Monday, April 14, 2014

On Tonight's Edition...

So, I've kind of been slacking on the blog posts the past two weeks. Two weeks ago I was running late by several days, and last week's post was so poorly thought out and written that I ended up deleting it before the day was over. To be bluntly honest, I didn't have much for this week either, but I'll be damned if I'm going to make you wait another week. So, here's what I've got for you. 

About this time last year, I found out a short story of mine that I had submitted to a writing contest, had made finalist. I had to travel to the convention which sponsored the contest to find out how it ended up placing and I was somewhat delighted to find I had earned an Honorable Mention. Still, it meant my work was included in the convention anthology, which, for those interested in checking out the other works in the small book, is available here

However, if you're just interested in what I've written (for which I am immeasurably grateful), you can read my entry right here on my blog, today. So without further ado, I give you my Honorable Mention short story from the Crypticon Seattle 2013 writing contest. Enjoy.

On Tonight's Edition

By Shaun Horton

Jerry sat there, watching the news with a feeling of sadness and a slight degree of disgust. He held the fully-loaded Glock in his left hand, an almost empty bottle of Crown Royal in the right. The chair he sat in was decidedly uncomfortable and covered in a flower pattern he wouldn't have chosen for his worst enemy's living quarters. The television was all right though, a seventy-two inch plasma which showed every pixel in colors brighter than anything could ever be in reality. He supposed that could also be the alcohol, though. Jerry spat at the TV where the nightly news was on, falling well short of the screen. All they ever showed on the news anymore was death, murder, war and destruction, with a seasoning of weather and sports.

Jerry could remember when the highlight of the news had been a piece on the old lady that lived two doors up from him; she took in every stray cat that crossed her path. He had liked that old lady, though he couldn't remember her name and her house had smelled so strongly of cat urine it was almost painful to walk past. That had been when he was much younger. Jerry could remember when it really was big news that someone had been found murdered.

He had only been thirteen-years-old that first time. Jerry had been on his way home from playing baseball with some friends; it had been such a nice summer. Walking along one of the back trails through the local park, he had come across an older kid, sixteen the news had told him later, beating on some poor dog that had been left tethered to a tree. He didn't know why the older kid was picking on the dog or why he kept kicking it with such ferocity. Jerry knew the poor animal was in pain and was whining and crying for him to stop; the older kid hadn't seen him.

It was the laugh that finally did it for Jerry. The kid's laughter at the pain he was inflicting on the poor animal was like nails on a chalkboard inside Jerry's mind.

The kid hadn't heard Jerry put down his bag or even walk up. The first thing the kid knew was when the baseball bat took his supporting leg out from under him and he fell hard to the ground, clutching his knee.

The kid had looked up at Jerry, first in amazement, then in anger and rage. The older boy reached for him and the bat swung again.

Jerry remembered the satisfaction at the feeling and sound as the bat shattered both bones in the kid's forearm.

It was only then that the kid looked up at Jerry in fear, finally understanding he was in real danger. The older boy tried to ward off the next several blows, and Jerry had to smash in both of the boy's shoulders before he could finally get in a clean blow to the skull. The boy's face caved in with the first strike, splattering blood and brain matter across the ground. Jerry wiped his bat off on the ground before picking his bag back up.

Jerry started to continue on his way and stopped. The dog, still whimpering in pain and fear, looked up at him thankful but still terrified. Jerry untied him and carefully carried him home. After pleading with his father to help the stray he had found, they took the dog to the veterinarian, where they found the injuries were too extensive and quietly put the poor animal to sleep.

Jerry had cried when they went home without the dog, but the older boy never crept back into his mind until a few days later, when the corpse showed up on the news.

Luck had been with Jerry that day. Nobody else had been on the trail while he was there, or saw him exit onto the street with the dog. He had also been able to claim the blood on his clothes was from carrying the hurt animal home. The murder went unsolved. That one case dominated the nightly news for almost a week, the same story asking people to call in with tips. Unsolved murders, especially brutal ones like that, were very rare back in those days. Back then you could watch the news without being saddened or depressed by the cheerful newscasters; whose smiles never faltered as they panned from one brutal story to the next.

The bottle rose to Jerry's lips, giving him another sip as he reminisced.

