The New Rock And Roll

After the World Wars two things happened in Britain that fundamentally changed the character of its society. The first was the loss of automatic respect for the upper classes. On the battlefield lions were led by donkeys, and many a working stiff resented the loss of life caused by idiot officers there because of a title or land. The second was the affluence of the young. Teenagers and twenty-somethings threw off the constraints of rationing and spent their money on what pleased them: films, clothes and rock and roll.

Singers and bands hardly older than their fans sprung up, and what hot-blooded youth didn’t envy the mobs of screaming girls that accompanied them in all the news items? So those with any musical talent rushed out and bought a guitar and Bert Weedon’s book, and those with no talent or voice bought a drum kit. All over the country youth clubs echoed with, “Say, let’s do the show right here!” Forming a band was easy, it was cheap, and above all, it was cool.

In my youth I could empty a room in seconds with my harmonica and I sing, not so much in key as in a bunch of keys. I have less than zero musical talent, and I’m far too old now to start a rock and roll career.

Fast forward to now. There’s been another technical revolution far more pervasive than electric guitars and amps. It’s difficult for the current generation to imagine what life was like with no IT and above all no Interweb. The tools have advanced exponentially, as has the infrastructure and the business. Now anyone can share his or her insights with the world (sometimes far too easily). Eight-year-olds have blogs, the twittersphere has millions of thoughts a minute and social media is now a term everyone understands (even if they don’t understand the media itself).

Writing, whether blog posts, reviews, jokes or the next great novel, is the new rock and roll. We can do it on our phones, on the train, locked up in a dark garret or sat in the café of our choice. Any number of applications can format it just the way we want. Websites litter the Internet with forums, peer reviews and advice for the wannabe writer. We don’t even need a publisher anymore, just upload it to Kindle, Createspace, Lulu, Nook and hey presto, you’re the next J.K. Rowling.

I am amazed at how many friends and colleagues are writing or have written a novel, and how many of them consume books like candy. Far from the predicted death of reading, new technology has made access to literature far easier and far cheaper. There’s a book inside everyone, it’s true, and now we can release that book on a hungry public.

Of course, the public may not be hungry for our particular book. How many school bands were excruciating to listen to? How many made it as far as a pub gig, never mind the mainstream? With the massive explosion of choice, the author has less chance of being noticed and has to shout louder to compete. I once asked Neil Gaimen (I know, name dropper) about whether he got asked to review books by new authors. He said he used to, when he had the time, and always tried to say at least one thing nice about them, even if it was, the spelling was good. Grab a 99p special on a Kindle from someone who has only two reviews, both from family members. They don’t even have to be spelled correctly to be available now. The ease of publishing means the good author has to work even harder now, especially if he is also the editor and proof-reader. And the number of self-published authors that make it to the big time is miniscule.

That doesn’t stop me dreaming, though. I stand here in front of my bedroom mirror, laptop in hand and strike a pose. Never mind that I’m not in Wembley or Madison Gardens. Writing is the new rock and roll.

Hello World! (rapturous applause)

Say Hello to Bob Simms, and His Little Demon, Too!

snodlander:

That generous writer of impeccable taste, Dana Sieders, an author herself http://www.amazon.com/Red-Shoes-For-Lab-Blues-ebook/dp/B00JKR9866/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400757781&sr=8-1&keywords=d.b.+Sieders ) has blogged her review of The Young Demon Keeper

Originally posted on Author Blog for D.B. Sieders:

I’m am delighted to welcome Bob Simms to my blog today so he can share his charm, wit, and wicked sense of humor, along with the insider scoop on his devilishly clever urban fantasy, The Young Demon Keeper. I was lucky enough to find this gem of a story (and writer) during the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition and I’m so glad I did! With a fast-paced plot and unforgettable characters, this clever story left me wanting more.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 8.55.50 AMThe Young Demon Keeper is a darkly humorous fantasy novel set in modern-day London.

When Paul summoned a slave demon to do his every bidding, he thought it would be really cool. Instead, he got Scarth, a hybrid that was as magical as a damp sponge but not as intelligent. His only talents seem to be invisibility and to eat: toasters, gravel, furniture, but especially ice-cream. Oh, and people.

Featuring demons…

View original 1,729 more words

Telesales Defense

The defending counsel rose to his feet.

