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Business Update

It occurs to me that I haven’t spoken much on our business Tumblr about certain things going on in the background of running this Press. Usually, on Sundays, we try to post an informational post about writing, a prompt list, or some other significant content, but that’s been noticeably absent the last few weeks, and here’s why.

Hi, I’m unforth/Claire/Nina Waters, any pronouns (I don’t care if people default to she/her, which most do), and I own this Press. I’m 39, enby, aroace, mother of two, and queer platonic married to ramblingandpie. And I’ve had problems with my back on and off for almost 15 years. In the last 4 years that’s very much been more “on” than “off,” and in the last year it’s been continually “on.” Over the summer, it lingered at a constant 2-or-so on a ten scale where 9 is “giving birth without painkillers,” which I have done. Twice. Over the early fall, it was bad enough that I started getting help lifting and moving things. In November, it went into precipitous decline, and I started to get alarmed.

Early December, my doctor said “give it six weeks, see if it goes away on it’s own.” Spoilers, it didn’t. I saw a specialist, finally, on December 30th, and they immediately sent me for an MRI (I’d been trying to get my PCP to send me for an MRI for 4 goddamn years). A week and a half ago I saw the specialist again, and we reviewed the MRI results, and basically, one of my discs is bulging and pinching my spinal cord (less basically, the disc between my L4 and L5 vertebrae is herniated and causing spinal stenosis and radiating sciatic pain down my right leg). At this point, even on massive amounts of painkillers and anti-inflammatory meds, I can’t drive and can hardly walk right now – I get about 5 minutes on my feet before the pain is too excruciating and I have to sit and rest for 5 to 10 minutes before I can do more – and I also can’t sit at my desktop computer at all. And, the meds make me tired and dizzy. The specialist said I should see a surgeon, and while she hedged her bets and suggested there was a chance I wouldn’t surgery, she also considered the case urgent enough that she tried to flag the surgeon down in the hallway and have him see me immediately, and spent the rest of the appointment discussing surgery like it was a foregone conclusion. But I couldn’t make an appointment with the surgeon, because his secretary was out with Covid…and by the time she got back on Monday, the surgeon had also caught Covid, and is out for two weeks, as is another of the 4 total surgeons that the Spine Clinic at the local hospital employs.

I’m seeing one of the ones who DOESN’T have Covid on Wednesday, and again, while there’s a chance I don’t need major back surgery, it’s a very small chance. Based on our research and knowledge and what the pain specialist said (my wife has medical expertise too), we think the only real question on Wednesday will be how soon they’re able to schedule it, considering how bad Omicron is spreading here. The MRI indicates that right now I’m literally continually, potentially, a moment a way from catastrophic nerve damage. Like, if something twinges wrong, I could end up incontinent for the rest of my life, or with permanent leg weakness, or even theoretically paralysis, and I have a list of circumstances under which I’m supposed to go to the ER immediately and have the surgery with the on-call surgeon (who will be one of those same two who don’t have Covid, I feel bad for them they must be SO overworked right now, what a mess). It’d be a huge surprise if I don’t have surgery within the next week or two – we’ve been planning as if it’s a foregone conclusion, and I have a go-bag ready for the ER, because it really is that serious – and once I do, recovery is about 6 weeks of bed rest, followed by months of PT and the slower healing that just takes time.

All that said, post-op success rates on this surgery (I believe it’s a laminectomy?) are very high – if I follow all the medical instructions, I should heal back to 100%, unless I’ve already got nerve damage (which is unfortunately possible but. What can ya do?). Even then, surgery should heal the pain, and I’ll just have leg weakness.

All of which is to say…since early November I’ve been dealing with some pretty damn major health problems. Especially challenging has been my inability to sit at my computer, because that’s where I do most of my writing and all of my graphic work and editing.

I know I’m over-sharing personal things here, and I’m sorry about that – I’ve tried to hold off on sharing it at all, this has been going on for almost 10 weeks, but I think we’ve reached the point where the health issues are major enough, and the impact it has on the business is visible enough, that it’s better for me to simply disclose. I’m not looking for pity; I’m trying to make clear why the business is behind on certain things we’d said are imminent.

Our goal is to have this impact the business as little as possible, but since I’m our only full time employee, and our primary coordinator for major projects, there’s simply a lot we can’t do when my work time is greatly reduced by health issues. The good news is, once it became clear how serious this was, I used basically the business’s entire rainy day fund to buy a nice laptop, so I’m now able to work from the couch (which is about the only place I can sit comfortably). That’s how I’m typing this update – the laptop arrived on Wednesday and I’ve spent the days since getting it set up to do all the things I usually do from desktop, which means I can move forward on some of the things we had to delay.

Specific implications of all the above, as applied to our current projects:

1. The And Seek (Not) to Alter Me Kickstarter is temporarily delayed. We’ll make an announcement (and finally do the cover reveal!!) once we can plan a specific timeline for launch – hopefully, we’ll know that in about a week, after I’ve spoken to the surgeon. In terms of our actual preparedness for launch…I’m behind on my share of the editing, but all the stories have had at least one editing run, and about half are ready for immediate publication. The art is also all ready. We have all the merchandise art ready, and some are in the printing templates. The Kickstarter copy is complete written and edited and has been approved by KS (like, from that standpoint, we could literally launch right now), but only 4 out of the 6 graphics we need are completed; I’m hoping to finish the rest imminently, so that as soon as my health allows and I know I’ll be recovered enough to manage the KS fulfillment (which involves a LOT of box lifting, which is impossible for me right now) we can hit the “launch” button.

2. There are no delays in review of applications for He Bears the Cape of Stars and She Wears the Midnight Crown. We’ve already finished reviewing the applications from “returner” applicants (people who have written with us before on one of our two anthologies or have done a Patreon story with us) and have a preliminary list of accepted authors (no one will be notified until we’re done reviewing all applications). Our team doing the review (myself, A. L. Heard/jhoom, Alessa, P. J. Claremore/Foop, K. B. Vimes, and Lacey Hays/Owlish) are about halfway done with the mlm applications and a quarter through the wlw – I personally am a reader for every applications and I’m finished with the mlm and will be starting the wlw ones today. All of which is to say, we’re making good progress and do not anticipate a delay – we still expect to notify all applicants of their acceptances or rejections by January 31st.

