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From a Misread Headline to a Manuscript and Beyond

There’s a new book coming-out soon. Nothing new about that – there are millions published each year. What’s different about this one is the odd title, Fried Windows (In a Light White Sauce) and the by line – it’s mine.

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Like every book I have written it was a labor of love though the creative impulse came unexpectedly. The core of the overall story – sixteen chapters really – were composed in less than a month in the early spring of 2012. I left a dead-end retail management job after more than four years and I had pretty much decided to pursue writing as a career. As is so often the case, it wasn’t the best of times to make such a choice.

The quirky title of the book fits the unusual story. It came from a misread news headline that, of course, drew me right in. I wondered what Fried Windows were and immediately pondered how one would serve them. In a light white sauce! – yeah, it was one of those days.

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Somewhere along the way I was sidetracked, deviating far from my personal goals. Some of that I did because of three kids I believed in and a marriage I no longer did. I took that one last job in order to continue supporting my youngest while she finished high school. She lived with me for a couple of years afterwards before moving away, joining her older sister who was beginning graduate school up north. That event triggered something of a midlife crisis for me. Immediately after hugging her and her sister goodbye, I felt like I was left pretty much alone.

Certainly, I was not alone. My son still lived about fifteen miles away; he was also in graduate school. My ex-wife with whom I still communicated occasionally was on the east coast about an hour and a half away from where I was. My sister and brother-in-law lived on the west coast and my great niece was in the greater Miami area. Still, for all intents and purposes I was alone.

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My job frustrated me. I don’t know whether I had ever been satisfied though at first I believed a lot of the bull about being promoted, being given my own store, and the company’s desire to change its ways to become more modern and competitive. At first it seemed like that was happening, albeit slowly. Later on it became clear that it was a district effort that was not aligned with the corporate direction. The district manager was replaced. A company man took over and word went out that there would be changes. Foremost was an antithetical concept for me that I hadn’t had to deal with since leaving the military: we were being paid not to think but to execute on directions from above. That predisposes that upper management is always right and has an unambiguous direction in its policies – which was not the case at all. Ignoring feedback from the front lines is the formula for disaster in any campaign.

Anyway, there were other reasons for my eventual resignation. Many of those related to my unhealthy lifestyle that had evolved form working crazy house, making time to write trying to write, which was something I enjoyed, and dealing with the stress of working a job in which there did not seem to be any progress. A lot of what I was experiencing related to my desire to do what I always wanted to be before getting married and going to college. A little over two years ago it seemed like the last chance I might ever have to become a professional writer – a sort of now or never proposition.

Almost a month after quitting by job, I wrote a short story under the Fried Windows title. At the time I belonged to a writer’s group. I posted the story in two installments with the break roughly where the chapter breaks are now in the book. It received favorable reviews and some suggested I continue writing about the characters. Over the next few weeks I continued writing what I believed were related short stories. Afterwards, I shelved the project and continued working on revisions of The Wolfcat Chronicles, a ten book series I began seriously working on in 2002 though, honestly, the story has roots back to a character profile I created in a writing course at Purdue University in 1977.

Purdue-University Fall

For the next year what was left of my personal life pretty much fell apart. I experienced the worst parts of economic demise and personal embarrassment. I was essentially homeless by choice doing some couch surfing among my relatives. One can only do that for so long. The experience afforded me some time to finish revisions. One of the last things I worked on was Fried Windows. I wanted to submit the initial short story to a magazine. I always believed the story was good enough to be published somewhere.

A friend who lives a short train ride away from Toronto consented to editing the piece for me. Afterwards, I figured it was in pretty good shape for critical scrutiny. So, I submitted it, sincerely expecting that it would be published. My next concern was having something to submit as a follow up, envisioning the sixteen original stories as installments that the magazine would want after all the positive feedback they would receive my first short story. Yeah, I live in my own world a lot.

