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A couple of recommendations

Posted by Rob on 4th September 2016 in Other Stuff |

Also, before I forget, a couple of entirely biased recommendations for you!

I write with a few friends in a coffee-shop on some Fridays. We started it during one NaNoWriMo year, and have just kept it up informally since, on a bit of an erratic schedule — but two of the four of us have novels on the go, in one form or another. One is trying to win a contest to break into the world of Real Books, while the other already HAS a real book. And both have sections up online for you to look over, so you can check them out yourself before deciding if you like them.

Leaf Falling, by Michael Slusser
Leaf Falling is entered into the Geek & Sundry InkShares Fantasy contest. The novel’s complete, with low-fantasy themes in a rich fictional world, and has style similar to the old guard of fantasy authors. If that sounds like something you’d like, then you’ll have some idea of what you’re in for.

He’s been doing pretty well in the contest, but could always use your help — every pre-order helps him nudge one step higher in the contest, and the target is to crack the top three. The cover’s below, and clicking it will take you to his novel’s page.

Leaf Falling
The cover art is by Michael’s friend, Devin Parker, also known as Mysterycycle.

Perdition, by P. M. Drummond
Perdition is a light-hearted urban fantasy with a dark underbelly, and it was voted into publication through Amazon’s Kindle Scout program. It has a polished and fluid style, and the sequel will be following this year too — so if you like it, then know that there’ll be more to follow.

Perdition
I have a signed copy of this one on my bookshelf.

So, check them both out if you haven’t already, and you can help put smiles on both their faces!

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A Writing Update

Posted by Rob on 4th September 2016 in Coding, Other Stuff, Writing |

Well, folks, it’s been a while! But in the time between then and now, things have been afoot. My third short story, pending for quite some time, is inching closer to publication, and I have — as ever — a couple out there that seem to be lingering with markets (and at least one that’s in the later stages of consideration with its market). I’ve finished my novel outline, I’ve written the opening chunks of it, and I’m still enjoying it.

Also, there’s this, which has nothing to do with me, but which is clearly fantastic:

Scrap Dragon
A scrap dragon, made from recycled car parts.

A friend of mine sent me that picture, and I loved it at once. However, it’s not directly keyed into some of the other things I’m writing about today. This’ll be brief, but hey, at least it’s something!

Game and App Development
Not at all related to writing, but it’s something I’m doing in my spare time now–teaching myself XCode for Mac development of iOS apps, and Unity C# development for games (hands up anyone who can guess which one of those is more fun). I had started working through a tutorial for Unity, but I’ve always been bad at just learning to learn, so I’ve pushed it aside and begun making a game I want to make — a word game, nothing mindblowing — and then I’m teaching myself how to make the thing I actually want to make. It’s how I learn best, in the end.

Writers of the Future!
Yes, it’s that time again — where I look at the incomplete projects I planned to write for WotF, realise I’ll never get them finished and sufficiently polished in time to submit, and end up picking a different one to go with instead. It’s worked out surprisingly well for me so far, with 3 honourable mentions from 3 submissions, though I figure that streak’ll end eventually. But I’m not working on it solidly, because —

I’m Writing My Novel
And it has been going surprisingly well. It’s a more serious project than most of my longer-form writing has been in the past, thanks to having its roots in one of my darker short stories, and I’ve completed the outline for it some time ago now.

I recently realised, however, that I wanted to change the setting, which led to a restart and a rewrite — and then more recently still, I realised that I want to expand one of the viewpoints. That means more writing, but I don’t lose anything this time, so that’s good. I’m about twenty thousand words in, which is less than I lost when I changed the setting, but it’s going really smoothly. My goal now is to finish the first draft this year (with the firm expectation that it’ll be complete garbage, but that I’ll be able to take that and turn it into something solid). Fingers crossed!

And, well, that’s the lot for today. No embedded music videos (though I have pre-ordered another Devin Townsend album, which releases in about a week — hurrah!) and no other oddities — just a wish for you all to be well, and hopes that your lives are variously meandering in what you consider to be a positive direction. Toodle-pip!

(Oh, and P.S. — today, I will be mostly eating pressure-cooker risotto and roast chicken. Yum!)