“Miss Andrews, thank you for your testimony. I just have one or two questions for you. Your job title is …,” he looked at the notes in front of him, “… Prospect Identifier. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” said Miss Andrews, nodding.

“Could you tell the court exactly what that entails?”

“I telephone prospective customers, inform them of our product line and qualify them for Sales.”

“And how do you know they are prospective customers?”

“I’m sorry?” she asked, confused.

“You called them ‘prospective customers’. What have they done in order to earn them that sobriquet? How,” he asked, faced with her blank look, “do you know that they are ‘prospective customers’?”

“Oh!” she said, comprehension dawning. “We have a script, questions we ask them, and if they are interested they are routed through to second-line sales.”

“So they become prospective customers after you have phoned them?”

“Yes, I suppose.”

“How do you choose who to telephone? Have they already contacted you?”

“Oh no,” she replied, surer of her ground here. “We cold call. We buy a list of names and telephone numbers and work our way down the list.”

“And how many people do you call in a normal day?”

“We have a list of 500 per day that we are targeted with calling, but normally we only get to speak with about 100, because people are out or the phone number doesn’t work or something.”

“And how many people do you refer to your sales department in one day?”

She shrugged. “Maybe half a dozen.”

The solicitor looked again at his notes. “So when my learned colleague asked you if you made the call in the ‘expectation’ of a sale, the chances were 100 to one that you would make a sale, and even after he answered the chances were still about one in twenty?”

She looked nonplussed. “I guess.”

“Then ‘expectation’ is a little strong, don’t you think? Wouldn’t ‘hope’ be a better term?”

She looked at the magistrates’ bench, then back to the counsel. “I suppose so.”

The defence counsel nodded, as though finally understanding something.

“Now, Miss Andrews, I want to ask you some questions about the transcript of this conversation, which your employer so fortuitously recorded.” He picked up a sheaf of papers. “You exchange pleasantries, you identify yourself and your company, and inform my client that this conversation is being recorded for training purposes.

“Then my client says, I quote, ‘Damn, but you have a sexy voice. Are you as gorgeous as you sound?’ Is that correct?”

Miss Andrews looked stern, “Yes.”

“Did you find this obscene, Miss Andrews?”

“Not exactly.”

“Were you offended?”

“Not at this point.”

“In fact, the transcript at this point records that you laughed and called him…” he checked the paper, “… ‘a cheeky little monkey’. Is that correct?”

She looked uncomfortable. “Yes, but I didn’t realise he was a perv at that point.”

He smiled at her. “Please restrict your comments to answers to my questions, Miss Andrews. At this point, did you give my client any indication that you were uncomfortable with the conversation?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“No, indeed. In fact you proceeded to ask him questions about double glazing. Was this according to the script you mentioned?”

“Yes.”

“And in reply to your question asking which of the range of products your company manufactures my client was interested in, his reply was what?”

“He asked me what I was wearing,” she replied, shifting awkwardly in the witness box.

“Did you think this was appropriate?”

“No!” she said, emphatically shaking her head.

“Were you offended?”

“Too right.”

“Too right indeed, Miss Andrews. In fact you told him to mind his own business?”

“Yes. He had no right to ask me that.”

“Yet you repeated your question about what he was interested in. Why did you not hang up at this point?”

“I can’t hang up at that point in the script.”

“I see.” He perused the transcript again. “He appeared to be interested in windows… how many… colour… Ah here it is. In reply to ‘Do you have replacement doors?’, he answered, ‘Wait one. I’m going hands-free.’ What did you think he meant by that?”

Prosecuting counsel rose to his feet. “Objection, Your Worships. It calls for conjecture.”

“My client is accused of making an obscene phone call, Your Worships”, he answered. “I am trying to establish what Miss Andrews considered to be obscene.”

“Proceed, Mr Smith, but please take into account Miss Andrews’ sensibilities.”

“Thank you, Your Worships. Now Miss, Andrews. What did you think he meant by ‘going hands-free’?”

She looked uncomfortable. “I thought he meant he was going on speaker-phone, so he could… you-know…”

“And you found this offensive?”

“Too bloody right I did. He’s got no right to perv me like that.”

“And yet you proceeded to talk to him about replacement doors?”

“Yes. It was in the script.”

