Tag Archives: #amwriting

The Perils of Print-on-Demand

9 Aug

I’ve always loved reading, be it comics or novels and from a young age I could often be found lying in the corner of the lounge, head in the pages of a book. My mum was an English teacher, so Enid Blyton was strictly verboten – as in her work was not allowed in the house.  Everything on the home bookshelf was game, including my dad’s many volumes of very rude Rugby Songs, some of which my brother and I learned and then recited in public, causing much parental embarrassment. My early leaning was always towards science fiction, thanks mainly to Gerry Anderson; as a teen, I moved into fantasy, powered by the discovery of Michael Moorcock, Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons. Sometime in the mid 70s, I bought the Lord of the Rings as a three volume set, having begun reading it around a friend’s house. It was the first printed book I’d ever held in my hand that totally blew me away. If you search Google for ‘LOTR book cover’ there are hundreds of images to choose from, covering many reprints in many languages. The set that I had was similar to the illustration here – simple, understated, yet profound in its symbology. When I held the book in my hand, moving my finger around the one ring and the Dark Lord’s incantation, it felt as though the novel was possessed by an arcane power.

The second novel I encountered that had a presence was Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Colour of Magic‘ and shortly afterwards ‘The Light Fantastic‘. In both cases, it was Josh Kirby’s artwork that initially hooked me. Pratchett’s writing was fresh and funny, it blew away the cobwebs of traditional fantasy, which had become trapped within its own framework of stale plots and staid characters. As I read both books, I felt as though I was holding a complete package that oozed magical charm. [As an aside, Harry Potter has never done it for me, but I have a couple of friends who had a similar experience with some of the hardback editions to the point where they couldn’t put the books down!]

When I set out to present The Ferret Files, I did so as an independent author with full control over the internal artwork, the contents and the cover. I was intent on creating something that spoke to the reader before the pages were ever turned. Why then, as a massive consumer of paperback and hardback books for most of my life, with a vision to create something truly awesome, did I opt to publish Ferret as an e-book only? That’s a question that’s not only haunted me for the early part of 2017, but it was also the most asked question by my readers. One of the primary drivers for going digital was a fear that the original artwork wouldn’t scale down for print. Richard’s full page drawings are A3, and they’re very detailed. Astonishing, in fact. Hence I shied away from producing a physical print version because I didn’t want to create an inferior product. What I didn’t know when I set out on my journey is that one of the limitations of digital is that images cannot be embedded in with the text. As a result, the e-book didn’t fully realise my dream.

Print-on-Demand

Having worked in IT for most of my life, keeping up with trends as they emerge, I decided it was time to dip my toe in the water and remedy the situation with a Print-on-Demand (PoD) version of Ferret. I mean, how difficult could it possibly be? The question was posed on a Friday afternoon three weeks ago. I now have the answer…

PoD is exactly what the title suggests. An electronic copy of your work is uploaded to a central location and when a customer presses the button to buy, a copy is printed off within the country of purchase and despatched within a few days. I figured this was likely to be expensive, but as it happens I was wrong. As a printing methodology PoD is cost effective up to around 50 copies of a book. After that, traditional print wins the day. I had a quick look around Amazon to see what other authors are doing, and two options became immediately obvious. There’s Amazon’s own offering called CreateSpace and there’s Lulu. As an Amazon subsidiary, I decided that CreateSpace must be pretty good so they made the cut. Lulu, as an independent author platform also ticked all my boxes. A comparison of the two sites suggests that Lulu is the more expensive of the two in terms of the cost to produce a book. The Lulu site has a lot of help to offer, as well as some very useful and active forums. Most importantly of all, I found and downloaded a free A5 template with instructions (go here: http://www.lulu.com/create/books and click ‘Download Template’). Once you have this piece of the jigsaw puzzle, everything else becomes so much easier. I wish I’d found this link at the beginning, rather than two weeks in.

Lulu allows you to format the book and cover, do some basic checks and then you’re off to the races. It’s very much down to you, with no human checks performed. I’m still waiting on CreateSpace to come back to me with a price for Ferret, as there is a degree of human interaction in the creative process. This prevents mistakes around the formatting of the interior and the cover, which believe me are easy to make.

