Heading for Helsinki and Worldcon

I’m running away from home for ten days, leaving Best Beloved and the dog to look after each other, and I’m heading for Helsinki, to The 75th World Science Fiction Convention at the Messukeskus Convention Centre on the outskirts of Helsinki. I’m travelling with my writer-friend, Carl Allery, and after Worldcon finishes we’re going to take a couple of days to look round Helsinki itself, and then we’ll be taking the ferry across to Tallinn in Estonia for a couple of days. More about all that – with photographs – when we arrive home.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with old friends, and to making new ones, and, of course, seeing my editor, Sheila Gilbert, who is once more nominated for a Hugo in the Editor, Long Form category, which she won last year.

I was going to reblog something instead of writing an involved blog post for next Tuesday, but I decided to  let you choose for yourselves. My blog index is coming up in a separate post. have at the archive.

Send a comment if you’ll be in Helsinki for the con.

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Bladdered or Shitfaced? The gentle art of word choice and the bogglement of page-proofing.

Nimbus-TitlePageNo, I’m neither bladdered not shitfaced – that’s one of my characters. I’m sober as the proverbial judge, and doing page proofs. Five hundred and thirty four pages of closely printed text – almost one hundred and seventy thousand words. This is the final time I will see Nimbus in its raw state until I get the ARCs – the advance reading copies, (the ones that go out for pre-publication reviews) I’ve just taken a break from staring at the printed sheets because my vision is blurry. (One of the reasons I usually read for pleasure on Kindle is that I can increase the font size when my eyes get tired.) I’m on page four hundred and twenty of my page proofs and I’ve been at this for four days so far. It’s Sunday night and my deadline is Tuesday. At this rate I should finish on time

I like to check the page proofs on paper because I spot a lot more typos than I would on screen. I have a piece of card the width of the print and I go through the whole thing one line at a time to make sure I really read it. Without the card moving down the page it would be too easy for my eyes to skip a line. It’s easy to read what you think you’ve written, not what’s on the page.

Eliminating bloopers isn’t just my task, thank goodness. There are other eyes and brains on the job. After the content edit, the manuscript goes to a copy editor who changes my British English into American and smooths out any clunky phrasing, verbal hiccups, incorrect spelling, and grammar mistakes. He (in this case) also checks continuity of spelling and formatting. Is it air lock, air-lock or airlock?

Sometimes a copy editor makes a change that you really don’t want. If this happens you usually have the opportunity to query it, revert to the original, or discuss it with your editor.

There are the words and phrases which characterise American speech, which you may or may not want. Mom versus mum. Got versus gotten. Arse versus ass. I’ve had to revert diaper back to nappy because my characters are not American. I’m sure my American readers are clever enough to get that.

In copy edits for previous books I discovered that Americans don’t appear to have the words tannoy or trug in their vocabulary so I ended up with the much more cumbersome public address system, and the non-specific basket Instead.

Nimbus front coverThis time my copy editor substituted completely drunk for bladdered. Yes, it’s a Britishism but, in context, doesn’t bladdered make sense? The dialogue in question is (one friend to another over a second glass of whisky), “Slow down. I don’t want to send you home to your wife bladdered.” The phrase, completely drunk just doesn’t cut it here. It’s way too bland. I suggested reverting to bladdered or substituting shitfaced. (I couldn’t substitute pissed, because that’s likely to misinterpreted by USians as angry.) But shitfaced is a little too harsh and I still prefer bladdered. You may have to read the book to find out which term ends up in print.

Now I have the page proofs, I can see what Nimbus will actually look like in printed form. This is my last chance to catch typos and brainos, but at this stage I can’t make extensive changes or rewrite chunks. There are lots of little things (commas) and a few lucky catches. (I’d changed someone’s name and done a global search and replace but missed the fact that Mr. Hyde was referred to as Mr. Hunt, just once.)

All that text is eye-boggling. It’s a necessary job, but it’s tiring. I’m relieved to know that it will still go through one more proof-read \t publisher level before being finally committed to print.