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Attack of the Killer Spam

Posted by Rob on 20th May 2016 in Other Stuff, Writing |

Today appears to be Spam My Blog day. So far I’ve deleted fifty-six spam comments from robots this morning (with more still being posted), which largely want me to know that they are “impsreeped”, that my posts make life “beeaablr”, or that my blog is the ONLY trustworthy source for Brain Bite #18 information. Well, gee, I’m glad! The number of times I’ve gone looking for that is, well…er…

Anyway — in other news, I have a whole novel outline completed now, and am just brushing around the edges, sharpening and correcting what I want it to be. It’s the first time I’ve really approached an outline like this, and I’m really enjoying the process. Outlining seems to be one of those things that is either A) maddening, or B) amazing, depending on whether or not you’ve found an approach to outlining that works for you. I have, at last — and it’s making this all just a fantastic experience. I’ve done outlining in the past, but it’s never gone like this before. And knowing exactly where the story will be going is making me all the more enthusiastic about the whole thing.

I think, within a month or so, I’ll be starting on the actual writing — and I’m feeling slightly impatient to start. But I’m learning to be patient, and to let the outline get stretched and tested, so that I can find more details that I’ll be working with. I don’t doubt that the outline will be cracked by the time I’m done writing, but that’s also something I’m looking forward to.

In other news, I’m also a little past half-way through my piano book, which is great — I breeze through some pages, struggle on others, but enjoy it all the way. I’m getting better at basic things as I go, which is nice, though I’m still a long way short of where I want to be — of course! But I’m inching closer all the time…

I could add more, but I’m not going to! I have other things to do, so I’m going to draw a line under this for now. There’ll be more to come in time, but probably not for a little while–I’m busy, lately!

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Recipe: Gluten-Free Pajeon

Posted by Rob on 16th April 2016 in Food and Drink, Recipes |

The breakfast of the day (and last Saturday too), this is a Korean staple — very versatile, pretty simple, and a nice option that elaborates on the more usual pancake. This particular recipe is our own version that relies on a gluten-free flour mixture (but which can be made with plain old flour, or any off-the-shelf brand of gluten-free flour for that matter), but is based on an original Korean recipe.

Pajeon
Fresh Pajeon, albeit too many for us to eat: a slight miscalculation there…

Pajeon are best described as “green onion pancakes” (or “spring onion pancakes”, should you be of the British persuasion), and are a savoury, oniony variant on the more typical sweet pancakes favoured by the English around Shrove Tuesday. They’re a little more dense, too, and thicker, so they turn out as crispy and chewy, and can be torn into chunks to dip and eat as finger-food.

The variant in the picture added shredded pork — it’s not too unusual for Koreans to throw other left-overs into the mixture to cook, making this similar to the working-class leftover meals that many of us grew up with. But what you add is down to you — the basic recipe is 100% vegetarian, and fairly versatile if you want to play around with your own additions.

The bowl is a spicy dip, the recipe for which is also below, but you could probably try this with almost anything as a sauce, or just eaten plain (which I usually do with about half of mine).

Pajeon Ingredients

– 1 cup gluten free flour (1/3 white rice flour, 1/3 brown rice flour, 1/3 tapioca flour : or substitute any other flour)
– 8-10 green onions (spring onions), green parts only, cut into 1-2″ pieces
– 1 small-medium zucchini (courgette, y’all), shredded or cut into matchsticks (we use a mandoline with teeth to make this easy)
– 3/4 tsp sea salt
– 3/4 cup chilled water
– 1 egg, beaten
– Neutral oil for frying (we use sunflower)

Pajeon Method

  1. Wash and clean the zucchini & green onions before beginning.
  2. Whisk together the flour and salt (don’t over-whisk if using all-purpose flour).
  3. Combine together the dry ingredients with the egg and water, then stir the mixture until it’s a smooth batter.
  4. Lightly sautée the vegetables in a little oil, then take off the heat.
  5. Mix the sauteed vegetables into the batter, and stir until even. [*1]
  6. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan (if you’re cooking a lot at once, it’s worth heating up two) at around medium heat. Once hot, pour batter in roughly 1/3 to 1/2 cup measures. Cook until one side is nicely browned, then flip, and remove to a plate once both sides are cooked.
  7. Repeat until you’ve run out of batter, and serve fresh.