I’m not going to go into massive detail about everything PoD related, but here are the basics.

The Interior

  • The cost of a printed book is determined by the number of pages it contains. If it’s in colour, then it costs more than black and white. The addition of b/w images takes up page space but doesn’t affect the overall cost.
  • A page must have margins top & bottom and left & right. There’s also a gutter margin, which is where the spine is located. The Lulu template shows pages side by side, with mirror margin set. This is very useful when determining what a book will look like. The minimum margins all around are 0.25″ (6.33mm), but it’s usual to use 0.5″ (12.66mm). This is what I settled on. The size of the gutter margin is determined by the total number of pages in the book – the more pages, the thicker the spine overall, the larger the gutter.
  • It appears that different countries have different standards for retail book sizes, so your template will be determined by where you live in the world. CreateSpace likes a 6″ by 9″ template, which is standard for the USA but also applies to the UK and Europe. Lulu also operates in these countries but wants me to print using an A5 template (5.9″ by 8.51″). Fortunately, the Lulu template allows the page size to be changed with ease, and the book insides adjust accordingly.
  • As a tip, always use a page break to break between pages, and not hard returns – otherwise changing the page size may catch you out. Page Break Odd / Page Break Even proved very useful with the large illustrations.
  • The choice of font is down to you. Times New Roman is a favourite, but anything that’s San Serif will do (Lulu lists the standard options). Ideally, the text should be set to 11 or 12 point. The smaller the text, the less pages you’ll have and the cheaper your book will be to produce. However, going down to 10 point will make the finished article very difficult for seniors to read. As an example, A5 format Ferret with 12 point Times New Roman clocks in at 420 pages. Cutting the text size down to 11 point results in a novel that’s 356 pages. The difference in Lulu production costs between the two is £1, or £6.79 vs £7.80 to me. CreateSpace uses a 6″ by 9″ template, which is slightly larger than A5. Here, 12 point Times New Roman produces a book with 356 pages.
  • Images can be added onto a page and embedded in the text, but they must be 300dpi. For Ferret I embedded the 9 x vignettes in with the text and then set each of the 4 x large illustration on a page on their own, with a blank side on the rear. The large illustrations have the margins set to 0.25″, which allowed me to scale them as large as possible.
  • Both Lulu and CreateSpace require the interior to be in PDF format. Both sites accept Microsoft Word and will happily do the conversion for you. However, as I soon discovered, not all PDF convertors are created equal. I messed about for a couple of days experimenting with Lulu and finally concluded that the optimum results with embedded images are obtained by using the Word ‘Save As’ function, and selecting PDF. The fonts must be embedded in the document, which is an ISO save option. Allowing Lulu to do the conversion results in the large single page illustrations being rendered unviewable.
  • Finally, as part of the distribution data you’ll need an ISBN number. You can obtain one yourself which costs $$$, or allow Lulu / CreateSpace to allocate one for you. Either way it needs to appear on the inside cover, on the copyright page. The ISBN number is format dependent, which means you’ll need a separate one for print and digital.

The Cover

  • Both CreateSpace and Lulu have the capability to create covers for you. As I already have some rather nifty artwork for the front cover, I opted to upload it. I messed about for a couple of days trying various settings – initially I tried to upload just the front cover and use Lulu’s inbuilt templates for the back cover and spine, but matching the colours proved to be impossible. In the end I had to download an evaluation copy of Adobe PhotoShop and edit together a full wraparound cover. The end result is very pleasing, but if maths makes your brain hurt I suggest you either: a) get someone else to do it for you; or b) use the auto-build templates as provided. The CreateSpace editor looks very snazzy, but I didn’t go there on the grounds that I’d already taken the decision to make a full A5 jacket.
  • If you’re using your own artwork for the cover, it needs to be slightly larger than the printed page by 3.3mm per side (this is called the bleed and will be cut off in the manufacturing process). The full wraparound cover for Lulu’s A5 (148mm wide by 210mm high) version of Ferret is (151.3mm + spine + 151.3mm) by 216.6mm. The width of the spine is based on the number of pages the completed work contains, so cannot be accurately calculated until the page count is known. For Ferret this works out at 20.4mm.
  • The spine is intended to bend where the covers meet, so has an area each side of the fold that should not be printed on. A gap of 0.0625″ (0.15875mm) either side of the spine must be left blank. This caught me out with CreateSpace, who flagged up the Ferret logo as being too large. As I was unaware of this potential issue until it was brought up, I’m pretty sure that the proof copy I ordered from Lulu is going to be wrong (update – it’s out by about 0.5mm, which I can live with – yippee!).
  • If you intend your work to be available to resellers, then it requires a barcode on the back cover, which contains the ISBN number. CreateSpace will helpfully add this for you when you upload the artwork or use their cover creator. With Lulu and a full wraparound cover, you have to follow the links to create a barcode which must then be cut & pasted onto the back cover.

