My First Rejection

My First Story Rejection A few weeks ago, I submitted my first story for potential publication. Today, I received my first story rejection. You might think that I’d feel bad about this but, strangely enough, I don’t.

Every writer goes through this. Even the best writers have been rejected. Stephen King himself has written about the tons of rejections that he received when he started out. It’s like a rite of passage, or something.

Plus, I have this theory about short stories anyway. They’re like jelly beans. They’re often too short to have anything but a single flavor. If you, or more importantly, the editor, don’t like that flavor, then the story doesn’t work. And when the story is humorous flash fiction, well, it’s doubly true, I think.

Submitting my first story was hard. It’s like you’ve dreamed about being a writer, and now you’re putting your stuff out there for the world to see. Getting my first rejection, ho hum. I’ve seen stuff published that’s far worse than my story, “Crossing the Chasm.” I also know that I haven’t written a Hugo-caliber story either. My judgement says it’s publishable, but not classic.

So, you do what writers throughout history have done. You send the story to the next market. And that’s what I’ve done. Plus I’ve got two more completed stories to send out.

Then you keep writing. You continue improving your craft. And you keep on sending out more stories.

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A Major Defection

Eight Million Ways To Die
Burglars Can't Be Choosers
Hit Man

Famous mystery/crime writer Lawrence Block has decided to go the indie publishing route, a major defection from the traditional publishing world. His new indie-publishing endeavor is described in this article from Kirkus Reviews. He cites his reasons for indie publishing as control of the publishing process and timeliness of publication for his readers.

For those who aren’t familiar with his work, I can’t recommend him highly enough. I have, like, a bazillion* of his books.

      * I checked the database; I own 39 of Lawrence Block’s books.


My friend, author Cheryl Baker, asked me why this “defection” is so important, i.e. – why is it worth blogging about?

Here are my reasons:

  • Lawrence Block is a very good mystery/crime author. He’s the author of notable series like the Matthew Scudder detective series, the Bernie Rhodenbarr series about a professional thief, a series about a hit man named Keller, etc.

  • Not only is he a good writer, but he’s won tons of awards and had a bunch of best sellers.

  • Lawrence Block is now self-publishing because:
          – He has more control over the product.
          – He makes more money self-publishing.
          – He can get his books to readers faster than traditional publishers.

It’s a big deal when best-selling writers start defecting from publishers. It’s one thing when a brand new writer like me looks at traditional publishing with disgust and elects to go the indie route. It’s another matter entirely when an established, best-selling writer who could easily have his book published by a Big Five publisher says, “No thanks, I’d rather do it myself.” It’s an indication that self-publishing is becoming increasingly viable as a business model.

It’s also personally relevant because: 1) my friend, Pam Wilson, has self-published a motivational book, Say Yes to the Universe, 2) I’m planning on self-publishing my own fiction in 2014, and 3) Cheryl herself should be looking at self-publishing as one of her options. Since I’m planning on self-publishing, it’s really nice to see some third-party evidence that I’m not charging down a foolish path.

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Book Purchases in 2013

Where have the bookstores gone?

Where have all the brick-and-mortar bookstores gone?

OK, I’m a numbers guy. It’s an inescapable part of my training from my day job, where I’m a detail-oriented information technology (IT) specialist. I kept track of (most) of my book purchases in 2014. I missed only on recording a couple of purchases at conventions and two purchases at McKay Used Books, my awesome, semi-local used bookstore. Still, it’s interesting analyzing the data for trends.

Last year, I spent $80.32 on Amazon. I spent $61.25 at bookstores. I spent another $37.80 at science fiction conventions. Money-wise, it was kind of a lean year, so I spent a far less than I usually do. This is also the year that I started reading extensively in electronic formats (chiefly on my smartphone, an Android Razr with a nice-sized screen).

My Amazon purchases are interesting. First, I bought some new, print editions on Amazon that I couldn’t find locally. I bought some used editions from vendors that advertised on Amazon, so Amazon took a percentage of the purchase price. Finally, I bought ebooks from Amazon. The real point here is that I shopped on Amazon because it was the only place that I could find all of the books that I wanted.

