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Feb. 17th, 2014


Monday’s Muse

My calendar says it’s February. And not only is it February, but it’s more than halfway over.  Calling my calendar a liar and ranting and raving that it must still be January did no good. It’s still February and it’s still more than halfway over. Stupid calendar.

In truth it’s not my calendar’s fault—time doesn’t stand still for anyone else so I suppose I can’t expect it to stand still for me either. At least not until I finish that time machine I’m making out of empty water bottles. Yeah. Then time better watch out!

Okay, back to reality. Even though it’s almost over, I didn’t miss February’s wonderful offerings. There was Groundhog Day—which I spent watching the Super Bowl. It seemed Denver was so depressed at the thought of six more weeks of winter, they forgot they had a game to play. Really, with the way winter has been slamming some parts of the country, I can’t blame them.

A few days ago was Valentine’s Day. Hubby and I went out to dinner—after which I wasn’t feeling well. It wasn’t dinner’s fault. I’ve been fighting a bug for the last few weeks and it finally snuck up on me when my defenses were down. So I’ve been curled up in a ball fighting the illness ever since. I’m feeling a bit better today, but not well enough to go with hubby and the kids to visit family in Flagstaff. So they went to play and enjoy Presidents’ Day (which they don’t care about other than the fact that they get a day off from school). And I’m here. Out of bed, sitting at my computer, writing this blog post (which may or may not make sense depending on how much of a fever I have at the moment).

While feeling lousy isn’t fun, it did give me time to lay in bed and read. And, oh, did I read! I used my Kindle App on my iPad to read some of the books I’ve had on there for a while, and some I purchased during my illness. I read The Space Between and Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, Cress by Marissa Meyer, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Enders by Lissa Price, and Writing in a Nutshell  series by Jessica Bell. Then I got out Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott for another read-thru.

I enjoyed every one of the books I read. If I were feeling more up to it, I’d post reviews of every one of them. But I don’t feel up to it, so I won’t. But I did completely enjoy being transported out of my sick bed and into worlds of vampires (Coldtown), serial killers (Valentine), Purgatory (Space Between), Outer space and a plagued earth (Cress), body/mind snatchers (Enders), and writing advice (Nutshell). I recommend all of them.

And the reread of Bird by Bird was just what I needed to feel inspired and wanting to get back to writing. I haven’t wanted to write lately—and when I have, things have been to crazy busy to allow me the time. But the reminder in Bird by Bird to write at least 300 words a day seems more manageable. I can find time to write 300 words of something each day, no matter how crazy it gets. See, this blog post is more than 300 words and I’ve managed it!

There are many other muse worthy things in Bird by Bird but for today (because this blog post is wearing me out and I still want to see if I can get 300 words done in my WIP before I have to crawl back into bed), let me just post these inspirational words from the end of the book: “. . . if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

So let your words be your lighthouse, standing there, shining. Maybe they’ll save a boat someday. Maybe they won’t. But they’ll be there. Shining. Just in case.

Write on.

Jan. 11th, 2014


Stuff on Saturday

It’s the end of the first week back to school for the kids. It didn’t go so well, and I ended up having sick kids on Thursday and Friday. They’re doing a bit better today so hopefully they’ll be back in school on Monday.

I did sign up for Julie Hedlund’s 12x12. I first heard about it at my local SCBWI conference last October (Danielle Smith, Agent) mentioned it as a great resource for picture book writing. I checked it out when I got home, but by then the year was almost over and the sign-up was closed. The goal of 12x12 is to write one picture book draft manuscript each month in the year so it made sense that I couldn’t sign up in October. But it’s a new year and a new sign up (you have until the end of February to sign up if you’re interested). I’m hoping to get a lot of picture book knowledge to expand my horizons and improve my work—as well as some picture book drafts I can revise and continue to work on.

I think this is going to be a great year. Of course every year is a great year, but I have high hopes for this one—hopefully I’m not disappointed. Winking smile

How have things been for you so far in 2014? Any new adventures or plans for this year?

Write on.

