8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #35

Last week we found von Osler telling Rand Hart why he was so interested in the professional poker player. This was part of the conversation:

“I have no notoriety, if that is what you mean.”

Von Osler looked at Hart. “Precisely. That is what I mean. And you are skilled, creative, and lucky. You are exactly the person I was looking for. In point of fact, we’ve been watching you for some time.”

“Really?” The question dripped of sarcasm.

The question is, of course, why has von Osler invested so much time into learning about Hart. Was it all for just this one mission? Perhaps. Von Osler, though, has other things on his mind. Here is today’s snippet:

Von Osler nodded. “So, Herr Hart, if the airfare is going to be an issue, I will add another three thousand deutsche marks to cover tickets and expenses. Will you accept my little delivery job?”

“If I don’t?”

“I have a person who will make the delivery. But…” Von Osler shrugged. “He is not as skilled, creative, or lucky as you are. With you…? Let us say it is like having four jacks instead of four eights.”

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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Tell Your Story (or Stories)

There is one advantage age gives a person: it is perspective. The journey through time and experiencing what one experiences gives one a world view, a weltanschauung, which if understood can be an invaluable guide to the present.

Not all old people are wise. But they all have experiences that a wiser and younger person can learn from. To write such in today’s youth culture is tantamount to spitting in the wind. But the older I get I know it is true. I don’t claim to be wise, because I’m not. I do, though, have a bit of history under my belt which gives me some perspective.

Crispian Thurlborn’s sharing of a link on ebook pricing got me started on thinking about writing and publishing. The link set me off in search of Dean Wesley Smith’s website. Smith has perspective. He also has some wisdom. His series, Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing, has valuable advice to consider. Thanks Crispian for the adventure in rumination!

O, To Be A Writer!

I’ve wanted to be a writer for over fifty years. That is probably longer than some of you have been alive. I looked forward every month, back in the ‘60s, to receiving my copies of The Writer and Writer’s Digest and dreamed of the day when a few scribbles on a sheet of paper would earn me hundreds of dollars (yeah, a hundred was big back then).

From then until now, I’ve observed what others have to say about writing and publishing. I’ve noticed two things: publishing has changed and writing has not. What was good writing in the ‘60s remains good writing in the teens of the 21st century. However, what was true about the publishing world of the ‘60s wasn’t even true 30 years later and is even less true today. The publishing world has changed big time.

A Mini Timeline of Publishing

Here is a very brief timeline of publishing:

1534 – Cambridge University Press founded. The world’s oldest publishing company.

1663 – The world’s first magazine appears in Germany.

1709 – British Copyright Act is passed. This lays the foundation for modern publishing.

1700s – Commercial lending libraries

1731 – The Gentleman’s Magazine. Considered to be the first modern magazine is published in England.

1793 – first daily newspaper appears in America.

1800s – Public libraries appear.

1845 – Paperbacks are introduced as newspaper supplements in US.

1850s – The techniques of mass production are adopted by the book trade. The publishing industry as we know it today begins in the Victorian era. That wonderful Machine Age!

The Writer and the Book!

The biggest change to publishing since Gutenberg’s printing press is the ebook. Inconceivable as a viable reading medium even ten years ago. The Kindle made it’s appearance on November 19, 2007. That event was as big a change in the world of books as was Gutenberg. Science fiction had become reality.

What the ebook did is return publishing once more to the writer. Self-publishing goes back to ancient times. Someone would write a book (by hand with a pen) and either make copies him/herself, or hire copyists, and share the love. When the printing press came along, the writer could now give his/her manuscript to the printer and hire him to produce books for him or her. As can be seen self-publishing was the only publishing for a very long time.

Then in the Victorian era, publishing houses took off. Publishing as we know it today, where writers submit their manuscripts to publishers and either get a rejection slip or a check, started in the 1800s. Modern publishing is 200 years old. A mere babe.

What the Kindle did is make the concept of the ebook a viable commercial product and because of the ready availability of the software to make ebooks, the writer now had at his or her disposal desktop publishing on steroids.

