The Hero’s Journey: For Writing & Life

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You are probably on a journey; I know I am. For me, it’s a writer’s journey, but it’s a hero’s journey, too. Writers have our own battles, allies, and enemies to navigate. Whether we realize it or not, the characters we write about, and ourselves, have embarked upon The Hero’s Journey. Cinch down your cloak, replenish the ink in your sharpest quill, and let’s talk about it.

hero with a thousand faces 1.jpgThe Hero’s Journey is a concept I first read about in Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell explains that there are reoccurring themes that run through almost all stories, myths, and even religious texts. The theme is The Hero’s Journey. Once it’s broken down into pieces, you can’t help but noticing it in most of the books, movies, and mediums you see everyday. Even aspects of our own lives conform to the structure.

While Campbell introduced the idea of The Hero’s Journey, Christopher Vogler does an amazing job of breaking it down into component pieces in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters. Campbell basically said, “There be dragons ahead,” and Vogler took that statement and wrote a book on how to slay those winged beasts.

Vogler’s step-by-step model of writing stories has been adopted by many writers working in different mediums. You’ll have a hard time finding a Pixar or Disney movie that doesn’t adopt this structure outright. The reason? Well, for one, it works. Two, this plotting method is relatable to most people, because our life experience seems to tie into the myth of the story.

Vogler explains, “The Hero’s Journey, I discovered, is more than just a description of the hidden patterns of mythology. It is a useful guide to life, especially the writer’s life. In the perilous adventure of my own writing, I found the stages of the Hero’s Journey showing up just as reliably and usefully as they did in books, myths, and movies” (p. 5).

With Vogler and Campbell’s twin stars on the horizon as our guide, lets learn about the journey. Also, let’s uncover how it applies to our writing and our lives.

hobbit holeThe Ordinary World. This is where the writer introduces the hero/heroine in their normal environment. Of course, they aren’t a hero yet. They are a street rat (Aladdin), hairy-footed Hobbit in a hole (LOTR), or girl living in the coal district (Hunger Games).

For the writer, this may be the time before you started writing. Maybe you thought about writing. There was a nagging feeling, but you ignored it. You stayed in the comfort of your Ordinary World.

The Call to Adventure.  This is when an external influence causes the hero/heroine to consider abandoning the Ordinary World.  This call to action is often times them learning of a threat to the safety of their Ordinary World.

For writers, this is the moment of inspiration.  Maybe a book, friend, teacher, movie, flash of clarity, or all of these combined, turns the nagging feeling into something more.  The words are calling to you.

refusing the call.jpgRefusal of the Call. This is the moment of doubt. The budding hero doesn’t want to leave the comfort of the Ordinary World. Family, doubt in ability, lack of incentive, and fear are often played upon refusals.

These are those first doubts you feel as a writer. “I can’t do this.  I don’t have a story to tell. I don’t even know how to write well.  Is writing worth it?”

Mentor Pops Up. Aladdin had a genie, the hobbits had Gandalf, and Katniss had Haymitch. These are their guides to push them along.  Some act as a moral compass, some simply push the hero, and some are there to meddle.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a person when it comes to writers. It can be, sure, but it can also be a book/idea/dream that inspires you. Something to guide you along your path and help you step outside of your comfort zone.

door to a new world.jpgCrossing the First Threshold. This is when the story starts getting interesting. The hero puts his/her head down and embarks on the quest.  They accept the adventure, leaving the Ordinary World and entering a special one.

For you wordsmiths, this is when you say, “Screw it – lets do this thing.” You sit down and begin the process. You exit the real world and enter the creative whirlpool. I see many authors quitting their jobs and taking up writing full-time. No doubt, they are crossing toward the First Threshold.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies.  Here we start getting elements sprinkled in. The hero/heroine meets friends, learn of and encounter enemies, and begin facing minor trials. They battle threshold guardians and sometimes, almost always, they come up short. The hero/heroine haven’t yet honed their skills. Or perhaps they haven’t built a strong enough connection with their allies to be effective.

hercules.jpgFor us scribblers, this is the beginning of the process. We seek out others like us. We deal with writers block and creativity issues. We learn that the initial fire, that spark, won’t sustain us. We need something more: dedication and habit. We often fail, but in the process, we begin to get better at the craft.

