Reading and Writing Goals for 2015 (and oh BTW—I finished the draft of my novel!)

The fact that I finished my first draft of my novel should not be an afterthought in that headline. It should be a cause for celebration!

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It felt great to finish it and it also felt great to know that the plot doesn’t suck. There’s much to work on (it’s too short, my characters flip flop a lot, the ending is still wobbly) and it’s so different from it’s original incarnation I started working on two years ago (holy shit, two years?!), but it resembles something publishable. To think it almost came out in that original version makes me queasy. It’s on the road to a better place. And, thanks to Santa, I am getting ready to revise it in Scrivener!

Anyways, I finished that sucker and while I wait I’ll be doing more writing (here and on other projects), reading, and focusing on lots of school related stuff (finishing my Master’s, getting organized on Ed Fair and more). Since I am goal oriented (and relatively good at reaching my goals), I set three each for my writing life and reading life. Check them out below!

Reading Goals

1. Read 156 books–that’s 36 more than I read this year and averages to three a week, which I think is not only doable, but necessary. I’ve noticed that the more I read, the better writer I am. I forget who said it, but reading is a writer’s apprenticeship. It’s crucial.

2. Kill my TBR-Recently my TBR spun wildly out of control. The cabinet I put all my unread books in (because I have thing about having to read books that go on my shelves) was literally overflowing. I then set up a Read 5 Before I Buy challenge. So far it’s working really well. My goal is to get it down to 30 unread books in 2015 so I can kill it once and for all in 2016.

3. Do the ‘Read Harder Challenge‘ on BookRiot: I was sort of hot and cold on this one and then I figured, well, why not? It’ll help kill that TBR!

Writing Goals

1. Finish ‘The Adam Teller Story’. That means final draft. Do all the changes. Commit to it, Hoferer.

2. Write two other novels- either for my Russia series or my time travel series

3. Participate in NaNoWriMo

How about you, my lovely readers? Any reading and writing goals for 2015? Or just goals in general?

2014 Superlatives (Book Edition)

Favorite book/best book: ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr
runner up: ‘White Oleander’ by Janet Finch

I read both of these books for book club. Coincidence?

Best Ending: ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan
Worst Ending: ‘The Storyteller’ by Jodi Piccoult

Talk about a letdown. I adored ‘The Storyteller’ until the last ten pages. UGH.

Best YA: The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress) by Marissa Meyer

I feel like I’m the only one of my friends that has read this series and that needs to change right now. I myself wasn’t interested in the books based on the covers, but oh holy cow I’m so glad Cinder was the deal of the day at the iBooks store because that’s the only reason I downloaded it. I then proceeded to stay up all night to read it. I just love Cinder, I love her chemistry with Kai, and I love the world Marissa Meyer built. It’s the most enjoyable read an the equivalent to eating a big chocolate cake. Plus, they are fairytale retellings, and I love the twists she puts in there. The final book, Winter, cannot get here soon enough.

Most Challenging, and therefore Most Rewarding: ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace
Most Challenging, and not at all rewarding: ‘Les Miserables’ by Victor Hugo

Sorry, Victor, but I don’t need to know THAT many details about France’s plumbing system in the 19th century.

Book that Made Me a Better Person: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It was just a beautiful book and everyone should go read it and then watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s two awesome TED Talks; We Should All Be Feminists and The Power of A Single Story.

Best Narrative NonFiction: ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand

Best Nonfiction: ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg

Both super fascinating and hard to put down!

Best Graphic Novel: ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson

Best Atwood: ‘Year of the Flood’ by Margaret Atwood
Best Atwood Impersonation: ‘The Girl in the Road’ by Monica Byrne

Favorite Shakespeare: MacBeth

Best Classic: ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath
runners up: ‘All the King’s Men’ by Robert Penn Warren
‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley 

Best Historical Fiction: ‘The Aviator’s Wife’ by Melanie Benjamin

Charles Lindenberg was kind of an asshole and also kind of a Nazi. You learn something new every day.

