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Strange Reports from Sector M: A Self Interview

My anthology of short, speculative fiction came out recently. I call it Strange Reports From Sector M. Customarily when a bestselling author releases a book, there’s a press tour, complete with personal interviews. Now this may come as a surprise to many of you, but I am not a bestselling author. Shocked face, right?

Since there aren’t a myriad of people busting my door down for an interview, I decided to do one on my own. The purpose of any one-on-one with the author is really just to let people know about the book, what’s it about, and why people should check it. I’m going to do that for you here, right now. So, look at it as glimpse into my pet project, or a strange sort of FAQ. Either one is fine.

Alright, let’s get this show on the road!

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Thanks for joining us here on Sector M, Matt.

Um, thanks? This is weird. I’m not the only who thinks so, right?

No idea what you mean. So, about your book. What is Sector M, exactly, and why are we getting strange reports from it, hmm?

Right, so Sector M has been my creative umbrella for a few years now. It covers all my social media, my books, even my wacky fanboy videos on Youtube. The name “Sector M” is a reference to my office, which at various times in the past has been called “The Museum of Matt” or “Sector Matt.” It’s my sanctum sanctorum. You know, just like Doctor Strange.

Okay, so Sector M is really just a proxy for saying “Matt Carson.”

In a way, yeah. I also set one of my earliest military sci-fi stories in a sector on the fringes of civilized space. The first surveyors had named all the star systems with words that began with the letter “M.” Thus, Sector M.

And is that story included in this anthology?

It is. It’s called “The Foeman’s Chain” and it’s the last one in the book.

What about the reports? Why are they strange? Do tell.

The stories in this book are pretty varied. Overall, it’s sci-fi, but there’s a bit of urban fantasy and horror mixed in as well. They all have some sort of anthropological or sociological theme to them. Humans are strange beings when you think about it. I’m perhaps a little stranger than most, so these resulting stories (or reports, if you will) are bound to be a bit ‘out there.’

Fascinating. Well now we need to take a quick break to learn an important fact about llamas!

Wait, what?

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And we’re back!

What was that all about?

Just trying to break up the text with some graphics. Now, how is the book structured? Or is it all just sorta willy-nilly?

The stories get progressively longer from beginning to end. The first few stories are really short. The middle of the book has a few stories of a more “traditional” short-story length. At the end, I have two novellas or novelettes, depending on which definition you use. So, if you’re in the mood for something quick, look in the front. If you want something more substantial, go to the middle or back. You can read them in any order.

And how many stories are included, total?

There are 13 stories, all told. That seemed like a decent variety of different types of stories, lengths, and genres. Some are standalone stories, while a few others take place in a shared universe.

Do you have a favorite? I bet you do.

They all have a special place in my heart. No, I’m serious! I certainly don’t have an overall favorite among them, but I would say I’m particularly partial to “The Gossamer Thread” and “The Mundanity of Miracles.”

What are they about?

If you buy the book, you’ll find out. *wink*

Real subtle, Matt.

Just kidding. “Gossamer Thread” is about aliens who view us, the humans, as the ineffable ones. It also deals with society as a fragile construct, and trying to do what’s right when everything is falling down. “The Mundanity of Miracles” is about how the lines between reality and fiction are blurred in the future, and the problems that may come about as a result.

You mentioned societal themes before. Is there an overall theme for the book?

Interesting question. I wrote these stories without ever dreaming I’d assemble them together, so there’s no intentional theme to the book as a whole.

Wait, so you’re saying there’s an unintentional theme?

As I put it together, certain themes began to appear to me, like a Venn diagram overlapping at various points. But, much like when I see a cloud that looks like a duck, I may be seeing a pattern that isn’t really there.

See a lot of clouds shaped like ducks, do you?

Uh, sometimes, yeah.

Like this one?

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Yeah. Just like that one. *mutters to himself.*

Well, what is this unintentional theme of which you speak?

No spoilers, for real this time. I’m going to leave that up to the reader to decide. I don’t want to bias opinions ahead of time. Come on, I have to leave at least a little mystery.