3. The two novels I’m supposed to edit – one by A. L. Heard, the other by Tris Lawrence – I’ve been unable to make progress on, so these are currently delayed, and the authors are in the loop and know.

4. We’re a little behind on Patreon backer rewards, specifically the Patron-exclusive stories. However, we’re working on catching up, and we anticipate that (hopefully) by the end of February, we’ll have published all the backlog and caught up. Other Patreon rewards have not been impacted.

5. There’s a few other things that were in the works when this all started but that we hadn’t publicly announced yet…those are, as would expect, on hold. (As a teaser for anyone dedicated enough to have read this far…this includes our first erotica title and an erotica imprint to go with it, with it’s own logo and sub-website on our main page, and our plans for our fifth anthology, and a call for manuscript submissions, and more!)

As we see it…these are uncertain times for everyone even without “extra” things happen, and something like this health issue couldn’t have been predicted. However, nothing has changed in terms of our commitment to Duck Prints Press and all we set out to do. We truly appreciate your patience and understanding as we, and I especially, get through this. We’re striving to catch up and get back to “normal,” and we can’t wait to share with you all the amazing things that we’ve been working on. And Seek (Not) to Alter Me is a.may.zing, y’all, and the submissions pitches for the two new anthologies are blowing our socks off. Seriously, we’re so excited.

Stay tuned – there’s so, so, SO much more to come!

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NOW AVAILABLE: THE E-BOOK OF ADD MAGIC TO TASTE and Extra Kickstarter Merchandise!

Did you miss your chance to back our first Kickstarter? Did you back it, but have a friend who wants a copy? Have you just been itching to get some of the merch you didn’t get as a backer? Have you only just heard of us thanks to our recent call for applicants, and want to learn more about our first Anthology?

Now you can do all these things!

Duck Prints Press’s first anthology, Add Magic to Taste, is now available for sale on our website!

For Add Magic to Taste, 20 authors have come together to produce new, original short stories uniting four of our absolute favorite themes: queer relationships, fluff, magic, and coffee shops! Our diverse writers have created an even more diverse collection of stories guaranteed to sweeten your coffee and warm your tart.

Select extra/leftover merchandise from the Kickstarter is also available, including:

So check it out, and get some of the book that’s averaging over 4 stars on Goodreads and Storygraph, and the merch that our Kickstarter backers described as “absolutely beautiful,” “gorgeous,” “incredible,” and “absolute BEST IN CLASS.”

VISIT OUR SHOP NOW AND GET YOURS!

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Ten Things We Hate About Trad Pub

Often when I say “I’ve started a small press; we publish the works of those who have trouble breaking into traditional publishing!” what people seem to hear is “me and a bunch of sad saps couldn’t sell our books in the Real World so we’ve made our own place with lower standards.” For those with minimal understanding of traditional publishing (trad pub), this reaction is perhaps understandable? But, truly, there are many things to hate about traditional publishing (and, don’t get me wrong – there are things to love about trad pub, too, but that’s not what this list is about) and it’s entirely reasonable for even highly accomplished authors to have no interest in running the gauntlet of genre restrictions, editorial control, hazing, long waits, and more, that make trad pub at best, um, challenging, and at worst, utterly inaccessible to many authors – even excellent ones.

Written in collaboration with @jhoomwrites, with input from @ramblingandpie, here is a list of ten things that we at Duck Prints Press detest about trad pub, why we hate it, and why/how we think things should be different!

(Needless to say, part of why we created Duck Prints Press was to…not do any of these things… so if you’re a writer looking for a publishing home, and you hate these things, too, and want to write with a Press that doesn’t do them…maybe come say hi?)

1. Work lengths dictated by genre and/or author experience.

Romance novels can’t be longer than 90,000 words or they won’t sell! New authors shouldn’t try to market a novel longer than 100,000 words!

A good story is a good story is a good story. Longer genre works give authors the chance to explore their themes and develop their plots. How often an author has been published shouldn’t put a cap on the length of their work.

2. Editors assert control of story events…except when they don’t.

If you don’t change this plot point, the book won’t market well. Oh, you’re a ten-time bestseller? Write whatever you want, even if it doesn’t make sense we know people will buy it.

Sometimes, a beta or an editor will point out that an aspect of a story doesn’t work – because it’s nonsensical, illogical, Deus ex Machina, etc. – and in those cases it’s of course reasonable for an editor to say, “This doesn’t work and we recommend changing it, for these reasons…” However, when that list of reasons begins and ends with, “…because it won’t sell…” that’s a problem, especially because this is so often applied as a double standard. We’ve all read bestsellers with major plot issues, but those authors get a “bye” because editors don’t want to exert to heavy a hand and risk a proven seller, but with a new, less experienced, or worse-selling author, the gloves come off (even though evidence suggests time and again that publishers’ ability to predict what will sell well is at best low and at worst nonexistent.)

3. A billion rejection letters as a required rite of passage (especially when the letters aren’t helpful in pinpointing why a work has been rejected or how the author can improve).

Well, my first book was rejected by a hundred Presses before it was accepted! How many rejection letters did you get before you got a bite? What, only one or two? Oh…

How often one succeeds or fails to get published shouldn’t be treated as a form of hazing, and we all know that how often someone gets rejected or accepted has essentially no bearing on how good a writer they are. Plenty of schlock goes out into the world after being accepted on the first or second try…and so does plenty of good stuff! Likewise, plenty of schlock will get rejected 100 times but due to persistence, luck, circumstances, whatever, finally find a home, and plenty of good stuff will also get rejected 100 times before being publishing. Rejections (or lack there of) as a point of pride or as a means of judging others needs to die as a rite of passage among authors.

