May 29, 2012


pinterest board: wordcrafter
This year I started reading some of The Doorway Papers, works by Christian anthropologist Arthur C. Custance.  I finished the first book, Noah's Three Sons, in January; most of you probably remember that I did a follow-up post called Image Dei, inspired by some of the things Custance wrote.  Apparently his writing tends to be inspiring, because this post flows from the second book, Genesis and Early Man. 

Most of the essays in Early Man deal with the paleontological record and are more technical than the those in Noah's Three Sons, which made it slower going for me.  (Bones get boring after a while.  So do peccary teeth.)  His last section, however, is titled "Light from Other Forms of Cultural Behavior on Some Incidents in Scripture," and this was the one I found to be of particular interest.  He takes some of the more puzzling narratives and instructions in Genesis and expands upon them, showing how they are linked with cultural patterns the world over.  For instance, he starts with the statement in Genesis 2 that "for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife," and goes on to show not only the prevalence of having the man go to his wife's family, but also the practical merit of doing it in this manner and not the other way around. 

I confess, some of the points he addresses were not ones I had ever thought very hard about; but they provided food for thought all the same.  Custance addresses most of the cultural details, including polygamy, without passing overt judgment, just as the Scripture tends to mention them in passing and without critique.  Rather, he delves into the why's and the wherefore's of these cultural norms, presenting them in a clearer light to the befuddled Western mind.

Naturally, this is interesting for its bearing on Genesis.  That was, after all, Custance's intent.  However, being a writer, I tend to look at everything from a writer's point of view.  In this case, the problem of cultures started me thinking about world-building - the crafting of peoples in fantasy worlds that are somehow different from cultures past and present.  We want ours to be unique, and though we may be inspired by ancient Egypt or Norse mythology, we prefer that the inspiration be subtle rather than obvious.  No one wants their story to be the one where the reader can go two pages and say, "Oh, I know where THAT'S from."

All that is perfectly reasonable, and provides incentive for branching out and exercising creativity.  But in reading Genesis and Early Man, it occurred to me that there is as much - or more - to be learned from the similarities between cultures as from the differences.  We tend to assume that the culture of the Eskimos will be vastly removed from that of the Australian aborigines, and to some extent, due to the demands of environment, it is; and yet at the same time, there are some amazing parallels to be noted between them.  Recall the Mankind has a "common ancestor," Noah, and a common starting place, Mesopotamia.  Cultural arteries all flow from that heartland; links between traditions stretch from one end of the earth to the other.

This is a fact worth considering, especially as we build our fantasies and populate them with people out of our imaginations.  Of course we want each culture we create to be different, but what elements do they have in common?  In marriage and in family, in religion and in government, are there threads that unite them?  If the world is tied to Earth, and perhaps even populated by humans, what links still exist between our world and theirs?  I have always thought it a good idea to come up with a history for the peoples; so much of what makes up a culture and its foreign policy depends on its history, so it seems impossible to create a believable world without one.  And now, added to that, I am of the opinion that anthropology - the study of Man - is just as pertinent a study for any writer.

In fact, I'm having a hard time thinking of fields of knowledge that aren't pertinent to a writer.

May 24, 2012

Beautiful People - Christopher

pinterest board: the soldier's cross
The title of this blog post is rather absurd, as readers of The Soldier's Cross will have noticed.  However, this round of Georgie and Sky's "Beautiful People" meme is focused on villains and, since characters from TSC show up around here but rarely, I decided to introduce Christopher.  For those of you who are not aware of what Beautiful People is or how it works, here's a summary for you:

...What is Beautiful People? Beautiful People is a monthly blog event created by Georgie Penn and Sky. It's designed to help you get to know more about your character by asking questions about them. It's simple: every month Sky and Georgie post 10 questions, and you answer them on your blog with your character of choice. To learn more, check out their blogs!

And with that squared away, I introduce you to the villain of The Soldier's Cross:


1. What is his motive?

Ambition, to some extent, but primarily straight-up greed.  The son of a merchant, landless, and with much too little money, he seeks a higher position and the increased funds that would come with it.  He does not passionately hate his vagrant lifestyle - indeed, he is rather fond of it - but it certainly doesn't provide him with much money to spend.