Once the uploads are completed, all that remains is to order a proof copy of your work and wait for it to arrive. Mine turned up yesterday and there are a couple of small amendments that need to be made (my name is ever-so-slightly wonky on the spine and I discovered a missing ‘‘ in one of the later chapters), but otherwise we’re good to go. All in all, my experience of PoD has been really good if somewhat drawn out, but then I enjoy learning new things so it’s not a hardship. Plus I have a genuine enthusiasm for creating printed works, so the roadblocks thrown up in front of me were only ever going to be driven over. I’m really pleased with the results and unless an earthquake strikes Ferret will be out as a POD novel by the middle of August.

If you have a project that’s underway and you need any encouragement I’m happy to hear from you…

 

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Exciting Times…

28 Jul

One of many items on my agenda for this year is to produce a print-on-demand copy of Ferret. I used a third party company to assemble the e-book, mainly because my head was full of other things at the time and I didn’t have the space to learn yet another way to format text. With hindsight, I wish I’d explored all of the options available and done it myself, because one of the things I’ve always found exciting is holding a finished, quality document in my hand, even if it is virtual. We are where we are, as the saying goes.

For the record, I have no issues with the quality of the e-book; I do, however, have a few issues with the format, the biggest of which is the (non) placement of graphics inline with the text.  I’ll cover the whole print-on-demand experience in a follow-up article, as I learned a lot of tricks that I’d like to pass on.

For now, here’s a preview of the finished cover:

I have a proof copy winging its way through the ether. Hopefully everything will be just fine and I’ll be able to make Ferret available in printed form within the next few weeks. I’m really excited to see the finished article as the e-book didn’t do justice to the artwork. Fingers crossed that those big pictures aren’t one messy splodge!

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Those Final Tweeks

23 Nov

epub-logoI recently received The Ferret Files back from my lovely packaging pals in XML format, so we’re nearly there now. The only thing I’m not 100% happy with is the rendering of the artwork. When it comes to physical print, which I fully intend to follow through on, the 8 x vignettes will be in with the text. For e-book, this isn’t possible if I want reflowing text enabled (the text has to sit top/bottom of the illustrations). I don’t really see this as an issue. Or didn’t…

The pics as submitted were trimmed to size, for wraparound text. As soon as they’re used in the e-book at this size, various readers try to adjust the pics for best fit. The result is best described as ‘a hall of mirrors’, with an end result that being a stickler for detail, I can’t live with. We’re currently working through getting this right. In the process of checking that the e-book is typeset correctly, I discovered a handful of errors with the text.

*Shock*

*Horror!*

superhero-dry-cleanersNot that I’m obsessive, but I’m going to have to read the damn thing again now, from cover to cover, to make sure there’s nothing else I’ve missed.  Unless I trust in my one proven superpower.  When it comes to testing IT, I have this ability to zero in on any problem straightaway. I discovered it one lunchtime back in the day, when a pal of mine, who’d just been intensively testing an identikit program for the previous few weeks gave it to me to play with.  Within 10 seconds I’d broken it. If I recall, there were 8 x face shapes, 8 x noses, 8 x ears, 8 x eyes, 8 x mouths and 8 x hairstyles to choose from. That’s 262,000 combinations. Only one combination didn’t work and I found it with 6 button presses.

Here’s the question: do I trust in my superpower to have found the only 3 errors in the manuscript, or do I read Ferret again? What would you do?

