Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript: It Feels New

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Read other writing advice blogs on my writing page!

During my time as a developmental editor, I longed to fall in love with a manuscript. I wanted to read stories that spoke to me, that haunted me when I went to bed and I woke thinking about. Almost every submission had something I could fall for. But far too often I rejected the submissions I read and critiqued.

The attributes that spark a love affair with a manuscript are not the reasons you might think. Sure, I recoil at the twelfth adverb in a paragraph, pervasive passive voice, misspellings and its/it’s mistakes. I grumble at stories that start in the wrong place or have superfluous exposition. But these are lover’s spats. An editor cleans up language, recommends moving scenes and cutting unneeded characters or chapters. I can love a manuscript despite these faults. But the reasons I fall for them are much more fundamental.

No matter your genre, editors want to love your manuscript. Make sure your submission delivers on the following things, and I guarantee they’ll love yours.

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Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript 1: Your Story Feels New

I guarantee your story has been written before.

Think of your favorite book. Game of Thrones? Try Lord of the Rings, George MacDonald or Arabian Nights. Twilight? Anne Rice, Romeo and Juliet, Dracula and Camilla. Eragon? Star Wars, which was in turn influenced by every hero’s journey myth ever. Every plot and story has been told before, and by a master. The manuscripts I love feel refreshing and new, despite having been told before.

How do you accomplish this? First, by reading. A lot. Not only will this inspire you and teach you the craft, it will expose you to tales already written so you can avoid being the carbon copy.

Second, bring something new to the story, like a new setting or theme. Weave two existing stories together in unexpected ways. George R. R. Martin made his fantasy world unique by getting rid of fantasy races, making magic rare and adding realism and nuance to a world more gray than black and white.

Never rest on one or two unique elements. Add as much as you can at every turn and breathe freshness into your tale.

Power Grid: Why You Must Play This Game

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I know what you’re thinking. A game about building and maintaining a power grid? That’s it?

You: Does it include bribing officials for permits?
Me: No.
You: Then assassination of said off-
Me: No.
You: Is it during a war?
Me: No.
You: On Mars?
Me: No.
You: Is Gojira, zombies, a plague or an imminent asteroid impact involved in any way?
Me: No.
You: Then this sounds dumb. Let’s just play Ken’s Job: The Board Game. (Yes, I have a friend Ken who works for PSE.)

Yes, Power Grid sounds dumb. But for all you board game players out there, Power Grid is like Ticket To Ride and Puerto Rico had an illegitimate baby who was raised on Wall Street by his wacky uncle Small World.

Granted, I have played the game only three times. And each time we have discovered major rules we didn’t use or screwed up in previous plays. But each game got better and more fun.

Power Grid is a game for 2-6 players and takes about two hours. The players pick connected regions of the US equal to the number of players (forcing interaction between players a la Small World) and bid on the power plants in the marketplace. Players buy coal, natural gas, oil or uranium based on what runs their power plants (and what is cheapest) and build generators in cities to form a power grid. Then they spend the resources they bought and earn money for how many cities they can power. The winner is the first player to power a certain number of cities.

This game is all about money and resource management, bidding up opponents for power plants they want while getting yours on the cheap, nabbing cheap resources, blocking opponents by connecting strategic cities, and manipulating the turn order to be first to bid, buy resources or place generators as your needs demand. There is a load of strategery at each stage.

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Yes, Smithers, we’ve taken over every Springfield in the heart of America!

The best thing about this game for me, beyond the abundant ways to strategize, is there are no dice. The only randomness is the beginning turn order and the generators in the market. It mixes the best parts of so many games that I can’t help but love it.

With the deluxe edition, you also get the Europe map on the other side of the board and nice wooden pieces. We have also had players as young as ten play and do just fine.

At first, the game may seem daunting with its complexity. But after you get the hang of it, it moves really fast and is super fun. I highly recommend it for your next game night!

Refine Your Prose: Don’t Let English Get In the Way

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Read other writing advice blogs on my writing page!