4. Query letters, for so many reasons.

Summarize all your hard work in a single page! Tell us who you’re like as an author and what books your story is like, so we can gauge how well it’ll sell based on two sentences about it! Format it exactly the way we say or we won’t even consider you!

For publishers, agents, and editors who have slush piles as tall as Mount Everest…we get it. There has to be a way to differentiate. We don’t blame you. Every creative writing class, NaNoWriMo pep talk, and college lit department combine to send out hundreds of thousands of people who think all they need to do to become the next Ernest Hemingway is string a sentence together. There has to be some way to sort through that pile…but God, can’t there be a better way than query letters? Especially since even with query letters being used it often takes months or years to hear back, and…

5. “Simultaneous submissions prohibited.”

No, we don’t know when we’ll get to your query, but we’ll throw it out instantly if you have the audacity to shop around while you wait for us.

The combination of “no simultaneous submissions” with the query letter bottleneck makes success slow and arduous. It disadvantages everyone who aims to write full-time but doesn’t have another income source (their own, or a parents’, or a spouse’s, or, or or). The result is that entire classes of people are edged out of publishing solely because the process, especially for writers early in their career, moves so glacially that people have to earn a living while they wait, and it’s so hard to, for example, work two jobs and raise a family and also somehow find the time to write. Especially considering that the standard advice for dealing with “no simultaneous submissions” is “just write something else while you wait!” …the whole system screams privilege.

6. Genres are boxes that must be fit into and adhered to.

Your protagonist is 18? Then obviously your book is Young Adult. It doesn’t matter how smutty your book is, erotica books must have sex within the first three chapters, ideally in the first chapter. Sorry, we’re a fantasy publisher, if you have a technological element you don’t belong here…

While some genre boxes have been becoming more like mesh cages of late, with some flow of content allowed in and out, many remain stiff prisons that constrict the kinds of stories people can tell. Even basic cross-genre works often struggle to find a place, and there’s no reason for it beyond “if we can’t pigeon-hole a story, it’s harder to sell.” This edges out many innovative, creative works. It also disadvantages people who aren’t as familiar with genre rules. And don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an argument that, for example, the romance genre would be improved by opening up to stories that don’t have “happily ever afters.” Instead, it’s pointing out – there should also be a home for, say, a space opera with a side romance, an erotica scene, and a happily-for-now ending. Occasionally, works breakthrough, but for the most part stories that don’t conform never see the light of day (or, they do, but only after Point 2 – trad pub editors insist that the elements most “outside” the box be removed or revised).

7. The lines between romance and erotica are arbitrary, random, and hetero- and cis-normative.

This modern romance novel won’t sell if it doesn’t have an explicit sex scene, but God forbid you call a penis a penis. Oh, no, this is far too explicit, even though the book only has one mlm sex scene, this is erotica.

The difference between “romance” and “erotica” might not matter so much if not for the stigmas attached to erotica and the huge difference in marketability and audience. The difference between “romance” and “erotica” also might not matter so much if not for the fact that, so often, even incredibly raunchy stories that feature cis straight male/cis straight female sex scenes are shelved as romance, but the moment the sex is between people of the same gender, and/or a trans or genderqueer person is involved, and/or the relationship is polyamorous, and/or the characters involved are literally anything other than a cis straight male pleasuring a cis straight female in a “standard” way (cunnilingus welcome, pegging need not apply)…then the story is erotica. Two identical stories will get assigned different genres based on who the people having sex are, and also based on the “skill” of the author to use ludicrous euphemisms (instead of just…calling body parts what they’re called…), and it’s insane. Non-con can be a “romance” novel, even if it’s graphically described. “50 Shades of Gray” can sell millions of copies, even containing BDSM. But the word “vagina” gets used once…bam, erotica. (Seriously, the only standard that should matter is the Envelope Analogy).

8. Authors are expected to do a lot of their own legwork (eg advertising) but then don’t reap the benefits.

Okay, so, you’re going to get an advance of $2,500 on this, your first novel, and a royalty rate of 5% if and only if your advance sells out…so you’d better get out there and market! Wait, what do you mean you don’t have a following? Guess you’re never selling out your advance…

Trad pub can generally be relied on to do some marketing – so this item is perhaps better seen as an indictment of more mid-sized Presses – but, basically, if an author has to do the majority of the work themselves, then why aren’t they getting paid more? What’s the actual benefit to going the large press/trad pub route if it’s not going to get the book into more hands? It’s especially strange that this continues to be a major issue when self-publishing (which also requires doing one’s own marketing) garners 60%+ royalty rates. Yes, the author doesn’t get an advance, and they don’t get the cache of ~well I was published by…~, but considering some Presses require parts of advances to get paid back if the initial run doesn’t sell out, and cache doesn’t put food on the table…pay models have really, really got to change.

9. Fanfiction writing doesn’t count as writing experience

Hey there Basic White Dude, we see you’ve graduated summa cum laude from A Big Fancy Expensive School. Of course we’ll set you up to publish your first novel you haven’t actually quite finished writing yet. Oh, Fanperson, you’ve written 15 novels for your favorite fandom in the last 4 years? Get to the back of the line!

Do I really need to explain this? The only way to get better at writing is to write. Placing fanfiction on official trad pub “do not interact” lists is idiotic, especially considering many of the other items on this list. (They know how to engage readers! They have existing followings! They understand genre and tropes!) Being a fanfiction writer should absolutely be a marketable “I am a writer” skill. Nuff said. (To be clear, I’m not saying publishers should publish fanfiction, I’m saying that being a fanfiction writer is relevant and important experience that should be given weight when considering an author’s qualifications, similar to, say, publishing in a university’s quarterly.)

10. Tagging conventions (read: lack thereof).

Oh, did I trigger you? Hahahaha. Good luck with that.