My bookstore purchases are probably even more scary for bookstores than the dominance of Amazon.

I live in Loudoun County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington DC. It’s the fastest growing county in the entire country (for, like, 13 of the last 15 years). Loudoun County is also one of the most affluent and one of the most educated counties in the entire country. Which is why it’s shocking that there are no bookstores around here (except one tiny, ill-stocked Books-a-Million in a local mall).

For bookstore purchases, I spent only $61.25. That translated into two books from Wegman’s, a luxury supermarket; two from Books-a-Million, a large, regional bookstore chain; and one from Barnes & Noble. The ones that I bought were bestsellers from writers that I already follow, i.e. – I tend to buy them wherever I first spot them.

This is also the first time that my Amazon purchases have surpassed all of my bookstore purchases. For the few times that I went to a bookstore, none of which were in convenient locations to where I live, I failed to find the books that I was interested in. My bookstore visits were thus 1) dissatisfying, and 2) inevitably resulted in Amazon purchases so that I could get what I’d wanted in the first place.

I attended several conventions during the year, including both Capclave (in the Washington DC area) and Balticon (in the Baltimore, MD area). The Dealer’s Room at just about any reasonably-sized convention offers a far better selection of science fiction than any brick-and-mortar bookstore, including both new and used editions. It also features vendors who are extremely knowledgable about the field, meaning that the “recommendation engine” at a convention can rival Amazon’s recommendation engine.

When you account for the several purchases I forgot to record, It’s very likely that I spent more money at conventions and used bookstores than I did at conventional, brick-and-mortar bookstores. I easily spent more at cons than any individual brick-and-mortar bookstore. Likewise for used bookstores.

Can we draw any conclusions from my experiences? Well, there are clearly dangers associated in extrapolating from a single data point (me) to the industry as a whole. Nevertheless, I suspect that other book buyers are having similar experiences. So, here we go…

First, Amazon is increasingly successful because they, more than any other bookseller, are making it possible for customers to find what they want. More specifically, Amazon wants you to find what you’re looking for, regardless of price, and they don’t care whether what you purchase is a new print edition, a used book, or an ebook.

Second, bookstores suck. There’s no other way to put it. When you go to a store, and then you leave and shop somewhere else (Amazon) because the store didn’t provide what you wanted, that can’t possibly be good for the future of the store. For me, and likely others as well, this is aggravated because an increasing number of the authors that I care about are available mostly in ebook form, so it feels like bookstores are missing an entire dimension that has become important to me.

Third, additional money that I spent in non-traditional venues like conventions and used bookstores probably would have gone to Amazon if those venues had not been available to me. The audience for science fiction conventions is, I suspect, a relatively small percentage of the overall science fiction reading community. For those people who don’t attend conventions, and don’t have access to a quality used bookstore, I suspect that most of their money would have been spent on Amazon, not traditional booksellers.

Fourth, while I understand that 80% of books are still sold in print form, I can only guess that in the future they won’t be sold in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Personally, I’ll be much more likely to buy them from Amazon than Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million.

These are pretty scary trends for traditional, brick-and-mortar booksellers. Overall, it feels like there’s a vast and intensely interesting conversation going on between readers and authors…and the bookstores are missing out on it.

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2013 in Review

2013 in ReviewIn August of 2012, I met Hugh Howey, the author of the best-selling Wool and its sequels, at Worldcon 70 in Chicago. I was fortunate enough to have dinner with him and some of his fans at a nearby Irish pub (which Hugh even paid for). He talked about indie publishing and how it was a viable platform for authors. What he said about this whole new realm of indie publishing really resonated with me. He wasn’t some ravening fanatic about the issue. He was, instead, exceedingly logical about the advantages, and the disadvantages, of this new and powerful outlet for writers.

I’d always wanted to be a science fiction and fantasy writer, but every time I’d looked at what was required to achieve my dream, I’d gotten discouraged. There were too many gatekeepers. The system was clearly rigged so that it favored the publishers. So I’d buried my creative urges in other pursuits like creating elaborate roleplaying games for my friends.

Hugh Howey made me want to dust off the dream again.