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Corwen Silverwolf Speaks

Denby Hall, September 1801

Corwen

Corwen Deverell

I don’t usually get the opportunity to say much. It’s not that I’m henpecked, you understand, but—well—my author is female and she lets my beloved, Rossalinde, tell the story. So it’s nice, for once, to be able to speak for myself rather than letting my actions speak for me.

Let’s get the important bit out of the way first. I’m Corwen Deverell and I’m a wolf shapechanger—not a werewolf! I sometimes have to make that very clear to people. I’m not moon-called, which means if you’re with me when I change into my wolf, I’m not going to tear out your throat and crunch your bones. Please don’t get the wrong idea. I can, but I won’t. No, that’s all right, don’t apologise. I didn’t know the difference between a werewolf and a shapechanger at first, either. I was, after all, only nine when I changed the first time.

I’m the youngest son of a respectable family. My father is a gentleman of means with an interest in the cloth trade. No London seasons for us, though my mother prides herself on the fact that we count for something locally, amongst the society of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Our house, once modest, now boasts two new wings, the lower floors added by my grandfather and the upper ones by my father soon after my twin and I came into the world. He said that if he was going to produce children two at a time, that he’d better make sure he could house us all comfortably. My little sister was the survivor of a second pair of twins. Lily was still a babe in arms when I became a wolf.

After that there were no more children. Who wants offspring who might turn and devour them?

Corwen Silverwolf 01

Silverwolf

My first change was brutal. My bothers, both witnesses, were terrified, however my mother reconciled herself to it once she’d spoken to her sister and found out that shapechanging ran in the family. It had skipped a generation so no one had thought to warn her. My father never accepted my wolf, however. He believed I was changing to taunt him and that I could simply stop being a wolf whenever I wished. To a certain extent I can—now—but as a child, the changes were involuntary. He decided to beat it out of me until one night when I was about fourteen. I’d been out running—there may have been a lamb involved, I’m not proud of that—and I crept into the house via the back door, naked and muddy. Father had been waiting for me all night. He had a cane in his hand that he swished against his boot. He cornered me in the hallway. By that time changing was easy and quick, so I allowed my wolf to let him know that beating me was inappropriate. What can I say? I was at that snarly age. I didn’t bite him, but he suddenly saw the wisdom of leaving me alone.

Let’s skip over a few years. When I was nineteen I left my parents and siblings to their normal life. My mother didn’t want me to leave, but she’d spent a decade trying to protect me from discovery and I thought she deserved a rest. My brother Jonathan, whom I loved dearly, had new-fangled ideas about agriculture and spent a lot of time on our estate. My father’s biggest interest was our woollen mill. He was thinking about getting one of those fancy new steam engines made by Mr. Boulton and Mr. Watt, and it was all he could talk about. My twin brother, Freddie, who hadn’t shown any wolf-tendencies at all, was still at Oxford, and my little sister, Lily, was the apple of our father’s eye. They were a normal—if privileged—happy family—much better off without me. So, after one final row with my father, I found a place for myself with the Lady of the Forest and the Green Man, good people once you get to know them.

I became an agent for the Lady, able to pass between the magical and the mundane worlds easily, fitting into both, gathering intelligence, solving the occasional problem. When not on one of her errands I spent my time in the forest, running as a wolf with the Lady’s retinue.

Winterwood Vis 4

Ross Tremayne

That’s when I first saw Ross. She was on the run, a pirate’s widow with a price on her head for a murder that she didn’t commit. It’s a long story, and Ross told much of it in Winterwood. The Lady asked me to guide Ross and her two companions out of the forest safely to the Bideford road. Even dressed in man’s array I could see how beautiful she was. I’m always surprised that people don’t immediately spot Ross’ gender. She always looks feminine to me. Ross thought I was simply a trained wolf, of course, but right then I wanted to chase her down and eat her. Hmm, eat may not be quite the right word to use in this context, but it’s all I’m going to say. I was a civilised wolf, just as I’m a civilised man, so I let her go on her way, not without regret.

