The Tree

Here’s another one from Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds challenge of the week: write about a tree. I had a hard time with this, because I’m writing about a tree in my current novel. I wanted to share some of that novel, but I’m intent on having it published some day. At first, I thought I’d bypass this challenge, but this idea came to me. I hope you enjoy.

The Tree — 924 words. 

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Running. Feet pounding the ground. Ashton ended up where she always did, in front of the great big oak tree. The branches spread out like giants’ arms against the clear blue backdrop of the Southern sky. She placed her hand on the trunk and felt the warmth of the tree.

When she had been just a girl, her dad had strung a tire swing to the big horizontal branch. She had swung, laughing, and pushing her head back against the wind. She looked up at the green leaves as they danced in the sky. The tree held life. Her life, a memory of her fleeting childhood existence.

When she and Deke married, they took over the land. Then her dad got sick—lung cancer from too many cigs smoked as he herded cows into the dust. He held on for two weeks after the doctor diagnosed him. Ashton’s mom moved to the back room. She let Ashton, Deke, and their clan of little children take over the house. Ashton liked to listen to their bare feet on the wood floors. It reminded her of her childhood where there was always too much noise and clatter in the small farmhouse.

Ashton held her hands up to the tree. She rubbed the silkiness of the green leaves.


“You know, Ashton, this could all be yours one day,” her father had said, one day when he pushed her on the swing.

Ashton had laughed her high-pitched little girl laugh, tossing her blonde curls into the wind, feeling like she could fly away.

Her father stopped the swing. He kneeled down in front of her and took her small, soft hands into his rough, calloused ones. His blue eyes twinkled in the fading light of day. He smelled of Old Spice and cow manure, the smell of Ashton’s childhood.

“I mean it. You’re the one. This is the place.”

A rustle of wind blew through the tree, and it seemed to wave at Ashton. She looked up at the tree and could almost feel it wrapping its life-giving warmth around her. Her dad squeezed her hands, then hugged her. He started pushing the swing again.


“I want to put a tire swing up for the girls,” Ashton said.

“There?” Deke asked, pointing to the tree as they walked toward the wind.

The girls had stayed home with Ashton’s mom. The memorial service had been two weeks ago already. Ashton’s mom had taken to wearing only black and making pies: peach, apple, pecan. There were more pies than they could ever eat. The sting of Ashton’s father’s death still took her breath away. The tree gave her the air she needed to breathe again, to feel again.

“I was thinking about selling off this acreage to the Boyers’,” Deke said.

“Oh,” Ashton said. She looked at the tree, and it seemed to bow its head in sadness.

“We could make some money. Put it in a college fund for the girls. This farm just don’t produce as much as it used to.”

“You can’t.”

“Why can’t I?”

“Because that tree is important,” Ashton said, pointing to it. The tree seemed to stand up a little taller, the leaves danced against the bright light of the midday sun.

“Don’t be silly, Ashton.”

After dinner and the girls’ baths, Ashton sat in the living room with her mother while Deke read to the bouncing girls who had wired themselves up, slap-happy before bedtime. Ashton knitted while her mother ate a piece of peach pie a la mode. They conferred and agreed. Ashton kissed the urn on the mantle before heading off to bed.

The next morning, Ashton ran to the tree. Running made her feel so alive. She hugged it and swore it hugged her back.


“I met someone,” she said.

“Who?” her father asked.

She sat on the tire swing, holding the worn ropes, her keds firmly planted in the dip her bare childhood feet had made on the ground.

“His name is Deke Malloy.”

“Irish, is he?” her father had joked.

Ashton, in the full throes of adolescence, rolled her eyes.

“I think I’m in love, Dad.”

Her father smiled, held her hands, and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

“I think it’s about time we took down the tire swing,” he said.

“Oh Daddy, I love this old thing.”

They both looked up into the branches of the old oak tree. It had seen so much on this land for the last hundred years, so many people coming and going. Ashton could feel its spirit. The next day, Ashton’s father removed the tire swing. Five years later, Ashton and Deke married.


