“Haunted by the Keres” Chapter Four Commentary

WARNING!  THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

This post will make much more sense if you’ve already read the novel.  Help out a little indie author and pick up a copy of her book (or books).  You can find them on Amazon, CreateSpace, Smashwords, or my personal online store.

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Hello wonderfully awesome readers! 🙂

I’m back again and of course chapter four is one of those weird chapters that’s strangely difficult to write commentary on.  It’s rather quiet, except for the end.  I wanted to show the mourning customs and ceremonies of the shape shifters and guardians.  Originally, I had planned to include a lot more detail and go more in depth with the grieving ceremony.  As I started planning it, I realized it wouldn’t really work.  A big part of this series has to do with being an outsider.  The experiments are often othered, even by their allies (who don’t always realize they’re doing it).  Also, the plot flows a lot more smoothly when ceremonies such as the one in this chapter are taking place just out of sight (or off stage, if you will).

I noticed a couple rather strange things while working on commentary for this chapter.  One, I won’t go into just yet (I’m still kind of formulating how to put it into words).  The other is that I noticed male experiments tend to be a lot more docile than their female counterparts.  Experiment women tend to be a lot more aggressive (there’s definitely some inspiration from myths about Amazons going on).  Weirdly, in every single draft, this was apparent.  Blitz is a lot more dangerous than Jack or Coop.  This isn’t to say experiment men aren’t dangerous, they are, but women are just in a different league.

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble a bit.

Shall we?

Page 87 – 90

Obviously death isn’t common among the guardians (guardians tend to retire and go over the mountains in the Meadows).  Only shape shifters from noble lines are interred in the Meadows (if their remains can be retrieved, which isn’t often).  Even then, most protectors prefer to be cremated on Earth, which is their home.  Jet’s status as liaison to the guardians is why this ceremony is taking place.  Jensen’s family’s remains are also interred in the guardian mausoleum, as has been mentioned in the previous novels.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always had a fondness for Hunter.  I’ve also been planning this particular plot for some time.  It was really tricky not to be heavy-handed in this scene.  I wanted readers to know something was up without whacking them over the head with a two-by-four.

Even though there’s no blood relation between them, Nero is kind of like an uncle (or cousin) to Hunter.  The relationships between shape shifters tend to be very nuanced.  The thing to keep in mind is that blood relations have nowhere near as much importance as they do in human society (there are no anti-adoption shape shifters and love hierarchies are nowhere near as apparent as they are in our society).

Hunter will never wear a dress.  This is based in part on myself:  I’ve rarely ever been able to find a dress that didn’t make me look as awkward as hell.  I look much better in power suits and dress pants.  I have a few dresses and I do look slightly less awkward in some than in others.  I liked the idea of Hunter being quite petite (having the body of a teenage boy as she phrases it).

Nero is obviously much older than Hunter and has quite a bit more experience with grief and loss.  I was thinking about how shape shifters tend to be very non-judgmental about emotions that humans tend to label “negative.”  At various times in my life, when I’ve experienced grief, I feel like I have to hide what I was experiencing for fear of being accused of dwelling or wallowing in misery.  Or worse, appearing weak.  This is such a toxic message and it does a lot of damage.  I see it as very similar to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The Deverells rarely stayed in one place for long.  They often acted as covert operatives for Jet.  Obviously this job was not without hazards.  I think it was all the way back in book two where Ajax thought about how there aren’t many Deverells left.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of altered states (which might be connected to my fear of not being able to trust my mind).  What happens to Hunter is something that struck me as really unsettling, even frightening.  I think it was a random late-night musing (one of those “what if this happened” thoughts that just stuck with me).

Obviously this is a very brief episode/spell.  I wanted the reader to feel a similar confusion to Hunter.

Guardian healing is incredibly powerful.  They can heal any wound, no matter how severe, as long as the individual is still alive (and has never taken life in cold blood).  However, something is obviously wrong with Hunter.

I have this weird idea that shape shifters can sense certain things connected to the Big Bad without consciously realizing it.  Nero knows something is up with Hunter (obviously she spaced out a little, but Nero’s fairly intuitive).

Page 90 – 96

I tried to include little glimpses into shape shifter customs.  I also wanted to keep the reader on the outside (similar to the experiments).