The first murder had been enacted purely by chance, though Jerry still felt a twinge of satisfaction remembering it. He had enjoyed the news of his murder on television for a full week, even though he knew how lucky he was to have gotten away with it.

The other murders were more planned out and fun.

The second opportunity came when he was seventeen. Jerry's friend's girlfriend had left him for another guy, while seeing a third on the side. After careful observations, Jerry followed her and her boy toy out to a back road late one night.

The windows were rolled down and the radio was blasting through the woods while the two melded body parts in the back seat. Jerry had quietly snuck up to the car, reached through the window, and pulled the keys out of the ignition. This, of course, turned off the radio. Her “friend” ceased his thrusting to see what was the matter. After satisfying himself that the keys weren't on the seat or the floor of the vehicle, he stepped out of the car in just his boxers, and circled around, yelling about people playing pranks.

Jerry doubted the “friend” had even felt the pain of the impact as the baseball bat crushed the back of his skull. Jerry made sure to hit him a few more times, though, just to be sure, flattening the boy's head into the ground.

Once she noticed her partner wasn't answering her calls to come back to the car and finish what they had started, the young woman got out as well. Pulling her skirt down around her hips and holding her shirt to her chest, she only had time to see the masked figure for a moment before Jerry's bat shattered her jaw and sent teeth flying. She tried to scramble away; a single strike across the back shattering vertebrae and rendering her lower half immobile.

Showing her the bloody end of the bat before planting his boot between her shoulder blades; Jerry took off the top of her head in a swing similar to a golfer using his driver on a three-hundred yard straight shot.

Jerry had called her new boyfriend from a payphone on his way home, telling him she was cheating and where to find her. He had smiled as they had then passed each other on the road. Pulling into a gas station and calling the police, letting them know as well where to find the girl and her boyfriends, Jerry smiled again. The police spent the next week holding her boyfriend under suspicion, but then released him for lack of true evidence. By then, though, it was too late to accurately point a finger at anyone else.

Jerry had reveled in the news of the murder. Everyone was hearing about his handiwork, even if they didn't know it was his. The glory of it all was intoxicating.

That was many years ago, now. Jerry had racked up quite a number of murders since. But each one seemed to attract less and less attention as other people stepped up and murder had become more common. That just didn't seem right to Jerry. His last kill hadn't even been mentioned.

A man Jerry's daughter worked with, a creep that had made several advances on his little girl, was the latest to be discovered. Jerry had studied him in a bar; watched the creep throw back beers and shots for most of the night, until he had chased off every woman that had dared to come in. Jerry had slipped out of the bar and waited for him. The man didn't leave until well after last call.

The bat took out the bastard's right knee. The sound was a somewhat familiar popping as the kneecap dislocated from the impact. The creep dropped to his knees, then fell to one side, clutching the damaged knee and screaming. Jerry planted his foot against the guy's chin, forcing the creep's mouth shut while he lined up the bat with the man's head. Then took a full swing as the man grabbed and pushed at the foot holding him down. The bat tore off the front of the creep's head with a satisfying crunch. The struggling ceased, as did the noise. The metallic scent of blood filled the cold, night air.
Jerry reveled in the moment, reaching out with all of his senses. The feel of the bat in his hands, still remembering the moment of impact against his palms. The scent of the man's life fluids flowing out onto the concrete. The silence of the late night, devoid of the man's irritating, slurred speech. The sight of the large man's face, a void where the top half of his face had been and the beautiful red pool expanding on the black asphalt. Last of all was the taste, as he cleaned some of the red splatter from the back of one hand.

The coat covered most of the splash damage his shirt had taken, and his black jeans did well hiding where the streams had struck them. When he had time to revel in the act, he enjoyed wearing their blood like a badge of honor, but Jerry knew when to indulge and when not to. The extra set of clothes and box of moist towelettes which waited in his truck indicated which one of those options he had expected that night to be.

This last murder had been trumped by a shooting in some nightclub that had killed three and wounded fourteen others. Even doing what he did, Jerry still held every life as something precious. Each life was equal. It saddened him greatly to see that quantity was all the news cared about anymore. It wasn't just about seeing his work on TV, it was about each life snuffed out getting an equal share of time. There wasn't even that anymore. The news wasn't even listing the names of the dead from the club shooting, it was enough to just throw up a number. It was sickening.

