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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Evernote is Awesome . . . And It’s Not

Evernote is Awesome . . . And It’s Not

I fell across a blog recently regarding the one software application I love–and hate–the most in the whole wide world: Evernote. If you haven’t heard of it, it might be worth a quick Google, especially if you’re thinking of going “paperless”. It seems to be the buzzword lately when it comes to Getting Organized (eek!).

The blog is by Mark Carrigan, who also has problems with Evernote; and he asks the question that got me thinking about my dependency on this most amazing–and frustrating–hunk of software: “What do you actually use Evernote for?“. The question intrigued me enough to write a reply … which I realized had quickly evolved into a blog. So I’ll post it here instead. It goes something like this:

evernoteI was sucked into Evernote for probably the same reason most of us were: it’s just a perfect way to get at things that used to be horrors to keep track of, because they were hiding inaccessibly in file folders (real paper ones or on a hard drive). Without tags to filter what you need to look for, the grouping of the notebooks to filter out what you DON’T want to dig through, as well as searches to pinpoint a specific target, all that information we tend to collect was either useless or just too time consuming to scan through manually to find anything. Eyestrain, paper cuts, paper everywhere! I think this is where Evernote is at it’s finest.

That said, Evernote (to me) seriously sucks at APPLYING that data in any usable way when it comes to relating the individual notes in an organized manner. For example, I’m into writing novels and screenplays. Evernote makes it too awesomely easy to grab whatever device is at hand to jot a random scene or character idea just as it pops into my head. There are no end of ways you can throw an idea at Evernote and they all magically collect in the right place by just tagging the note with the project name. But … once enough of these ideas collect to the point I actually want to start writing, there is absolutely NO way in Evernote to start organizing these notes so that the cards on the screen begin to look like the outline of an actual story. For a brief moment I tried playing with multi-level numbering schemes prefixing my note titles to get them to fall right, but that got old (and insane) very fast.

scrivenerScrivener is my favorite way of organizing these ideas together … all those lovely index cards to drag and drop until a story pops out. It’s amazing! But … getting ideas from Evernote to Scrivener is a major PITA, and disheartening to do one at a time after I’ve taken all that time to collect them in Evernote in the first place. To migrate them piecemeal is like going back to chipping words in stone again (and we all remember that, right?).

And once you do, how do you keep Evernote and Scrivener synced up? If I want to jot another note, Evernote is still the go-to app, because Scrivener seriously sucks for not being on all my devices–they don’t have anything for my lovely little iPad, and its data exports don’t play nice with ANY other app. How do I know which notes are not yet in Scrivener?

So I just stop using Evernote for that project for fear of losing the ideas amongst all the others.

This is where the Evernote fanatics start grumbling and warming up their keyboards to defend their undying love for Evernote and how it “wasn’t designed for anything but to hoard data and find it later, NOT for anything else,” blah blah blah. I’ve never seen people so zealously defend what an application is NOT supposed to do, as if the original posters they’re attacking (and there are bunches of them, just like me) were threatening the American Way of Life or something.

@MiscEvernoteZealot: We’re not going to harm YOUR lovingly hoarded mound of data by asking for a new output feature. Relax. I understand what Evernote wasn’t designed for (I’ve read it enough on their forums). Evernote does what it does very well indeed, thank you very much. I still use it for all that …1200+ notes so far and growing. I’m with you on that.

But I can typically generate 1000+ notes (or twice that) for one story project alone (and I’m gleaning most other writers often do, too). And writers are not exactly a “splinter” crowd (ask any publisher or agent. And although I WISH Evernote would take a moment and add a feature to manually sort our notes, I’m aware they just won’t.

