Tag Archives: Coffee

Crack of dawn

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Set my alarm for 4:40am this morning and actually managed to fight the urge to go back to bed. I’m a little groggy now at midday, but still happy for the effort.

I’ve written before about creativity being a somewhat finite resource, at least on a daily basis. The thing is, I’m not sure I really believe that. Yesterday I had a whole day of fairly repetitive, meticulous work, and when I got home I thought that the several hour block of time I had would be more than sufficient to write 1200 words .

I barely got to 250. My mind was mud. I was tired, and just not in the right head-space. Thankfully I was at least able to come to this realization quickly, rather than powering through which is my usual method for dealing with these problems. I got to bed at a reasonable hour, and woke up at an unreasonable one.

In terms of physical tiredness, it was probably about the same, at least until the first few swigs of my Venti Americano. But there’s something about my early morning brain that is just better able to string sentences together. Before another day of meticulous work, I spent my day happily typing away on my tablet and eating a cranberry-orange scone, and before I knew it I was comfortably over the 1200 word target.

Some of this may be due to the type of work. Most of my original composition is blog posts during the day. The majority of my evening time is given over to research, reading, and programming, which is a little less sensitive to my head-space. Perhaps if I built up the mental muscles again this late night timing wouldn’t be a problem, we all go through cycles of this, but I also think there’s something to the “first fruits” idea.

It’s easy to let work or the things we have to do be put ahead of the more creative projects we want to do. We think, sometimes rightly, that sleep is a more valuable resource than time, and that it’s better to have 8 hours sleep and to write in the evening, than six hours and to write in the morning. But it does make it easier to get through the more “worky” parts of my day when I know that I have also accomplished something toward my own goals. This may mean that when I get home all I’ll want to do is veg out and watch TV, but I still got something done.

There’s a saying, I think it’s from the UK, that “a change is as good as a rest.” Often this is said with irony, but in the case of this morning at least, it was quite true.

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Guest Post: Carrie Bailey – “Confirmed Independent Publisher”

We all take different roads to becoming a writer. Some of us have been writing since before we can remember, while others put pen to paper far more recently. As the first of what I hope will many posts from other fellow travelers, I’d like to introduce Carrie Bailey. Carrie is a fellow avid coffee drinker, and has the dubious distinction of being one of my first four Twitter followers (sorry for that, Carrie).

Carrie is very generous and encouraging to other writers around her. And she has a wonderful and unique voice born from ten lifetimes of experience crammed into one. She writes honestly and openly about the tough spots in life, while still having plenty of room for the whimsical and the fantastic. If you’re not reading her work, you really should be.

Anyway, enough out of me…

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rural-library-bookmobile

I’m a confirmed independent publisher. I knew I was more attracted to making books than fame and fortune before I started, but I lived a justified lie about my writing for years.

In truth, I’m a librarian. Or I was when I started. I drove a bookmobile once, years before I started. One of the regular patrons brought her writing to me. I blew past the first pages trying to imagine how not to hurt her feelings and I was shocked to see by the third page, she’d created a scene every bit as good as the sort of romantic fiction I respect, but couldn’t be forced to read.

That happened in 2008.

By 2010, I’d worked my way across forums and social networks posing as a writer to make contacts and figure out how to get her published. And then the guilt set in.

The writing community doesn’t ignore anyone. Someone will read your work. Someone will love it. Someone will be negative. Someone will be critical. Someone you want to care about your work will ignore it. And if you keep writing, you’ll probably get stalked a little, too.

I still chat with the people I met online that supported me when I was a fraud. In an uncoordinated huddle, they changed the course of my life. I began to organize them so we could write joint publications and form online writing communities. I knew a passion I had only ever felt before while drinking coffee even if I went months without working on my own fiction.

My artistic skills never involved language. I’ve earned significantly more money as a painter than a writer. And as a librarian, I repeated this conversation daily:

Everyone, “So, you must like to read a lot, huh?”

Me, “No, I read nonfiction sometimes. Online. Librarianship requires database management skills more than anything else.”

I published my first novella after moving to New Zealand from Oregon to study my Masters in Information. My confusion about identity, writer or librarian, deepened quickly. I began to add insightful footnotes to my work in progress while quoting humorous popular fiction in an academic context. Professors were not amused.

