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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Don’t put a comma in your ear, and other trivialities…

Another place not to put a comma: in place of a hyphen. Photo courtesy of Glenn Fleishman at http://www.flickr.com/photos/glennf/1357051516/

Okay, okay, so I promised a blog post about commas. Commas—what was I thinking? Haven’t we been here before? Don’t we use these smug little buggers all the time and have a fairly good grasp of where they go, mostly? Well, it appears that some do, but some do not. So, just for posterity, to counter the comma confusion out there I’ve decided to make this post about when NOT to use a comma. You see, commas are the punctuation mark most open to interpretation. Some people add pausal commas designed to tell the reader how to read a sentence, which is especially important if you want to impart nuance. Some swear by the serial, or Oxford, comma; others believe it is necessary only in certain cases where omitting it would cause ambiguity. (I’m team “largely unnecessary,” in case you were wondering). There are few hard and fast comma “rules,” but where NOT to put them is generally agreed upon.

So where should you NOT put a comma?

Don’t put a (single) comma between a subject and its verb, e.g. A girl named Sandra, pulled Miranda’s hair.

The subject is “Sandra” and the verb is “pulled,” so separating Sandra from the action she is performing is incorrect. This is a common comma error because many authors have been conditioned to (correctly) place a comma after an introductory participial phrase (E.g. Exhausted by the day’s work, he fell fast asleep), an introductory adverbial phrase (E.g. After eating, the sisters cleared away the plates), or a dependent opening clause (e.g. If you are seeking encouragement, a writer’s forum may be useful). Having said that, such commas are not always necessary, especially in very short and unambiguous sentences beginning with an adverbial phrase.

In the “hair-pulling” example, all of the information is restrictive. What I mean by that is that it is essential to the meaning of the clause. E.g. It was not just any girl who pulled Miranda’s hair, it was a girl named Sandra.

The exception would be if non-restrictive (or parenthetical) information were added after the subject (Sandra), in which case, two commas would be used and the supplementary information would be said to be set off  “in apposition.” For example: A girl named Sandra, who used to be a friend of mine, pulled Miranda’s hair.

A good test of whether something is in apposition, and is therefore non-restrictive, is that it can be removed and the sentence will still make sense.

A comma should not be used between a restrictive phrase and the noun it belongs to. E.g. The man with the bushy beard stole the bread. Not: The man, with the bushy beard, stole the bread. Or, The teachers who got the sack had criminal records. Not: The teachers, who got the sack, had criminal records. The second would imply that all of the teachers had criminal records, not just those who got the sack. However, note that if the information about the man’s beard were intended to be in apposition, it would be correct to set if off that way. E.g. The man, with his bushy beard hidden beneath a large scarf, stole the bread.

Similarly, only use commas around a person’s name when that information is non-restrictive (supplementary), e.g. My daughter, Selena, has just turned four months old. Because I only have one daughter, and her name, incidentally, is Selena, writing it that way is correct. If the name were removed, it would still be true. However, had I more than one daughter would not define which daughter I was talking about. In that case, it should read: My daughter Selena has just turned four months old. I have seen writers (and even some journalists) break this rule often, usually writing something like:

Prominent scientist, Bob Biggles, won the Gaffaw Waffle award for verbose scientific writing last night.

If you were to remove the name of the award winner (Bob Biggles) the sentence would become: “Prominent scientist won the Gaffaw Waffle award…” and would not make sense without the addition of an article (E.g. A prominent …).

Another way to tell the difference between restrictive and non-restrictive phrases is that restrictive ones are usually preceded by “that” and non-restrictive by “which.” Generally, only non-restrictive/which clauses are set off with commas. E.g. The cat that sat on the mat was fat. But: The cat, which sat on the mat, was fat. In the second example, the information about the mat comes across as supplementary. In the first, the information defines which cat we’re talking about—the one on the mat.

There are several other places where you should not put a comma (in your ear, for example—don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in there), but those are the main ones I see when editing.