Meanwhile, Scrivener, as awesomely gorgeous and perfect as it is, has been promising an iOS app for over three years now, which must be a record for an iPad app (Guys … hire another developer or three already; the investment will return quickly–just look at your forums). So Scrivener is just about out of the picture for me as a writing tool, as well.gingko

Lately this has become something of a quest … minus the swords, dragons and fair maidens (dammit), but with plenty of wizards! One of them bade me go forth and find an odd yet-little-known creature known as Gingko (mispelling deliberate). This turned out to be a browser-based writing tool that turns Scrivener on its ear, offering an elegantly simple technique to amass almost any genre of writing project. I’m hesitant, having never tried to write a project fully on a browser before, but I love how I can access it from anywhere, and it looks every bit as easy as Scrivener at organizing scenes and ideas into stories. I’ll let you know how this goes! =)

But, alas, it isn’t that lovely data-bucket I can drop notes in randomly from every direction like Evernote is. With all the gadgets Evernote has popped out lately–scanners for business cards, OCR, searchable PDFs, searchable handwriting; you name it . . . you’d think a simple thing like manual note sorting would be a cinch for them.

They’re so focused on the IN, they’re barely looking at the OUT of it at all.

Why bother collecting all this information if we’re not going to actually USE it somehow in an organized fashion? A skeptical side of me is beginning to wonder if they’re collecting all of our data for themselves, instead of for us… just sayin’

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A Love for Drowning Places

A Love for Drowning Places

Natalie Goldberg has been an awesome inspiration for writing memoir for me lately, especially her book Old Friends from Far Away, which I’ve been “reading” for quite some time. To me, attempting to read this book like any other book would be a complete waste of time if you’re a writer. Nearly every page includes a writing prompt you can choose to inflict upon yourself, which I couldn’t resist trying . . . one or two prompts a day, when I can. She usually asks for just 10 minutes of writing from each one, but when things get going I don’t want to stop.

Some of her prompts are a bit strange, but often it’s the strange ones that inspire the most interesting memories. For example, page 123 prompts us to write about “swimming … or drowning.” I got a bit of both out of that one, and it went something like this:

I’m not a great swimmer, at least not in the normal sense. That whole gasping for a breath under your armpit coordination thing either never came to me or I never gave it a proper chance. The thought of getting any more water in my lungs was enough for me to basically flunk the more advanced portions of my one swimming class, had they been giving grades.

Swimming to me has always been in pools or inland waters, where waves don’t suddenly roll over your head without provocation. And there I’m rarely ever swimming on top of the water like most people want to do. What’s the fun of sticking to the interface between air and water, when you can investigate the mysteries below the surface.

I tell myself this is the reason and make my fun with it, but I know deep down that’s not really what it is.

Except for the way they burn my eyes, pools are especially great for underwater swimming, because there are solid sides to them. I love to kick off from these with all the power my legs can offer, shooting through the water with my hands pointed forward, like how Supergirl flys through the air. I can almost make it across the entire width of a typical public pool doing this, before the drag of my body slows me down and I have to start the strokes that will continue to the other side … and steal my air.

Finding the sweet spot between speed and exertion is the key to staying under as long as it takes to make it to the other side, especially when you’re swimming the length of the pool. Using your muscles burns through oxygen and shortens your time under. Once I started making it to the other end of the pool lengthwise I felt as if I was quite a good swimmer indeed, though my range was nothing compared to those “interface swimmers” doing laps above me, with their underarm breathing. I’m still a little jealous of that talent, though it looks very mechanical and chancy to me. One slight slip and I could turn my head too soon or too late and get a gallon of water in my mouth heading for my lungs.

I don’t want to do that again.

The first time it happened must have made quite an impression on me. I might have been 4, or maybe 5, playing in the surf at Ocean City as we tend to do during summers in Maryland. OC is still the place I think about when I think of going to the beach, although I’ve been to better since. Childhood memories always taste sweeter, even when parts of them have bad endings.

imageBack then beach vacations were an almost surreal departure from regular life. My parents would get everything ready ahead of time the day before, though I don’t have any memory of this part. I only remember the weird otherworldly feeling of being woken at 2 or 3 AM, long before human beings are supposed to be awake, and feeling like the day was put on backwards: we were getting dressed, grabbing the few things we wanted to take along and piling into my dad’s huge Ford truck–the one with the wooden floor–while the sky was still pitch black outside.

This was back before seat belts were law … or even a thing. My dad had setup a bunch of lawn chairs in the back and we would ride along, trying to keep from tumbling off of them on the tighter corners as we headed east into and through Baltimore City. The sky would begin to take on some color about the time we reached the Bay Bridge, a lovely impossibly long structure of asphalt and cables and thick square arches, stretching out across the Chesapeake Bay. It was a signal to start getting excited … the beach was only a couple hours ahead!