(Seriously, who’d be an indie author…)

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Get Back in the Box

15 Nov

cat1Creating characters is not something I’ve ever had a problem with. If anything, it’s the opposite – I’ve got far too many good characters screaming to be let loose who simply don’t fit in with the story I’m writing. If you try and cram them all in, then proceedings becomes overloaded. The only logical thing to do is park them in the box marked ‘spare characters’ and slam the lid tight to muffle their screams.  I’ll give you an example relating to The Ferret Files. Bob Bobson has been with me for a very long time. In a way, he’s Ferret’s surrogate dad, or at least his older brother. Either way, he was always there for Ferret when the boy was growing up. I’ve written pages of their adventures together. Bob is a good, solid character who I know like the back of my hand. As The Ferret Files progressed and I came to know the rest of the cast, they jostled for position, demanding more screen time and poor old Bob, who’s hard done to and takes things in his stride was steadily pushed out to the periphery. I’d intended to write four chapters from Bob’s POV, but once the pace of the story picked up, whenever Bob made an appearance, it slowed things back down again. One of the other characters would whisper in my ear that they belonged in such-and-such a scene, not Bob. I’d listen, give it try, and lo and behold, the pacing was back on the mark. Bob ended up as a minor character who we meet at the beginning of the book and is mentioned in passing a couple of times. His best scenes are all on the cutting room floor. He will make an appearance in book three, as he has an input into the plot. At the moment I’ve told him he’ll have his own Ferret short story (Curses) and being Bob, he’s happy with that.

My writing style is best described as ‘organic’, in that I framework the entire story before I begin, but once the gloves are off, I’m open to cosmetic changes. The major scenes remain the same but how the characters arrive at their destinations can alter. Really, it’s the difference between arriving at a posh club by cab, wearing a suit or arriving dressed as a clown, riding a unicycle. Cyrano, the elegant Frenchman would never arrive in anything but a cab, whereas Ferret might start out in a cab and end up arriving late on a unicycle…

clownTo begin with, I couldn’t tell the difference between a character leading me off down a rabbit hole for their own gratification, and a change of direction by a character that made the story better. In the unicycle example, Ferret might meet a really interesting street entertainer called Prince Regent. Now I’ve done it. The street entertainer, who was an extra with no lines now has a name. You don’t get called Prince Regent unless you have an engaging back story. So now Prince Regent has a speaking part. Before long he’ll be demanding I promote him to minor character, then if I don’t watch it he’ll want a show of his own. This is a distraction. Prince Regent – it’s off to the box with you, to keep Bob company.

After all the jostling and maneuvering, we end up with a big scene where all the main characters arrive on time, exactly as they should. It’s then that I realise that someone is missing. Bob was supposed to be there as Ferret’s foil and there’s now a gap. Bob pokes his head out of the box and shuffles along, ready to play his part. Except I’d need to bring him back in earlier scenes, otherwise the continuity is shot. And there’s no room for him in the other scenes, because the characters with the massive egos have stolen the show. Prince Regent says he’ll do it. On his unicycle, eating french fries. No, no, no! Both of you, get back in the box! Ferret will have to use a random, incidental character as his foil. It won’t be as funny as Bob being there, but it requires less of a rewrite. One of the waiters steps up. He has a name, you know. Alberto. Except he’s not Italian, he’s from Romania. He speaks English like an Italian because an Italian taught him English. And there you go. Suddenly, Alberto has a speaking part and an interesting back story. It won’t be long before he too wants to be a minor character, and after that he’ll want his own restaurant and TV show. Sorry Alberto, it’s off to the box for you too…

Interestingly, the major villain of Ferret book two is a character who’s been in the box for twenty years. I wrote a couple of unpublished short stories featuring him that long ago. He always wanted more. And now he’s getting it. His gang has changed, as in one of them didn’t make the cut. So it’s back in the box for him. The box has an infinite capacity and a life as long as yours. It doesn’t have to be emptied immediately or topped up forever. It’s your box, to do with as you please.

cartoon-waiter-009NOTE: If you’re stuck for characters and you have a story that requires a unicycle riding clown called Prince Regent who juggles French fries, or a Romanian waiter called Alberto who speaks English with an Italian accent, feel free to give them a good home. Prince Regent may well turn out to be a killer on the run. Alberto is more likely to be threatened by the mob for refusing to pay protection $$$. Bob stays in the box. He’s not for sale or rent. Unless he gets written out of book three, in which case he’s up for grabs. IN the meantime, if the Irish band he sings in makes it big, he’s off on tour to have a few adventures of his own…

