Story Hack

Yesterday, a SMS Conversation With My Wife

Wife: Wait till you see the mess I just found.

Wife:

mess

Me: Yikes. Is that diaper creme?

Wife: Xander is in so much trouble when I find him.

Me: What makes you think it was Xander?

5 minutes pass.

Wife: Found him.

Wife:

xander

Me: Whoa.

Wife: He just told me that he is Santa Claus.

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The 20 Trades Project

This is the ad I’m placing in some local online classifieds as well as on craigslist.


 

Terrific Water Tank Trailer for Trade

I’m looking to trade this water tank trailer for something else. Something I want more than this tank. I’m not sure yet what would be, so go ahead and make me an offer.

About the trailer: this trailer has a big water tank on it. At one point, the tank held propane, however since that time a tap has been drilled and it’s been filled with water. As such it will no longer hold propane. Note the hitch type. You’ll need one of those hook trailer hitches to take it home with you.

As you can see in the pictures, the tank has been much used and well loved and is no longer in new condition.The tires hold air. They were put on new when the tank was purchased a couple of years ago. I have them back on the rim and pumped up, and as soon as I find my phone, Ill swap out the pictures.

Possible uses:

* Put a leaky hose on it and drip irrigate your tomatoes all day long with warm water for a week, probably more.

* Tow it behind a jeep or something in a parade. Get all the kids in your neighborhood to walk behind it, filling their squirt guns on the fly so they can hose down parade watchers. You will be the most loved AND hated person in the parade.

* Hold cleanup water to make any location a possible scout camp.

* Put your keys in. That way you’ll always know where to find them.

* If you’re good with welding and torch cutting, you could cut into this sucker and make a truly epic mobile grill / smoker. You would be invited to all the cool parties. Bonus points if you coat it with heat resistant pink paint so that it resembles a pig.

* Use as cover during a firefight.

* Speaking of fire, you could paint it red and pretend it’s a fire truck.

* Fill with candy to make the world’s most extreme pinata.

I suppose I might accept a cash offer, but I’d really rather trade for something. Especially something interesting.

water water2


 

This is the beginning of an experiment wherein my father and I are going to make 20 total trades to see what we end up with. We suspect this process may take a while. If anything amusing happens with this, I’ll let you know.

 

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Idea for a Book I Will Never Write #2

I wrote this as an entry to Bruce Schneier’s Seventh Movie-Plot Threat Contest. I guess that makes it a movie I will never write, then. But you never know, as I already have a bunch of outlines for a political thriller / hacker series. If that ever happens, this may get worked into something.

A plucky young hacker is hired by a freshman senator after he receives an encrypted blackmail message signed by his contact at a major campaign-contributing corporation. She doesn’t care about the politics, only her fee. He is being blackmailed for information that he thought was stored securely on his computer. He says she needs to be careful, and she shows him the stun gun in her purse.

She buys him a brand new laptop, and within hours she notices it sending out packets of information. The computer must have spyware that no vendor is catching. That night a scary man breaks into the senator’s office, steals something valuable and implants a tiny hardware device in the new laptop. She follows him out, but loses him outside near an NSA office.

She social engineers her way into the contact’s office at the corporation. While she is there, his computer receives an encrypted message from the senator with the subject “For the right price…” On her way out of the office she glimpses the scary man in a crowd.

Back with the senator, she learns not only that he didn’t send the email she saw, but that he received another threat email from the computer she was using- while she was using it.

Upon further research, she finds a lot of network traffic heading to and from the senator’s machine to the NSA office she saw before. Using a packet capturing device, she is able to discover that the NSA office is transferring huge amounts of data with the big NSA facility in Utah, but the data is all encrypted.

She breaks into the NSA office, and figures out what is going on. The NSA is using the senator as a honeypot against the corporation, and the corporation as a blackmailer against the senator. This is done automatically, and without human interaction. It knows what will work best, and it knows how to mimic everybody’s communication patterns, due to the ubiquitous data harvesting. It knows everyone’s encryption keys and sensitive data due to trojan spyware and hardware devices. It is not just the senator and the corporation being manipulated either. It is thousands of people, maybe millions – anyone with power or money. Before she collects hard evidence or installs a backdoor, the scary man shows up and almost kills her.