Most Enjoyable: ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

80s references everywhere! It was so much fun to read. Could it be a movie now, please?

Most Heartbreaking: ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ by John Boyne

All I did was sob.

Biggest Surprise: A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Biggest Disappointment: ‘Shatter Me’ by Tahereh Mafi 
runner up: ‘Spook’ by Mary Roach 

‘Shatter Me’ was just too much for me to handle. Everyone on the internet loves the author, and she seems cool, but I wasn’t impressed by her work. And I know Mary Roach is better than ‘Spook’ which had so much potential and was really just boring after the first two chapters.

Best Memoir: ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed 
runner up: ‘A House in the Sky’ by Amanda Linkhout

Both memoirs were thought-provoking and, at times, heartbreaking. Both of the leads are two complex examples of strength, which I loved.

Things I Loved in 2014 (that weren’t books)

With the closing of another year, the internet is inundated with ‘Best of’ lists. I tried to steer clear of posting one of these for a while, but the enormous amount of downtime on my Christmas break has lead to me crafting some end of year posts, as well as one that looks ahead to 2015.

I read a lot of books, but that’s for another post. Here I’m going to talk about the non-bookish things that I became totally obsessed with this year. Here are those five fun things:

Chris Evans’ movies (and his arms) 

Two of my favorite movies this year both had one thing in common: Chris Evans. He started out his year really strong with his reappearance as Captain America, but I’ll get to that. What really took me aback was his film Snowpiercer.

Directed by a South Korean revelation by the name of Bong-Ho, Snowpiercer is the story of an uprising on a train…the train where the rest of civilization resides post-some-huge-apocolyptic-event. It has a stellar cast and Chris Evans is one of the leads. He’s gritty and raw and real and as I was watching it (it’s gripping as a visual art as well) a siren went off in my head. Chris Evans isn’t just a pretty face, the dude can act.

He doesn’t get to stretch himself the same way in Captain America, but he’s a compelling force that holds the screen and your attention in what is so far the best movie to come from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The reason it’s so freaking good is the directors treated it like a 1970s spy thriller with a dash of Argo and comic book action sequences. Plus, the title of the movie is taken from a poem and has multiple meanings. This appeals to my inner nerd in multiple ways.  Chris Evans in those tight suits and kicking the ass of twenty bad guys in an elevator appeals to my ovaries in multiple ways. All sides of me win on this one.

“1989” by Taylor Swift

I have a confession to make—I am a Taylor Swift fan. I tried to keep my unabashed love for her on the down-lo for a while because for some reason I felt guilty liking her. Well, I don’t feel guilty anymore. With the release of “1989,” arguably my favorite album of 2014, I felt all shame slip away. I love Taylor Swift. There, I said it. Her music just speaks to me. This album lets me indulge in every emotion, from wanderlust in “Welcome to New York” to nostalgia and longing and love in “Wildest Dreams” to optimistic romanticism in “How You Get the Girl” and catty vengefulness in “Blank Space.” “Clean” is just a great song, and the one I relate to most. I’ve cried at more than one song more than once and I have no qualms admitting it here on the internet. It’s just a great album and T. Swift herself is great.

Murder Mysteries 

I probably shouldn’t revel in the deaths of others, but boy did I discover a love for mysteries this year. I’ve always liked them (underneath all the wands and potions, the Harry Potter series are a bunch of whodunits), but this year I’ve been absorbed by them in various formata. I binged True Detective, which was great, and Top of the Lake, which is EVEN BETTER. My friend Katie got me into Sherlock, I became obsessed with the podcast Serial, and I’m slowly making my way through the Swedish version of The Killing (it’s good even if I have to read it) and I’m about to start the TV version of Fargo. On top of all of this I put lots of great mysteries on my TBR and I’m anxiously awaiting all of Broadchurch (the UK version, hello David Tennant!) to be available. I’ve had some pretty weird dreams, but my sleuthing skills are getting better.

Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon

I once again have my friend Katie to thank for introducing me to Reese’s instagram. This is where my newfound respect for this Hollywood badass started. First of all, her pictures are adorable, and she has such refined, beautiful taste. Second, it’s a great glimpse into what an awesome mom and person she is. She truly cares about stuff! She’s also a savvy businesswoman, something I really admire. She was one of the producers of Gone Girl and she’s the anchor of Wild which was just heartbreaking and lovely. She works on projects she is passionate about and it shows in their quality. In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, she said that her production company wants to focus on lead women who are complex. It’s a wild idea for Tinseltown, but I’m down! I plan on fully supporting her.

To top it all off, Reese was a joke on The Mindy Project which is the only show that keeps me consistently laughing with it’s clever, timely jokes and hilarious asides. The captain of that ship is Mindy Kaling, another awesome lady who I stalk on social media. Mindy is funny and fashionable. She’s smart and she likes things like the Kardashians and Edith Wharton. She carries herself so well and she had the most hilarious story about the recent Nobel Peace Prize Winner. I can’t say enough good things. Are there people out there who don’t like Mindy Kaling?

My dream for 2015 is to have lunch with Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon. Maybe you can come, Katie.

A Really Late November Book Haul

Oh my goodness, I have been quiet lately! I have good reason to be (which I’ll go into more detail later), but for now let me just say I’ve missed my little corner here on the internet.

That being said, I have been doing lots of reading, and less purchasing of books. My TBR cabinet (when I included audio and e-books), clocked in at exactly 100 books which is WAY TOO MUCH. Like seriously, it’s a sickness. I’m starting to envy people who don’t have TBR lists at all. I dream of the day…

Too make myself feel like less of a horrible, materialistic person, I put myself on a book buying ban of sorts. Basically I can only buy a book after I read five out of the TBR cabinet. I want to keep myself on this ban until I get myself down to 20 books.

These were my last purchases before the ban, and they were three good ones. Check them out below.

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From left to right they are…

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood-A bleak short story collection about being in the “winter” of one’s life. Marge is one of my favorite authors, both alive and dead. We read this for book club and I enjoyed it.

Middlemarch by George Eliot- It’s the ‘E’ of the Penguin Drop Caps collection, it’s yellow, and it’s on my list of 100 Books to read before I turn 30. Those were all the reasons I needed to buy it.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler- Because she’s one half of my favorite duo. The book is super colorful and it seems like a less serious read.

Just three little books, though I’m sure I’ll be back in December with even more since it’s the holidays. Until next time (which should be soon since school is out in 2.5 days!), I’m out.

(A Rather Large) October Book Haul!

Holy shit, there are a lot of books.

I didn’t even pay that much for all these books. For the most part, I took advantage of a sale and some were gifts were given to me by my lovely students. So as not to overwhelm my readers (or myself because it would have been pretty difficult to put all of these in one picture), I’m breaking this book haul down into three parts: beautiful books, books I bought/was given, and books from the library used book sale.

Strap in. Here we go!

Beautiful Books

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LOOK AT THESE BOOKS. THEY ARE SO PRETTY.

Okay, sorry, I just got really excited.

But really, Penguin is going to send me into bankruptcy because they are putting out so many amazing editions of their books, including the super beautiful Penguin Drop Caps. The picture doesn’t do them justice, either. I’m now on a mission to collect (and display) all 26. I bought ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Great Expectations’ first because they are on my ‘100 Books’ list.

The one in the middle is the Penguin English Library edition of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Since revamping my library, I’ve become a little OCD about collecting books by authors in the same editions. I love these covers and plan to collect all of the Dickens books through my new favorite website, the Book Depository.

