The Boys Are Back in Town

Hello, Thursday. We are under a flash flood watch–yay, and the river is high! Good times–and this week has kind of gone to waste. I’m struggling with a chapter–it just reads so terribly, and I’ve only managed about 700 words all week–and I just haven’t been able to face it.

Partly because…partly because it’s about a teenager from Chicago who goes to the rural south for the summer to stay with his grandmother, who is dying, and stumbles into some troubled family history and some current local trouble as well. It’s a story I really want to tell, but I am having trouble with the elements of the story on some levels, and then I fall into that wretched state of doubt, in which I hate my WIP and everything about it and question whether I am actually a writer or not.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

My friend Victoria for years has pointed out to me that this usually happens to me at around Chapter Seven or so on a manuscript; I suppose the fact that it didn’t happen until Chapter Fourteen is progress of a sort.

The great irony is that I was doubting–and have been doubting–myself over the concept of sending a gay kid to the rural South; someplace deep and remote away from the urban landscapes he’s used to, and going back and forth on the homophobia; oh, maybe it’s not as bad as I am trying to make it look, things have changed, times have changed, the Internet and cable television have changed things, so it can’t still be as bad as it was and I am writing about a world that doesn’t really exist in this form anymore.

And then I see the news report about the small town Alabama mayor who thinks all queer people should be killed to solve the issue of culture wars.

The small town Alabama mayor whose small town is where the off-ramp from the highway is that we used to take to go visit the family.

Which was another forty miles deep into the country and in the hills of northwest Alabama.

And I realize I’m not making the area backward enough.

Heavy sigh.

I finished watching Chernobyl last night, and while I do recommend it as incredible television, well written, superbly acted, and with the highest production values imaginable, it is not an easy watch, nor is it something you want to go into watching when you’re already depressed because you may not ever come out of it. This horrific nuclear disaster–which created an unlivable area now in present-day Ukraine and Belorus (uninhabitable for twenty thousand years)–was even worse than I remember hearing about when it happened; I remember the news coverage and the concerns that the Soviet Union–never quite a bastion of honesty–was lying about how bad it was and the extent of the disaster. Watching Chernobyl, it’s terrifying to realize how much worse it could have been, and how hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people sacrificed themselves to save others. It’s also interesting to watch from the perspective of seeing what it was like to live under the authoritarian Communist rule, and how the higher-ups, the people who ran the country, were all about image and protecting their reputations and that of the state than the every day citizens, whom were called up fairly regularly to throw away their lives on the altar of the State and its glory and never taken into consideration as actual people, with lives and dreams and hopes and families. The firefighters, who were called out to do their jobs and put out the fire at the plant and had no idea what they were getting into and were never told is heartbreaking; the perspective of one, and his pregnant wife, is a story that will haunt me for quite some time.

Now I can get back to Good Omens.

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Getaway

Friday morning, and I survived not only going out to Metairie yesterday for my eye exam, but driving back into New Orleans from Metairie during rush hour. It wasn’t that bad, actually, but if I had to do that every day–well, let’s just say there would be a body count and leave it there, shall we?

Yesterday I also managed to finish Chapter Thirteen; only got slightly over 900 words done, but it’s hard for me to start a new chapter when I know I’m not going to finish it in one sitting, you know? That’s how I  generally like to mark my daily progress; a chapter a day, and it unsettles me when I leave a chapter unfinished overnight. I think so far this has been about a 7000 word week (maybe more, I don’t remember when I wrote Chapter 11; but if it was this week I passed the 10k mark. Huzzah!); and today when I leave the office I am going to get the mail and stop to make groceries–just a few things–before heading home to clean and hopefully get some writing done. I’d also like to get some more reading done; I am enjoying Black Diamond Fall so am hoping to have some more time to read it this weekend.

And whoa, boy, is this season of Killing Eve amazing! Seriously, binge it, people.

Well, here it is five o’clock this afternoon and I never finished this entry this morning before work, did I? I actually even forgot I was writing it until I just now saw the tab open. Not sure what that says about either my attention span or my short term memory, but there you have it.