Once we crossed a much smaller version of this onto the Ocean City peninsula, we knew the fun was about to begin. We’d find a parking spot somewhere, tumble out of the truck like tiny clowns, fold our lawn chairs and redistribute all of our beach gear between us for the trek toward the boardwalk. The asphalt was hot and muggy, but we could already smell the sea breeze and hints of a lunch we might have later in the day … greasy fried chicken or hamburgers wafting from slatted windows of the restaurants we passed just before climbing the stairs on the wide wooden walkway that spanned a hundred blocks. The smell of boardwalk creosote and food gave it an otherworldliness. To this day I get excited when I hear the clatter of dishes through windows from the backs of restaurants.

Careful not to drag our bare feet across the well-worn planks of the boardwalk for fear of splinters, we’d traverse it to the even wider sand beyond. Sometimes the beach would be incredibly wide, others the night tide had sucked much of it beneath, only to reappear the next day. Sometimes it would be flat and fluffy dry–but so hot in the sun we’d have to put our flip-flops back on–and others it would be strewn with gooey seaweeds, or sand cliffs taller than us. We would hate to walk in the seaweed, but love to walk the edges of the cliffs and ride them down as they disintegrated beneath us to the real beach below.

When we finally reached a suitable place close enough to the water that the tide wouldn’t sneak up on our things, but we could still be seen in the water, my parents would roll out the brown blanket. No blanket I’d ever seen to date was like this thing: dirt brown, rough, impervious to harm, always there on our outings, never the worse for wear. I think it might have been wool. It was good to have it out there on the beach, to blow the musty smell of my dad’s old Ford from it.

Near one edge of this, my father would smite the beach with the pointed end of a huge beach umbrella, the colors of which we had memorized to find among all the others when the tides moved us down the beach. Rainbow colors, but mostly blue. It was a thick linen affair that also seemed to last forever. My father seemed to have a knack for finding things like this … or perhaps things really were made so much better then.

There was never any boredom on the beach. We’d take turns burying our father, or each other, then run to the water and wash the sand out of our suits. We barely had to get used to the temperature of the water there, it was so warm. Not like it is here in Oregon, where you need a wet suit and a plea of insanity to actually want to go out in it.

At some point, when our limitless stores of energy were finally flagging and our stomachs began to grumble, my mom or dad would go off to the boardwalk behind us and retrieve a bag of something to eat. I vaguely remember once we brought cold fried chicken from home, which was unexpectedly good; but I don’t think that experiment was repeated. We would savor and eat far more than we should, so hungry that we were completely oblivious of the grit of sand that inevitably blew into our food before we could finish it.

We could barely wait the thirty required minutes before we could return to the ocean, like so many frustrated mermaids. The sheer suspense of it probably making proper digestion impossible anyway. I recall many a cramp at the beach, though it never stopped us from having fun. The warm waters beckoned, channels needed to be made, sand castles erected, self-filling pools dug.

Between its inviting temperature and my young age is perhaps how I let it sneak up on me.

If you could ask my father, or my mother remembered, they might tell you the water barely went over my head … but in my memory the wave was immense. The kind that turns over cruise ships and makes you climb to the bottom to get out, like in Poseidon Adventure (I never could figure out why there was a hole at the bottom of that ship).

One moment I was playing at the edge of the water, the next I looked up to see the world’s most horrible tsunami barreling down on me from above. Then I was engulfed, thrown immediately forward with great force, then tumbled head over heels backward as the air was wrenched from my body. I could hear the gurgle of screaming (me) through the water, which wasted my remaining air. My world had become a spinning thrashing noise, flying sand and pain, inside and out.

To say that I was frightened at this point would be the grandest of understatements. For a child to be introduced to the idea of her own mortality at the sensitive age of five is almost unthinkable, but as I tumbled with no idea of “up” or “air” while feeling the surge of water pull me into the mouth of the ocean, I was quite literally aware that I was probably done for. It was not my most favorite feeling. Still isn’t.

I don’t remember much after that … my air probably ran out, not that there was much more than water inside of me. I was probably pretty well drowned at that point.