2. What is he prepared to do to get what he wants?

Christopher prefers manipulation to a trial of brute strength.  Up against Fiona, he will go that route; but against anyone who has the ability to stand and face him, he takes a roundabout path to his own ends.

3. Is he evil to the core, or simply misunderstood?

I don't go in for "misunderstood"; it smacks of that Deist saying that every man has a "spark of the Divine" in him and is "basically good."  Christopher is basically bad.  He is perhaps not so evil as he could be, but given an opportunity I'm sure he would fulfill all expectations in that respect.

4. What was his past like? What about his childhood? Was there one defining moment that made him embrace his evil ways? 

Christopher and his sister Leah grew up in comfort, though not in luxury.  As the only son, a great deal of pressure was put on Christopher by his father to succeed him in trade; Christopher, however, wanted the life of the nobility's sons, who had even more comfort with less work.   There was no single moment in which his heart was blackened, etc., but with his father's death he found it expedient to drop the charade of being a respectful son and get to work making his fortune.

5. Now that he is evil, has he turned his back on everyone, or is there still someone in his life that he cares for?

He had a passing affection for his mother and would sometimes correct his behavior for a few days in a row after she rebuked him, but her early death only served to convince him that the good die young, so why be good?  His father he cordially hated; his sister he regards as his queen - not in the affectionate sense, however; merely in the chessboard analogy.  She is his best means of bringing about a checkmate, and for that reason, and that reason only, he keeps her safe. 

6. Does he like hugs? 

I really couldn't hazard an answer to this question.  

7. Is he plagued by something?

Not that he ever told me; but then, he would be unlikely to do so.  

8. Who are they more similar to: Gollum or Maleficent? 

A slinking beast or a woman...  That's a difficult choice.  Gollum is more cowardly, so I tend toward him; but Maleficent is more impressively evil, so that tilts me back in her direction.  I'll say Maleficent.  

9. If your villain could have his choice of transportation what would it be? 

His own coach, highly gilded and lined on the inside with scarlet; his choice of horse would be three bays and a black, just for the element of surprise.  The difficult part would be whether to drive himself or to have a servant do it.

10. If you met your villain in the street, how afraid would you be? Is he evil enough to kill his creator?

 If I met him on the street, I would pepper-spray him.  And then run.

May 21, 2012


Last night I finished Jean Webster's novel Daddy-Long-Legs.  Not for the first time, of course: I've read it perhaps half a dozen times over as many years, and yet it never fails to leave me happy at the end.  Like Jane Austen, Daddy-Long-Legs is a comfort read.  Whenever I am blue, and whatever I'm supposed to be reading isn't cutting it, it is usually a choice between Pride & Prejudice, Emma, or Daddy-Long-Legs.  (Not Mansfield Park: I love that book, but I'm sure it gets my blood pressure up.)  This time it was The Shield Ring that, in true Sutcliff style, was just too emotionally investing, and Daddy-Long-Legs came off the shelf.

The book is not difficult, or mind-stretching, but it is the sort of book that makes life seem brighter by portraying it with zest.  It picks up all the little details and spins them into a gossamer story - appropriately gloomy in some places, for it wouldn't be as cheery in the other parts if there were not at least some grey bits.  Everything is touched with whimsy, much more, perhaps, than real life has from day to day; but maybe that in itself is what makes the book so darling.  It characterizes the momentary, simple (and sometimes profound) pleasures we encounter that feel too good to be true.  They don't usually last long in all their vibrant glory and I don't think it possible to have them constantly (I wouldn't want to confuse these things with joy proper, which ought to be a steady characteristic of our lives); there are many times of struggle, of grief, of worry and stress and hardship where such brilliantly happy moments are rare or nonexistent.  But, like candy or a vacation, they are very pleasant during those once-in-a-whiles when they come.


"P.S. It's raining cats and dogs tonight.  Two puppies and a kitten have just landed on the window-sill."

