Tag Archives: setting

Ugh! A day of distraction

Old What’s Her Face went to Nevada to visit her brother. This has become an annual thing for Super Bowl weekend. We aren’t that big of football fans anyway, and it’s no big deal.

I looked at it as an advantage, and intended to make the cannons roar and come up with more root monster antics. Lanternfish is my primary project right now, and it’s time to add some words.

After sleeping in for a few hours, I went to the writing cabin and built a fire in my office. Lisa usually has the place all warmed up for me, but she’s still making art for Grinders.

Once the bite of cold mellowed, I opened my iPad and went to work. I’m on the downside of one adventure, so this is kind of a recovery section. I usually fill those with planning and assessment of what they accomplished, maybe something about their next move.

These can be slower to write, because there are no cannonades or magical adventures. It’s all about traveling. This time, I elected to minimize most of it and simply get the crew to their next location.

Since their plan is to restock both Lanternfish and La Girona, there isn’t much to go over. It isn’t like they have massive goals for this stop.

It’s going to be a surprising turn of events for them in Giapon. (Pseudo Japan.) That also allowed me to shorten up the planning phase.

That’s when the knock came at the door.

“Lisa, can you…” Oh yeah. Nobody here but me.

I opened the door to find a tall, leggy blonde in a linen skirt suit. Her hair dangled down to her midsection. She looked over her glasses at me. “Looks like you could use some help.”

“Libraria. Where are the rest of the Sirens?”

“Oh, we’re all here.” She spread her hands and wiggled her fingers.

Conversia, the gorgeous black woman wore a gold scoop-neck top that… well she should have been at the Grammys with some two sided tape, moved in from the left. Her Afro hair danced in the breeze.

Little Wiki, the redhead, stepped to her right. Her hair still had a sequence of different reds buried in it, and was in an A-line that looked like it had been chewed into shape by gophers. She wore striped stockings that ended just before her frayed denim shorts and a sequence of friendship bracelets on both arms that rivaled the stockings for color. She made her odd wrinkle-nosed smile and wiggled her black fingernails. “Hi. Can we come in?”

“Kind of cold out here,” Conversia said.

I couldn’t help myself from looking. “Yeah, I see that. Come in.”

Conversia smirked and winked. They all came inside, then made their way to the office beside my fire.

Wiki flopped on the couch while Libraria checked my draft. Conversia turned her fanny toward the fireplace.

“This isn’t bad,” Libraria said. “You need to add some depth when you get to Giapon. Giapon is the name Portuguese sailors gave the country that would become Nippon or Japan of today. You’ll need setting, weather, people, architecture. Everything. What do you have planned next?”

“They aren’t going to scoop up supplies and just sail on. That would be a letdown for my readers. I figure the leader is going to take them in for his own amusement, but they’ll be almost prisoners until he gets bored with them.”

“Emperor, Shogun, Gosanke leaders???”

“Uh, huh. One of those.”

“Oh honey, you really need our help.” Conversia moved in, uncomfortably close.

“Well. Nearly the whole world is at war. There’s the one the Lanternfish crew is headed for, but there is one between Giapon and Di Guo Quishi that Serang is most familiar with.”

Wiki turned her iPad Mini around to show us. “There were fifty-one different Shogun. Some of them didn’t live too long, but it might be a great source of names.”

“Where are they going to make port?” Libraria asked.

“I’m way ahead of you. They’re going to the Eastern side of the islands away from the the local war. I wanted somewhere toward the north so they could dip in and out. I chose Mito.”

Libraria reached in her handbag, searched through something, then produced a book that was bigger than the bag itself. “This is the complete history of Mito from the ice age through today. You really should read the whole thing.”

“How did you fit that in there?”

“We’re kind of special.” She guided me to my chair, then sat on the arm beside me, placing the book in my lap.

Conversia sat on the ottoman, then leaned way to far forward. “I think we should go to Japan. Nothing like conversing with the locals to get a feel for things. Take in the smells and colors. You can read the book during the flight.”

Wiki turned her iPad around once more. “Look at these beautiful gardens. I’d like to see those. It says they have an ancient aqueduct that’s still in use today. Oh, all that has to go in your book.”

