Author Archives: kilteDave

About kilteDave

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Low Oxygen Environments and You

Here I am, again, and here you are, again. Welcome, welcome. I write to you, today, from the past. The not-to-distant past, but the past, nonetheless. From yesterday, as a matter of fact. And from somewhere above thirty thousand feet. (In the air, from the past, and on my hand brain? It’s practically a modern technological miracle!) Dave, dear readers, is getting a break. Mrs. Dave is taking some time off so I can go play, san pint-sized tyrants. I’m not hyperventilating, it’s just that the air up here is thinner than I’m used to, living at sea-level, more or less. It’s all right: soon I’ll have something slightly soporific at hand. It doesn’t matter that we went wheels up not long after noon. I’m time traveling, and that puts the usual rules in abeyance. And I’m not driving this thing.

I’m — honestly finding myself at a bit of a loss, up here, so high above the earth. I’m uncertain what to discuss with you all. My time this weekend is spoken for (hence the time-capsule-esque creationing), but without the pressure of a deadline, my mind isn’t ticking quite as quickly as I’d like (though that could be the reduced oxygen atmosphere in this tin can). In point of fact, all my usual fonts of inspiration are far, far below me, and I’m unwilling to cough up the exorbitant fee to access the wonders of the information superhighway from this far into the atmosphere. It’s practically Dave Unplugged, today. Untethered, wild, free! (Help me)

I’m doing a thing that (ahh, my beverage has arrived. The sheer genius behind putting ethanol in a caffeinated decoction is almost as blinding as the Sun with nearly seven fewer miles of atmosphere between us than usual) is significantly out of my ordinary. For the past almost three years, I’ve been The Guy for first Wee Dave, and somewhat later for Wee-er Than Wee Dave Dave, as well. On a daily basis. And for the next two weeks, I’ll just be Dave. Daddy is taking a back seat. I dunno. I feel weird. After a gathering of a chunk of my generation of Clan Dave (said weekend plans) I’ll be couch surfing at Chez Beautiful-but-Evil and just writing. A thing which has not happened in years. I’m somewhat trepidatious, to be honest. I’m concerned that I’m so far out of my routine that my creative gears are just going to grind. We shall see.

But what about routines? I’ve talked about them before. Mostly about how it’s good to form them around your writing, and about how much I wish I could make that happen in my own life (some experiments still in progress. You’ll find out results when I publish), but what about the breaking of routine? When should you step outside of your ordinary and do something different? Well, let me ask you this: how do you know when your routine has become a rut? No, I’m really asking. I chafe at the necessities of my daily activities. I generally want to be doing differently (with the added assumption that said differently would also be better, natch). I want more time available for the things I want to do. My children demand otherwise, usually, and so I grit and bear it, and keep feeding and changing them, etc. I’m looking forward to gradually realizing I’ve developed a routine in which I produce fiction more than I lament my general lackafiction situation. I’m given to understand parents stop being tired after a decade or so.

As something of an aside, I’ve been finding the semi-conscious state engendered by a teething infant useful for solving the conundra my characters create. Add a dash of sleep deprivation, and a decided lack of caffeination, and I may have resolved some long-standing blocks. We shall see. I’ll let you know next time.

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Now, With Added Children!

It’s not my fault. I have littles, and the littlest little (that’d be Wee-er Than Wee Dave Dave, for those keeping track at home) woke up. That wouldn’t sound like an issue, but it’s a delay of at least half of a clock rotation. If you dig on analogue. Which I do. And them there’s the fact that Senior Plague Rat brought something home from Sunday School (I think, coulda been the winter market at which Mrs. Dave hawks the jewelry she makes for fun. Regardless, Wee Dave brought the crud, the crud has been broughten, shared with Junior Plague Rat, and passed on to yours truly. So no Daves slept well last e’en.

Second Coffee come early, and be ‘lert to me.

I love my littles, despite their habit of preventing paying work. They’re adorable, which is a survival mechanism for the small and vexing. And that’s more pleasant than it could be. Also, they generally smell good, which I’m given to understand is some kind of spiffy evolutionary marker. BZ, evolution. Well played, that mechanism.

They’re also helpless, which is useful to you, the writer.