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While revising the pieces I found some continuity of story line. I wrote a couple of bridging pieces and what was a collection of short stories took shape as a novel – one starting with chapter three of the present book because, after all, the first two chapters were a short story that I expected fully to be published in a magazine.

The same day the rejection notification from the magazine came I finished revisions to what had grown into a twenty-eight-chapter novel. The story connected well into the overall Brent Woods universe of my other unpublished fiction ventures. I was disappointed, of course, but at the same time elated because now I had an excuse to include the short story that began it all as the first two chapters of the book. I repackaged it, renumbered the chapters and prepared it for self-publishing.

In the background I had been working on building a fan base through social media. Part of that was building up my Facebook and Twitter following. Already I had many friends who were authors and some who were publicists and small publishers as well as a couple of smaller houses with affiliations with the major publishers. Those were not really great connections for getting a book published but you start with what you have. Also, I had been seeking a literary agent for the past three or four years, discovering that finding a good one was probably the only thing harder than landing a publishing contract with one of majors which is something more difficult the gaining admission into an Ivy League school.

Somewhere in the few moments between finishing the revision of Fried Windows and setting it up for eBook publishing I receive a tweet from a small publisher based in my favorite city, Austin, asking for new manuscripts. The name of the house intrigued me enough to check them out. In the process I discovered they were a traditional publisher with a very different mission statement that focused on building author brand rather than selling books alone. Deciding that I liked their ideas for growing their business, I read and followed the submission guidelines and reformatted my manuscript accordingly. I sent it to them instead of self-publishing it. I figured I could wait a few weeks for the rejection I’d come to expect. In the meanwhile I could move on to other projects.

There’s a funny thing that happens in most author’s lives surrounding rejection. Eventually you do grow numb to it. You warp the universe around you to actually set a goal of receiving the maximum number or rejections possible for any submission. It makes sense in a way. If you try every avenue you might find that one yes. You get to the point that when you don’t receive another rejection letter to add to your growing collection you’re almost pissed-off. But then, in the next moment of disbelief, you re-read the acceptance letter as the surprise turns more toward suspicion that 1) you must have read the thing wrong or 2) there must be some catch – start looking for the fine print. Paraphrasing the immortal Grocho Marx, you wonder if you want to belong to any club that would have someone like you as a member. You’re so accustomed to hearing that your baby is ugly you disbelieve that anyone could actually like it. Even more surreal was that it had been less than two weeks from submission to acceptance. That’s unheard of in an industry that routinely takes a week to decide to get around to thinking about doing anything and several months to actual years to finally produce a novel. So, I remained guardedly optimistic going into a conference call regarding the acquisition of my book.

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Although I had experience in self-publishing I didn’t have good results. The failure was not necessarily the quality of the material but the lack of promotion behind my releases. After all I was still growing my network of followers and establishing my author’s brand. That takes time. I didn’t lack from material to publish, though. At that point, I had twenty manuscripts ready to go. It was just that when I was working sixty to seventy hours a week. I had plenty of excuses for why I didn’t have the time or energy to put forth in becoming successful. I had been stuck in the trying stage of reaching my goal for so long I had grown roots and settled comfortably in obscurity. With the successful negotiation and signing of a publishing contract all that ended. Someone else believed in one of my books. Together we were going to embark on a journey toward producing a novel. A publisher was committing to provide professional editing, cover design and marketing. And so, the long journey of taking a raw manuscript through to a finished novel began.

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Fried Windows (In A Light White Sauce) launches May 30, 2014 from Pandamoon Publishing. Sharing the dream begins then.

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Lacuna Coil’s Latest Broken Crown Halo

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I’m a fan. I can’t help it. Lacuna Coil is a great band, tight musically and in concert they are entertaining visually as well. I love Cristina Scabbia’s vocals. Also, it is quite an accomplishment for an Italian band hailing from Milan to make with English lyrics. Both Cristina and her male counterpart, Andrea Ferro, speak English so they sing with distinction not found in phonetic approximation of words.

