Archive for the ‘Novel writing’ Category

Today I launch my Three Damn Things list for the Type-A personality. TDT is designed for the Type-A person trapped in a Type-B body. Or, put another way, the right-brained person trapped in a left-brained head.

You want to create, but you can’t with so much internal noise, the frustration of letting things go unchecked. If only the voices would stop yelling at you to fix this, call on that, sew this, trim that. The voice is shrill and always will be to the creative Type-A type.

This isn’t about basic life things that need accomplished. I’m talking about the things we can put off for later. And later never comes. If your car is due for an oil change, what’s another thousand miles going to hurt? If you haven’t balanced your checkbook in seventeen months, what’s another month going to hurt? You’ve been meaning to fight that erroneous medical charge, but fighting anything is unpleasant. Put it off. Besides, it’s extra. Extra as in I don’t have to do it and nobody will ever know.

We pretend we don’t care about the clutter that is growing like mold on a shower curtain. We pretend we don’t see the actual mold on the shower curtain. “The new me,” you say (the one who is pretending to be someone they’re not) “is blind to all that. I don’t care. I’m going to finish this novel if it kills me.”

And killing you, it is. BECAUSE YOU CAN’T LIVE LIKE THAT.  It isn’t you. That lifestyle doesn’t fit your personality type. Trust me; I know. You will remain preoccupied with whatever it is you are neglecting. The bigger the neglect (only Type-A would consider something like not color-coding her closet as neglect), the more apt you are to writer’s block. And neglecting your writing to take care of the internal nag doesn’t work either because now it’s your writing that’s nagging at you. It’s a vicious, never-ending cycle, and you need to do something about it, damnit.

When I hear about writers landing an agent eight months after they started the novel, I die a little inside. They are clearly Type B and right-brained all the way. They can write like there’s nothing else to do (I bet their CDs and DVDs aren’t even in alphabetical order). And the Type-A, right-brained can only write when there is nothing else to do.

Don’t take it anymore! Damn it.

Why “damn”? Because I’m fed up, damnit. Writing a to-do list is all fine and great and everything but most of what I put on mine are really just reminders of stuff I have to do and therefore unlikely to put off: scoop litter box, empty dishwasher, pay bills, etc. It’s the extra stuff that put me at my breaking point—damnit—and it’s messing with my creative flow. When I have too much stuff piling on, I can’t think around all the clutter. I can’t write. I can’t blog. I can’t move forward. I’m stuck in the quicksand of life, damnit.

Today. And every day from this one, I will do three things on my backlog. I have to be strategic. Photo albums will take all day so I will list it with two very small things like pull the six-foot-tall weed and find my glasses that I misplaced months ago. I use dime-store reading glasses as a replacement, but these are prescription, and I paid good money for them, damnit (I am fully aware that by searching for my glasses I will find many other neglected piles in my house. I don’t care. I’m ready, with my pen and pad to add those to my list too, damnit).

I can’t wait to wear all my clothes that needed ironed or needed a button. I can’t wait to see my hallway lined with my kids’ school pics from pre-k to current. I can’t wait to make that recipe that’s been glaring at me from a fridge magnet for, I kid you not, fifteen months. But just knowing I’m back in control will silence the internal nagging so I can focus more on my writing. Damnit.

What personality type do you think you are? Do you have any damn things nagging at you?


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So there I was braless in my front yard minding my own business killing things—black widows—with my deadly saber weapon—broomstick—when all of a sudden a Mexican man in a pick-up truck pulled up and got out and approached me, braless me, and began waving his arms and speaking a mix of English and Spanish—Spanglish.

And this is what I saw/heard. You … pear … (hand mimes what looks like a round shape, not hourglass but round, I tell you) … no good … too big.

Perceptive as he may be regarding my body shape, insulting a woman holding a deadly weapon is not a bright person. I may have poked him with my sword (it’s a sword now) had I not been so busy pondering his reasons for needing to bring it to my attention. Possibly he thought I was blind and was doing me a favor. Ah, thanks. Good to know. I’ll get right on it. Or, he’s from PETS (people for ethical treatment of spiders) and was trying to dissuade me from further massacre. Or, simply a community service message.