Approach to the Inmost  Cave. At this point, the hero/heroine (and allies if applicable) have honed their skills, and are preparing to face the enemy.  They stand at the gates, swords/wands/pens in hand with a determined look on their faces. Their scars, whether metaphorical or very real, are a testament to the journey they have taken to this point.

For writers, this when you start getting deeper into the work. You’ve knocked out a couple hundred pages, maybe told a few people what you are up to, and now the pressure is mounting. The end is in very near, but you still have work to do. You hope your resolve and skill will carry you to the end.

The Supreme Ordeal. This is the, “oh crap,” moment when the hero stares death in the face. For the reader/audience, you wonder if they will survive. The hero/heroine does survive the conflict, often barely, and realize they are more powerful/resourceful than they thought.

For the writer, this is the moment when you almost lose the writing battle. You step away for a few days, weeks, or months — sometimes longer.  You reappraise what you are doing. If you are the writing hero I know you are, you’ll return to the desk and finish.

flying carpet.jpgReward. For the hero, they seize the reward after beating the boss; the battle is won. Many times, they gain a boon, trophy, or magic item. The reward may simply be the realization of power they didn’t know existed within themselves.

My friend M.L.S. Weech always says, the more times you type, “The End,” the more confident you will be in your skill. He also says the more of them you type, the easier and quicker the next one is to get to.  This is sentiment I’ve heard echoed by many of the writers I work with, or consider to be mentors in my own journey. Needles to say, for a writer, typing The End is a major reward.  It is also the realization of hidden potential.

The Road Back. The hero begins the return journey back to the Ordinary World with the reward in hand, or inside them.

For the writer, I equate this to the real world versus fantasy world we live in while we write. You improved your skills while you wrote, you finished the work, now you must come back to the Ordinary World and edit/promote/sell it.

TheKnightAtTheCrossroads.jpgResurrection. The hero may have slain the dragon and seized the magic sword that heals the land, but now the dragon’s mother is in pursuit. Often times, the hero must deal with the consequences of their Supreme Ordeal. When power is found, unlocked, or a magic item is gained, there is often the issue of wielding this power responsibly. Sometimes, those around you become wary of what you have become, or what you are capable of.

For the writer, this is the realization that writing The End is just another beginning. There are edits, rewrites, book covers, email lists, agents, publishers, and critics to contend with now.  More ordeals spring up like weeds.

potion.jpgReturn with the Elixir. It’s all meaningless for the hero if they don’t return to the Ordinary World clutching their spoils. These spoils can by physical: an item to cleanse the blighted land, or powerful weapon to protect it. The spoils can be mental: they now have a story to share, become a mentor themselves, or offer insights to protect and enhance their Ordinary World.

For us writers, these are the moments of impact after the book, or work, is out there. The email from an appreciative reader, the five star review, the kind words from friends and family. Maybe your elixir is to compile a book to illuminate the way, much like Campbell and Vogler did for me.

That’s The Hero’s Journey.  This was a longer post, if you made it this far you’ve completed a reader’s journey.  In the future, I want to elaborate on each step, but we needed a point to jump off from – hence the length.

I hope you found this helpful. Do aspects of your life (writing life/life in general) fit The Hero’s Journey? Do you feel like steps are missing or are incorrect? I’d love to talk about it.


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Moved in: Hello Virginia

home-sweet-home-1456862578eiX.jpgAt long last I have moved into the new house and am sinking back into a normal schedule. *maniacal laughter* This is my fifth or sixth military move, and let me tell you, this one was a kick in the poop shoot.

Regardless, the house is now painted, baby-proofed, and mostly unpacked. I felt bad for the garbage collectors because I had a mountain of broken down cardboard boxes and packing paper stacked into the stratosphere in front of the driveway.

Other technical difficulties included: transitioning my business to a new state, building a companion author page to this one (located here), going 2,000 pounds over the weight limit for household goods (whoops), and attempting/succeeding to move a 200 pound desk and other miscellaneous furniture up a flight of stairs…two story houses are the worst.

