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Where realism and idealism meet Tony Brasunas, author of Double Happiness

Manuscript Excerpt: The Prologue



“Do you want to tickle the dragon?” 

My father was calling up to me. I was curled near the ceiling in a carpeted cubby he had built as a loft space. Lying on my belly like a snake, I sorted golden rivets into piles: long, yellow brass ones; shorter, reddish copper ones; dull, gray steel ones. It was fun and important work, but I could never resist tickling the dragon.

I climbed down the ladder and stepped onto the sooty concrete floor. The smell of coal hung in the air around my father’s brick forge. I grabbed hold of the wooden peg on the giant black wheel and pulled it down. The wheel began to turn. Because I wasn’t tall enough, I let the wheel spin the peg back up, and I caught it again as it came down, pulling again so the wheel began to turn faster. Heat radiated in intensifying waves from the hole in the center of the forge, and embers of hot orange and gold flew from the hole. The dragon was breathing!

“That’s it,” said my father. “Good. He’s awake.” In iron tongs he clutched a long piece of black steel that maybe, finally, he would make into a sword instead of a horseshoe, triangle, or fancy gate.

But I had to watch from above. He sent me back up to the loft, and I let my head hang over the edge so that I could watch as my father held the steel in the dragon’s breath. The fierce heat now exhaled constantly and turned the steel purple, red, orange, and finally a bright golden white. The flames held my gaze. Is there really a dragon down there, under the concrete floor? I wondered. Does it actually eat the coal we give it every morning?

He pinched the white-hot steel with the tongs, set it on the anvil, and with a heavy iron hammer, he struck the glowing metal, once, twice, three times, and sparks flew: Long, hairy fragments of orange shot everywhere in an inverted waterfall of light.


This was the end of the 1970s, on a commune in West Virginia. Twelve years earlier, before becoming a blacksmith, my father had been one of the first long-haired hippies at MIT in Boston. He swore he would never wear a tie, and he leapt into the civil rights and peace movements that were sweeping through the country like wildfire.

Soon he changed course and elected a more personal path to fixing the world. With the woman who would become my mother, he traveled to England and lived for a year in a spiritual community west of Oxford. They learned meditation techniques from the community’s leader, John G. Bennett, a wise and well-traveled man. Bennett determined that the time had come to start a community in the United States, and an estate called Claymont, in West Virginia, with four hundred acres of hilly forests and fertile farmland, was chosen for the purpose. At Claymont, my father turned an old concrete storehouse into a forge while my mother worked in the bookstore and the vegetable gardens. I helped in the forge and attended the three-room school, studying math, French, and art in the mornings alongside the two dozen other children; in the afternoons, our teachers would take us into the loam-smelling woods or down to the gurgling waters of the fish farm.

After a mere nine years, the commune faltered, rudderless. Bennett’s unexpected death had robbed the experiment of its visionary, and efforts to replace his leadership had largely proven fruitless. My parents had ushered my sister and brother into the world, and they consulted an astrologer for a new path. “Telecommunications” was divined in my father’s future, and he concocted a short resume, tied a tie to his neck, and landed a phone company job in a nearby town.

I went a different way, breaking with my strange hippie parents and attending a faraway college, exploring a freshness I found in political and cultural conservatism. But the dragon-breath that I fanned as a young boy I had also lit deep inside me, and an interest in travel, a love of languages, and a curiosity about China that my father, through his secondary role as the school’s occasional geography teacher, smoldered in me – and these coals did not die. Math, computer science, and, finally, Chinese drew and held my attention. After my college graduation, I left the United States for the first time. I flew alone to the other side of the planet, and at twenty-two arrived in China with but a few bags and a handful of wild expectations.

The year was 1997, just before international travel became dominated by the omniscience of smart phones, ATMs, and email – before Google, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, and the technologies that would replace them, before the ubiquity of blogs on every imaginable subject. In China, it was an exhilarating and confusing time. The nation’s political isolation was thawing rapidly but unevenly: Many towns and regions were open, but others remained verboten to foreigners, and the motives of Americans in particular were suspect. The excitement was palpable: Hong Kong was reverting to Chinese rule after 157 years of British colonialism, the economy was heating up like a blacksmith’s forge, a building boom featuring modern glass and steel was transforming cities small and large, and formidable international honor from things like the Olympics had become more than a gleam in the eye of well-placed officials. It was before 9-11, before the “War on Terror,” before American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan; in many ways it was a simpler time for Americans to travel. In every other respect it was just like today.