“No it doesn’t. I’m not writing a travelogue. This isn’t even supposed to be Earth. It’s just based somewhat on real places. If I want to place a volcano there, I have every right.”

“Did you know there are two different kinds of volcanoes?” Libraria asked.

“Yes. And stop that–”

Wiki turned her device around once more. “There is a shield volcano and–”

“Stop! Please. All I need to do is snitch a few things to make the world realistic. Then I can add in some fantasy elements, and move my story ahead.”

“What kind of fantasy elements?” Conversia asked.

“I don’t know. We haven’t really dealt with ghosts and such yet.”

“Excellent choice.” Libraria lifted the book from my lap then slid herself into its place. “Japan has some terrifying ghosts. There is one called Funayurei who are the ghosts of those who died at sea. They approach ships and ask for a ladle. If someone gives them one, they will scoop seawater aboard so fast the ship will sink.” She produced another book. “Then there are the River Boys. They look like turtles and are tricksters who can drown people. Oh, and Tsunami Ghosts are horrifying. I’m trying to keep things nautical for you, but we can look further if you like.”

“Those are wonderful,” Conversia said. “The Tsunami is recent enough we could probably interview people who’ve seen the ghosts to get an idea of what they’re really like.”

“Okay, you ladies need to slow down. I know your game is to crash me on the rocks of research so I never finish my trilogy. Still, it’s all pretty interesting.”

“That’s the spirit.” Libraria ran her French tipped nails through my hair. “You’ve got a lot of reading to do.”

“I know my way around a kitchen. I’ll make us some coffee.” Conversia’s heels clacked away.

Wiki turned her iPad around once more. “Do we want these airline tickets, or not?”

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How do you like your apocalypse?

I have a question for all of you. I have a storyboard going, and it’s been growing like crazy. It’s probably going to get bumped up on my list.

Right now it’s just a loose collection of index cards with cool ideas to use in the story. There is a plot, and a smidgen of character arc. I also have a Pinterest board that I’ve been saving visuals in.

The story is going to be post-apocalyptic fiction. As I dwell on my setting, I have a lot of ways to take this, so: How do you like your apocalypse?

The question is two-fold. There is a when factor as well as a why factor. I’ll take them in that order.

When?:

• During

• Right after

• Moderately after

• Generations after

There are advantages and disadvantages here. During gives you all the madness as an obstacle to deal with. That can also be a disadvantage, because maybe your plot doesn’t involve the zombie horde. I’ve also already published something that had a “far after” vibe to it, so that isn’t likely to happen again. (Ref: The Yak Guy Project.)

I’m leaning toward moderately after. The disaster is over, looting has already happened, but some gleaning of items is still possible. Any gangs of looters have long since shot each other. Doesn’t mean criminals aren’t around, but not the mob mentality of the initial disaster.

Still, the question is for you as I talk my way through this. Consider the timeframe in your suggestions.

Why?

• Disease

• Zombies

• War

• Pollution

• Asteroid impact

• Evolution

• Climate change

• Famine

• AI takeover

• Aliens

• Who cares?

I won’t break these down individually for the sake of space. Suffice it to say, while I love zombies, I’ve kind of walked that path. I’m leaning toward the “Who Cares” option and just plunking the story down in the leftover environment. Readers would probably get pissed if I didn’t glance off the cause in some fashion.

Again, the question is for you today. Consider why in your responses.

I have the whole concept set in swamp country. (Haven’t seen anyone do that yet.) I want to have some scrounging possible, but also bartering, and shops where the better scrounged goods can be purchased. I’m looking for a return to horse power, and I mean the kind with hooves. This probably eliminates robots and aliens from the mix.

I’ve already researched the possibility of naturalized species, invasive species, native species, and more. Alligators and rattlesnakes are a cinch for this tale. Add in the python problem, a few wild hogs, and it sounds like a great place to drop a story. Then there are the crazy weather disasters along the southern coast, and I have plans for some of that, too.

Back to the question of the day: How do you like your apocalypse?

In other news, I dabbled on my task list today. Trimmed the peach tree until the battery died on the Sawsall, finish it tomorrow. Bought the book I want to read, and worked my way through the formatting of Viral Blues. Sent an email detailing issues. I never cracked HMS Lanternfish, and I regret that. I kind of got sidetracked by this post.