Have No Fear!

Today, anyone can publish a book. This scares some people. In fact, it scares a lot of people. My goodness, the hoi polloi can now produce a book. Goodness, who even taught them to read?! Let alone write?!

My fifty plus years of observation has taught me that fear is a powerful weapon to squash innovation and to establish a pecking order.

When I was actively writing poetry, I frequented forums early on. I saw this fear in operation. The fear established by the “old timers” to keep the newbies in line. Harsh criticism and ridicule. “What? You call that a sonnet? Why you have a trochee where one shouldn’t be!” That kind of rubbish. Or, “Well, there is nothing very wrong with your sonnet, but shouldn’t you have something to say before you write one?”

The worst was when a writer ended up rewriting his or her good poem into mediocrity by listening to everyone’s “advice”.

Needless to say, I left those forums. I didn’t need that crap. As a writer, I already had enough self-doubts. I didn’t need more. What got rid of the self-doubt was the fact that I submitted work and got it accepted. Writing and submitting and getting it published proved to me I could write. A friend, who was a well-known regional writer, also gave me huge amounts of encouragement. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere waiting for approval from the forum folks. Encouragement and support, not fear, is what we need.

My advice is to have no fear. Everyone of us has a story or two or three to tell. So tell it. Write it down, stare down your demons, and send it off. Or better yet, publish it yourself and let the reader decide.

Writers Write

Writers write and editors edit and publishers publish and agents take your money.

Notice, only writers write. The others do something else. But that doesn’t mean a writer can’t also do those things. After all, they did so for millennia before editors, publishers, and agents showed up on the scene. A writer should be able to edit and proof his or her own work. Another pair of eyes, someone who knows what a good story is like, is also helpful. That other pair of eyes will catch things our own eyes think is there but isn’t.

Mark Twain started his own publishing company. So did Edgar Rice Burroughs. They did so to have control over their work.

That is the key: control. I write a work. Why give away control of that work to someone else? Would you give control of your car or your significant other or your children to someone else? I don’t think so. So why do so with your literary baby?

Writers write, but they can also publish and in today’s world it is easier than ever. In fact, self-publishing is often the key to getting noticed by a big publisher.

You and Your Voice are Important

If you want to write, then write. It is the best feeling in the world. Just write. Don’t give a flying fig about what anyone says. Just write.

The more you write, the more you learn about the craft of writing. Rewriting does little or nothing for you. We’re called writers, not rewriters. Any prolific author simply sits down and writes. They have to, it’s how they make their money. By writing.

Don’t let fear kill your creativity. Don’t let other people’s expectations kill your creativity. If you have to write, write. Sure the first story or book may not be very good. So send it off and start another. My early poems, when I look at them today, ugh! So many are just plain awful — and yet editors took some of them and published them. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Freedom!

What ebooks and print on demand offer writers today is freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of the Man who has a bottom line to consider. Freedom from the Man who will take whatever he can from you because you are disposable, a paper cup. Why? Because writers are a dime a dozen. There are plenty waiting in line behind you.

Robert E Howard wrote to H P Lovecraft that the main reason he wanted to be a writer was for the freedom it gave him. Freedom from the 8 to 5 Man. Today’s writer can even have freedom from the Publisher Man. I think Howard would have loved that.

Today, we writers can get rid of the middleman. Nothing need stand between us and the reader. We can proof and edit our own books. Secure our own art for our books. Not have someone tell us the book is too long or too short or we need to cut this part because readers won’t like it or the CEO won’t like it.

We have freedom. And I think that is a good thing.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #34

Last week we learned Rand Hart was exactly who von Osler was looking for in a courier. This week we find out why. We begin this week’s snippet with the tail end of last week’s:

It was von Osler’s turn to look out the window. “Herr Hart, you are a simple man. Even, let us say, an invisible man. Yes?”

“I have no notoriety, if that is what you mean.”

Von Osler looked at Hart. “Precisely. That is what I mean. And you are skilled, creative, and lucky. You are exactly the person I was looking for. In point of fact, we’ve been watching you for some time.”