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I discovered LC in early 2006. Karmacode was charting at the time and the song Our Truth was getting some local airplay in anticipation of the band’s appearance at the annual Earthday Birthday festival in Orlando. I took the kids to the concert and we spent the day. The opened with Closer, played Fragile as well as Our Truth and included Enjoy the Silence, which I believe is the best cover of the Depeche Mode song.

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Lacuna Coil was, for me, one of the high points of the event that billed such other acts as Rob Zombie, Mudvayne, Shinedown, Trapt, Theory Of A Deadman and Hinder. Lacuna Coil hit the stage in the early afternoon, played a set that was all too brief in my estimation. However it showcased their songs from their the album they were there to promote.

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This year, Lacuna Coil was back in the States and they were on the bill for this year’s EDBD show that was held last weekend. Once again, they had an afternoon set. I think that’s indicative of the situation with the band and the often-fickle American music market. Over the nine intervening years not much has changed in terms of the band’s popularity in the mainstream. Maybe that’s not fair to them. I’m glad they aren’t a pop band. They are one of those great live show acts that create fans and generate a following everywhere they go. The fact they haven’t had a viral hit that has propelled them to the forefront in American rock circles has nothing to do with the quality of their work. It’s one of those things. They haven’t clicked in the right way to catch fire. And you know what, there’s more to making music than climbing the charts. Most bands these days are very happy being touring acts and playing their music to crowds. The music industry has evolved in that way. The albums promote the concerts in the exact opposite way that concerts used to promote albums.

Since the release of Karmacode, I’ve dutifully acquired each of LC’s follow-up albums. Although I like each of the albums for different reasons, there has been some experimentation with their sound over the years. The band is more popular closer to home and so there is a definite European characteristic to their sound – which is not a bad thing, just something that American audiences need to warm up to.

Sonically none of the albums since Karmacode had inspired me to wear the songs out. I have included them in playlists in addition to songs from their earlier albums like Comalies and In A Reverie. The band’s later work has turned darker then the production quality has diminished the prominence of the bass line and percussion. Sorry, but I really love bass and percussion. Although the guitar work is excellent I like they way Karmacode was mixed. Maybe that has a lot to do with my feelings about Shallow Life and Dark Adrenaline, which felt overproduced and even slickly done at times.

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Dark Crown Halo is not the bands best work but it’s solidly performed. There are tracks I particularly like and have added to my playlist: Nothing Stands In My Way, Zombies, Die & Rise, I Forgive (But I won’t Forget Your Name) and One Cold Day. The remainder of the album is listenable as well. Perhaps with repetition some of the songs will grow on me. For me it’s not quite a 4 but certainly not a 3, definitely worth a listen, especially if you’re into the Gothic rock genre.

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Using The Negative To Find The Positive

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I believe in balance. Over the course of my life I’ve been pretty observant. Yeah I overlook some things. I’ve missed some great opportunities as well. But the one thing about me is that I notice things most others overlook. Call it a gift or a curse; it’s been a little of both. It has a lot to do with why I’m a writer, though.

If you believe in balance as I do, you see things in off setting opposites. When you have something good happens you automatically moderate the exuberance because you know there is a downside coming. But when you suffer a set back or defeat, you also know something good is just around the corner. It’s the optimistic side of this balance thing that I pay the most attention to. Maybe that’s because I really don’t like being me when I am negative. Guess what, no one else likes me being that way either.

Me in mid 1970's
When I get in one of my moods I can be funny in a self deprecating way. Remembers, I see things differently and that includes a lot of things other people miss. Fortunately for writers and comedians the world is full of irony. Actually, I have a theory that the invisible force that science is looking for, that thing to holds the universe together, is actually irony. Yep, that’s the glue. Anyway, I like to point out some of those odd, quirky things to others. Whether it makes them laugh depends on their moods. Sometimes it reinforces what they already think about me – that I’m weird. But that’s okay, as long as no one ever accuses me of being normal, I’m doing just fine.