“And when he said, I quote, ‘Yeah baby, tell me about those deadlocks. I love deadlock talk.’, what was your reaction?”

“I was disgusted,” she said, shooting the defendant a dirty look. “He was making me feel cheap.”

“But according to the transcript, Miss Andrews, it was you that brought up the subject of deadlocks, not my client.”

“Yes, but he was getting all… excited.”

“Indeed. And customers have no right to be excited about your products.”

“Not like that. Not all pervy.”

“And then you terminated the conversation with…” he checked the transcript, and raised his eyebrows in apparent surprise. “… with an admonition to perform a sexual act that I am fairly certain is anatomically impossible.”

Miss Andrews blushed.

Counsel turned to the magistrates’ bench.

“Your Worships, my client is charged with making an obscene phone call pursuant to Section 43 of the Telecommunications Act 1984. I ask that the charge be dismissed forthwith for the following two reasons.

“Firstly, according to the transcript offered in evidence by the prosecution, the only obscenities uttered were by Miss Andrews.

“And secondly, by Miss Andrews own admission, she made the unsolicited call to my client. As far as I can ascertain, there is no legislation outlawing the receiving of an obscene phone call.”

What Are You Wearing?

A few years ago someone asked me during a Business Intelligence course, “Yes, but does anyone actually use data mining?” Today the answer has to be an emphatic yes. It scares me sometimes just how accurately Facebook targets me with its ads, apart from the occasional hiccup. (Why on Earth did it think I would be interested in a chicken sexing course? What sort of person other than a farmer would say yes to that?) Tesco knew I had a couple of vegetarians in my family by tracking my shopping habits. Amazon is always willing to give me a hint as to what I want for my birthday. And when institutions start buying and selling data, it becomes even more attractive.

Suppose you had a new product you wanted to sell to your existing customers. You predict ten percent of your customers will buy it, but you have ten thousand customers. That’s an awful lot of time and money, and ninety percent of it you know will be wasted. You could try phoning a random ten percent, but then you’re only going to hit ten percent of your potential sales. But if you have a few years of data, and if that data is comprehensive enough, you could increase your chances. How many ninety-year-olds are going to buy a motorbike? How many fishermen are going to donate to PETA?

This is the heart of data mining. With a product like SQL Server Analysis Services you can launch algorithms into your data to hunt down patterns that are not obvious. Does a combination of your post code, the average rainfall, your age and whether you buy hair gel affect which country you are most likely to holiday in? And if so, what weight does each factor have?

Ideally, we would want data mining to identify exactly which ten percent of your base is going to buy your new product, but data mining will never be that accurate. What it can do, though, is increase the odds. It may be much better to target thirty percent of your base and get an eighty percent hit rate, than have to trawl through all of them for a ten percent hit. And it’s not just sales. Power companies predict power consumption based on weather, sport and what’s on TV (especially the ad breaks, when we all rush for the electric kettle). Police forces are beginning to use it to target patrols. Banks use clustering algorithms to identify the location of fraudsters.

Because without data mining it’s just numbers, huge arrays of numbers we can’t hope to master. It doesn’t replace the gut feel of a twenty-year veteran, but it does add credence to it. It’s a tool that can aid business, and turns a database from just a convenient way to file data into a useful source of meaningful information.

So why am I having these thoughts? Today someone phoned me on my mobile. This was a surprise, as most people don’t realise I have one, let alone know the number – I don’t even know the number. Because I train in the classroom so much, it is rarely switched on, and then mainly for outgoing calls. “You will be delighted, Mr. Simms, that we have looked at your credit details and we can help you claim up to five thousand pounds for the mis-sold PPI on your credit card,” said a pleasant-sounding man.

Here was a company that clearly had done no Business Intelligence targeting at all. Otherwise they would know I wasn’t mis-sold PPI, that I listen to current affairs programs that, for example, advise against using third parties to claim your PPI back, and that I never, ever buy products from cold-call phone calls. They compounded their error by preceding to ask me a series of questions. Did I have a mortgage? How long had I had my credit card? Was I married?

So, when they said they’d looked at my credit details, they hadn’t looked that closely. I’d had enough.

“You’ve asked me a lot of personal questions. Can I ask you one?”

“Of course.”

“What are you wearing?”

“… Excuse me?”