Jerry held up his bottle to the light of the TV for a moment, gauging how much was left before sucking it dry and letting the empty vessel drop to the floor. He looked at the envelope on the coffee table, marked in his own bold cursive "For the Police". The letter inside listed every murder Jerry had ever committed. Even that first one when he was thirteen.

He wondered if the original owners of the house he sat in would mind. They were in no condition to answer even if he asked. Their bodies lay on the kitchen floor, along with his most recent bat. Their beatings had been short, but brutal, even by his standards. He had been in a hurry to get to the TV before the news started. The back door had just happened to be unlocked.

Jerry sighed and shook his head at the television, lifting the remote and turning it off. It was a realization that had come to him over the years as populations skyrocketed, technology jumped in leaps and bounds, and people became more detached from each other. Nobody really mattered anymore. Unless you had your name in huge lights somewhere, who you were didn't matter to anyone outside those closest to you. It was sad. Everyone should mourn every life lost, whether they knew them or not.

That was how Jerry felt.

He lifted the Glock and pressed the cold metal of the barrel against his head, nestled in the graying hairs just above and in front of his left ear. He knew if anyone deserved not to be mourned, it was him after all he had done, but still he pondered if anyone would. He wondered if the community would mourn the couple who lay beaten to death in the kitchen. Some neighbors might. Most would probably never know. A world where your neighbors could be brutally murdered and you'd never know was not a world worth living in.

That was Jerry's final thought.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Building a Book: Post Beta Reader Revisions

(Sorry I'm late on this week's blog post. I had a whole idea half-written up then decided against it and it took me a day to do up this one. Enjoy!)

So you've sent your manuscript out to Beta Readers, waited anxiously for their replies, and were so excited to see what they thought.

The responses are Good! Everyone likes it. They care about the characters, the story makes sense and there were moments that made them jump out of their seats! Except...

The little details that need fixing, character motivations that need a bit more explanation, and scenes which don't strike quite as hard as you would like. These are all the things you would be unlikely to catch on your own, especially after being so deeply entrenched in the story as your wrote it. After a short break away though, and having things pointed out to you, it shouldn't be too hard to see the truth in some of their statements.

That being said, you are the master of your book. If you look as hard as you can and just can't see what they're talking about, it's your choice to listen or not. There's an old saying that I like to use though, (among many, many others). "If one person calls you a horse, ignore it. If three people call you a horse, get yourself a saddle." Basically, if one person out of five says something needs work, by all means look at it, but keep in mind that is only one person's opinion. If three or four out of five all point out the same thing though, you should probably listen. After all, you did ask for their opinion.

Of course, making those changes is a bit harder than simple cut, copy, and paste. This particular revision is probably only second to the second draft as far as difficulty goes. Mostly because depending on who your Beta Readers are and how skilled they are, they may not be able to give you suggestions on how to fix the problems they find.

So you'll have a list of things like "Why does Character A go down the hall and turn left?". Things where you not only have to explain, but figure out where in the book it will be acceptable to explain. And like the second draft, you have to do it carefully, without breaking any continuity already set or stifling the story's pace.

(This is how you may feel during this process.)

The easiest things to change from the beta readers will be continuity issues. Like maybe the mom's hair changed color from page 22 to page 27, and repetitions where you manage to put the exact same sentence in two subsequent paragraphs. A quick cut here, a word change there, and your done. 

Character background can be much harder, especially if you have a minor character that gets none of their own screen time, and yet is important enough that the readers will need to understand the relationship between the minor character and the main. The checklist for such a change reads thus. 
  • Don't break continuity
  • Don't break pace
  • Don't make the addition an info dump
  • Explain the relationship so it's obvious and makes sense for the reader
  • Explain the relationship from the main character's point of view
  • Explain the relationship only with information the main character has

That's a pretty fair checklist for a change which may only need a line or two. And, to be fair, if you happen to break something, well, that's what the revisions further down the road are there for. If you can manage it though, it's always better to try to get something right the first time than to just let it be sloppy with the idea that you can come back and clean it up later. Sure, your dog is covered in mud, and you don't see the point in hosing and drying him down since he might still get dirty again before it's time to head inside. You regret waiting the instant someone accidentally leaves the door open and he heads in before you're ready though.