The dipping sauce my wife makes is delicious, but the ingredients may be a little tricky to find if you’ve not already been cooking with Asian ingredients. Here it is all the same, though:

Ingredients: Dipping Sauce
– 2 teaspoons ground chili paste
– 2 teaspoons sesame oil
– 2 teaspoons minced garlic
– 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Gochujang
– 2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce [*2]
– 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
– 2 teaspoons honey

For the sauce, just mix together, and let it sit in the fridge. It’s better if it’s had a little while to rest before serving, so ideally, make the sauce up before starting on the Pajeon, or the night before.

If you don’t have the ingredients for this version, another recipe that we saw online omits the chili paste, replaces the Gochujang with chili flakes, and omits the sesame oil in favour of toasted sesame seeds. (Freshly toasted sesame seeds are delicious, but if you have the oil to hand, then it adds the same flavour for much less hassle!)

[*1] As an alternative to mixing everything together, you may choose to set aside the vegetables, then scoop them into the pan and pour the batter over. This produces slightly different results, so it’s worth playing to see which you like better — but the mixed-together method is a little simpler!

[*2] For a completely gluten-free experience, you can ditch the soy sauce and try one of the alternatives — Tamari is a fully gluten-free alternative to soy sauce, and another alternative is coconut aminos, which are popular with gluten-free advocates. If you’re particularly gluten sensitive, then either of these will work better for you than straight-up soy sauce, which includes wheat as one of its ingredients.

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Brain Bite #18 – The Return of the Living Blog

Posted by Rob on 6th April 2016 in Brain Bites, Other Stuff |

Phew — well, it’s been months since my last post! I’ve been planning to post on here for a while, but everything’s been crazy, and still is — I’m just catching a moment at the end of today (and likely at the end of several days, as I probably won’t have time to finish this blog post in just one of my free moments) to put something together. And since it’s a brain bite, because I’ve got too much to write about, let’s begin with a bit of music.

Dream Theater: On The Backs Of Angels
Dream Theater, who first formed in 1985, are one of the world’s best-known progressive metal bands. Combining much that’s typical of both progressive rock and heavy metal, and featuring a front-man who looks like he should be wearing a Sons of Anarchy jacket, they’re famous for both their creative style and their technical proficiency. This is one of my favourite recent songs from their repertoire — which is extensive, so there’s lots more to find if you like this one. Some of their music is gentler, and some louder — this one rests quite nicely in the middle. Give it a try, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it.

 
(Also, as a fascinating tidbit — three of the members of Dream Theater (including former drummer Mike Portnoy) are married to three former members of the all-female heavy metal band, Meanstreak.)

 
Speaking of music…
One thing that I’ve been doing recently is a back-to-basics thing, trying to teach myself the piano from the ground up, using something called Alfred’s All-In-One course, which appears to be a three-book progression from Hopeless to somewhere between grades four and six (probably a mixture of bits from either end). I can already play some bits of music — chunks of Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata, though my knack for Bach’s Invention in A Minor has faded, alas — but learning from the ground up, even from the first book that I’m now working through, has taught me that I really didn’t know too much.

It’s also harder on my hands a little, but I’m hoping that — as I progress — I’ll learn to play the piano, rather than just learning to play a few specific bits of music on it. This does mean playing simple tunes over and over, but I find I’m far more tolerant of that than I once was. Child me was fine with it, teenage me hated it, but adult me seems to be content to wheel back to the beginning and get this right from the ground up. I’m progressing in leaps and stumbles so far — some parts fast, others not so quick, but I’m being more patient than I’m used to.

(Note: as of writing, I’d just spent three days essentially playing variations on When The Saints Go Marching In, and got more satisfaction out of getting it right than I did with most of the more complex things I tried to learn. It’s been many, many years since I last learned any instrument from the ground up, and I’d expected it to be a lot less fun than it’s actually turning out to be.)