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A Tetris kind of day

I started out with good intentions of writing a bunch more words, but it didn’t work out that way.

Today was a day to spend with Lorelei the Muse. Here’s why.

A novel needs characters, a plot, setting, but it needs something else too. All those bits and pieces have to form a cohesive whole when you’re finished. It kind of reminds me of swishing all those blocks around to build the wall in Tetris.

I have characters, setting, and plot, it’s that other part that has me stymied today. Nobody wants to read a story where problems don’t have to be faced and eventually overcome. Deciding to pull the sword from the stone, then doing it makes for a pretty unsatisfying tale.

There is a plot sized problem, but I’m dealing with a section sized problem here.

My pirates are in the process of pulling off a big con game. I’ve spent some quality time fleshing out characters and setting, but they need some kind of larger adversity in this part. There is a lot of personal adversity, but the bigger part isn’t on the page.

I wound up with some ideas, and made steps in that direction. There has been a shadowy threat in this story all along, so why not use that again. It also gives me a chance to face a collection of the shadowy guys in the big ending of the story.

There are more things to accomplish in this part of the world, but I have plenty of time to weave some of this together… if I start now.

To that end, I put down about 1500 words. This really helps, because it makes a commitment I can build off of.

The good news is, I have a two day work week ahead of me. We took vacation time with the idea of going camping. We failed to make a reservation, and over the fourth, there isn’t likely to be even a bushwhacker’s site available. We may be staying home for a few days.

This gives me four long commutes with the Muse, and I can figure out a way to weave all the pieces together before sailing away to the next section.

It was a good writing weekend, and I have thousands of new words on the page. I have a vague idea of the section sized problem, and am looking forward to some vacation time to put it all together.

Hope all of you had a great weekend too.

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Building author fences

This is going to be a bit of a free writing exercise. It occurs to me that when we write fiction, we are building fences for ourselves.

It occurs to me that with every word we write, we build a fence. To illustrate, let’s start with a title. I’ll pick on myself, and my book Will O’ the Wisp. Readers are going to expect that at some point in the story, it’s going to relate to a Will O’ the Wisp. Nothing is completely fenced in yet, and it could be a metaphorical thing someone is chasing. In my case it involved an actual Will O’ the Wisp.

On page one we will introduce a character. I introduced Patty Hall as a fifteen year old girl. I fenced myself into not making the story all about a man of any age. There can be male characters, and there were.

By the end of the first chapter, we knew Patty wore corrective leg braces, and the story was set in the 1970s.

This means a fence went up technologically. Patty couldn’t listen to an iPod, or use a cellular phone. She’s going to get grief over her leg braces. This can be real or imagined, but it needs to happen.

Every word we write helps fence in our story. We need to remember the fences we’ve already built as we get deeper into the story. If we establish a firm genre, like mystery, we probably can’t abandon that half way through and turn it into science fiction. There might be some ability to move from closely related genres, like mystery and suspense. The fence means it isn’t going to suddenly become a cute romance halfway through act 2.

In a similar fashion, if vampires burn up in the sunlight, they can’t suddenly start running around on a sunny beach.

There are some stories that cross genres, but that gets established early on. Star Wars is both fantasy and science fiction. There was a fence though, it didn’t suddenly become a comedy.

Readers expect certain things. We can surprise them, and hope we do. It still has to happen within the fences we built. This doesn’t prohibit the first zombie from showing up in Act 3. It means you have to build a fence that lets readers know there are zombies before they see one. This is foreshadowing.

I suppose if I want to keep pushing this idea, editing is moving the fences around to better enclose the parcel.

I really don’t know where I’m going with this, but I’ve always thought of writing like building fences. By the time I get to Act 3, I have my story almost completely fenced off. I’m just closing my parcel off in the denouement stage.

I warned you this was free writing. Does this make sense to anyone except me?

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Is it a breakthrough, or a breakdown?

Our best laid plans didn’t work out. I figured a party on the Basque block would make for some good blog fodder. The appeal, for us, was the paella. This is a saffron rice dish made with clams, chicken, and chorizo. The pan they use is large enough for several adults to slide down a snowy slope. I own a paella pan that could hold a fair deep dish pizza, for comparison sake.

