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Lavender and the Rose Cover

Another in the occasional series, looking at the themes expressed in my various works of fiction. 

Moving on, getting on, forgetting the past, embracing change, living in the present moment – and all that. It’s good stuff, stuff I tried to get at in the Road from Langholm Avenue. And to be sure, all these things are attainable, the material world navigated safely as needs be without falling over in despair at the pointlessness of existence. At least for a time.

But as we get older, something else happens, some call it an existential crisis, others simply the menopause. But as I see it, youth, inexperience, and just plain ignorance has us accepting without question the allure of an essentially material life, rendering us blind to the fallacy that it is entirely sufficient for our needs – the pursuit of money, lifestyle, the bigger house, the bigger car, the exotic travel destinations. It isn’t.

If we’re lucky we wake up and realise material things don’t satisfy us for very long, that we can live an extravagant lifestyle, a life all the adverts would have us aspire to, and still be as miserable as sin, still craving the next big thing. But you can’t go on for ever like that. Clearly something is missing. We need a bigger story if our lives are to mean anything.

Some find that bigger story ready made in the various world religions – usually a story about a supreme being and an afterlife to help make sense of the suffering we endure in this one. We can then explain our lives as a trial imposed upon us, the reward for which will be riches in the next life. Or we can explain it as a preparation for a higher level of existence, again in some non-material hereafter. And all that’s fine for the faithful, because religions do provide comfort in times of need, but what if you’re not faithful? What if all of that sounds ridiculous to you? What if the logical inconsistencies of such a set-up cause you to take out that barge pole and prod all religions and their scary religiosity safely out of sight. Life simply is what it is, and then you die. Right?

Well, maybe.

But what if you sit down one day in an existential funk, and something happens? Let’s say the doors to perception are flung wide open – just for a moment – and you’re given an utterly convincing glimpse of a universe that’s somehow greatly expanded compared with the narrow way you normally perceive it? How so? Hard to describe except lets say, for example, time drops out of the equation and you’re given the impression of an infinite continuum in which there is no difference between you and whatever you perceive, that your mind is independent of both the physical body and the physical world, that indeed your mind is a subset of a greater mind that is both you and not you at the same time.

How would you deal with that?

Well, you’d probably think you were ill, or just coming out of a semi swoon or a waking dream where we all know the most outrageous nonsense can be made to feel true. So we come back to our senses and carry on as normal. Except we find our perspective on life is subtly altered. We are drawn to ideas that might explain our experience. We explore it first through psychology, because it was a kind of mind-thing we experienced. So down the rabbit hole we go,…

And there sitting at the mad hatter’s table we discover Carl Jung, sipping tea and reading a book called the Yijing, which he lends to us, saying that if we are not pleased by it, we don’t need to use it, and we’d worry about that except he also tells us famous quantum physicists have used it too, though they don’t like to admit it. Then this Oriental connection takes us to ancient China and another book called the Tao Te Ching, then to religions that aren’t like other religions, to Daoism and Buddhism which are kind of hard to get your head around. But while everything you learn explains some small part of what you experienced, nothing explains the whole of it.

So you put some rules to it yourself, create a quasi-logical structure for this strange new universe you alone have apparently discovered. Before you know it, you’ve invented your own religion and it all falls apart again, victim to the inconsistencies you’ve imposed upon it yourself. It seems the moment you put words to things you limit their potential to within the bounds of your own perception, and what you perceive actually isn’t that much when compared with what’s really out there, or to be more precise in there, because it’s an inner experience that leads us to this taste of the infinite where there’s no such thing as or in or out anyway.

The Lavender and the Rose comes out of this shift in perception, but without structure it would make no sense to anyone else – just two hundred thousand words of mindless drivel that would bore anyone to tears, so we accept the vagueness and the mystery, and we weave a story around it instead, a love story, several love stories, blur the boundaries, throw in some visions, some Jungian psychology, basically a lot of muse-stuff and conquering of the ego, that sort of thing. Add in a bit of Victorian costume drama, play about with characters having more than one identity, play the story out at different points in history, play it out in alternative universes where even the present moments can pan out differently, and then try to make it all hang together as an interesting story – about what can happen when you start living magically, and with others who are similarly inclined. Then explore ways the mystery can be coaxed to your aid, and discover how, if you get it wrong it will shun you for a decade. Learn how to navigate its endless ambiguities, how to see the world as no one else sees it, and still get by without getting yourself sectioned.