In the afternoon, they all dressed up. Ashton and her mother wore blue, the color of the sky, and her father’s favorite.

“I guess I didn’t realize how important the tree was to you,” Deke said.

Ashton’s mom held her hand. The little girls followed along, picking daisies they would later make daisy chains with. Ashton could almost see the outline of the tire swing. She looked at the tree, and she thought she saw her dad there waving at her. She smiled, and held up her hand. The tree waved back.

Under the tree’s shade, she and her mom struggled to open the urn.

“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” Ashton said.

She poured her father’s ashes into the dip her childhood feet had made. The leaves of the tree waved in the wind, and the ashes swirled a little then settled into dust. Ashton smiled, imagining her daddy standing there, her hand securely in his. She put her arms around her mother’s waist and around Deke’s squeezing them close to her and looking at the wonder of an old oak tree.

“Now about that tire swing…”

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Pride Cometh Before the Fall

Today’s story is another flash fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s blog over at TerribleMinds. The assignment was to write Good vs. Evil in whatever genre we chose. I chose Southern Fiction. I had a hard time coming up with an idea for this, as I don’t believe in purely good and evil. Walking the dogs today, I thought about this character Henny who I had been thinking of writing, and the story came to me. Please leave a comment and let me know what you thought! Thanks!

Pride Cometh Before the Fall (795 words)

Henny bent down to pick up the pecans that had fallen from the trees. She loved pecans, hard on the outside but soft on the inside, just like Papa. Papa’s hands had calluses and his face felt like leather, but he had a soft kind spirit that made Henny prideful.

Mama always said, “Pride cometh before the fall.”

Henny knew it was a Bible verse but whenever she thought of that phrase she thought of Mama’s hard, grim face and puckered lips.

The bag of pecans rustled against the tire of her bike as she pushed it through Mr. William’s pecan grove. She almost had enough.  When Mama baked pies with Henny some of her worn-outness disappeared. Sometimes Mama would soften like the dough, laughing and smiling as they kneaded it, creating something out of nothing.

“Henny, you run out now and get some pecans from over at Williams’ place so we can have a sweet pecan pie tonight. Shoo—go along now,” Mama said.

Henny knew she had been sent away because it was her little brother’s nap time. Mama said Henny could make more noise than a heap of Indians. Henny couldn’t sit still either—that’s what her teachers said. She had an abundance of energy she somehow could not deplete. Papa liked to tease her and would say, “Henny, it’s a wonder your battery ain’t never run out.”

Henny heard a rustle on the far side of the pecan grove. She rolled her bike through mountains of nuts stepping gingerly to avoid crunching any pecans underneath her feet. What she saw made her eyes grow big. The Klan—just about six or seven of ‘em. Her heartbeat sped up making her feel light headed. She put the kickstand down, and hid behind a big pecan tree.

Two men with white pointed hats held a black man by the arms.

“Don’t do it,” the black man screamed. “I din’t do it. I promise. Lemme go. I got a family.”

The Klansman leaned close to the black man and whispered in his ear. The black man looked like he peed himself. Henny stood still with fear. Another man came from the distance carrying a length of rope. They all looked like little toy soldiers. Dressed all in white there was no way to tell who was who. The black man wept. His eyes were red with tears.

He prayed out loud, “Dear God, please save me.”

Henny repeated his prayer. “Dear God, please save him.”

The men switched places, and the tallest Klansman made a loop in the rope. He cut a piece of it with a knife and tied the black man’s arms behind his back. The black man began to shuffle, hysterically trying to get away. The tallest Klansman dropped the knife but kept a strong grip on the rope. He pushed it over the black man’s head and tightened the loop. By this time one of the other Klansmen had climbed the tree. They hoisted the black man up and tied him there. The Klansman in the tree jumped down. There was noise in the distance, like a gunshot. The Klansmen looked around, but Henny couldn’t see their eyes. All seven of them stormed off into one direction, probably looking for the source of the distraction.

Henny’s eyes filled with tears. The black man was not dead. He hung there, struggling for breath. His hands remained tied behind his back. He gasped for air, the rope slowly digging into his neck, and turning his face as red as a tomato. His whole body swung with the effort to escape.