We rate movies so that people can avoid content they don’t like. Same with TV shows and video games. Increasingly, those ratings aren’t just “R – adult audiences,” either; they contain information about the nature of the story elements that have led to the rating (“blood and gore,” “alcohol reference,” “cartoon violence,” “drug reference,” “sexual violence,” “use of tobacco,” and many, many more). So why is it that I can read a book and, without warning, be surprised by incest, rape, graphic violence, explicit language, glorification of drug and alcohol use, and so so much more? That it’s left to readers to look up spoilers to ensure that they’re not exposed to content that could be upsetting or inappropriate for their children or, or, or, is insane. So often, too, authors cling to “but we don’t want to give away our story,” as if video game makes and other media makers do want to give away their stories. This shouldn’t be about author egos or ~originality~ (as if that’s even a thing)…it should be about helping readers make informed purchasing decisions. It’s way, way past time that major market books include content warnings.

Thank you for joining us, this has been our extended rant about how frustrated we are with traditional publishing. Helpful? No. Cathartic? Most definitely yes. 🤣

*

Have a question about writing? Drop us an ask!

Like what we do and want to support us? You can buy us a ko-fi – or get access to exclusive content by backing us on Patreon!

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Cover Reveal for “Add Magic to Taste”

Duck Prints Press will be launching our first Kickstarter on July 15th, 2021, and we cannot possibly be more excited for it! We’ve got a LOT more info to come related to – previews of the merchandise, teasers for the stories, and more – but we wanted to get things started by sharing our amazing cover, which features art by LizLee Illustration (@lizleeillustration, Instagram, Twitter, Personal Site) and graphic design work by @pallasperilous (Twitter, Personal Website), @hermitwrites (Pillowfort, WordPress), and @alessariel.

For Add Magic to Taste, 20 authors have come together to produce all-new, original short stories uniting four of our absolute favorite themes: queer relationships, fluff, magic, and coffee shops! Our diverse writers have created an even more diverse collection of stories guaranteed to sweeten your coffee and warm your tart.

Love wlw? So do we!

Love mlm? We’ve got you covered!

Love genderqueer characters? Raise those trans, enby, agender and other flags high!

Love aces? Same, and we don’t (only) mean playing cards!

Love poly relationships? Oh hey, we’re sharing a brain!

We won’t say this anthology has it all – there are too many identities in the world for us to fit all of them into one anthology of 20 stories – but if you want some queer fluff and happy feelings, you’ve come to the right place. Add Magic to Taste features characters of different races, ethnicities, sexualities, romanticisms, gender identities, religions, and home nations, united by the common theme of finding someone (or more than one someone) to enjoy a muffin and a cuppa with – for today, or for a lifetime, romantically or otherwise!

Learn more about this project:

So, mark your calendars! Follow our Tumblr! Read more about the project! Ask us any questions you have! And save your pennies so you, too, can buy this amazing collection of stories!

The Kickstarter for Add Magic to Taste launches on July 15th, 2021!

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How to Edit an Over-Length Story Down to a Specific Word Count

One of the most wonderful things about writing as a hobby is that you never have to worry about the length of your story. You can be as self-indulgent as you want, make your prose the royalist of purples, include every single side story and extra thought that strikes your fancy. It’s your story, with no limits, and you can proceed with it as you wish. 

When transitioning from casual writing to a more professional writing milieu, this changes. If you want to publish, odds are, you’ll need to write to a word count. If a flash fiction serial says, “1,000 words or less,” your story can’t be 1,025 and still qualify. If a website says, “we accept novellas ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 words,” your story will need to fall into that window. Even when you consider novel-length works, stories are expected to be a certain word count to fit neatly into specific genres – romance is usually around 80,000 words, young adult usually 50,000 to 80,000, debut novels usually have to be 100,000 words or less regardless of genre, etc. If you self-publish or work with a small press, you may be able to get away with breaking these “rules,” but it’s still worthwhile to learn to read your own writing critically with length in mind and learn to recognize what you do and do not need to make your story work – and then, if length isn’t an issue in your publishing setting, you can always decide after figuring out what’s non-essential to just keep everything anyway. 

If you’re writing for fun? You literally never have to worry about your word count (well, except for sometimes in specific challenges that have minimum and/or maximum word counts), and as such, this post is probably not for you.

But, if you’re used to writing in the “throw in everything and the kitchen sink” way that’s common in fandom fanfiction circles, and you’re trying to transition only to be suddenly confronted with the reality that you’ve written 6,000 words for a short story project with a maximum word count of 5,000…well, we at Duck Prints Press have been there, we are in fact there right now, as we finish our stories for our upcoming anthology Add Magic to Taste and many of us wrote first drafts that were well over the maximum word count.

So, based on our experiences, here are our suggestions on approaches to help your story shorter…without losing the story you wanted to tell!