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My new home office—where the magic (insanity) happens.

I wrote a post a while back about how environment impacts writing. Some people are flexible and can write at a rock concert, and some people need a perfect little nook. I seem to fall into the latter category. But I have my nook now and am looking forward to judo chopping all the work that has been piling up.

A big “thank you” to J.R. Handley for stopping by the house and bringing over a housewarming gift from his family. Talk about a warm welcome to Virginia. Not only did we eat lasagna until our stomachs almost exploded, we also plotted out a short story for an upcoming anthology. We will be co-authoring the short story, so that should either be really mind blowing, or make people weep uncontrollably. Maybe both?

Wastelander Cover.jpgI mentioned my companion site, that is where I am going to start keeping updates on Wastelander, other book projects, collaborations/co-writing projects, and my author updates. I’m not dense enough to think everyone who comes here for writing tips gives a hoot about my hack fiction — but if you do, be sure to swing over for updates on that front.

All right, moving forward. Time to start doing what this page was meant for: writing tips. Please stay tuned and thanks for bearing with me during this overly long move. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always — stay sharp!

 

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Closing the Door & Opening it Back Up

door.jpgIt’s been a couple weeks (maybe more) since I’ve posted. Fear not, I still pull breath. I’ve had a supremely busy month. Stephen King talks about the need to close the door when you work. Well, I didn’t just close it; I bricked it up.

I don’t have a lot of options when it comes to leveraging time. So when a 100k novel came along that needed a structural edit, I had to break the schedule to make the deadline. Unfortunately, this blog was one source I had to slice away.

hourglassThis last month, I’ve been toiling away on that 100k novel. My contract didn’t stipulate a timeline. The understanding was it would need to be done around Christmas. The timeline got moved forward to the first week of December.

Editing takes time (especially structural editing), and this blog is what I had to sacrifice to find more of the precious stuff. The good news is I finished the structural edit, and am now breezing through the final copy editing phase. I plan to be finished early next week. Then time, those precious grains of sand, will stop slipping through my fingers so quickly. On a positive note, the author was thrilled with the results of the structural edit — I hope sales reflect his enthusiasm.

Side rant, have you ever wanted to move to a new state during the holidays? Yeah, me neither. Regardless, this seems to be the way of things. Or, maybe we won’t be moving until January…

moving boxes.jpgYes, the life of the military spouse is one of constant questions and inconsistency. I probably won’t know with 100 percent certainty until a week prior of the move date. This knowledge will preface an explosion of moving boxes, bubble wrap, and packing tape.

Let’s not even talk about having to dissolve my editing business and move it to new state to prevent being taxed by two states/cities at once…sigh

What about my own work? What of Wastelander? Well, the second I signed a contract to edit, my client took precedence. While normally I can divvy out the schedule, this was not one of those instances. I was barely able to finish the contract in time. With the heavy lifting of the structural edit out of the way, I now have the flexibility to write again (my books and this blog).

So, what’s happened since I’ve been out? Thor turned one, our families came to visit, my wife’s 12-hour shift rotation was extended, my friend MLS Weech prepared to get his book out into the world (Kirkus Review & Red City), I realized we’d be moving sooner than we thought, and I drank 27 gallons of coffee.

birthday bay.jpgAll said, it’s been a productive month, albeit a busy one. It’s also been a month where I have felt particularly isolated. I have lots of writers/bloggers to catch up on reading. There is a comfort in coming back here and seeing the cyber landscape remains basically unchanged.

I posted a while back about the schedule I would be keeping here on the QE page. Obviously, that didn’t work out. From now on, I’m just going to play it by clock. As this blog is often a reflection of my life, it can be assumed the future will be dotted by chaos explosions of activity followed by moments of eerie silence.

For those of you who were kind enough to email me, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your concern. I will be responding to those emails over the course of the next couple days. I’m excited to hear about what I’ve been missing out on in your lives.