Jan. 7th, 2014


Tuesday Times

Whew! The holidays are over which means the madness of making stick horses, beaded bookmarks, and fabric totes is over. It was crazy with all the crafting—not to mention the baking and shopping and wrapping presents. I love the holidays, but I’m also grateful when they end. Which reminds me, we need to take down the Christmas decorations today. Yeah—I can totally understand why some people leave their lights up all year round. It’s a pain to put them all up and then take them all back down again. Or maybe I just have too many decorations. Nah!

The kids are back in school (except for the one who stays home and does online school), and I’m finding time for my writing again. Yay!I don’t have as much time as I’d like, but I’m carving out some time each day (so far—the year just started, after all). It’s great to be able to immerse myself in my characters and worlds and be creative without sitting at the sewing machine or table where I construct my bookmarks.

And speaking of creative. I’ve come across some awesome software for writing. it’s New Novelist 3. I’m loving getting to know this program (very user friendly) and writing with it. It doesn’t really work for my picture book manuscripts, but it is called “novelist” for a reason. It works great for my novels!

I’ve revised a couple of old picture book manuscripts and am looking into signing up for 12x12 (by Julie Hedlund—info can be found here). I think it will be a tremendous help for my picture book writing (and basically my writing in general). I’ve also been writing on a MG manuscript that waited very impatiently through the holiday madness.

And then there’s my poor neglected blog. I hope to do better in 2014 with keeping things updated, but it’s become painfully obvious to me that I’m terrible at it—and twitter and other social media for that matter. It’s partly because I don’t have much time for social media—at least not if I want to be productive on the writing front. So, I’ll do my best and pop in here when I have something to say or a book to review (which I need to do soon since I’ve read a couple I want to review), but don’t hate me if my posts are infrequent or lame (like this one).

How was your holiday season? Are you glad to be back to “normal” now that it’s over?

Write on!

Oct. 28th, 2013


Monday’s Muse--Recent Reads Review style

I know it’s Monday and this really should be a Monday’s Muse post, but I just finished reading this book and feel compelled to take today to post my review. And, really, this read was so inspirational to me that it’s perfect for a Monday’s Muse post anyway.

As a reminder of my scoring system, I’m using emoticons. Here’s what they mean:

Open-mouthed smile--WOW—I loved this book and will talk/have talked about/shared it with others.

Smile--Not totally in love, but this was a great book and I may talk about/share it with others.

Thinking smile--This was okay. I enjoyed reading it, but it’s not my favorite.

Sad smile--This wasn’t for me. I stopped reading and couldn’t bring myself to finish.

Steaming mad--How did this get published?

If you happen to be the author of one of the books I review, please remember this is my honest opinion. Don’t hate me if I don’t give your book a great big happy grin. I am only one reader in the whole wide readership and I’m sure there are those who’ll love your work—it just wasn’t me.

On the menu for today:

BUTTER by Erin Jade Lange

RatingOpen-mouthed smile

I’ve been living in a dark cave or something, so I hadn’t heard about this book until I attended the SCBWI AZ conference earlier this month. I picked a break-out session at the conference where Erin Jade Lange and her agent, Jennifer Laughran, talked and answered questions.

When I heard the premise of BUTTER, my first reaction was something like, are you kidding me? Why on earth would someone want to read a book like that? Followed instantly by I wonder if he really does it. Hmm. Maybe I want to read it.

Lucky for me, there was a bookstore at the conference. I bought a copy—and finally found time to read it. Good thing I waited until I had “time” because I couldn’t put it down.

The Story—From the title, you’d think this was about food. And, in a way, it is. Butter is the story of an obese teen boy who decides to eat himself to death over a live internet feed. He sets a date of New Year’s Eve. He isn’t sure what he expects to happen—maybe sympathy, pity, insults. Instead, Butter gets morbid encouragement—and fame. His schoolmates are cheering him on.

Now he’s sitting at the popular table and going to parties. But the down side is that his new “friends” expect him to go through with the plan. However, now that Butter has what he thinks he’s been missing—a life—he isn’t so sure he wants to die anymore. He’s faced with a tough choice. Go through with the plan to eat himself to death, or give it up and lose his new popularity.

There’s also another side to this story—a romance. Butter likes a girl from school. And she likes him—well, the online persona he creates anyway. But will she be able to like the real him?