Henny made sure the white-robed men were gone. She tiptoed out from behind the tree.

She grabbed the knife the tallest Klansman had forgotten on the ground. It felt familiar in her palm, but she had no time to think about it. She shimmied up the tree as fast as she could. The black man’s eyes finding hers as he struggled to breathe against the tightness of the rope. She started sawing into the rope as fast as she could. Harder and harder until clunk, the black man was on the ground.

He coughed, grabbing at his neck. Henny looked down from above. She could see a red ring around his neck. She wanted to throw-up.

“Thank you, little girl. Thank you.” The hoarseness of his words made him hard to understand.

“You better run,” Henny said.

He nodded, rubbing his neck, and took off.

Henny climbed back down the tree turned the knife over and saw the inscription.

“To Papa. Happy Birthday. Love Henny.”

She sunk down to the ground and began to cry. The wind rustled in the trees as pecans fell to the ground like bullets. Fall was coming.

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Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I’m a procrastinator and as such, I waited until today to download all of my files for The Devil Within from Booktrope. I have been okay with Booktrope closing. There’s no other way to be. I haven’t let it hold me back, but I haven’t exactly let it drive me forward either.

Today I’m feeling a little sad about the whole thing. I put a lot of time, effort, and pain into writing the book. I spent hours editing and proofreading it (and yes, there were still mistakes–there always are). I spent hours thinking about William, his family, their lives. This book meant a lot to me. It took me in a different direction from my previous book, and I felt like I’d found my niche in dark Southern literature, if there is even such a genre.

The Devil Within Cover

I learned from The Devil Within how to give my characters depth and voice. And I’ve taken that into my other writing, finding the spirit of the characters to make them come alive in my books. The truth is, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it at this point. I debated self-publishing. I debated putting it on Wattpad. What I really want to do is find a traditional publisher for my other works and then beef up The Devil Within. Maybe take it a step further. I’ve already started writing about Lily (Tommy’s girlfriend), a minor character in The Devil Within, because I felt like I still had a connection to the book. This is strange for me as I’ve consistently said I would not write sequels. It doesn’t seem so much like a sequel, more like a continuation of the timeline that I started in the book, sort of like Faulkner’s characters from Yoknapatawpha County.

At any rate, I’m stewing and trying to figure out what to do.

The Devil Within is still on Amazon for the next few days; however it could be removed before the 31st, or so we’ve been told.

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PS: The Devil Within is only available until May 31, 2016. Don’t forget to get your copy while you still can at Amazon.

Southern Fried Chicken and Red Beans and Rice

I’m reading My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg right now. Well, actually, I’m listening to it on Audibles. Rick Bragg reads it himself, and he has this fine Southern voice and it’s like listening to a story teller rocking back and forth on his front porch talking all about Southern cookin’. Because two hours into the book and every single story has been about food.

Today, driving to work my mouth watered as I listened to Rick Bragg’s deliciously Southern accent discuss oysters and cole slaw, fried chicken and pork cracklins, then grouper sandwiches. The man has an obsession with food, and his book has succeeded in making me thoroughly and completely hungry. He’s also reminded me of the good cooking I grew up with. My poor children have not had the same experience, because butter, fat, and Crisco oil all clog arteries and organic is in these days–even in the deep South. Plus, I care about my waistline and I want to make sure I’m healthy so I can live a long life. Everything kills you these days, but I’d at least like to try to lengthen my life by eating healthy and exercising. And then there’s the time it takes to cook good, Southern, home cooked meals. In our fast paced world, I simply don’t have the time to cook. My husband does most of the cooking, and he grew up with an Italian grandmother so you can imagine what we eat: pasta and pizza.

I was raised in Montgomery, Alabama. Not born there. As a kid, I used to love to brag that I was born in San Francisco, California. It gave me credit as something other than a Southerner. I rarely told people I’d lived there for less than a year, then moved on to New Orleans and lived in Montgomery by the time I was two. Why expound when one could brag about their non-provincial roots? Touting that I came from California made me special or different, at least in my eyes, and I’d always prided myself on both.