  1. Cut weasel words (we wrote a whole post to help you learn how to do that!) such as unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, the “was ~ing” sentence structure, redundant time words such as “a moment later,” and many others.
  2. When reviewing dialog, keep an eye out for “uh,” “er,” “I mean,” “well,” and other casual extra words. A small amount of that kind of language usage can make dialog more realistic, but a little goes a long way, and often a fair number of words can be removed by cutting these words, without negatively impacting your story at all.
  3. Active voice almost always uses fewer words than passive voice, so try to use active voice more (but don’t forget that passive voice is important for varying up your sentence structures and keeping your story interesting, so don’t only write in active voice!).
  4. Look for places where you can replace phrases with single words that mean the same thing. You can often save a lot of words by switching out phrases like “come back” for “return” and seeking out other places where one word can do the work of many.
  5. Cut sentences that add atmosphere but don’t forward the plot or grow your characters. (Obviously, use your judgement. Don’t cut ALL the flavor, but start by going – I’ve got two sentences that are mostly flavor text – which adds more? And then delete the other, or combine them into one shorter sentence.)
  6. Remove superfluous dialog tags. If it’s clear who’s talking, especially if it’s a conversation between only two people, you can cut all the he saids, she saids.
  7. Look for places where you’ve written repetitively – at the most basic level, “ ‘hahaha,’ he laughed,” is an example, but repetition is often more subtle, like instances where you give information in once sentence, and then rephrase part or all of that sentence in the next one – it’s better to poke at the two sentences until you think of an effective, and more concise, way to make them into only one sentence. This also goes for scenes – if you’ve got two scenes that tend towards accomplishing the same plot-related goal, consider combining them into one scene.
  8. Have a reason for every sentence, and even every sentence clause (as in, every comma insertion, every part of the sentence, every em dashed inclusion, that kind of thing). Ask yourself – what function does this serve? Have I met that function somewhere else? If it serves no function, or if it’s duplicative, consider cutting it. Or, the answer may be “none,” and you may choose to save it anyway – because it adds flavor, or is very in character for your PoV person, or any of a number of reasons. But if you’re saving it, make sure you’ve done so intentionally. It’s important to be aware of what you’re trying to do with your words, or else how can you recognize what to cut, and what not to cut?
  9. Likewise, have a reason for every scene. They should all move the story along – whatever the story is, it doesn’t have to be “the end of the world,” your story can be simple and straightforward and sequential…but if you’re working to a word count, your scenes should still forward the story toward that end point. If the scene doesn’t contribute…you may not need them, or you may be able to fold it in with another scene, as suggested in item 6.
  10.  Review the worldbuilding you’ve included, and consider what you’re trying to accomplish with your story. A bit of worldbuilding outside of the bare essentials makes a story feel fleshed out, but again, a little can go a long way. If you’ve got lots of “fun” worldbuilding bits that don’t actually forward your plot and aren’t relevant to your characters, cut them. You can always put them as extras in your blog later, but they’ll just make your story clunky if you have a lot of them. 
  11. Beware of info-dumps. Often finding a more natural way to integrate that information – showing instead of telling in bits throughout the story – can help reduce word count.
  12. Alternatively – if you over-show, and never tell, this will vastly increase your word count, so consider if there are any places in your story where you can gloss over the details in favor of a shorter more “tell-y” description. You don’t need to go into a minute description of every smile and laugh – sometimes it’s fine to just say, “she was happy” or “she frowned” without going into a long description of their reaction that makes the reader infer that they were happy. (Anyone who unconditionally says “show, don’t tell,” is giving you bad writing advice. It’s much more important to learn to recognize when showing is more appropriate, and when telling is more appropriate, because no story will function as a cohesive whole if it’s all one or all the other.)
  13. If you’ve got long paragraphs, they’re often prime places to look for entire sentences to cut. Read them critically and consider what’s actually helping your story instead of just adding word count chonk.
  14. Try reading some or all of the dialog out loud; if it gets boring, repetitive, or unnecessary, end your scene wherever you start to lose interest, and cut the dialog that came after. If necessary, add a sentence or two of description at the end to make sure the transition is abrupt, but honestly, you often won’t even need to do so – scenes that end at the final punchy point in a discussion often work very well.
  15. Create a specific goal for a scene or chapter. Maybe it’s revealing a specific piece of information, or having a character discover a specific thing, or having a specific unexpected event occur, but, whatever it is, make sure you can say, “this scene/chapter is supposed to accomplish this.” Once you know what you’re trying to do, check if the scene met that goal, make any necessary changes to ensure it does, and cut things that don’t help the scene meet that goal.
  16. Building on the previous one, you can do the same thing, but for your entire story. Starting from the beginning, re-outline the story scene-by-scene and/or chapter-by-chapter, picking out what the main “beats” and most important themes are, and then re-read your draft and make sure you’re hitting those clearly. Consider cutting out the pieces of your story that don’t contribute to those, and definitely cut the pieces that distract from those key moments (unless, of course, the distraction is the point.)
  17. Re-read a section you think could be cut and see if any sentences snag your attention. Poke at that bit until you figure out why – often, it’s because the sentence is unnecessary, poorly worded, unclear, or otherwise superfluous. You can often rewrite the sentence to be clearer, or cut the sentence completely without negatively impacting your work.
  18. Be prepared to cut your darlings; even if you love a sentence or dialog exchange or paragraph, if you are working to a strict word count and it doesn’t add anything, it may have to go, and that’s okay…even though yes, it will hurt, always, no matter how experienced a writer you are. (Tip? Save your original draft, and/or make a new word doc where you safely tuck your darlings in for the future. Second tip? If you really, really love it…find a way to save it, but understand that to do so, you’ll have to cut something else. It’s often wise to pick one or two favorites and sacrifice the rest to save the best ones. We are not saying “always cut your darlings.” That is terrible writing advice. Don’t always cut your darlings. Writing, and reading your own writing, should bring you joy, even when you’re doing it professionally.)
  19. If you’re having trouble recognizing what in your own work CAN be cut, try implementing the above strategies in different places – cut things, and then re-read, and see how it works, and if it works at all. Sometimes, you’ll realize…you didn’t need any of what you cut. Other times, you’ll realize…it no longer feels like the story you were trying to tell. Fiddle with it until you figure out what you need for it to still feel like your story, and practice that kind of cutting until you get better at recognizing what can and can’t go without having to do as much tweaking.
  20. Lastly…along the lines of the previous…understand that sometimes, cutting your story down to a certain word count will just be impossible. Some stories simply can’t be made very short, and others simply can’t be told at length. If you’re really struggling, it’s important to consider that your story just…isn’t going to work at that word count. And that’s okay. Go back to the drawing board, and try again – you’ll also get better at learning what stories you can tell, in your style, using your own writing voice, at different word counts. It’s not something you’ll just know how to do – that kind of estimating is a skill, just like all other writing abilities.

As with all our writing advice – there’s no one way to tackle cutting stories for length, and also, which of these strategies is most appropriate will depend on what kind of story you’re writing, how much over-length it is, what your target market is, your characters, and your personal writing style. Try different ones, and see which work for you – the most important aspect is to learn to read your own writing critically enough that you are able to recognize what you can cut, and then from that standpoint, use your expertise to decide what you should cut, which is definitely not always the same thing. Lots of details can be cut – but a story with all of the flavor and individuality removed should never be your goal.

Contributions to this post were made by @unforth, @jhoomwrites, @alecjmarsh, @shealynn88, @foxymoley, @willablythe, and @owlishintergalactic, and their input has been used with their knowledge and explicit permission. Thanks, everyone, for helping us consider different ways to shorten stories!