Such is the irresistible allure of something other.

And as with all my stuff, if you are not pleased by it, at least it hasn’t cost you anything!

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the master

Things move on. Gone are the days of Feedbooks when any old noob indy could self publish on there for free and have a hundred downloads by morning. Feedbooks is still going but for the self publishing indy it died ages ago. Stats suggest very few readers find their way to my stuff any more so I do’t bother with it – might as well stuff it in a drawer for all the good it will do.  But all is not lost: there’s always Free Ebooks.

This is another of those sites you can load your fiction onto. The model is a simple one – thousands of writers provide free content around which the site owners serve advertising and marketing packages which pay for site’s upkeep. Like Smashwords they want your manuscripts in MS word format, but don’t seem as fussy over the formatting – or it may be that I’m submitting stuff that’s already passed the Smashword’s meat-grinder test.

Downloads are encouraging – quite a spike early on, levelling off to a few clicks per day thereafter. I suspect it’ll be like Smashwords in the longer term, eventually flat-lining at a thousand clicks or so with only the occasional flutter thereafter. Yes, they want you to sign up for their marketing packages and all that, but I’m not going to advise you to ignore them because you know it’s a cardinal rule writers never pay publishers anything, don’t you? As for Free Ebooks paying you, well, there is an option for readers to donate through Paypal, but I wouldn’t expect more than the price of a cup of coffee now and then, and it’s certainly not worth giving up the day job.

Smashwords is still very much alive and well of course, and well worth submitting to if only for the free ISBN, and Wattpad is picking up in a strange kind of way too, though it requires a bit of engagement on your part, being more of a community thing, but that’s cute and I’m finding it has a nice feedback vibe for stuff you put on there piecemeal. I’ve been trying out the Sea View Cafe on it for a while now – at least up to the point where it got quagmired in my usual three-way polyamory trap – more on that in the next blog. I can recommend it for early drafts, but again it’s not going to change your life much. And once a story’s done on there, well,… it’s done and you might as well delete it.

So yes, things move on, but they’re not dying out. Online and digital are still the only way to go for the majority of unaffiliated wannabe writers. I predict the only bookshops in a decade’s time will be charity shops selling increasingly dog eared and spine busted samples of that old paper-tech, that actual books will have become an upmarket thing, paperbacks costing thirty quid a go. And us ordinary folk will have no recourse to libraries anymore, so this mad bagatelle of free online stuff will be our daily fayre.

So don’t despair, you young uns might have robots to contend with for your day-jobs by then, but at the end of it you’ll still be able to kick back of a night inside your cosy plastic nano-pod, with whatever passes for a mobile phone, and read, and think how: quaint, those days of paper. Hopefully some my stuff will still be around, scraped up by the content farming sites. And maybe amongst my writings you’ll discover a lost world where people fell in love face to face rather than dialling partners up via an app, a world where our dreams still meant something and we used to laugh at the idea of cars driving themselves.

So, anyway, if you’re a writer looking to share some ideas, some stories, do check out Free Ebooks! It’s like Smashwords, and a bit of a dead-zone as far as feedback’s concerned, though I have picked up a couple of four-stars. But if you want people to talk to you about what you write as you write it, go to Wattpad. Whatever you do though don’t get hung up on the mechanics of self publishing, on the clicks and stats at the expense of,… well,… writing. Just get your stuff on the Internet any which way you can and whoever was meant to read it will find it.

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The Lavender and the Rose book coverOdd,.. one tries to live in the present, but as a writer I am often called back to visit with previous parts of myself, to revise my more obvious errors and of course to explain,…

Now, it’s a strange thing for an author to say, I suppose, but I don’t know what to make of the Lavender and the Rose, even a decade after publication, and a decade before that in the writing, but there it is. The sexual stuff, the eroticism, the menage a trois, the tantric thing – really I should no longer be troubled by it, being now rather more mature in years, but I still am, because on the surface at least I’m a regular kind of guy, unused to channelling that kind of thing.