All right, I’m all shared out. Future posts will be about writing, editing, and tomfoolery — promise.

nano.pngSpeaking of writing, how’d the NaNoWriMo go? Any of you manage to kick your word counts in the teeth? While this is always a chaotic month for those who partake, I do enjoy browsing the interwebs and seeing the mountains of ~50k books of varying quality and content. The sound of tables creaking as slush piles grow is echoing through the universe. Hopefully you let your book marinate a month or so, give it a rewrite, then edit it before you publish.

That’s it for today, I’ve got words to edit and coffee to drink. Now that I’m through the crucible of deadlines, look forward to more frequent posts. Truly, I’ve missed our collaboration. Until then, keep reading, keep writing, and as always — stay sharp!

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Back to the Routine (800+ Followers!)

matthew8-1Hurricane Matthew—what a pain in the butt.  Not only did we (wife, baby, cat) evacuate to a different state, but to add to the stress, my sister-in-law was honeymooning on a cruise ship off the coast of Florida during this craziness (she made it home unscathed).

Fortunately, there was no major damage here at my house.  We arrived at 4 a.m. to find lots of downed trees, a few missing shingles, but nothing of considerable note.  The area directly around me wasn’t as lucky so I’m feeling very fortunate right now.  The Berkeley Observer compiled some photos of the damage here in my region.  The photo I placed of the toppled sign, taken by Cameron Scott, is where Heather and I get our sushi.  I checked and the sushi place survived (thank the sushi gods!).

crying boy_universe.jpgNow that I am back home in the comfort of my writing cave/study, I wanted to take a day to get my feet planted with all of you before diving back into the daily routine.  I’m very happy to be home, have a home still, and get back to the grind.

*Corey takes a cleansing breath*

First off, thanks for all of the kind words and emails.  I have a backlog of emails, comments, and posts to reply to.  I will be doing this over the next couple days.  Obviously, this weather event chucked a wrench into the gears of my daily posting goals.  I will note (for my own sanity), that it took an act of God to push me off the rails.

thanksSecondly, I logged in today to find I had passed the 800 follower mark.  Holy smokes!  Talk about a welcome home present from the blogoverse.  Needless to say, I’m humbled by the support I have found here and very thankful.  It’s nice to know so many others are interested in learning about the dark arts of writing and editing.    It’s thrilling to have found this amazing community, and I’m excited to have reached this point.

Thirdly, I know I mentioned last post I would be recycling older posts during this blackout period.  Truth be told, I simply didn’t have the means, ability, or time to get this done.  I do apologize for the brief lapse in posting.

donate.jpgLastly, for those of you who are suffering from the aftermath of the storm, my thoughts are with you.  I’ll be heading out to donate diapers and food to our local relief organizations.  If you are local, I absolutely encourage you to do the same.

Also, if you are in the Charleston SC area and need a helping hand, shoot me an email via my contact page, and I’ll see what I can do.

For the purpose of the blog, I’m putting the storm in the rear-view and moving forward.  As of tomorrow, I’ll be back on track with the daily posting schedule (unless the gods intervene again).  Until then, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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QE vs Hurricane Matthew & Maintenance

Almost a month ago exactly, I wrote a post about my family preparing to evacuate due to Hurricane Hermine rolling through.  Fortunately for us, Hermine only succeeded at throwing around trashcans and stripping a few trees of their limbs.

Hurricane Coming.jpgWell guess what, another hurricane—Hurricane Matthew—is making its way toward us.  According to the Weather Channel, the whirling monster is supposed to impact the Charleston, S.C. area directly (where I live).

I guess this is what happens when you name your son Thor…

Conflict 101: Man vs Nature

On a more serious note, we are under a Level 3 advisory from the base where my wife works.  As she is active duty Navy, we can be ordered to evacuate and must comply.  I am currently gathering food and supplies.  There’s a chance I’ll be getting to play Yukon Trail: Hurricane Edition™ with my wife, baby, and cat.  (Hopefully, we don’t die of dysentery.)

I also was planning on having my monthly maintenance period this upcoming weekend.  When I wrote my 100th post, I talked about scheduling maintenance once a month to ensure categories and site analytics were being tidied up.  With all that being said, I’ll likely roll my maintenance into this unscheduled outage.