Books I Received or Bought  

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I’m very lucky that some of my students recently donated books to my library via my Scholastic wish list. This reminds me, I have some thank you cards to write…

Doll Bones by Holly Black-I just really like her writing, and I wanted something slightly creepy for Halloween.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie-A fantastic book from the fantastic orator of two great Ted Talks. It was the book club pick and I’m SO glad we read it.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld-I felt like a fool for never having read this series. I decided to teach it next year, too.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan-I’ve heard excellent things about this book.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck-Another book on the 100 list and it’s in the same edition as two of my other Steinbeck books.

The Round House by Louise Edrich- I need to read her and this book was sitting on the shelf of a used bookstore in great condition.

Library Used Book Sale Books 

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Look at that giant stack!

Recently, the Jeffco libraries had a used book sale. My friend Kristina and I went on Bag Day, where you can get a bag of books for $6. It took some maneuvering, but I managed to fit all of this in one grocery bag. Here’s the list (bottom to top):

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Love in the Time of Cholera  by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Friday Night Lights by Peter Berg
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve
Call it Sleep by Henry Roth
Charlotte and Emily by Jude Morgan
The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I wasn’t kidding when I said there were a lot of books. I think it’s time for a book buying ban…

I’m off to read! All joking aside, I’m so excited for these books! Until next time, I’m out.

When Writing is Painful

So, I’ve been procrastinating on my draft lately.

I know, right? I hate myself, too.

This time it’s not because of plot, or writer’s block, or an excessively busy life outside of the writing realm. It’s because what I’m writing is painful.

For this particular project, I’m drawing on a lot of my own experiences and while that’s good in some ways, it’s hard in others. I find myself unable to separate what my characters do from my very vivid memories of intimate moments and it sends me spiraling. I curl up in the fetal position or crawl under the covers and refuse to write until I pull myself back together. It’s kind of sad and pathetic.

I honestly don’t know what to do when it hurts to write. Perhaps I play through the pain, or let myself crumble and then reassemble like I always have or I just avoid it and don’t write about it. Will that work? Or will my words sound hollow and forced? Do I shelve this project until it hurts less?

Or…do I simply tell myself that it’s okay if it hurts, but it’s in the past for a reason?

That last one seems ideal…hard to say if I follow through though.

I’m exhausted. Tell next time, I’m out.

Your town doesn’t suck— you suck

Recently I’ve been making lots of trips back to the Midwest (aka Mid-best) and this gets some eyebrows from my friends. “Really?” they’ll say, “you’re excited to go back to Cincinnati?”

This sort of comment rubs me the wrong way for two reasons. One, I am only allowed to give Cincinnati a hard time because I’ve been going there at regular intervals since I was six months old and I lived in the city for five years. I earned it. The rest of you are not allowed to diss Cincinnati.

The second is because I think people don’t give places like Cincinnati and any other Midwest city any credit. I knew this guy in college from Indianapolis and he had no qualms about expressing how much he hated it. Because I used to treat his word as gold, I believed this until I myself went to Indianapolis a couple of times. This meant doing more than going to the airport. It meant actually getting out and seeing the city.

Turns out Indianapolis has cool outdoor art, restaurants that serve good food, bike paths, canal streets and a brewery or two. I was pleasantly surprised.

Indianapolis is no New York City, not even close, but I don’t know why this guy was complaining so much about it. Did he see an ugly side to it? Every city has an ugly side. In fact, the cool hip area in Cincinnati used to the be the “ugly” area. I’m wondering if he said this because he didn’t take the time to explore where he was. When I was briefly in Indy I took the time to go places. I did the same whenever I went to other Midwest cities like St. Louis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Madison and I had a wonderful time in each place. Granted, I had great company, but we went out and did things, exploring what was exclusive to these towns. I went to Michigan on vacation last spring. I’d only ever heard negative things about that place and lo and behold I had a wonderful time and saw one of the most beautiful sunsets ever…and I live in a state famous for beautiful sunsets.