"College opens in two weeks and I shall be glad to begin work again.  I have worked quite a lot this summer though - six short stories and seven poems.  Those I sent to the magazines all came back with the most courteous promptitude.  But I don't mind.  It's good practice.  Master Jervie read them - he brought in the mail, so I couldn't help his knowing - and he said they were dreadful.  They showed that I didn't have the slightest idea of what I was talking about.  (Master Jervie doesn't let politeness interfere with truth.)"

"The accompanying illustration is hereby reproduced for the first time.  It looks like a spider on the end of a string, but it isn't at all; it's a picture of me learning to swim in the tank in the gymnasium.  The instructor hooks a rope into a ring in the back of my belt, and runs it through a pulley in the ceiling.  It would be a beautiful system if one had perfect confidence in the probity of one's instructor.  I'm always afraid, though, that she will let the rope get slack, so I keep one anxious eye on her and swim with the other, and with this divided interest I do not make the progress that I otherwise might."

"We're reading Marie Bashkirtseff's journal.  Isn't it amazing?  Listen to this: 'Last night I was seized by a fit of despair that found utterance in moans, and that finally drove me to throw the dining-room clock into the sea.'  It makes me almost hope I'm not a genius; they must be very wearing to have about - and awfully destructive to the furniture."

So you see, I always feel happier after I've read a few of Judy Abbott's letters to Daddy-Long-Legs-Smith than I was when first I picked up the book; maybe that has something to do with the cloth binding.  Somehow cloth binding makes the story even better.  And now, with that comfort book finished, I've begun A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery.  It's amusing to see his typical Winnie-the-Pooh style carry over into a whodunit.

what are some of your comfort reads?

May 16, 2012

The Essence of Bravery

Over at her blog A Wanderer in the Shadowed Land, Rosamund Gregory has started up a meme of her own: character letters.  It is an exercise designed to get the writer into the head of the character (it's dark in here!) by writing them in first person, and as such, it makes a splendid complement to the Beautiful People series.  To put it in Rosamund's words:

"There are a great many awesome "programs" of a sort for blogging writers--such as Beautiful People and Snippets of a Story--but I've noticed that most of them are in the third person. This is not wrong, of course, but it's very good to be able to get inside one's characters' minds in order to understand them. Even if you're writing in third person, you learn new things about your friends that you would never have known otherwise."

She has posted all the guidelines and those lovely things here and the very first edition, with the link-up and such, is here.  I'm afraid my entry does not follow the prompts very well, but hopefully no one will mind.  This letter is from Tip to his mother back home.  He writes on plain paper in a rather cramped, painstaking hand; put a quill in his hand and he seizes up (as if he wasn't awkward enough before), and so he tends to write out each word as though his life depends on its neatness.  He has no artistic talent and doesn't "doodle," but the edges of the page are severely blotted from his tendency to hold the quill sideways when he stops to think.  Also, he signs with his Christian name.

28 November, 1803 
Syracuse, Sicily 

Dear Mother,

This is no good. I must have begun the letter three times now, and I cannot seem to write beyond the first line. I was never much good at letter-writing, you know. Being so far from home seems not to have changed that.

Your letter reached me today, and only three months late, at that. There was a packet ship, the Lizzie Blue, waiting for us here in Syracuse when we dropped anchor; I’ll send my reply back with her, though God alone knows when she will make port again. Strange to think that with all my effort to write this, it may never reach you at all. If it does not, and if you never read this line, I hope you will know I tried.

I hardly know what to say to you, Mother. I know you must be thinking nearly five months have passed and in that time I have never once written, and for that I have no excuse but the one you already know, that things were very difficult when I left. Looking back I can see that it was difficult for you, too, and that I made life hard for you and Father both, but at the time I could not bring myself to write, and now my words have rusted—if I ever had them to begin with. Everything I think of to tell you how sorry I am, to tell you how I wish Molly were still with you, sounds callous even to myself. But I am sorry, and I do wish it. I know how much you loved her.

We have had our own death this past month, while we were at Gibraltar. I won’t upset you by telling you about it, only say that it was sudden and hit me harder than it ought. For I only knew him less than six months—less than half a year, Mother!—and yet it hurt as badly as your letter. Does that make sense to you? It makes very little to me.