This is a really important ceremony for shape shifters and guardians.  Grief is an extremely powerful experience.  Guardians and shape shifters always treat it with an enormous amount of respect.  There’s a lot of symbolism attached to their actions.  The experiments obviously don’t see any point or purpose in such practices.  As usual, they’re alert to everything around them, but they don’t feel the same emotions as those around them.

Jensen standing with the Four instead of the Deverells:  this is actually intentional and for a couple reasons.  While most protectors pledge their lives to the guardians, Jensen pledged his to Jet’s family (and by extension, the guardians).  He’s also standing where his late sister would have been, as a tribute to her.

I was looking forward to introducing Jet’s mother into the series, albeit briefly.  I went through a number of drafts of this character because it was extremely important to get her right.  Velvet has a very interesting back story, which I’ll hopefully get the chance to reveal at some point in the future.  She’s quite well-known among shape shifters, almost legendary.  Shae’s a bit star-struck when she sees Velvet.  Blitz is her usual indifferent self (experiments are incapable of being star-struck).

Blitz is constantly processing information.  She’s also trying to accommodate the normals.  As I frequently mention, Blitz is always thinking in terms of strategy.  Right now, these normals are the only allies she has.  If they’re uneasy around her, that’s going to be detrimental.  She is often subtly adjusting her behavior to make them less nervous.  That’s fucking difficult to remember and I found myself having to constantly go back to change things.  I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again:  experiments are massively difficult to write.  I cannot emphasize that enough.

The experiments obviously know something’s up with Hunter.  Again:  they notice things others miss or disregard.

There’s another example of the experiments being othered:  Aneurin isn’t a villain, but he is an antagonist and rooted in outdated traditions.  I’ve always written Aneurin as an authority figure who places too much value on tradition than progress.  While tradition is important to a point, it becomes extremely problematic when it hinders progress.  Aneurin glorifies the past.

Aneurin is an individual who Blitz learned to profile and read really quickly.  She’s not used to customs and traditions, but she does understand men in power.  While some of his declarations and actions might confuse her, Blitz sees him as one of the most predictable individuals.  Predictability is useful because it can often be used to manipulate someone.

A lot of characters tend to get offended for the experiments.  This is another example of othering, one which is often seen in reality.  I’ve always found it bizarre when people get offended for others.  It always struck me as a bit pointless.  For example, it’s really easy to get angry about discrimination, but it’s often more useful to find some meaningful way to ally with the group experiencing the discrimination and combat it.  Write about it.  Volunteer to help some group or something along those lines.

“Guardian custom dictates that certain areas are reserved for protectors and guardians.  I do not understand the motivation behind such rules, but many of your customs elude my understanding.  Your practice of grieving is also strange and not something we experience, but it does not offend us.  Why should we intrude on your rituals if it doesn’t negatively affect us?” [93].  This is one of those lines I really love.  I often worry about the experiments coming off as naive or childlike because of their not grasping things that are almost second nature to us.  They’re actually hyper-aware, but they disregard things that they see as unimportant.  Normals are very emotional creatures who have a lot of symbolism and rituals in their lives and experiences.  Experiments are almost the complete opposite.  It’s difficult for them to adjust to this new world.  This quote shows that Blitz isn’t ignorant or unintelligent.  She’s just unconcerned with something she sees as inconsequential.

I always approached this scene as Blitz knowing she was going to kill again at some point, likely in the near future.  Blitz is very aware that she’s never going to be a protector.  She doesn’t want to be.  She knows who and what she is.  It’s very unlikely she would change, even if she could.  Blitz isn’t a character who can be molded by others.  She’s not someone who can be projected onto.  The protectors really have to adjust to her as much as she has to adjust to them.

Velvet and Blitz was another interaction I was looking forward to writing (I love writing conversations between strong women).  These two women are very strong in different ways, which actually do intersect in some sense.  Velvet has always been very politically astute.  She’s one of the very few protector leaders who wasn’t a protector (she’s a seductress).  Blitz is obviously a living weapon who is highly intelligent.  These are two very formidable women.

Something strange I’ve come to realize about Blitz while writing her:  she has survived an incredibly traumatic experience, yet I wouldn’t say that she’s traumatized.