The QE page may go dark for a few days, but I’ll still have recycled posts scheduled and rolling through.  I may also toss in an update if I can, but until the storm passes I’m going to have my hands full.  So if any of you leave an amazing comment and it sits for a few days, know that I am likely convoying away from the storm.

To my blogging friends in the impact areas, stay safe.  To the rest of you, stay classy.  I’ll be back just as soon as the storm subsides.  Until then, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Barnes & Noble: Burning Bridges

burning bridges.jpg

Well, Barnes & Noble (B&N) is getting pulled off my Christmas Card list.  It all started with a simple phone call.  By simple, I do mean the soul shattering betrayal type.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit much.

First some backstory.

flash back.pngFLASHBACK…Flashback…flashback, to about two months ago.  My various family members, all who live hundreds of miles away, send me a stack of B&N gifts cards for my birthday.  Score!  They know I dabble in the arcane art of word-crafting and enjoy a good portal into another world.

Now normally I frequent the smaller, “mom-and-pop,” bookstores.  Because, screw the corporation man!   Not really.  I just prefer smaller spaces, shelves packed to the gills, and the scent of worn dusty books.  I like older texts.  You find all kinds of cool stuff in them.  Doodles, highlighter marks, snippets of paper, or even a handwritten note gifting the book to whoever tossed it aside under the cover.

Regardless of my normal habits, I had some $100 dollars of gifts cards to use, so off I went to B&N.

barnes-and-noble-inside.jpgB&N was just how I remembered it.  Clean.  Tidy.  Sterile.  Everything sorted and in it’s place.  Instead of the scent of old books, the air was heavy with whatever cleaner they used on the carpets combined with the latest caramel-frapa-whipa-latte-vento the attached coffee shop was pouring.

It’s not that I dislike B&N.  I appreciate any place that promotes the sale of books.  If you love B&N, that’s awesome.  For me, it’s just not an adventure.  There are hunters and there are gatherers when it comes to finding books – I prefer the hunt.  B&N is the supermarket meat section.  Everything is prepackaged and perfect.  I want to get dirty.  I want to roam the jungle with a knife in my hand wearing nothing but leaves and a smile as I stalk my prey.

Anyways.

sleeping.jpgI moved to the non-fiction writing section.  There might as well been a dotted line on the ground leading me there.  I looked through, snagged a few selections, and then wandered around a bit.  There were two people sleeping in blue cushioned chairs next to the magazine section.  One of them, an older man, was snoring loudly.  I understood exactly how he felt.  Convinced I had exhausted my limited patience, and daddy free time, I headed over to the checkout counter.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a B&N, but they employ the airport security checkpoint method of herding paying customers.  You have to wander through a nylon-strap partitioned maze to get to the counter.  Which was amusing, because I was the only person checking out at the time.

TSA_LINES_001905820611.jpgOnce I emerged from the labyrinth (now older and wiser, having learned an important lesson about life, and more importantly about myself), the lady behind the counter greeted me, asked me if I found everything okay, and inquired if I was interested in pre-ordering the upcoming Harry Potter book.  My wife LOVES the series (I enjoy reading them too), so I agreed.  Of course I then had to get a B&N card, fill out some paperwork (like I was getting a home loan instead of a book), and viola – book is pre-ordered.  I left with my chin up knowing I had fulfilled my husbandly duties.

flash backFLASH FORWARD…Forward…forward, to last night.

I am sitting in my sanctuary expelling evil from my body (going to the bathroom).  My phone rings, I ignore it, and ding – a voicemail.  I open it and it’s someone from B&N letting my know my book was available for pickup today.  Awesome sauce!  However, a little late in the evening for the heads-up.

They are holding it for me.

Thanks B&N, you’re the best.

There is a high demand for the book.

Really, you don’t say?  Thought that was common knowledge.  Good thing I pre-ordered it!

And if I don’t show up by the 3rd (two days from receiving the message) they will sell it to the floor.

Wait.  What?

We understand this is an inconvenience, but to provide the book in a timely manner to customers we must release pre-ordered copies after three days of the books release.

So what you are telling me is your mega-store didn’t stock enough copies so you are going to resell the book I already purchased?

