A Querying I will Go!

IMG_5208It’s been a wild spring with unpredictable weather and plenty of changes to adapt into my life. As a family with young kids, the only thing I can depend on from day to day is unpredictability.  My youngest has developed a fascination with Minecraft and loves to play on the worlds he is creating with someone else. I’ll admit, I think it’s really fun to play with him as well, but every hour spent playing video games is an hour not spent doing anything that will help me reach my goals.

That said, perhaps the biggest news is that I’m starting to query out my epic fantasy novel. I didn’t image there would be this much stress associated with waiting for publishers and agents to give me their approval, or rejection, or no response at all. I’ve been at it since December but have only started sending out multiple queries at a time this last month.

The plan for the next few months is to always have five queries out at a time and to participate in whatever Twitter pitch contests drift my way. While this isn’t super aggressive, it doesn’t take over my life either.

[For those scratching their heads – a query is simply a formal letter sent to publishers and literary agents that tells about the book and about the author. A pitch is a short sentence that sums up the book. Both are mind-numbingly hard to create.]

On the short story front, I have two pieces that have been accepted and are awaiting scheduling with the publisher. I will most definitely be posting as soon as I have more info. One is a retelling of classic Vietnamese folklore, the  Starfruit Tree and is slated for an anthology. The other, The Skull Collector, is best described as a cross between Moana and the Hunger Games and will be in a magazine.

Other news, I was asked to judge a short story contest for the University of Utah Valley’s Warp and Weave speculative fiction literary magazine. While I’ve judged stories before, it’s never been for anything more than my writing group. All the stories were amazing so it was a true challenge to pick those that rose above the rest.

There’s always a ton of fun/agonizing work to do. While waiting for query responses from agents and editors I have a bundle of great ideas I’d like to work up into publishable short stories and a draft of the sequel novel to create. I also have a handful of presentations to prepare for upcoming conferences, for more info click here.

Here’s to a great Spring!

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Getting Angsty?

In a recent book review I mentioned that angsty teenage books aren’t my thing. It’s nothing personal, I’m not into romance for the sake of romance either. For me, the stakes aren’t high enough, or at least I don’t care enough about them, for either to draw my attention.

Which is why I was really surprised when I found that my own writings and also the TV shows that I prefer watching have plenty of super angsty moments.

What’s the difference?

For me it’s motive and reach. In all stories the main character has a really big problem that he or she needs to overcome. In teenage angsty novels these problems tend to revolve around the internal needs of the teenager. She needs to feel accepted. Her boyfriend is cheating on her. She is dying of a terminal illness. He is a wimp. Her boyfriend is a vampire. Not all in the same book, although that would be awesome.

None of the problems extend beyond the main character or their immediate friends. If the worst should happen, yes it’s devastating for the character, but it the effects rarely leave the community.

In my preferred fandoms, and also in my fiction, the scope tends to be larger. The problems affect whole cities, worlds, or even universes. When something goes wrong, it threatens more than a few emotional teenagers, civilizations are at stake. The problems can include anything including universe eating temporal rifts, demon fueled armies, megalomaniac wizards, and gods squaring off against each other.

That’s not to say that the same internal problems don’t exist, they most certainly do. But they exist layered along side much bigger issues.

Last night I had my own personal angst fest with non other than our friend the Doctor. Doctor Who is a great example of how layering massive universe-sized problems alongside intense personal conflict makes for some very compelling stories.

I have a few favorite doctor moments, specifically with the 10th doctor.

In the episode Journey’s End, the season finale for the fourth season, there are lots of different angsty elements at play. It’s touted as the most tragic episode – guaranteed to give anyone the feels. The villainous Daleks have kidnapped planet Earth to create a reality bomb that will in essence destroy all matter in every universe. The Doctor has found several of his previous companions to come help avert the crisis. These include Rose Tyler, the companion he loved and lost; Donna Noble, the closest person he’s had to a best friend; and Martha Jones, the woman who loved him but he didn’t love back.

In the course of the episode a second Doctor is created, who is essentially a clone except for one vital difference – he is not a Time Lord and will age and die like a human.