And who is the real Butter anyway?

My thoughts—First of all, for those who, like myself, don’t like the “F” word in their literature, be aware that BUTTER does have a few “F-bombs” in it.

Now that that’s out of the way, I have to say, I’m blown away by this book. Butter’s story is so compelling and so gut wrenching (yes, I cried—okay, bawled) that I had to give it a big fat smiley face.

Every teen should read this book. Every parent should read this book. Every grandparent. Every teacher. Every. One.

Erin Jade Lange took the topics of cyber-bullying, bullying in general, and teen suicide and poured them into a character and story so achingly real that I found myself wanting to call the authorities to save him. I’m telling you, this book is one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever read. It resonated so deeply with the teen inside me that I’m going to be thinking about it and talking about it for a long, long time.


Read on.

Oct. 14th, 2013


Monday’s Muse

I had an amazing weekend. One full of inspiration and awesomeness! And it’s all because I was able to attend the annual SCBWIAZ Welcome to Our House Conference.

The faculty was amazing! I threw out a few highlights on Twitter, but really, there was so much to absorb, that I’m still pouring through my notes (and wishing I could have recorded it because I just know I couldn’t write fast enough to capture it all).

Still, what notes I did manage to scrawl are full of amazing insights. Now I’m ready to pour myself into writing. Unfortunately, I still have other obligations. Like my eighth and fifth graders who are doing online school and are home all day needing my assistance. And then my sixth grader who comes home and needs help with her homework. And dinner and washing clothes and all that other “mom” stuff that needs doing. *sigh*

But, I’ve made a plan. Starting tomorrow (when they all have school again), my two at home are getting up at about 9:00 and we are going to get through school by noon (let me dream, people—let me dream). Then I’ll have about two hours to write before I have to go pick up my sixth grader from school and get started on her homework (I’ll find some time to eat something in those two hours—I hope). And on those miraculous days when sixth grader doesn’t have homework, I’ll be able to have more writing time before dinner. As for the cleaning stuff, the rest of the family is just going to have to pitch in more. Winking smile

This is my plan. It probably won’t work, but my main point is that I’m going to find ways to adjust things so that I do have more writing time. Because I haven’t been writing every day or even once a week—sometimes two weeks go by—and I need to get back into it. I miss it (and I’d like to pretend that it misses me).

On a totally unrelated topic, I’ve been using an app called My Fitness Pal to log my daily calories. It’s been eye opening! I’ve been watching how much I eat and have started exercising (because when I exercise, I burn calories and can eat more LOL). And just by doing this—and eating less of what I normally eat—I’ve lost 8 1/2 pounds over the last couple of months!

So, what has inspired you lately?

Write on!

Aug. 18th, 2013

Picture of me

A Very Gloom-y Giveaway

I had planned to start this giveaway on Monday, but then the whole gearing up for WriteOnCon thing happened. The conference was amazing, by the way, and, if you are a writer of children’s literature, be sure to check it out (you can still read the posts and watch the videos even if it’s not “live”). And then when I tried to post this in Thursday, I wasn’t able to access LJ.

Okay, excuses made. Time to move on to the giveaway (cause that’s why you’re here, right?)!

If you read my review of book three, you know I love the Gustav Gloom series by Adam Troy-Castro. This MG series is amazing. Just the right amount of spooky for young readers (and not so young ones, too). And the quirky voice and characters have won my heart.

Because I love this series so much, I want to share the love! Thus the giveaway.

I’m giving one lucky winner the first three books in this series (because there are only three out at the moment):

Gustav Gloom and the People Taker

Product Details

Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault

Product Details

Gustav Gloom and the Four Terrors

Product Details

The pictures don’t do justice to the awesome covers. There’s a little “window” cutout on each one that hides the inside picture. Here’s a pic of the third book’s cover that I took with my iPhone (I didn’t take pictures of the others—well, you can see a tiny glimpse of book two peeking from under book three):


Cool, hu?

In addition to the three books, I’ll also load some other surprise spooky prizes into the box before I ship it out.

What do you have to do to enter the giveaway?