She reports to the senator, who is obviously conflicted over something. He fires her and pleads with her to stay away. She argues with him, having decided the money isn’t important after all. As she leaves the senator’s office the scary man attacks her. She manages to stun him, then grab the gun he drops. She shoots him as he charges. She steals his NSA ID and uses it to enter the NSA office, where she uses mad hacking skills to destroy the automatic people-controlling system.

Two weeks later, she is approached by another politician saying he’s received an encrypted blackmail message signed by his contact at a major labor union.

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How to Combine wav/mp3 Files (Using free tools)

I know that this is random, but I came upon this problem for a project at work. Googling it led me to a bunch of commercial solutions and non-useful resources. I wanted at least one useful article to have a chance in the search engines.

Here was my Problem

I have many directories of wav files that in the old days were used to create a CD set which we sold. We haven’t sold the CD course for several years now, and the boss recently said “Let’s release the whole shebang for free as a podcast or something.” I could go through and convert and tag all the wav files to mp3s and then post them separately. But I’m lazy and some of the 18 or so CDs have over 20 tracks. How much easier would it be if I could just combine one CD’s worth of material into a single track?

This is pretty straightforward to do in Audacity, but I would still have to import all those tracks and line them up end to end. I wanted something a little more automated. What I found was a command line tool called sox. Sox is cross platform, so you can do this on Win/Mac/Linux, although my comments will be directed specifically for the windows crowd.

Now to The Useful Part

  1. Download & install sox (Sound Exchange) Make sure you put sox on your “path.” If you don’t know how to do that, here’s one walkthrough.
  2. Download & unzip the LAME mp3 Encoder into the sox directory. On that download page, I used the x86-Win32 version. You’ll need this if you are working with mp3 files.
  3. Put a bunch of audio files that you want to merge into a directory.
  4. Open a command window in that directory. If you are in the windows file explorer, you go can hold down shift while right clicking on a folder. “Open command window here” will appear on the pop up menu.
  5. Type the sox command.
    sox input_file_name_1.wav input_file_name_2.wav [... more input file names] output_file_name.mp3

    Now let sox do it’s magic. My files were already conveniently named in the order I wanted them in the merged file, so I could use

    sox *.wav output.mp3

    Note: if you have a lot of files, this will take a while. Just have faith that your prompt will eventually come back.

  6. Rejoice

You can do a lot more with sox if you want the output mp3 to have different-than-the-default quality and bit rate. You can also boost volume and do all sorts of other processing. All of that, however is beyond the scope of this post.

There, now I only have to tag 18 files rather than spend a whole day doing it.

Oh, and if you’re at all curious as to the project I’m doing, it’s a real estate investment training course. I’ll start posting the audio files within a day or two.

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Idea for a Book I Will Never Write #1

Okay, so have you heard about the crazy ant problem in Texas? It makes me itch all over just to think about them. Go read that article. I’ll wait here.

Done? Good.

Here’s the second bit of ant-related bizarreness: Zombie ants.

Here’s the story idea that I will never have time to write. You’re welcome to it, although I suspect that you as a writer already have too many of your own ideas as it is.

The idea for the story’s milieu is the intersection of those two news items. Crazy ants invade and spread so much that whole town are being abandoned. The human population shifts itself ever northward. Traditionally exterminating the ants becomes a problem: the colonies are just too strong and they spread too quick. So some genius comes up with the right strategy. She thinks, “You know what we need? We need a pesticide that spreads itself.” She sets herself to making the zombie ant fungus capable of targeting the crazy ants. Problem solved, right? It would be, except that in her zest to make the fungus more potent or capable of spread, now the fungus can infect humans.

Queue the creepy music.