Even harder than character background, are story background issues. After all, it's really not that hard to deal with a character issue. You're pretty limited to chapters where that character is present, and discussing background is acceptable, not in the middle of an action scene, for example. Story background though, can theoretically be plugged in just about anywhere. This is where you really run the risk of finding yourself with an info dump, or accidentally break the tension. To show how hard this can be and how even the best can have trouble with it, I have the example of one of my favorite short stories by Stephen King, The Mangler. 

Close to the end, the main characters have figured out the machine is demonically possessed and they think they have figured out how it happened out of the two main possibilities. They collect their equipment and set out to face the evil. At this point, King literally has a "But what they didn't know was..." moment. It breaks the tension, is a huge info dump for a short story, and all but gives away the ending.

So implanting story background into an otherwise already finished work is probably one of the most difficult things an author can do, and it's commonly one of the reasons a work can end up going through six, eight, twelve, twenty revisions or more until it's done right. As authors who want to put out the best work we can do though, stories which work without unnecessary distractions, it's all part of the job. 

What are you doing? It's REVISING time!

~ Shaun

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Building A Book: Beta Readers

So, you've written your book, gone through several edits, and things are shaping up nicely. Or so you think. That's when the beta readers come in.

What is a beta reader for? They just read the story and tell you what you think, right? Isn't that the same as a review? 

At this stage in the game, no. What they do at this point is much more important. These readers aren't doing this to edit for you, though some may point out the more obvious errors. Beta readers are for pointing out serious mistakes in the manuscript while you still have time to fix them. 

Beta readers are readers. First and foremost, and as such, at this stage of the game, they're pointing out things which make them stop and put the book down. Things like characters appearances changing, or characters not acting in ways consistent with how they've been described. Holes in the plot. Loose threads which seem important but that are just left dangling. Twists which are so out of the blue, it's like a shark just attacked them in their own hallway.

(Because that just makes ALL the sense in the world.)

Beta readers are there to tell you the things in your story that just. Don't. Work. It may be hard to listen to them at times, because they may point out that the whole sub-plot from page 24 through page 317 makes no sense; something which would require a major rewrite to fix. But that is exactly the point. These are the things which will flat out kill a book that they're trying to point out to you. Things you will need to fix before your next great work heads to a professional editor for a grammar and punctuation cleaning.

That being said, there are different levels of beta readers. You have your close friends and family, who are likely to tell you that everything is awesome and not to change a thing. Enjoy the praise, but don't trust it. After all, these are the people that want to see you happy and to see you succeed more than anything and they're likely to overlook discrepancies in order to tell you what they think will make you happy. 

That doesn't mean you shouldn't ask them to take a look and tell you what they think, it means you need to be prepared when you approach them. Include a list of questions for them to answer when they've finished reading. Questions like: "Did you like the main character?" "Did the scene on page 154 make sense?" "How scary was the scene on page 243?". Specific questions make it easier for them to mention and talk about things that didn't work for them, as it lets them know that you're aware there might be issues without putting them on the spot to pick things out on their own. 

After close friends and family, you have people that you know and trust, but that may not be so attached to you personally. These include experts in fields that your book contains, people you've come into contact with professionally, maybe people you consulted on certain subjects for your book, and that have a personal interest in making sure you have your details right. These are the people who, while likely to still be able to tell you that your main character is unlikable and they were waiting for him to die, are going to point out things like whether Ford made Escorts in 1978. It really can be a detail that small which rips someone out of your book with enough force that they won't go back to it. 

Then you have professional beta readers. Some editors offer this service in addition to working on the punctuation, but make sure you don't get the two things confused. These are two completely different steps in the publishing process. These are the best you can do for a good beta experience, although they aren't free, you usually get a written report after they've gone over the work, explaining what worked well, what didn't work at all, and depending on the service, you may even get a list of suggestions to fix the issues they found. 

So what comes after all this? More revisions. You listen to what the beta readers have to say, see if comments line up along multiple beta readers (You should at least have three to four, though I would say not more than seven, that way you have a tiebreaker if you need one). If the book needs a minor touch-up, great. More often than not though, you're going to be looking at a rewrite or two. An additional scene to get a particular relationship across, maybe re-write a scene so that your main character's actions make more sense or so he's more likable. 