“Really?” The question dripped of sarcasm.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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The Wonderful Machine Age – His Master’s Voice

Who isn’t familiar with the picture of the dog focused on the phonograph horn listening to the voice of his deceased master? Such is the power of sound, especially familiar sounds.

While typing this post, I was listening to the incredibly beautiful work of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, entitled “The Solent”. Prior to 1877 such would not have been possible. For in that year, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and within decades home entertainment was revolutionized. The piano in the parlor began to collect dust and piano lessons began to become a thing of the past.

Edison’s machine used a needle to record little hills and valleys in a wax cylinder, which when played back produced sound. In 1887, Emile Berliner patented the gramophone which used a flat disc. The needle followed a track with moved side to side instead of up and down.

Below is Edison’s phonograph from 1899.

EdisonPhonograph

Eventually Berliner’s gramophone won the commercial battle because the process of producing records instead of cylinders was cheaper. A record cost 20¢, whereas a cylinder cost 50¢. For the cost of 2 cylinders, I could buy 5 records. Pretty simple math and the cylinder became a footnote in history. Ironically enough, Edison had already contemplated the disc but favored the cylinder because it was scientifically more perfect. I guess even geniuses make mistakes. And that’s why many of us grew up collecting records instead of cylinders.

Below is picture of a wind-up gramophone.

$_32

Edison’s phonograph was the first machine to both record and playback sound. However, an earlier machine, the phonautograph, invented in 1857, made a visual image of the voice for study by doctors and scientists. The image could not be played back. At least not until 2008 when, with the help of optical scanning and computers, the pictures were turned into digital audio files and listened to for the first time. The oldest recordings of the human voice.

Just as Bell had competition for the telephone, so did Edison with the phonograph. That competition came in the form of Charles Cros’ paleophone. Cros, who was a poet and amateur inventor, came up with the idea to use photoengraving to transfer the phonautograph image to a disc or cylinder for playback. He wrote a letter describing his idea and deposited it with the French Academy of Science on 30 April 1877. Cros’ idea became public on 10 October 1877, however by then he had improved upon his original concept by inventing a way to capture and record sound using an acid-etch method.

Learning of Edison’s machine, Cros had his April letter opened and claimed scientific priority over Edison.

Cros’ method became standard procedure to produce the metal masters from which the flat records could be pressed. Unfortunately, he died in 1888 and could not enjoy his triumph over Edison. Today, no one’s even acquainted with the name of Charles Cros.

The phonograph, or gramophone, is perhaps one of the most iconic inventions of The Machine Age. Rivaled only by the telephone and the automobile. It appeared at the age’s beginning and was going strong when the age faded away. Today, the phonograph has morphed into the ubiquitous iPod.

There was a gramophone on board the Graf Zeppelin on its round the world flight in August 1929. Brought on board by millionaire Bill Leeds, Commander Hugo Eckener had it promptly removed. Leeds retrieved the machine and told Eckener if weight was the problem he’d leave behind his luggage.

Bram Stoker, in his novel Dracula, had Doctor Seward record his diary on a phonograph. Seward, however, was worried the count might be able to melt the wax cylinders with his mysterious powers and destroy Seward’s recordings of the vampire’s machinations. That is perhaps the first literary example of the dictaphone, which has also gone digital.

Of equal lineage with the phonograph is the tape recorder. We don’t really use them anymore but we do use digital versions to record our voices.

The tape recorder was invented in 1886 by Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory. The machine used a strip of paper coated with beeswax. Magnetic recording was first conceived of in 1877 and demonstrated in 1898, first using wire and later tape.

Below is an early magnetic wire recorder from 1898.

Magnetic Wire Recorder 1898
Magnetic Wire Recorder 1898

The record player and tape recorder were everywhere in the 20th century — even more widespread than the TV. I think retro-futurist writers with a little imagination can easily come up with something true to form and yet truly fantastic. Bram Stoker did so simply by including a phonograph in his novel. Now what if that record player or tape recorder could fit inside a small brown box about the size of a deck of cards?