As a side note, scientists seem to think that both of these oddities have their origin in Brazil. So here’s an eco-bonus addendum to the idea: Maybe it’s the rain forest fighting back…

Also, if you’re a scientist, you should totally get on creating pesticides that spread themselves. Bacterias, viruses (virii?), or fungi, it doesn’t matter. Some may call this field of study biological warfare, but I say it’s just pest control. Once you nail this, you’ll be Soros-Gates-Koch-Walton rich. What could possibly go wrong?

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Paperback Writer

I reformatted and updated the paperback version of Oasis so that the paperback cover now matches the (much better) ebook cover. It’s available on Amazon now.

I also got things set up for The Journey of St. Laurent, but as I looked over my proof copy, I noticed a typo on the back cover. Oops. Now I need to wait out the review process again, and order a new proof.

For both, I used Createspace’s new matte cover. Let me tell you, the glossy covers don’t look bad, but the matte ones look great.

Self Publishing is Easy; Writing Still Hard

josl_title

Over the weekend I published the ebook version of The Journey of St. Laurent. I started the whole process Saturday night with a plain text manuscript. About an hour later, I was done. As in done submitting the proper files to three different stores. Each website took whatever time it needed verifying my submission (all had done so by Sunday night, with one half exception) The novel is currently available here:

Gee, Bryce,  how did you do it so fast?

I did not have to sign up for new accounts at any of the three places, so that did save me an extra hour of waiting for confirmation emails and  looking up banking information. Also, I pre-wrote the book description and other info that I was going to need when filling out publishing forms.

The secret, then, to self publishing quickly is automation.

As I’ve discussed before, I primarily use plain text editors and I format the text as I write using markdown. For fiction, this mostly means putting a “#” before chapter titles and then wrapping words/phrases that I want italicized with asterisks. So it’s not like it’s a lot of extra work or anything.

But since my novel was in markdown, and I’ve had a cover ready for almost a year now, there was very little to do.

First, I used SPAB to produce the epub for Barnes and Noble. (Yes, SPAB produces a bunch of other files that can be used, but I wanted to be extra picky about formatting.)

Second, I used Amazon’s Kindle Previewer to convert both the epub mentioned above and the zipped html (produced by SPAB) to mobi, then I picked the one that looked the best to me. That mobi went to Amazon.

Third, I used pandoc along with templates I made for the old version of SPAB to make a LibreOffice odt file. I opened LibreOffice and saved it as a word doc. The word doc got uploaded to Smashwords.

In all fairness, I probably could have just used SPAB and been done with it. However, the file that SPAB produces for Smashwords is an epub. Smashwords will take an epub, but it won’t convert that epub to the ten or so other formats it likes to sell. The book was for sale at Smashwords itself very quickly, but is still pending review to be distributed everywhere Smashwords distributes. That’s the half exception.

Still, the files I needed were ready to go within 15 minutes. Then it was a matter of uploading and filling in forms.

But writing is still hard

Publishing the book was a snap. And even if you don’t use the same method or tools I do, it is still pretty easy. But do you know what wasn’t easy? Writing the thing. Also: editing it.

I’m confident this is a much stronger novel than the last one, but the more I write, the more I recognize my writing weaknesses.

Anyway, the tools to self publish will continue to get better and easier. That only means we writers should spend the extra time bettering our craft.

All Done

Okay, I’ve done several “last” editing passes on the Journey of St. Laurent. I’m pretty happy with the end result. Also, if I don’t quit now, I’ll never finish editing it.

Over the next couple of days I’m going to password protect the posts that make up the final 2/3 of the first draft. Within a day or so after that, the ebook versions should start appearing in Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Paperback to follow in the next couple of weeks.

After I set those things in motion, I’ll be updating Oasis. I added a new first chapter and combed out a couple of lingering typos. The paperback cover is also going to change to match the ebook cover.

And then I’d like to finish up some of the projects I have lying around – the fairy tale book, the “how to self publish” site, at least on of the short stories I’ve started.

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Another Editing Update

I finished going over Dane’s suggested edits a little while ago. He helped me out tremendously. Go buy his books. I cut a ton of fat from the story. Like 20,000 words worth. The book just came back from yet another editor, who was searching for typos and major inconsistencies. It should only take a day or two to go over them.

