Tag Archives: Rowan University

Self-Imposed Deadlines

I just graduated from Rowan University with my Master of Arts degree in Writing. I’ve been in school since Spring of 2012, after going back finally after a long leave of absence. Being in school for so long meant that I always had deadlines and structure imposed upon me by the school. This was especially handy when working on the sequels to Manifestation, two of which were written as part of my school projects (I got A’s on both).

I’ve been trying for awhile to work on revisions for Contamination, the second volume of Arcana Revived. Since this one wasn’t something I was working on for school, there have been times that I had to find the balance between working on revisions on my own time and working on school work. Since the school work had deadlines imposed upon me by my teachers, it usually got the higher priority. Now that school is over, I’m putting Contamination above everything else.

The problem is, now I’m the only one creating my deadlines.

I just missed a self-imposed deadline last week. I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through my third draft of Contamination. I have some notes and feedback from critique partners, and I’m going to be getting more feedback from my Rowan classmates, since we’re keeping in touch and we will be continuing to work together on our writing projects as time goes on. But none of them can force me to stick to a deadline. I’ve got to handle that on my own.

Working through depression makes meeting a deadline a lot harder. I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, and it’s been particularly bad over the last few weeks. Part of the problem is that I’ve left school and as a result I’ve left the structure of my class schedule. I’m also only employed part time at the moment while I look for a more permanent position somewhere in the publishing field. As a result, I’m spending a lot of time at home, alone, with nothing but my thoughts, my writing, a stack of books, and the Metroid Prime Trilogy.

All in all, it’s been a struggle to meet my personal goals. I’m pretty sure it’ll improve once I’m back in a regular work schedule. When I’m home alone everyday, there’s an extreme lack of structure to my daily routine. This makes it easy to lose track of time and end up spending twelve hours straight trying to restore the Light of Aether to the Luminoth homeworld.But when I have a regular work schedule, it’s a lot easier to work my writing and revising schedule around it, such as by setting aside a couple of hours after I get home from work each night. I need that routine, and once I get into the groove again, my writing and revising process will improve greatly (and hopefully so will my blogging schedule, since I really need to get back into a three day a week blogging routine).

In the meantime, I’m going to keep plugging away as best I can. And if you’re a fan of my first book, I promise I’ll have the second one on its way before long.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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Uncertainty About Feedback

As I’ve mentioned a number of times recently, I’m currently working on my Master’s Degree Thesis Project for my MA in Writing at Rowan University. My project is one of the sequels to Manifestation, which will eventually be published some time after my graduation. I’m working on the third draft, making revisions based on feedback from my professor, my classmates, and a second professor who serves the role of “project reader” (each student gets individual guidance and advice from a different project reader, in addition to our main professor who works with all of us). The advice I’ve gotten, across the board, is extremely helpful and insightful.

It’s also really difficult to work with, at times.

See, sometimes you can get a really good piece of advice, say to yourself, “Hmm, this is a good point, I should fix this,” and then have NO idea how to actually fix the problem at hand. For example, I’ve recently received some advice that my WIP has some issues with pacing, and that the story needs to keep moving forward, instead of being slowed down. This makes a lot of sense, but it leaves me a bit uncertain how to proceed. It’s likely that I’ll need to simply cut some scenes that don’t support the overall narrative, but it can be hard to make an objective decision about which scenes need to go. Or I might need to rearrange some chapters to reorder how events play out, so that there aren’t extended slow-moving sections. But that can also be difficult, since it requires an analysis of the overall structure of the story, rather than looking at any scene individually.

Usually, I find I need to take situations like this one piece at a time. I find it more productive to look through the feedback I’ve received and pick-and-choose what I’m going to address right away versus what I’m going to deal with later. It’s kind of like having a To Do list and tackling the easiest tasks on it first, in order to shorten the list. I find a shorter list far less daunting, and at least I can feel like I’m making progress. This works far better for me than staying jammed on a single issue and never moving forward.

It also allows me more time to figure out what to do. When I’m working on one issue, another will be in the back of my mind, simmering. By the time I’m ready to address it, I’ll have had time to figure out some new approaches. Sometimes that makes it a lot easier to come to a final decision. Or sometimes the answer will come to me unexpectedly, usually while I’m in the shower. In any case, setting it aside until I’m ready seems to work far better than dwelling on it.

It can also be helpful to write a blog post about it, because that lets me get my ideas out and keeps me from dwelling on them. Which brings us to where we are now.

Hopefully, before the end of the weekend, I’ll be able to make some serious progress. If not, I’ll just have to keep muddling through it until things start to click. Wish me luck.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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Job Hunting

As you may know, I’m currently a student in Rowan University’s Master’s in Writing grad program. I’m graduating with my MA in about six weeks. At which time, you will all call me Master.

Because I’ll have my Master’s Degree? Get it?


Anyway. While I’ve been attending Rowan, I’ve also been employed by the Rowan University Writing Center. My duties there have included tutoring students on their writing, running small group workshops for Composition I classes, running fiction workshops including out #NaNoWriMo Write Ins, and assisting with various presentations and seminars.