Thirty thousand words of nonsense cobbled together from Star Trek’s Ferengi culture, Ayn Rand and Machiavelli appeared on Amazon before I completed my thesis. On a whim, I’d made a fake book cover for a reptilian personal finance book to amuse my sister and then, for practice, wrote the book to go with it.

That barcode has been viewed MILLIONS of times, because someone liked the idea, borrowed the code and put his own false covers on books in actual bookstores. He went viral. I saw no increase in sales. I had a good idea, but someone else executed it better. At least, he used my ISBN.

Five years, four boyfriends and six apartments on three continents later, I finished my novel and rather than query and I find a small press that wanted it. I released it on Amazon. I earned a 100 USD per month for the first six months, which were most pleasantly, the last six months of my writing career. Then, over the holiday, still intensely pleased with myself, I opened a physical copy to take notes for the second book in the series and discovered every single version I’d created had been a draft complete with typos and an unrevised ending where two critical characters had the wrong background.

I ignored everyone who said that it read like a draft, because I thought they were just being negative. Writers have to be positive. We can’t network with the naysayers.

This is 2016.

I love writing. I made a Jurassic Park-style world with extinct Pliocene-like megafauna, because post-apocalyptic genetic engineers needed something better to eat. I killed 13 million people with two sentences. I have people obsessed over finding a specific strain of coffee. The entire Old Testament hierarchy of angels has gotten a knowledgeable if irreverent fantasy world makeover worthy of a Final Fantasy game. I wove in some Chippewa mythology to honor my father. And I’ve just started to realize my great vision to coordinate a choose-your-own story where one man searches for coffee and dies multiple horrible deaths as contributed by other writers and delivered via website.*

No, I know who I am now. I never wanted to just write books or just catalog them or just design the covers. I want to make books. To format them and feel their spine and the hours I spent building them page-by-page. To carry them to the post and mail them. And I absolutely love it.

*only a massive undertaking if you consider the structure and number of pages involved.

 

So what does being an indie author mean to you specifically?

I believe independent publishing allows us to send a ripple out into the world, specific and unique to our own experience, as artists. Certainly, I have to learn more technical skills to distribute my work, but I get to say exactly what I want before becoming so popular a publisher is willing to take risks with me.

One reviewer said my first novel, “…felt like a warm ’emergency-jumper’, the one you throw on to slob about at home in and is always the most comfortable item in your wardrobe.” He found and delivered my motivation for publishing independently better than I could have expressed it. No chasing trends. No fear of the bottom line. Not for me.

After fifteen years watching people walk in and out of libraries looking for distraction when their life became too turbulent and making safe spaces for people to hide from the world, books stopped looking like books. They’re ships. They’re hugs. They’re helping hands. They’re a new palette for weary artists. With books, we can sail through the hardest experiences and emotions, the complexities and yet, emerge with hope or trigger a cathartic purge from the bilge of our most guarded thoughts. We unveil inspiration in the parallel universes of other people’s minds. With books.

Books aren’t books. They’re thoughts. They are us. And independent books represent the most potentially genuine expression a person can make.

Some writers use their unique voice to scream, “I want your money and I think you’re stupid!” They care so little for readers that not even the most desperate publishers want their work. But, many independent writers roll out every sentence for their readers like a red carpet. Even if the first show isn’t that great, it’ll get better.

 

What happened with your friend’s writing? Do you two still keep in touch?

We were very close for a few years. I even went on a chartered fishing trip with her extended family. And we talked about jealousy when I started writing, but in the end, it damaged our connection. I can certainly feel the distance when we chat.

I don’t think she ever got comfortable enough to put her work in circulation. Maybe she wrote from a deeper place that I may not understand, but I can face criticism.

 

Where do you do most of your writing?

During daylight hours and on the weekdays, I rent close to town. I have few possessions, being a minimalist, and most of them are art supplies. They fit comfortably in that small space. On the evenings and weekends, I am out of cellular range at my boyfriend’s home though I do bring my laptop whenever I spend a week here and there at friends’ homes and work a few hours out of their spare rooms.

I’ve tried working in a coffee shop before I left New Zealand, but I distract too easily and fail to keep ordering refills when a scene starts coming together.