Remember, this is all for the betterment of your book, so keep at it. Don't fret! Even if your work requires some major work, every step forward is a step closer to the end, and the end is almost in sight. 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Size Matters

So you've got this great idea for a story and you've sat down, pulled up the word processor, and you're committed to making this the best story you can. The question is, how long should it be?

While talking about writing, it makes sense that sooner or later, we'll touch upon the subject of word counts. Currently, there are about five different categories for story lengths that I'm going to go over really quick for those of you who are unaware or need a reminder/refresher.

(An example of Word Count in MS Office, and a teaser treat for those of you paying attention.)

Flash Fiction - This is a little hard to pin down, as it largely depends on what the publisher is looking for. Some magazines will accept works as large as 1,000 words as flash fiction, while others require fewer than 300 or even 100 words. Of course, this also includes the trend of 2-sentence stories, which could be as few as ten words and still manage to convey a story. The point is, these are stories which can be read in a matter of minutes by the average person; little bits that allow people to break away for a moment even if they don't have much time.

Short Story - The next step up, these start where the Flash Fiction ends, right around 1000 words and go up to about 7,500 words. Most people are pretty familiar with short stories. These are the ones you generally find populating anthologies, or in magazines. With the current self-publishing movement, you can also find a supply of short stories standing on their own, either for free or at the $0.99 mark. Also, before I get much further, I'm going by the word counts listed under the category requirements for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula awards. While there will almost always be some wiggle room where word counts are concerned, the counts they suggest are fairly established and give what I think are good averages.

Novelette - Now we're getting up there. Ranging from 7,500 words on up to 17,500. Now we're getting into some meaty stuff. For an average reader, this will be a couple hours worth of entertainment. Something to read on a long bus ride or waiting at the DMV. Like the short stories, it's not uncommon to find some of these standing on their own on Amazon, but you're also likely to find a few stories of this length mixed in among the short stories in a collection.

Novella - This is finally starting to get up there. At 17,501 - 40,000 words, these are the short 'books'. Still, these are generally good for an evening or even a weekend read depending on how fast a reader you are. You can also find these as a kind of main course in a good-sized collection, where several short stories lead up to or even tie in to the final novella story.

Novel - This is a book. 40,001 words is the minimum required for the Novel category in the Nebula awards, but I do take exception to this just a bit. Most publishers won't consider a manuscript book worthy unless it is at least 50,000 words, and some require even more depending on genre. Still, I think everyone here knows what a real book requires, so not much more really needs to be said.

(See the difference in thickness?)

So now the question is, how long is your story going to be? Well, that all depends on you and your story. When it comes to you, it's a matter of writing style. Is your prose full of description and philosophical musings? Or do you tend to get straight to the point, forgoing needless details like what your character had for breakfast or what the particular shade of blue the sky is reminds him of? Of course, writing style is only going to carry you so far. It might turn a short story into a novelette, but beyond that you're probably cramming extra stuff in there to force a word count, and that is almost never a good idea. 

What really dictates a story's length is what is in the story itself. How many characters are included? How many hoops are there for them to jump through before the climax? What about side-plots? Are all loose ends tied up or are they left out there for possible future use? 

I think most of these things will be dictated by the story itself and if you listen, you'll know what to put where, and how to draw the lines. One thing I would suggest an author never does though, is to force a specific word count. Many times, forcing a book to stretch fills it with unnecessary details that can spoil the pace, as well as introduce details that don't make sense with the rest of the story. 

A perfect example of this, for me, is Rick Hautala's The Wildman. Some may enjoy it, but to me almost the entire book felt like it was a novelette stretched out to novel length for no real reason. The second to last chapter can be summarized in three lines: "I can't go on", "I wonder if I'm dead", "My body is still moving somehow." rinse, and repeat for at least fifteen to twenty pages. Seriously. It's almost literally those three lines, drawn out into paragraphs, and then repeated over, and over, and over. If that isn't forcing a word count, I'm not sure what would qualify. 