My parents get major kudos for being on the ball that day: I woke up coughing out the huge portion of the ocean I had sucked into my lungs, hugging the beach like an old friend, crying like a five-year-old should cry when they meet death and get thrown back like a little fish.

I’ve been trepidatious with big bodies of water ever since. Its one of my dichotomies that living or walking near water seems to feed my spirit, much as it does most people I’ve met. Almost every major life’s choice I have made successfully was thought through while walking a beach, for miles. But I still don’t trust it.

My fear has never kept me from enjoying the waves. I haven’t let it take that much from me, but I’m only comfortable enough to play in that zone when I have a boogie board with me. I love to use these to ride the waves in. I once tried a surfing class, which probably would have worked out had we not spent the first hour of it sitting on the board listening to instructions rather than using it. The up and down motion made me so seasick I had to go sit on the beach.

So, although I can have fun swimming in the ocean, without my floatation support I’m truly a failure as a swimmer. Unless you drop something in the water and can’t find it. Then I’m your girl.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in Bloggie Bits, Bookity Bits, Miki Bits

 

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Peeping Toms and Hand Grenades

or … “My Window on the Sidewalk”

This one might be a little worrisome to my friends and what remains of my family. It worried me, too, at first … but then I got to know this town, P-town, and relaxed a bit. In the six years I’ve lived here it’s pretty much behaved itself, even in the inner city. But I can’t say it hasn’t been a little weird at times … so I guess this is business as usual for my friends and family after all!

For those of you who are avid readers of my blog (and let me stop for a moment, so I can run around and give you each a hug), you know I’m a lover of heights. Not in a thrill-seeking adrenaline-junkie capacity, but more in a I’m-so-comfy-in-my-lofty-but-humble-perch kind of way. I practically started out my life falling off a bridge, grew up climbing trees and crossing abandoned railroad trestles without pause, helping with roofs and antenna towers was a hobby for me, and flying little airplanes a pleasant habit I’d really like to get back to.

5c9edd318196f5e14b65a6761c5e795bBut when it came to my choice of apartments, my student budget (read: those student loans you hear about indenturing kids to the wrong side of the financial system for life) stole away my hopes for a fourth-story walk-up, and relegated me to the smallest studio on the ground floor. A city sidewalk crouched ominously just outside my window.

Oh, would I have copious stories to tell–and will–about the milling crowd that once frequented the pub across the courtyard from me–and probably will again … but that went out of business a few months ago, so that colorful clientele has greatly diminished. I’m here to tell you that the remaining crowd has been no less entertaining.

First, I’d have to mention the old man who thought he owned my kittens. The fact that they had an apartment he didn’t live in seemed not to dissuade him at all. Every morning I would prematurely awake to the sound of tapping, or that squeaking sound a finger makes when rubbed on a window. Despite my initial upset at this intrusion, I could never bring myself to chase him away, especially after I heard the endless adorations he murmured through my window. Cowardly, I decided to let this one go and let the man have his fun, although I did leave a card in the window about the tapping.

Apparently he couldn’t read. The tapping got louder, the squeaks turned to bits of twine and sticks rapping on the pane and whatever other toy he could find to entertain “his” furry children. His words had become more insistent over time, as well, assuring his glass-enclosed felines he would liberate them from their bondage soon. My perturb was beginning to make a comeback, and brought worry along for the ride. Would he actually break in to save them?

It all ended when he realized the cats would chase sun reflections on my curtains, which were being perforated at an alarming rate … Finally I set out down the hall and set our friendly behemoth of a night manager on him, who calmly informed the man that he would be charged as a peeping tom if he didn’t desist. I felt guilty taking that one little pleasure away from him after so many months, but my curtains were much relieved.

Summertime approaches and my windows are open more. Smokers from my building, and perhaps the ones next door, seem to think my window is just the right legal distance from the front door to light one up. Of course the one person in the building allergic to cigarette smoke is the one they put in the ground-floor apartment. But I must give our local smokers credit: once I show myself in the window, looking a little green around the gills, they move on as pleasantly as possible. Yay Portland! But it has taken a long time to train the local smokers not to pick my window.