And writing!
That’s the point of all this, after all, isn’t it? Well, lately, I’ve been setting the short fiction aside more, and bringing together some of my novel-length projects. I have a lot of drafts written, and all told, they amount to the bones of at least four novels, and possibly as many as six, depending on how you break it all down. In time, I think I’ll bring these together — but at the moment, my mind is pursuing a completely different novel, as that’s the thing that is most exciting me right now. And ultimately, that’s the thing that’ll keep me coming back to it and help me to drive it through to completion.

And food and health!
Not going to harp on this point too much, but it’s all going well at the moment. I also realised recently that the dietary and health plans I’ve followed since 2001 have, essentially, all been part of the same evolution of one new idea — initially born of shunning the failed concepts of the 70s in the hope of finding something that actually works, but then growing from one simple idea into another, until at last you get a more complex model of how human physiology actually works, all backed up by an ever-increasing pile of scientific studies. I’ll revisit this another day in detail, no doubt, but it’s something I’m finding equal parts promising and fascinating at this point.

And Neko, the Mighty Bird Huntress
After a spell of hunting with too much eagerness and not enough stealth, today (which is the third day of writing this blog, for those keeping count on their fingers) Michiko’s speed finally overcame her over-eager nature and let her catch a bird, which was subsequently brought inside with its head inside her mouth, and then rescued by my wife in a panic. I’m not sure whether to feel worse for the bird, which was rescued in a bit of a state of shock and just sat around outside for a while, or for Neko, who probably has no idea why it was such a bad thing that she finally succeeded in catching her birdy.

And, at last…
It’s actually taken me TWELVE DAYS to get from the start of this post to the end of it, which gives some idea of how busy I’ve been. But I’m here now, and I’m going to end as I began — with a little bit of music. Because, after all, why not? And because I think they’re interesting, let’s start with a cover-version that’s been doing the rounds.

I’m very fond of cover versions, and have quite a few that I like — I’ll probably return to posting some of the others later. But for today, though I was sorely tempted to post either a Motorhead cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, or the excellent Nirvana cover of David Bowie’s ‘Man Who Sold The World’ — both worth looking up, if you’re unfamiliar — I’m going with a cover by the metal band Disturbed, of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’.

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Anthology released —

Posted by Rob on 6th November 2015 in Writing |

For anyone interested, the second Acidic Fiction anthology has just been published. It includes my story Crescent Cross, along with thirteen other stories, and you can get it from Amazon — links to the US and UK sites are below.

Buy from Amazon.com
Buy from Amazon.co.uk

This is strictly for people who fancy a print-copy, though — if you don’t mind reading it in a browser window, then the story’s still available on the Acidic Fiction website for free, and is linked from the “My Fiction” page just below this site’s header.

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Brain Bite #17

Posted by Rob on 5th November 2015 in Brain Bites, Writing |

Well, it’s been a while since the last one — I’ve been busy. Work here, writing there, and a schedule that I let run rampant. More recently, I’ve gotten a handle on that, and the necessity of days off (which I had begun to neglect — but a month without any days off will really make you miserable). So I now have Sundays all to myself, and I take early Fridays.

But enough of that! Let’s go to woik1. And instead of being utterly random, the first song’s here for a reason.

Rammstein: Moskau
It crossed my mind recently that, while generations of parents and kids have been growing up and hating each other’s music, the generation that my parents and I straddle seems to have rejected that model. I like a lot of the music that my parents grew up with, and they, in turn, seem to find things in our generation that they like, too. My working theory is that this is because the music that WE listen to has evolved from the music THEY listened to — you need the Stones and Led Zeppelin to get to Black Sabbath, Sabbath to get Iron Maiden and Metallica, and so forth. So in the end, there’s a lot of commonality2 — the sounds change, but the fundamentals of the rhythms and the instruments being used remain similar, if not exactly the same.

However, we come to Moskau. I was introduced to Rammstein by my wife, who loved some of what they’d done. I, in turn, introduced it to my Dad, with the expectation that he wouldn’t like this loud, growly stuff. Instead, he embraced it as exactly what German metal should sound like — and this is one of the songs he’s mentioned as a favourite. So enjoy.

 
So, there we have it — a song that my Dad likes, which I also like. It turns out there are bloody loads of them. However, let’s move on to other things now.