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #33

While the offer is tempting, Rand Hart is still unsure about the situation. In last week’s portion of the conversation, we had:

“Must be something pretty big in that little box,” Hart said.

Von Osler picked up the small brown package and turned it in his hand. A smile touched his lips. “Let us say history is in this little box.”

Hart looked at von Osler. “History, huh? I suppose I have to pay my own airfare.”

“You will agree to deliver my tiny package?”

“Why don’t you just deliver it yourself? Or have some errand boy from your company drop it off?”

That is the question: why doesn’t von Osler simply have someone from his company deliver the darn box. Why go through all this folderol? Today, Hart gets the answer to that question. Here is today’s snippet:

“It is best if my company is not involved in the transaction. Nor do we want the German government implicated in any direct involvement.”

Hart’s eyes bored into the German. “So this isn’t as innocuous as you make it sound.”

It was von Osler’s turn to look out the window. “Herr Hart, you are a simple man. Even, let us say, an invisible man. Yes?”

“I have no notoriety, if that is what you mean.”

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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Ruminations on the Uptown Art Fair

I had intended to post Part 2 of The Wonderful Machine Age today, but my weekend adventure at Minnesota’s second largest fair spawned some thoughts I decided to share with you. Next week The Wonderful Machine Age will return.

The focus for the summer months (at least here in the northern hemisphere) has been on writing Rand Hart and the third book in the Justinia Wright, PI series and editing/rewriting The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4). As a result, book sales have fallen off the chart. Then again marketing is not my strong suit. I don’t really have a clue how to go about it. Encouragement, though, came to me from a Google+ post by JazzFeathers. She linked to an article: “None of my Marketing Seems to Work”. There are some good suggestions in the comments. Knowing that most authors struggle to get traction for their work is a consolation. I’m in a big boat and lots of us are pulling at the oars.

But I don’t think writers are the only ones struggling with how to sell what they produce. This past weekend my wife and I were at the Uptown Art Fair. It is the second largest fair in Minnesota, drawing 400,000 people over a long weekend. That’s more than live in the city of Minneapolis. Scores of artists paid big money to be there and artist after artist was trying to interest the throngs of people in his or her paintings, prints, drawings, woodwork, glass, metalwork, jewelry, fiber art, plants, and food.

I did succumb a wee bit to the cry of “Buy! Buy! Buy!”. Two tilandsias, a wooden box, a buffalo leather wallet, and a wooden serving spoon. Tilandsias are bromeliads and cousins to the orchid. They make great pets. They’re commonly called air plants.

After I got home and read the above referenced blog post, I asked myself why did I buy what I did? I like plants and the tilandsias weren’t expensive. The box appealed to my eye and contained buckeye wood. The buckeye is Ohio’s state tree and I was born in Ohio. A bit of sentimentality there. The spoon is made of cherrywood, feels good in the hand, and is pretty. I probably won’t use it as a spoon. Maybe a paperweight. The wallet, because mine was wearing out and I liked the looks of the buffalo one.

The lesson for us authors? Price is a factor. I confess, I don’t buy new books anymore from the Big 5 publishers. They are too expensive. I buy them used instead. I don’t even buy eBooks from the Big 5 because they too are way overpriced, IMO. There were many items at the fair I would have liked to buy. The price turned me off to almost all of them. Price is one reason why almost all of the new books I do buy are by indie authors.

Another lesson is eye and sense appeal. All of the items I bought at the fair looked good to me. “To me” being operative here. Not everything looks good to everyone. But our book covers have to look good to someone or no one will buy them. And ideally they should operate at an emotional level too. Also, the first few pages of our books should hook the reader by appealing to his or her emotions and senses. We have to make the reader care. I bought the box because of its emotional appeal, the spoon because it was smooth and pleasing to the touch, the plants because they looked cool, and the wallet because the leather was so soft and supple. These are basic appeals to our senses.