I’m a sucker for a good tragic character. I love Hamlet, Frodo, and now, the Doctor. In Journey’s End. The angst comes from the multitude of problems that can’t be solved without sacrifice. The Daleks must be defeated to save Earth. Rose must be returned to her own parallel world. Donna, being human, cannot sustain having the knowledge of a Time Lord.

The Doctor must sacrifice his love for Rose by sending her off with the clone doctor to repair the rift in time. To save his best friend Donna’s life, he must remove all knowledge of himself from her mind, and lose her forever. His clone has committed genocide on the Daleks, getting him, a man who abhors violence, named the Destroyer of Worlds. In essence, everything that is important to him is ripped away and he is left alone once more. doc who rain

Take that teenage angst! I know it’s unrealistic, but it’s oh so good.

Writer Wednesday: Hanging Flags

It’s Wednesday and that means a special post for all you writers out there. Woohoo!

Lately I’ve been enjoying the wit of comedian Jim Gaffigan. He’s clean and several of his routines are on Netflix, which is a double bonus for those like me that need something funny to unwind to after a long day and can’t exactly head out to a club. Babysitters are expensive.

Once of Jim’s signature elements in his routine is that he will insert his own criticisms into the flow of the joke. You know it’s coming because he turns to the side and impersonates a generic grandma from the audience, I imagine his mother. It is these asides that make his routines unique and even funnier than if he did a straight up routine. It is also a brilliant way to draw more attention to the joke itself and make it even funnier.

While watching, it got me thinking about using “flags” to point out things in a story that are either out of character or perhaps a little strange for your world.  It’s for when you break one of your own rules in your world, you need to “hang a flag” on it to ensure your reader knows that you are aware you just broke one of your own rules.

I’m not talking about the laws of the land. When we hang flags it’s more to show a break from the normal for that world or that character. Say your character always orders a cheeseburger when they go out and then out of the blue gets the chicken sandwich. That would merit a flag, something should be said to explain the break in the norm. Maybe he’s going through a break up and they ate cheeseburgers on their first date. Maybe he’s found out that his cholesterol is out of control. Maybe the last time he ate a cheeseburger he found a dirty band-aid under the patty.

If we didn’t say something about the change in the norm we’d be missing out on giving that character a little extra depth.

Flagging is for intentional rule breaks. If a rule is set in a world and unintentionally broken it needs to be fixed. Often it is a way to inject humor or to push a plot point in a different direction.

The moral of the story is that if you are going to have rules in your world or for your characters and you find that you have to break those rules, you have to either point it out or fix it.

Happy Writing!

Fantasy Anthology 2015 by Xchyler Publishing

I am excited to announce that my short story Breath will be included in the yet to be named 2015 fantasy anthology published by Xchyler, a fun and unique Indie press. These guys know their stuff and it’s been a pleasure working with them. Their past anthology titles include:

TerraMechanica

Terra Mechanica, a Steampunk Anthology: In an alternative past with an unrealized future, trek around the world and beyond in nine separate adventures, in the ships locomotives, and flying machines that power the Steampunk universe.

MomentsInMillennia

Moments in Millenia, a Fantasy Anthology: Travel with seven talented authors as they glimpse through time into Humanity’s future. Will mankind blossom and flourish, conquering the stars and time itself? Or, with selfishness, greed, and just plain bad luck send us all to the brink of destruction?

ShadesAndShadows

Shades and Shadows, a Paranormal Anthology: In the dead of night, you sense something other beyond your sight, out there in the darkness. You feel a breath upon your neck, cold and clammy, fecund with mold and decay. Your hair stands on end from no random chill. The air is still. No one is there. Travel with nine talented writers into their paranormal world, but don’t disregard that inkling that niggles somewhere in the pit of your stomach to leave the light on, to shun that dark room, and to pull the covers over your head. Whatever you do, don’t look under the bed.

ADashOfMadness

A Dash of Madness, a Thriller Anthology: One man’s crazy is another man’s norm. Inside, eight bizarre stories explore twisted perceptions and challenge conceptions about right and wrong. With a fascinating dive into several unstable minds, the authors examine different avenues for exposing warped cognition and mutilated logic. Each delivers a disquieting glimpse of reality.