I’m reading through several of Dave Freer’s offerings (I highly recommend Changeling’s Island. Point of fact, I have recommended it, and I’ll be pushing it at pretty much anybody with any interest in reading, young or less young) and a recent scene had a pair of sometime allies worked together to prevent a rather hard-to-kill magical hybrid from re-kidnapping one’s toddler daughter. Two highly skilled swordsmen should have been more than equal to the creature. Would have been. If they hadn’t had a small child to worry about.

Kids are physical complications. They just get in the way. They’re always underfoot, and, especially at certain ages, innocently suicidal. Almost *anything* can hurt or kill an infant. Or a toddler. Really, humans are just fragile. It’s a good thing we heal well, though both of those are subjects for future posts. But the physically immature are worst off. Lousy mobility, terrible coordination, and they all use everything as a dump stat. No strength or dexterity, no constitution worth mentioning, and let us not even speak about their wisdom scores! Kids just get in the way of doing. The littlest one is doing her darnedest to prevent me finishing this post, for example.

They’re always under foot and demanding attention. “Watch this!” “I’m cooking the food you were in tears for not having two seconds ago, Child.” “Yeah, but stop that and watch what I’m doing now! And then play with me!” And Dave’s veins start to throb. Or playing with suburban expedient caltrops in the kitchen. That’s a favorite. A Duplo took a nickel-sized chunk out of a buddy’s foot not that long ago. And then there are the miniature wheeled conveyances.

And they have needs. Changing, feeding, playing. Lots and lots of cuddles. And where does all of that come from? Yes, I hear that voice in the back! It comes out of Dave’s writing time!

And this is just in the mundane setting of the contemporary home. In a less advanced milieu, you have the added adventure of medical danger. Any cough or cold can become a raging fever, which can easily kill in a pre-industrial society. Or in many industrial ones for that matter. A nice stressor to heap on your characters. Good for relational stability, that.

Or suppose your characters are fugitives. Maybe the authorities view them as kidnappers, whatever they or the reader believes. They have a vested interest in staying undiscovered. Well, and has anybody let the child know that? And would a toddler even care? What about a babe-in-arms? How do you convince the tired, cold, angry, hungry, and now damp and souled infant to stop squalling before so the magically equipped tracker doesn’t discover them? Asking for a friend.

On the upside, children can make excellent comic relief. Wee Dave makes some pronouncements that have Mrs. Dave and I rolling. I’m given to understand this is normal. So pit that in your story, too. Is the plot getting a little too thick, with the darkness that makes your reader wonder if the kid is going to make it? Toss in a kids-say-the-darnedest. Maybe a mouthing off to a minor villain moment.

And then there’s the demideus ex machina moments. Characters – and more importantly, author – wracking brains trying to come up with a solution to one problem or the other? Out of the mouths of babes… Seriously, have the kid toss off a line that shines a light in your hero’s foggy thoughts. Great fun, especially if you can then twist it into a plot-advancing failure.

Everything always costs more and takes longer, and such is especially the nature of reality when dealing with children. So complicate your story, and your characters’ lives, and make them responsible for a child. Best way I know of to force them to grow.

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So There I Was

Or, Where Do you Write When You Can’t Write?

I have an office. It’s a nice office. It has a nearly bar-height computer desk that used to be a kitchen table, upon which rests my favoritest desktop that I’ve had recently. I can stand there, foot on a 16kg kettlebell (it’s a good idea to move around and shift position periodically when you’re working at a stand) and type away to my heart’s content.

Or, more commonly, play the electronic slot-machines that are modern MMORPGs. Look, it helps me maintain a more or less passable façade of sanity, and I can quit again anytime I want to. Shut up.

As I was saying before I was interrupted, I can stand at my desk, surrounded by things to improve creative flow, fingers trying to make the sound of sizzling bacon on the keys of my sweet, sweet mechanical keyboard, and rock the writing process. It’s glorious.

When it happens.

See, I’ve got littles. An acute case, with no end in sight. What? That’s wonderful, I hear you say. Offspring are a blessing from Deity-of-choice (despite being an abomination unto Nuggan, but what isn’t anymore?), and a comfort as cruel eld saps the strength from one’s limbs, turns bright eyes dim and rheumy, and forces an entire suite of annoyance upon the unwilling.