The whole mad tome of it went up on Smashwords in 2013, and with hardly a peep  from them until just recently when they’ve begun nagging me over the chapter numbers – two chapter fours, no chapter three,.. blush! Self editing can be a nightmare can’t it? But what the hell, who cares? It’s not exactly as if I’m up for the Booker is it?

Anyway,… I made the changes, resubmitted to their meatgrinder thing, because, well, even though the download rate is poor on Smashwords, I still have a great respect for the ethos of the site. And in making the changes I came across the postscript I added after the last revision which I’d forgotten about, and quote in full here:

Thank you for reading this story.

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Although a work of fiction, the Lavender and the Rose charts a long period of deep reflection and psychological change for its author. The ideas expressed here were an exploration of the potential of human imagination, as told through the eyes of the main protagonists, who either were or became Romantic and mystical in their outlook – as did its author. A decade in the writing, the person who penned the opening chapters was not the same person who now writes this postscript. In revising the story for this new Smashwords edition, I have been able to remind myself of the turning points and the key ideas I now hold to, but which would have been incomprehensible or even preposterous before I began this journey.

Romanticism does not sit well in the modern materialistic world. The former abhors the latter, and the latter does not take the former at all seriously. But while materialism is a philosophy that well suits the simplistic machinery of world trade, it steals from human beings the simple magic of living. It is therefore a philosophy that cannot help but be ultimately pessimistic in its outlook, that human beings, human hopes and aspirations be viewed as perishable and meaningless concepts.

But, like the old Romantics, I suggest the world cannot be properly revealed unless it be through the lens of the imagination. It is imagination alone that colours the world, personalises it, opens it up for a more intimate dialogue. It restores our spirit, and reveals an optimistic and benign undercurrent which propels us more certainly along the course of our lives. More, it reconnects the individual life to its sense of purpose in an otherwise overwhelming and seemingly unknowable world. Through the Romantic eye, the world becomes, if not knowable, then at least sensed at a more vital level than that revealed by a knowledge of its materials alone, for materials are dead things. Through the Romantic eye, however, the world lives and breathes, and smiles at the wonder of it all.

Without it, the world frowns and suffocates in a self imposed insignificance.

Michael Graeme

Autumn 2013the sea view cafe - small

It’s a reminder, not just to me, but to all of us who write that in the broader dissemination of our work, no matter how much we desire it and strive towards it, it is always secondary to the simple fact that primarily the person most important in the writing, the person most satisfied, and most healed is always gong to be our selves. This alone is sufficient reason for our persistence.

Four years ago? Is that right? And did I really begin the Lavender and the Rose a quarter of a century ago? Sure I did, but equally I find everything I said still stands, even though the author is now a stranger to me, and that’s a relief. Time then I returned to the present – to where I really am, lost in the continuing mystery of my life, as expressed in the mystery of  the Sea View Cafe.

 

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The Writing Master Small.jpgThoughts on writing for the internet age

I write a lot about writing here on the blog. My pieces appear sporadically, usually when my fiction falters and I lose confidence in myself. The purpose of these pieces is not entirely altruistic then. I write about writing – how to keep yourself writing, how to deal with rejection, how writing is changing, how the Internet is the future of writing – be it fiction or journalism – and how there was never any money in writing anyway, that the readership one reaches is more important, and that anyone can now gain a readership by self publishing online.

So, I do this primarily to lecture myself, to remind myself of my own lessons, my own experience. Writing is an exploration of the self, but in self exploration the by-product is an account of experience, and there’s something in human beings that wants to pass that experience on. It might be evolutionary, passing on the knowledge of the mantraps, or the lairs of the sabre toothed tigers to others of one’s clan. It ensures the survival of the clan – more so than if we learn the lessons as individuals, and keep them to ourselves. And my clan is the vast number of creative writers out there, working in isolation, who feel stymied by the opaque business of publishing and at the mercy of one existential crisis after another as the tides of our own soul ebb and flow with the moon.