After that, I may very well be ready to prep the thing for publishing.

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Too Many Projects

Again, I have started too many projects. I really need to focus on one at a time until they’re done. I guess I did finish the theme update.

Anyway, I haven’t forgotten Journey of St. Laurent. It’s just that editing is such hard work. Sometime this week I’ll dive back into it.

I’m also going to try hard to curtail the number of programming side projects so I can focus on the fiction writing. That being said, I do have another piece of freeware ready to be released as soon as I write up some kind of introduction to it. It’s for writing audio drama scripts, which I’m currently into (again.)

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Free Zombie Stuff Today

On facebook there’s an event happening today called the Zombie Fest Free eBook Bonanza! There are lots and lots of giveaways of ebooks, artwork, and other stuff. Every ten minutes something is being given way. Anyway, sometime during the day (not sure when) a couple of copies of Oasis are going to be awarded. edit: Oasis is going to be free for anyone who wants it, you just need to find the link when you get there.

So if you’re into zombies, go check it out.

In other news…

So much for my early April release of Journey of St. Laurent. My buddy Dane did an editing pass for me, and made a ton of good suggestions. Yes, I want to be done with the book and move on, but I’d also like for it not to suck. So hang in there just a little longer.

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Some More Freeware

Yes, I have project ADD. It doesn't help that I have some programming knowledge. Every time I want a piece of software and I can't immediately find exactly what I want, I start making my own. I have hard drives filled with half finished projects.

A little while ago I was digging through some of these old project ideas and I came across the framework for a very simple dream journal. I wrote it intending for it to be released for android and iOS via phonegap.

I hit a technical problem at the time that I could never get straightened out, so I got bored and set it aside.

Fast forward a year or so, and I decided it would be pretty straightforward to make it work on the desktop instead. A couple of days later, I had it working.

If that sort of thing interests you, go check it out: Free Dream Journal Software

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The Cover of St. Laurent

I’m putting the final touches on The Journey of St. Laurent, and I thought I’d share what I’ve ended up with as a cover. I may end up tweaking the text a little more, but maybe not.

I’m pretty excited. Adam Masterman painted this one for me as well as the one for Oasis.

cover

Also, if anybody out there is interested in reading the packaged up Journey to help me comb for typos, please let me know. I’d be forever grateful. Just leave a comment on this post, or shoot me an email if you have my address. Or tweet at me.

What Happens Next?

Well, once this goes live on Amazon et al, I’m going to be locking up most of the chapters here on the site. I know that’s a huge bummer for some of you, but I have given it a lot of thought, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. I’m also going to be republishing Oasis soon, with the new first chapter, and I’ll finally get the paperback cover to match the ebook cover. It’s likely I’ll be setting a password for most of the Oasis posts as well.

Then next project I’ll be polishing up will be the “How to Self Publish a Book” book. Once that is over, I’ll go back to fiction, and try to stay focused on it for a while. All my side programming and design projects are fun, but when I look back, I realize I have enjoyed story writing more.

I Think I Have a Problem

You know all those celebrities that get plastic surgery over and over? Sometimes I feel like that’s me with the theme of this blog. I can’t help myself. Every few months, it seems like, I have this uncontrollable urge to tweak my theme. If I give in to this temptation, this tweaking always turns into a total site redesign and rebuild from the ground up.

Anyway, that’s what happened here last week.

Two or three hours that could have been spent actually writing have been lost forever, but at least I have a new theme. But just check out how neat and responsive it is! Go ahead, go and resize your browser window. Make it skinny and then full screen. Stop rolling your eyes at me. It’s awesome.

If you see anything that looks unreadable or out of place, please let me know.

You know, so I can tweak it.

In other news, I think by Friday I’ll be ready to post something real about the new SPAB! If I’m lucky I’ll also be done with my edits to The Journey of St. Laurent. I’ll ask if there’s any of you that want to help me track down any typos.

I’m getting so close. I can’t wait to start completing my long list of works-in-progress.