The weather has turned hot here in New Orleans, so much so that I am seriously considering getting my car windows tinted. Is it just me, or has the sun gotten brighter and hotter; or am I simply more sensitive to it now that I am older? These and other questions plague me constantly these days. The air is also humid, so heavy you can almost feel yourself moving through it. The river is also really high, and there’s still more flooding up the river basin that has to make its way down here. As we enter hurricane season, these things are always in the back of my head.

But I got the mail and made groceries on my way home, and I’ve been doing the bed linens and cleaning odds and ends while my mind roams and wanders. I need a nice day of cleaning to clear my head of noise and refocus on the WIP. Chapter Thirteen ended with a lovely twist, but now I have to figure out how to deal with the fall out from that twist; a way that makes sense for my characters without coming off as either preachy or contrived or unearned or melodramatic–it’s a very fine line.

But I am glad I came across this; so that I can finish and post.

Back to the spice mines for me, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

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Show Me the Way

Saturday morning and I slept in, as I always seem to do on Saturday mornings. But really, things have truly come to a sorry pass when getting out of bed at nine is considered sleeping in. But that’s when I got up and I feel good and rested this morning, which bodes well for the things I’d like to get done today.

I spent yesterday afternoon getting caught up on laundry (there’s a load going in the dryer now), and doing a surface clean of the apartment. After Paul got home last evening we finished watching Dead to Me, which is really fantastic–if Christina Applegate doesn’t at LEAST get an Emmy nomination, it’s a travesty. The show is fantastically written, has two amazingly great roles for the two lead actresses (Linda Cardellini, of Freaks and Geeks/Mad Men fame, is the secondary female lead and is heartbreakingly terrific as well; I’d be hard pressed as an Emmy voter to chose one over the other), and the writing is also award-worthy; the premise is in and of itself exceptional, thematically exploring the grief of two women who’ve suffered recent great losses; but it is ever so much more than that. It’s smart, angry, funny, and oh-so-twisted, oh-so-clever. Bravo to Netflix; this is up there with Ozark for dark comedy with a crime twist. I cannot recommend Dead to Me highly enough, Constant Reader.

I also, before Paul came home, rather than falling into a Youtube vortex of LSU or Saints highlights or Game of Thrones fan theory videos or whatever might strike my fancy at the moment (music videos or Dynasty clips or whatever), switched on Starz and started watching The Spanish Princess, which is the latest Starz mini-series based on a Philippa Gregory book. We’d watched and liked The White Queen, but gave up on The White Princess relatively quickly. I’ve not read Gregory, and I’ve seen all sorts of mockery of her on-line as to her changing history to fit the needs of her narrative, but that isn’t why I’ve not read her work; I’m just not that interested in fictional biographies of royalty anymore, certainly not the way I was as a teenager. As a teenager I would have read everything Gregory wrote, anxiously awaiting the next. But I’ve read Jean Plaidy and Norah Lofts, and of course others like Maurice Druon and Thomas B. Costain, so Gregory’s work has never held much appeal for me; I am more apt to read an actual biography now rather than fictionalized versions (although I do want to read Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books). The Spanish Princess is, of course, about Catherine of Aragon, who has gotten mostly favorable press throughout history as Henry VIII’s poor, abandoned first wife; I’ve always viewed that with an arched eyebrow, primarily because she had a great PR machine in the Spanish ambassador, Chapuys, and of course she had the entire PR machine of the Hapsburg empire behind her as well–whereas Anne Boleyn, her replacement and the cause of her misery, soon enough had Henry’s PR machine blackening her name. At least this production had the wisdom and sense to ignore modern sensibilities; this is the first time I’ve ever seen Catherine portrayed on film (since the 1970s BBC The Six Wives of Henry VIII) to have the actual coloring she had in real life; she is usually shown as dark when she was actually fair; like her husband, she had reddish-gold hair; and she also had Plantagenet blood as a descendant of Edward III–her grandmother was Blanche of Lancaster, a daughter of John of Gaunt, and as such had her own legitimate but unrecognized claim to the English crown herself (since no illegitimacy was involved, she actually had a better claim than her own husband–his claim was based on his grandmother’s descent from John of Gaunt, but she was descended from his liaison with long-time mistress Katherine Swynford–whom he later married and legitimized their offspring–but Catherine’s descent was not marred by the bar sinister).