Velvet obviously likes Blitz and is impressed with her.  I pictured Velvet being one of the shape shifters who would support giving experiments more freedom.

As they’re walking, Blitz already has some idea of what Velvet’s going to ask her.  She’s more interested in observing Velvet to get information.

Blitz receives a ton of conflicting messages from normals.  This is one of the reasons an experiment would prefer the Grenich Corporation to freedom (at least in the beginning):  it’s easier to take orders from a single source.  Freedom is messy and complicated and difficult.  But still preferable to imprisonment.

Another important thing about Blitz:  as was revealed in From the Ashes, she has a heightened retaliatory response.  This hasn’t changed and in the next chapter, the reader sees that she hides this from others.  Blitz has become a lot better at hiding her more violent impulses.

Despite her hiding the more dangerous parts of her nature, Blitz is still a rather frightening individual.

Page 96 – 101

The Doctor and the 2nd Man, two very cagey characters (there are a shit-ton of cagey characters in this series).

What I really love about these two is how they’re allies of necessity, but they have an extremely complicated relationship (I’ll probably discuss this briefly in the afterwards notes when this novel’s commentary is completed).

Dream walking:  the Big Bad and a few of his subordinates have this ability.  I’ve mentioned that for guardians, this is an extremely heinous act (it’s a violation).  It’s really dangerous for the person whose mind is being violated.

The 2nd Man is another character who continually struggles with his violent urges and reactions.  Assassins lead brutal lives and develop instinctive responses in order to survive.

Dream walking is also a traumatic experience for the person whose mind is being invaded.  The 2nd Man is visibly shaken upon waking.  When I was writing this scene, I kept thinking about the Thought Police from George Orwell’s 1984.  Obviously, the Thought Police didn’t physically enter the minds of people like this.  But if they could have, they probably would have.

The Doctor, when he’s reminded of his past at Grenich, will often obsessively clean.  He has a few different coping mechanisms, not all of them are healthy.

I tried to drop subtle hints about the past of these two in this dialogue, which is going to be revealed over the course of this series.  I did want to reinforce that the 2nd Man does care about the Doctor, not just as an ally.  I always wrote this scene with the idea that the Doctor also cares about the 2nd Man, despite his best efforts not to.

Both these characters are scarred.  Obviously, the 2nd Man’s are more physical than emotional (with the Doctor it’s the opposite).

I knew from the start that this would be the novel where the yet unseen mastermind behind the resistance would make an extremely brief appearance.  This mysterious character is always hidden from sight (which, again, is intentional), but they provide the Doctor with valuable tools, resources, and connections.  The inoculation to help guard against dream walking obviously comes from them.

The 2nd Man is being a little manipulative during this exchange (there’s layers to almost everything he says).  He cares about the Doctor . . . to a point.  The 2nd Man really wants to take a more active part in the fight and he’s going to try to come up with a way to do so.  Also, he knows the effect Chance has on the Doctor.  It throws him completely off and that makes the 2nd Man uneasy because it means another disadvantage.

The 2nd Man knows how to talk to the Doctor, including how to talk him down from a panic attack (or prevent one on occasion).  Even though these two have a very tense relationship, they’ve had to work together for years.  They have had to rely on each other to survive, which requires a certain degree of trust.  Like I said before, it’s an incredibly complicated bond they have.

These two also compliment each other in terms of their knowledge concerning Grenich.  The Doctor knows a fair amount about the experimentation, the experiments themselves, and the more science-focused parts of the Corporation.  The 2nd Man knows a lot about the higher ups and how they operate (he can predict some of their strategies and offer some insights about their motivations).

Chance is an incredibly risky move for the Big Bad because of how unpredictable he is (his name suits him).  The Big Bad has apparently decided he doesn’t need anymore allies, judging from his recalling Chance.  The 2nd Man recognizes this and it doesn’t sit well with him.

I wanted to show that the Doctor does recognize how valuable the 2nd Man’s insights are.  For as much as he dislikes him, the Doctor is fully aware of how useful the 2nd Man is.  He could not have gotten this far against Grenich without him and the Doctor knows they’ll need the 2nd Man in the future as well.  He’s one of their few advantages.