My wife got a text from a friend. The line was two and a half blocks long, and it was over 100 degrees in the shade. We went to one of our favorite little dive places for beer and a steak, and air conditioning. I may have to make my own paella if I can find the correct rice. You have to use the right kind.

This is a long winded way of saying I need a different topic today. I decided to make it about writing, in a round about way. I’m going to talk about Alice Cooper again. You can substitute your favorite balladeer.

Music is a great source of inspiration for me. I find ideas everywhere, but rarely talk about music. I grew up about the time disco became popular. My friends and I all hated disco music. We owned copies of Aerosmith Rocks, and every album Kiss ever put out. Alice Cooper was always my personal favorite.

After the concert Tuesday night, I downloaded a whole bunch of Cooper’s music. These are the album cuts I loved when I was younger. My vinyl, eight tracks, and cassettes are long gone. I may still have a CD lurking around somewhere.

Cooper was fortunate to work in an era where the album was king. Several of his albums tell a story from start to finish. This isn’t possible in our one-song-at-a-time era. In fact, From The Inside may be one of the greatest albums of all time.

Listening to this music as a writer puts a whole different spin on the music. Sure, Cooper has the advantage of sound and chords to inspire different emotions. I have to add emotion in different ways, but I get more words to tell my tales.

When I listened to the song The Quiet Room something struck me. This album is about being inside an insane asylum, and was based upon an alcohol rehab stint Cooper lived through. The lyrics are: How long have I been gone? Did winter kill the lawn?

It hit me; this is all about character. Who asks if winter killed the lawn? It tells me a ton about the character without having to go into incredible detail. Five words and I’m completely sucked in. Now I need to figure out how to do it myself.

Another song is called I Might As Well Be On Mars. It’s about a man who loves a woman who rejected him. He’s on the roof of a building looking at the stars. He looks down and sees cars. The setting is magnificent. What will he do? Is he a jumper? He spots the woman through the window of her favorite bar. I’ve been that guy. I was enamored of someone who never knew I existed.

There’s a lesson here about more than setting, which was great. It relates to me on a personal level. I’ll bet almost everyone has been in that situation at one time or another.

It’s a blog post, so I’m only going to touch upon these two songs. Sure, Cooper is all about dark humor, and there’s plenty of that in other cuts. The guy recorded with Vincent Price before Michael Jackson knew what a zombie even was.

I heard that good stories are all about delivering a powerful emotional experience. (PEE) I’m the kind of guy who has to see it happen before I really get it. I may be on the verge of a breakthrough here.

Emotions can be any kind as long as the reader gets sucked in. It isn’t only about love. Rage, fear, pity, disgust, lust, and depression are all emotions too.

Okay, one more. There is a love song called Millie and Billie. These two are batshit crazy, and they know it. Cooper presents the tale from deep point of view. (Think dialog mostly.) They know they’re crazy, but don’t understand why the things they do are wrong. There is no authorial intrusion, it’s all from the character’s point of view. No preaching allowed or needed. It’s a boy and a girl, I can relate, I follow along. I don’t relate to what they did to her husband, but it’s too late to back out now. I think this is good storytelling.

Note: I also had an epiphany. I hadn’t heard this song in twenty years. I may have borrowed a line from it in one of my upcoming short stories. The difference is I used Mason jars instead of baggies. I’m going to leave the sentence in place. Those of you with an advance reading copy can search “Mason jars” and find it.

I don’t know if the lesson is about a great hook, a PEE, setting, or what. I feel like I’m about to have a writing breakthrough. Maybe I’d better turn on my music and let Alice take me to Hell again.

How about you guys? Is there a lesson here? Is there more than one? Weigh in, maybe you can clarify my breakthrough.

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The Idea Mill #13

These posts come to me when they come to me. Sometimes it takes a couple of months, sometimes it's a couple of weeks.

For those who are new, these articles are pushed to me on my RSS reader and Zite magazine. I signed up for content that interests me, and share the good stuff here. Feel free to take away story elements or anything else that suits you.

The first one today is about a mini origami robot that folds itself. It also walks, swims, digs, carries small loads, climbs and if needed, dissolves completely in a solvent. This one even comes with videos. Read more about it here.