Isn’t that a bit of a cop out?

Maybe, but here we are.

Tool.

Oh yeah, and what does that say about you, then?

Good point. So shall we talk about the elephant in the room?

Sure…

Why is this book $12.99, huh? Who do you think you are, Dan Brown?

Not at all. This is a print-on-demand situation, which means the individual print costs for each book are  higher than if it were a large print run. I realize I’m not an established “brand” when it comes to authors, but when all was said and done the minimum cost to print each book was over $12. For now, I like to think of it as 13 stories for 13 bucks.

Cute. Did you practice that little catchphrase?

Maybe a little, yeah.

What if that price point is just too much for people?

The Kindle version is also out. Since it’s just electrons, those minimum print costs are no longer an issue. With Kindle, readers can get the book for $5.99.  That’s about one trip to Starbucks, and my book will last you a lot longer. *wink*

You’re winking again.

Oh, sorry…

If you’re gonna wink, at least take a lesson from the best.

And who’s that, pray tell?

So glad you asked…

Oh, here we go.

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And, back. If we’re going with the “5 Ws and H” approach, what haven’t we answered yet?

Hmmm, let’s run them down:

Who: Me, Matt Carson.

What: A trade paperback book of short stories, all speculative fiction. Also on Kindle.

When: It’s out now! 🙂

Why:  See below.

Where: Amazon and CreateSpace. Links below!

How: CreateSpace Author Services.

Ah, so it’s the Why that we need to talk about. So why did you decide to put this book together?

These stories are a part of me, and I wanted to share them. While I’m glad to have The Backwards Mask out there for folks to enjoy, I realize its length means that it’s quite an investment of time. So, for those who don’t have time for a 309,000-word novel, here are multiple stories you can read in a single sitting. There’s also something about holding a physical book in your hands that cannot be overstated. It’s the first time my fiction has appeared in print, so that’s exciting.

But why should the readers care about it?

I see what you did there. *approving nod*. This book really has a little something for everyone in the geekosphere. There’s plenty of action, but also introspection about our strange existence. I talk about war, cruelty, courage, and humanity’s unconquerable, if wildly contradictory, spirit. If you like any of the speculative fiction genres, there’s something here to scratch that particular itch. And if you like all of them, so much the better.

Anything you’d like to say to all the folks out there, then?

Yes, please support my work and consider picking up a copy. AND please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Those are the two most important things you can do for any indie author—buy the book and leave a review.

In that case, where can we procure said anthology?

Right now, there are two places: Amazon and CreateSpace, directly. The text on this blog can sometimes obfuscate links (they don’t always stand out in blue), so please click on the word “here” in all three cases.

For Amazon, click here.

For CreateSpace, click here.

For the Kindle, click here.

Well, Matt, thanks for stopping by Sector M. We should do this again sometime.

What are you talking about? I’m here all the time on Sector M. I’m you.

But are you? Are you really?

Yes…?

Sorry, rhetorical question. So, that’s all the time we have. Check out Strange Reports From Sector M on Amazon and CreateSpace!

Until next time, see you around the Sector!

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Garden of the Gods: An Interview with Author Stephen J. Stirling

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Stephen J. Stirling about his latest novel, Garden of the Gods. I was lucky enough to read it early and found it to be an concise and poignant thriller. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes what I call ‘introspective action.’ That is, the kind of book that is action-packed, but keeps you pondering its message and themes for days afterward.

This is something of a first on this blog, but it has given me the idea on having other authors on to talk about their work. For now, though, let’s talk to the man himself about Garden of the Gods!

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Hello, Stephen. We’re so glad to have you on Sector M! I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with another author about their methods and body of work. So, if you’re ready, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Thank you for having me! I always enjoy my chats with the leadership of Sector M and our glimpses into the future.

Let’s talk about your latest book, Garden of the Gods. Without giving too much away for readers, what can you tell us about the story and your influences for it?

The story itself revolves around a Native American tribe in the northeast Arizona desert. But Garden is largely a statement about worship—any worship—how it enriches our lives and what belief for each of us is really all about. The fact that we live in an age that needs religion so badly was the driving force behind writing this story.