She didn’t even recognise me the next time we met. There was no reason why she should, of course. I was in human form then. The Lady had seen things coming that neither Ross nor I suspected, but as a precaution she sent me to be Ross’ watch-wolf. Ross didn’t take too kindly to that. It took a while for her to trust me, but when she did, we… Well, actually we didn’t, not right away. There was a small problem. Ross wasn’t disinterested in sex, and by that time she was starting to see my worth. She was a widow, dammit, not a blushing virgin. It was her widowhood that was the problem. Her late husband, William Tremayne, was still hanging around. It’s hard enough to compete with another man for the woman you’ve come to love, but when your competition is a ghost, and the ghost of a much-loved, much-missed lover at that, it’s almost impossible. I mean, how are you ever going to live up to the memories of a perfect man? Yes, I know Will Tremayne wasn’t perfect, but he was Ross’ idea of perfect.

The Lady of the Forests had sent me to do a job, or rather to ensure that Ross did what was needful to free the bonded rowankind, but the nearer we got to knowing what that was, the less I liked it. This thing that Ross had to do could suck the life right out of her. For a while I thought she might refuse to do it. There were issues other than her personal safety, and she wondered for a time whether doing it was the sensible thing to do. I had no doubts that she would do it if she thought it was right. She wasn’t lacking in courage, but part of me hoped that she would decide it was too big a step to take. It could do more harm than good—even cause a social revolution. Part of me hoped that in the weighing up of potential consequences, she would decide against it, but she didn’t, and all I could do was to support her as she risked herself to right a wrong that had been done two hundred years earlier.

You’re still reading this, so you’ve realised that Ross didn’t die, or I’d have been running round the forest howling at the moon by now, mad with grief.

We had a brief chance at a happy-ever-after, but that didn’t last. With the rowankind freed, it seemed that Ross had opened the gate for a lot of other magical creatures to find their way into the world, and the Lady asked us to deal with a kelpie who’d been eating children in Devon.

CannonHall paintIf that had been all we could probably have gone back to our happy-ever-after, but that wasn’t all. A letter called us back to Yorkshire, to my family home. Yes, I know I said I was never going to go back, but things had changed, though until my sister Lily wrote I didn’t know any of it. My brother Jonathan had died. The number of times I’d been near to death because of some injury—protecting Ross isn’t without its hazards, so it’s lucky that I heal quickly—and yet Jonathan, always healthy and never in trouble for anything, had succumbed to a burst appendix. Our father had suffered an apoplectic fit at Jonathan’s funeral and my twin, Freddie, just when he should have been taking charge of the family, had ducked out and run off to London to enjoy the season with his disreputable friends, rakes all of them.

Anyhow, I won’t go into all that, Ross has told that story in Silverwolf. And yes, despite everything, we found time to wed. I thank providence each day that she loves me in spite of everything. I never thought I’d marry. Finding a wife is difficult enough, but when you need one who won’t run away screaming if her children turn into cubs one day, you can’t just attend the next assembly and court a pretty lass for her looks or her graceful dancing. (And believe me that’s all that’s ever on offer as the proud mamas show off their daughters in the hopes of a good match.) Ross accepts me for what I am. That’s one more reason why I love her. Did I say she was beautiful, and brave, and resourceful? I probably did. So if I’ve started to repeat myself I shall put down the quill, blow out the candle and go to bed. Ross should have warmed it by now and with any luck she won’t be asleep yet.

If you want to catch up with all this from Ross’ point of view the stories are here in the first two books of The Rowankind. As for how the story ends, well, you’ll have to wait for the third book.

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History Lends Perspective

I had an email from a reader who asked:

Empire of Dust

Empire of Dust – Cover

Just finished Empire of Dust. Enjoyed it very much. I’m confused about an allusion to Dunkirk you made on page 478 in Daw paperback. Ben states that Dunkirk was something that happened “during a civil war.” What civil war? Ben is referring to WWII. Did you mean to infer that it happened so long ago that Ben was just misinformed?

My answer:

Thanks for asking.