However, they did depict Catherine’s mother, Isabella, as being dark–which she wasn’t, either. Isabella of Castile was blonde and blue-eyed, but she’s a minor character we’ll never see again, so I will overlook it. (Isabella is one of my favorite historical queens; she was kind of a bad-ass but at the same time her bigotry planted the seeds for the eventual downfall of Spain from the great power she turned it into; but more on her at another time.) Anyway, I enjoyed the first episode; which also has laid the groundwork for Catherine as stubborn, proud, and arrogant–qualities that eventually led to the upheaval that changed world history forever. I’ll keep watching, of course–but at the same time, it’s not “must watch”; it was okay and can serve as a time-filler when I need to relax and when Paul’s not home and I don’t feel like actually wasting my time on Youtube.

I also want to watch the Zac Efron as Ted Bundy movie on Netflix.

So many riches, so many choices! It’s kind of like my TBR pile.

The plan for today and tomorrow is to work on the WIP and work on the article a bit, maybe even work on a short story. Given I have the attention span of a squirrel lately, I am not sure how much work I am actually going to get done today, but I have good intentions. I also have a Bouchercon subcommittee conference call later on this afternoon as well, so I should be able to bounce back and forth between cleaning, writing and reading until such time as the conference call; after which time I can call it a day and relax for the rest of the evening.

Ah, to have the energy and ambition I have in the morning after a good night’s sleep and two cups of coffee, right?

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me.

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Dream On

Maybe there is something to this say it out loud and name it thing. Yesterday I managed 1600 words–wasn’t expecting that–and it was a lot easier than the 1400 from Sunday. I think printing the chapter out and rereading it, and thinking about it, before I went back to work on it made it a lot easier, frankly; I have this bad habit of just going into the file and starting from the beginning and revising as I go–and sometimes I don’t remember how the chapter ends. Sometimes I will add a paragraph that I think belongs in the chapter…only to come across the same paragraph, slightly differently written, a little while later…which also can be filed under wasting time and not an effective use of time and yeah that’s a step you should cut out.

But one thing about being a writer is that you never stop learning, I guess. And, sometimes if things aren’t going as well as you’d like, it’s not a step backwards to stop for a minute, decide you have to go back in time to try to remember things you used to do, tricks that used to work well for you in the past that somehow you’ve completely forgotten about now.

You know, like keeping a journal. Reading my pages out loud to hear how the words sound together, if there’s a steady rhythm of some kind  or catch where it stumbles a bit here and there, to smooth it out to the right pace and rhythm for the reader, for the words to and syllables to flow correctly so the reader isn’t taken out of the moment by a badly selected word or phrase. I love writing, but the whole process is still a mystery to me, all these years and columns and articles and reviews and essays and blog entries and short stories and novellas and novels later, it somehow still is a mystery to me, and every time I sit down to write a new manuscript, no matter what it is or what it’s about or who it’s for, I seem to have to solve the mystery of how to do this, how to get it done, and how to satisfy myself that I’ve done my best–or even try to figure out how to do my best.

And sometimes it feels like I’ve never completely figured it out, but somehow it just happened.