After the convention, I began researching this new publishing paradigm that people were referring to as “indie publishing,” or sometimes “self-publishing,” or even “artisinal publishing.” I found that some really great people were sharing information about their experiences, including Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, J. A. Konrath, and others.

Based on my research, I concluded that indie publishing was viable. For the first time, the gatekeepers and the rigged game of traditional publishing could be bypassed. Writers had options that they’d never had before.

Now, please bear in mind that my research showed me only that success could be achieved through indie publishing, not that it was assured. Those people who were successful with this new paradigm of selling content directly to readers, well, they were working their butts off. But here’s the kicker — the things that they were doing in order to be successful (in addition to actually writing) were things that I was ideally suited for because of my extensive background in web technologies, graphics and social media.

By the end of 2012, I had decided to make a serious run at becoming a professional writer. Starting in early 2013, I began actively pursuing my dream.

This is 2013 in review. How did I do?

Accomplishments

Let’s talk about expectations for a moment.

I’ve worked for several Internet startups. I know that success isn’t something that just magically occurs. Lightning didn’t strike in 2013, nor did I expect it to. Here’s what I did accomplish in 2013:

  1. Writing: I started writing fiction. It’s been a major adjustment, of course. Years of writing technical documents, proposals, business content, and blog entries are great for exercising your content generation and editorial skills, but not so great for honing talents specific to fiction. Like plotting, pacing, characterization, etc. Surprisingly, my training in writing entertaining speeches for Toastmasters helped me leap this gap faster than I expected — a good speech is, at some level, a story that resonates with an audience.

  2. Rhythm: Tolstoy wrote the classic (and lengthy) novel, War and Peace, by writing during the only free time he had — thirty minutes before breakfast every day. The only way to write a significant amount of content is to establish a rhythm that allows you to write at least a little bit almost every day. It took me a while to ramp up, but I managed to get into a solid writing rhythm. The downside at the half-year mark was that my output consisted largely of blog entries and not stories, so a mid-year course correction was required to ensure that fiction was better represented.

  3. Tools: Online fiction needs graphics, from book covers to advertisements. During the year, I ramped up my proficiency level with Gimp, a freeware graphics manipulation tool, and secured a PC where I could install and use my aging edition of Adobe Photoshop.

    I also bought Scrivener, a word-processing tool targeted for authors. I love this tool, especially since it parallels the tools that I’ve always used to produce software. As a web developer, I use an IDE (Integrated Development Environment). An IDE is a tool that displays information about your source code in different ways in separate on-screen panels, and provides you with all sorts of features to manipulate your code. Scrivener is basically an IDE for writers. I started using Scrivener in November, and it’s been awesome.

  4. Networking: I started networking within the SF field, first at conventions like Balticon and Capclave, and then at the meetings of the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). I need to know people like editors, artists, other writers, etc. Plus, it’s fun meeting people who are passionate about the same things that I am.

  5. Mastermind Group: I formed the Rising Tide Mastermind Group with some ambitious friends from Toastmasters. The purpose of the group is to pool our talents and experience to help all of the group’s members achieve success in their endeavors, which range from being a science fiction writer to becoming a motivational speaker.

Overall, I was happy with my accomplishments for 2013. If I were a professional sports team, this would be considered to be a “building” year, with greater things expected in 2014.

Measurable Results

I tracked my writing output, expenses, and writing income all year. Expenses included web site hosting, conventions, books, domain name renewals, a new printer, and training (in the form of Toastmasters and workshops). Toastmasters might seem like an oddity for a writer, since it’s a non-profit organization dedicated to improving public speaking and leadership skills. But professional writers speak on panels, moderate panels, participate in interviews, make pitches to publishers, do keynote speeches, and do readings in front of an audience. That’s all public speaking, and something that I’m admirably prepared for, thanks to Toastmasters.

My writing-related expenses for the year were $1,520. My income was $102, and was generated through advertising on my web sites. Monetarily, a net loss of $1,418 for the year, which was not unexpected.

I produced 70 blog entries, 18 speeches, 5 videos, 3 short stories, and 3 presentations.