The only thing left to add is need. I bought what I did because at some level I wanted it but also needed it. Of course, in truth, I needed none of those things. Save for maybe the wallet. On the other hand, we all have aesthetic needs and needs for entertainment and pleasure.

Books fill the need for entertainment and pleasure. They also fill the need for knowledge and wisdom. Our books need to hook into those needs. Which means, of course, they need to be well-written and well-edited and in some way enrich the reader.

No food was purchased at the fair. Why? Because my wife and I walked over to The Tin Fish for fish and chips — knowing from past experience we were in for a treat. As it turned out we were disappointed this time around. The lesson here is that previous good experiences linger in the mind. And failure to deliver, produces disappointment. We writers need to be craftsmen and craftswomen. Delivering consistently good products to our readers so we don’t suffer the ire of their disappointment.

I’m not sure how to convert these ruminations into sales. Because ultimately even when the book is visible to the potential reader, readers don’t buy all the books before them. I set aside five other boxes to buy the one I did. I purchased only two tilandsias out of the hundred on the table. Ultimately it comes down to does my book look appealing to the reader. And ultimately that is a decision the reader makes.

Crispian Thurlborn posted a quote from Colin Firth on Google+. I re-quote it here: “I would rather five people knew my work and thought it was good work than five million knew me and were indifferent.”

We all want to make money from writing. The sad truth is the vast majority of writers throughout all time have not. And that includes us today. The vast majority of us won’t see very much money at all. So for now, I guess, while I focus on writing and producing good books, I’m going to be satisfied with those five people who know my work and like it. And if tomorrow I hit the best seller list that will be wonderful. If I don’t, I’m still having a blast writing and publishing what I write and pleasing those faithful five.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #32

Last week we left off with Rand Hart ruminating:

Hart looked out the window. The Hindenburg was a couple hours away from Lakehurst. The ocean was giving way to the New Jersey shoreline. These occasional odd jobs were nothing new. They helped for those times when Lady Luck failed him. Most were very routine and this one sounded easy enough. There was a ship steaming west. Probably heading for the harbor in New York and maybe home.

So let’s pick up his conversation with von Osler where we left off:

“Must be something pretty big in that little box,” Hart said.
“Let us say history is in this little box.”
Hart looked at von Osler. “History, huh? I suppose I have to pay my own airfare.”
“You will agree to deliver the box?”
“Why don’t you just deliver it yourself? Or have some errand boy from your company drop it off?”

Why not some errand boy, indeed! To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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The Wonderful Machine Age – Television

One of the things we take for granted here in the West is television. It is everywhere. You can find it in doctor’s and dentist’s offices, bars, and of course at home. Television is used for security monitoring and it has gone to outer space. Television is out of this world. Where would we be without it?

I have always known television. Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I watched plenty of the black and white world of the tube. And when color came along in the later ‘60s, I thought I’d entered paradise.

Even though we may not be able to imagine a world where TV doesn’t exist, it wasn’t all that long ago that it didn’t exist. My parents grew up with radio for entertainment in the ‘30s and ‘40s. For them, television was something as fantastic as Buck Rogers and his space ship or Superman or Dorothy in Oz. I can remember my mother saying, while listening to radio dramas as a girl, how she wished she could see the show instead of just listen to it. She did get her wish.

So when did television begin? Would you believe the foundational technologies and machines responsible for TV were developed in the 1840s and 1850s? That the name itself was coined in 1900? And the first instantaneous transmission of images occurred in 1909? It is all true. The Victorian and Edwardian eras laid the foundation for what eventually became television.

I am continually amazed at how many things we take for granted today, were first conceived of or initially developed or had their roots in the Victorian era. The 19th century, second only to the 20th, was the most fertile time period for human inventiveness. The human imagination was operating on steroids.

Mechanical Television

Television, as we more or less know it today, began in the 1920s through the work of the Scottish inventor, John Logie Baird, and three Americans: Charles Francis Jenkins, Herbert E Ives, and Frank Gray (the latter two worked for Bell Telephone Laboratories).