Montgomery is not a small town, but it has a small town feel. There is plenty of gossip. There are plenty of ways for stories to get back to your mother and father. Everywhere I went, growing up, someone knew my parents. And in my house there was plenty of good Southern food. Plates of comfort served hot.

My mom learned most of her cooking in New Orleans it seems. Her specialties were cajun in nature: seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, barbecue shrimp (which is just shrimp drenched in butter with slices of lemon–or so it seems). When my mom made red beans and rice, she always set out the oil and vinegar for us to add plus scallions. I still like it that way, soaked with yellow olive oil and so vinegary it almost taste tart. I’d eat the red beans and rice, but my taste buds relished the sausage which were always tender from being soaked in the juices of the soup. To this day, this is my favorite recipe of my mother’s but she doesn’t make it anymore because she and my dad are now vegetarian.

Today after I listened to Rick Bragg drone on and on about Southern food I decided I just had to have some fried chicken. I went with a coworker to Martin’s. Martin’s Restaurant is a Montgomery staple and has been around forever. When I was a kid, Patrick Swayze (RIP) even stopped by one day to get some fried chicken. I was heartbroken we didn’t eat there that night, because I had a thing for Swayze after seeming him gyrate his hips in Dirty Dancing. Martin’s has the best fried chicken in town. Since I’m still not running (tomorrow, hopefully), I just had one breast accompanied by cornbread, collard greens, and of course, fried green tomatoes. You should stop by and have a meat and three one day. And don’t forget the sweet tea.

Lauren Chicken

TripAdvisor Reviews of Martin’s Restaurant

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Inspiration and Godliness

This past week, I attended a book club to discuss my book The Devil Within and do a little book signing. I’m always a little nervous attending these functions, but it’s nothing a big glass of wine won’t cure. 😉 Luckily, the book clubs I go to usually have wine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fairly outgoing but I’m always nervous and a little shy in a group of people I don’t know at first. It takes me a few minutes to come out of my shell.

Book clubs are always interesting, because sometimes readers have insight on your book that you didn’t necessarily have. Or their opinions about the characters and the events differ from the author’s own thoughts. I find this intriguing, and it’s one of the things I love most about writing: the reader’s reaction.

At this book club, one of the attendees questioned by inspiration. I’ve never had this happen before, but it made me think about inspiration. Because really, inspiration is a funny thing. Slimy, slippery, there one minute and gone the next. A single fleck of an idea that spins into a larger story like a blanket being spun from yarn.

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What about this sign inspired me to write about Will and his family? I’d driven past this sign a million times, and then one day as I drove past it I thought about a little boy, growing up on that beautiful rolling hill, in a family that used religion to justify abuse.

Religion and the South go together like peanut butter and jelly. But religion and big churches can always be used to further hateful agendas. They can be full of hypocrisy. They can provide so much good too: comfort, devotion, and social outlets. And looking at this sign, spawned the idea in my head of Will being stuck in the middle of the two: devotion to religion as a comfort and devotion to religion as a way to further hate.

What inspired me to write this book? My own background of growing up in the South. My own thoughts on how religion and Christianity ought to promote love and peace instead of hatred and judgement, a thought I’ve struggled with my whole life in respect to the promotion of the Christian agenda. Spirituality and godliness plus church don’t always necessarily go together. One can lead a Christian life without ever attending church. Or one can lead a life promoting kindness and faith without even believing in God.

Driving to Knoxville with my oldest son two weeks ago, we passed this sign and here was our discussion (He’s 11):

M: What do you think about the message on that sign?

C: I think it’s true. Church is good. God is good.

M: So do you think if you have a person who is always doing the wrong thing, and he’s hateful, and hurtful that if he goes to church the devil won’t get him?

C: Backtracks, Well, um, maybe not.

M: What if you have a person who doesn’t go to church, maybe doesn’t even believe in God, and mostly does the right thing (there is no always–no one always does the right thing)? Is that person doomed to an eternity in hell, because he didn’t go to church even though he was true and good?

C: You’re right. The devil wouldn’t get that good person.