Then, as I was about to bring down my iron hot poker upon his head, it occurred to me he was offering to trim my Bradford Pear tree. He cruised the neighborhoods looking for folks outside and would stop to offer his services. He almost died for trying.

You said I'm a what?

If this post has a familiar ring it’s because I kind of do this kind of thing a lot, you know, adding fantastical elements to a very dull happening, and way outside the realm of logic and reason. You’d think I’d learned my lesson since my last publicly-admitted blunder in Believable Characters  (notice I say “publicly admitted. Imagine what I keep private).

If I read the above scene in a book—sans the part where she comes to her senses—I’d say, “Bah.” So why, why, why, did I believe it could happen in real life? (because it’s happening to me, that’s why)

Moral of today’s story: Keep it real, baby. Keep it real. (unless you’re writing fantasy, then you can do that.)

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There’s a piece of writing advice that stands the test of time. Much like the secret to weight loss is to simply reduce calories and increase exercise. No gimmick. No magic pill or elixir. No cream or special belt. Nothing but good old-fashioned diet changes and moving the body more and sitting less. There.

Now the same goes for writing. No gimmicks, music, scented candles, meditation, prayer, deals with the devil, or anything else that you need in order to write. Doing the above is fine. But not if it’s what you rely on to write.

The closest thing to a gimmick I found that actually worked to get my work in progress progressing is a subliminal message.  As my desk (I actually cleaned it up a bit to take the pic) gets cluttered with sticky notes of books to read, agents to query, and new gimmicks to try, I had the solution the whole time, right in front of my nose, a natural home remedy, trying to be noticed. I’m right here, it says, listen to me.

hint: it's a raised platform for my computer


So if you are wondering where I’ve been, why my blog is quiet, it’s because a certain subliminal message has taken over my brain.

Disclaimer: Sitting less is the very antithesis of writing more. Though I wholly recommend exercise. Writers need it. I need it. Oh, boy, do I need it. Bathing suit season …

Do you have any good writing advice? Or any advice that produces great results?

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Since October, my vision has been failing drastically. Or maybe it just seems drastic. One day I can read with no assistance and the next, I need glasses. But cheap drugstore glasses aren’t helping with the computer screen. With or without them, my eyes strain on the computer. I’ve tried fiddling with the brightness and contrast and all that jazz, and nothing has worked. Even typing this, I cannot look at the screen.

I had hopes for the new “special” glasses the optometrist said would complete my life. And no, they don’t work, either. So I guess I’ll just rely on my keen sense of hearing to finish my book. (note: I have an affliction called CHS aka Can’t Hear Shit. So, uh, maybe not.)

Though, I once read that if one of your senses is impaired, another one will be stronger to compensate. It’s true. Because now I hear voices.

Whatever I’m doing, I hear myself narrating in my head.

As I’m driving, I hear, “…she slams on her brakes at the black animal in the road. She’s going to save it. Tears pool in her eyes at the heap as she tentatively approaches. “It’s dead!” she screams, then sees it’s just a tire …”

When scrounging for something to eat, I hear, “…she opens the pantry to emptiness. The fridge is bare. Listless, she trudges to bed where she vows to waste away to nothing. If only she weren’t blind, she’d have seen the pantry full, the fridge stocked…”

When I complain to the universe through my blog, I hear, “…they shake their heads, dab their eyes. Poor, poor deaf, dumb and blind Tricia (especially dumb). Maybe I should offer to finish her book for her. Maybe I’ll find her an agent while I’m at it. Must do a query letter …”

You might not be thinking you thought that, but you did. I heard it. Hey, wait I heard that too. Take it back.

“…she watches Spongebob marathons until the 3rd person narrative voices fade away, and soon after, she does as well …”

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April Fool’s day is my book’s 4th birthday.

I is four

My book turning four is not a happy event, just so you know. It’s just one more reminder of unfinished business. That hasn’t stopped me in the past, querying, that is. I made a vow every year to be finished, like in ready to query finished, by April 1st. On birthday number two, I queried two agents. Birthday number three, I thought I was ready and queried three agents. You see a pattern here? But I won’t. I will not query four agents today just because I made a silly vow once. Wait. I won’t promise that. I don’t trust myself. Maybe I’ll send just one.