My writing output was 44,630 words, but only 12,583 words (28%) were stories. The rest was blogging. On top of this, I’ve tried to account for the effort that went into speeches and presentations in terms of words (but not the videos, which were derivatives of already existing content). I estimated each speech at 1000 words, and each presentation at 1000 words per every 15 slides. So, the speeches add another 18,000 words and the presentations add another 6000 words. This brings my total output for the year up to 68,630 words.

I really started writing at the beginning of April 2012. My mid-year course correction (to focus more on stories and less on blogging) took place at the end of September. In the last 3 months of the year (and despite the holiday season), I produced almost as much straight content as in the previous six months. This basically means that after September I doubled my core output rate and brought story output into parity with blogging content for that period. The casualty in all of this was that I produced fewer speeches and presentations near the end of the year.

Conclusions

2013 was a “building” year. It accomplished what I hoped it would — getting me into a solid writing rhythm at a (hopefully) professional level. I worked on some of the road-blocks that were hindering my writing, and figured out ways to bypass them. Now, I’ve got three finished stories, one of which has already been submitted for potential publication, and the remaining two will be on the way soon.

Say what you will, but I’m gonna call it a pretty good first year. But 2014 is going to be even better…

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I Made the Slideshare Top 2% Viewed for 2013

I got an email from Slideshare.net a few days ago announcing that I’d made the list of the Top 2% Most Viewed for my presentations on Slideshare.net.

Most Viewed on SlideShare

I’ve had more than 75,000 views of my presentations. I have 19 presentations out there, of which 17 are related to my day job. However, 2 of them are, I think, of general interest to the readers of this blog. My presentation, 21st Century Writer, is all about the changes in the publishing industry and the opportunities available for writers. My presentation, Titanic: The Forgotten Passengers, is all about the pets that were on the Titanic during its ill-fated 1912 journey.

Check out some of my presentations. There’s some good content out there, and I’ll be posting more in the future.

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Keenersaurus: My New Twitter Handle for Fiction

I just created a new Twitter account, @keenersaurus, for my speculative fiction. I felt that my fiction warranted a different Twitter handle than my technical alter-ego (you know, the version of me with the day job that actually pays the bills), who tweets about Internet technologies.

I put a couple of tweets out there using @keenersaurus, retweeted a couple of interesting things, and soon found that I had gained my first follower — Gail Carriger, author of the New York Times best-selling Parasol Protectorate and Finishing School series. This was pretty cool, so I decided it warranted a plug for her books, which are actually quite good.

Parasol Protectorate Series - By Gail Carriger

For the 5-book Parasol Protectorate series, imagine a steampunk London with vampires, werewolves, dirigibles, tea, and all sorts of nefarious factions plotting mayhem. Mix in Alexia Tarabotti, a spinster with: 1) little hope of ever securing a good marriage, 2) impeccable manners, 3) a trusty and unusual parasol, and 4) a streak of stubbornness destined to land her in all sorts of trouble. The books are good fun. Highly recommended.

Oh yeah, by the way… Would you like to follow me on Twitter at @keenersaurus?


Editorial Note: One of my friends asked me, “Why did you pick keenersaurus for a Twitter handle?” Well, I couldn’t get my name as a Twitter handle. I could have chosen some variation of my name, but that seemed counter-productive. There’d be multiple Twitter handles out there like mine, only slightly different — not good for branding.

I decided that I needed something different for my handle, something that clearly referenced me in some way, but was memorable. A handle that might spark a conversation (like this one, actually).

As a child, I developed a passion for dinosaurs, which I never outgrew (my wife would say it’s because I never grew up). I liked the sound of keenersaurus. I thought it sounded memorable. It also instantly spawned ideas (which I’ll be implementing soon) on how to use it in unique and interesting ways. So that’s why I chose it.

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Just Submitted My First Story

Fear is a hard to overcome...

Fear is a hard to overcome...

I just submitted my first story for publication. It was surprisingly daunting, actually. It took more willpower than I’d expected, but I overcame my fear. For good or bad, rejection or acceptance, one of my stories, “Crossing the Chasm,” is out there in the cold, harsh world where it’s about to be judged by others.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. At age 11, I decided that I wanted to write books, science fiction adventures, just like the ones that Andre Norton wrote (Andre Norton was my gateway drug for science fiction). It never happened, partly because life got in the way and partly because it never made economic sense for me. There was no real business model for being a successful writer, not unless you were one of the top sellers.