 

Do you remember your first cup of coffee?

I was a thirteen year-old high school freshman in a small town on the Oregon Coast during the 1990s. I left campus to get lunch at the local grocery store. A 20 oz Styrofoam cup with a plastic lid, two packets of non-dairy creamer and a red straw to stir it cost fifty cents.

I didn’t need the coffee, but it had symbolic value. Coffee represented adulthood and the freedom I craved. I drank it almost everyday like an elixir, not in quantity or for quality, because it felt so hopeful. I never stopped.

I did not need permission to start drinking coffee and no one could stop me. At times, people have discouraged my coffee habit, but they do not understand the joy it gives me. This is also true of being an artist or a writer. Coffee reminds me to endure resistance we encounter and share the passion wherever I go.

 

What is the first rule of acquisition?

Once you have their money… you never give it back

I found it hard to switch from being an altruistic book-loving librarian to a heartless ebook vendor. I love and respect independent writers, but some of the publicity schemes show so little respect for readers that it embarrasses me to say I self-publish.

And when I worked in libraries, I had a few colleagues who dismissed all books from smaller publishers as inferior and blamed all digital formats for reducing public support and funding. I watched their anger spread to all ereaders, all non-print media and even to all the independent writers who upset the system and made it difficult to identify the “good” authors. I’ve been equally embarrassed to say I was a librarian.

As an independent publisher, I embrace ebooks as the fastest, simplest and most accessible method for transmitting a story or information between two people. As a former librarian, I want to increase the quality of my work until I can confidently say it is worthy of public collections. As an artist, I know my novels, print and digital, are a work in progress.

————

unnamedCarrie Bailey is working slowly on the second book of the Immortal Coffee Novels while planning an escape from Vermont, which is too cold. She tweets as Peevish Penman even though someone bought the domain with same name out from under her in 2013. And she’s a huge fan of Ben’s blog.

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Friday Reviews: Review Till You Drop Edition

Okay, I’m sorry I missed Thursday’s post. I was tired and my bed was  inviting, the single most dastardly obstacle to any writer. However, since I am on my own this evening I thought I’d try a little marathon reviewing. I’m going to review as many books and comic books in a single post until my computer loses charge, my fingers fall off, I run out of things I’ve read, or my wife comes home.

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The Mercenary Sea – Volume 1

Writer – Kel Symons, Artist – Mathew Reynolds

DIG027519_2On the eve of war a group of misfits and outcasts sail aboard the stolen German U-boat, the Venture, in search of adventure, treasure and a home. Everyone aboard has a past they are running away from, some with adversaries trying to catch up. The crew is hired to rescue a British intelligence operative from behind enemy lines in order to bring vital intelligence home that could change the course of the looming world war.

This is a good pulp story, particularly after you wade through the lengthy intro. The leader of this band, Captain Jack Harper (isn’t it always Jack?), comes off as a macho stone-faced type a first, but softens with a devilish sense of humor, and a penchant for the fantastical in the form of his search for a legendary lost treasure. There’s a lot of potential for more adventures with this crew if you can get past one glaring detail.

The artwork.

The artwork is flat, colored in matte solid colors with facial expressions that look like they could have been programmed into a computer. Think flash animation. It’s clear from the sketchbook section of this volume that the artist is capable of much more realistic and compelling detail. Whether this was a decision on the part of the colorer to give it a more nostalgic, almost poster-like look, or whether it was the main artist themselves the effect is to make the book look more childish than it is. Sure it’s a pulp action story, but this kind of work should have been reserved for the covers or maybe a couple of stills. Some scenery shots, like the one shown here on the cover, have more depth of field and even some compelling detail, but on the whole this looks unprofessional.

Still, I’d be willing to hire the Venture for another voyage if nothing else for an Indiana Jones like ride under the seas.

(3 Stars | Rounding down from 3.5, the art really is that bad)

Coffee Gives Me Superpowers

Writer – Ryoko Iwata

cover60866-mediumThis book is largely a series of info-graphics about everybody’s favorite beverage, addiction, obsession, coffee. I was surprised to learn that engineers do not drink the most coffee, though a lot of scientific professionals and writers do. I have definitely applied the principles of when to drink beer and when to drink coffee, and I’m pleased to know that the bumble bee enjoys the “buzz” from coffee as much as I do (their pun not mine).