“Life is what you make of it” is a cliche for a reason: it’s up to you to make your experience where ever you are worthwhile. If you don’t, it’s not the city’s fault. It’s yours. Don’t blame it, blame yourself.

For a while I had the itch to leave Colorado. I know, right? I’m so proud to be from this state and I’m in love with it, but I went through a period where I was jaded and applied to MFA programs that weren’t in Colorado with the sole purpose of getting away. In hindsight nothing was wrong with Denver. How could there be something wrong? I live in one of the happiest, least obese states in the country that has beautiful scenery and over 200 breweries . Something was wrong with me. I was restless and fed up with my job situation and I took it out on Denver (I’m sorry, Denver. I’ll never think about leaving you again). Instead of directing my frustration outward, I should have looked inward to solve the problem.

Moving to Bloomington or Chicago or Portland would not have solved my problems. They would have followed me to all corners of the US or even the world. The dark cloud would be above me no matter what and only I could banish it. Storms travel, after all.

Lo and behold I did put my life back together and I started to go out more and spend more time with people who, like me, enjoy exploration and adventure. In fact, I don’t think I just enjoy it—I need it. If I don’t have the appropriate balance of that in my life it makes me crabby.

That being said, I know I’d go nuts living in a small town. I’d drive past those weary Kansas towns on my way to Ohio and wonder why anyone would ever live there. America is built on the small town, and big city life isn’t for everyone, but it’s still something I can’t ever relate to. Even so, I see my small town friends exploring the things around them, having gatherings, and doing whatever they can to be happy. They’re making the most of what us city snobs would call a bad situation, so props to them.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a change of scenery or getting away from difficult stages in life. That I can totally understand. However, if you find yourself complaining about where you live, perhaps you should find out if it’s really the city that’s the root of your unhappiness.

The Maroon Bells.

Dabbling in Graphic Novels

FullSizeRender-2 Up until this year, I had never read a graphic novel. Not that I hadn’t heard about any. In fact, I seemed to stumble upon the four pictured above quite often in my studies, whether it was teachers recommending ‘Maus’ in history or literature classes, or seeing ‘Persepolis’ at the Academy Awards, or watching reviewers gush about Craig Thompson and his memoir ‘Blankets’ on YouTube. I finally gave in and decided to investigate and see if these graphic novels were worth the hype. I knew they were like comics, which I read every Sunday as a kid (Garfield was my main staple), but there had to be something more to them, right?

Well, of course.

First of all, the novels I selected are all called graphic memoirs and they range on various topic. ‘Maus I’ and ‘Maus II’ were incredibly famous when they debuted and gave Art Spiegelman a huge career boost. The novels focused on his father’s experience as a Jew in Poland during WWII and contrasted it with the way his father was in his own adult life. Spiegelman was not afraid to expose the ugliness of both war and what it’s done to his father, never portraying him as perfect. The metaphor of Jews as mice and Nazis as hideous cats speaks volumes and gives the story it’s power.

‘Persepolis’ swept me off my feet. I loved the story and the narrator. It was told so simply, just using the colors black and white and it included powerful, thoughtful dialogue. It tells Marjane Satrapi’s story of growing up as a young woman with liberal values in Iran during the 1980s. It reminded me a lot of ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran,’ but I loved it’s youthful point of view.

My favorite of these novels was Craig Thompson’s ‘Blankets.’ It’s his coming-of-age memoir that details his first love, school, and the first time he started to question religion and his aspirations in life. It was such a simple story, but so emotional and beautifully told.

What I appreciated the most from these novels was how there wasn’t as much room for dialogue, but the story was still powerful. They could still turn a beautiful phrase even with limited space. I grew to appreciate how the authors evoked setting as well. Because of the visual component, they can do things that straight up novelists can’t, and I felt such a great sense of place with every turn of the page, as if 1980s Iran, 1930s Poland, and a snowy Minnesota landscape were all tangible. I read these four each in one sitting, able to breeze through the pages, but the experience required total emersion. I would resurface from those vivid worlds carrying the emotions and experience with me. Though I don’t see myself trading in the novels I cherish, I find that my appreciation for this art deepened with each passing panel.