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I guess what I’m getting at is that old adage about looking for the silver lining. I’ve had some pretty seriously dark clouds over the past several years. I won’t innumerate them here because it would be a long boring litany of mishaps, failures and mistakes. We all have those. Some of us have more than our share for a while. But maybe that’s because some of us have more we need to learn about those things than others. The way I figure, I’m supposed to write about some of the stuff that happened to me. Since few would ever believe many of those things it’s probably a good thing I write fiction. Let’s suffice it to say in the immortal words of Jim Morrison, “I’ve been down to very damned long, that it look’s like up to me.”

So if you’re thinking things can’t get any worse, just know that’s up to you. Your attitude and approach to life is what matters the most. I’m not saying to be happy when something bad happen to you. That would be crazy. But what I’m saying is that you can start looking for something good to come along. It’s usually behind the worst things, just about exactly where you wouldn’t expect to find it. Let those bad things be your compass. You might have to go in the opposite direction from the way you’ve been headed – go south for a while instead of north – but there is always something good that goes along with something bad.

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Interview with Emily Belden Author of the Best Selling Memoir Eightysixed: Life Lessons Learned

FINAL FRONT COVER for Amazon

Funny things happen on to way to thirty but also many problems and some downright strange situations. In Eightysixed Emily Belden tells her experiences of being a twenty-something young woman looking for love in the big city (Chicago) in a humorous yet touching way. It’s like talking to one of your best friends from high school or college.

These days Emily is a busy young lady with a lot of things going on from her successful blog http://www.totalebag.com to an online store for greeting cards directed to the LGBT community. Oh, and yes, she was the lady who tiled her bedroom floor in pennies. But she made the time to answer a few questions for me and, as always her answers are uniquely genuine and amusing.

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Me: Thanks this doing this. Let’s start with the question everyone asks about a memoir. How closely do the interactions in your books mirror your real life?

Emily: There are no made up people or situations in Eightysixed. The most that was done to futz with things was change some of the names and identifying qualities to protect “the innocent” (I use that term loosely). So, this book in many ways is a perfect mirror to my life; specifically the past and not as much the present. I’m old and boring now. The only relationships that I contend with on a daily basis are with my soon-to-be husband, Ryan Lange, and our rescue pitbulls: Mr. Jarbles and Gus.

Me: At some a point in every professional writer’s life it stops being a hobby and starts being a vocation. When did that happen for you and why did you choose to pursue this career?

Emily: I knew that the more I wrote in my “Dear Diary,” the more I was saying to myself, “This could be a book!” So I made it one. It wasn’t until I reread the final part (Part 3) that I felt what a normal reader would feel (vs. the critical eye of the author herself) and realized this thing does something for the soul and I must, MUST, share it with the world.

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Me: When writing I’m sure you hit snags where characters aren’t behaving or the plot just isn’t working. When that happens to me I play video solitaire. What do you do?

Emily: I eat. Whenever writer’s block happens, I literally fix myself a sandwich, chips, and a Diet Coke and retake my seat at the computer. Something about a little distraction coupled with the endorphins that good food releases and I am back in no time.

Me: Where would you be at this moment in your life had you never decided to write a book?

Emily: I would be a full-time copywriter at an agency in downtown Chicago making no money to come up with genius headlines that would never see the light of day. I would have a lot more free time, which would mean that I could dedicate my life to my second dream: finding the best chocolate chip cookie in the United States.

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Me: Every writer has that one story that clicked, inspiring him or her to pursue writing as a career. What was the story and what was there about it that made it influential?

Emily: For me, it was Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. He is a father who wrote about his teenage son’s nasty drug addiction. You get a front row seat to the spiral. You see an array of human darkness, truth, and mistakes. And while my book is upbeat and humorous, David Sheff gave me the courage to write like no one is watching, like no one will judge you for the mistakes you’ve made that are a part of who you are today.