Refine Your Prose 5: Don’t Let English Get in the Way

This tip may be the most crucial for breathing life in your narrative and making it your own. But using it without the utmost care can destroy the readability of your prose.

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When James Ellroy sent his novel L.A Confidential to his editors, they told him he needed to cut the length. Not wishing to remove any of the scenes or plot of his story, Ellroy went through and removed every verb, adverb and adjective he deemed unnecessary.

I feel you recoil. Sentences need these words! Verbs in particular are one of the two pieces of every complete sentence. How can you publish a novel that ignores major structural underpinnings of the English language?

Ellroy did. And his prose full of sentence fragments and verbless narrative –which he uses to accentuate the speed and rhythm of his story – created a unique writing style, called Ellrovian prose, that redefined the genre. He would later refine the style with White Jazz and his proceeding works.

Prose is rife with examples of broken English rules. Forgoing rules when necessary can lift your prose to an unforgettable level. But forgoing those rules too liberally, too grossly or without care can ensure no one will read your work.

I wrote a story in college without punctuation or capitalization. It was new! It was fresh! No one wrote this way! (Except every other college creative writing student in existence.) And it was unreadable.  I broke the rules of punctuation and capitalization just to break them, not for any reason that added to my voice or the work.

Even writers that break rules with purpose can be difficult to read. It took me several chapters to grok Ellroy’s style in White Jazz. Cormac McCarthy routinely dispenses with apostrophes, commas and quotation marks. Though McCarthy’s prose is beautiful, I can’t get through many of his books because the lack of punctuation plain bugs me.

This post does not advocate breaking the rules of basic English just to break them. A writer needs to know how to correctly use a semicolon, when to use less versus fewer, where in a sentence a comma belongs, and what the difference is between its and it’s. This comes well before a writer should even have an inkling to consider suspecting that she might want to examine investigating the development of a style that might occasionally contemplate breaking rules. You need to know the rules before you break them. And even after you have a great handle on English, you can develop a memorable style without breaking a goddamn thing. Hemingway, Twain, Faulkner and Vonnegut have styles all their own and don’t go out of their way to mess with English rules.

English rules are rules for a reason. They allow people to understand the writing of others. Our job as writers is not just to communicate with our readers, but to connect with them. When done with skill and forethought, breaking an occasional rule can connect more fully and make prose more beautiful without sacrificing communication. But when those things distract your readers, your work will be relegated to the reject pile.

 

My Star Wars trailer takeaway: Han Solo is a grumpy old codger

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Everybody has seen the latest trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In case you are that one person who didn’t see it (or not, in which case it’s likely you want to see it again), here it is:

I admit it, I loved it. It’s already better than the prequels. (And yes, despite popular opinion about Revenge of the Sith, I think they’re all terrible movies.) But I found myself ruminating afterward not on all the awesome in the trailer, but on the end, specifically the moment when the one and only Han Solo says, “Chewie… we’re home.”

Before you jump to share my excitement, I focused on it not in the way that most of the fan boys and girls do. Han Solo is… old. It’s been close to forty years, man. And it’s not the years, it’s the mileage. He’s wearing an outfit almost identical to the one he wore four decades before. Hell, it might be the same ol’ trusty duds that saw him through that unfortunate carbonite incident back on Bespin. He’s still driving the same jalopy that was a piece of junk forty years before, when he still had the edge to keep it in top form with his special modifications. To put it in terms of a time right now, in a galaxy we’re in right here, he’s driving and wearing this, today.

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Sell old blue? They don’t make ’em like her these days! Let’s see you play my 8-tracks over your Blueteeth thingamawhatsit or whatever the hell you kids are using.

In short, Han Solo is my grandpa. The old codger on his porch with his blaster pistol screaming “Get off my lawn!” at the rascally Ewoks that have moved in to his neighborhood.

I may be wrong. Along with Captain Kirk and James Bond, Han Solo defined manhood and cool for me growing up. The first two examples have aged quite well. I can only hope Han will do the same.