Not everyone will agree with my approach to writing since it involves abandoning the idea of being paid for one’s work. It’s a myth that there’s a lot of money to be made from writing. Certainly a few high profile authors do make a fortune, but this is the exception to the rule and has distorted our expectations. In fact most can expect to make very little from writing, certainly not enough to be self sufficient, and especially from the more literary type of work I tend to favour. My advice then is to get a proper job to pay the bills and make your peace with it, because you’re going to need that job to support you while you write. This is simply the nature of it, and always has been.

Of course some of my clan are still chasing the dream of a book signing in Waterstones, believing this to be the only worthy goal in writing – that and a Booker Prize and anything else is just defeatist. It’s a worthy ambition of course, but it’s one fraught with danger for the self worth and the general well being of the tens of thousands of other writers, like me, whom no one has ever head of. It’s for us I argue there is another way of viewing ones art, that self publishing is self-enabling, that the miracle of the Internet gives us a voice and a readership when even so little as ten years ago we needed a publisher for that. Now we simply publish ourselves.

So, I’ve been rooting through the blog and gathering up all those “writing about writing” pieces and collecting them under the cover of a “book” called “The Sea of Words”, and I’ve self published it on Wattpad. I did this on the spare of the moment, while trapped during a rainstorm in my little Summer House, one evening – because you can do that with self publishing. It’ll be an ongoing series. I’ll post a few pieces every now and then, because that’s what you do on Wattpad. If the readership peaks at less than 100, I’ll delete it in order to spare myself further embarrassment, and the book will be as if it had never existed, because it works both ways and you can do that too on Wattpad.

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the sea southportThe world of online self publishing changes year on year. First it was Lulu.com, offering a self published route to paper. But paper was a hangover from the olden days, and for the online writer the market long ago switched from paper to smartphones. Feedbooks became the happening place in this respect, fast tracking your story to an international market, to a smartphone in your pocket irrespective of where you resided in the world.

Of the stuff I first posted on Feedbooks, readers wrote back, but they don’t any more, and Feedbook’s stats are now broken, so it’s hard to know how a story is doing. I still post my final drafts on there, but expect to hear any day now Feedbooks is defunct. At any rate, so far as I’m concerned Feedbooks isn’t the happening place any more.

Smashwords was another great hope, dogged in its support for the online writer, but its reach is poor, and in five years I’ve not had a single piece of feedback from any of my works on there. In Smashwords then, I am roundly disappointed.

Which brings me back to Wattpad, forum for the teen scribbler. I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but only old people and college students still buy paper books. Against all expectation my stories, Sunita and Fall of night have done well on Wattpad, and still attract that ever valuable commodity: feedback.

Oh, sure, I’m a bit of an oddball, writing stuff and giving it away. I really don’t know if I could get it published properly in paper now, but my experience of the process leaves me cold, and I’d  rather not go there again. So, free it is, you lucky people. And my current weapon of choice is Wattpad, at least in the formative stages of a story.

I admit I don’t like Wattpad that much. It makes me uneasy,  but it’s the only place right now with a lively vibe, at least  for the freak that is the author who turns his back on the establishment. So,… up goes The Sea View Cafe, not because it’s finished, but more because it’s not and I find Wattpad’s pre-readers less shy of expressing opinions on a piece, and more likely to discover it than if I spent an age polishing it through several drafts and putting it up first anywhere else. Plus, when I know a few readers have been hooked, it renders me honour bound to find a way through the labyrinth that is the story. It adds pressure, it adds weight.

Speaking for the writer, of the first draft of any story, the only important thing is that we finish it. Wattpad helps enormously in this respect. The Sea View is not finished, and I’ve no idea where it’s going, but we’re three quarters of the way through, and that’s enough to start jamming sticks in the ground. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I respect Wattpad, and its membership.

But I am not the best of Wattpad members. I post my own stuff, but am shamefully neglectful of the works of others. Read mine, but probably won’t read yours, because all writers are prima donnas, and cruelly neglectful of our fellow scribblers. But not all readers are writers. Some people just want to read fiction without the inconvenience of (a) having to pay for it and (b) having to write their own stuff for comparison.

So,.. the Sea View Cafe is my own current preoccupation. I am in love with the characters, and I want to do right by them. I’m using Wattpad, and I’m using you, dear reader to help in fashioning it to a decent conclusion. So ignore all other stories on there and read The Sea View Cafe.