One day I’ll get around to writing a blog post about where to put commas, but that will be a whole lot longer! You’ve been warned.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Undead unplugged! Horror writer Jack Wallen talks zombies, sheros and kitty cats

I know I’ve been absent from my own blog a bit lately. Don’t worry, dear blog-subscribers, I’m just working on a novel, finishing an edit and raising a baby. I will endeavour to write a blog post of my own this week (on commas), but in the meantime I am VERY grateful to some wonderful indie authors for making a guest appearance in my absence.

"Moaners" galore!

Today’s guest is zombie-loving Jack Wallen—the consummate creative. Once getting his artistic fix in theatre, the former actor is now creating hilarious characters of his own in his books Gothica, A Blade Away, I Zombie I and, most recently, Shero.

Me: Your character Jacob Plummer in I Zombie I is very sarcastic, which adds a wonderful, amusing quality to what is essentially a creepy, undead apocalyptic tale. His irreverent attitude to the zombies, giving them nicknames such as “Flaky” and  “moaners” and generally taking the piss out of them, doesn’t diminish the horror and suspense you manage to create throughout the tale, though. That’s a fine line to walk. Discuss!

Jack: What’s really interesting about this is that there was much more humor in the first draft. When my wife read the first twenty or so pages she said, “You really need to take out the humor.” So I pulled it back a bit to keep it from going overboard, but realized that some people simply have to use sarcasm or humor to deal with overly-emotional situations.

I put a lot of thought into what would happen to me, if I were thrown into this situation. I came to the conclusion that one of two things would occur: I would either dive so deeply into a funk that deep-throating a pistol would be my only escape or I would open up the sarcasm floodgates and attack everything around me with humor. Making light of an insanely ridiculous situation is often the only route to sanity.

Me: Without making this a spoiler, did you have an ending in mind when you started writing I Zombie I, or did what happens to Jacob’s character just evolve as you wrote?

Jack: I actually allowed it to evolve as it went along. I do all of my first drafts in bed (writing them with pen and paper). I would hop into bed and say, “What do I want to put these poor people through tonight?” and just let it flow. It wasn’t until I got to the end of I Zombie I that I realized this story had grown beyond a single book. Once I had that mindset, I knew it was a trilogy and that the end result would be a bit different than what people expect. I have such a strong desire to deliver something new, something unexpected.

Me: In I Zombie I, I notice that there’s a heck of lot of pop culture references, everything from REM to I am Legend to Night of the Living Dead, Mad Max and Dawn of the Dead, as well as a few more highbrow references to artists like Jackson Pollack. You’ve also set up Zombie Radio, as a promotional activity, which operates as kind of a “bonus feature” to draw consumers into Jacob Plummer’s post-apocalyptic world. Several times Jacob even mentions that his situation is fiction made real and that, “Zombies were for goth girls to sex-kitten up and novelists to run into the ground. Zombies were simply not real.” It almost seems like you’re trying to create a kind of cultural “hypertext” about the story and the character, recognising that this is not the first Zombie book and giving a nod to “genre” throughout. Is that deliberate or just a happy accident of writing a character who is a journalist, so is very familiar with popular culture?

Jack: It was very deliberate. I looked at it this way—how can you write a book about a genre where the characters are unaware the genre exists? That would be like James Patterson writing a thriller whose characters had no idea murderers existed. The zombie genre has been around since the ‘50s, so why should characters existing in a story set in the future not know about George Romero? And since music is such a formative force in my life, why wouldn’t I want to give it a nod.

I want readers to connect to my books in as many ways as possible. I want it to be visceral, emotional…tangible. And I want to plant thoughts into readers’ heads that might stick throughout the story. Thanks to social media and the immediacy of media, people connect dots they didn’t used to connect. It seems that everything now exists on a finely woven web and nothing is left out. Music, movies, news, pop culture—it’s all there for us to consume in mass quantities. That is something that must be a part of a story that has room and attitude for it. Those are my books.

And with the I Zombie trilogy, the voice in each book is different. I didn’t want to have a trilogy where it seemed it was nothing more than a rehash of the same old prose. I wanted the readers to feel like they were getting something different, yet connected to the same story line and the same characters.

Me: You’re about to release a new Zombie book, a sequel called My Zombie My, which I believe is set thirty years in the future from I Zombie I. Can readers expect more of the same “undead” humor and horror with a slightly different cast of characters, or can you give us a hint as to what kind of surprises and plot twists might be in store?