Leave a blog comment letting me know what spooks you. And then check the box on the Rafflecopter form saying that you commented (you’ll have to click the link and it will take you to the site because I couldn’t get it to post correctly here). That’s it!

Of course, if you want extra entries (they’ll open up on the form after you’ve completed the comment requirement), there are other things you can do; such as be a follower of my blog,  follow me on twitter (@justJoanS), share links to the giveaway. But those are optional. So click on the link and get to entering!!

Book Love on!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Aug. 8th, 2013


Gustav Gloom and The Four Terrors—Recent Reads Review

It’s time for another book review (hopefully I’ll start posting these more frequently)!

As a reminder of my new scoring system, I’m using emoticons. Here’s what they mean:

Open-mouthed smile--WOW—I loved this book and will talk/have talked about/shared it with others.

Smile--Not totally in love, but this was a great book and I may talk about/share it with others.

Thinking smile--This was okay. I enjoyed reading it, but it’s not my favorite.

Sad smile--This wasn’t for me. I stopped reading and couldn’t bring myself to finish.

Steaming mad--How did this get published?

If you happen to be the author of one of the books I review, please remember this is my honest opinion. Don’t hate me if I don’t give your book a great big happy grin. I am only one reader in the whole wide readership and I’m sure there are those who’ll love your work—it just wasn’t me.

Gustav Gloom and The Four Terrors by Adam Troy-Castro and Illustrated by Kristen Margiotta

RatingOpen-mouthed smile 

I first learned about this series when I went to a writing conference last year and attended a session where the lovely editor, Jordan Hamessley,  spoke about it during her presentation. I went to the bookstore immediately after the session and picked up a copy of Gustav Gloom and the People Taker (book one). And I was hooked! There aren’t enough words to describe how much I love this series! It’s spooky and quirky and incredibly amusing in places. The voice sucks me right in and keeps me reading—well, the voice is helped by the masterful way the author ramps up the tension.

The Story—After having been through two incredible adventures with her half shadow best friend, Gustav Gloom, Fernie What is forbidden to enter Gloom Mansion. In fact, if her safety obsessed father has his way, they’ll be moving. But before they can go, Gustav Gloom asks Mr. What for a favor—nothing dangerous, he promises. He just needs help rescuing his father from the Dark Country.

There’s a certain shadow inside Gloom Mansion who has information that will help Gustav rescue his father, but the shadow will only talk to Fernie. Reluctant to allow his daughter to enter a house he considers extremely dangerous, but feeling sorry for Gustav, Mr. What strikes a bargain. He will allow Fernie to enter the house as long as he comes with her and as long as they can turn back if Mr. What decides it’s too dangerous.

Gustav agrees and the family enters the mansion (Fernie’s sister insists on coming, too). On their way to speak with the shadow, things go horribly wrong. Fernie’s father and sister are captured by escaped convict shadows—known as the Four Terrors (and “terrors” is putting it mildly). It’s up to Fernie and Gustav to rescue the captives—but they soon discover the Four Terrors aren’t working alone. And the “boss” is a formidable opponent they may not be able to defeat.

The combination of Adam Troy-Castro’s words and Kristen Margiotta’s illustrations guide the reader on another amazing adventure through the Gloom Mansion. I can’t wait for the next book!!

And because I love this series so much, I want to share the love. I’ll be posting a giveaway on Monday in which one lucky entrant will receive the first three books in this series. That way, they can join the rest of us who are anxiously waiting for the next book!

Read on!!

Jul. 15th, 2013


Monday’s Muse (sort of)

Writing is like . . . Yeah.

I’ve written previous posts in which I’ve compared writing to anything from gardening, to an amusement part, to a road (with agents as a GPS). While those posts still apply, lately I’ve come to think of the whole writing process as something more like the Winchester Mystery House.

For those of you who aren’t aware of this phenomenon (okay, maybe it’s more of an oddity), here’s a brief summary (from what I remember off the top of my head—so if I’m inaccurate forgive me). After the death of her husband (who invented and produced the Winchester rifle) and young daughter, Mrs. Winchester is reported to have visited a medium who told her that the deaths of her family were due to the ghosts of those who were killed by the Winchester rifle. In order to keep the ghosts at bay, she needed to build a house—and not stop building it. So she did. If I remember correctly, she built onto the home for about 40 years (constant construction that went on 24/7). She would draw up plans and the builders would construct it no matter how strange the request. And some of them were strange, for sure.