September Book Haul!

Uh…where did September go?

My first month of teaching flew by. Actually, as I type that, I realize what a gross exaggeration that is. It broke the sound barrier. I not only started head first into a new job, but I also was in two weddings, finished a class on plot, and climbed a mountain. Phew!

I also bought books. Here are the five beauties:

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Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen- A memoir I got for free from Blogging for Books. It’s gotten good buzz and it satisfies my interest in all things Russia.

Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London- I’m teaching these two books to the 6th graders and we’re enjoying them. I hadn’t read either from cover to cover so I picked up this awesome Vintage Classics edition.

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood- I flew through Year of the Flood and desperately wanted to finish the trilogy. It’s the book I’ll probably pick up next.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie- I’ve never read any Christie and she’s the queen of mystery, something I’ve been wanting to get into as a writer. Plus, I love these editions of her books.

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey- I’m trying to temper my excitement and expectations for this sequel. I loved The Fifth Wave last year and I’ve been hearing mixed things.

That’s all from me! I have to go back to writing (or buying books on Book Depository now that I got paid). Until next time, I’m out.

What I’ve learned about plot (so far)

I haven’t been shy about lamenting my problems with plot while on this blog. It’s the thing that’s plagued me since I started with the book. I just couldn’t find a fitting ending and then when I did and gave it to my writers group and my writing friend Katherine, all their feedback was about the plot in some way or another. Clearly this was an area to work on.

I knew that to work on the plot of my novel I was going to have to change a significant portion of it, which was hard for me. So much of my novel was a part of me. The manuscript was doused in memories from college with quirky little asides and winks at the reader. I loved my story and what it represented to me because it was a beacon in a stormy time of my life.

But I had to let it go.

Knowing that plot was my Achilles’ Heel, I signed up for a class in which it would be the sole focus at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop. There, for four weeks I took myself down to the grotto to join Michael Catlin and my fellow classmates for Plotting the Plotted Plot. If that’s not the best name for a class, then I don’t know what is.

The fact that I bid goodbye to my original manuscript was good because Michael pushed me to make definite decisions. That’s what plotting is all about: the definite. In my first class my instruction asked me how my book ends and my response was “uhhhh” and then he told me to figure it out. “But I’m not sure!” I cried. He told me he didn’t care. I needed to commit to something. I could always change it later.

Michael helped me figure out what I was doing wrong when it came to the plot. Basically my head was up in the clouds. I could tell you what the ending signified, but I couldn’t tell you what actually happened and that was a backwards way to do things. Plot needs to exist on earth. It needs to be events that happen to characters.

Characters also drive the plot, and it turns out I knew some of my characters better than other ones. Again, Michael forced me to be fearless in making decisions. I shouldn’t be afraid to make a female character to bitchy things. I shouldn’t be afraid to make my characters wrong, misguided, or, in other words, just plain human.

Once I was forced to know where my characters ended up, and since I already knew where they would begin, filling in the spaces became easier. And, per Micheal’s suggestion (so far he hadn’t lead me astray!) I bought the sticky post-it notes and wrote each scene on one note and ordered them. The different colors represented different characters narrating the story. This was I was able to tell if too much was going on in one scene and I could rearrange things so that the plot has rhythm and flows and doesn’t feel rushed or slow.

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Michael is a screenwriter, and I appreciated getting his knowledge on the subject because he looks at it with a different lens. He got me to embrace the fearlessness I knew was always a part of writing, but had avoiding because of my own personal fears.

The plot is basically done. It needs some fine tuning before the calendar turns and I cut myself off from civilization to write my book. It’s just another draft, but this time, with a little more direction.

Hope you are all well, readers, and enjoying my favorite season. Until next time, I’m out.