One of the reasons I loathe being asked where my ideas come from isn’t just that it’s not a question where any answer I might give would shed light into how I write or how I choose what I write; it’s just that ideas are quite literally everywhere. I can have a conversation with someone and during the chat, in my head whatever we’re talking about has triggered several thoughts of oh that would make an interesting starting point for a story or that would be interesting subject to look into and read about and perhaps write an essay about or that would be an interesting character to write about. Headlines give me ideas, and stories on the news, and snippets of conversations overheard; there’s absolutely nothing out there in the world that comes into contact with me that also won’t trigger some kind idea for something, some bit of writing or some piece of fiction or a paragraph or something, you know? Sometimes a paragraph which has absolutely nothing to do with anything I am currently writing will pop into my head, and I will dutifully write it down in my journal, where it will sit until I run across it one day and think I should really write something around this paragraph, it’s quite good, and if I am the right frame of mind the characters and the title will come to me and then the story will start to spin out from there. The short stories I have on hand that aren’t finished, are in some stage of construction, whether it’s an unfinished first draft, a first draft or a second or even a third; there’s something still missing from those that I can’t quite put my finger on; some missing piece that, if clicked into place, will finish the story and it will be done, complete, ready for public consumption. There’s a short story, for example, that I wrote as a first draft for a writing class back in the 1980’s; my professor told me to send it out for publication back in the days of carbon paper and typewriters. I sent it to a couple of places over the years, but it never was accepted anywhere, and I know something is missing from the story to make it complete but I simply cannot put my finger on what precisely that is; I’ve had editors look at it and try to solve the puzzle of “Whim of the Wind” (which is a title I absolutely love), but no one’s ever quite been able to tell me what it needs–they also recognize it needs something, but they don’t know what that something is; I always think to myself welcome to the club and put the story back away. But the voice is charming, and the story has some of the most lovely sentences and paragraphs I’ve ever written; the imagery is beautiful, as is the mood and tone, and it’s actually the first story set in my fictional county in Alabama I’ve revisited in other work over the years, notably “Smalltown Boy” and the book I’m currently writing. But every few years I will pull that story out and read it again, wondering what I can do to complete it, to finally finish it, some twenty-five or more years later, and never can quite get the answer I need.

Maybe there is no answer to that question. Who knows?

I also started writing an article that is due relatively soon that I was asked to write; the trick with the article is I have to be careful not to turn it into a polemic. But it’s slowly starting to come together in my head…we’ll see how that turns out. Which means hopefully soon; I think I need to get it turned in by the end of the week.

Yeah, nothing like pressure.

In other exciting news, I’ve had to start wearing a belt. My weight is now fluctuating between 211 and 207; which is fan-fucking-tastic, and now my pants are all too big. Over the last few months I’d noticed that I was constantly having to pull my pants up; now they are so big they will slide all the way down to my knees after taking three or four steps. This, needless to say, is kind of annoying to have to deal with–especially if your hands are full–so this morning I put on a belt and my pants are staying up just fine…I stopped wearing belts years ago, unless I was dressing up; in which case it served as a unnecessary accessory, but you can’t wear dressy pants without a belt. So I own maybe two belts, total; which is a good thing because now they are necessary.

I still don’t like wearing belts, but like the idea that I need one.

I was also very pleased, by the way, with the writing I’ve been doing lately. Yes, I know I had a bout of impostor syndrome on Sunday, but the reread of the chapter and what I wrote for Chapter Seven pleased me immensely. I probably could have written more, but as I said, I want to read Chapter Eight again before rewriting it–I think this is a chapter where I could make it a lot more creepy than it is already written; it’s a drive through the Alabama countryside late at night in the dark, and for someone who is primarily used to living in a city the size of Chicago–imagine how terrifying it would be to drive down country roads in the dark that you aren’t that familiar with. Over all, the book still needs more atmosphere and needs to be more Gothic, and chilling; that is, I imagine, what the next draft will be for.

I also think I know what I  need to do to make “And The Walls Came Down” creepier, and more ready for submission.

I think this week I am going to send out a couple of stories to markets, and see what happens.

After all, the worst thing they can do to me is say no.

And on that note it’s back to the spice mines.

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(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty

It’s Easter, and of course there are parades all over the city at all different times. New Orleans is a city that likes to celebrate, likes to have parades, and likes to dress up, whether in evening attire or costume. It’s one of the things I love about New Orleans; the absolute dedication to dressing up and how seriously it is taken here. For me, it’s just the final day of a three day weekend in which I have to run an errand at some point and most likely will spend the rest of the day writing while trying to get ahead of things for the week at the same time.

Multi-tasking, as it were.

I managed to write fifteen hundred new words on the WIP yesterday; replacing the 300 new words on the jump drive I forgot at the office and the story, chapter, and book are all the better for this work. It took longer than usual to get the words done, and I found myself staring at the screen and not typing for longer periods of time than usual when I am writing, but yet I still got them done and I am most pleased, not only with them but for the accomplishment.

The gears are a little rusty, but they do still work.