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Our May Patreon Newsletter is Now Out!

Every month, we publish a Patron-exclusive newsletter available to all backers starting at $3 per month that includes an brand new short story (inspired by a theme suggested by our Patrons!), previews of upcoming works, and other insider content! 

This month’s newsletter includes a story by A.L. Heard featuring adorable coffee shop meet cute wlw fluff!

Back us now, and you too can read this never-before-published, Patreon-exclusive story!

Learn more here!

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Announcing: The Authors Selection to Contribute to “Add Magic to Taste”

Duck Prints Press is thrilled to share more information about the 20 authors who have been selected to contribute to Add Magic to Taste! Read on…

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Theresa Alef

I’m a pediatric occupational therapist in the Southwest USA, and my pronouns are she/her. Writing has been my first love since I was old enough to string words together, but this will be my very first fictional publication! I have a special place in my heart for a lot of fandoms, but Marvel is definitely my favorite—specifically, the Clint Barton/Bucky Barnes ship. I spend a lot of my free time writing, but when I’m not at the computer, I like to go hiking in the desert, spend time with friends and family, and read books.

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I.A. Ashcroft

A writer and web development freelancer, I. A. Ashcroft lives in the mountains of Colorado alongside family and his constant feline companion, Potato. Ashcroft has published two original sci-fi/fantasy novels, is hard at work on the third in the series, and has been writing for fandoms for over a decade, loving stories that emphasize unlikely bonds, mythology, magic, and hope in the darkness. In between storytelling efforts, he enjoys cooking, fiddling with technology projects, and rolling dice with friends while wearing funny hats.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Tumblr | Twitter

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Jessica Black

Jessie, pen name Jessica Black, fandom name alocalband, decided she wanted to be a writer at the age of seven and hasn’t looked back since. With a degree in screenwriting, she spent the majority of her career working on assorted projects in Hollywood, New York, and Puerto Rico. Lately, however, she’s settled down to a quieter life with her cat, her library, and a constantly filling notebook of new ideas. Hobbies include reading, hiking, gaming, knitting, and going to hockey games.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Discord: alocalband#6844 | Tumblr | Twitter

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Marianne Blaine

Marianne is a 25-year-old grad student, currently striving to earn their PhD in biology. In their copious spare time, they enjoy reading, writing, and narrating. Though publishing their works has been a persistent dream since early childhood, participating in this anthology is their first foray away from the relative anonymity and ease of fanfiction. Happiest outdoors, they take inspiration from nature and are always planning a next adventure in the wild places (with maybe an audiobook or two).

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Willa Blythe

Willa Blythe (she/her) started talking late and telling stories early, and she hasn’t stopped doing either of those things since. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Playwriting and a Master’s in Literature, and she still learned most everything she knows about writing from reading someone else’s. She and her pre-teen son Jack are a dynamic duo when it comes to road trip karaoke and dinner table roleplay, but disagree about minor matters like homework and chores and whether or not you must do those things. When not working at her day job, teaching, parenting, trying to convince herself to write, or talking on the phone for hours to the three people in her life who are still into talking on the phone, Willa enjoys picking up new hobbies that she’ll pursue to excess for two and a half months; downloading 67 mods for a video game she’ll play 4 hours of before abandoning for three years; reading halves and thirds and quarters of books; and playing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons with friends online. She’s still waiting for the lady knight of her dreams to come pick her up from this really boring tower—but at least the view is pretty sweet. Her contribution to Add Magic to Taste will be Willa’s first publication, and she’s both grateful and excited for this opportunity to bring a bit of magic to the mundane.

Links: Twitter

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Scarlett Gale

Scarlett Gale is the author of His Secret Illuminations. Long ago, under another name, she was the co-author of Needles and Artifice (Cooperative Press; 2012), featuring a rollicking romantic steampunk adventure novella and associated knitting patterns, of which she also designed several. She writes and produces fringe theatre plays based on B-movies, such as Bodacious Barbarian Babes vs. The Indigo Empress and Showgirls of Beast Island. She is a co-producer of the Alison-Bechdel-approved Bechdel Test Burlesque, which in 2017 was included in the Women and Gender Studies curriculum at the University of Oregon. She lives in Seattle with her wife where she gardens, knits, reads, and drinks warm beverages. Unsurprisingly, she also has cats.

Link: Archive of Our Own | Twitter

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Lacey Hays

When Lacey isn’t dreaming of the stars or magical worlds, she can be found stomping around in the wild areas of Northern Oregon with her wife and son, or sipping on a coffee with her trusty notebook and fountain pens. Her writing journey began in the Star Trek Voyager fandom and has continued for over two decades. At the moment, she’s plugging away at her first novel—a world that’s taken twenty years to come to life. Lacey is eager to continue sharing diverse stories set in dark, but hopeful worlds.

Links: Tumblr | Twitter | Wattpad

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A.L. Heard

Ashley, pen name A.L. Heard, fandom name jhoom, is a 34 year old teacher, writer, and mother of two little boys. She’s been writing fanworks since she discovered ff.net back in her middle school days; the platform has changed and the writing’s improved, but Ashley ultimately still spends her free time writing about characters she adores in worlds she’d like to explore. Her first novel, Hockey Bois, was published in 2021. In between writing projects, she works as a language teacher in the Pittsburgh area, plays hockey, and plays trains with her sons.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Discord: jhoom#6351 | Tumblr | Twitter

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T.S. Knight

Starry, pen name T.S. Knight, is a New England-based writer of original fiction, fanfiction, and plays. “Add Magic to Taste” will be her first published short story. When not writing or beta reading, she spends time diving into history, wandering through art museums, and cooking food for the people she loves. An avid kayaker and helicopter cat mom, she loves to create and read queer stories most of all.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Dreamwidth | Tumblr

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Tris Lawrence

Tris Lawrence has been writing since she was a child, filling notebooks with the worlds, dreams, and voices from inside her head. She declared in sixth grade that she wanted to be a writer, promptly started drafting her first novel in seventh grade, and never looked back.