The Big Bad is not someone to be underestimated.  He’s a master when it comes to pinpointing weaknesses.  Nothing he does is without purpose and he’s really good at risk assessment.  He’ll always be one or two steps ahead of the shape shifters.

The 2nd Man is another character who is incredibly tricky to write.  It’s because of how complicated he is.  He has never been a protector, yet he’ll sometimes show flashes of protectiveness.  I always try to write him as a high-functioning addict.  It’s not just the killing he’s addicted to (the actual kill is almost an after thought), it’s the planning and the hunt.  The 2nd Man is a very intelligent man.  Nick Chance is a threat, one he wants to eliminate.  However it’s not just for strategic reason:  Chance would be a challenge and would likely put up an admirable fight.  The 2nd Man really wants to kill him.

There’s a nice moment between these two towards the end of this scene.  They are genuinely kind to each other for once.  I’m actually quite happy with how it came out.  It reads a lot nicer than I thought it would (I was so worried it would seem sappy and negate the strife between these two).

Page 101 – 104

I enjoy writing scenes between Electra and Blitz, even though they can be sometimes be difficult.  They have a really interesting dynamic.

Electra has found some potentially important (and potentially dangerous) information.  The guardians haven’t been able to provide any satisfactory answers to her questions, so Electra figures Blitz is the next best person to ask.  Also, because she’s an experiment, Blitz is often honest to a fault (or appears to be to normals.  Blitz actually plays her cards incredibly close to her chest.  She’s only forthright with information she sees as unimportant).

It’s amusing to me that some people will see the experiments as almost childlike.  I usually write them as using normals’ assumptions to their advantage, which is quite easy to do.  Experiments are always hyper-aware.  They are incapable of being any other way.

The importance of emotions and customs is something that will always elude the experiments.  They are also rather confused by the insistence on inclusion, which is something I find rather sad.  Being excluded is bad enough, but not understanding why someone would want one’s company/presence is something I find rather tragic.  The experiments have been dehumanized for so long that they have forgotten what it’s like to be respected as an individual.

Blitz’s retaliatory response is still very much a part of her personality.  She’s not going to be sedentary and she won’t follow detrimental rules (or ones that put her at any kind of disadvantage).  Every attack must be met with an equally brutal response.  This is the only way Blitz knows how to survive and keep the normals safe.

With a few exceptions, experiments were mostly used as covert operatives.  They know how to plan and execute missions.  They also know how to keep things quiet and how to be unseen.  Blitz has been studying the customs of normals among other things.  She can predict approximately how long an interment ceremony will last and time her actions to coincide.  With experiments, everything is premeditated/preplanned.  They sometimes have to improvise, but they always know what they’re doing.

The Big Bad hates the guardians with every fiber of his being and has spread this hate to his followers.  Where the Big Bad is calm and calculating with his hatred, his followers tend to be more petty (their holidays celebrate the few guardian tragedies throughout history).  Obviously the experiments are aware of this, having encountered his followers before.

Much like the Big Bad, Blitz never reacts in the heat of the moment.  Even though she has a heightened retaliatory response, she is still just as cold and calculating as the necromancers.  I wanted there to be some parallels between the Big Bad and Blitz.  It makes both characters more interesting.  When you really think about it, Blitz kind of has more in common with the Big Bad than she does with the protectors.  This will change a little over the series, but she’s always going to have that dangerous side to her.

I wrote this scene as Blitz’s first counter-move.  She is used to following orders, but she’s starting to become more active.  Blitz can recognize the Big Bad’s strategies (even more than he’s aware of) and knows the most effective ways to counter them.  Because she’s not a protector, Blitz is bound by the same rules and morals.  If the Big Bad chips away at allies, she’ll respond in kind.

Blitz keeps a lot secret.  An action like whats she’s planning goes against the protectors morals and she is fully aware of that, but it’s not going to stop her.  I had to think about this from two different perspectives:  Blitz’s and the protectors’.  For the protectors, this is a surprise attack on creatures who are celebrating a holiday (which is more than a little underhanded).  For Blitz, it’s attacking an enemy force when she has the advantage.  Blitz is still not grasping the idea of ethics and honor.  As I’ve mentioned before, Blitz’s main concern is survival.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that Coop is an experiment (even for me).  He has been out for so long that he’s learned how to mimic the behaviors of normals almost perfectly.  It was very odd to write a scene where he almost completely reverts back to being an experiment.  I tend to write him as being similar to Jack.  He doesn’t have the natural gentleness that Jack has, but Coop is quiet and has that faint longing for humanity/normality.  In this scene, he’s almost as cold and detached as Blitz.