I’ve got the littles, and I’ve got them bad. Wee-er Than Wee Dave Dave will be a whole year since nativity next week, and Wee Dave is not at all uncertain about letting Daddy know when he’s paying too much attention to junior partner. Wee Dave much mislikes Daddy’s explanation that while the Little Bit may be mobile (can ascend stairs by Bitself, Lord help me) younger sib still requires more assistance than Wee Dave does. Mostly, I just get hard stares and slightly betrayed expressions. *sigh*

So while I’ve got this great office (despite needing a very thorough going over) I don’t really spend much time in it. Especially since we’ve moved Wee-er Dave’s bed in there. For reasons of, “night-wean, you adorable but miserable little beast! Please?”

In point of fact, I’m writing this post, as I’ve written most things in recent weeks, on my not-as-smart-as-I-might-like phone (I’m still holding out for a cyberdeck, me), while ostensibly “playing” Lincoln Logs with Wee Dave. That is to say, the little tyrant directs me to construct edifices to his glory, and them smashes my puny offerings with his pudgy, godlike fist. Such is life.

Which brings me to my point. I’ve been grousing, at least in the relative quiet of the inside of my skull (only place I get any quiet, anymore) that I haven’t the time, energy, or opportunity to spend in anything resembling real writing. Well, I’m learning (slowly, but he can be taught!) that’s not precisely true.

Mostly, I’m adjusting what I think of as writing. I hate virtual keyboards with a passion. When it comes to crafting story, I think through my fingers, and if the haptic response is wonky, so is my process, and this makes for a grouchy Dave. For some time, I’ve wanted to get one of the laser projection keyboards from ThinkGeek or wherever sells them, but I’m nearly certain that whatever I’d gain in cool points, I’d lose in actual usefulness. Since writers are never cool, anyway, it would be a net loss.

So I’m sitting here, leaning against the corner of the couch, while Wee Dave inveigles me to knock off this bizarre tapping on your device, Daddy, and get me Second Breakfast. Naow! (My spawn are at least part feline on their Avo’s side.) and I’ve “written” (I’m concerned about repetitive use injury in my thumbs if this becomes a habit.)

The convenience factor, in this palmtop publishing is a bit of a thing. Seriously, I’m holding a powerful, little computer, the likes of which I can find in the pages of my favorite scifi. That’s not to be understated. And if I can use it to keep writing, so much the better. The downside is, well, mobile interfaces. This iThing is not ideal. I’m using Notes, which is simple and relatively intuitive. I’m fat-fingering like an ogre at high tea, though fortunately, the spell check isn’t terrible. I’m working at integrating the predictive text function into my writing for greater speed. And eventually, when I have the time (*sob*) I’d like to look into a better app for such things.

I’ve done fiction on the phone, and it’s a pain. Especially dialogue, with all the quotation marks and commas and punctuation that I have to flip virtual keyboards to even see.

Ultimately, it’s just different than how I like to work. I dislike running up learning curves. I do that often enough in parenting that I’d prefer to minimize it elsewhere. Stop laughing. The mobile notion certainly works for something like a blog post, however. I’ve heard of people putting togetherness entire nonfiction books on their phones. What about the rest of you? Have you tried writing on a personal mobile computing device (and camera, dictation tool (and don’t think I’m not debating that angle. It’s just the background noise of two littles (and the littlest is chatty!) that makes me wary) encyclopedia, NondiscriminatoryGameChild, map, GPS, and widget of undefined utility)? Does it help you write when you might not otherwise be able to? I’m thin I’m going to keep at this, and see how much of a tool-of-great-use I can forge it into. I’ll keep you all update, you beautiful, shiny writers, you

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Hurts So Good

I dislike holidays during this season of life. Fortunately, this isn’t about holidays. I’m not even sure how to write a writing post about holidays without half a dozen references to Life Day, or Crystal Dragon [deity of choice]. So I won’t.

Today, I want to discuss relationships. Relationships are central to any story of any worth (bring your exceptions. Kick ‘em around; have fun with that) and managing them well (which isn’t to say keeping them smooth, because drama is half of why people read) is vital to keeping a story interesting.