I have a beta reader I’m handing this to tomorrow, and I’m hanging back to see what edits or changes she suggests. I would kick myself later if I queried and sent a sample chapter that needed work. So no, I will not send out a query today. I won’t. I might.

On other news, I received Golden Visions magazine in the mail yesterday with my story Male Pattern Deadness published in it. It’s a serious piece; a psychological thriller, if you will. Also, forthcoming in Slow Trains, I wrote another serious piece—am I losing my sense of humor?

I don’t have a link to Male Pattern Deadness yet, as it’s only in their print edition, It may end up in my unlinkable page above. But the exciting thing is my story is right in the middle where the magazine staple goes. So the magazine wants to naturally open there. People picking up the magazine will be FORCED to see my story—muhahahaha.

To prove I still have my humor about me, I have a flash piece up at Fear of Writing called Mango Man. Fear of Writing has a list of prompts you can choose from should you want to write for them.

Last and most important is Linda Cassidy Lewis, my friend and member of my in-person writing group, has her debut book, Brevity of Roses, up for sale today. She is the first in my group to publish a book, so this is all very exciting, it’s also very sudden, and I haven’t had a chance to post reviews of it on Amazon or Goodreads yet, but will shortly. For now, just trust me that this is beautifully written work and I encourage you to read it. I command it.

Though none of the above is an April Fool’s joke—nor is the mention that I just forgot how to spell “above” and tried five different spellings before I gave up and asked the computer how to spell it—do any of you participate in this silly tradition? Did someone pull any tricks on you today? I’m alone right now. The day is still young. For me, it’s pending. When my eleven year old gets home, I’ll be in for it.

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This counts as a blog post from me.  Come visit Fear of Writing, you might learn something on What Not to Do.

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An interview with Tooty Nolan 

  What I like about Tooty: He’s one-of-a-kind, that’s what. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what he has to say then we can address whether or not a bronze sculpture should be made in honor of him, displayed on a raised platform, protected by a moat complete with water features such as dancing fire water and swan fountains, or he be committed.

I had to go all Elvira on this interview. My interruptions are in red.

Q: Why hamsters?

TN: Why hamsters? Well I had to come up with something vaguely analogous to human beings with which to people my world, and apes had been done to death already. They also say that you should write ‘what you know’: Well I’ve kept a few rodents in my time, and I pretty much feel that I got to know how they ticked. They are, generally speaking, nice but dim. Cavies particularly so. And to a certain extent hamsters too. Hamsters are also resourceful and relentless, and have many fine attributes – like inquisitiveness, fearlessness, a propensity to get themselves into dangerous situations, (like Richard Gere?) sharp teeth, and (in the case of the males) huge bollocks. And have you ever simulated the advances of a male hamster by stroking the back of a female? (not lately) She’s a right little tart, I can tell you. She turns ridged, her eyes bulge, her tail rises to expose her doo-dads, and she’s instantly ready for it – any time of the day or night. As a writer what more could I ask for? Nosey little bastards out looking for a quick shag, and getting themselves into all sorts of trouble while they do it. The perfect representatives for top honours on a world without humans, I do believe. Oh, and they have fingers too. Very handy those.

Q: Did Hamster-Britain evolve, or did you plan it all out first?

TN: I’m a great believer in evolution. Things – ideas and developments – must happen as they will. The only thing that I ever planned was my family’s move to Spain (which went unbelievably smoothly, I must add). But that was an aberration: Normally I just trust my instincts, rely upon nothing but a self-perceived élan, and hope for the best. All that existed of Hamster-Britain at the beginning were two hamsters – Horatio and Molly Horseblanket – waiting at a bus stop (in a story called Horatio’s Horrid Holiday, which didn’t make the cut into either of the Horatio Horseblanket Chronicles, but was reprised in The Psychic Historian). Then slowly it grew – involving more and more characters and locations – eventually moving the stories into other countries – and ultimately to alternate realities, where I could really let my imagination run riot. But no matter what happens in any of the books – they always come back to Hamster-Britain at the end. It’s the anchor that holds the series together. (Might I recommend you see Dinner with the Schmucks?)