 

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Just Checking In

It’s been a while since I posted anything, so I thought I’d catch you up. Here’s updates as to what I’m working on.

  • SPAB! – this is my simple to use self publishing program. It’s been rewritten to remove dependencies on other programs. It automatically produces the various files you need to upload to the various self-publishing sites. Right now, I’m only packaging it for Windows, but it’s written in python, so I’ll (someday) package it up for other platforms, or at least drop the code on github so that anyone with python installed can run it. I’m very exited about this, and I’ll need some of you folks to help me test it out. This software is also central to my next project, which is-
  • HowToSelfPublishABook.org – this is my tutorial site. I’m rewriting everything to make a simple, cohesive book. I’ll eventually release it as an ebook on Kindle et al. with a couple of bonus chapters for those more advanced types. Needless to say, SPAB! is part of the workflow I’ll be teaching. I haven’t gotten far yet, but you’re welcome to check it out. I’m also using that site to showcase the new version of Book WP.
  • The Journey of St. Laurent – I bet you thought I’d forgotten all about it, didn’t you. Well, now I’ve edited 57 chapters. I’m in the home stretch. I have a feeling the epilogue is going to change, I’ve written out a couple of unnecessary secondary characters, and in general I think it’s a way more gooder awesomer book.
  • I’ll be republishing Oasis in Paperback so it can have the new cover to match the ebook version. And I’m adding a brand new first chapter!
  • Once I get all that taken care of, I’ll finish up the Children’s book I’ve been working on.
  • I’m in early stages of planning a series of novelettes/novellas.
  • I’m toying with the idea of making and selling a couple of smartphone apps.
  • And I’m writing another tiny piece of software related to audio drama scripts (of which I have ideas for many).

 

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What’s happening?

Here’s what’s going on in my world recently. I may not have been posting here, but I’ve been staying busy.

  • I’m on Chapter 52 of my “Journey…” edits. The end is in sight!
  • I’m about 3/4 done writing the kid’s book. I think. My daughters ask me every night if I’m ever going to finish it, so I have to keep working.
  • I just wrote a poem explaining my new purpose in life.
  • I’m rewriting SPAB! (Anybody remember that?) in python. Rather than drive other programs to do the file preparation, SPAB will be doing it all.
  • I’m re-writing my how to self-publish a book site. I wanted to focus and streamline the process (hint – it’s going to use the new SPAB)
  • Oh, and in the next week or so, I’ll be releasing the next version of my WordPress theme Book WP. You can already see it in action over at HowToSelfPublishABook.org. It’s been simplified and betterified.
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What’s Happening?

Okay, so I got mad at the internet after the great website hack debacle of 2012. Obviously, I haven’t posted anything here in a while, although I did post about how I won the election over at my other blog.

Even though I’ve been quiet, I’ve still been busy. There are a bunch of projects that I’m working on. So if you care, here’s what you can look forward to:

  • A new version of Book WP. This is actually pretty much ready to go right now. It streamlines a couple of things, it’s responsive, there are a couple more options on the back end.
  • The Journey of St. Laurent – I finally rewrote the section in the middle that I’ve been dreading/having trouble with, so now I’ve started hitting the edits again. It feels good to be making progress again.
  • How to Self-Publish a Book – After much thought, I’ve decided to do some major edits, and rewrite the site to be a more focused book. As a result I’ll be cutting a lot of stuff and moving all the guest posts over here (Hope that’s okay, darcknyt). I’ve just got to figure out the correct way to install permanent redirects for those.
  • I’ve also been working on another couple of non-writing-related essays and articles for my personal site. My goal is to post there once a month.

In other news, I’m trying out a new tool for posting this. More on that if it works.

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Hacked, and Hacked Again

I’m starting to get a little tired of this crap. I have a bunch of sites hosted on one account. A couple of weeks ago all of them were hacked. A line of code was added to every php file in my account. That code would sometimes automatically redirect people to one of a list of websites.