I remember that Alan Moore used to say that the plot of a story is wholly different from what it’s about, meaning the themes, allegory, morals, and all that good stuff. So, what is Garden of the Gods about?

Well, Garden of the Gods is about Native Americans, their rich heritage, their connection with the past, and their hope for the future. . . (and it is also about monsters). But to call it a simple action/adventure would do the story a disservice. The story’s subplot proves that every resolution within this book was motivated by faith, or the lack of it.

The book is a period piece, in more than one sense of the term. What kind of research and preparation did you do about the time period, the various species you include, and native tribes when writing it?

The American southwest is a treasure of unique people and, as of yet, not wholly discovered zoological life. It is a human and animal ecosystem in constant flux, breathing and pulsating with the drama of life. Writing is a funny thing. You begin researching one topic, and end up somewhere entirely different. The Native American people against the backdrop of wartime America was where I tried to focus my research—I wanted to do them and their heritage justice.

When you are writing a book, what is your method? Are you more of a ‘planner,’ who outlines everything in great detail ahead of time, or are you more of a ‘gardener,’ who throws characters into a situation and lets it develop organically without preconceived notions of the outcome? Where you do you fall in that continuum, do you think?

This question is very important, and my answer is—yes. You think you’re one kind of writer who has all the characters lined up and ready to do what they’re told, and suddenly they turn on you. They come out fighting and you’re left to clean up their messes. I guess you could say I fall somewhere in between the two methods.

Let’s talk about your main character, Matt Hayden. He strikes me as being cut from the same cloth as many two-fisted pulp-era adventurers, like Allan Quartermaine and Indiana Jones, and perhaps even a hint of Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. What were your influences and thoughts when creating your leading man?

Hayden is a hero cut from whole cloth, at the same time with a huge wrinkle broadening him into a sympathetic strength that is instantly likable. I did craft him between literature’s Allan Quartermaine and living legend Bring Em’ Back Alive Frank Buck, and yet the combination makes him unique among American characters.

And what about the secondary and/or support characters? What were their roles when placing them into the overall ensemble?

Read the book carefully and you’ll discover that every character has a religious angle. Every character worships something. Every character (even “non-believers”) believes in something. Every character has to fight for something, and every character has to abandon something in the process.

The Nyah Gwaheh, the armored bear, has a very complex role in the story. In some ways it serves as the primary antagonist, but it’s clear that it has a deeper, more symbolic role to play within the narrative. What sort of metaphor does it represent?

The Nyah Gwaheh is a living parable of religious value and the things that we worship, whether we know it or not. He is the driving force of the book.

Any chance or thoughts on a sequel? No pressure…

Oh good, because I don’t see a sequel in the future. I think I’ll leave the characters to their own devices for a while.

This last question is pretty free-form. What would you like the readers out there to know about your book? Anything you like. Here, I’ll hand you the proverbial megaphone.

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Well thank you! I’ve never used a proverbial megaphone before. I’d like to leave you by saying I hope others will find as much joy in reading this book as I found in writing it; and if they find an introspective moment—or two—to contemplate their own spirituality I will have accomplished even more.

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat, Stephen! It’s been a rare pleasure.

The pleasure is mine! Thank you for your interest in my project and your insightful questions. Talking with you has been a rare treat.

Take care now, and don’t be a stranger!

 

There you have it, folks – right from the source himself. Garden of the Gods is on bookshelves now at Deseret Book stores. It’s also available in print or digital format on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.

CHECK. IT. OUT.


Backwards Compatible – Part 6: Enter The Fox

So, after recovering from the single greatest bout of writer’s block I’ve ever had, I had to dust myself off and get back on the horse. During that time in limbo, however, when the main plot of the novel was on hold, I decided to write some sequences out of order.

Normally I don’t do that since it makes continuity pretty tricky to maintain. Still, I wanted at least some words on paper while I tried to sort out the real quandary of the A-story. In one of these sequences, I introduced the primary antagonist of the book, Captain Gaylon Fox.