MechanizedMasterpieces

Mechanized Masterpieces, a Steampunk Anthology: Amid a cacophony of cranking sprockets and cogs, in chuffs of steam and soot, comes the expansion of classic literature into alternative Steampunk masterpieces. Follow nine skilled authors as they lead old friends and new acquaintances through Jamaica, Singapore, Cape Town, Denmark, Paris, London, and Geneva on a phantasmagorical Steampunk World Tour.

ForgedInFlame

Forged in Flame, a Dragon anthology: Forged in flame, wrought in blood, bone and steel, from the bowels of the earth and the inner most chambers of the heart, dragons arise. Fired by their passion, inspired by legend, six talented storytellers delve into realms of myth and fantasy as they explore what it means to be human.

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 23

In the previous episode, Queen Caliee informed Mike that not only can’t he court Mistress Maybelle, that if he refuses to comply with her wishes that she will have him locked up and used as breeding stock for the rest of his days.  Mike will not compromise with the Queen and is locked back into his room.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning of the story, click here!

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Once the initial anger from being locked into the small bedroom subsided, Mike began to pace.  He had to figure out a way to get a message to Maybelle and warn her of what was happening. He picked up his cane from the corner; perhaps he could find a way to use it. He had already tried it on the door, but being Tinker work it had been warded against Tinker magic. Typical.

When he had been locked in before, he had almost figured out the elaborate locking mechanism. He knelt at the door and studied the various gears and levers once again.  He reached for his jacket toolkit and realized that he was still in his night shirt.  That wouldn’t do at all.  If he managed to open the door he couldn’t just waltz down the hall dressed like that.  He had standards after all.

After quickly dressing and brushing he returned to the door. There would be standing guard, he’d have to deal with that once the door was open.  He could only hope that Queen Caliee had kept her plans for him a secret from the keep.  It didn’t make sense for her to share her plans with more than one or two trusted attendants and advisors, ones that sided with her and agreed that Mistress Maybelle should be forced to stay. Otherwise she might have a revolt on her hands.

The lock clicked and the bolt slid free of the frame.  Mike opened the door a few inches and spied the guard standing at attention.  Cane in hand, he opened the door the rest of the way.

“Hello there,” he greeted her in his most cordial voice.

She spun toward him, utterly confused. “How did you-“

Before she could finish he poked her with the end of his cane and released a bolt of magic sending her boneless to the floor. He checked the corridor for any witnesses, there were none. He hoisted her up and hauled her into the room and into the bed and then positioned her so that should anyone look in the door they would assume it was him.

Back in the corridor he wound his way towards Mistress Maybelle’s workshop. Along the way he passed several of the women he had met during the interview process.  Some gave him gentle shy smiles as if by some miracle he would change his mind and want to get to know them better.  Others he had rejected glared at him with open hostility.

Another guard stood rigid at the door of the workshop.  Her eyes widened when she saw Mike and she grabbed her spear. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. Obviously she was in on the Queen’s plan.

Mike didn’t stop or slow as he approached, his cane stretched out in front of him like an anemic battering ram.

“Stop, I mean it!” She held her spear at the ready and seemed terrified to use it.

Mike released a burst of magic at her and her eyes rolled back as she crumpled to the floor. He caught her as she fell.  “I’m sorry, none of this was supposed to happen.”

He was relieved to find the workshop door unlocked.  He dragged the unconscious guard inside and closed the door. When he turned he was greeted by the shocked expressions of nearly a dozen tinkers working in the shop.

Maybelle recovered first and stood from her stool, dropping her pliers onto the workbench. “What is the meaning of this?”

He placed the guard down against the wall and away from the door being careful not to knock her head against the hard floor. He then turned the giant lever that locked the door.

One of the workshop tinkers came forward with a hand to her mouth. “Is she hurt?”

“No, just sleeping. She’ll be fine in a few hours.”

Maybelle grabbed Mike by the shoulder and spun him so they were facing each other, her eyes wide with terror. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m fine, I swear it. It’s the Queen. She doesn’t want you to leave.  She’s threatened to put me in a cell for the rest of my days should I try to take you from here.”

“What?” She released her hold on him dropping her arm to her side. “That’s impossible.”