Tris has always been fascinated by the way people work: how their relationships fit together, how they work socially, how they learn and discover. She has read avidly her entire life, devouring mysteries, romance, science fiction, and fantasy novels, and as an adult still loves all of these genres, as well as reading YA constantly. Her favorite stories center around people who are learning or discovering new things, and coming-of-age stories top that list, which is how the school of Pine Hills University came to be. She wants to share stories of people who are learning how to relate to each other, how to adult, how to college, and how to just be. She hopes to share stories about diverse characters with representation of everything she wishes she could have read growing up, and she hopes that these stories will touch the lives and hearts of those who read them.

When not writing, Tris is a wife, a mother (to two children, a cat, and a dog), a knitter, a system administrator, a black belt in taekwondo, an avid reader and obsessive writer, and a music aficionado. Sleep, she claims, is optional.

Links: Facebook | Pillowfort | Tumblr | Twitter

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Lex T. Lindsay

Lex T. Lindsay likes cats, tats, and cool hats. When she isn’t shaking words loose or yelling about Captain America, she can often be found lurking in the woods. More stories in CONSTRAINT 280 (Microverses) and CLOCKWORK, CURSES AND COAL (World Weaver Press). Forthcoming in UPON A TWICE TIME (Air and Nothingness Press). Occasional Tweets @LexTLindsay.

Links: Linktree | Twitter

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Beth Lumen

Beth Lumen (she/her/hers) has been writing both fan fiction and original fiction forever, and she is thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to this anthology as her first published work. Her first big fandom was Harry Potter in the mid-2000s where she met many wonderful people who remain her friends to this day. She’s written in various book and TV fandoms since then, most recently for queer contemporary novels. In addition to writing and reading happy gay love stories, Beth loves volleyball, traveling, hiking, and making a mess in the kitchen. She lives in St. Paul, MN with her lovely partner and the two best dogs.

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Kristi Mae

Kristi has been daydreaming on road trips and scrawling stories on napkins since she was very small. In 2020, she discovered the wonderfully queer and neurodivergent world of fandom and has never looked back. She currently enjoys writing darkfic for the Magnus Archives podcast and is very happy for her first publishing opportunity with Duck Prints Press.

When not writing, you can find her napping, playing video games, dabbling in bookbinding projects, or occasionally engaging in her actual responsibilities as a STEM doctoral student in Canada.

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Puck Malamud

Puck Malamud (pronouns: ve/ver/vis/verself or they/them/theirs/themself) is a library worker, writer, and poet who has lived in a variety of large East Coast US cities since immigrating from Ukraine in the 1990s. Ve is a co-author of a chapter on being LGBTQ in the library profession, and author and co-author of multiple fics in various fandoms, though primarily The Untamed and Mo Dao Zu Shi. When not desperately trying to keep up with vis Libby holds, Puck can be found practicing dance, hanging out in various Slacks and Discords, and shitposting on Tumblr.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Tumblr

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Maggie Page

Maggie Page lives in Texas with family, including her incorrigibly clumsy mom with a green thumb, two silly dogs who are also mother and daughter, and a fierce feline hunter. Maggie has previously published several poems and a piece of flash fiction with collegiate and independent journals.

When not indulging the urge to write, Maggie enjoys music, traveling, camping, dabbling in various art forms, principally watercolor and graphic making, and torturing her loved ones with her ruthless board game victories.

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Alex Ransom

Alex Ransom is a longtime fan writer and translator recently expanding into original fiction. Her favorite trope, as both reader and writer, is “Earn Your Happy Ending,” in which characters fight through perhaps inordinate amounts of difficulty to come out happier and more content on the other side. She is especially interested in the intersection between social circumstances, personal history, and the formation and maintenance of identity. Her favorite genres are space opera, fantasy, queer romance, and poetry.

As a child, Alex thought everything was better if it was more complicated and that the best answer to a yes or no question was usually “both”. Consequently, today she is bi/pansexual, trans/nonbinary, has worked a variety of jobs, and has three degrees in completely unrelated fields. When she isn’t writing or doomscrolling on the internet, she likes to travel, hike, and build marginally functional furniture. She lives outside Boston, Massachusetts, with her spouse and adult daughter.

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Em Rowntree

Em Rowntree’s first foray into the world of writing was with a story called The Magic Land that featured a unicorn and a flying carpet the size of a country, and they’ve been chasing that high ever since. They’ve been sharing their writing online for almost seven years, and have had poems and short stories published in anthologies. They live in the UK.

Links: Twitter

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Shea Sullivan

Shea Sullivan is a life-long writer living in upstate New York. As a late-blooming queer person, she enjoys writing about complex characters coming into themselves and finding comfort in being exactly who they are.

Shea’s day jobs in computer programming and middle management have molded her into the patient, sarcastic, big-hearted, frustrated human she is today, but it’s what she does outside the 9-5 that really excites her. When she’s not writing, she can be found painting, napping, making quilts, watching documentaries, and trying not to adopt more animals, usually with a cup of tea in hand.

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Florence Vale

Florence is a Norwegian picture book author and fanfic enthusiast. Her current obsessions include Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Magnus Archives, and just about any actual play podcast she can get her hands on. In addition to Add Magic to Taste and her Archive of Our Own account, you can find her writing in the original zines Mansion of Fears and Carpe Noctem.

Links: Archive of Our Own

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Nina Waters

Claire Houck (she/they/he), pen name Nina Waters, fandom name unforth, is the founder and sole proprietor of Duck Prints Press LLC. She is queer, 38 years old, married to the lovely Lisa, and a mother of two. Claire has been writing fanfiction since the young age of seven, when she penned (well, two-finger typed and printed dot matrix) the timeless classic “the story of my littl ponies and the glob.” Since then, her spelling, grammar and prose have improved immensely. She has written over two hundred short stories, a number of novellas, and 16 novels—some original, some fanfiction—including “A Glimmer of Hope,” which was successfully Kickstarted and self-published in fall, 2016. She’s also had two short stories published. Before she became a full-time writer, Claire had a career as a professional grant writer and program evaluator, providing consultation services for the New York City Department of Education and other non-profit education organizations.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Tumblr | Twitter

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Story Prompts: In the Woods

Looking for some writing inspiration? We put together a list of 15 fun prompts for stories that take place in the forest!