Q: Were you sober during all this?

TN: Absolutely. I’m not tee-total, the consumption of alcohol is a rare event. I have the tastes of a child when it comes to the demon drink. (me too) It has to be sweet and bubbly. So don’t let me anywhere near a bottle of Martini Asti Spumante: I’ll get all giggly, and then go to sleep. Oh-no – to create a world with an internal logic that remains honest a writer must remain sober. And I have enough problems with short-term memory loss as it is.

Q: What is your daily routine? Do you write every day? Do you have rituals and/or quirks?

TN: My writing can be best described as sporadic. When the juices flow, so-to-speak, I can barely keep my fingers from the keypad: But getting started is another thing. Time is seldom my own, and there are always pressures to do something other than write. My wife and I both work, which means that I feel that we spend too much time apart – especially noticeable since her battle with cancer during 2007/8, so when the opportunity to be together presents itself I feel that it’s wrong to cloister myself away in the corner of the dining room, and disappear into another realm. And sometimes the thought of the sheer effort of looking at a blank screen, and then conjuring up some vivid tale is too much for me to attempt. For example – in November 2010 I put on my Clive Thunderbolt head, and finally (after years of promising myself to) I began work upon the sequel to Captive Echo. Then the build up to Christmas kind of got in the way, and after twenty-five pages I paused – not for dramatic effect, or because I didn’t know where the story was going (for once I actually had it all planned out: Not my usual style I assure you), but because I had real doubts that it was any good. With Christmas out of the way, I went back and re-wrote those twenty-five pages – at one sitting – and was quite pleased with the result. I’d proved to myself that I could write more than just rude comedy/fantasy. But having dotted the last I and crossed the last T, I put it aside once more – all interest lost in both the story and the characters. The passion to write a sci-fi-ish mystery/thriller, it seemed, didn’t burn right then. I will return to it, of course; but I can’t help thinking that there’s another Hamster-Britain story screaming to be written first.   

Q: How long have you been writing for publication?

TN: The first Horatio Horseblanket short story was written during a particularly hot spell of the Spanish summer of 2004. I wrote it because I was bored with lounging around by the pool or at the beach, (you poor thing) and I had a computer sitting there doing nothing. Previously I’d only ever written television scripts, and one of the reasons that I’d taken the (what turned into a fifteen month) sabbatical in Spain was my frustration with the British television industry, and it’s ever-changing mind. So trying my hand at ‘proper’ writing was actually quite an undertaking. The first-draft Captive Echo and Silent Apocalypse (both based upon my TV scripts) followed. I thought, “Cor, I aint too bad as this writing lark”, and duly ran off a few more Horatio Horseblanket tales before returning to the UK. Once home I continued, and I’d written the first four books before I actually tested them out upon the general public on my Windows Live blog ‘Tooty’s Purple Pencil’. Anyone remember that? The responses were great. “Why aren’t you publishing?” seemed to be the general consensus. But I wasn’t sure even then. So I began my first WordPress site (the name of which eludes me right now, but it probably had the word Tooty in it somewhere), and the public mood remained much the same. But let’s be honest – The Hamster-Britain stories aren’t really mainstream: (Tao Lin would agree) I was NEVER going to find a publisher who was willing to take a risk with it. But then someone introduced me to Lulu.com. I think it was the brilliant American horror/fantasy writer, James Viscosi. And in late 2009 I published the four books, plus my (then) newbie – The Psychic Historian – using the on-line POD format. Since then I’ve released both sci-fi books, and a further two Hamster-Britain stories using that company. Nobody will ever have a best-seller using this medium, (never say never) but it does mean that people with unusual tastes or a discerning nature, can read books that they would otherwise have been unable to – and for that I’m grateful. I just don’t understand why the incredibly cheap downloads don’t sell more.        

Q: What do you read? Favorite author? Genre?

TN: As a young man I used read all the time – including whilst visiting the toilet (guaranteed no interruptions there) – almost exclusively science fiction, but a few biographies and factual books thrown in too. But as I’ve grown older I find I have less time, so now it’s usually relegated to the occasional biography before bed (usually too tired to read), or whilst flying (David Brin’s The River of Time was my last read at Thirty-seven thousand feet). I grew up on Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, etc, and would have loved to be able to emulate any one of them. But alas I’ll never be in their class. Who is?   