Acorn Hunting
For a while after the previous post, our cat took to hunting for acorns. It was a daily affair, and she was having the most fun with it, bringing the acorns inside proudly, as if they were prey she’d caught (she also did the same thing with a succession of hissing beetles once). However, the whole episode was interrupted by…

Painting Fences
Which meant we had Strange Men in the house, which broke up her game’s rhythm and ruined her fun — she’s not picked up a single acorn since. However, after some sanding and blasting of things, the landlord and I painted up the deck fence, and now it’s all nice and white again. Which sounds great, but it won’t last — the point of the paint is not just to look good, but also to protect the wood from the snow, which will ultimately eat away at the paint again until this needs to be repeated.

NaNoWriMo!
Ah, yes, the wonders of NaNo! It kicked off again yesterday, and I’ve made a solid start. I’m not always a fan of the NaNo approach, whereby you hit your word-count goals at the cost of actually writing something worth a damn (by such means as padding with lists, lyrics, and random musing), as I try to write something I’ll be happy to have written — but I do like the way that it’ll nudge you to try and write on a daily basis. I’m pairing it this year with the Mando Method, suggested by Armand Rosamilia, though I’m not sticking to it like glue — it’s a good way to work writing in around a busy work-day, though.

Wait, the Mando Method? What’s that?
Oh, yeah. It’s basically writing in fifteen-minute bursts only, rather than longer, dedicated writing sessions. I’m mixing and matching between the two for now.

That’s not all that exciting.
No, I know, but it did need explaining. Let’s drop this and get onto something else.

Windows 10
Ah, that wondrous thing that hath trudged into view — everyone’s having a bit of a mixed experience with this one, which is essentially everyone’s experience ever with almost any version of first-out-the-door Windows (with Windows ME being king amongst these). For myself, I updated during a quiet spell, and since then I’ve been letting it run — so far, it’s not bad from what I’m seeing. Much quicker to start on both my PC and my wife’s, and although some of the features I’m used to aren’t available any more (why can’t I change default parameters for programs I’ve pinned to start?), I’m working around it, and getting used to the New Thing.

But people do have problems, and they don’t always come up right away — so for the time being, I just have my fingers crossed…

And lastly: one more of those musical things!
Because it’s NaNoWriMo this month, and because I’m on with it again, I’m listening to a lot of instrumental tracks. I’ve teased a couple of these in the past — Airmech by Front Line Assembly most recently, and Flying High by Samael before. But this is another taken from the list, a short instrumental by The Birthday Massacre that reminds me a little of Blade Runner.

 


 
1. It’s a Reservoir Dogs thing.
2. The commonality is probably challenged by Death Metal — but there’ll always be exceptions, right?

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Brain Bite #16

Posted by Rob on 22nd September 2015 in Brain Bites |

Well, the things they are a-happenin’. Or at least, some of ’em anyway. So I figured it’s time to get another one of these thrown together, and book-end it with some suitably heavy music (which, I admit, may not be to everyone’s taste, my wife included). We’ll start with:

10 Masked Men: Stayin’ Alive
I’m sure by now, people other than me have come across 10 Masked Men, but I only found them recently. A British death-metal band that seems to deal largely in covers of popular songs, I have bypassed their entertaining covers of Hit Me Baby One More Time and Livin’ La Vida Loca (as well as Baggy Trousers by Madness, which may actually be my favourite), and come straight to the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive”. Layered over the original’s video, this put me in a tremendously good mood — though if you don’t generally take your music aggressive and your vocals more percussive than melodic, you may find their version a little hard-going. Still, I’d recommend sticking around at least as far as the first chorus.

 
(I also recommend watching it soon, as it appears that the music producers who own this video are merrily taking it down, so this may not be available in this form forever…)

And thence, to…

Writers of the Future
Another quarter is over, and I have a silver honourable mention to add to the honourable mention I earned previously, which is nice — one of my goals for the year was to acquire at least one HM from this contest, so I get to chalk that one off. The next quarter ends in just a fortnight, though — I have one story on slow-boil that I want to finish for the contest, but I doubt it’ll be done in time for this quarter. So I’ll probably be scratching this one, and letting my entry slide until the next.