Yes, you got it. Ben wasn’t exactly ‘misinformed’, but when you live and work is space and there are many colonies, wars that are localised to one planet are seen, from a distance, as a civil war. WW2 looks a lot smaller from a thousand light years away and a timespan of 500 years.

Bear in mind that between the 1940s and Ben’s ‘now’ there has also been a multiple meteorite strike that almost knocked humanity back to the stone age, destroyed most of the USA and a big chunk of China and put earth through the whole ‘nuclear winter’ thing. (Which is why Pan-Africa and Europe are the main superpowers.) If it hadn’t been for the colonies sending aid and helping with the rebuild, the meteorite strike could have been an extinction event – at least as far as humans-on-earth were concerned.

Still clanking the keys. I’ve just finished the final edits on Nimbus – the third in the Psi-Tech series after Crossways – and I have another Dunkirk reference in that.

 

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Ambition and Poison – a Guest Blog by Gail Z. Martin

What would it take to drive you to murder?

Maybe you’d never think about it unless someone harmed your family, threatened your way of life, blackmailed you or a loved one. How about money?

It’s not unheard of for people to murder for money. Not just paid assassins or hitmen, but impatient heirs or the husbands of gullible heiresses, business partners who want a bigger piece of the action, corporate rivals in a situation where only one can win a high-stakes role. For the ruthlessly ambitious, murder is just another tactic.

Gail Martin ScourgeThe world of my new Darkhurst series (first book Scourge debuts July 15) rewards ruthless ambition in its ruling classes. It’s not set in our world, but the Medici Family of the heyday of the Italian city-states would feel right at home, as would Machiavelli. Everything hinges on the trade agreements that bind the ten city-states of the kingdom together. Not only do the fortunes of the city-states themselves rise and fall depending on whether the best partners and best terms are won, but so do the power and money of the Crown Princes, Merchant Princes, nobles and Guild Masters.

And when the guys at the top screw up, the tradespeople at the bottom pay in blood.

Ravenwood is one of the ten Darkhurst city-states, and it’s where Scourge takes place. Assassination is a common tactic to handle disagreements. Those who serve the ruling class are at risk as ‘proxies’ who can be killed or wounded in order to send a message to their patrons. The old grudges and pissing matches of the nobility spill over into consequences for everyone who is beholden to them.

Corran, Rigan and Kell Valmonde are undertakers, members of their trade Guild, and oblivious to the politics and intrigue occurring within the ruling class. But when monsters savage the dark streets and kill family and friends, and the Lord Mayor’s guards do little to stop them, the tradespeople take up arms themselves to defend their neighbors–even though doing so is a crime worthy of hanging.

Undertaking is a hereditary profession, and each of the Guild trades has its own trade-related magic. Rigan, Corran and Kell possess the grave magic necessary to send the dead to their rest, but Rigan has additional forbidden magic that not only poses a danger to himself and others until he learns to control it, but could get him burned as a witch. Magic either serves the Guilds or the ruling class, or it is outlawed.

When the brothers and their friends begin to hunt the monsters to protect those they love, they discover that the monsters have masters, and that the schemes of the Lord Mayor and the Merchant Princes are far darker than anyone dreamed. Everyone is a pawn in a ruthless game of profit or loss that is corrupt to its core, and they may have to burn down their world to save it.

 

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Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications

About the Author: Gail Z Martin

The Hawthorn Moon is the annual summer blog tour for Gail Z. Martin, and features guest blog posts, giveaways, surprises, excerpts and more on sixteen blogs worldwide. Find the master list of posts and goodies at www.GailZMartin.com

Gail Z. Martin is the author of Scourge: A Darkhurst novel, the first in a brand new epic fantasy series from Solaris Books. Also new are: The Shadowed Path, part of the Chronicles of the Necromancer universe (Solaris Books); Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Solaris Books); Shadow and Flame the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books); and Iron and Blood a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

She is also author of Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen); The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) and the urban fantasy novels Deadly Curiosities .  Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden Adventures. The Storm and Fury Adventures, steampunk stories set in the Iron & Blood world, are co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

Gail is also the organizer for #HoldOnToTheLight, authors blogging about depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide, self-harm and other mental health topics to encourage inclusiveness in fandom and stand in solidarity with fans. Learn more at http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com