I’d like to thank Emily Belden again for taking the time to answer a few question and let all of you know that she is working on another book. But in the meantime you can visit her online at:

Website:         www.totalebag.com

Facebook:       https://www.facebook.com/EmilyBeldenAuthor

Twitter:          https://twitter.com/emilybelden

 

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About Dreaming Dreams and Living Life

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People don’t stop dreaming; they just grow up. What a sad and sobering thought that is! But it’s mine and I’ll bet its yours, whether you had it before or are just dealing with it the same way as the rest of us. I’d like to think that it’s a choice whether to follow a dream. I’m saddened that so many of us give up on our visions before they come to fruition. Yet, it isn’t a matter of not being able to go back and start over, just the difficulty of remembering what it’s like to be as idealistic as you once were as a child.

Your dreams never leave you. You’ve just misplaced them behind all the other things that get in front of them and crowd them out, pushing them to the back of the importance queue. And when you’re battling it out in the adult world, surrounded by other grown-ups who have also set aside their dreams for the sake of practicality it’s hard to ignore what everyone else tells you is important, what needs to be your priority and what you long ago adopted as your ambition. In order to do what seems the craziest thing to everyone one else, you have to start thinking like you did when you were a kid. You need to believe everything is going to be alright – just like your father and mother used to tell you. You’ve got to believe that everything and anything is possible.

Gentte and me 1959

Reality is pretty persistent in grabbing your attention, though. That’s not your fault except that you accepted it at some point. It all started with your formal indoctrination – you know, that twelve or more years you spent in school. That’s when you’re taught how to play the game, when others groom you for success by their terms, force-feeding you the tenants of their faith in the illusion they believe. You adopt all the things they think are important. But there is always that piece of you that remains inside. It’s a part of your youthful nature that wants to do something else, the unexpected something – except that everyone around you would certainly believe you’ve gone mad.

So you continue in your daily quest for whatever it is that the money you earn affords you – seeking a comfortable life and the security of a steady paycheck to make the installments on your overly-mortgaged existence. You’re indebted to the system you’ve co-opted. But you think about it, don’t you? What could life have been like if only…

I’ve decided that the artistic temperament comes from our dreams. It’s stronger or closer to the surface in some than in others, but it’s always there. Unless you’ve allowed others to kill it – or perhaps you executed it yourself. You can find your way back, though. You see, you’ve distanced the adult you from the inner child. That’s all. Supposedly that was necessary in order for you to succeed in the adult world. Isn’t that what they say? That’s the lie, though. Being a part of the grown-up world, wearing big boy and big girl pants, is all about conformity. The system must keep the masses walking on the sidewalks and never straying off into the grass. We’re taught to worry about what others will think, what the neighbors are going to say while, all along the way, the distance continues to grow between us and other true aspiration. There’s always another thing that gets in the way, isn’t there? It distracts us from our hearts desire and our real potential.

Joyce, Genette and me in 1957

You can’t believe in possibilities when you’re beset with fires to fight and problems to solve. You’ve brought all of that on yourself, though. You decided to take on responsibility because others, well-meaning people you trust, told you that’s what you needed to do. And you forgot about being a model, an actor, a painter, sculptor, musician or a writer.

You look at artists with pity or disdain, thinking they’re a bit off and certainly not normal. Secretly you envy them, though, for their ability to escape the reality you suffer and daily endure. Still, look at all the marvelous things you have to show for you hard work. They don’t have the fancy car, the big house. That all comes from towing the line and doing what you are supposed to do. The material aspects of your life, the things you have acquired, are the evidence of your triumphs. They define the level of your success.The achievements you’ve earned through discipline and obedience have been substituted for your dreams. It’s why you don’t press the snooze button when the alarm clock goes off at 4 AM. It’s why you put in over sixty and sometimes seventy hours a week for the past twenty-five years of working for someone else, contributing to their success in business in exchange for your salary, bonuses, stock options and whatever else they used in their sales pitch to gain your cooperation.

Genette at wedding reception with Joyce, Jay, Mom, Dad and Me

Yet, you wonder about what makes those crazy artists different. How is it that some of them succeed and appear to love what they do? How can they be like that? How can they be satisfied with their lot in life without all those things that define your existence? But in the quiet of night you ask yourself if maybe you took the wrong path. You’re not really all that happy in your life despite all the trappings of success.