“Only, if you’re going to ask me such personal questions on our first meeting, I think we should go all the way. Wait one, I’m going hands free.”

Click.

“Hello?

“Hello?”

Sorry

I’m English.  Sorry.

We’re a self-effacing lot.  Americans are amused and amazed that if someone stands on an Englishman’s foot, it’s the Englishman that apologises.  I’m sure this applies to the rest of the UK too, but I know it applies England.  If you ask an American how he feels, he will tell you he is great.  An Englishman will tell you, “I can’t complain.”  If he has just won the lottery and married a super-model, the best you get from him is, “Not bad.”  It’s almost as if we are embarrassed by success and ashamed of our accomplishments.

The first accelerated course I ran, of the eight candidates that sat the course, seven passed the MCTS exam at the end.  It was all their first Microsoft exam, and I had forgotten just how brilliant that feels to pass.  I thought I would have to get the butterfly net to bring a couple of them off the ceiling.

My first exam was for Windows NT 3.51 Workstation back in 1996.  No, really, I’m that old.  I walked on air from the exam centre.  Later, when I became a trainer, it was vital for me to keep up to date in the technologies I trained in.  After a while one becomes a little blasé.  Yes, it’s a relief when you pass, but the joi de vivre becomes dulled.

I totted up my exams the other day.  It comes to about forty.  I hold all three MCITP exams in SQL 2008 (admin, dev and BI).  I’m prepping SQL 2012 now, ready for when those exams come out.  It’s hard to boast about them, not just because I’m the shy, retiring type, but because it’s no real boast.  There are many fellow QA trainers that can boast as many or more exams than me.

So why the narcissistic numbering of my accomplishments?  Microsoft are running a competition for SQL experts, a week-long Big Brother-ish trial in front of cameras.  I thought I’d best apply, as QA employ the best trainers in the UK.

No, they do.

Sorry.

See my entry here

Journey to the Mothership – Monday

D-day.  The twenty-seventh of February dawned like any other Monday, in a cacophony of shrill electronic warble, muttered enquiries from my wife and slightly louder curses from me.  Six a.m. should really be relegated to a couple of hours later.  But today was the day, when I ventured as far as I ever had: Seattle.

Well, not Seattle per se.  Seattle-ish.  Bellevue to be precise, but before then, I had trains to catch, the Tube to endure and planes to ride.  But before even then, I had to drive into Maidstone, some six miles from my home.  Why?  I shall tell you.

Microsoft have an honour they bestow: Most Valued Professional.  (Be patient, I’m getting there)  I am but a lowly foot soldier, not worthy of such a distinction, but I have friends who are.  I was off to Seattle to be trained in SQL Server 2012, but that’s an exciting topic for another time.  However, at the same time I was to be there, the MVPs were having their annual bash.  On Thursday they have this huge party, because they are most valued.  In comparison, I had been offered a slice of pizza on the Wednesday.  So my friend, Paul, an MVP and Internet sparring partner, would be in Bellevue at the same time as me.  He was allowed to bring a partner to the party, and for the purpose of gaining entry, I was to be Mrs Paul for the evening.

I’ve never actually met Paul.  We are E-friends.  It’s like pen-pals, only more immediate.  However, I do know what he looks like.  In fact, he looks a little like a Canadian me.  I was excited to meet him, and touched that he should invite me to his party.  So what to do to repay him?  I could immortalise him in words, turn him into a latter-day hero, a giant among men, but in that I have a handicap.  He knows and admires me for my acid sarcasm.  Mere words would not do.  So I turned my hand to another talent.  I drew his portrait, a masterpiece in charcoal.  But on Sunday, hunt as I might, I could not find any fixer spray, and without a fixative it would smudge and smear, a strange reversal of Dorian Grey’s portrait.

Paul

Paul's portrait

So you see, I had to race into Maidstone as the sparrows coughed the dawn in.  It was the only place I knew that sold the fixer spray.  I was there, poised, as the doors opened.  By nine-thirty I was back home and the portrait had been fixed to within an inch of its life.  I sat amongst my bags and smiled at my wife, while the clock ticked the seconds away.