This would make a better coffee table book than an ebook. You could probably devour this in one coffee break, especially if you’re sipping a Venti. Some graphics are just cleverly displayed stats, but I actually appreciated the graphic showing the differences between a cappuccino, a latte, etc. I don’t tend to drink these things (tried a flat white a little while ago and it just struck me as frothy, expensive coffee that tasted more bitter than black. But I might try variants of the red-eye (shot of espresso in your coffee). I wonder if I can coin the term purple eye to mean four shots?

Also McDonald’s coffee is apparently the weakest in terms of caffeine content. And if you ever watched the episode of Futurama where Fry tries to drink 100 cups of coffee, you might want to know he’d probably die of caffeine poisoning about 20 shy of his goal.

(4 stars | Good, maybe a little short)

Henni

Writer and Artist – Miss Lasko-Gross

DIG050249_2Henni is a coming-of-age story about a girl who questions the wisdom of a society that teaches that she should not learn, that her husband should be chosen for her by bribing a priest, and that she would die if she went outside the confines of her village. Her father went missing many years ago and soon Henni discovers that her father made it outside and that the world is far larger and stranger than she might have imagined. But that doesn’t mean it is necessarily better, at least not in all corners.

I liked this, and think it would be a great story for someone to read at about age 8-10. It’s enchantingly illustrated mostly in black and white with blue tones (as you can see from the cover). The dialogue is simple and straightforward but not childish, though it does occasionally descend into childish humor.

I particularly enjoyed the sequence where Henni is being trained in the ways of the new world and how their creation myth stacks up with what she’s been taught. Her own interpretation of the story may be closer to the mark than the people in this new city would want to admit.

The story ends a bit abruptly. Part of me wanted to find some more sign of her father, or to find a place that she could be accepted, but we are led to conclude this is eventually what happened. It may be that I just was hoping we could spend a little more time in this world.

(4 stars | Give this one to a daughter or son you love)

VS Aliens

Writer and Artist  – Yu Suzuki

cover55975-mediumKitaro is confronted by his classmate Aya with a startling claim, their fellow classmate Sana is an alien. To make matters more complicated Sana believes she may be an alien and that someone is out to capture her, or take her back to her home planet. Is Sana really an alien, or is there something more dark and sinister behind all of this?

This is one of the more engaging stories I’ve read from Gen Manga. The first couple of chapters of this story are in the Gen Samplers available on Amazon, but with the Kindle edition selling currently for $2.99 you really can’t go wrong with just buying this one. Most Manga volumes are at least $5.99 which is still cheaper than most American graphic novels.

The one thing I like about teen comedies from Japan, is that they tend to come without a lot of the angst that shows up in American stories. Sure there’s a little bit of hurt feelings or awkwardness in sharing a jacket, but the majority of the story is focused on fun and intrigue. The final reveal is equal parts entertaining as it is implausible. Ah, the lengths we’ll go for true love.

The art style is similar to other titles of this type, like Love Hina (you know I never did actually get to their wedding at the end of that., but I’m not sure I want to start back over from volume 1 just to remember what I read five years ago). In this case this volume is a “one and done”, like most of the Gen Manga volumes I’ve read, so it’s a great way to read a fun story without a whole lot of commitment.

(5 stars | Maybe 4.5, but worth the rounding up. Seriously, give this one a try.)

Yeah, the little red haired girl is home early. I think we can call a double post pretty good!

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Writing Tired

Unless you are one of those mythical full time writers, chances are you’re doing a lot of your writing tired. Whether it’s after a long day’s work, or after a short night’s sleep, fitting writing into the workaday life can be tricky. Especially when you find yourself with one of those rare multi-hour blocks of time, but too tired to do work on the project you blocked out the time for.

This is the situation I find myself in at the moment. I’m sitting here in the empty sanctuary of my church with some time blocked out to work on Dust, snippets of which you may remember from a while ago on the blog. But I find myself with enough energy to work on a blog post, but not enough for new fictional composition, at least not without a little warm up.