Mike sank onto one of the nearby stools and ran a hand through his hair. “She says that the safety of this keep depends on you, that you are the next in line to the throne.”

Maybelle gestured to the others to give them some space. “I suppose she didn’t bother to mention that there are six of us in line, six cousins that can all take the throne if needs be.”

“No, she wanted me to pretend that I was not longer interested in you and to take another girl and leave. I couldn’t do it. It’s wrong.”

Maybelle settled into the stool next to Mike and laced her hand into his. “I’ve been worried something like this might happen.  When the curse hit and Caliee was forced to take the throne it was a dark time for everyone, but for her especially.  The king died leaving her alone to protect the keep, she wasn’t ready.  The stress of it changed her, made her harder, more cunning. The last few years have shown us that if she is determined for something to happen she wouldn’t stop until it was done.”

Mike squeezed her hand. “Escape with me. The keep is in good hands. You have trained your fellow engineers well.  I’m sure that they can do whatever is necessary.”

“You don’t understand. She’ll come after us. She’s decided that I must stay here, she won’t stop until she has guaranteed that I will.”

“Don’t you want to leave?”

“Of course I want to leave.  I’ve wanted to leave ever since the curse took all that I loved from me. I want to start over somewhere new.”

“Come with me. Right now.  They won’t have had time to prepare yet, we might make it. You know this place better than any tinker alive.  Surely there is a secret exit, a way that we can slip out unnoticed?”

“This is my home and my family.  I can’t abandon them.”

“But you aren’t living. Every day you are tortured by your past. You deserve a life where you can be happy.”

Maybelle released a pent up breath. “I know.”

“Come with me.”

“I’m scared.”

Mike cupped her cheek, turning her face toward him once more. “I will never leave you.”

“Never?”

“I promise.”

She squeezed his hand back and smiled.  “There is a tunnel under the east wing leading to an abandoned irrigation system.  We could be away from here within the hour.”

Just then loud voices erupted in the hallway along with sounds of someone trying to force the door.

Maybelle stood from her stool. “She knows you’re here.”

“How is that possible?”

“Never underestimate Caliee.” She pulled his hand. “Follow me, we might still make it.”

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To be continued…

To read the next episode, click here!

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 18

In the previous episode it was decided that all women of Willow keep must have a chance to meet Mike so that everyone would have a fair chance. Now he is stuck playing the Tinker version of “The Bachelor” and Mike doesn’t like it one bit.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start from the beginning, click here!

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The meetings ran through the morning, ten eligible women would be led into the room and he would have ten minutes to talk to them.  They looked as if they had spent hours perfecting their hair in elaborate braids and curls. The effect made Mike think of ropes and gears.  One woman even went as far to fashion her hair until it resembled a strange tree growing from the top of her head.

None of it impressed him, however.  In fact, it seemed that the women who tried the hardest to look their best, had the most elaborate clothing and hair, where the ones who annoyed him the most. If anything they made him think that they were trying to hide things from him.

After a dutiful knock on the door, the current gathering of women stood and left while yet another bustled in. Mike folded a yawn into his elbow, being careful not to offend this new batch of hopefuls. Only three of them placed plates of food before him this time, to his relief. He had sampled so much food over the course of the morning; tarts, breads, nut candies, and more, that he couldn’t bear the thought of eating another bite. He did anyway.

“Please Mike, we want to know more about you, tell us about yourself,” said a younger she tinker who was sitting so far on the edge of her seat that Mike imagined her slipping off. The thought made him smile. She wore her white blond hair in a wave over one shoulder woven with hundreds of tiny glittery beads.

A chorus of agreement spouted from the other women, each trying desperately to seem the perfect and ideal match. He recited the same information that he had shared seventeen times already, embellishing the details a touch here and there to keep things interesting. They all responded with eager nods and demure giggles, and although they were all interesting they were not her.

He had hoped that he would find Mistress Maybelle among all the different faces, after spending so long admiring her intricate craftsmanship he felt he knew her already.  They shared the same intense fascination with creating and crafting ingenious devices. And yet group after group came and went and she did not come.