The steel glowed in the flames as if coated with honey-hued neon. My father pulled it out and flipped it over on the anvil.

High-pitched notes rang off the walls as his hammer pounded, metal-on-metal. Sparks leapt through the air, danced across the floor, vanished. Slowly the steel cooled under the transformative blows.

Could it be? I watched the steel flatten, lengthen, darken.

He dipped the steel into a barrel of water beside the anvil, sending clouds of steam hissing into the air. He motioned that I could climb down.

“Are you making a sword?” I asked.

“What else are you going to be carrying – if you find a dragon that isn’t friendly?”

I stepped towards the blade.

“Let it cool,” he said, a hand on my shoulder. “It will be yours soon.”

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by Tony Brasunas on May 30, 2013

Why the Amount $8888?

Why $8888?

This amount is the minimum I need to produce Double Happiness. Fortuitously, 8888, or 88-88, also happens to be a number the Chinese consider extraordinarily lucky. In fact the pairs of eights are considered to resemble and evoke the principle of shuang xi – “double happiness” – one meaning of which is the happiness that comes from the union of two things. So for Double Happiness, $8888 is both essential and lucky.

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by Tony Brasunas on May 23, 2013

Four Reasons I’m Publishing My Book With Kickstarter

After revising my manuscript for ten years, working with a professional literary agent for two years, and exploring every high and low of the various publishing industries in the United States, here in 2013 I’ve discovered that the perfect way to publish Double Happiness is independently with a Kickstarter.com campaign.

Why? For me, there are four main reasons: Adventure, Timing, Creative Control, and Community.

1. Adventure – At its heart, my book, Double Happiness is a tale of adventure, and Kickstarter brings adventure to the whole process of publishing a book. It’s a risk to put my dreams out there on some web page and hope for the best. It might not work! I don’t know who I’m going to find — or be found by — out there. I know only that I have a vision and a path, and that I have the means to walk that path. It was taking exactly this kind of risk that led to the journeys and discoveries Double Happiness is written to share.

2. Timing – With the big publishing houses, I’ve learned that books generally do not come out for at least a year after the author signs and closes the big deal. Often it takes even longer, depending on where your book is on the house’s priority list, and how it fits in with their marketing plans and goals. Exceptions are made for exceptionally time-sensitive books (your book on the Super Bowl, for instance, in mid-January, or your biography of a political candidate in the midst of a campaign), but Double Happiness would not fit in that category. If I use Kickstarter and independently publish the book, I get to determine the ideal time for the book to come out, even if that ideal time is right away.

3. Creative Control – Sometimes professional editors in Manhattan know exactly what you are trying to say — or what you should be trying to say. Sometimes they don’t have a clue, or should just leave well enough alone. This can cut both ways, of course, and at certain points in the writing process editors can provide very helpful insights. Double Happiness has been meticulously edited by myself and several professional editors, but because it’s an unusual and highly personal book — with maps and epigraphs, and with an epilogue and prologue set in contrasting time periods — being able to make the final decisions on what goes in and what stays out of the manuscript is very appealing to me. I get to deliver to my readers a beautiful book, a flawlessly-edited book, and above all, the book I deeply longed to write.

4. Community – Through Kickstarter, the book begins and is brought into the world as a collective project and as part of a shared experience with the readers themselves. This promises to be a magical part of the whole journey to publication. I hope everyone who’s ever traveled or hoped to travel jumps on board!

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I sense it’s going to work for me. But it might not. And of course if you’ve just completed your manuscript, your mileage may vary considerably. Your particularly desires, ambitions, and creative predilections may indicate finding an agent and selling your manuscript to a publishing house is your best path.

For me, Kickstarter feels perfect. I can’t wait to go live and launch it!

When will that be? I’m working on the video and rewards for the campaign now, and they’re nearly done. I will launch my Kickstarter publication campaign this month! To get an email note when we launch, subscribe to this blog or go to facebook.com/DoubleHappy and click to “Like” the page. I do hope you’ll explore my Kickstarter campaign when it begins, and if you fancy, get on board, join the community, contribute to the campaign, and help publish Double Happiness!

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by Tony Brasunas on May 6, 2013