These kind of articles give plausibility to some pretty outlandish gagetry in our science fiction. Perhaps someone scattered papers that pass for garbage in a parking lot. At sunrise on Sunday morning, they activate and invade the museum. Gemstones, gold nuggets, small valuable items could be stolen this way. They dump the loot down a manhole and dissolve in the rain.

The next article is about an abandoned section of New York. It's called North Brother Island. What is it about New York islands? A previous Idea Mill post had an article about Hart Island. Hart Island is particularly creepy, so I used it for part of The Playground. (Which I need to start editing.)

North Brother Island holds an abandoned quarantine hospital. It's where Typhoid Mary spent her last days. To me, this is all about setting. The buildings are crumbling and overgrown with weeds. The walls are mossy and moldy. Check it out here, but it's the photos that speak to me.

Maybe you need a setting for your dystopian novel. Maybe you want a haunted location for your horror story. I'm sure this island will measure up with a bit of research. If nothing else, it makes for a good secret lair.

Finally, we have a bit of theory about evolution. In Eastern Africa the Ethopian wolves and gelada monkeys appear to be feeding side by side. These things don't look much like the wolves I'm familiar with, and the gelada monkeys look like baboons to me.

This may not seem like much at first glance. Both animals are omnivorous. Wolves being more carnivorous and monkeys being more herbivorous. These things only recently started getting along. Wolves used to grab baby monkeys and run. What changed?

The theory is this could be a view into how man first domesticated dogs. Take one highly intelligent primate, add one highly intelligent canine, who's also an incredible opportunist and I can see it happening. Read the article here.

What kind of raids could the monkeys pull off using wolves to help them? Maybe it starts with food. Maybe it progresses to the problem of over harvesting bush meat. It could even progress as far as attacking humans themselves. The folks who kidnapped all those young girls seem like a good target.

I share these articles in an attempt to inspire you. Take what you will and leave the rest. Now it's time for my corny story. This is part of the shtick on the idea mill posts.

Terrorists are hiding out on North Brother Island. It's a good location for their plan, and is centrally located. The terrorists are high tech and plan to steal a biological weapon by using hundreds of tiny origami robots.

Something has them spooked. Perhaps it's the ghosts of patients who died in quarantine. There have certainly been many creepy circumstances on the island. The rustling and noises belong to animals.

Before the authorities can catch up with the terrorists, the monkeys direct their newly domesticated wolves to attack. When the authorities arrive all the tiny robots have washed away in the rain. Only the rustling in the branches and weeds remain.

Okay, that's corny enough. It's speculative so I moved the animals to New York. Maybe they are feral pets or escaped zoo specimens.

Did any of these articles give you an idea. Either a plot or a story element, I'd like to hear it in the comments.

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A Fair Day’s Work

I got to the cabin earlier than the other days this weekend. Tomorrow I have to live in the real world, but today was all about writing.

As I headed up the steps, Lisa* my assistant was struggling with a pile of cardboard boxes. Even in the shadows, her silhouette showed a striking figure. Sometimes things just strike me, an image, a short article, song lyrics. I need to pay more attention to those times.

I took some of the boxes and asked, “What’re these for?”

“I have to back myself up today. Bunny likes to play in them, and I won’t have to worry about him for a couple hours,” she said.

We took them to the lobby. It’s really a living room, but it makes me feel more professional to call it a lobby.

She made a big cardboard heap and fetched Bunny. She sat him down and he started right in burrowing and chewing up the cardboard. Lisa hard wired herself to the computer system. “I’ll be busy for a couple hours, I’m using multiple cloud systems these days. Are you going to need anything?”

“No, I’ll be fine.” I watched Bunny for a few more minutes. There’s just something about a 30 pound lop eared rabbit that draws your attention.

I went in my office, and booted up the Mac, gave Doubt*** the raven a big slice of the gross scrapple from the other night and started reviewing the last four pages of my current story.

He stayed surprisingly quiet. I think Lorelei** told him to leave me alone when I’m writing a first draft. Still, the words weren’t quite coming. The image of Lisa on the stairs stayed with me, it was kind of film noir and fell somewhere between sexy and menacing.