Jack: No. The next book actually takes place right after the events in the first book. My Zombie My is the second book in the I Zombie trilogy (with a nod to Rob Zombie). I am, however, planning on a new series (as yet unnamed) that will take place 30-some years after the final book in the trilogy (Die Zombie Die) takes place. This new series will star one of the characters from the I Zombie trilogy, who is sort of introduced in the first book and become a critical element in the overall world at the end of the third book.

Me: Horror is a pretty popular genre and your books rip along nicely with a riveting blend of action, introspection, suspense and laughs. Had you tried querying agents and getting a traditional contract before you went indie? What made you decide to self-publish?

Jack: I queried a few agents for I Zombie I, but quickly realized how much further I could take this series on my own. It became very important that I have artistic control over this series and I knew the only way to do that was by going indie. Once I got I Zombie I published, I had no reservations or regrets.

I have not queried agents since and I have no desire to do so now. If an agent wanted to approach me, I would listen, but the deal would have to be fairly incredible for me to move from indie to traditional.

Me: Your latest release, Shero, is a superhero parody with a transgender protagonist, and would make a great graphic novel too. What made you want to write this book? Are you a superhero fan?

Jack's latest release

Jack: I have a lot of dear friends who live within the GLBT world. I came up with the idea of Shero because I realized they needed a hero to show the world anyone can be a superhero—regardless of what they wear, their sexuality, their gender, race, religion…the list goes on. I have always been a comic book nerd (among being a nerd for many things). At one point I thought Shero would have been a great graphic novel, but there are things I can do with words that cannot be done with pictures. And I don’t want anyone to paint Shero as an eyesore. I want everyone to see Shero as a beautiful human being, with incredible fashion sense—and killer nails. 😉

Me: Shero is a bit of a departure from your other novels, Gothica, A Blade Away and I Zombie I. Were you concerned about the possibility of stepping outside of your fan base? What sort of response have you had from your fans and do you think Shero might garner you a new set of fans?

Jack: The good thing about both Shero and A Blade Away is they both touch upon similar topics. That alone brings the same fans to the same books. And Shero also offers an appeal to readers who wouldn’t normally enjoy a superhero book. Anyone who likes Chick Lit will enjoy Shero. How could you not? What with all the Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, and Vera Wang references.

Currently I have three series I am working on: I Zombie, Fringe Killers, and Shero. I believe this offers me a solid fan-base that is not too widespread. Although fans of Shero might not be so inclined to read I Zombie I, they would enjoy A Blade Away and Gothica. And fans of I Zombie I would also enjoy both Gothica and A Blade Away.

The fans of Shero are ecstatic about a superhero story that doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. I believe they are going to wind up being the most hardcore of my fans, simply because of the nature of the main character. Transgendered readers have longed for something to read that is not erotica. They now have that in Kate Spades.

Me: I see that when you first started out you tried to do everything yourself. Do you now work with editors, formatters and cover designers, or do you still do the lion’s share of preparing your work for publishing?

Jack: I write the books, design the covers, and do the marketing. What I don’t do is the editing. I am a self-proclaimed HORRIBLE editor. I am convinced the zombies in I Zombie I would make better editors than me.

Me: What do you think is the single most important piece of advice you could give to a self-published author?

Jack: Never give up. It’s a rough road to go alone, but it’s one that offers such enormous possibilities. There will be a time when you think, “Why am I bothering?” The sales won’t show up, no one will review your books, you will seem alone in a sea of successful authors. Don’t let that get to you. Keep plugging away. And most importantly…just keep writing. The more you write, the better you write. And don’t ever forget there is, in fact, an element of luck involved with this. The more you participate, the more chances luck will catch on to your coattails and bring you fortune.

Me: What’s with all the cats, Jack? (My partner will only tolerate one).

Jack: I’ve always been a sucker for a cat. We started with only one and then that cat’s sister happened along. From there it was a series of, “Hey, I hear you like cats!” and “Oh my gosh look what’s on our doorstep.” The last kitty (Wookie—one of the most dynamic felines I’ve ever met) was a flood victim rescue that we had to have. We are holding steady at six and will probably stop there.