This came up with a text from a buddy, last night. Good writer, him, doing yeoman’s work on holidays. I have littles (which are my excuses for this tardiness), and a black dog with whom I must wrestle. Anyway, he wanted a little advice on the relationship between two of his characters.

The he is scarred from previous trauma, and reacts to a particular stimulus out of that. The she has a peculiar nature that limits her choices. Who makes the first move?

The answer, simply (hah!) is – as with most questions related to story – who is in the most pain? In my buddy’s story, the he could reasonably just step away, and experience only mild regret. While it would be unpleasant, it would be akin to familiar aches, rather than a raw, gaping emotional wound.

The she, on the other hand, is increasingly uncomfortable with the situation. As their relationship continues, she is becoming more aware of just how limited her options really are. Combine this with his inclination to not push anything (unprofessional, etc.), and it seems to me as though she’s far more likely to force his attention than the other way around.

The point though, is that people travel in the path of least resistance. Much like electricity. And like electricity, making a circuit through the heart is key to getting the most pain out of your characters. And more importantly, out of your readers.

While the pain inflicted by outside sources is important to move the story along, the pain characters inflict on themselves (and each other) is key to the ultimate resolution of relationships, at least to the reader’s satisfaction. Basically, the characters need to suffer before they can triumph. Which, while it has little apparently to do with the scenario my buddy is working out, is still going to be core to the story. Relationship have try-fail cycles, just like the greater plot.

So, gentle writer, whenever you reach a sticking point, be it in plot, or the relationships those wacky character inflict on themselves, see who you can most hurt. It’s cathartic, and you won’t face charges for helping fictional persons do to each other what they were going to do anyway.

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Shotgun Creation

 

The thing about writing, that thing (with just one weird trick, done to death, man is that horse beaten) that nobody (everybody) tells you is that it’s simultaneously the easiest thing to do, and the hardest. Putting words on paper is easy. Crafting a story is less so. Working the kinks and bugs out of a draft less so than that. And so forth, literally ad nauseum.

And while it’s not purely internal, which is to say, each writer doesn’t necessarily have to re-invent the wheel (there are numerous guides of greater or lesser notoriety, to include our humble offerings), that sure seems to be in large part the method employed. I’d love to be able to write like certain of my friends. And, to an extent, I could. I could force myself into a specific mold such that all the correct boxes were ticked at the proper times. I’d almost certainly end up with something that could charitably be called a novel (or literary vector of choice).

It would almost certainly kill my peculiar voice, though. Or at least mute it to the point where the story would be wooden and unpleasant to read, regardless of how polished and pretty.

Much of what I do as a writer seems geared toward (slowly) chipping away at the learned behaviors and detritus of years in order to reveal the clean, streamlined process by which I best produce (and mostly easily (though I can’t for a second believe that those are necessarily conjoined (apologies for the nested parentheses (apologies for the apologies…)))) *cough*

Now, as far as your process goes, you’re likely (I hope) farther along than I am. And if you aren’t (I hope you are. I’m a pretty low bar, as standards go), there are any number of techniques available, many of which I’ve even discussed in previous posts. Some at length. Some simple ones are the Pomodoro technique, deliberately crafting a physical space conducive to creation (I’ll spare you pics of my office. Children. And toys. So. Many. Toys.) as well as the never-popular Pulling the Internet Plug, followed by the (absolutely necessary) Butt-in-Chair Time. And read. Read, read, read.

Now, understanding how your own soul shapes the words that flow out of your imagination into some semblance of order on the page, I’m going to be less helpful. Sarah claims that no genre is safe from her, and I’m inclined to believe it. I find myself ranging all over the fantasy and scifi spectrum (barring hard SF. I don’t have the background, and right now the time/energy to gain it). I know writers who’ve made their nut in a specific subgenre, and others who’ve spent years shaping a specific world before turning to something else. Or not.

Essentially, what I’m getting at is experimentation. This applies not only to process, and genre and subgenre, but also to technique. Wednesday, Sarah wrote on making your characters real. I don’t know that I can speak to that, as the people I write are people, regardless of how much or little they’ve chosen to reveal to me (ungrateful cusses. *looks around* but beloved  cusses, with many excellent qualities). World are similar. I follow my characters around with an invisible camera, relating their shenanigans to the reader.