But until I see Han once again shooting first in the cantinas of The Force Awakens, the image of the grumpy old smuggler that time has passed by won’t leave me. Let’s just hope Lando Calrissian doesn’t show up in the next trailer, kicking back a Colt 45 and playing holographic cribbage with his buddies Han and Chewie in the Falcon’s assisted living compartment.

Refine Your Prose: Use The Landscape

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Previous Refine Your Prose Posts:

Be a Sadist

Build by Scenes

Learn Dialogue

 

Refine Your Prose 4: Use the Landscape

Landscape should mean as much to a story as the characters. When used with purpose, landscape is invaluable in creating and emphasizing emotional tone. What would The Great Gatsby be without the landscape of the nouveau riche of the ‘20s, or The Grapes of Wrath without the Dust Bowl? The landscape in these works and countless others is as much a character as the protagonists.

 

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Exactly.

 

In general, I loathe description of landscape, and over-description in general.  It is a prose sinkhole. No other facet of writing gives an author more opportunity to encumber the flow of the story. But many well-known authors describe a lot. Both Raymond Chandler and F. Scott Fitzgerald go to absurd lengths to describe. But they are brilliant at it because their descriptions always matter. Everything described in their works serves the narrative and tone of the story.

Whenever you describe a country, a room or a twig on the ground, make sure it serves the narrative. Use it to establish the emotional tone of your story and reinforce it along the way. When you edit, add description that strengthens your tone, and delete description that doesn’t. Does your detailed description of the rain highlight your story’s themes? If yes, keep it up. If not, rewrite or delete it.

Good description establishes and reinforces emotional tone. It does not show the beautiful picture in your head or act as filler. And it can be deadly for the beginning of a novel. Done well, description can take your narrative further than the characters can alone, and heighten your themes beyond what your protagonists do or say.

 

 

A Remodel Ain’t A Remodel Without Pestilence

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You may remember from a previous blog that our house is trying to kill us. We found this out before our remodel. Now, the offending vinyl (shown below… two flavors!) has been removed and we’re down to the sub-floor. The cabinets have been demolished and our kitchen now looks like the photo at the top of the article.

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Who needs new floors with classy 60s asbestos death vinyl like this?

So we are now kitchenless. And furniture-less. We pulled up all the carpet and molding to get to the hardwoods underneath and will be painting while the furniture is in the garage. There are nails, staples, tack strips and dust on every surface except in the bedrooms and bathrooms. Hence the dining on PB&J using boxes in the garage as a table. Today the electricians and plumbers are doing further destruction in the name of making the house less of a forbidden zone. Oh, did I mention the guest bathroom toilet has been plugged for the past few weeks? Good times.

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It’s like camping! In our own garage! Eating on a box!

However, Life decided living in a gutted house wasn’t quite enough of a challenge. During the asbestos removal, the abatement company cut a hot water pipe and we had no hot water for a couple days. Keep in mind everything was dusty during demolition, with now no ability to shower. Then on Thursday, my two year old Sebby came down with pink eye. This quickly moved to a chest cold, which he proceeded to spread to his sister and mother. Then, to top it all off, I had an MS flare up kick in Thursday night. This means that, for a brief period of time, my MS symptoms are cranked up to 11. I could barely get out of bed Friday morning.

So in addition to a house with no furniture, no kitchen, no hot water and no laundry room, four of the five family members were put out of commission due to illness. Remodeling FTW.

The silver lining is that treatment for an MS flare up is a three-day course of steroid infusions. Which means that 1) I feel much better than normal afterward, and 2) I don’t sleep for three days. Saturday night I used our shop vac to clean up the insulation, paint chips and nails in the kitchen and laundry/utility rooms. Last night I swept the living room, dining room and hallway starting at ten, and still had energy to pick up molding and watch the Game of Thrones premiere. So I guess having a day of MS suck was probably worth it in the end, after all.

Hunters: Chapter Six

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Chapter Six of Hunters! After discovering Hinge has come to Seattle, Tricia wants to make sure her old master has not harmed her lone mortal friend. Feedback on this and previous draft chapters is appreciated.