So after pulling my hair out for a while, I changed all ftp passwords and my backend host password,and got my unix command line on and removed all the code from the infected files. Then I made sure that every site with wordpress was up do date (several weren’t). And I scanned both computers that I use to access the backend to these sites and checked them with two additional malware/virus scanners besides my standard one. (Nothing found).

Two days later, it happens again. I double double check, and apparently I missed one installation of wordpress. For the heck of it, I also went through all my sites, deleting a whole bunch of scripts in case one of those has a vulnerability.

Then I made sure that my hosting account was set to records all raw access logs so I can catch/ban the perpetrator if it ever happens again.

I’ve been so mad that I haven’t written anything in like three weeks.

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So busy. And my kids are famous somewhere in Asia.

Okay, so I’d love to say that I finished my round of edits for Journey of St. Laurent and I’m ready to send out some copy to those who have said they’ll help me edit. I’d love it.

I’d love to say that I actually finished the draft of my Children’s novel.

But I can’t.

*Frowny Face*

Things have been crazy in my life.

The biggest thing is that I’ve been fixing up my house / building a shed / installing a new retaining wall in preparation for selling our house. Well, I guess it paid off, because the house is now under contract.

As soon as that happened, it was frantic-search-for-a-new-place time. We’ve now made a verbal agreement with a nice couple, and we’ll sign some papers and pay some earnest money tomorrow evening. Yay!

Assuming all goes well, that means we’ll be in a new place by Christmas. So now there’s lots of boxing up and such to get done.

As to the Asia thing.

Several months back I was downtown in Salt Lake City waiting for my daughter to finish a choir practice in the Tabernacle at temple square, where her choir was soon to have a big performance. As I played on the grass with the baby (then about 8 or 9 months old), an Asian group tour came out of the Assembly Hall and saw him (my son) sitting there smiling. They went nuts over him. About 20 people gathered around and started snapping pictures.

And then few days ago we went to Yellowstone for a family reunion. As I came out of the restroom at Mammoth Hot Springs There was a group of 15 or so nice Asian folk gathered around something and taking pictures. As I stepped into the crowd, I saw my 3 year old sitting on a big rock, hamming it up and posing for all she’s worth. I turned to my left, and there was my 7 year old doing the same thing with a crowd around her as well. My wife was just standing off to the side, trying not to laugh.

So by now I’m certain that my kids have made it onto a dozen personal blogs that I wouldn’t know how to read.

Fail!

Well, I didn’t make my goal of writing that Children’s book last month. I did put down about 1700 (edit: make that 17,000) words, though, which is more fiction than I think I’ve ever written in a month before (yes, I know all you “real” writers are laughing at that tiny amount.) I suppose that’s sort of a win for me. I did really well the first half of the month and then crashed in the second half. Anyway, I have the whole thing all planed out, and many of the chapters started, so it should be fairly easy to get done. I just need to make sure I’m writing something every day.

So now I’ve got get back to editing Journey of St. Laurent.

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Last Daily Progress Post.

Okay, so I’m not quitting my WIP or anything, even if the last couple of days I haven’t written much anything. It just occurred to me that these posts are pretty boring.

However, I still need some kind of public accountability. How else can I be expected to keep going? I’ll be tweeting the daily progress instead of posting it here. I’ll keep it to one post a week for updates.

Current word count: 9,110 ( I did some editing… I just can’t help myself.)

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Weekend Report

Okay, my kid’s book is currently at 9,099 words. It looks like it’s going to end up a couple of thousand more than the goal (20,000), but I think I’ll be able to get it done this month.

However, my editing has pretty much fallen by the wayside. If I don’t figure out a way to get it done, then next month will become an editing month. So much to do.

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The WIP is moving right along.

You know what I’m finding out? Writing is a lot easier when you plan it out beforehand. I’m glad this project has been on a back burner somewhere in my head for about three years. That’s plenty of time to let it marinate.

Yesterday, I typed another 1145 words.

Total word count: 7,813

I may not be able to update here again until Monday. Try not to weep too extensively.

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Day 8

Interruptions kept killing the writing mood. Manuscript is only up to 6,668 words.

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