Yes, it can be frustrating when you're writing and your story suddenly seems to fall well short of what you thought it would be, but rather than trying to stretch things out, read it over, see if there's anything you forgot to add in. If so, great! If not, don't force it. More often than not, when you use force to try and make something do what you want and not what it's supposed to do, you're going to break it. There is plenty of room out there right now for stories of all lengths. Don't break your hard work trying to force it to be something it just can't be. 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Creating a Monster: The Hungry

So, I'm lying in bed, waiting to go to sleep, when I get this idea. It's not a story idea specifically, but an idea for a monster. And as I'm lying there, it's almost like I'm just watching the pieces come together, like a puzzle, or one of those mix-and-match playset thingies. It was really fascinating watching it come together into something I could recognize as fairly original and I though I would share it with you all. It may give you some ideas of your own for monsters, demons, and/or degenerates.

This is where it started, a human torso and arms. The version I pictured though, didn't extend down to the pelvis. It more ended just past the rib cage. Why this is where I started, I couldn't really say, but I do have an idea or two. First, recognition. If people see something of themselves in a monster, even if it's just a physical similarity, it breeds familiarity. Things with which we are familiar, coming after us with intent to cause harm, is a very basic fear in that to a degree, we can almost imagine that being us. I think that is one of the things that makes zombies so frightening. They are us, even if they are dead, rotting, missing limbs and walk around with massive, open wounds. 

From the torso, I moved up to the head. Sort of. Actually, I didn't get past the neck. It became an extended stump, waving around, with skin covering the end, except for a small hole in the middle. But then the skin retracts, the end of the stump expands, and we have...

Lots, and lots, of sharp teeth. Reaching out, grabbing things, and dragging them down the throat and into the stomach. Of course, it can't exactly chew with a mouth like that, and being attached to a torso, that makes spinning a little uncomfortable. So generally, if something fits in the mouth hole, (reminder, we're only talking about something maybe a bit bigger around than the average human neck.) it swallows it whole. If it attaches to something too big to swallow, it'll point the first row of teeth out, stab the prey with them, and then suck out the blood, like a giant leech. If it happens to grab something which fits, but is attached to something that doesn't, like an arm or a leg, it flings the prey around until the teeth manage to do enough damage to just rip the appendage off. After all, you'll probably have to look around a bit to find someone who isn't squeamish about worms and leeches. 

So now the top half is done. I just needed to figure out the bottom half. I figured the torso would use it's two arms to drag itself around, so out goes any need for legs. I also had to figure on where does all that blood and body parts it eats go. How about just a sack? 

Yeah, something like that, like a termite or ant queen. Something that just continues to swell as the monster eats more and more. 

Fairly disturbing image, yes? Imagine seeing that crawling around the corner of your bed or the couch, A human torso, with a worm-leech mouth straight out of a headless neck, dragging along a bulbous sack behind it full of what it's eaten. 

Now imagine more than one. 

Now, what I think is the fun part, figuring out the story. First off, there's one more physical detail I thought out. It has no eyes, no ears, no nose, no brain even to speak of. So how does it find people and prey? How about a long, snake-like tongue that flicks in and out of the throat hole while the mouth is closed. Disturbed yet? 

Anyway, where was I? Ah, the back story. Well, for being a human-like creature, and having the strength to drag around that bulbous abdomen no matter how big it gets, it makes sense that this is a creature which is demonic in nature. A minor demon, maybe the representation of bloodlust. As such, this also becomes something you probably won't find in the creepy forest or the big, abandoned mansion on the hill. This seems to me to be more of a city dweller, maybe hives of them living in lost and unused subway tunnels, sewer systems, and other underground labyrinths. Oh yeah, they (smaller, unfed ones) would roam in groups. This would prevent them from getting too big, too fast. 

Also, being demonic, they don't actually digest what they eat. Everything just sits in the ass end until it rots away to soup. So the sack will literally contain everything the thing has eaten since it was created/summoned/born. Break one open and you will quickly find yourself inundated with blood, bones, and a soup of rotten sludge. Keep in mind that the sacks expand and stretch in order to hold everything. One that makes its way into a nursing home for instance, could, over the course of a day or two, expand to fifteen feet long and ten feet around at the widest point. 

Not only that, but they are never sated. They only stop eating when they can't find anything else to eat or when they've been destroyed. Hence, their name: The Hungry. 

All that while I was trying to get to sleep the other night. Really, brain?

Anybody want to draw one up for me? My visual arts skills suck. That's why I paint with words.

Sleep tight everyone. Also, don't forget to check the Giveaways link at the top to keep up on Kindle Free Days, contests, and other chances to win stuff!

~ Shaun
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