as ‘smiling fire.’ This mystery, the delights of daily life and Indian culture, and the unrivaled drinks at the Everest Base Camp Pub and Hostel continue to attract travelers from all over the world.” — Guru Deep, India Through the Third Eye

Excerpt

OY! JADE!”

The laughter-laced shout blasted through the pub door and nearly made her drop the glass she was polishing.

Ah, Jade thought. Rucksack must be ready for his next pint. She brought a fresh glass to the tap. As she did, The Management’s strange warning rang in her head, the way it did every time Rucksack was around: “This man is dangerous.”

She thought back over the last few months to when the three hooded figures had appeared in the pub. It was just minutes after the letter had arrived and she’d read it. Later that day Rucksack had come in for the first time—but The Management had visited first.

The surprise had made her drop the letter. The Management hardly ever came to the Jakes and Jades in person. Or in being. Or whatever they were. “Why is he dangerous?” she had asked, picking up the sheet of paper. “Who is he?”

“Some say he’s a broken hero,” said the figure in blue and green.

“Some say he’s the world’s only Himalayan-Irish sage,” said the figure in brown and black.

“Some say he’s just a freeloading drunk,” said the figure in silver and gold.

“None of these things has ever been proven,” they all said together. “All we know is that he is an unknown quantity.”

“An unknown quantity?” Jade had said. “What does that even mean?”

“It means he has no destiny. He is as a ghost to us. He is outside of us all.”

“How is that even possible?” Jade had looked at each of the three figures. If they could look sheepish, this was the closest they had ever seemed to it. “What do you want me to do?”

“Your duty has many guises, Jade Agamuskara Bluegold, and some are more dangerous than others. We know little about Faddah Rucksack and far less about his path. Be wary of him but watch him. Learn from him but keep your distance. Stay close but do not get involved. A man without a destiny is a man who might do anything.”

The Management faded away into nothing, as they always did. Jade stood alone, still holding the letter.

She came back to the finished pour. Who are you, indeed? Jade thought. Blinking at the glaring midday sun, she carried the brimming glass out into the bright world.

The white walls of Agamuskara collected light, stored it, packed it tightly, and shot it back into the world like munitions. People, bicycles, vehicles, and animals trudged and flowed—a river of thousands moving past one-story, two-story, and three-story buildings.

The brown-and-black sari was a shadow amongst the white glare and the thousands of colors. The woman caught Jade’s eye for a moment. Then the woman was gone, downstream in the river of flesh and steel.

Scooters, rickshaws, taxis, trucks, cows, dogs, children, men, and women teemed through the streets. Many things tried to occupy the same place at the same time. Not even a square of dirt or pavement showed beneath the slow incessant press of tires, feet, and paws. From the people rushing and meandering to the buildings that seemed to shimmer and wobble in the light, all the world moved.

Except for him.

Faddah Rucksack sat at the black iron table, the pub’s single table outside, to the right of the door and near the corner of the building, where two wide streets met at an acute angle. His back to the pub and dressed all in black, he sat like the city’s shadow—the only shadow amidst the white walls and brilliant colors of the people and trucks. Clad in a black leather glove, his left hand rested on the table next to an empty pint glass. His bare right hand seemed simultaneously earth-brown and cloud-pale.

He read a sheet of paper covered in a scrawl whose language Jade couldn’t determine. As she approached, he turned it over and set it down. Rucksack looked toward the roving people. Jade couldn’t see his eyes, but everything in how he stared said that the man sitting right here was also hundreds of years and thousands of miles away. He set his left hand on top of his right.

Jade blinked. Coming from the low lights of the pub, it was hard adjusting to the sunlight. She looked at his hands again. Maybe it was the glove, but his left hand seemed smaller than the right.

“Rucksack?” she said. “Are you okay?”

He turned his head and noticed her for the first time. It took but a moment for the faraway man to return. Rucksack’s face was everyone and no one, everywhere and nowhere; he could’ve been from Ireland, Tibet, Kenya. For all Jade could tell, he could’ve dropped out of the clouds. His tight face let loose a wide smile, bright as the city walls. “There’s never a fear, as long as there’s beer, there’s only smiles and glee,” Rucksack sang. “Now that you’re here, let’s drink in good cheer. Hey, barkeep! How about a couple for free?”

Jade laughed. “Have you ever paid for a beer?”

“It’s like a dog, only more loyal and useful,” Rucksack said. “I cannot help the extensive credit that insists on following me wherever I go.”

And that comes ahead of you too, Jade thought. The letter had arrived an hour before he had first walked into the pub all those months ago. The Deep, Inc. stationery was familiar enough, having appeared on many an invoice and letter accompanying kegs of Deep’s Special Lager (“Thank you for making Every Night Special!” and Galway Pradesh Stout (“The World’s #1 Beer!”):

One Faddah Rucksack, a traveler of worlds and doer of deeds, does come to Agamuskara for an indeterminate length of time. Mr. Rucksack’s purchases are free of charge and will be reimbursed to you. Thanking you in advance for your understanding.

The scrawled signature had been as indecipherable as the strange language on the paper Rucksack had been reading, but the money had come every week. Good thing too, she thought. It’s so bloody hot here, I hardly ever carried GPS until he arrived. I swear the man could put a straw in a keg and drain it.

Jade set the pint on the table. The beer’s white head wobbled just above the rim. “I’ll never understand how you drink stout in this heat.”

“A pint at a time, my lass,” Rucksack replied. With a tilt of his head, he raised his glass to her. “Besides, o’ all the barkeeps from Ireland to India, not a one pours a GPS as fine as you do, Jade. And believe you me, I would know.”

Jade couldn’t help but grin. All these months and they had hardly spoken, except to exchange pint orders, natter about the weather, or discuss the day’s headlines. “Such a compliment,” Jade replied. “You’re not… drunk… are you?”

Rucksack dimmed his smile, a seeming seriousness in his eyes. Then he winked. “There are two things I never do,” he said. “I never stop drinking. And I never get drunk.”

“It’s just that when I came out here, something about you seemed off.”

Rucksack looked at her in a new way. His gaze moved from Jade to the paper, then back to her. “Have you ever lost someone, Jade?” he said. “Someone close to you? Someone who mattered more than all the world?”

For a moment, she was there again: painted concrete, his outstretched hand, the shape of his mouth, the glint of the ring in his fingers—and then all the world had gone still. “Yes,” she said. “Long ago. In a different life.”

“In a different life.” He nodded, clenching and unclenching his left hand. “Yes, that’s a good way to put it. I have too,” he said. “Lost someone. Long ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

“And I thank you, as I am for you too.” Rucksack traced a bare finger over the sheet of paper. “I got a letter recently, saying that the someone I lost, I only thought I lost. And that if I came to Agamuskara, I’d find her.”

A lover? A wife? she thought. A sister? Jade took a step toward the table. “Who was she?”

Rucksack opened his mouth to reply, but the words froze. All the world seemed to hold its breath.

Both Jade and Rucksack doubled over, as if they’d each been punched in the stomach. On the two streets, everyone and everything stopped moving. No one spoke. Thousands of eyes only looked around, wondering what was so suddenly different about the world.

 

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