Mother, I am finding out that I am not brave. I had never thought much about it before, but now it stares me in the face every day. Not that the idea of war or even the nearer thought of coming against a Tripolitan frightens me more than it does the next man; no, but it is living that is so hard. So often in the morning I wake up and feel ill with the thought of the day—and yet it gives me, too, a sort of hard satisfaction in the rising. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson the sea and the Navy will ever teach me.

Even my rusty words are spent now. So I will tell you only that I love you, and ask that you give my love to Father and tell him that I will try—that I am trying—to make him proud. I know I am not Harriet and will never make up for her, but I hope, all the same, that you will be proud of me.

Your rebellious son is not very rebellious tonight, Mother. He is simply tired.

With love,


May 10, 2012

Thoughts on Thinking

 "There is no doubt that some people who look intelligent, are intelligent; and there is no doubt that some people who look idiotic, are idiots."

- arthur c. custance, genesis and early man

But whether idiotic or intelligent, all people do think after one fashion or another.  Self-conscious thought is one feature of Man that is uniquely his, an element of what it means to possess the Imago Dei, and I don't believe any scientist or doctor has yet proved that it can ever be lost to a human being. 

This is not, however, to be a particularly philosophical post - all breathe a sigh of relief!  I want instead to take a peek at how this profoundly common action of thinking plays a role in the lives of our characters. Naturally, the way our characters think will be reflected in the way they speak; but it comes out even more starkly and with less polish in what the Experts call "internal dialogue."  (I'm not sure who thought that was a good phrase to use for it.  It makes me think of some gastronomic complaint.)  These are simply the character's private thoughts, the ones he never actually voices, but which are recorded so that the reader can get a peep inside the his mind.  In "stream-of-consciousness" stories, as far as I can make out, the story is driven and formed entirely by the narrator's thoughts; but in most novels, the internal dialogue is limited to a few italicized lines here and there when the protagonist's thoughts need to be known.

Internal dialogue is a very useful thing, especially when you feel yourself drifting away from the narrator's point-of-view, but until recently I had never stopped and considered it in detail.  Internal dialogue was simply the character's thoughts, and I wrote them as they came to me and seemed necessary.  However, the other day as I was looking over my writing it occurred to me that neither real people nor characters think in exactly the same manner; the voice of one protagonist's thoughts will likely not be the same as the voice of another protagonist's thoughts.  (I do keep coming back to voice, don't I?)

For instance, at the time when this realization popped up, I was comparing the two narrators of The White Sail's Shaking - Tip Brighton and Marta Rais.  They are very different characters and neither talk nor think in the same manner.  Tip talks to himself, aloud and in his own head, so that in many of his thoughts he refers to himself in the second person.  Marta, on the other hand, is much more normal: she thinks of herself as an "I."  This actually makes her more difficult to write.  In the scenes where Tip is alone, there can be that invisible "second character" - his own projection of himself - to allow for some dialogue; with Marta, I have discovered that I can't use the same technique.  Instead, I'll probably have to go back through her scenes and give her something physical to talk to, like Scipio.

Another interesting thing to consider is how one character's way of thinking can develop through a story.  Even more words seem to be written about "character arc" than are written about "internal dialogue," but it seems to me that when as a protagonist matures, he or she has to mature in the fundamental area of thought as well as in action.  Although the character himself does not essentially change from page one to the end (just as we don't essentially change from childhood to adulthood), every aspect of his life is altered to one degree or another.  The very manner in which he looks at the world will be different, maybe vastly, maybe only a little.

What comes first to mind could either be an example or a counter-example, depending on how you look at it.  Whichever it is, it comes in the form of Margaret Mitchell's much-reviled character Scarlett O'Hara.  Throughout the story there is a recurring theme in Scarlett's thoughts: "I'll think about (whatever) tomorrow."  It comes up repeatedly and reflects Scarlett's unwillingness to stop and consider her own actions, to consider the world around her in an at least semi-objective manner.  This theme carries through all the way to the end and to the climactic scene, where Rhett has left her and Scarlett is sitting alone in her house, thinking about what she can possibly do next.  And then she recalls Tara.  Tara, which she loves above everything else, which is more important to her than anyone or anything in the world.  She'll go back to Tara.  And with that of course comes the famous last line: "After all, tomorrow is another day."