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

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Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Six

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

 

Hinge is here.

Sebastian’s words thundered through my mind. He had spoken them with a casual indifference that showed he didn’t appreciate the horror it brought me. Or maybe he did know and didn’t give a shit. Or planned on it. Or fuck.

Hinge is here.

The memories of my old master seethed from the mental tomb where I’d buried them. His utter ruthlessness. His lack of compassion or mercy. The agony and ecstasy that shrouded everything he did. Each memory brought with it the humiliation of my complete servitude to him, and the temptation to luxuriate again in my Cursed nature.

Hinge is here.

The possibility terrified me. Again the hope tickled my thoughts that Sebastian was fucking with me, but I couldn’t risk assuming that. There was no reason the chain-smoking bastard would bother. And if my old master was indeed in Seattle, it was inevitable he would harm my lone mortal friend.

I strode invisible through one of the many homeless camps tucked beneath the I-5 overpasses. The torn fencing around the camp rattled against the breeze, dripped water from the mist that hung in the cold air. Vagrants huddled in a motley collection of tents and sleeping bags under the shelter of the freeway. A few gathered around harsh fires fueled by whatever detritus they could find. The slate gray light from the overcast sky threw a lifeless cast over the camp.

The reek of smoldering trash and unwashed bodies assaulted me, churned into a repulsive stew by the wind. Sound drummed from above as a steady rhythm of traffic poured into the core of downtown Seattle.

Through the thunder of cars I picked out a voice, faint but familiar. The tension in my shoulders relaxed for the first time since I’d left Sebastian’s apartment. I followed the voice through the camp toward the woman I sought.

Chaplain Rosangela Marinha do Carmen crouched on the mossy and trash-strewn gravel in front of one of the homeless men. She wore a beaten leather jacket and dirty black sweats, and silver crosses dangled from her ears. A pair of half-moon glasses hung from a beaded necklace around her neck. She carried nothing save a large black satchel hanging from her shoulder. I could have stood yards away and still picked out what she said, but Rosie’s warm presence always drew me close. I stopped just a few paces back. She was alive, unharmed. If I got any closer I was afraid I’d jump her in joy in the middle of her conversation.

A wall of body odor wrapped over me as I neared the two, but Rosie seemed unfazed by his stench.

“Are you positive I cannot offer you a ride to a clinic?” Her Brazilian accent melted her words together in a waterfall of sound. The gentle voice was striking coming from such an imposing woman. Even crouching, she was nearly as tall as me and dwarfed me in width.

The man shook his head but said nothing. The wind gusted curtains of mist under the overpass, drug the fog of his breath in an erratic stream. His skeletal, callused hands clutched his torn blue sleeping bag closer at his neck. The elements had beaten his reddened skin to a smooth shine beneath the shadow of dirt and stubble. His yellow, bloodshot eyes swiveled in their sockets to avoid her gaze.

She smiled sadly and pulled a black thermos from the bag hanging at her hip. “Well, at least let me offer you a cup of coffee. It will not be as comforting as a clinic, but it will ward off some of the chill.”

A river of steam curled from the thermos as she filled a paper cup for him. The richness of its smell cut through the pall of body odor. Life touched the man’s eyes as he pulled himself to his knees, cradled the cup close to his face. He inhaled the scent deeply before taking a sip. More than for her compassion or ministrations, the homeless knew the woman they called “Sister Rosie” for her coffee.

Rosie twisted the thermos closed and placed her dark hand on the man’s greasy tangle of hair. Her massive grasp could have picked him up by the skull.

“I’m no believer,” the man said. His voice sounded like rocks tumbling over metal.

Rosie laughed. “That is fine. You do not have to be.” She pulled him close and whispered words in his ear even I couldn’t catch. He shuddered, fell against her shoulder, and she held him for several moments before patting his back and standing.

“I will be back tomorrow if you are here,” she said. The man didn’t reply and cuddled the coffee cup in his trembling grip. Rosie turned away, her boots crunching over the gravel and brittle weeds.