It does feel a rather long time since I’ve written anything new. It has felt like an eternity since the WIP  stalled out while I made excuses for not only not working on it but not even looking at it. I have been working on some other projects but there’s nothing serious there yet, just amorphous ideas and plots and characters and settings that are coming together into my head. But that’s also a part of me avoiding the WIP for some mysterious, self-destructive and self-defeating reason I have yet to get to the bottom of; perhaps someday I will understand how my mind and personality and ambition and insecurities all work together in some bizarre fashion to keep propelling me forward for some reason while also finding reasonable excuses not to move at all. I may never fully come to a complete understanding of myself; or at least one that cannot simply be reduced to needs medicating for the benefit of all.

But it felt good. It always feels good for me to write. It’s so undeniably a part of who I am I cannot imagine ever stopping permanently. The damage to my identity would be so overwhelming–but I also cannot ever imagine not creating. Even when I am not actually writing stories down, I am thinking of them; I am creating characters and settings and situations and titles and thinking about conversations and effects and damage and recovery. I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to actually sit down and start putting words together into sentences and constructing paragraphs that become scenes. It is hard to get started; I always open up the document I am working on and look at it, see what’s come before and try to remember where it needs to go from where I am at. This is a revision so there’s something already there; I am adding things that I now know are necessary and removing things that I’ve decided aren’t actually going to go anywhere. And that makes this draft–which will be a combination of second and first drafts; the first ten chapters will be second drafts while everything else will be a first–much stronger.

I also want to work on short stories some, if not today, then the rest of this new week. I want to send some more stories out for submission, which means one last polish on the ones that are, at least I think, close to being ready–“This Thing of Darkness,” “And the Walls Came Down,” “The Snow Globe”–and some others that I would like to finish the first drafts of–“Please Die Soon,” “Never Kiss a Stranger,” and “Once a Tiger”–and others that are in various stages of the process. “Moves in the Field” probably needs another once over as well.

And on that note, this spice ain’t going to mine itself.

So Happy Easter!

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Love Machine

Ah, Monday of the week that ends with the tenting and the Weekend o’Festivals. Just thinking about getting through this week and this weekend makes me tired. Very tired.

We started moving perishables and other things that could be poisoned by the termite gas over to the carriage house yesterday; even as we did so, I kept remembering and finding more things that need to go over there. I’ve never experienced termite genocide before, that oh-so-uniquely New Orleans experience that so many others have before multiple times. It’s got me thinking about the possibility of murder by termite tent, of course–although I am pretty certain I’ve read a book where that happened, I think it was by Elaine Viets.

Murder-a-Go-Go’s officially releases today as well, so those who preordered it should be getting it delivered to your electronic reading devices and those who ordered hard-copies should be getting them soon. Huzzah! I love book birthdays; my own for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories is soon to come; April 10th, officially. Order, order, order! And don’t forget, the first ever Chanse MacLeod short story is in this book!

I reread my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s again yesterday, primarily because another idea came to me yesterday, which I shared on social media: Someone really needs to write a spring break noir called WHERE THE BOYS DIE and I would read the hell out of that. I do think that’s a terrific idea; is there any better setting for a noir than a small beach town taken over by tens of thousands of partying college students? (I also had another idea for a book, based on an actual brutal murder that took place over spring break several decades ago; hat tip to Scott Heim for reminding me of that murder) I had always wanted to do one over the course of Southern Decadence weekend as well; I still might do that one. Anyway, I’m digressing. So, on my post about Where the Boys Die some suggested I write it, others that it sounded like an anthology, and then Jessica Laine said, you already wrote this story for MURDER-A-GO-GO’S, and I loved your story. 

The thing about being a writer is that all-too-often you don’t remember things about your work once it’s finished. “This Town,” my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s, is one of my favorite stories that I’ve ever written, to be honest; I think it’s also one of my best. But, when I read Kristopher Zgorski’s lovely review and he singled out my story as one of many for individual praise, and then seeing Jessica’s lovely comment, I decided I should probably reread the story since my recollection of what I actually wrote was so vague…and there it was. Constant Reader, it’s good. I then pulled up my story “Neighborhood Alert,” which is going to be published in Mystery Tribune, and it, too, is good. This was revelatory for me; as I may have mentioned, another story of mine was recently rejected by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and that had, of course, put me into a bit of a tailspin as far as my writing of short stories was concerned…astonishing at how easy it is to have one’s confidence in one’s own work shattered, isn’t it?