The Man Himself.

Not even gonna lie, this is my dream casting for the character: Jason Issacs.

Most of the time, villains are more interesting to me, literarily, than heroes. I knew he would be key the story, so this was my chance to show the reader what this particular villain was made of. To be an effective nemesis to the main character, Captain Coeur D’Esprit, he needed have certain things in common with her. I wanted him to be a shadowy double of her, like the dark side of the same coin.

The previous novel, To Dream of Chaos, which I did not write, gave me the perfect set up. In it, the crew of Hornet faced off against ship of the Solee Navy, Royal Vengeance, near a gas giant. During the battle, Vengeance was critically damaged and, in an act of desperation, uses its Jump drive to get away without first getting to a safe distance.

Now, for those unfamiliar with Traveller canon, Jumping while in a gravity well is only slightly less horrible than crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. The ship might be instantly destroyed, or never emerge from Jump space, or appear parsecs away from where they meant to go, and be stranded.

Crossing the streams.

I love this plan. I’m excited to be a part of it.

A situation like that was one of Coeur’s defining moments, which led to some serious survivor’s guilt when only 4 crewmembers (including her) survived that stunt out of a crew of 100. If that weren’t enough, Royal Vengeance returns at the end of To Dream of Chaos, and is once again repulsed, and nearly destroyed.

Now that it was my time at the helm of the story, I decided that Gaylon Fox had been the Executive Officer on Royal Vengeance during that deadly encounter. When his incompetent Captain is killed during Coeur’s initial attack, he was the one who made the call to Jump. Subsequently, he became captain of the ship, and had been jonesing for a rematch ever since.

It felt only natural that Royal Vengeance should play a part in the third act of the New Era trilogy. And now I had a villain who had been in a similar situation as the hero, and forced to make some of the same hard decisions. Where the hero used those horrific events of her past to make something positive of herself, Gaylon Fox has gone done a darker road, using his experiences instead to focus his ambition like a laser to further his own agenda.

Snidley Whiplash

Nope!

Having said that, I didn’t want this guy to be a complete mustache-twirler like Snidley Whiplash or Dirk Dastardly. So, I made him competent at what he does, fearless (though not reckless), polite, and coldly self-controlled. Besides that, he often rewards initiative, and inspires service and loyalty in his subordinates. While he’s no saint, I built him so that he might be viewed as a hero from his own side of the war.

To me, those are the best kind of villains, the ones who  ̶  even if it’s just for a second  ̶  you want to win. After the first scenes with Captain Fox, I knew that’s who I had on my hands. He would naturally be the unstoppable force to Coeur’s immovable object.

Force Paradox

Like that, only with more lasers.

What would happen when they inevitably collided? I would have to wait to find out.

Next time on Backwards Compatible…canon gets murky when another version of The Backwards Mask surfaces.

[Check out The Backwards Mask on Kindle.]


Backwards Compatible – Part 4: Cave Aculem

So, there I was…with the idea for a novel burning in my brain. Unlike the dozens of other concepts I had come up with and discarded previously, this one satisfied all the conditions of the existing universe, the previous two novels, and was a story that made me excited.  The starship central to the story was the RCS Hornet, which carried the Latin motto: “Cave Aculem.” Beware the sting. Too late, I had already been bitten by the bug. I couldn’t wait to get started.

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Okay, hum the Mission Impossible theme. Ready? Go!

I had a three-day weekend coming up, so I cleared my schedule so I could concentrate on lighting the fuse on this thing. I sat down at my keyboard and let loose.  The opening scene with August Delpero and his ex-wife, Dr. Orit Takagawa, flowed from my fingers.

In it, Delpero is the former CEO of a megacorporation, imprisoned for his attempted genocide on the Reformation Coalition’s alien benefactors, the Hivers. Orit has come to visit in the hopes of sorting out her complicated feelings surrounding him. She loved him, truly loved him, but Delpero used her as an unwitting pawn in his scheme, which resulted both in their divorce and the agonizing death of her Hiver friend, Cicero.