At least that’s the plan.

 Thank you, Jack, for being such a great sport and for making Zombies fun again as well as scary!

Jack’s books are available from:

Amazon:

I Zombie I

A Blade Away

Gothica

Shero

Smashwords:

I Zombie I

A Blade Away

Gothica

Shero

Subscribe to Jack’s blog: Get Jack’d

Follow Jack on Facebook

Follow Jack on Twitter

You can also find Jack at: Tumblr

and on Zombie Radio

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

My “Chosen” guest blogger: Jolea Minnick-Harrison…

Jolea's book is free at Smashwords for the month of July

My Neverending Blog Tour guest blogger today is mother of two and self-confessed “Manager of Chaos,” Jolea Minnick-Harrison, who is the author of fantasy novel Chosen, the first book in The Guardians of the Word series. I thought I’d throw some questions at her about writing a fantasy series, living with ghosts (yes, things that go bump in the night!), and self-publishing.

Q.1 When did you know you had to write the story of the Kingdom of Cobalt?

I’ve been writing this story since 1988. Before my kids were born, and during their infancy, I had it all in my head and then written in some form or the other. Then I had to stop writing for a bit.

Q.2 Are you a plotter or a “pantser”?

Because The Guardians of the Word series is long and complex, I had to know what was going to happen in book 7 in order to write book 3. As it was, when I did finish the last book, I realized there was another element of the story I hadn’t incorporated, so I ended up writing another book that eventually became the First Chronicle, Chosen. So, a little of both. Stuff happens!

Q.3 Who would you say are other authors in your genre that have inspired you?

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. There are others but they top the list.

Q.4 Who is your favourite character from the novel and why?

Dynan and Dain are near and dear to my heart. They’re funny, and deal with some horrible stuff with humour and a lot of courage.

Q.5 I notice that you’ve included a prologue that features a birth scene. Did you draw from your own experience of motherhood and birth for that scene?

A little bit, yes, but I was screaming my head off, unlike my character, Shalael Telaerin. She kept her cool under duress. Of course, she was a Princess.

Q.6 What made you decide to self-publish and how have you found the experience

Like so many other indies, I got tired of the agent run around. I started to hear the rumblings about Indie publishing last March, and thought, why not? It’s been fun and challenging and depressing and exhilarating, all at once.

Q.7 Did you work with an editor and formatter?

Yes, but not enough, especially the editing part. I keep finding typos, so I’m correcting them. I used a professional formatter, who I keep paying for the do-overs. He loves me!

Q.8 I notice that your author bio mentions you live in a 200-year-old house that might be haunted, and I also notice that your character Dynan has to find a 1000-year-old spirit. Do you have any plans to write a ghost story in the future?

I’ve grown up believing in ghosts, so that has influenced my writing. Yes, I do plan to write about ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Some people think I should call the Ghost Hunters, but no. We’re at peace with the spirits who dwell here.

Q9. What is the one thing you hope readers take away with them after reading Chosen?

I sometimes think people give up on themselves too easily. My characters persevere through terrible odds, they don’t give up, and mostly come out okay at the other end. Hopefully, that’s something people will take to heart — without having to face an evil monster!

I agree with Jolea about giving up to easily. Indie publishing is a long, hard slog and requires a lot of dedication, and I know Jolea is in it for the long haul. Stop by her blog and check our her work on  Amazon  or you can get  copy free until the end of July here: Smashwords Summer Sale.

Follow Jolea on Facebook: Jolea M. Harrison

Follow Jolea on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JoleaB

Follow Jolea’s blog: http://jm-harrison.com/

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Indie Publishing

 

Guest blogging with the best of them…

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be featured on the wonderful Lizzy Ford’s blog Guerrilla Wordfare. Lizzy is an indie sensation whose book, Katie’s Hellion, is available free so be sure you snap up a copy. She interrogated me on all things writing and asked me some tough questions about my characters in Cage Life too, so stop by to check it out if you have the time.

You can also read more about Lizzy on Katrina Parker William’s blog, and watch this space because I’ll be appearing there, too, shortly!