In August 2012, I met Hugh Howey at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago; it was my first day at the con. He was an indie writer, and he’d just started achieving some phenomenal success for his serialized novel, Wool. I had dinner with him and some of his fans, and I learned a lot more about self-publishing that night. Somehow, while I wasn’t really paying attention, the publishing industry had changed dramatically, and was still changing at a high rate of speed, thanks to ebooks. According to Hugh there were opportunities for self-published authors that had never existed before.

When I returned from the convention, I began researching this self-publishing thing. I discovered that there were all sorts of opinions available on the web. Some were informed. Some were not. Others were clearly in denial. The publishing industry was obviously in a state of upheaval. And here’s what my business experience told me:

Opportunities thrive in chaotic situations.

The publishing industry was certainly in chaos. Writers could bypass the gatekeepers and market directly to readers, for the first time ever. Hugh was right. There wasn’t a better time to be a writer.

I got serious about writing in 2013. It wasn’t easy. I had a day job. A long commute. Commitments for volunteer work. But I persevered. I started writing fiction. I continued blogging. I attended conventions, notably Balticon and Capclave, but this time focusing on being a professional writer. I started networking as a writer.

I learned that writing fiction is hard. I kept writing anyway. I fixed bad habits, like only writing fiction when I felt like it — professional writers carve out time to write no matter what. I researched how other writers wrote, and adopted the tactics that I thought would work for me. I bought Scrivener, a word-processing tool aimed at writers, and it slipped smoothly into my writing process like a missing puzzle piece. I worked on my prose style, because I discovered that the techniques that worked in non-fiction, proposals, and technical documents didn’t work so well in fiction.

I measured my output, because I’ve learned in my alternate career as a software developer that you can only improve the things that you measure. When I discovered that I was spending too much time on blogging and not enough on fiction, I made a mid-year course correction.

When the dust settled, I had finished three short stories in 2013, and was working on another much longer and more ambitious story when the year ended. It wasn’t much, by some standards, but here’s the thing that’s noteworthy — I had finished three stories, and I was still going on. There are many people who dream about being a writer but never finish anything.

Unexploded OrdnanceOnce you’ve finished a story, it’s like unexploded ordnance. It’s purpose is to be used; it’s just wasted potential until it’s sent on its way. Is a story that’s never been seen by others still a story?

I had previously identified potential markets for all of my stories. Today, I submitted one of those stories, “Crossing the Chasm,” to a professional venue, as defined by the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Translation: I submitted it to a venue that pays real money, the SFWA-approved minimum rate, for stories.

It was surprisingly hard to do. Not technically, of course. In reality, it was pretty simple. I filled out an online form, wrote a short “cover letter” and uploaded a text file. Getting to that point, though, was much more difficult. Fear, especially the fear of rejection, is a powerful thing.

This is the cover letter that accompanied my story:

Hi,

My name is David Keener, and I guess I’ve tried to do something a little odd with this story. It began as a live story that I told in front of Toastmasters audiences (Toastmasters is a non-profit organization that promotes education in public speaking).

I liked the idea of “performing” slightly bent, modern-day fairy-tales with titles based on typical business subjects. When performed, this story becomes a roughly 9-minute talk. I looked at the stories I’d developed in this “series,” and thought some of them, like this one, could be equally enjoyable in print form. Hence this submission.

Naturally, I hope that you’ll agree with me.

         — Dave —

This is the start of a process. The venue to which I submitted the story will respond to my submission within 8 weeks. They’ll either accept it or reject it. If they accept it, great! I’ve got my first professional sale. If they reject it, well, it gets submitted to another venue. This will keep on going until I find somebody that will publish it.

Meanwhile, I keep writing. I keep improving my craft. I keep learning about the industry, and how I can take advantage of all the changes that have been happening. I’m a writer. I’m a creator. This is what I’ve chosen to do, and I will not be stopped.