It’s all about perspective. I’m interested in knowing what road my next flake of inspiration will take me down.

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It’s Been Nice Knowing You!

It’s been nice knowing ya! You know, in case I die at the Maze of Terror tonight. My husband said, “Oh, guess what? We’re going to do something new and fun on date night this week.” I should have known then I was in trouble. I hate clowns. Thank you Stephen King, and from what little I saw about this place there will be clowns.

Anyway, in case you didn’t know and aren’t going to die at a Haunted House tonight, my book The Devil Within is on sale until tomorrow, October 17, 2015 for 99 cents! That’s a super deal, y’all! What’s it about? It’s not about clowns. I can promise you that. It’s about a little boy named Will who is grieving the loss of his mother and siblings. He’s left in the incapable hands of his father, who is a little too obsessed with his religion. Sad, but filled with hope, Will must overcome both internal demons and the one who manifests itself within his father.

Don’t miss this opportunity to grab it while it’s still on sale!

The Devil Within Cover

After you read it, I’d love if you could leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews help emerging authors establish themselves by reaching new readers! I’ll even thank you for your review, if I know who you are, and if I survive the Maze of Terror tonight!


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Persistence in the Face of Fear

Hey Lovely Readers! I’m fessing up as a slacker once again. With this short and busy week, I feel like I’ve been behind the 8-ball. But before I get to the point of this post, I don’t want you to slack and miss the opportunity to get The Devil Within for 99 cents! The sale ends on October 17th, so there’s not a lot of time! If you like Southern literature and coming-of-age novels with some grit then you’ll like this book.

The Devil Within Cover

Enough of my shameless plugs. Now back to slacking. Over the weekend, I started writing a new piece. Yeah, I know. I was supposed to stick to rural Alabama and Anna Kate. But I was stuck–seriously stuck. And then I wrote a short for the class I’m taking through University of Iowa (Go DUCKS!), and it begged to be expanded. And people in the class really liked it. And as a writer, I seek to serve my readers.

I also ran a lot this weekend, and when I run I think. And sometimes I overthink. As we all know from the post that’s circulating around Facebook, overthinking is a sign of being a creative genius (or so some article says, and I’d like to believe that over just thinking I’m nuts). Overthinking can also cause some issues. My thought process revolved around solving problems in both books when I ran, but pretty soon it turned into: Why am I writing? Does anyone even want to read my books? Why does it have to be so hard to land an agent? Will I ever finish editing Little Birdhouses? Can I even write a query letter? Is it worth it? And fifty thousand other rhetorical questions I could throw out of you. Rhetorical questions are a no-no in writing too, but if you know me you know I LOVE to break the rules.

Every writer questions themselves and what they’re doing and whether it matters. They want to hide behind a rock in the face of fear. Instead of facing the wolf, they’d rather curl up in their bed and be eaten. Do the brave thing and write the words, because if you don’t you’re going to be more unhappy than if you do. If you’re a writer then you have to write for sanity. If you’re a writer then you have a driving force and you need to write. If you’re a writer, I’m here to tell you DON’T GIVE UP! I have thoughts that my writing sucks and no one wants to read it. Everyone has those thoughts. Taking this online class has boosted my confidence as a writer ten-fold. I’ve received such great and positive feedback on my work. It’s nice to receive that after receiving tons of rejections for agents, because at least I know if I keep trying I will some day make it.

And what does making it even mean? It means making writing a priority in my life every day, editing my stuff, putting it out there and making a few bucks. Sure, I’d like to be rolling in the dough like Stephen King, but I know it’s not realistic. Maybe some day–we can all hope to dream. But the important thing is: Don’t give up! Don’t give into the fear. If you give into fear you’ll never know how far you can go (I even wrote a blog post about that not so long ago).

Now, if you want this same post with more colorful language go read Chuck Wendig’s post over at Terrible Minds. He knows what he’s talking about.

And I promise I’ll stop slacking (maybe). And I’ll write a blog post tomorrow morning before I succumb to fear in the Maze of Terror (that’s another story).