And that also got me to thinking about the second Chanse short story, “Once a Tiger,” that has tragically been stalled for so long. Short stories are actually more intimate than novels; in that you have much less space to develop a story and less room for characters so it has to be scaled back some. “Once a Tiger” is struggling because, quite simply, there are too many characters in it; how does one investigate a death at a fraternity house on a college campus when there would have to be well over a hundred brothers and pledges? That was where I struggled with the story; even the police would have trouble sorting all of this out, so imagine the trouble Chanse would have with it, working alone as he does. I still want to write a murder mystery set at Chanse’s LSU fraternity, where Chanse has to come back and solve the crime, but I just don’t–at the moment–see how that can be done as a short story. Maybe now that I’ve said that it will come to me–just like the other day, how to weave the two plots for the next Scotty book came to me from out of nowhere.

I love when that happens.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Jojo

Sunday morning and another lovely night’s sleep. It should surprise no one that I wound up getting very little done yesterday. Blame it on the World Figure Skating championships/SEC women’s gymnastics tournament one-two punch, if you will. After watching the LSU ladies win their third title in a row (GEAUX TIGERS!) Paul and I settled in to watch an episode of Shrill and a few episodes of The Order, which is just good campy, Teen Wolf-ish fun. And it doesn’t take itself seriously, which I love; it is funny, and it also takes time to laugh at itself.

But I did box up all of the open perishables in my kitchen cabinet, and now have just a few more boxes to load up–the bathroom stuff, etc.–and then we are as ready for the termite tenting as we can be. I still have to clean out the freezer–our friend Jean has graciously agreed to allow us to keep it in hers–and coordinate how all of this is going to go down–Scooter to the kitty spa; my suitcases and so forth to the hotel; the freezer stuff to Jean’s; how to coordinate getting everything back into the house on Monday–but it’s just too much and I don’t really want to think about it. This week is going to be completely insane, and I am not here for it.

I think that’s part of the reason I got so little done yesterday–in addition to the laziness default and the stuff on television–is that I am more than a little overwhelmed with everything I have to do–without taking the tenting into consideration. I literally am half-way through a first draft of a novel, have at least twenty to thirty short stories in some stage of writing, another manuscript that needs to be revised, am editing another novel as a paid gig, and that’s not even taking into consideration the volunteer work I am doing with Bouchercon and other organizations–and the Weekend o’Festivals is looming on the horizon. I still have to finish reading The Woman Who Fed the Dogs and My Lovely Wife, I have to get prepared for my panel and come up with some interesting questions for my panelists, and….seriously, all I want to do is sit in my easy chair and watch highlights of old LSU games on Youtube.

But I need to buckle up and get to work. There are things that need to be done, and they need to be done today. I need to get my email inbox cleaned out, as well as answer insane amounts of messages on Facebook and other places that I’ve simply allowed to pile up, and I still have a lot of filing and organizing to do. I’m not beating myself up over not getting all the things done yesterday that I had originally intended to get done yesterday; that’s just self-defeating, after all, and I am not a believer in wasting time on regrets. So, when I finish this, I am going to go fold the laundry, load up another box of stuff from the kitchen and perhaps from the bathroom, and organize/file the stuff that’s piled up on the kitchen counter. I am going to make a to-do list for the week, some playlists for the car on my phone because I am sick to death of the ones I already have and have listened to for quite some time now, and possibly finish revising the first chapter of the WIP. I am not going to push myself too hard about getting the WIP worked on this week; my original plan had been to finish it this month, but that’s not going to happen now so I am going to push it off until April. I also need to get my taxes sorted and to my accountant, and I also need to back up my desktop computer.

And the books always need to be reorganized.

And then, of course, there’s the Scotty Bible, and I also need to make a list of things to do for the next Scotty, aka Hollywood South Hustle.

And on that note, those emails aren’t going to answer themselves now, are they?

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