People aren’t supposed to be happy – that’s what you decided as you went along chasing someone else’s goals that you substitute in lieu of all the wonderful dreams you had. Each year it grows more and more difficult to find your way back to the path that, once upon a time, made sense to you when you were six or seven-years-old. The world was teeming with possibilities then, when you were naive enough to believe int he magic of the world around you. What wouldn’t you do to be that innocent again? If you’re lucky, enough of the dreamer remains within you that you might get the chance to visit your imaginary friends, reconnect with their world and experience what you lost in the process of growing up.

Me in early 1980's before job interview

That, my friends, is what Fried Windows (In a Light White Sauce) is about. Forty-six days until launch and I can’t wait to share the story and adventure with you.

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The Way To Write (In Case You Were About To Ask)

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Something I have done most of my life, starting around age twelve or so, is write. First with was with pencil or pen and paper. Eventually, sometime toward the conclusion of high school when I was on the school newspaper staff – I graduated to composing on a typewriter – do you remember those things? I never took typing lessons in school. Those who edit my work can attest to that fact. But writers find a way of communicating through whatever means is available and at the time a typewriter was the best thing I had to work with.

At some point when I was in the Air Force, the job I had signed on to do required that I type 25 words per minute and that needed to be accomplished trying in the correct way – not hunt and peck or any of my advanced three finger variations on the theme. What was interesting was that I proved to the course instructor that I could type between 50 and 60 words per minute my way. But he insisted that as per AF regulation I had to do it his way to pass the course. After a week or so of intensive training I reached 26 words per minute the ‘right’ way and subsequently went back to doing things my way for the remainder of my brief AF career. In the process I published a 400+ page, award winning unit history and two fairly lengthy AF regulations (one training and one for cataloguing, storing and disposing of classified documents), typing the wrong way.

There is no right way or wrong way to write, though. It is as individual as your preferences for breakfast cereal or whether you drink beer, wine or water. You really choose what you need to do.

While I was in the Air Force I started using a word processor as opposed to a typewriter. Yet when I left the Air Force I continued to write on a typewriter for another six or so years. Writing was a hobby I did on my time off whenever I wanted playing father to my kids or doing all the dad projects around the house. My ex may rue the day she talked me into getting a computer for the kids. I ended up using it most of the time. After deciding it was an expensive thing to use for playing Solitaire, I began creating MS Works files of my novel in progress – something I had been working on since 1977. That began an adventure in learning everything I could about personal computers to the point I could fix darned near anything that went wrong with either hardware or software, build custom configurations of friends and eventually working a a computer technician from time to time. But a lot of that served to feed an ever increasing desire to handle my needs as a wannabe writer.

Currently I work with a old MacBook Pro. I prefer a real keyboard so I have one plugged into the USB port. And I have composed three novels on this machine and edited/revised six others in the five years I have had this computer, three of those were composed on a PC using Linux with Open Office. One my first two books were done entirely on a Windows based PC.

Although I have used Windows for many years, I am more comfortable with Mac OS now. However, I use MS Office for Mac for most things I do as a writer and a publicist.

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Meaning Nothing

The Wolfcat Chronicles

It came about from general confusion, as so often happens. It had always been the easiest of mistakes, especially in reading handwriting, a zero looked like the letter ‘O’, and vice versa. Even to write about it now, it seems best to spell out the numeral. So, it became common practice, wherever both characters were used, to slash through the numeral to indicate a difference. In that way, seldom were the two confused. However, as handwriting became less and less often used, the practice was relegated to the obscure and esoteric practices of mathematicians.

There came a time, though, when an artistic soul decided to erect a statue in defiant protest in the face of incessant attacks on everything once cherished and sacred. At personal expense and with much effort, the artist brought a large block of granite into a community square. Behind a drape his work proceeded as he…

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