From cigarettes to cellphones, the endless meandering conversations that waft in from under my window I can do little about. And sometimes I don’t want to: these are the most entertaining part of all! It’s amazing how silly most phone conversations sound from only one side, especially when your side has no idea there is someone listening from a foot or two away, just on the other side of a very thin curtain. I’ve heard many a strange conversation suddenly cut short when I couldn’t help but giggle a little sitting here at my desk.

We won’t talk about the conversations where the caller is missing their cellphone altogether … I figure they are having a conversation through time, with someone from their own unfortunate history. I hope at least in this version they get ahead in life.

I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention the singers, some of which are truly amazing. Every known genre of music is represented passing across my little patch of sidewalk. I’ve heard snatches of opera going by my window that should have had agents chasing after them!

1658_JELD_WEN_Field_ExteriorThe sports fans come next, as the summer rolls in, crowds of chattering and excited fans wearing green and yellow, cheering, singing, goofing, and general hubbubing on their way to and from the nearby Timbers stadium. It is best not to try to get in or out of my building when a soccer game is about to begin or end, for fear of being trampled by good-natured sports fans.Some of these make up for the lack of the closed pub, especially post-game; their hubbub a little more outrageous and confrontational than before the game.

Occasionally the quieter times on my sidewalk are broken by a more depressing mix of verbalizations, usually a homeless couple–or soon-to-be, from the sound of things–arguing over whose fault it all is. This is never a productive subject to argue about, I murmur to myself as I turn up my music. Over time I’ve come to recognize a certain level of inebriation that affects their relative volume, violence and choice of vocabulary (the three V’s) of these tirades–all increasing at the same time.

I’m amazed at the difference one windowsill can make in our minds, once we’ve become acclimated. If I were on the other side of mine, standing on that sidewalk so near at hand, … er, foot … I would be ducking for cover as these screamers tromp past. But my pre-high school experience growing up in the hell of inner-city Baltimore seems to have come back to me, where out of sight really is out of mind … and I still have a veneer of shielding from the violence of the city itself, even if it is just sound. I have yet to witness anyone actually being harmed physically here …

Although I can attest that words often hurt far more.

If it wasn’t for my tightly fitted metal screen–and my common sense–my inner child would love me to wait for moments of verbal distress like these and loft hand grenades out the window. Not REAL hand grenades, but something that goes “POP” and showers the victims with confetti or something equally distracting. I mean, it works with dogs bent on squirrels or other dogs! Break their focus and they forget what all the fuss was about.

I can see CSI-Portland dusting bits of confetti for fingerprints now. Oh, well … it was fun in my head.

Now it’s full summer. My windows are once again glued shut during the hottest part of the day, but–eek–open at night to capture some of that cold dry air that sneaks back out from the shadows once the sun has mosied on. Except for a few one-sided conversations and the rare cussing-at-god moments passing outside, the scene is a relatively quiet this time of night. I’m usually taking this time to game online, or write in my blog (like now), or cuddle with my kitties while watching a movie, or just relaxing with the breeze . . . a normal night . . .

Until something rare happened a few days ago: my kitties and I heard feet shuffling outside the window, then silence. (Were they trying to peek in?) . . . then the sound of running water. Oh, ugh.

It seems someone thought my window was just the legal distance away from the front door to relieve their bladder. So not something I wanted to be sitting nearby to witness, even by sound. I waited for the feet to shuffle off and quickly closed the window before the smell of that wafted in. (Thankfully my building manager is ON things like that and hosed it off the next morning.)

I’m hoping this is a rare once-in-five-years kinda thing, which means I won’t be around to witness the next one. I think I’ve had my fill of the city for a lifetime. With a year left in college and a one-year lease, I’m settled in for that long; but after that I have no idea where I’ll go next.

But you can bet it will be high above any sidewalks.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2015 in Bloggie Bits, Miki Bits

 

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The Job versus The Dream (Wake and Cue Orchestra)

The Job versus The Dream (Wake and Cue Orchestra)

How many of you find yourself in this place: Trying to figure out if your Dream Job is more a job than a dream?

I know, it’s a silly question really … unless you’re a college student wrestling with her choice of major. Or a writer wondering if she truly wants to court MGM … or Barnes and Noble. Hollywood or New York. Movies or books. Working for someone else (a Job) or in my coffee shop (a Dream).