What do you do when you’re slacking or procrastinating (in anything, not just writing) and how do you get back to the task at hand? I play Civilization or binge watch Netflix.


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The Devil Within is $0.99!

The Devil Within Cover

The Devil Within ebook is 99 cents between October 3rd and October 17th!

When nine-year old William loses most of his family in a car accident, he is left alone with a religious zealot of a father. As a result of his father’s abuse, William blames himself for his family’s death and becomes convinced the devil is leading him astray. The backdrop of life in a rural town in the 1960’s sets the tumultuous scene as William struggles to cope in a world no child should have to face on his own. Will William be saved, or will he succumb to the devil within?

What People Are Saying About The Devil Within:

5.0 out of 5 starsPop are so wonderfully described that they remain etched in my mind on August 4, 2015

The characters came alive for me in this novel. Will, Lulu, Miz Leigh, Pop are so wonderfully described that they remain etched in my mind. In fact, since I finished the novel, I continue to think about them. Aptly titled, this novel is heartbreaking and tragic but I found, curiously, that this novel sends a positive message about the triumph of a little boy’s spirit over unspeakable grief and abuse. This is a very good book and I highly recommend it. Looking forward to the next novel from this author.

Well written and strong descriptive characters, most of whom I wanted to strangle. It was not my usual read. The abuse this poor boy endured after a traumatizing event was torture! I felt broken for him. I wanted to hold him and comfort him. I could totally relate to how this boy felt consumed by the devil. The words people say to us get burnt into our minds and as a child we are so moldable to these perceptions that others imprint on us. I recommend this book but carry some tissues!
I couldn’t put this book down. I just had to know what happened to William. I love that one of the characters had a health condition that was practically unheard of in the period this book was written. The author makes it as common as freckles. Well done! I want to take this child home with me and just love him. There was definitely a devil in the midst. Well written and I am looking forward to the sequel.

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Weekend In Review

This weekend, I went to see my niece. She went away to college about a month ago, and I took the boys to see her (plus her sister). We went to Airwalk, and my oldest who is a gymnast had fun flipping, as usual. He’s getting so good, and I can’t believe how far he’s come in the last few years with his gymnastics.

All week long, I’d been suffering from a cough and cold, but by the time we got back I felt so ill. I spent most of yesterday on the couch. I also did a Reddit Author Spotlight on The Devil Within.

Feel free to go read the Reddit posts. I had some great, thought-provoking questions, about the book.

What did you do this weekend?


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Reddit Author Spotlight on The Devil Within

Talk about a busy weekend. I reserved a little section of Sunday afternoon to figure out how to do Reddit and to blog so I could post a Monday blog tomorrow. Well, you know, in life things never go as planned. I woke up this morning, went for an amazing run in 55 degrees weather (I love Fall), and came home to boot up the computer so I could watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother, before taking my kids to church. Guess what? WiFi didn’t work. Hubby investigated. The box shorted out, and I won’t have working WiFi until Tuesday. This is like an author’s biggest nightmare! I mean, how will I let the world know what I’m up to and that I have a Reddit Q&A on The Devil Within coming up this Sunday, September 20th?

I took a nap after the church picnic, and then I came to Starbucks so you lovelies would have a chance to read my Monday Blog. For some reason, Pandora won’t play and I’m stuck listening to people’s conversations and the elevator music in the background, but hey, at least I have WiFi!

So I hope you will all be able to make it to the author event on September 20th. I will answer any questions you may have about The Devil Within. For those of you who haven’t read it, you can find the book on Amazon I ebook for $2.99 and paperback for $11.95.

Here’s the blurb:

When nine-year old William loses most of his family in a car accident, he is left alone with a religious zealot of a father. As a result of his father’s abuse, William blames himself for his family’s death and becomes convinced the devil is leading him astray. The backdrop of life in a rural town in the 1960’s sets the tumultuous scene as William struggles to cope in a world no child should have to face on his own. Will William be saved, or will he succumb to the devil within?

I hope to see you all at the Reddit event at /r/ books at 1 PM on Sunday, September 20th! Make sure to come up with some great questions for me, and I’ll try my best to answer them.

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