“Are you nervous?” she asked, and I had to admit, I was.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps there were so many things that could go wrong on my journey.  Perhaps it was the prospect of sojourning in a strange land, for make no mistake, England and America are as foreign as any two countries; it’s only the language that shares a passing resemblance.  Or maybe it was the reheated pizza the night before.  Whatever the reason, I was glad when she suggested we drive down to the station early, to collect the train tickets that would start my odyssey.

I stood on the platform of Chatham station twenty minutes before the train was due.  I was cold, and my throat dry.  I stepped into the cafe, Brief Encounter dancing behind my eyes, and ordered a hot chocolate.

“Can I press you to a bacon roll?” asked the assistant.

“No, but I’ll have a ‘Ravishing Raspberry Muffin”, I said, reading the board behind her.  This passes for flirting in Chatham on Monday mornings.

“Going anywhere nice?” she asked.

“Seattle.”

“Ooh, that is nice,” she said, eyebrows raised.  I nodded in agreement.  She was obviously a SQL Server fan.

The High Speed Link whisked me to St. Pancras, and then I caught the Tube.  It’s called the Tube because you are treated like toothpaste.  I loathe the Tube with a passion, but the walk across London would have taken me at least two hours.  The Heathrow Express was experiencing industrial action by the train drivers, but if that was what a one-day strike did, they should have it every day.  The express shot me to the airport terminal in record time, in a near-empty carriage with free wi-fi.  Nirvana.

My first rule of trouble-free flying: cabin bags.  Coupled with Internet check-in it allows lightning administration. BA allow a small bag and a laptop.  Combine that with a bulky coat and a liberal interpretation of smart-casual, and I could survive for a week with carry-on.  At Heathrow I was tagged, scanned, frisked and X-Rayed, then ejected into the departure lounge with hardly a pause.  I kicked my heels for an hour, and then the gate was called.  En masse we trudged to the lift, dropped two floors, queued for ten minutes for the transit train, travelled all of a hundred yards before spewing out onto the concourse, up two escalators, and finally collapsed at the gate.  After an eternity we were called to board and we gave up any pretence of civilisation and scrummed at the desk.

I had worked a deal with my company.  BA charged £265 To fly to Seattle on Monday.  They charged £1450 to return on Friday, after my course.  But on Sunday they charged £265.  So if I agreed to give up my weekend, I could travel economy plus (extra room, better food, wider choice if films), stay an extra two nights at the hotel and still save my company money.  I am such a hero.

I settled back in my seat and we took off on schedule.  I kicked off my boots, checked with the person behind me if it was okay to recline my seat, tuned the personal entertainment system to Radio Four (the best radio station in the world), and closed my eyes.

At some point I felt a sharp impact on my legs.  I opened my eyes again, while Jack Dee tried to keep order over the I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue team on the radio.  My entertainment system, built into the back of the seat in front, lay in my lap, still functioning, but detached.

“It wasn’t my fault,” I told the cabin crew person, as she stood over me, hands on hips.  “It just sort of broke.  And look.”  I showed her the cable that hang from the back, still able to convey the signal to my earphones.  It kinked, and in the crook of the plastic bare metal winked back.

“I’ll deal with it immediately,” she said, backing away.  “But in the mean time, don’t electrocute yourself.”  I must admit, until she put the idea in my mind, it have never occurred to me.

Moments later she returned, the first aid box in her hand.  Not the most reassuring sight, I must admit.  She removed a sticking plaster and wrapped it around the bare wires.

“There,” she said.  “Nothing else I can do.  Are you okay with that?”  She looked at the display in my lap.  “You can pretend it’s an iPad.  Do you want a Mars bar?”  She offered me a box of chocolates.

“A Mars bar?  When the TV has fallen in my lap?  I expected at least an upgrade to Club.”

“We’ve got Twix instead,” she countered.  I looked at the chocolate, and after a moment’s thought, took the Twix.  Don’t judge me.  Chocolate is chocolate.

We landed, about four p.m. local time, or midnight in old money.

“Please remain in your seats until the plane has come to a complete stop and the captain has switched off the seatbelt sign,” said a member of the cabin crew, which was the cue for half the passengers to stand and open the overhead lockers.