There are doors and stairs that lead nowhere—supposedly to confuse the spirits and make them become lost so they wouldn’t find Mrs. Winchester. Anyway, you can look up more about the house if you’re interested, and I included a link to their website above.

So, how is writing like this crazy house? Let’s face it, we are very much like Mrs. Winchester. Of course, we may not be writing to keep the ghosts at bay (or maybe we are), but—much like her daily building that only ended upon her death—we too continue on in our writing. Day in and day out we keep working. Perhaps we’re a little crazy (some believe Mrs. Winchester was).

And like some of the staircases and doors in the house that lead to nowhere, sometimes the things we write don’t take us anywhere. We get rejections, but we construct a blueprint for a new work and get right back at it. We keep trying and building and learning and growing in our craft. Mrs. Winchester wanted to achieve success in keeping the ghosts away—and we want to achieve success in being published.

And like the crazy maze of rooms in the Winchester house, getting to our goal can be a crazy maze too. As I said, we usually have many false doorways and stairs that lead nowhere in our pile of manuscripts, but each one serves a purpose. Each new door and stairway and room kept the ghosts away from Mrs. Winchester, and our writing keeps us moving forward. We learn more and more with each thing we write.

So, writing is like the Winchester Mystery House. We’re never done doing it (at least not if we’re truly invested in our goal). Mrs. Winchester achieved her goal of keeping the ghosts away, and we, too, can achieve our goal of publication.

We just have to keep building.

Write on!

Jul. 12th, 2013


Hello . . . hello . . . hello

Wow. Did you hear that echo?

Yeah. Things have been awfully empty and deserted in my blogosphere. I am still here even though I haven’t been “here” posting on the blog (poor neglected thing).

I’ve spent the summer in frustration and confusion and a bit of depression. I totally expected to have a new novel finished before the kids go back to school (which will be on the 29th of this month)—and—well—I don’t. Not even close. I’ve started and stopped several, but haven’t even made it to the midpoint on any of them.

I HAVE been writing and completed two picture book manuscripts so at least that’s something (right?). But the rest of my summer has been spent studying my craft. I’ve attended a couple of webinars, purchased many books about writing (probably too many), and have been reading blogs and books in my chosen genres and learning—and trying to figure out where I’m going wrong in my process. Because the rejections I keep getting tell me that something is obviously broken.

I even had a couple of industry professional critiques—which had helpful feedback, but not enough to get me that “yes” I want. So where am I going wrong? Yeah. I wish I knew. Even with all my studying and learning and trying to figure it out, I don’t have an answer.

I did learn quite a bit about plotting and structuring  and characterization (some amazing revelations occurred), but I haven’t been able to move forward. And it’s not for lack of motivation. I’m definitely motivated.

I have an unopened package of Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates (my favorite treat) just waiting for me. And all I have to do to open the package is reach the midpoint of a novel project. That’s it!

I want to open that package and enjoy a bite of chocolate heaven, believe me!

And yet, I can’t seem to reach the goal.

It’s not the fault of the stories I’ve tried writing—the concepts are good, the characters are good, the structure and plot and everything is all planned out (turning points etc.) and it is good—but me? I’m not so good.

And I don’t know why. If I knew what it was that’s holding me back, I could figure out a way to annihilate it and move on.

Have any of you ever gone through this? What is it? And how do I get myself out of it?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Write on (if you can)!

Jun. 7th, 2013

Picture of me

Writing Advice from Doctor Who

Please forgive my absence here on the blog. I’ve still been having problems with my foot (went for more x-rays today). During my recuperation, I’ve been travelling with the Doctor. My eyes have been opened to the wonders of the universe and beyond. I’d like to pretend I actually stepped foot inside the Tardis, alas, it isn’t so. Nay, my journey was only taken thanks to DVD and Netflix. Still, I learned much from the Doctor and have returned to share the writing knowledge.

The Doctor: “What's wrong with being childish? I like being childish.”