Also, I’ll be interviewing fantasy author Jolea Minnick-Harrision in the next few days, so make sure you pop past to see what she has to say.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Win a manuscript appraisal or partial edit (worth $480)

Get on board and show me some love! Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/eelssej_/406623767/sizes/s/in/photostream/

Those of you who drop by regularly will know that I recently released my first ever self-published e-books Growth (a poetry collection) and Cage Life (a book of two short stories). As part of promoting those little babies, so they don’t just vanish into the ether, I’m running a competition here on the blog to promote Cage Life.

Trade-published author I may be, but I’m also a professional editor who has worked in publishing for more than 14 years. I have edited books in a number of genres, both fiction and non-fiction, and I offer a freelance editorial and manuscript appraisal service. Most recently I edited David Gaughran’s short stories and indispensable self-publishing guide Let’s Get Digital, and you can check out what he has to say about me here.

As such, I’ve come up with what I hope will be a win-win situation for me to get my work out there and you to get a professional critique on your manuscript of 100,000 words or fewer. I normally charge $480 for this service, but the winner will get it for FREE! (Alternatively, if the winner doesn’t want an appraisal of the entire manuscript, they will get 11 hours of actual copy-editing on their manuscript, which is about 11,000 words worth).

There will also be other prizes awarded for creativity.

Here’s how it will work:

1. Grab a copy of my work, just .99c from Smashwords or Amazon (or, for the first 20 who request a FREE copy in the comments below, I’ll email with a code for a FREE copy from smashwords). Once you’ve got a copy, please “like” it on Amazon  (if indeed you do like it—let’s be ethical here!).

2. You then set about promoting/publicising it in whichever way you like. Promote it somewhere, anywhere — your blog, your magazine, your twitter profile, facebook, your billboard, in christmas lights on your house. The bigger the better. If you feel the urge to spend a week in a cage in Times Square screaming it to the masses don’t let me stop you. (Disclaimer: I probably won’t bail you out of jail, though).
If you tweet it please include the hashtag #CageLife (or use @Authorandeditor) so I can see that you have. You can use this tweet if you like:

Did you guess the twist in @Authorandeditor Karin Cox’s e-book “Cage Life”?  http://amzn.to/p54ckn #CageLife

3. If you post it on a blog, review it on Amazon or otherwise promote it, please pop back here and, in the comments, let me know where and how you promoted, providing a link to your “promo” or to a photo of your promo. (No need to do this for tweets, as long as you hashtag it #CageLife)

4. All verified promoters (those who have reviewed, blogged, posted a link in comments or tweeted or otherwise) will then go into a random draw. Every instance counts as an entry, e.g. if you tweet, blog, facebook and review it on Amazon you have 4 entries. Be sure to let me know every time you promote, either in the comments or on twitter using @Authorandeditor and #CageLife.

5. There will also be a few spot prizes (a free giveaway of my other ebook, or a free Amazon blurb edit, or a 1000-word edit) for those I think have done an exceptional job of spreading the word, or for creativity and originality.

The competition will run for 6 weeks. Entries close on 31 August 2011. Remember, EVERY promotional effort counts as an entry, so for instance, if you tweet, post a review on Amazon, post a review on Smashwords and promote on your blog that will be 4 entries of yours that go into my crazy cowboy hat I bought in Phuket.

The winner will be drawn on 1 September and will be contacted by email and announced here on the blog. I’ll then email them to arrange to do the appraisal/partial edit. (Assuming I like the book, I’ll even give them a little plug here on the blog and on my twitter and facebook).

Please feel free to also promote the competition by directing people back here (which will also count as an extra entry if you let me know about it).

Good luck!  And get promoting.

P.S if I don’t respond to FREE requests in comments straight away I’m probably asleep. Don’t worry, the first 20 commenters who want a freebie will get one.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Editing, giveaways

 

Entering the tunnel of luuurve

As part of a promotional virtual “tour” to try to convince readers to check out Cage Life, I’ve signed on to the Neverending Blog Tour, which means hosting a random indie author each week on my blog. Last week’s guest spot was allocated to romance writer Darlene Gibbs, writer of hot romance novels such as Love’s Slave and The Heir to Terror. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to ask her about writing love scenes.