Find her at http://www.GailZMartin.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin and  free excerpts on Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

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Life, Death and the Writer’s Pen

Vin5917

Vin Garbutt

Last Tuesday, 6th June, I awoke to a world without Vin Garbutt in it – a world less bright, a world less funny. For those of you not in the folk music world, Vin was a unique performer, A Teessider who for nearly fifty years sang about (mainly) social issues in a deeply personal way, but between songs had audiences in stitches with his hilarious patter which often lasted longer than the songs. He took his music around the world and had legions of staunch fans who consistently filled venues wherever he played.

Vin was not only a singer I admired greatly, he was also a client on my music agency roster and, more importantly, a personal friend. This is not the place for an obituary. I’m told obits will be out soon in the Guardian and the Telegraph.

Vin’s untimely exit from the stage (at the age of 69) set me musing on life and death and how we sometimes portray it in the fictional world.

As a science fiction and fantasy author I often put my characters through hell. Indeed, one piece of advice is to work out what the worst thing that might happen to your characters in any given situation, and then write it. This is usually a whisker short of death for main characters (unless their death is significant, i.e. Has Meaning ™) but there may be any number of other characters, good and bad or somewhere between, who kick the bucket, buy the farm, pass over, or any other euphemism for die.

I’m not advocating not killing off characters when it’s necessary for the story, but my thoughts this week have taken me in the direction that everyone is someone’s child, or father, or lover, or brother, or friend, and that killing characters should not be done lightly or without consequences.Nimbus front cover

Some books and movies have body-counts in their thousands, simply dismissed as collateral damage. As readers (or viewers) we shrug it off, but as writers we should think more about the consequences.

In Nimbus (due in October from DAW) I killed a relatively minor character in the first draft and then ‘unkilled’ him in the revision. His life was in the balance in Crossways, too, though he survived to the end (once more having been killed and unkilled). I always had it in mind that he probably wouldn’t reach the end of Nimbus alive, but I think I’m going to let him live to enjoy a peaceful retirement. He deserves it, and my main characters deserve to see a friend survive.

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Some Random Thoughts on Revisions and Edits

Nimbus front coverI’m in the final stages of checking over my upcoming book, NIMBUS, before sending it back to my editor with all the editorial changes she asked for.

A few weeks ago I posted on my overall publication process. Pretty early on in that process there’s a short point that simply says: I send the first draft to my editor.

It sounds easy if you say it fast, but there’s probably nine to twelve months of writerly perspiration, imagination, self-doubt, writer’s block, galloping progress, whinging calls to writer friends, and groans as I discard 8,000 words from a segment after I’ve made a wrong turn in the plot.

So when I send off my first draft to my editor it isn’t actually a raw first draft. By that I mean, I haven’t written it in a linear fashion from start to finish with no alterations, additions or subtractions. Oh no. It’s been written and revised—several times. In fact, I’m not even sure if I ever end up with a true first draft because by the time I get to the end I’ve changed things in the earlier pages many times.

Everyone works in their own way.

One hefty chunk of writerly advice is to begin at the beginning, write until you get to the end and stop. Don’t go back, revise or re-read, or otherwise make alterations, until you have a whole story. Well, that would indeed be a true first draft, but I can’t work like that.

Jacey Office 4

Jaey’s messy office

I’m messier than that. (And so is my office.) I do rolling revisions. Firstly I have to have a beginning I’m happy with. It’s the platform that provides a leaping off point for the rest of the story. If I’m not happy with the beginning (say the first chapter) then it shows in what I write next. So even if it takes multiple tries, I have to get the opening right. It might not be the opening that ends up in the book, but it’s an opening I can work with.

In the case of Nimbus I wrote about five different openings, starting at slightly different points in the story, before I settled on the one that I felt carried most promise. I knew where the story was going, and where the whole thing was going to end, though possibly not quite how I was going to achieve that desired end. I had several plot incidents that I wanted to include along the way, and arcs for my main characters, some of which had begun back in the first Psi-Tech book, Empire of Dust, and had been simmering gently throughout the second book, Crossways.