One significant trick I learned from Dean Wesley Smith is focusing on a specific writing technique for a story. Make sure you get the sensory information into every page. Whether it’s a mention of the odors you characters smell, or the vivid colors around them (or drab, if that’s the way you roll, you dystopianist, you), or the moan of the chill wind between the weathered slats of the abandoned homestead in which your people are sheltering for the night, give the reader anchors for their imagination. And then, let the reader know the character’s reactions. That low moan, that sends a prickle up the spine of your hero, that recalls the hunting cat that terrified him as a child.

As I stated above, these things aren’t *hard* per se. Deliberate practice will teach you what you need to learn, and build upon the skills you’ve acquired to date. The hard part is something likewise peculiar to you, the individual writer. It may be that you simply don’t have the time or energy because of your stage of life. *cough* But these things change (the only true constant in the universe) and so will your process. Now go forth, and blast away until you understand how you best work. Then blast some more.

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That Which Is Writing…

But is not putting words on page. Hear me out.

This is the first thing I’ve actually written since I returned from The Trip (caps very much required, more shortly) and I’m not certain my thoughts are even gelling. More like gelatinous: we’ll see.

As a father and a writer, I keep looking for some way to balance those necessities. I can’t let the kids starve (I also can’t make jokes about that until they’re old enough to feed themselves) or go without diaper changes while I lock myself in the office and pound out pages. Nor is it wise for me to indefinitely suspend wordsmithing while I give the littles all the attention their avaricious, little hearts desire. Or the resulting imagination pressure build-up (it’s like steam in a boiler, kinda) could well precipitate an explosion such that said avaricious little hearts would end up- but that’s a subject best saved for fiction.

I’m looking for that balance, and not really finding it. Mrs. Dave and I are looking into a long-term solution for childcare that frees me up from forced social interaction with creatures who aren’t sufficiently mentally stimulating to make up for not writing.

But there’s other parts to writing that aren’t physically typing words, lining them up in sentences, and connecting those in paragraphs, etc. There’s the skull sweat aspect. The thinking, which I’ve historically been pretty good at – though feels downright lugubrious when sleep deprived and starved of alone time – is quite possibly going to be key to at least maintaining the mindset of being a writer (possibly, [epithet of choice]. Is going to be key).

The trick, though, is organization, and that is a thing I have never been particularly good about. I’ve always been able to keep a sufficiency for keeping-on in my head. The bank account has about this much, less recent expenses. The bills are due about now, so pay prior. That kind of thing. But to manage this, I don’t think that method is going to be sufficient. And so I’m looking for a solution, there, as well.

In the very informal online writers’ water-cooler of which I’m a very minor part, we’ve been looking at the option of something to put on a hand-brain. I’ve got a mind-map app, but it’s something that hasn’t really fit the way my mental processes work, and I haven’t yet found something better.

Aside from that possible problem which may or may not need a genuine solution, this writer is doing much parenting. The daddy hat is the one most on my head, these days. After that, it’s the husband hat, as Mrs. Dave’s active duty-ness often requires flexibility on my part to make work.

The Trip was a Big Deal, and it’s likely better we labored under the assumption that it wouldn’t be, else it wouldn’t have happened. LibertyCon was excellent, as usual. I read an unreleased portion of a weird western upon which I’m working, and it was well-accepted. I was honored to sit upon a panel with the author GoH, Jonathan Maberry, and found him to be a delightful panelist, and had great fun kibitzing with him away from the mic.

The Baen dinner was a fraught affair, not because of the setting or food (both of which were excellent), but because Wee Dave attempted to give himself a two hundred degree facial bare moments before we were supposed to show up. The hat shed most of it, though he did end up with a blister that went especially well with the scrapes he gave himself the next week when he pitched out of a van onto a curb. I am reliably informed that he’s showing Mrs. Dave’s self-preservation instinct when she was his age, which bodes ill.

After LC, we spent time in Colorado with my family, with her family, with family of choice, with my family again, and then drove home. Thousands of miles, with a two-year-old, and a six-month-old. It was good, but it often wasn’t a lot of fun. It sure made me appreciate not leaving the house, which I’ve done a lot of since we got home. Not leaving the house, I mean.

Ramble over.