After the last group came and went Mike’s head was a sea of faces and names. Only a handful interested him enough to learn more about. He jotted those names on a list, not trusting himself to remember. As he stood to leave Queen Caliee entered, shutting the door behind her.

“Well, Mike Finnegan, what have you to say for yourself?” she asked as she settled into one of the seats facing his.

Mike bowed and then sat back down. “You are blessed with an amazing amount of talent here, I’m flattered that these impressive women would want anything to do with me.”

“Enough with the humility Mike, tell me the truth. What do you think?”

“It’s hard to get an honest impression of anyone when they are trying so hard to stand out. I had no idea that hair could do all that.”

Queen Caliee smiled and adjusted her dress. “There has to be one or two that caught your interest.”

Mike handed her his list.

“Only eight out of everyone, interesting.” After glancing over the names with a nod she folded the paper and slipped it into a hidden pocket. “I will personally tell these women of your interest and arrange more personal meetings for you. Until then you are free to explore. Is there anything else you need?”

This was Mikes chance, and he wasn’t going to waste it. “Yes, I’ve wanted to talk to someone in engineering, I have some questions that I hope they can answer.”

“Of course, Sali here will lead you there.” She motioned to one of the women standing outside the door who blushed and curtsied. He recognized her from one of the earlier groups even though she had changed back into uniform and wore a simple braid down her back.

She led the way without speaking, although she kept sneaking sidelong glances that made him think she wanted to ask how the morning went and more specifically, if he had chosen her. The silence hung heavy between them although wherever they went a trail of whispers followed from those they passed along the way.

The door leading to the engineering shop rose higher than the other doors and was a complex array of gears and wheels more complicated and beautiful than the others, had Mike been on his own he would have stopped to admire it. Sali turned the central knob and gave the door a gentle push. The gears spun to life and the door swung forward opening into a room that Mike could only dream of.   Mistress Maybelle perched on a tall stool in front of a workbench with a magnifying glass in hand.

Mike cleared his throat.

Maybelle didn’t look up. “I thought I made it clear that there are to be no visitors here, only my staff.”

“Even if it’s a special visitor?” Mike asked, fumbling for the right words.

She looked up and studied him as she would an interesting cog or spring before turning back to the table. “Weren’t the other hundreds of women enough for you?”

“It’s not that.” He shuffled his feet, unsure how to continue. “I am impressed by your work, I was hoping to talk to you about it.”

“Is that so? Well then, you’d better have a seat and promise not to touch anything.  I’ll be with you in a moment. Sali, you may go now.”

 

The other woman muttered a thank you and left, leaving the two of them alone.

“This is a remarkable place you have here.”

“Don’t talk to me, I’m busy.” She said without turning her head.

“Sorry.” Mike whispered. He had hoped to have a much more welcoming reception, but as it is with anything he was willing to do whatever was needed to get to know Maybelle better.

To be continued…

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To read the next episode, click here!

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 17

In the previous episode we learned that a vile curse had caused all the other he tinkers to turn violent against their own kind, forcing the she tinkers to kill them in order to protect themselves.  Mike, having shown no sign of being affected by the curse, has been invited to dine with the Queen of the Keep.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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The tunnel-like passageway bent and twisted its way through the roots of the great willow tree as Mike followed Izsel. As they turned a corner the tunnel opened into a spacious room.  Blue, white, and green tinted light streamed in through two lines of bottle glass windows that ran along both sides of the room. Four long tables laden with platters of food stretched across the room, each seating at least thirty she tinkers who were all laughing and talking, filling the room with sound.

A ample bosomed tinker with a thick brown braid shrieked in surprise when she saw him, causing the whole room to turn and fall silent.  Every eye in the room watched as he stepped forward, some with fear, some with anger, and a few with eager curiosity.  At the end of the room was a shorter table set on a raised platform.  In the center sat the queen wearing a deep green dress and a simple crown that she hadn’t been wearing when they first met outside the tree. Three women sat at the table alongside her, including Nessa who had come to his room earlier, leaving two empty chairs.  Mike’s stomach sank when he realized that they were for himself and Izsel.

Mike crossed the room to take his seat and a wave of whispers followed behind him.