This got me to thinking about some of the pragmatic choices authors have to make with their time, and how much energy it takes to do all the forms of writing I do in a given week. Here’s my hierarchy from “requires most energy” to “I could do this in my sleep, and have on occassion.”

(Most Energy) – 1st Draft Revision – Whether it’s picking apart sentences word by word, or re-crafting and rearranging entire scenes, revision is harder than creation. You have to keep all of the threads of the book in your head, and think about what a change made to the beginning will do the end of the book. It’s detail oriented, and can’t be done in the short bursts of regular writing, at least mostly. And 1st draft revision is when the book is most in need of retooling (in theory).

(More Energy) – Clean Rough Drafts – I’ve taken both approaches to the first draft of a story. Clean rough drafts are written with the editor in mind. You try to create less mistakes for later on by keeping an eye on bad grammar habits, and re-reading past work to make corrections as you go, and to keep consistent. This is probably more where I’m at right now with fiction composition, which is probably why I feel too tired to do it most of the time. The flurry requires less energy, but requires more clean up which is in itself a high energy task.

(Moderate Energy) – Flurry Rough Drafts – Writing 1000 words in an hour can be taxing, especially if you haven’t built up to it, but momentum tends to carry you forward till you reach your goal. And it’s the kind of writing that makes you feel really good about getting a lot done, until you go back and read it.

(Less Energy) – Blog Posts – I don’t know if it’s repetition, or the fact that I’m often just writing about what’s happened during my day, or what I’ve been thinking about but a good 400 – 600 word blog post is pretty much second nature to me at this point. If I did it every day it might be tiring, but my “Daily Show” schedule works for me, keeping me always in writing practice and in contact with all of you, while not taking too much away from other projects.

(Low Energy) – Technical Writing – Technical writing has very nearly put me to sleep on a few occasions, but since it’s done during the day, no matter what my baseline level of energy, I can always chemically enhance it with a little coffee. At night when I’m working I don’t like to drink coffee, because it’ll affect my sleep and negatively affect my energy for the next day.

(No Energy) – Repetitive Computer Tasks + Programming – I could write code any time of day, and have. The logical part of my brain must be my default setting, because I can write a fractal program till 2 in the morning, but whenever I do creative work that late, it can get really weird (which sometimes is a good thing since being tired can lower inhibitions, but that’s a whole other discussion).

I guess the point of this is that you have to take good care of yourself so you have the energy you want to write. But you also need to know where your energies are best spent. Maybe you only have blog posts in you tonight, but that will free up more energetic time for creative work later.

What’s hard to write when you are tired?

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The monkey on my back

It’s kind of a stereotype that writers (and programmers for that matter) drink a lot of coffee. Heroic amounts of coffee (and diet soda and energy drinks and red bull).

For the last month now I’ve been trying to regulate that. I was feeling tense and I felt like the quality of my sleep wasn’t as good. I was drinking anywhere between 4-5 cups of coffee, plus a couple of 20 oz diet sodas and the occasional 20 oz energy drink (though at the end as many as two, thanks Fast Start).

Zero didn’t work too well, so now I’m down to one. A cup of coffee (grande at the most) or a diet soda (12 oz at the most) and no energy drinks period. I’m feeling a little better, sleeping a little deeper, but my brain feels sluggish. I think it’s possible that one of the things that keeps me sharp and disciplined is a little liquid pick me up.

This is kind of a hard realization. There is actually some science (discussed in the book Quiet) of the effects of caffeine on creatives and introverts, but its still weird to think that part of my writing and programming talent is mental, and part of it is stimulated.

So I’m looking for the new normal. I want to feel physically better and mentally sharp. So maybe I’ll drink two cups of coffee and try not to let things get out of hand. That and maybe get some actual exercise when the weather finally gets warm, though we’re supposed to get snow again today 😦

What keeps you going throughout the day?

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Forty Minute Story “Teardrop”

The girl next to me is wearing earrings like the ones I bought for my love.

I suppose she’s a woman, not a girl, but it’s difficult to tell from the gray wool hat she wears indoors even though it’s a mild day. I’m trying not to notice any of her other characteristics since I am a married man after all.