This ending drives home the fact that Scarlett has not changed - and yet, at the same time, it shows that she has changed.  Only a little, I'll grant you, but in the phrasing of that last quote there is a subtle development.  Previously her line was, "I'll think about it tomorrow."  At the end it becomes, "Tomorrow is another day."  And there is a difference in that, because in a way she is facing rather than hiding from the future.  Even a character like Scarlett does have something of an arc.

So internal dialogue, gross as the phrase may be, is really a fascinating and useful little thing.  It doesn't usually play a massive part in a story, but the part it does play is important and just plain interesting to consider.  How do your characters think?  Looking back over the course of a story, have you ever been surprised to see developments that you never planned?  I certainly have - and I think it may be one of the most rewarding aspects of writing.

May 4, 2012

Beautiful People - Jamie Fairbairn

Confusingly enough, this is actually last month's Beautiful People post.  It arrived a trifle late and I arrived even later, because I had a difficult time deciding which character to do.  Tip and Charlie are interview'd out and Marta had her own extensive Beautiful People post several months ago.  I toyed with the idea of doing Jo Darkwood, but April's set of questions seemed better suited to a female character.  And so, without further ado, I'll introduce you to one of the primary characters in my completed fantasy Wordcrafter...

jamie fairbairn [the vixen]  

1. What is her favourite type of shoe? 

Stilettos, to be sure!  The thinner and taller the heel, the better.  Jamie loves fashion and loves to be fashionable, no matter what pain she has to go through.  She particularly likes flashy colors, and although she'll wear black, she prefers setting off a simple get-up with something wildly eye-catching; lime green is a favorite.  She also has a pair of black highheeled boots (fur round the tops) and has been caught wearing Uggs. 

2. Does she journal? 

Goodness, no; it would take too much perseverance.  She will occasionally pull out a notebook to jot down an absurd poem - her way of laughing at people without doing it aloud.

3. What is her favourite animal? 

Jamie has an arthritic English sheepdog of which she is passing fond, but, as with most things in her life, he is little more than an afterthought.  She has an affinity for foxes, so her title of "Vixen" is apt.

4. What does her average day look like? 

There are few real responsibilities in Jamie's life and she can afford to be careless with her time.  She will get up at about eight, nine on a Saturday, and start off the day with coffee (cream, no sugar) and one piece of toast (orange marmalade - take it away from her at your peril).  Then she'll get a bath or shower, emerging at 9:30 sharp.  She'll spend about fifteen minutes puzzling over what to wear, digging up clothes from her sisters' closets if she doesn't like any of her own wardrobe's options.  Another cup of coffee if it begins to look like That Sort of a day. 

Jamie usually spends the rest of the morning frittering about the house, redesigning a room here or a windowbox there, trawling through dusty heaps of books and pretending she's going to read them, arranging her father's golfclubs a few times.  If she's feeling industrious, she might even dust the living room or sit down to "play" the harp for ten minutes or so.  If she is in a perfect blaze of creativity, she'll grab a piece of paper and scrawl an essay or scribble a design for a dress, feeling very productive afterwards.

These bursts of energy make her hungry, so about 1:00 she'll grab some semblance of dinner and then take her sheepdog out for an amble in the park.  Shopping or socializing fill up her afternoon, and in the evening she composes herself to listen to her father's haranguing about work.  After this duty is over and done with, she can often be found sprawled on the couch watching a movie.

5. Night owl or morning person? (Optional: What time does she usually wake up? Go to bed?) 

Night owl by nature; she rarely goes to bed before 11:30.  The night feels more companionable to her.

6. Does she have a sweet tooth? 

If you give her anything flooded in chocolate, Jamie will love you for a whole day.  Which is a long time for her to remember.