Queen Caliee rapped a small gavel, bringing the room back to silence. “Ladies, as you have all noticed we have a guest here tonight.  This is Mike Finnegan a fellow tinker. Mistress Nessa has determined that he is safe from the curse and therefore free to go about his business while here at Willow keep.” A volcano of excited voices erupted at the news, filling the room. A tinker wearing orange with hair that reminded Mike of copper pennies openly stared at him with a wistful smile.  It had obviously been too long since any of them had seen a man. Then again, it had been a very long time since he had seen a women of his kind either.

The queen turned her attention to Mike. “I suppose some introductions are in order, you’ve already met Mistress Izsel, commander of our soldiers, and Mistress Nessa, head of our order of healers.  Also, here is Mistress Maybelle, our head engineer, and there at the end of the table Mistress Annette, our head historian.” They each nodded in turn as they were introduced.  “I never did ask you what your business was in coming here, forgive me.  Precautions had to be taken first, you must understand.”

“No apology necessary, I’ll admit I was a bit angry about being stuck in that room. But now I know why I can see the wisdom in it.” He spooned a pile of roasted beets on his plate, inhaling the heavenly aroma. “Besides with food like this no tinker can stay mad for long.”

“So, why are you here?”

Mike felt strangely self-conscious blurting out that he was looking for a woman, especially now he was surrounded by so many. He knew he would have to answer her question, it would be rude not to. He took a bite from his plate and chewed it with care to buy himself more time. “Delicious. I could die happy right now.” Judging by the queen’s gaze, and the impatient looks from the other four ladies at the table he decided he better just answer the question. “Oh, yes, why I’m here. You see, I’ve been a house tinker for several decades on my own and lately I’ve thought how nice it would be to have someone else there with me.”

“Are you trying to say you’ve come looking for a woman to court?”

“Well…” He scooped up another bite, and immediately thought better of it. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. You see when I left my comfy home I didn’t know how much everything had changed here in the park,  I had hoped to find a few she tinkers in the gardens tending the flowers with their cozy tinker homes like it used to be.  I never imagined finding all the she tinkers hiding away inside a fortress. You can’t imagine what I had to go through to find you.”

Izsel took a sip from her cup and cleared her throat. “When you have enemies like we do, being well hidden is the best first defense.  I’m surprised you found us at all. This park is a dangerous place.”

Maybelle, a sensible looking tinker with thin pencil tucked behind her ear, leaned forward. “Now that you’ve found us, how to you intend on going about deciding which woman you will court?”

“I’m not sure.  I’d hate to hurt any feelings. I suppose I’ll have to spend time getting to know everyone.”

The historian at the end of the table set down her fork and adjusted her glasses. “Since there is only one of you and many of us it might be wise to come up with some sort of plan to make it fair for everyone, perhaps a series of tasks that the ladies who are interested in being courted can complete and Mike can judge.”

The queen gave a nearly imperceptible sigh and Mike thought he caught her rolling her eyes. “Do you mean to turn this into a contest? Don’t be absurd.”

“Do you remember the story of Cassandra and her twelve suitors, and how her actions ended up dividing a whole kingdom against itself?  If that could cause years of feuding and war, who’s to say what might happen here?” She tapped her fork against the plate as she spoke, emphasizing key words.

“I agree that whatever we do must be fair, although I don’t think we risk the division of Willow Keep over one man. What do you think Mike?” the queen asked.

“I’m just a humble house tinker looking for the right lady, she doesn’t have to be the best at anything, just the best fit for me. Everyone should have a chance who wants to. I’d hate to hurt feelings.”

“That settles it, starting tomorrow morning we will organize a series of meetings where you’ll have the chance to meet the ladies of the keep.  Should you find a few you’d like to get to know better we will arrange more personal visits.”

Mike glanced over to Maybelle who was busy sketching something between bites, and wondered if she had been the brain behind the intricate locking systems that he had seen. He hoped he would find a chance to talk to her about it and maybe even be allowed to see her workshop and tools.  “Will everyone be coming to these meetings?”

“Only those who are interested in being courted, naturally.” the queen answered.

“Of course.” Mike replied and secretly hoped that she would be there.

To be continued…

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Thank you for reading!