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Pre-publishing Purgatory

7 Nov

PurgatorySometime back in April I thought I was ready to publish The Ferret Files. That is, until I submitted the manuscript for a copy edit. This was supposed to be the final step in the rewrite/edit/rewrite wash cycle, but what came back had very little red ink on the page. Most people would think “Hey, great – I’ve done a fantastic job.” But not me. Having run a documentation team, I know what a thorough copy edit looks like, and when there’s not enough red ink it makes me think that the editor has performed a half-a$$ed job. So I took the liberty of seeking a second opinion. As it turns out, I was right to do so. The first editor had done a half-a$$ed job. There was so much he missed, I could easily write a novel on how not to perform a copy edit. Rather than dig up the drains, I chose to move on and finish what I started.

In a previous article, I reckoned I’d be finished by v13. I was wrong by 2 versions. There were some minor changes needed before I sent the finished manuscript off for proof reading, and a whole bunch more once it came back.

off-to-the-racesI’m now out of Edit Hell and in Pre-publishing Purgatory. This is when the novel plus artwork is turned into an e-book or hard copy. After that, it comes back for sign-off and then we’re off to the races. Being of sound mind but somewhat compulsive when it comes to formatting, it’ll take me a couple of days to check everything off. Once that’s done, Ferret will be out there and I can go lie down in a darkened room with a vodka drip feed and say ‘wibble’ a lot.

Who’d be an author, eh? There must be more efficient ways of torturing oneself (he says, whilst plotting the 2nd and 3rd novels in the Ferret trilogy).

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War Drugs

25 Sep

This is an article about the use of drugs in war, not the war on drugs. For the latter, please refer to the US State Dept.

panzer-ivA few years ago I watched a documentary about the use of drugs in war. The premise of the show was that Hitler hadn’t actually intended to invade the Low Countries & France the way he did. First a bit of history: the German offensive against the Allies began on the 9th May 1940 with the invasion of Luxembourg and within a couple of days both Luxembourg and Belgium had fallen. Unlike most sensible tourists, the Panzer divisions didn’t bother to stop in Brussels for beer, they just kept on rolling. By the 19th May, the Germans had reached the English Channel. After a short delay, which allowed for the evacuation at Dunkirk on the 26th May, the advance resumed and shortly thereafter France fell.  Allegedly, the lightning advance to the Channel took place because the Wehrmacht were ramped up on amphetamines (pervitine, which is actually crystal meth) and couldn’t be reasoned with. After ten days, all the meth they’d imbibed took its toll and the army collapsed into a deep slumber, thus giving the Brits a narrow window in which to organise their escape.

pervitinI found this to be a fascinating explanation as to why the Germans just stopped when they had the Allies on the ropes. Had they continued their advance the Second World War would have played out very differently to the way it did. It’s a good story, but is it true? It’s certainly true that the Germans had a secret drug programme (Projekt D- run out of Kiel) and it’s certainly true that they built up a massive reserve of pervitine prior to invading Europe. It’s also true that pervitine addiction and withdrawal was a real problem in the ranks. German officers knew from their experiences in France that prolonged use of pervitine caused sleep disorders and irrational behaviour. It was still used though, for the duration of the war. In order to negate the German advantage post-D-day, the American army issued speed capsules to their men. To counter this, the Nazis issued massive quantities of drugs to their Fuhrer, in the belief that it would turn him into a superhuman.  As with nearly all people who take large amounts of experimental drugs, this did not end well.

German scientists were aware of the shortcomings of pervitine and continued to experiment in secret. Eventually, in 1944 they produced drug D-IX, which was a combination of cocaine and crystal meth for alertness, with added heroin to counteract the meth downer that troops complained about.  It was too little, too late. At the end of the war, while the Americans were busy collecting the rocket scientists (later called NASA) and the construction moles (75% of all German construction after 1941 was underground), the Brits sent the SAS to Kiel, to collect the Nazi drug programme. Without giving any more away, this forms the basis of the plot for The Ferret Files.

fly-agaricA bit more research into the history of drug use in warfare, and you’ll find that every army has been up to it since records began. The Incas – off their heads on cocaine. The Zulus fought on a mixture of tobacco, marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms; they believed that the fungus made them bulletproof. Again, this did not end well.