What it means to writers: If we are writing for children, we need to access the child within.

The Doctor: “That was a nice nap, now down to business.”

What it means to writers: Sometimes we need to take a break—and it’s okay. We’ll come back better able to do what needs to be done.

The Doctor: “The best way to find out where you are from is find out where you are going and work backwards.”

What it means to writers: Know your ending. Even if you don’t have everything planned out, it’s helpful to know where you want the story to go. Once you know your ending, you can work backward to make sure you have the character development and story arc you need.

The Doctor: “First things first, but not necessarily in that order.”

What it means to writers: It doesn’t matter what writing method you use—as long as it works for you. You can write scenes out of order if you want.

The Doctor: “. . . The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Hey. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

What it means to writers: Make sure your characters have a balance of good and bad things in their lives. It helps make them more real.

The Doctor: “You can't rule the world in hiding. You've got to come out on the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle.”

What it means to writers: You’re going to have to promote your work—no matter how shy/introverted you are.

The Doctor: “Oh, marvelous. You're going to kill me. What a finely-tuned response to the situation.”

What it means to writers: Make sure our characters act and speak in believable ways. They need to respond to other characters actions and words appropriately.

The Doctor: “I always like to do the unexpected, it takes people by surprise.”

What it means to writers: Don't be cliché.

The Doctor: “I think you'll find, Sir, that I'm qualified to deal with practically everything, if I choose.”

What it means to writers: Write what you know—and know that you can write about anything you want to—just make sure you research the things you may not be as familiar with/knowledgeable about.

The Doctor: “I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not.”

What it means to writers: Be you. Don't try to be like writer X. Some people will like your work, some people won’t, but be happy with what you’ve done!

The Doctor: “I was trying to help. Surely even a blockhead like you can see that!”

What it means to writers: Don’t be close minded when it comes to critiques. The critique is meant to help—but you have to let it.

The Doctor: “Don't worry. I always leave things until the last moment.”

What it means to writers: We aren’t The Doctor. We don’t have a Tardis. We can’t go back in time. Therefore, leaving things to the last minute when we have a deadline isn’t a good idea.

The Doctor: “No, there's something else going on here. I was taken out of time for another reason and I have every intention of finding out what it is!”

What it means to writers: Explore new plot ideas. Don’t sell your characters and story short by going with the first thing that comes to mind. You may find the first thing ends up being the best thing, but at least explore other possibilities.

The Doctor: “Well, look at me. I'm old, lacking in vigor, my mind's in turmoil. I no longer know if I'm coming, have gone, or even been. I'm falling to pieces. I no longer even have any clothes sense... Self-pity is all I have left.”

What it means to writers: This is how some writers may feel after plugging along in the business for an extended period of time. We aren’t alone. But don’t stay in the self-pitying phase too long.

The Doctor: “A little gratitude wouldn't irretrievably damage my ego.”

What it means to writers: Form rejections and no responses hurt. But they’re part of the business so we have to accept them and move on.

The Doctor: “Planets come and go. Stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, forms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal.”

What it means to writers: Whatever misery we are in, whatever struggles we may be going through, all we need is a little perspective—it won’t last forever.

The Doctor: “Anybody remotely interesting is mad, in some way or another.”

What it means to writers: Embrace your inner madness—let the creativity flow.

The Doctor: “We're all basically primeval slime with ideas above its station.”

What it means to writers: We are all in this together.

The Doctor: “A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.”

What it means to writers: Make sure your plotting has twists and turns. Following the beginning straight through to the end makes a boring read.

The Doctor: “No. Impossible. I'm fully booked for the next two centuries.”

What it means to writers: It's okay to say no when people ask you to do something that takes you away from your writing time.

The Master: “I don't know, rocket fire at long range - somehow it lacks that personal touch.”

What it means to writers: Give our work the personal touch. Even if you’re writing fiction, there should be a part of you in your story somewhere. If there isn’t, you’re creating distance for your readers (the long range rocket fire). While this can still be a good story, making it up close and personal makes for a better reading experience.

Even though that final quote wasn’t from The Doctor himself, it’s still good advice. These quotes and more can be found here and here.

Write on!

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