Have a great day.

Have a great day?  No, no, no B&N – we are now enemies you and I.

And that is the story of how B&N got removed from my Christmas list.  They were added to a different list.  My shit list (sorry for the vulgarity, but hey, I’m a Sailor).

Shady Salesman.jpgThis exchange is exactly the reason why I feel so disconnected from society sometimes.  I can’t go anywhere to buy something without someone trying to get me to sign up for a card, join an email list, or some other nonsense.  My money isn’t enough.  They have to try to sell me something else.  Then when I bite, something like this happens.

When it comes down to it, I’ll get the book today.  I’ll take time out of my schedule, strap Thor down, and wander over to get the book I already bought before they sell it out from under me.  Heather will be happy.  I’ll be happy as a result.

As for Barnes & Noble – they won’t miss me.  The store will remain how I remember it.  Clean.  Tidy.  Sterile.  Devoid of adventure and absent another customer.

small bookstore.jpgNot really a writing tip today.  More of a life tip.  A while back I wrote a blog post about print being dead, here.  In it, I talked about the misconception that bookstores were dying out.  The truth is, small bookstores are on the rise.  They are run by people passionate about writing.  Places where an indie author can wander in with a box of books, and get them up on the shelves.

If this new experience taught me anything, it’s that I should have never left my local book haunt and wandered into the sterile convenience of B&N.  Never trade adventure for easy passage.  Never worship in a temple where the worshipers are asleep and snoring loudly.

We will kick it back off with writing tips tomorrow.  Until then, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Pretending to be Aristocrats

humor-yard-of-the-month

That’s a yard with purpose.

Mowing the lawn isn’t just tedious and repetitive, I think  it enforces classism.  In this American dream, the lawn of the month gets its address posted on a bulletin board and receives a cheap looking gold and black placard to plant in their perfectly manicured yard.  Emblazoned upon it is, “Yard of Month Winner”.   It might as well say, “Rob this house, they have the most money to blow on pointless aesthetics”.

That’s just me.  If you are the lawn of the month guru, good on you!  I’m not saying you shouldn’t get to enjoy your lawn, I’m just saying I don’t care about mine being perfectly sculpted.

meadow.jpgI would prefer a meadow to a patch of boring grass.   There is a single reason why I don’t have a meadow; if I don’t mow, I get a letter from the Home Owners Association harassing me.  As if the monthly money they snatch from me (money used to buy things like Yard of the Month signs) isn’t enough, they must enforce social order among the unwashed rabble.

This lawn obsession traces back to the Aristocracy.  When the wealthy used peasants and livestock to manage the grounds.  Now we fork out money to buy machines, fuel to power them, and toil away to fight a battle against nature we will never win.  Fertilizer to feed some of it, weed killer to destroy some of it, and pesticide to wipe out unwanted visitors.  It seems so ridiculous.  Is this our futile attempt at becoming Aristocrats ourselves?

To make it worse, the summer temperatures here flirt around 100-degrees Fahrenheit.  No one is out in their lawns enjoying the fruits of their labor.  However, their sprinklers are there to ensure those precious blades of grass don’t wither away in the sun.  Yet more waste.  As I drive home, streams of water run down the roads sloping gutters into the storm drains as house after house over-saturates the American dream of greener pastures.

I understand there is satisfaction in coming home to our castles and surveying our little plots of dirt.  I get that some of us are actually able to withstand the blistering summer temperatures and enjoy the front and back yards.  Good on you!  I just don’t understand why something as basic as a lawn must be treated as a mark of class.  I went to plenty of domestic disturbances when I was cop that took place in really nice houses with really nice lawns.  The element of class was still sadly missing.

overgrown city.jpgA part of me wishes the woods bordering my house would explode to life and take back the subdivision overnight.  I would wake up, open my door, and be underneath a canopy of trees.  Vines would creep up out of the earth and break the road to bits.  It is the apocalyptic part of me.  Perhaps it’s partially why I’m writing a post-apocalyptic novel.

Anyways, until that happens I will just be over here watching the grass grow during the day, and out in the woods with Miracle Grow and a hose at night.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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