Research into war drugs has never stopped – it still persists to the present day. Those in charge will do anything they can to give their men the edge over the enemy.  I’m no expert on modern war drugs and we’re verging into hearsay here, but I’ve read that some of the pills and potions the US Army trialed in Iraq made their soldiers paranoid and trigger happy. Those drugs, along with the weapons surplus from that war were then sold to various US Police forces. As I said, it’s hearsay, although it does resonate given the escalating situation that’s currently playing out across America.

My drug of choice is alcohol. I have a fairly large cache of the stuff. Should WWIII break out, that’s the drug that I’m going to take. It might not turn me into a psychotic killing machine capable of staying awake for weeks at a time, but it will ensure I have a damn good time and no horrible withdrawal symptoms… at least until I run out!

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Purchase The Ferret Files

 

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It’s Just a Bean

23 Sep

coffee-beansI have a pretty strict morning ritual that I like to follow, which starts with fruit tea, then breakfast and finally a shot of espresso. If I’m on the road for any reason, then between hotel breakfast and my place of work I’ll drop into a coffee shop. Nowadays, I stop at one espresso. Previously, I used to drink three or four, until I had an unpleasant episode and my doctor got involved.  I gave up coffee for nine months after that, until temptation finally got the better of me. We were in Italy – the home of espresso – when after a particularly enjoyable meal the waiter asked if we wanted coffee. I’d been there three days and said ‘no’ to espresso every time, but this time I cracked. It was seven o’clock in the evening when I drank that little cup of joy. Seven o’clock the next morning, I finally got to sleep.

The first time I had the coffee ‘swirl’ was back in my coding days. I’d been drinking coffee black without sugar for a number of years, primarily because one customer I used to visit always had a mug of coffee ready before I’d even taken my coat off. It came white, with a ton of creamer that tasted like stale plastic. So I switched to black. As I later discovered, the coffee machines of the 1980s dispersed a truly disgusting brew. Black no sugar came with a suspicious froth on top and tasted like the River Humber. After much persistence, my pals and I got permission to install a filter coffee machine underneath a desk and started brewing our own. Pretty soon, we had a lot of friends. There was a particular deadline for a drop of code and the only way to hit it was to keep on working through the night. I did a forty hour shift, kept awake by coffee. By four in the morning I was seeing colours and nothing around me would stay still. To this day, that experience remains my yardstick of too much caffeine.

An Espresso Shot YesterdayCoffee is one of those things that I’m passionate about to point of excess, along with real ale (aka microbrewery beer) and chillies. While I don’t have an espresso machine, I do have a ‘Presso’, which delivers hand-pulled shots. On the bean side of things, I grind my own using a burr grinder. I started out working my way through the widely available over-the-counter beans but no matter what I did, with the Presso machine it’s impossible to get a crema on top of an espresso shot. Hence I was forced to switch to an internet-based supplier of artisan beans. The coffee that comes out now looks like a miniature Guinness, which is precisely how a great shot should look. And it tastes divine. Heaven in a cup!

In the name of science, I did once try to recreate the original coca cola recipe using bags of mate de coca that a friend had brought back from Peru, along witcocaine2h ground up kola nuts obtained from a herbalist (a source of very strong caffeine). The result was lift-off, followed by a mid-air explosion. FYI: mate de coca or coca tea, which is made from coca leaves – the source of cocaine – isn’t available outside of South America. If you insist on typing ‘mate de coca buy’ into Google and following your nose, that’s entirely your business.

We now have a coffee shop on every corner in London, which is a massive step forward from the 1980s. The missus can’t understand what all the fuss is about. She’s happy with instant coffee from a tin and avoids Americano or Latte like the plague. Meanwhile, I’m busy browsing beans on my phones, winding myself up.

“It’s just a bean,” she says, shaking her head. “I don’t understand what you’re getting so excited about…”

 

 

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Richard Klu

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