Q: Coffee or tea?

TN: Tea at work. Coffee at home – out of a Philips Senseo machine. Both decaffeinated: (I suddenly don’t understand you. Did you say decaf?) Good for tinnitus apparently. Café con leche when in Spain, naturally. Not decaffeinated. (Okay, we’re on again) The rules are out the window when I’m taking it easy.

Q: Anything you wished I would have asked?

TN: Well I’d have liked to answer the question – ‘Who is your favourite character from Hamster-Britain?’- which, of course, would have been Horatio Horseblanket. Once I’d completed the thirty-something stories that make up The Horatio Horseblanket Chronicles Vols 1&2, I thought that I’d finished with him – even if he did receive a mention in The Where House. But a cameo in Fanfare for the Common Hamster was an absolute joy to write, and so he had to make appearances in both The Psychic Historian and Danglydong Dell. And he even had a chapter in Deep Threat named after him!

Also which of the HB books is my favourite? Undoubtedly The Psychic Historian (even if some people think that Deep Threat is better): Some of the stories in that are just so outrageous, even I blush. The thought of Lady Millicent Carport-Minge out jogging naked, and poking herself in the eye with her nipples…It makes me want to make a start on the next book right now. In fact I think I will!  

Thanks Tooty for entertaining visiting us today. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was in favor of the statue until we got to the last paragraph. Be still, the white coats will be at your door shortly. Cooperate. They can get mean with the straight jacket. Not that I would know.

Oh, and dear readers, in case you haven’t guessed by now, Tooty’s hamster books are not for children. I bought one for my husband (I haven’t read it yet, but will when he is finished). We don’t keep it lying around for young eyes. Although, if I really want to keep her from reading it, all I have to do is tell her she has to read it. For sure it will go ignored.

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I would like to introduce my special guest today, Sybil Baker. I’m her last stop on the WOW blog tour. You can catch all the previous tours by visiting  Wow-Women on Writing.

Sybil will be giving away a copy of her book here, so be sure to drop in and say hello and ask her any questions you might have.

About the Author:
Sybil has always had wandering feet. First, she left her hometown in northern Virginia for Boulder where she completed her Master’s in English at the University of Colorado. She eventually moved back to Virginia but soon the wandering bug bit her again. This time she spent twelve years teaching English in South Korea and traveling the world. So far she has checked off over 30 countries, many in Asia. Her path did lead back to the United States where she received her MFA at The Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2005 and began teaching creative writing at the University of Tennessee in 2007. These days she satisfies her wanderlust by writing about exotic locales from the Chattanooga home she shares with her husband.
Just Thought You Should Know:
Sybil is also the author of a novel The Life Plan. You can learn more about The Life Plan and its WOW Blog Tour at http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2009/03/sybil-baker-author-of-life-plan.html
 Author’s Websites:                                                  

Sybil Baker’s website: http://sybilbaker.com/home.html
Sybil Baker’s Blogs:  http://sybilbaker.blogspot.com/

Novels vs. Short Stories


                When you start a new project, do you know if it will be a novel, short story or essay? Do you start out with a specific genre in mind for your piece, or do you start writing and see where the piece will take you?

                When I have an idea or an image for a new piece, I usually know if it’s going to be a short story, novel, or an essay. Essays spring from some experience that I believe works better as nonfiction—they explicitly explore ideas and events that I don’t want to fictionalize. Short stories usually come from a character or conflict that I see as focusing on one event or issue—what Poe calls the unity of effect or impression. When I have a character whose journey will be layered and long, then I have a novel.

I recently finished the draft of a novel about two sisters and the secrets they discover about their family. The multiple plot lines and complexity of their relationship could not be covered in a short story. On the other hand, I recently finished a story about a young woman in a bar with her new boyfriend—that event and her conflict was much more focused and worked best as a short story.