  1. Person A tumbles into a ravine and gets badly hurt. Person B is the very annoyed dryad whose tree they damaged on their way down and who has zero comprehension that what, for a dryad, would not be a serious wound, actually endangers Person A.
  2. Person A, B, C, and however many more you want involved, are druids…except for Person Z, who thinks they are participating in a LARP.
  3. Person A chains themselves to a tree to protest climate change, only to discover that Person B has chained themselves to the tree next to theirs to protest logging. Both think the other has their priorities entirely wrong, but as they’re forced to co-exist, they start to talk…
  4. Person A and Person B are rival entomologists in search of a living sample of an extremely rare beetle. They develop a deep enmity, and single-mindedly pursue the only beetle either of them has found into a cave…and then an earthquake traps them together.
  5. Person A is an experienced hiker who has tackled a difficult trail, equipped for the challenge. They don’t expect, miles into the wild, to meet Person B, who is definitely not an experienced hiker. Person B’s clothes are in tatters and they’re half-crazed with thirst and hunger. Person A decides to get them back to safety, not knowing that Person B is hiding a chilling secret.
  6. Person A is the child of someone prominent and has been kidnapped. They manage to escape and flee into the woods, and while they’re running they encounter a large circle of mushrooms. No sooner do they step foot within it that they collide with Person B…who wasn’t there a moment before. Person B claims to have been abducted by fairies over 100 years ago, and Person A has mixed feelings about their credibility, but can’t deny some weird things are starting to happen.
  7. Person A carves their initials into an ancient oak tree, unaware that Person B is a tree spirit that resides in the oak…nor do they know, until it’s too late, that carving initials into a tree inhabited by a spirit bonds a person to the spirit.
  8. Person A has been looking forward to their AirBnB cabin getaway for months, only to arrive and find that the cabin is not merely double booked, but triple booked…and neither Person B nor Person C have the least interest in leaving.
  9. Person A is convinced that supernatural entities exist, despite Person B’s insistence that they’re being ridiculous. Unconvinced, Person A swears they hear wolf howls in the forest only during the full moon, and so Person B is pushed into taking them to the woods as the next full moon rises to try to convince them they’ve heard no such thing…except Person B is the werewolf.
  10. Person A and Person B encounter each other every day when they go down the same road into the woods. The forest is vast, and each is convinced the other is going in there for the same reason…it’s not until they’ve struck up a close friendship that they discover that Person A is an ecoterrorist and Person B is an exasperated logger just trying to do their job.
  11. Person A is lost deep in the woods. Terrified, they pray for guidance, but things keep going wrong and their situations gets worse and worse. Person B is the extremely frustrated God who can’t figure out why nothing they do is successfully communicating to Person A what they should be doing to get un-lost.
  12. Person A is the first human to take up residence on a large tract of virgin forestland. They try to live in harmony with nature – taking up residence in a cave, bathing in a pristine stream, gathering sustenance from local flora, that kind of thing. Person B is the spirit of the cave. Person C is the naiad who lives in the stream. Person D is the (sentient) deer who is frustrated that their favorite berry bush keeps getting denuded of berries. Neither B, C, nor D has ever seen a human before, and each assumes that one of the others is behind the changes in their environment.
  13. Person A is a park ranger who tells all the visitors to the state park that the forest is definitely not haunted, despite the battle that took place there hundreds of years ago. Person B is the ghost that Person A has fallen in love with.
  14. Person A, B, C, and however many more you want involved, are LARPers…except for Person Z, who is a druid.Person A and Person B are in an established relationship and on a hike together. Person A insists they don’t need a map, and refuses to even photograph the guide with their cell phone, because they never get lost. Person B is full of increasingly exasperated “I told you so’s” until they start marking their progress on trees, and they carefully walk in a straight line forward…and still somehow end up circling back to where they started.

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Meet Weird Story Starters

Everyone dreams of meeting their special someone, but the world is awash with meet-cutes, and even meet-uglies, so here – have a prompt list of meet weirds, just in time for Valentine’s Day!

  1. “Do you believe in love at last sight?”
  2. “Pick a card – any card…no, not that one!”
  3. “No offense…full offense…but your dog would be way cuter if it weren’t peeing on my leg.”
  4. “No way, I grabbed that bouquet first – it’s mine!”
  5. “I see you’ve noticed my unusual companion…no pictures, please.”
  6. “Excuse me…I know the line ‘are you an angel cause you look like you fell from heaven’ is trite, but could you get up please? You’re kind of crushing me.”
  7. “Why are you stealing all of those bread sticks?”
  8. “Your dog is staring at me like it remembers me from a past life.”
  9. “Oh, yeah, ‘cause you sure look like you’re getting some nightly!”
  10.  “What do you mean, they vanished into thin air?”
  11. “Are you a devil? Cause you’re setting me on fire. No. Literally. Stop.”
  12. “I don’t give a fuck about Valentine’s Day. Move or be obliterated.”
  13. “Look, I’ve already gotten fired today – I’ve got nothing left to lose!”
  14. “I can’t tell if you’ve actually got tentacles, or if I’m hallucinating again.”
  15. “You know, instead of pointing out that I’m drenched, you could have offered to share your umbrella, asshole!”
  16. “That is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life – and I work at a baby animal rescue.”
  17. “No, I said turn left, not ri– hell, I think you just broke my nose.”
  18. “Mx., while the Fire Department does help with pets who’ve climbed trees…that is unmistakably a cactus, so please excuse my language when I say, respectfully: what the fuck?”
  19. “Please, I’ll pay anything, but I need a ride pronto – it’s my sibling’s wedding in ten minutes and I have the rings!”
  20. “You…shall not…PASS…oh, fuck, okay, you pass, just put that thing away, it’s pointy! Are you trying to kill me or something?”