You don’t have to read it of course. You don’t have to feed me back. Few do, actually. But those who do, do make a difference.

I thank you.

Graeme out.

The Sea View Cafe on Wattpad

 

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durleston wood cover smallThere are millions of free stories on the Internet now. Take a look at Feedbooks and Smashwords sometime. And yes, they’re really free. Their authors write them and give them away, happy to get a kick from the fact someone is reading them. Perhaps they’ve tried to get them paper-published the traditional way, but failed. No problem. Offering them online is a good alternative to leaving them hidden in a folder on a hard-drive, eventually to be deleted or lost when the machine breaks down. If you can’t get anyone to pay you for your work, really, it’s okay to give it away.

The problem is with so many free books out there, how does a writer get his stories noticed? Well, it’s a bit of a lottery and the system, such as it is, is hard to game, unless you’re going to spend money on a marketing campaign. But if we’re not making anything out of our writing, it makes no sense to pay to make nothing out of it either. I’m writing, and publishing – of a sort, and I’m happy with that.

But let’s be honest, my blogging motives aren’t as altruistic as they seem. I began the blog with the aim of advertising myself. Simple. I write articles on here, thinking to attract the blogging audience, and hopefully draw attention to my fiction that sits in the margin. I also have an Instagram account, the purpose of which is to attract other Instagrammers to this blog, and from there to my fiction. I hope the pictures I post on Instagram are interesting, that they say something about where I’m coming from, and I like to think the blog carries good and interesting content too, but my aim, my purpose, if you like, is always the “the work”. The Fiction. The Novels.

I get about a hundred visitors a day now, and the stats show I get a few clicks out to my novels most days too. It’s not much, but it’s working, and adds to the clicks from visitors who find my works directly on Feedbooks and Smashwords. It’ll do. Whether I get a few clicks or a hundred, I’m making the same amount of money anyway. Zero. It’s the readers that count.

So if you’re a writer of free stories, this is something to be thinking about. If you’re passing by and a potential reader of one of Michael Graeme’s novels, don’t let me distract you. Pick one from the margin because that’s why I’ve lured you here.

If you’re reading on a tablet or a phone of the Apple variety, it should be a seamless operation, from clicking the link, to the book opening up on your device. You may be given a choice of format – stick with the epub version and you’ll be fine.

With tablets and phones of the Android variety you’ll need to make sure you have an ebook reading app onboard first, so to be sure visit the app store – I use Aldiko and Moonreader. Both are superb. Aldiko is the most popular, and free. Again, when clicking the link you may be given a choice of format – pick the epub version.

Windows 8 and 10 devices come with ebook readers installed, so no worries there. With Kindles you need to click the mobi version. Sorry, Amazon, but I don’t get many readers with Kindles. It’s mostly readers with ‘Droids using Aldiko.

Reading on laptops isn’t a great experience, worse on desktops – these devices are really for content creation, not consumption. You can do it of course. Download as PDF and use the Adobe reader.

Fed up with my stuff? Go to Smashwords’ or Feedbooks’ websites and start browsing. Get reading. You may be surprised. Wish you’d read the classics in your youth? They’re all there – the whole of Victorian literature, famous and obscure, all free, plus a wide shimmering sea of contemporary amateur fiction from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the corny to the caustic.

Why waste your time with amateur fiction, spelling mistakes, bad grammar and all? Well honestly, it’s sometimes better than the stuff you’ve been paying for. Of course three quarters of anything is rubbish, and there’s no one online to tell you what’s good and what’s not. You have to decide for yourself, but that’s part of the fun.

A good writer treats his reader with respect, like a companion along the way, and you want to see them through to the end. I’m not sure to what extent I’ve been successful in this, but why not read one my novels and let me know? I may not change my ways, but I’m always interested in hearing what you have to say about it.

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sunita coverIndependent, self publishing authors fall into two camps – those who are trying to make money and a name for themselves, and those who aren’t. I’m firmly in the latter camp these days, though I wasted a lot of time and youth trying to erect a tent in the former. Metaphor exhausted, we move on to consider the differences and similarities. Similarities first: both camps are trying to be taken seriously.