The first TVs were mechanical devices and depended on a spinning disk called a Nipkow Disk for transmission of the picture. The disk separated a picture into lines which could then be transmitted by wire or wireless technology and then the disk played back the picture and the eye, due to persistence of vision, saw the picture as a unit.

Baird marketed his TV as the “Baird Televisor”. They were very expensive: costing $1000 back in the early depression. Somewhere between $13,000 and $14,000 today. A kit could be had for $39.50, or about $576 in today’s dollars.

The work of Ives and Gray led to the creation of the first television station, W2XB, known as WGY Television, in 1928 in the US. The station still operates today.

The BBC in 1929 had 30 regularly scheduled programs and in 1931 there were 25 stations broadcasting in the US, some in Iowa and Nebraska.

However the mechanical television had two major problems: small picture size and poor picture quality. Below is an example of what people would see on a Televisor. Do note, the reproduction is poorer than the actual image because the light level of the original is so low. But it gives you an idea of the wonder that was early TV.

30line-TV-picture

This site has an animated version of what a mechanical TV picture was like: http://www.talkingelectronics.com/projects/MechanicalTV/MechanicalTV-1.html

The picture size was small due to practical limitations in how big the Nipkow disk could be made. Picture quality was poor due to there only being 30-60 lines per frame instead of the 525 for US standards or 625 for European standards.

Consequently, image size and quality killed mechanical television. The public just wasn’t interested. Broadcasts ceased in the US by 1933, except for a few universities which kept broadcasting until 1939. The BBC stopped in 1935 and the Soviet Union quit in 1937.

Electronic Television

While mechanical television was enjoying its day in the sun, work was progressing on the cathode ray tube, first invented in 1897. As early as 1914 a system for image transmission was developed, but image quality was very faint.

Image improvement came from Kálmán Tihanyi’s invention of “charge storage”, whereby the camera tube (or transmitting tube) accumulated and stored electrical charges which enhanced picture quality. RCA bought Tihanyi’s patents. In 1929, the first live human images were transmitted. They are 3 1/2 inches in size and used a system developed by Philo Farnsworth, a competitor to RCA.

The EMI engineering team in Britain won the race to produced a new camera which could make viable television images and in November 1936 began the world’s first regular high-definition television service.

Interestingly enough, Kálmán Tihanyi in 1936 described the principle of plasma display and the first flat-panel display system. Flat-screen TVs and Plasma TV are pure dieselpunk. Who would have thought it?

I don’t recall writers from the time period using TVs, which I find rather odd since they did exist. If they could envisioned fantastically futuristic airships, space ships, and death rays — why not fantastic televisions?

What’s even more odd, to my thinking, and I’m just as guilty, is why aren’t we retro-futurist writers putting TVs into our stories? Everything is possible in the retro-future, so why haven’t we put TVs into our stories?

The development of the TV is incredibly fascinating reading. Contributions came from all over Europe and the US to give us what we take for granted today. And now that I know about it, you can bet your next paycheck Rand Hart is going to be watching TV the next time he’s on the Hindenburg. Maybe a broadcast of the opera “Fedora” by Giordano.

Further Reading

http://www.earlytelevision.org/mechanical.html

http://www.tvhistory.tv/1920s%20TV%20Picture.htm

http://www.talkingelectronics.com/projects/MechanicalTV/MechanicalTV-1.html  This site has an animated TV picture.

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8 Sentence Sunday On Dieselpunks #31

In today’s snippet from Rand Hart, we pick up where we left off last week in Hart’s conversation with von Osler. Last week we ended with Industrialist Herr von Osler saying, “Maybe. Maybe not. I would say the odds are in your favor this delivery will be quite routine.” We begin today’s snippet with Hart speaking.

“Only if Luck decides to be a lady.”

“As you say, Herr Hart.”

“Deliver the box and get a total of fifty thousand deutsche marks.”

“Yes.”

Hart looked out the window. The Hindenburg was a couple hours away from Lakehurst. The ocean was giving way to the New Jersey shoreline. This was nothing new. He did the occasional odd job. Helped for those times when Lady Luck failed him. This one sounded easy enough.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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