I could no longer contain my excitement.

“You’re okay,” I said.

Mae de Deus.” Rosie spun with an alacrity I would have thought impossible for her. “Tricia. I did not see you. What are you doing here?”

I grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her into an embrace. “You’re okay,” I whispered, and stood on my toes to kiss her cheek. Errant strands of gray-streaked hair that had escaped her bun brushed my face, smelled of earth and sweat.

When my lips touched her cheek our minds entwined. Our physical contact wasn’t intimate enough for a strong mental connection, but I couldn’t see any tampering.

Her cheeks blushed and she hugged me back with a laugh. “Why would I be otherwise?”

I pulled away, breaking our brief mental contact, and fought back shame. It felt too much like a violation, not just of an innocent mortal but of my spiritual savior. Telling myself it was to make sure Hinge hadn’t tampered with her didn’t help. Using my demonic powers on anyone I wasn’t hunting, no matter the reason, felt like a sin.

Rosie’s expression darkened as her eyes passed over me. “Your face! What happened to you?”

I looked away. Every ache I had been ignoring started to groan. The marks of the Andrasi fight must still look terrible. “I’m fine.”

“How did you get hurt?” Her thick hands touched my bruises with surprising tenderness. “We should get you to a hospital.”

Her touch was warm, welcoming, but I jerked away from her examination. “I said I’m fine. It was just a bar fight.”

“You got into a bar fight.” She said it without reproach. I imagined the reproach anyway. She had never asked how old I was – I doubted I looked old enough to drink – but she had been my friend for almost a decade.

The nagging concern about my eternal youth grumbled, but I shoved it away. I couldn’t worry about that on top of everything else, and certainly not until she made an issue of it.

“You should see the other guys,” I said.

“Guys. Plural. You were assaulted?” She turned pale. “Dear God, were you raped?”

“No.” I met her concerned stare without blinking. “No. I swear to you I wasn’t raped.”

Then her eyes widened. “Wait. Were you in the stampede at the Trinity Club last night?”

I blushed. Even if Rosie didn’t take advantage of her police connections, that clusterfuck would be all over the news by now.

“You were there,” she breathed, wagging a finger at me. “Ten people died, Patricia. The survivors are either catatonic or in the hospital. What happened?”

I shrugged. “Everyone went crazy. I fought a few guys blocking my way out.” I gestured to the bruises on my face and the tears in my clothes and hoped that would be enough explanation for how I got them.

“You should give a statement to the police. They have no real witnesses.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know anything. I ran.”

“You don’t have to be scared-”

“I’m not scared,” I said, with enough force to cause her to take a step back. I looked away and spoke more softly. “I’m not scared. I just don’t know anything.”

She didn’t break her stare for several moments. Then she started walking toward her car and pulled the coffee thermos back out of her bag. “You could probably use some coffee. You do not look like you have slept since the bar fight.”

I matched her pace, took the offered cup. “Do you ever run out? It’s like loaves and fishes.”

For a moment I didn’t think she’d let the subject of the club drop. But then she let out a big, embracing chuckle that warmed me to the core. “Except with coffee and biscotti for today’s crowd? I have an urn in my car.”

I took a swallow of coffee. She must have seen my expression of pleasure and smiled. “My ex told me I needed to drink water as well as coffee to survive. I never saw the point.”

“He must not have been from here.”

“He was born here.” She frowned. “Even if he moved right after the divorce, he would still be more from the Northwest than me.”

“You don’t know if he’s still in the area?”

She shook her head and swiped at her eyes.

Passing traffic and the hiss of rain filled the silence. I knew hints of her life before we met, but she seldom spoke about her past before her religious calling.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I said.

She waved a hand. “What is there to talk about? I do not blame him. He thought he married a wife and instead married a job. I doubt any memories our children have are fond, either. But without the divorce, I would not have become a chaplain. The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

I heard sadness edging words that were dismissive on the surface. More silence followed. The mist cloaked us as we passed out of the freeway’s shadow into the open.