The earings are a simple smooth stone, hers are azure, the same color as my love’s. It’s in the shape of a teardrop, with a plain silver border, though the border on this girl’s earing looks a touch more elaborate. I wonder if she bought them herself or if someone gave them to her, maybe a lover or even a friend. Maybe even her parents, but she seems like someone who wouldn’t wear much that they bought her.

The teardrop bulges more than my love’s earrings, almost as if it’s ready to fall. When she turns her head to the side I can almost see through the stone, like a marble. I can only see one side of her head so I guess I’m assuming she has a matching one on the other side. She may have worn only one for some kind of a fashion statement. I can’t think of what that statement might be other than ‘I lost my earring.’

I don’t know where my love’s other earring is. I remember it, lying beside her on the living room floor. It had popped loose and was lying near her shoulder when she collapsed. It’s been a long time since she fainted, and I was worried. One minute we were arguing and the next she was on the ground, her face blank and unseeing. Her eyes were dry, not even producing a single tear. I remember looking at that earring and thinking it was the tear she couldn’t shed, in those terrible seconds that felt like hours before she regained consciousness.

She smiled at me, her face so warm after being so cold. She could see the worry, the tears I wasn’t shedding, and she wanted to make me feel better. Her own feelings would take hold later, concern and worry and shock, but in that instant I was all she cared about, and she was all I cared about.

Sitting here month’s later I can’t forget that moment. I’ve bought her a couple of pairs of earrings like those since, one black and one green, but I’ve never found that blue one. It might have gotten kicked under the couch when EMT’s came. I might have picked it up and put it somewhere without remembering. Or maybe somehow it wound up with this girl, so they could remind me to not spend all my time alone in coffee shops.

Do you think it’d be weird if I leaned over and asked her for it back?

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40 Minute Story “Real Life”

“What kind of coffee did they have?”

“Not bad for a vending machine. This here’s almond amaretto. It’s blazing hot though.”

“Why didn’t you use two cups?”

“It’s one of those that delivers the cups for you. And of course they’re out of guards.”

“Hence why you’ve got that bit of paper towell wrapped around it.”

“Yeah. Say want me to change the channel on the TV?”

“Already did. Got a little tired of the BBC.”

“But cooking shows?”

“Cooking shows are pleasant. Innocuous.”

“And hunger inducing.”

“You could always pop down to the cafeteria if you’re feeling peckish.”

“No thanks. Already had a peek down there. Coffee’s the only thing my stomach’s ready for in this place I think.”

“Hmm.”

“Say, you ever thought that you might be living in a TV show?”

“Change the channel, Dave.”

“No, I’m serious. I sometimes wonder if certain TV shows are a message from the real world, trying to tell me I’m trapped.”

“Trapped where?”

“In this world. My real life’s out there somewhere separated by a little 12″ screen.”

“If you wanted a bigger screen maybe you could stop being such a bum.”

“It’s not about the size, John. It’s about life.”

“What shows exactly?”

“I dunno ‘exactly’. The shows in deep space seem pretty real. I bet I’m an officer on the starship Enterprise.”

“Just don’t put on a red shirt.”

“That’s only the first series, John. If I was from, let’s say ‘The Next Generation’ then this world could be some holodeck simulation I’m trapped in.”

“But what about your memories of growing up?”

“Implanted by an alien race trying to rob me of my proper destiny.”

“Y’know. You don’t always have to talk. We can just sit here in silence.”

“Okay.”

“Heard anything yet?”

“No. They said the surgery could take hours, possibly even into tomorrow morning.”

“Your Mum’s gonna be alright, John.”

“Yeah, I know. Listen you don’t have to stick around. I’m fine by myself. I’ve got the barefoot contessa and everything.”

“Wouldn’t hear of it. What kind of an officer would I be if I left my friend here alone?”

“Probably some smeghead from Red Dwarf.”

“Have you seen the tenth series yet? I think it was smashing.”

“We watched it together Dave.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Think I might get me one of those amaretto things you’ve got. Been smellin’ it this whole time.”

“Smellin’ it is about all it’s good for. Pretty weak tea this.”

“Still.”

“No, you sit down. I’ll get it. Already burned me hand once today. No sense in us both suffering the same injury.”

“Dave.”

“Yes?”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, John.”

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