When life eats your time to put down words, it remains possible to do much of the work. I recommend *some* time to write. I’ve seen 250 words per day, or 500 for the ambitious, but getting some fiction written every day. My own key is not treating that work as something vital to accomplish. Make it fun, allow it to be weird, but do the writing. Heck, at 250/day, you still end up with a novel in a year. Not great, perhaps, but when – oh, for example – small children demand 90% of your time and energy, you’re still writing. And that truly is important.

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How To Piss Off Your Readers

(And ensure it will be the proverbial cold day before they spend their hard earned lucre on anything you create.)

This process is simple, and requires only a modicum of effort from you, the creator. First, create a character. Make them interesting, sympathetic, and human (unless, of course, they’re not human, in which case the other two still apply) and then throw them headlong into adventure. Present them with a struggle, preferably one of high stakes: a life or death conflict in which they, their loved ones, and perhaps the world are in mortal danger. Put them through the proverbial wringer, a figurative rollercoaster of highs and lows, of glittering triumphs and guttering defeats. And then, when you’ve firmly established for your readers your protagonist’s heroic ways, when everyone is comfortable with who your character is have Steve Rogers kill an ally and reveal that Captain America has been an agent of Hydra all along.

Y’know, like that.

Ok, yeah, sure. The MCU that “everybody knows” is different from the comic canon. In the former, according to the link immediately previous, Hydra begins (maybe sorta-kinda) as the super science R&D branch of the Third Reich, while in the comics, the roots go back to an ancient secret society of geniuses (mad, or otherwise) infiltrated by aliens (cue wild hair and stoned expression). So Steve Rogers (whether it actually ends up being him, and not an artifact of the Reality Cube, as I’ve heard rumored), is NOT a Nazi. He’s just a life-long agent of a secret and criminal organization bent on world control. Sooooo much better, right?

This is a writing blog, so I’m not going into the entirely appropriate fan reactions to a fundamental undermining of a beloved character’s character. I’m not going into the
social and political spindling and mutilating of which this is but a symptom.
We’re writers and publishers here, and so I’m going to discuss to you the way in which you keep getting paid, instead of alienating your readership with stupid pranks designed to boost falling sales numbers.

The thing about this, the annoying thing about this is similar things have been done. Killed Superman. Killed Jean Grey, or any number of others. Killed Batman, most recently, I believe. And yet death is expected, in the comic world (and in that of genre fiction, I’m not looking at Mum at all, nope, not at all) and it’s often temporary. Or at least overblown.

This? By all accounts, to include the writer’s and editor’s, Steve Rogers has always been, and will always be an agent of Hydra. Cap, the same guy whose first appearance is punching out Hitler. That Cap. The one whose arch nemesis for a goodly while was Red Skull, and who’s foiled more of Baron Zemo’s plots than pretty much anybody else. That guy, is the deepest of deep cover agents for the same parent organization. Pull the other one, gents.

This, fellow writers? This is what you Don’t Do.

Now, if you’ve started a series, and you have a character who comes off a bit paragonish-paladiny in the shiny AD&D sense, it could be a killer reveal that they’re actually in the service of the Death God, or a greater demon of some sort. That works. But if you’re four books in, they’ve handled baddies, and suffered loss, had nose rubbed liberally in defeat, and yet risen to triumph over the forces of evil, etc. And then, at the climactic moment, they haul off and rip out the soul of the innocent they’ve just spent most of a book rescuing, and use that stolen power to tear open a portal to the Nether Hells, you should not be surprised if your books become harnessed as launch devices to get cargo into orbit.

Seriously, character consistency is paramount. Sure, if you have that particular yen, you can show how your beacon of light and goodness gets tarnished by the much of existence, slowly over time, until you can’t tell them from the ostensible baddies they dispatch with little more than a grimace of effort. IF you put in the time. If you develop the chops to do it with finesse, and make clear to the reader that this is a story of descent.

What you don’t do, is take a character you’ve created and developed in one direction, and turn them around in an instant with no warning. What you truly don’t do is take a character created by someone else, and give them a hard face-heel turn after decades of adherence to a strict code of honor and principle. At least, you don’t if you want to sell. And that’s exactly what Marvel is going to find out with this latest adventure.

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