I was almost to the point where something unexpected happens when my phone rang. It was a friend of mine who needed help moving out of her apartment.  She had until midnight the next day to be out. Even though I was on fire at the keyboard, I stopped in mid-sentence and went to help her move. Being Texas, it was boiling hot, of course, with near 100% humidity. We worked until almost 3:00 in the morning, but finally we got the last load out. Whew…

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African or European?

Even though I had lost a day, I didn’t let that deter me. During the routine of carrying boxes down two flights of stairs and up three, my mind was still chomping at the bit to get on with the story. I got up early the next day and picked up right where I had left off. Pretty soon the epilogue was done and I was on to Chapter 1. There I introduced the two main characters and gave them their marching orders. Before they can get to it, however, they receive a frantic message from Orit telling them about that unexpected turn of events at the prison.

This kicked off the first action sequence of the book, so my pace increased. I was constantly blasting the first Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, particularly “Will and Elizabeth” and “He’s a Pirate.” To this day when I look at those sections, those are the songs that go through my head.

In all, I wrote more than 20,000 words in two days, which is approaching ‘ludicrous speed’ for a slowpoke like me.  It was rough to be sure, but the emotion that I wanted was there. It just all sort of clicked.

So, just like that I had the prologue and the first two chapters on file. A naïve part of me believed that this level of speed and productivity might endure, or that it would be smooth sailing from there on out.

Silly, silly me.

Little did I know that soon after I would hit a creative brick wall.

[Check out The Backwards Mask on Kindle.]

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Iceberg, dead ahead!


Backwards Compatible – Part 3: Like Getting Punched By Batman

A quick note before we begin…

Normally I try to keep things upbeat and positive here. This time around, I’m going to offer some criticism, which could be taken as negative. Understand that these are just my personal opinions, and that they are stated here to show you where I picked up on The Backwards Mask. If you are a fan of Paul Brunette’s novels (or are Paul himself), you might want to skip this one.

Still with me? Okay, let’s continue.

I admit that I found the first two novels of the New Era trilogy rather ‘meh.’  Game-based fiction is notoriously hit or miss. To me, game-based fiction should not just be a shallow commercial for the game world it represents as much as a good story that just so happens to take place in that setting. I mean, you can find some of the best and worst examples of game-based fiction in the Dragonlance setting alone. The core books (Chronicles and Legends) are brilliant, and some of my all-time favorites. Outside of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman? Well…

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Results may vary.

So, the first book of the TNE trilogy, The Death of Wisdom, seemed a bit bland, along with the characters and story. There were moments that were really engaging, but they were few and far between. It was not the worst thing I had ever read (far from it), but it was largely on the forgettable side. The premise of the book seemed like it should be far weightier than it came across. They were talking about the possible collapse of the Reformation Coalition, one of the only beacons of human civilization left in an otherwise dark and twisted universe. The characters just seemed rather nonchalant about the whole deal.

The next book, To Dream of Chaos, was better than the first one. It still left much to be desired in my opinion, but the characters seemed much more alive.  Most of the things that bothered me about this book were those staples of the setting itself (more on that later). There were some strange curveballs in there that left me scratching my head in places, but on the whole it was a improvement. It unfortunately left off on a mild cliffhanger.

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What do you think of the story so far, McKayla?

That’s where I stepped in.

As I stated in Part 2, I had no idea where the story was supposed to go from there. I had some ideas, sure, but nothing unified. It was a just a loose mosaic of vignettes and scenes in my head. I knew that the third installment really needed to up the ante, and bring together the struggles of the first and second volumes.  While I couldn’t change the characters, or their names, I could try to make them my own. The same went for the story. It had to be one that interested me or else it would never hold the reader’s interest. I pondered this during my months of research into the setting, and my endless re-readings of the first two novels.

I remember when I finally had my “Eureka!” moment. I had created, and discarded, a dozen ideas of how I could do justice to the story, of how it all might work. Apparently my subconscious had been chewing away at the problems I faced, because when the story came to me, it was all at once. Zowie! It was as though the Adam West Batman had finally knocked some sense into me.