Jack is the one experiment who will occasionally show signs of hesitation.  I’ve mentioned before that experiments are probably the most difficult group of characters to write.  In this novel, Jack was one of the characters I had the most trouble writing.  He’s so unlike other experiments in the series.  In this scene, he’s almost like the conscience.  Jack is one of my favorite characters (behind the Four, Alpha, and Sly).  I think his gentleness just makes him such a beautiful individual.  I really admire people who are kind.  Kindness is really difficult in the cynical world we live in.  People who are genuinely kind are some of the bravest, strongest motherfuckers on the planet.

Experiments are creatures of logic and strategy.  If presented with a good course of action, they will almost always take it.

Page 104 – 112

I’ve always found quarries to be a little eerie.  They always seem so desolate.  There’s one some distance from where I live, but every now and again, my house will shake because of an explosion at the quarry.  It feels like a goddamn earthquake and it always scares the hell out of my cats.  On the other hand, my dog, Turbo, can’t be bothered to give a shit 🙂

I had to do some basic research on quarries and found the topic to be mind-numbingly dull.  The Big Bad favors deserts so his followers will seek out desert-like environments, but often prefer caves.  I figured a quarry was a place they would be drawn to.

I wrote this scene as Blitz knowing exactly what she was going to do.  She’s meticulous when it comes to planning and never leaves things up to chance if she has a choice.  Some experiments prefer to improvise a bit more, allowing for a little more flexibility, but not Blitz.  She can come up with a fairly thorough course of action on incredibly short notice.  She survived Grenich and most shape shifters don’t (out of the thousands that are experimented on, maybe 10% survive).

In my notes, I’ve written that Blitz is one of the only experiments who often worked missions on her own.  Grenich typically has experiments work in pairs or in small groups when sent out on missions.  Blitz never really worked well on others and was always most effective on her own.  Even in situations where other experiments would have perished, Blitz easily survived.  She not only survived, she would almost always successfully complete the mission.

The experiments are really in their element in this scene.  This is what Grenich modified them to do.  It’s something they’ll never forget how to do (experiments are never out of practice).

The Big Bad’s followers always rely on numbers and brute force, which is a terrible strategy.  The experiments have the advantage.  For them, this is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Experiments produce a massive amount of adrenaline, especially before a fight.  This is not without drawbacks (as seen in the next chapter).

I wanted the experiments to shape shift before this fight.  Changing into an animal would allow them more stealth.  Experiments tend to prefer shifting into apex predators.  A rat would likely be less conspicuous, but since their eyes glow in all their forms, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.  That’s one advantage regular shape shifters have over experiments:  their eyes don’t glow.

Followers are creepy.  They’re scavengers (as seen from their offerings to the image of the Big Bad) and they live in the depths of the Earth.  I liked the idea of them stealing random shiny things to bring down to the likeness carved into the rock and then sprinkling them with sand.  It’s simple, but there’s a fair amount of symbolism and ritual.  These followers are basically canon fodder, but they don’t care.

I had a very clear idea of what the high demons (who are kind of like lieutenants or captains of the Big Bad’s armies) would look like.  Anything and anyone connected to the Big Bad I tried to describe with some death-related imagery.  I tried to avoid shadow/dark descriptors wherever possible.  Aside from being highly problematic and also cliched, I’ve always found darkness to be incredibly soothing.  For the experiments, it’s extremely useful.  Invoking images of rot and decay (like “maggot-colored”) gives me the feeling I want for the Big Bad.

I’ve likely mentioned this before:  experiments are masters of nonverbal communication.  I recently read that the only reason domesticated cats meow is because they’re domesticated (feral cats tend to not mew after they’re weaned from their mothers).  I have always thought of the experiments in a similar way:  the only reason they speak is for the benefit of normals.