We passed through corridors, tunnels and slopes to queue at immigration.  There were two queues for non-nationals, and four immigration officials.  We snaked through a Disneyesque system, shuffling along one body at a time as each traveller was fingerprinted, photographed, questioned and otherwise welcomed.  Then one of the officials that had been processing our line started waving on passengers from the other line, so our rate of progress suddenly halved.  It was about four p.m. local time, and America wasn’t going anywhere.  I shuffled along, pulling faces at the little girl behind me.  A passenger on the final leg of the zigzag waved at the immigration officer.

“Excuse me, but I think you’re meant to be dealing with this queue,” he said, in an embarrassingly English accent.

“Actually, I can deal with any line I want,” the officer replied.  “But thank you for letting me know you’re in charge.”  He waved on the next person from the neighbouring queue.

Good job, I thought, because there’s nothing that will make our queue go faster than to tell the public official who can do something about it how to do his job.

I was eventually processed, then trudged through a variety of corridors, escalators and shuttle trains to the airport concourse, passing the amateurs who had hold baggage to reclaim.  I had planned ahead, courtesy of the magic Interweb.  A cab to my hotel would cost about $45, but an express bus ran within minutes of my hotel.  Clever me.  I walked out into the last of the afternoon sunshine and walked in the direction of the bus arrow.  And walked, past the setting down and picking up points, past the taxis, past even the airport building itself.  Had I missed the bus stop?  What did an American bus stop look like anyway?  Eventually I found it, tucked away under an overpass.  Less than fifteen minutes to wait.  Good job me.

I climbed aboard the 560 express to Bellevue.  An Englishman and a couple of Germans also boarded, chatting to themselves in techno babble.  One slid a twenty dollar bill into the slot, much to the driver’s amusement.

“Are you MVPs here for the summit?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied the Englishman.  I kowtowed in reverence.  “Are you?”

“No,” I replied.  “I am a mere certified trainer.”

“Hey, that’s cool.  You have to pass more qualifications than us, right?”

Right.  Though we don’t get huge parties thrown for us.  Thanks for that.

I tried to keep track of where we were on the map I had downloaded onto my phone.  I’m sure calling all the streets names like 102 East Street makes for simpler navigation, but I found it confusing.  Eventually the driver called out my stop.  I and two other nerds tumbled out into the evening.  They turned north, towing bags like reluctant dogs.  I turned south.  I was sure my hotel was south half a block, then east one block.  See how easily I assimilate the local culture?  I can even navigate like a native.

The Residence Inn was exactly where I thought it to be (shame on you for assuming I would get lost).  I checked in.  The receptionist informed me I had two bookings for parallel times.  I assured her I was unique.  My company had failed to provide card details, so I registered mine, hoping the company would supply their details when they read my email in the morning.  She gave me my key card and told me there was a complimentary barbecue with beer and wine until seven-thirty.  It was now just after six, and the temperature five degrees C and dropping.  A barbecue?  Really?  The lounge areas were already full of nerds, and even a generous sprinkling of nerdettes.  This was obviously a preferred hotel by Microsoft.  They even had a Microsoft recreation area, with free X-Boxes.

I dumped my kit in my suite and descended to the lounge again, laptop under my arm.  I chose an armchair and fired up my email.  The irresistible lure of Facebook called to me.

“Do you want a beer?” called a woman behind a counter.

“I’d best cope with my email sober first,” I replied.  Beyond her lay the barbecue, which was thankfully just dogs and burgers, served inside.

The temptation proved too much, and after a decent period I succumbed to the temptation of food and drink as I browsed the Interweb.  I tried to identify fellow SQL nerds, but failed.  At seven-thirty the free bar closed.  The server came up to me, glass of wine in her hand, and placed it beside the two empty glasses on my table.

“You want this?” she said.

“Are you trying to get me drunk?” I asked in my most playful tone.

“No.  Otherwise I have to throw it away.”

My charms, like my hair, were of another day.  I took the wine.

The best way to deal with jet lag is to immediately adopt the local patterns.  It was eight p.m. local time, or four a.m. back home.  I had been awake twenty-two hours, I was just on the pleasant side of tipsy and the weight of the world rested on my eyelids.  I returned to my suite, set my phone and the bedside alarm clock both to wake me at seven a.m..  I was bushed, and I didn’t want to sleep through the alarm.  I hit the pillow and lost consciousness before I stopped bouncing.

ABNA second round

Unawares has made it through the pitch stage of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Doing the happy dance.

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