(P.S. — I started writing this a few days ago, and since then, I’ve actually found and submitted a different story for the quarter. So the one I’m working on is still ongoing, but I do have a story in for the final voting quarter this year.)

And none of my writing was lost, despite…

Power Cuts
Recently, our power recently went completely bonkers. For six nights in a row, it went out — to the point that you could set the clock by it, dropping out at three minutes past ten and coming back on at 10:14. Adding to the fun, the flashlight I was using flickered and wouldn’t stay lit, turning the entire thing into a weird, epilepsy-inducing horror-movie episode. Fortunately, my PC is hooked up to a UPS unit, so when the power goes out, I get about six minutes to save what I’m doing and shut down without losing my work.

But you know who doesn’t do any work, any of the time?

Adventure Cats!
Because one of our cats has discovered the Outside Front, which is the bit that doesn’t have a fence. And while England has plenty of cars and people to deal with when it comes to cats going on explorations, round here we’ve got mountain lions, coyotes and black bears, not to mention bats that can carry rabies and ticks (the latter of which I really don’t like, probably because of having seen the cheesy horror-movie Ticks in my youth). So, it’s now a fun game of letting her go outside, and then wrangling her back inside before she bolts for the hills…

And Family Phonecalls
Sometimes, I just need ’em, and I really did today. A lousy day left me in a worse mood, but just calling home made me feel massively better. My wife also baked me Brazilian cheese-bread, which is one of my favourite comfort-foods, and so I ended the afternoon really feelin’ the love. And from there, my day turned a sharp one-eighty and just got better and better — and right now, I’m feeling relaxed ‘n happy. Yes indeed!

And that only leaves…

White Zombie: I Am Legend
Book-ending with some other heavy music, but even if you don’t take your music heavy as a rule, try giving the opening minute and a half a listen. It’s a simple, melodic horror-toned electric guitar solo, played with an acoustic bent. This is my favourite song from the album (with Soul-Crusher’s bass grind hot on its heels), and is based around the movie of the same name, which is something of a Zombie modus operandi. (And to those who don’t like this metal malarkey — I’ll try and pick something different next time!)

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6

A Fictionish Spell

Posted by Rob on 9th September 2015 in Writing |

It’s been a bit of a nice spell for me. I sold my third story to a little market called The Colored Lens, a free online speculative fiction magazine, where a friend of mine previously had his story “Cuts” appear. It should be there in the autumn. Also, I got word back that my previous story Crescent Cross will be getting picked up for the upcoming Acidic Fiction anthology, in both e-book and paperback format, so a story of mine will actually be available in a printed medium for the first time. And on top of all that, I got word back that my first sold story The Bone Merchant is creeping ever closer to that elusive actual date of publication. It’s all good stuff.

Mixed in with this, you get the usual blend of rejections and stories-that-are-lingering, the latter of which is a maddening exercise in “Is it being considered, or has their rejection gone missing?” History suggests it’s probably about a 75% chance that it just went missing, or that’s where the chips have landed in the past. But I can’t stop myself from hoping, all the same, even though I’m probably daft to.

245501146_bf60bd4db6_b
Hope springs eternal.

But against this, there’s also a downer — my friend (he of the aforementioned Cuts) had sold a story to a nice little anthology, which would probably have been his highest profile sale to date. But for some reason, after starting out with that anthology as one of their first announced titles, they’ve proceeded to release a bunch of other stuff and then, eventually, just scrap the anthology. A lot of people, my friend included in their number, are quite upset about it. The only silver lining here is that they’ll apparently still be paid for their stories, and that is a nice action on the part of the publisher, as they’re not required to do that — but all the same, it robs him of a decent publishing credit.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing does happen — an acceptance doesn’t necessarily equal a publication, or a sale for that matter, and not every publisher is actually any good at getting their publications to market. And while I’ve yet to have this happen to me, I imagine it will, eventually — so that’s something to look forward to…

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Steampunk Cat

Posted by Rob on 22nd August 2015 in Other Stuff |

SteampunkCat
By Ruslan Svobodin.

I have nothing else to post today, but I did at least want to post this, just because it’s fantastic.

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