Love scenes are always difficult to write and can be a source of derision, depending on whether they are open door, closed door or “door ajar.” I tend to avoid writing them as much as possible myself, but as I’m hoping to finish off a chick-lit romance I started 18 months ago, figured that I better go straight to the source and ask someone who writes them frequently. So here goes:

Darlene says:
Questions my readers often ask are:
Is it hard to write sex scenes?
How do you manage to make your sex scenes so real and yet not vulgar or coarse?

My answer is that, like any scene in my stories, I have to feel it. Sex to me is the icing on the cake of a true love story—as much a part of love as love itself. So when I’m writing a sex scene I try to feel the kind of love that makes a man want to be joined with a woman in a way only a man and a woman can be united. The kind of love can’t be expressed by words alone—it needs arms, legs and lips to express it.

When I’m writing a sex scene I think of how a woman feels when the only man she wants to be with wants to be with her, and her alone. I tap into the passion, the excitement, the pure exhilaration of sharing something only true lovers can. And when I write a sex scene, I think of my own life. I think of how much sex means to me, and of how special it is, how intimate. I think of becoming one with a sexual partner.

So, to all my readers, every sex scene in each of my books is well thought out, purposeful and concocted to communicate an intimacy that words struggle to convey.
I love “love” and sex is a part of it, which makes it easy for me to write about. It’s love, so to me it can’t be coarse or vulgar, only be beautiful and magical.

So there you have, straight from the mouth of a saucy, sexy hotstuff herself. You have to feel it and live it. And with that, I best take myself off for some … err … research! 😉

If you of you have any great tips on how to write steamy romance without any thrusting prongs or moist love tunnels involved, please share them in the comments. Alternatively, if you’ve read some truly cringe-worthy metaphors for “getting it on” feel free to share so we can all have a giggle.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

And that’s why it’s called fiction

Grab yourself a copy please. Just .99c to help me feed my child!

Yesterday I took another tentative step in the direction of e-book self-publishing and put a collection of two short stories out there into the ether. At present, they’re only on Smashwords and you can check the collection out here. My intention is to put them up on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing too.

One of these stories, the eponymous Cage Life, has been published before under the title Still Life by [untitled] magazine here in Australia. When it was released, published in print in a slim volume with a garish illustrated cover, I passed copies around to several people to inspire them to admire me (it didn’t work!) although several lovely people even coughed up for a copy.

The story is written in first person from the point-of-view of a young wife and mother and, without giving too much away, starts off charting her carefree, drug-taking university years and spirals into tragedy. My intention was to explore the gamut of a woman’s feelings about liberation and love. How often women feel trapped by their own choices, how often we overlook the signs of love and mistake them for something else, and often we inadvertently fail to prioritise the most important things in life, even while simultaneously trying to put everyone and everything else above ourselves. But when the book came out, so many times the reaction from those who don’t know me well—or well enough to realise that I am begrudgingly unmarried (yes, I know! Talk to my hesitant loving partner and baby daddy folks) and my daughter is just 15 weeks old despite the story being written more than two years ago now—is, “It’s so sad. It’s not based on real life is it?”

My answer is, that it is fiction. I made it up. As a writer I am an incurable liar and I make shit up all the time. It’s what I do. So while it is entirely fictitious, it is, of course, based on real life. The events that take place in my character’s life are in part based on some of the experiences I have had. “The Cow” couch in the story, for instance, really did exist. Some of my best ideas were formed perching on its “furry flanks.” But now I get my inspiration the old-fashioned way (read: wine, or insomnia). I did, at some point, have an ex who was a lawyer and I did live in the “Dolls House.”

Having said that, the “crux” of the story, the tragedy that unfolds, thankfully never happened to me or to anyone I know and love, although such tragedies happen to families around the world every day. I suppose the story is a cautionary tale of just how easy it is to lose sight of the important things for just a few seconds in the midst of a busy life. Sometimes I need to remember that. Sometimes we all do. But hopefully it is a lesson none of us ever have to learn in such a painful and pointless way.

As for the second story … well I hope no one ever mistakes me for an 80-year-old!

 

 

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