With rolling revisions, my first draft often looks like: two steps forward and one step back, or if I’m really lucky, eleven steps forward and two steps back. I’ve talked about rolling revisions before, here. Eventually I get to the end, but even though It’s gone through the rolling revision process, there’s still a lot to do. Very few writers produce a first draft they are truly happy with. Most of us get to the first draft stage and loathe every single word we’ve written. The rest of us don’t hate it all, but we know it could be better.

You might almost think that it’s the job of a first draft to suck, and you wouldn’t be far off. When I got to the end of Nimbus I knew that it was a hot mess. There were a lot of things in there that I liked, but they weren’t all in the right order. And I knew there were things that I hadn’t explained properly, or had maybe over-explained (I know that’s a failing of mine, so it’s something I’m always checking for.)

Luckily I have a few writer friends who have kindly agreed to beta-read said hot mess, and while they were reading it also gave me the chance to sit back and take a break, so that next time I looked at it, I had some perspective. I love my beta readers and am eternally grateful that they don’t pull their punches. (Please note that I reciprocate when they have a manuscript in need of reading.)

I work in Scrivener, which I love with a deep passion. I used to work in Lotus Word Pro and then in Word, but Scrivener allows me to drag and drop scenes in a different order if I need to, and it gives me three columns which… Look I could go on about Scrivener all day, but why don’t you go and look for yourselves. It’s $40 and if you’ve completed NaNoWriMo you can often get it at a discount. Okay, I admit it may take you a few days to get to grips with Scrivener, but it’s well worth the effort. And when You’ve finished, you can export it all in Word, ready formatted for delivery to your editor, or to send off on spec.

So once my friends have delivered their critiques, I look hard at the actual structure, because revision is not about polishing the prose (that comes later) it’s making sure you have all the right elements in the right order, and that they flow as a story. It’s making sure your worldbuilding works without glitches.

Sometimes things happen in fiction that would seem unrealistic in life. It’s unlikely that one person’s story would come to a satisfactory conclusion at more-or-less the same time as another. And, of course, until we die, our real life stories never end. In fiction we have to help those story arcs along. Our characters’ lives have to reach a point where we can leave them. Maybe they do die (in a fictionally acceptable way, of course), or maybe we leave them at a happy-ever-after point. Real life rarely has a happy-ever-after because there’s always a what-happens-next element. Most of us are grateful to get mostly-happy, or happy-more-often-than-not, but that’s not what fiction is all about. We need to know that our characters have overcome their problems, and that at least they have the potential for happy-ever-after.

Sheila_Gilbert

Sheila Gilbert

So, having reached the end, I send my not-quite-first-draft to my editor, Sheila Gilbert at DAW. After a few weeks I get an email to arrange THE PHONE CALL. Sheila doesn’t send me written edits, she phones me and talks while I scribble notes as fast as I can. This time I’m delighted to have no more than four pages of closely written notes on NIMBUS, which range from: You’ve left Olivia dangling—we need some resolution, to: who is the person firing from behind the dead body in the Red One fight? The first needs a whole new scene, the second can be corrected with half a dozen words in the right place. Sometimes something she says, or a question she asks, sparks off an idea that’s so perfect, I’m surprised this is the first time it’s crossed my mind. It’s last minute, but suddenly it makes sense of a character who has been present throughout the whole trilogy.

So now it’s late May.  I’ve dealt with Sheila’s edits and I’m reading NIMBUS out loud to myself to see if it all fits together properly. It’s obvious why I’m reading it again. As for the reading out loud thing, my mouth stumbles over glitches that my brain might miss.

If Sheila likes what I’ve done with the edits then the next time I see the text will be after it’s gone through the hands of a copy editor, but that’s another blog post.

If you want a reminder when Nimbus is published, you can sign up for my Mailchimp opt-in mailing list here or you can sign up to follow this blog by email, or add it to your reading page if you’re a WordPress user. If you like this article, please leave me a comment so I know you’re out there.

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