She batted her hand in front of her nose. “You need a shower. You smell like cigarettes.”

Fucking Sebastian. Not only had he called me a blunt instrument, he made me reek like….

I nearly stumbled. After Sebastian’s warning I had rushed to find Rosie and make sure Hinge hadn’t harmed her. But Hinge had no way of knowing about her unless he had been watching me for a very long time… or if I had just led him to her.

Sebastian wanted me to provoke Hinge into action. He might have planned that I would go straight to anyone I cared about. Just like he could trust a blunt fucking instrument to do.

I didn’t have a choice. I had to find Hinge as soon as possible. Demons could sense each other, but Hinge was powerful enough to mask his presence from anyone, even Sebastian. That left me precious few options for tracking him down. And I would not use Rosie as bait like Sebastian intended.

My mind scrambled. “You were a police officer, right?” I said in a rush, as much to break the silence as to cover my disgust at my stupidity.

Rosie looked away. “That was another life, Tricia.”

“Can you get me into the morgue?”

She couldn’t disguise her shock. “Oh, meu filha, why do you need to go there? I haven’t set foot in the place in years.”

“You must still know people from your time in the force.”

“After all this time? One or two, maybe, but….” She shook her head. “I am not going to try to get you into the morgue.”

“Why not?”

She stopped walking and turned to me. “Why do you need to go there?”

“One of my friends is missing. I want to make sure she’s not there.”

Rosie looked at me sidelong and resumed walking, with a pace fast enough that I had to jog to catch up. “She would be identified if she died.”

“I doubt it.” I started to dig the lie deeper, then thought better of it. “This is something I have to do.”

“Does this have anything to do with what happened last night?”

“No.” At least I didn’t have to lie about that.

We had reached her sedan. The necklace that held her glasses chimed as she slipped them on. She crossed her arms under her massive bosom and fixed her gaze on me. “We have been friends for years. Some of the most stimulating conversations I have ever had are our midnight talks of morality and spirituality. You seem genuine in your desire to become a better person. I thought we trusted each other. But you show up this morning bruised and in ripped clothes, looking like you were up all night, and all you say is that you were in a bar fight and want to get in to the morgue.” She set her mouth in a determined line. “Tell me the truth about what happened at the club last night – and what you are really looking for – and I will find a way to get you in.”

I could only hold her stare for a few moments before looking away. I had the power to break her face into a jigsaw puzzle before she could move, or twist her to my will in a fog of desire, but I felt like a child cowering before a woman as immovable as a mountain.

“I did not think so.” She maintained her glare for a moment, then her features softened. “You do not look as bad now that you are in the light.”

“I told you, I’m fine.”

She sighed. “You are always welcome to come by my apartment. I will make a pot of coffee and we can talk. But no morgue.”

I looked down at the ground, sorting my thoughts, then nodded. “Right.” I turned to walk away.

“Oh, no, we are not ending like this,” Rosie said, and reached out to me. I let myself melt into her embrace.

“You know I am always here for you, yes?”

I nodded. In her warm grasp, the weight of my worry, even the aches of my injuries, seemed to evaporate.

She gave one last squeeze, then released me and opened the car door. “Can I give you a ride anywhere?”

The morgue, I thought. “No,” I said.

“Then stay out of trouble,” she said. “Por favor. I will see you soon?”

I nodded. She winked and slipped into her car. In moments I was alone in the lot with the Seattle mist surrounding me.

The click of my boots as I reached the pavement fell dead in the rain around me. I needed to get back home to change, drag a comb through my hair, look presentable at least. I had hoped Rosie would get me into the morgue so I didn’t have to resort to using my powers. Fuck, I wasn’t even sure the place would reveal anything. But I had to follow the only lead I could think of. I had to confirm Hinge was here and find a way to track him. If I didn’t, I feared the next late night discussion at Rosie’s apartment would never happen.

 

Continue to Chapter Seven

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka, all rights reserved