If you’re wanting to make money you need a piece of work that’s worthy of being read, but the same applies if you’re giving stuff away. A book is a piece of who you are, a snapshot of the inside of your head and we all like to present the best of ourselves, not because we’re fake and trying to pass off rubbish, but because we’re trying to be sincere, while at the same time fearing we might be coming across as gibbering idiots. So, the work needs to be well presented, because gibbering idiots do not present well. This equates to good grammar, spelling, and a complete absence of typos.

Grammar and spelling come down to education and experience. Typos,… well, there’s not a lot we can do about those by ourselves. In the self publishing world, typos are here to stay. Get used to it.

My own grammar follows the rules I learned for English O level circa 1975, which makes it perhaps a little staid, though tempered and influenced by the more daring examples set by my own reading experience, and what other authors seem to have got away with in the name of their art. The language I use comes from the voices in my head and I know when something really jangles there’s a problem with the grammar. Typos are a a different matter. Notice that? Notice what? Go back and read it again.

Typos are impossible to spot at spot at times, especially for the person committing the typo. The mind thinks it knows what should be there. It interprets, it simplifies information in order to give you the impression of what is there, rather than what is actually there.  This is interesting to anyone with a penchant for psychology and the nature of reality. Other than that it just makes us a target for pedants.

The best way of dealing with typos is to get someone else to read everything you’ve written before you post it. But I write about two hundred thousand words a year, and nobody loves me that much. You can pay for it, but if you’re not making money out of your writing why should you?

My last novel “The Price of Being With Sunita” picked up a generally complementary review recently, though this was attenuated somewhat by the comment that I’d managed to commit an even higher than average typo count for your average self published novel. This doesn’t surprise me as I’m still sweeping up typos from books I wrote a decade ago, and which I’ve already been through dozens of times. Fact: there’ll be fewer typos in Sunita ten years from now, but there’ll still be typos.

I know,… as writers we do the best we can, but as readers the experience of reading is best not jarred by typos. They cause a narrative pause, rather like a log-jam, or sometimes even a poke in the the eye. The reader thinks: what was that? Is that really what he meant? Have I missed something? Oh, it’s just a typo.

And of course none of the fatal errors thus far committed in this piece would be swept up by the red underlines of spelling checkers, so the writer is very much on his own. I don’t know what the solution to typos is, other than some form of cognitive re-wiring, but I do know what the solution isn’t:

The world of publishing has changed, with many self published books now becoming mainstream, thus teasing the rest of us with the possibilities of riches. And with these changes has grown up a new branch of the industry, one for want of a better phrase I shall call: “paid author services”. These services are offered by people who take money in exchange for work on presentation. They create nothing, but they’ll root out the typos in your manuscript, even offer you a marketing package, for a fee. But in all cases the money is flowing the wrong way, so far as the author is concerned, and my advice to my fellow independent authors is to be careful. The people offering paid author services now are the same people who worked in “vanity publishing” in last century, but whose aim is the same – to target the vulnerable and to part them from their money.

The author still trying to make money and a name might be tempted by those adverts for author services. They might think it a worthwhile investment in a brighter future and godlike recognition for their labours, when what in fact they are is a potential victim. The author in the other camp need not worry so much – we just do the best we can.

Remember, whatever kind of writing you do the three immutable laws of writing remain:

1) People pay you, the author, for your work.

2) If you can’t get people to pay for your work, it’s okay to give it away in exchange for a readership – no matter how small.

3) You, the author, never pay anyone anything. Ever. Period.

It’s particularly embarrassing to be picked up on my typos, having written in the past on how best to remove typos from your work. But, hey, nobody’s perfect. In a proper published book or even a newspaper article there’s this poor, underpaid minion called a sub-editor whose job it is to spear all those typos and make the author look good, look brilliant. But the self published independent doesn’t have that luxury. And if he’s giving his work away he’s not obliged to be able to afford that luxury either. All he has is his wits, and his sincerity. Self published works will contain typos. Guaranteed. It’s a pain in the arse, I know, but get over it.

In return what you get is a work straight from the author’s keyboard. You also get it cheap.

Sometimes you don’t pay for it at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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