The fight with the high demon was much trickier to write than expected (oh, here’s something weird I discovered about myself while working on this novel:  when grieving, I can’t write fight scenes.  Or, if I have to, they’re incredibly difficult to write.  No idea why).  Believe it or not, one-on-one fights tend to be the hardest for me to write.  I’m not sure why this is.  It might be because the followers have a terrible strategy:  they just swarm the aggressors.  With this fight, Blitz adjusts her strategy slightly.  She wants the high demon alive.  This puts her at a slight disadvantage since her opponent isn’t overly concerned with her survival.  However, she figures out a way to compensate.

Followers really have no sense of self-preservation.  They just keep throwing themselves at a threat until it has been neutralized.  They have no free-will, which they sacrificed to the Big Bad.

I really tried to show how easy fighting (and killing) is for experiments.  Even when outnumbered, they don’t break a sweat.

Blitz’s fight with the high demon:  I’ve always been fascinated by the way large birds of prey will fight in mid-air (how they grasp each other and then plummet towards the ground).  When I was writing this scene, I thought it would be really cool if two characters physically clashed in a similar manner.

Blitz is quite brutal in this fight.  Unlike in the previous novel, she’s not slowed down by a virus.  Blitz is always going to be slightly more brutal when not with normals.  She really alters her behavior when she’s with protectors.  They also have rubbed off on her a bit:  she’s more aware of others (she saves Jack a few times during this fight).

Experiments are fast and lethal.  They’ve been trained (and modified) to end battles swiftly.

Another thing that sets Blitz apart:  she absorbs so much information.  She knows things even Grenich doesn’t realize (experiments aren’t supposed to know about linking, for example).  She’s also fearless, even more so than other experiments.  Most experiments wouldn’t confront a high demon the way she does.  She basically holds this creature so they’re nose-to-nose.  His threats don’t phase her at all.

Character print:  most creatures and people connected with Grenich will only refer to experiments by their identification number (Blitz is 7-299).

Blitz often falls back on Grenich tactics when retaliating.  I’ve never seen Blitz as heroic, not even in the flawed/anti-hero sense (she has the potential, but I don’t think she’ll ever quite fit the definition).  Her psychology is so different that I don’t think she really fits into the villain or hero archetype.  She’s a really complicated character.

One thing I always find challenging to write is when Blitz is completely detached, as she is at the end of this scene.  This is normal for her, which is more than a little disturbing.

Another visual that’s very clear in my mind is the three experiments walking away from the cave and disappearing into the night.  I kind of fucked up a bit:  there’s no moonlight (it’s a new moon).  Oops!


 

So ends the commentary for chapter four.

REMINDER:  I’m going to be at C2E2 in Chicago (check out the appearances section on the site for dates).  I’ll likely be the only openly asexual author in attendance.  Also, I’m going to have a freaking sweet banner (which I commissioned) to debut.  Oh my god, it’s freaking awesome!  I can’t wait to show it to readers 😀  So, please, please, PLEASE!  If you’re at C2E2, COME BY AND SAY HELLO!!!!

As always, I rely heavily on word of mouth to spread.  Please, pick up a copy of my books and automatically earn about a thousand awesome points.  Recommend them to friends, leave reviews on websites, subscribe to my website and other social network pages, find me at conventions (my schedule page is updated pretty regularly), etc.  Thank you so much for being a reader 🙂

Questions and comments are welcome.  Spammers can fuck right off. 

Until next time . . .

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About Lauren Jankowski

Lauren Jankowski, an author from Illinois, has been an avid reader and a genre feminist for most of her life. She holds a degree in Women and Genders Studies from Beloit College. In 2015, she founded “Asexual Artists,” a Tumblr and WordPress site dedicated to highlighting the contributions of asexual identifying individuals to the arts. She has been writing fiction since high school, when she noticed a lack of strong women in the popular genre books. When she’s not writing or researching, she enjoys reading (particularly anything relating to ancient myths) or playing with her pets. She participates in activism for asexual visibility and feminist causes. She enjoys speaking about genre feminism, a topic she is quite passionate about, and hopes to bring more strong heroines to literature, including badass asexual women. Her debut novel was "Sere from the Green," the first volume in her ongoing series "The Shape Shifter Chronicles." The sequels, "Through Storm and Night," "From the Ashes," and "Haunted by the Keres" are also available. All books can be purchased through Amazon, CreateSpace, or Smashwords.
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