                The exception for me was Talismans, which is a linked short story collection and reads more like a novel through stories. When I wrote the first story (“Fur Elise”) many years ago, I thought the main character Elise would exist only in that story. But then a few years later I wrote a story about a woman who in Korea and falls in love with a Korean man. When I finished that story, I realized that the woman was Elise. I wanted to learn more about Elise—how did she get to Korea, and what else happened with her relationships with her mother and father? I wrote more stories to discover those answers. After a few years, , I had a collection of  ten stories that followed Elise’s physical and emotional journey across many years. At that point, I could have taken the stories and rewritten them as a novel, but for some reason Elise’s life as seen through the stories worked better for me. I think the linked stories—connected yet separate, work best because Elise also felt so disconnected and fragmented. The linked story form best reflects Elise’s world.

                Linked short story collections must work as stand-alone pieces and must also work as part of a larger narrative arc. This is not easy. I spent a lot of time revising the stories so that the images and conflicts in the first story would echo and build through the collection. I also made sure that the last story resolved in some matter the conflicts in the first story.

                When you’re writing a short story or a novel or an essay, occasionally step back and ask yourself if you’re working in the right form for your piece. Maybe the novel needs to be compressed or distilled, or maybe a short story has too many elements and needs to open up. Maybe your fiction piece is best served as a creative nonfiction piece. Be aware of the constraints and possibilities of the genre you’re working in, and allow your piece to become what it needs to be.

Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of Sybil Baker’s book Talismans

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The memoir that grew into a novel that shrunk into a short story collection. Almost. I still haven’t decided on that last part: the short story collection. And I wouldn’t say the memoir “grew” into a novel exactly. More like I changed lanes. The word out there is memoirs won’t sell, unless you’re famous. Unfortunately, I had already written it at this point.

I started out with the idea of humorous Family Stories told in short stories like that of David Sedaris. But word out there is short stories won’t sell, either, unless you’re famous.

I like my story better as a memoir, because to make it a novel I must actually follow rules, a formula complete with a beginning, middle and end and with plot points, character arcs, resolutions, and, omg, a likeable character.

So rules, I followed. And I rewrote and rewrote and read and read, not for pleasure, but for scene structure and pace and all the while I was impatient to be done … again. So I took bits of my book and reworked some of them into short stories and submitted to lit journals and some actually got published. But I’m not ready to submit the remaining thirty shorts from my book all over kingdom come. My dream is to be read (nice if I was paid too). My dream isn’t for this one big story to be read in bits and pieces. It’s like a series of one-night stands without any true bonding with the standee/characters. For any of you who have read my published excerpts—and admits to it—I want to yell, “But wait, There’s More.”

Then came the idea that I should publish all the stories to lit journals, then compile them all into a short story collection.

My indecisiveness is what keeps me from moving ahead. I need to decide its fate before I read my novel once more for plot holes. Should I choose to move ahead with a short story collection, I’ve got a little dismantling work ahead of me. If I choose to keep it a novel, I’ve got more rewrites—you mean there needs to be a plot? Easier would be to know the direction before taking the journey. 

Do you like reading short story collections or do you prefer a long-term relationship with your character? Come back on Friday to meet a special guest who managed to do both by compiling a short story collection and by linking the stories to create a thread through one character’s life. She will be discussing short stories vs. novels (she’s written both).

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The good news is I have a new publication up at Imitation Fruit.

The bad news is I don’t have anything in the queue, nothing forthcoming. And this makes me very nervous. I had been on a roll and I wasn’t finished rolling in it. Since April I had a publishing a month. I didn’t know I had a pattern until recently, but once I did, I didn’t want to break it.

I wonder if I could e-mail all the editors that I have submissions out on and ask if they could accept me on the grounds of I’m neurotic. After all, this is my own personal cosmos of stars and we must keep them in line. How should I word this? Is this too weird of a request? If not, would it be pushy to demand a November publication, even if they had already selected their November contributors?

If you are an editor out there and you need a November slot to fill, look no further than right here. I can write anything. Except quirky, insanity stuff. I can’t write in that mindset, don’t understand it. No siree bob, I’m a straight arrow kinda gal. Calm, cool and collective. That’s me. Don’t worry be happy. Relaxed … ACCEPT ME! NOW! HURRY!

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