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Proud New Member of WSFA

WSFA - Washington Science Fiction AssociationOn Friday, January 3rd, I officially became a member of the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). This non-profit organization was founded in 1947. Here’s their official description:

The Washington Science Fiction Association is the oldest science fiction club in the greater Washington area. Its members are interested in all types of science fiction and fantasy literature as well as related areas such as fantasy and science fiction films, television, costuming, gaming, filking, convention-running, etc. WSFA meets the first and third Fridays of every month at approximately 9:00 pm. Non-members are encouraged to attend. Club meetings include a brief business meeting, after which the group gathers informally over light refreshments to talk about just about anything including (on occasion) science fiction literature and media.

Although they don’t explicitly state this in their official description, the organization’s true purpose is to promote science fiction and fantasy literature within the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. To this end, they annually organize and run Capclave, a very nice regional conference. They’ve also hosted, or had members participate in hosting, some of the big, roving conferences. Notably, WSFA has hosted the World Fantasy Convention, most recently in 2003, and they’ll be hosting it again in November 2014. Some of the organization’s members are also currently putting together a bid to bring the World Science Fiction Convention, my favorite convention, to Washington DC in 2017.

Put simply, I think the organization does good work.

But I’m a writer. Why am I interested in joining the organization? Well, let me list some of my reasons below:

  1. Promote SF Literature: I love science fiction, but there’s a vast difference between SF in literature and SF in media. Frankly, the SF literature is far more sophisticated than most of the SF that’s coming out of Hollywood. I’d like to help make sure that our SF books aren’t forsaken for their media counterparts.

  2. Reduce the Graying of SF Fandom: There’s an effect known as “the graying of SF fandom,” in which the average age of SF fans is rising. Prospective younger fans are often lured away by other technologies like games, movies and television. Or worse, they’re not even introduced to SF in any meaningful way. I’d like to help ensure that younger readers are introduced to our “literature of ideas” so that we can bring newer, younger fans into the fold.

  3. Networking: I’m writing professionally now and, frankly, I’m hampered in some ways because I don’t know people in the SF field. I need to know editors, cover artists, fellow writers, etc., in order to be successful at what I’m trying to accomplish as a writer.

  4. Expanding My Fan Base: I write SF and Fantasy. WSFA members read SF and fantasy. By attending meetings, I’m associating with people who might reasonably want to read the things that I write. They are also well positioned to foster great word-of-mouth regarding my stories. However, there’s a careful balance that I need to maintain here since WSFA doesn’t exist to promote individual writers. Joining the organization requires a certain integrity of intent, i.e. – a commitment to help the organization accomplish its goals. Accordingly, I’ve adopted a deliberately low profile when it comes to promoting my own work.

  5. Entertainment: I know more about science fiction than all of my friends. Period. I’ve seen more SF movies, read more SF books, know more about SF history, and I’m more familiar with SF/Fantasy memes. I’m constantly recommending books to other people (“Oh, you like zombies? Try Feed by Mira Grant, aka Seanan McGuire”), loaning DVD’s to friends (“You should see the indie SF movie, Cube“), or explaining SF concepts like the Singularity. Conventions and WSFA meetings are the only places where I can go and meet other people like me.

I’ve been attending WSFA meetings since September 2013. As a writer, how has associating with WSFA been beneficial to me so far? Well, it’s done a lot of things for me already, more than I had envisioned when I first began attending meetings.

  • Scored low-cost tickets to Capclave 2013.

  • Received advice to sign up for the Writers Track at Capclave 2013. I did this, and it proved to be excellent advice.

  • Met an editor at one of the meetings. Got some advice on venues that might buy some of my short fiction. Have periodically had other members tell me about various anthologies that were looking for submissions.

  • Provided advice to the organization that plans to bring a science fiction museum to Washington DC.

  • Got to see a live reading of a new story by Jamie Todd Rubin, an up and coming writer from this area.

  • Have heard some really awesome stories about fandom and the writing community. As a result, I have a new appreciation for lime jello.

Overall, I’m proud to be part of WSFA. I expect to have a lot of fun thanks to the organization. I also expect to do some worthwhile work promoting the “literature of ideas” that I love so much.

Posted in A Little Inspiration | Tagged , , | 2 Comments