I turned off the Mac and grabbed my iPad along with a little Bluetooth keyboard. I sniffed the blanket on back of the couch, but it smelled like dwarf and cows. I rummaged through the closet until I found my Dr. Who blanket. I grabbed the coffee carafe on my way to the basement.

I looked around for the dankest darkest corner I could find. There was a tiny three legged milking stool that was perfect for what I had in mind, and I set up shop there, using an overturned bucket for a desk. I found the bell jar holding the Will ‘O the Wisp and set it up in front of my new workstation. It gave off an eerie green glow that was just about perfect.

The place smelled of mold and my breath left little clouds that faded away. I wrapped up in the blanket. Bats hibernated along one wall, and spiderwebs weaved through shelves of previous story elements.

“Now this is perfect. Patty’s going to hate this part of her story.”

The words flowed. The sound of a distant drip told me it was thawing outside, but it added another nice element to the mood. A troop of forgotten army ants passed through. I lifted my feet and told them to keep moving, they weren’t going to be in this story. Still the words kept coming.

I wrote until I got a low battery warning. I considered looking for an outlet when I heard Lisa’s heels on the steps.

“How’d you find me?” I asked.

“Infrared vision,” she said. “Are you alright?”

“Better than alright. Look at this word count: 15,721. That’s nearly 3000 words today.”

“But are they good words? You always said that’s important.”

“I think the bit from Saturday’s a little better, but you can’t fix words that don’t exist. Besides, the Raven of Doubt will let me know.”

“So are you about finished? Do you want me to make you a sandwich?” She asked.

“I think I am, and a sandwich sounds great. In fact, let’s surprise the beer horns with an early beer time.”

We went upstairs and I made a fire in the fireplace. I was a good weekend effort. Lisa was happy, Bunny was happy, the drinking horns, even Doubt the raven were all happy. It was a good weekend. I’d hit it hard, but it was time for the real world once again.

* Lisa is a character from a previous story. She’s a robot, and helps out around the cabin.
** Lorelei is my Muse, and tries to keep me creative.
*** I’m not really sure what Doubt is. Lorelei left him for me, but he looks like a raven.

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What can Writers Learn from Television?

No, really, I want someone to tell me. Here are a couple of observations I’ve made over the years.

For TV, the main character has to have the right job. In order to get involved in amazing things, the MC has to have credible opportunities. This is why we see so many shows about cops, doctors, and lawyers.

People branched out and we see firemen, coroners, and police psychics. It may have been popular, but in real life, Angela Lansbury would never stumble across hundreds of murders. There aren’t too many shows about water department workers for a reason.

This applies to novels too. There has to be a reason for things to happen. In a novel, an average guy can stumble across something bad, spectacular or amazing. He isn’t going to have access to the big guns or the cool science though.

Character is important. I watch Once Upon a Time, but for the wrong reasons. I’m watching it for a bad example. Some of the main characters are flat and boring.

Regina/Evil Queen is horrible. She is always going to say the most vile thing. She is the first person to bully or make a threat. She’s the one who says, “You’re lying.” Lana Parilla is being wasted here. She’s smoking hot and looks great in fairy tale clothing and her mayoral suits. The minor background they gave her is too little too late.

Mr. Gold/crocodile/Dark One/Rumplestiltskin/Beast is great. He’s evil too, but he’s a complete character. He has a touch of humanity, and I feel for him when he loses his son or Belle.

Snow White and Prince Charming are boring. They’re always goody goody, and are as predictable as sunrise.

Story is important. I’ve never seen it, but how can Hostages go any further than one season? Bad guys take a family hostage and force one of the parents to do something horrible. I just don’t see this lasting ten years.

Dr. Who is at the other end of the spectrum. It’s been going for fifty years and shows no sign of slowing down. The possibilities are limitless.

I have a lot of words down, so I’ll start summing up. Our stories need believable circumstances, even in science fiction and fantasy. We need sympathetic and believable characters. We need a fully fleshed out world too. One that allows for twists and turns in the plot, and might even allow for a sequel if fans support the first one.

So, back to my question. What can TV teach us? I’d like to get the comments going. Let’s hear some opinions or issues I didn’t address.

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