7. What colours are in her bedroom? 

She changes the look of her room regularly, but it tends to be either white with pale pink accessories (Jamie loves pink but, due to her red hair, can't wear it herself), or an apple-green.  She keeps the furniture fairly neutral and then decks it out in colors and prints that make a statement, regardless of what the statement happens to be.  The design is always as overwhelming as her personality.

8. Can she cook? 

I think she would burn water if made to boil it.

9. What is her favourite household chore? 

Jamie is the favorite child and so manages to sidestep any chores she would rather not be doing.  Sometimes she like to tie up her hair and throw herself into scrubbing the house...until, an hour or so later, she finds herself worn out and vaguely irritated and so gives the business up entirely.  Her eldest sister then follows behind and cleans up the mess.

10. Favourite kind of tea? 

She is not much of a tea connoisseur, being more a coffee drinker herself.  She'll drink anything black if it has been steeped for a good six or seven minutes, but herbal or green offend her sensibilities.

May 1, 2012

Going on for Years

Back in January (which seems ages ago) I wrote a post on romance - its prevalence in modern fiction, and how it can be, but does not necessarily have to be, incorporated into a story.  It was necessarily a cursory post and I didn't go down all the rabbit trails I would have liked to explore.  But among the comments, this one by Rachel captured a theme I had wanted but had not had time to look at.  Hitting the proverbial nail on its proverbial head, as usual, she wrote:

...Love is a different matter. Love has so many faces one can never get tired of it--simply peep in 1 Cor. 13 and you'll have enough to go on for years! I do like stories with a bit of that kind of romance in it...come to think of it, aren't all stories built off of relationships?

Aren't they?  The question is rhetorical and the answer seems obvious, and yet as I read Rachel's comment I wondered if many authors have not failed to realize it. Amid the overabundance of romance novels - some of which come out and say right up that they're romances, others of which masquerade as historical fiction, suspense, contemporary, you name it - it seems that there are fewer and fewer books looking at other kinds or avenues of love.  Relationships with parents, siblings, friends, and, oftentimes, God Himself are all trundled into the backseat so that the lovers can sit up front.  And I don't know about you, but it seems to me that this is a patently false interpretation of life.

Naturally, at this point I am forced to offer a caveat.  After all, the Bible does say that "for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife"; the one spouse does hold a place of supremacy in the life of the other.  And, too, marriage and the marriage relationship is a picture of that great Love that God bears for His people.  But so are other "forms" of love - else why would we be told that He is our heavenly Father, Christ our Brother, the Church made up of our kindred?  Christ is indeed the Bridegroom, the Church the Bride; but He is also that Friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Analogies, if they can be called analogies (for we can hardly say that God is the one imitating us), between our relationships day to day and God's powerful relationship with His own people abound.  We love, as John states, because He first loved us.  And we love many different people in many different ways.  Romance is not the only form that provides something of a mirror of God's love, but its glorification in Christian fiction seems to say that many authors think it is.  I have many reviews or descriptions of novels that at some point state that the romance "is an allegory of God's pursuit of man."  This is all well and good, but in making such a parallel too distinct, do we not run the risk of obscuring other equally-valid parallels?  And not only do we run the risk, but the damage may already be done.

I've been toying with these thoughts for some time now - at least over the course of writing White Sail's, but also, I believe, while I was working on Wordcrafter.  I hope and trust that each story I write is a little more complex, mines a few more gems, brings up a little more truth than the preceding book.  The Soldier's Cross was a fairly straight-forward tale of a girl coming to grips with God, sin, and salvation.  Wordcrafter is a story of friendship, a novel (unconsciously) built around the narrative of David and Jonathan and that snatch of a quote from Jesus that so characterized His sacrifice: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."  The White Sail's Shaking goes, I hope, a little beyond even that.  It does have romance - heavens, don't think I'm denigrating romance!  It has friendship, and loyalty, and plain, unadorned respect.  Really, in the year and a half I have spent thus far in writing White Sail's, I think this captures, if not the whole story, one major theme:

"A good man can love in many different areas...and love well."

- the white sail's shaking, tip brighton

And it is in my mind that this should be our goal, not only or even primarily in our writing, but in our lives as well.

meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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