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Holy bolt of unforeseen lucidity, Batman!

There was the story, all laid out in front of me in a strange moment of clarity. Now all I had to do was get it on paper.

Should be simple, right?

[Check out the Backwards Mask on Kindle.]


Backwards Compatible – Part 2: Just a Few Hurdles

When we last left off, our author was tasked with reigniting a milieu that had long since grown cold. We also secretly switched his coffee with new Folger’s crystals. Let see what happens (particularly since he doesn’t even drink coffee)!

Okay, so there were some immediate challenges facing me on this project, which I will outline here in a conveniently number format.

1.) Lack of Clear Direction

When we started, all we had to go on was the name (The Backwards Mask) and the existing cover art in black and white. There was no indication of where the storyline was going from the second book or how Paul Brunette intended to wrap up the trilogy.

After much debate and back and forth, Marc and I decided to create the new story as he put it “out of whole cloth.” I scoured the setting books and the two novels to figure out the core of the third story. In many ways it was harder than writing one from scratch. I needed to write a novel that was, if you’ll forgive the term, backwards compatible with the other books. At the same time, the series had been fallow for over a decade. While you could still find the first two novels in used book stores, Amazon and eBay, they weren’t readily available. That meant that the third story would need to complete the trilogy AND work well as a standalone story.

So how does one go about doing that?

Any which way you can

Whoah, thanks for the assist, Philo and Clyde!

2.) Literary Baggage

Since I was stepping in after two novels, I inherited characters and storylines that were not my own. It was not unlike a comic book author who takes over a title after the previous writer’s run. You want to tell your story, but you don’t to break faith with what has gone before too much, even if it’s terribly inconvenient. Sure, you can wave the ‘retcon’ wand around if you want, but that can work against you if you give your readers too much of a disconnect.

Much of the crew of the aboard RCS Hornet did not have given names. Instead, they were known by their taccode, or callsign. Even though it was part of the property, the excessive use of callsigns felt a little artificial to me, and seemed like a throwback to Top Gun.  I understand that many pilots in the armed forces (in real life) do use their monikers in place of their real names, but this wasn’t just limited to pilots. Practically every character involved with the Reformation Coalition had to have one, seemingly from the highest commanding officer to the professors at the academy.  Did the janitors and the mailmen have them in the Coalition as well? When a character’s mother, a politician or someone outside of the military addresses them, did they use their callsign then as well?

Negative, Ghostrider.  Clearly, I would have to fill in the blanks in some places, and explain away things that didn’t make sense in others. In short, I needed to write my way around certain elements to get free and clear to tell my story.

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What do you mean Whizbang and Bonzo have no real names? Seriously?

3.) Inconsistent Background Material

Besides all of the story elements, characters and history that I had to account for in the third installment, I had to contend with something else. The novels were not entirely consistent with the game books of the setting. There was some definite rule bending when it came to ships and how they operated. Even the game books varied at times from the ‘classic’ canon of the rest of the Traveller universe.

Worse yet, the game books themselves were not consistent with each other. One of the New Era books couldn’t decide who the Empress of Solee was (the leader of the bad guys) within its own pages. Was she an ex-naval officer who used her expertise to overthrow a planetary government and crown herself Queen, or had she been born a noble, inherited her throne by nefarious means, but had no real military expertise whatsoever?

There was also a ship named the Ashtabula, which was pretty much like the Enterprise in Star Trek (any of the non-Scott Bakula ones at any rate).  In one place it said that there were only two people alive who had served aboard the ship before she disappeared. In another place it mentions that one of the intelligence types attached to the government (who was still alive) had once served aboard her. And on…and on…

This left me on shaky ground. I couldn’t trust the previous novels to be entirely faithful to the setting, and I couldn’t trust the setting to be faithful to itself.

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But then…how do you know?

Once I had a solid look at the wall I was expected scale, it suddenly seemed much taller than I had originally thought.

But this was me…not giving up. *Cue the 80s inspirational power chords.”

[Check out the Backwards Mask on Kindle.]