I’ve been paddling around in this boat, seemingly in circles, as the current of time pulls me inexorably into my senior year in college, and my life into that phase where it’s either put up, or shut up.

Most of my life I’ve spent outlining, pondering, daydreaming, brainstorming, scribbling, writing, revising and agonizing over stories I thought would one day become novels. It’s what I’ve known since I was a wee tykette, after discovering  libraries as safe havens for geeks, where bullies feared to tread (all that knowledge threatening to dissolve the ignorance that made them who they are).

My eyes glittering, surrounded by endless shelves of books, each one full of . . . Potential: knowledge and experience and stories my quiet little life had never dreamt of. I began to consume books like potato chips.

The science fiction and fantasy section was an especially tasty place to begin ingesting the material in that place, but then I branched out to other parts of the Dewey Decimal System when I found a plethora of other fun things to learn, things that made my classes at the time seem horribly boring in comparison (I’ll never understand how public education manages to make something like History so indigestible). I would inexpertly regurgitate bits of things I’d learned on my own, as little stories in the margins of spiral notebooks meant for more academic scribblings–then full sections in the back when the margins became too constricting.

I got hooked on writing very early. But did I ever decide what I would ever do with it? What industry, if any, would I pursue with this practice? How would I apply myself?

Like I mentioned, the novel had always been my default target, simply because it was what I’d known. It wasn’t until well-meaning peers and fellow students started reading my stuff and commented on the how “visual” the scenes were that I began to consider switching to moviemaking. What an intriguing idea . . . !

Several years ago I actually finished one of the many story ideas I’ve been collecting (I counted 98 separate story folders on my hard drive recently) as an actual “Novel” . . . (wake and cue orchestra). It became a 650 page monster, full of quirky fun dastardly bastards and unappreciated heroes. My first readers seemed to love the thing, but it was far too big for a first time author to publish. I marked it down as a practice exercise, shelved it and moved on.

Then came this new love affair with the movie genre and all its lovely constriction: 120 pages maximum (unless you’re Kevin Kostner), one page per minute of movie time, no internal thoughts, everything is visual, out in the open. I thought to myself (rather unvisually), “there’s what I need to battle my page-monsters! I’ll write movies!”; the constrictions of the form actually turning me on.

I worked my way through an Associates degree with that idea in mind, then my Junior year, proudly proclaiming myself a Film major. I was ready to write a dozen Blockbusters all by myself, once I truly learned how.

Only it’s not quite that simple. If it ever was …

Everything in life has a trade off. This one has a doozie: When you work in film, you can make a boatload of money, if you’re a success, but you don’t get to call any shots. Not one.

The moment you write a story and sell it in Hollywood, it’s not yours anymore. Unless your name holds a ton of cred, like perhaps Stephen King–and even he has horror stories of his own with Hollywood, which I find deliciously ironic–you lose any right to the story. You typically lose any revising rights, as well. If you’re smart, you turn your back on the story altogether, because Hollywood loves to rewrite, repurpose, revamp, reimagine . . . until the original story can no longer be resuscitated.

Very few stories make it through Hollywood intact, unless the story has already grabbed up a serious cult following in the form of . . . wait for it . . . a novel!

Think J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkein, or PG Wodehouse (and most of Stephen King). New authors, like myself, won’t be found on that list … yet. We’re on that other list, the one that’s titled “bend over and get ready for unwanted collaborationism.”

Hollywood is a hugely collaborative industry. Everyone who has anything to do with a movie (look at the credits … there are thousands!) has an opportunity to tweak the story, if not grab a pipe wrench and twist it into something else entirely.

Novelists, on the other hand, get to call all the shots. Sure, they make far less money generally. “You can’t make a living writing books – but you can make a killing,” I’ve heard said (anyone know by whom?). But when I write one it stays written. And I don’t have to move to L.A., where you basically must live to make it as a screenwriter. When would I have time to write if I’m stuck in traffic all the time?

So, here I am, asking myself the Big Question: Is Film really where I want to be? I have a year to figure it out. In the meantime, I’ll be here in my coffee shop, writing … something. A good story, I hope.

A good story will work anywhere.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2015 in Bloggie Bits, Miki Bits, Writerbits

 

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