I enjoy this job. A lot. I can say, hands down, that it’s the single best job I’ve ever had.

Unfortunately, the position is classified as a “student job,” which means that when I graduate in May, I’ll also be leaving my tutoring job.

So, I’m looking for a new job right now. Ideally, something involving writing, such as copywriting, working for a college writing department, publication layout and design at a magazine or journal, or anything in the publishing field.

If you happen to know of any openings in the South Jersey/Philadelphia/Wilmington area, I’d appreciate any leads. I’m attaching my resume here, in case anyone is interested.

Jason Cantrell Resume

Also, if you want to support my publishing career, you can check out my novel, Manifestation. It’s an urban fantasy adventure about a teenage girl caught in the rebirth of magical powers. I think you’ll love it. And if you do, it’ll help me make sure my rent gets paid.

In the meantime, between job hunting, I’ll be continuing work on Contamination, the sequel to Manifestation. I just finished Draft Two and I’m getting critiques and feedback right now. Expect to see more on the upcoming release later this year.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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One Black Wall

I recently read a book called Nothing But Blue, by Lisa Jahn-Clough (one of my professors at Rowan University). It’s about a lost girl taking a journey where she meets a number of people who live “unorthodox” lives. Train hoppers, hippies, artists, and others who don’t conform to society’s norms. The main character, Blue, is a bit unorthodox herself. One of the book’s memorable scenes tells how she painted forest scenes on her bedroom walls, then imagined little gnomes living among the trees, so she added mushroom houses for them.

I was never allowed to paint my walls. My mom had the final say in everything that went on in the house. When we were teenagers, my sister wanted to paint her bedroom black (because, teenagers). My mom refused. She said it would make the room too dark and dreary. They argued about it for awhile, and eventually my mom agreed to let my sister paint one wall black. The other three had to stay nice, bland, conformist white.

Except, even though my mom might have the “right” to make this decision since she owned the house, in reality, she had no reason to do it. She never went into that room. It was my sister’s room, where my sister should have had privacy and the ability to make her own decisions. And while the color of your walls might not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, this is just one small example of the things parents try to control. I’ve known people whose parents forced them to go to the college the parents wanted, take the jobs the parents wanted, or plan the wedding the parents wanted. Even though they aren’t the ones going to that school, working that job, or getting married in that wedding.

Our society, oftentimes, supports this behavior. We seem to think that people in authority have some right to tell others how to live their lives. And that’s wrong.

Because it leads to churches trying to tell gay and lesbian couples that they can’t marry who they want, even when it’s none of their business.

Because it leads to senators trying to pass laws banning transgender individuals from using the bathroom for their identified gender, even when it’s none of their business.

Because it leads to people trying to tell others how they can live their lives, and that’s just wrong. You don’t have any right to tell someone else what color to paint their bedroom unless you’re the one sleeping in that bedroom with them. And you don’t have any right to tell someone about anything else they can or can’t do in that bedroom, because you’re not the one in there with them.

So next time you think about trying to tell someone else how to live their lives, just remember: they don’t have to have one black wall just because you said so.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

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You’re the First I’ve Ever Met

I had an interesting conversation with a coworker today.

I was at the Writing Center at Rowan University, where I tutor students and help them to (hopefully) become better writers. It’s an interesting job with some interesting people. As often happens at Rowan, the subject made its way around to the most common question you’ll ever hear as a college student: “What are you going to do when you graduate?”

I don’t have a good answer to that question. I don’t know what kind of day job I’m going to be getting. Though the real answer–the most honest one–is that I want to focus on being a professional writer.

Naturally, she asked, “So you want to publish books?”

And of course, I answered, “I’ve already published one.”

I’m a bit of a shy person, so I don’t go around shouting about my book to everyone I meet. So even though we’d worked together for some time, this was the first she’d heard about it. We had a short conversation about what the book is about (a girl with superpowers trying to survive in a world where magic is returning and going crazy), how long it took me to write (two years), and how the sales are going (an awkward question I avoid as much as I avoid telling people how much my day job pays). Once I got going, I got over my shyness and talked a bit about my book. Then my coworker said something that left me a bit speechless:

“You’re the first person I’ve ever known who published a book.”

I wasn’t sure how to react to that. I think I kind of blushed and stammered a bit. And I tried to think about who I knew that had written books.

The first that came to mind were my Rowan professors. Just listing the ones whose books I’ve actually read, there’s:

Red Dirt by Joe Samuel Starnes
Nothing But Blue by Lisa Jahn-Clough
Mimi Malloy, At Last! by Julia MacDonnell Chang
In the Shadows of a Fallen Wall by Sanford Tweedie

Then there’s a book written by one of my Rowan classmates, New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, edited by Joseph Berenato.

And that’s not counting people I know online, whether self- or traditionally-published.

It kind of makes me feel like I’ve joined some kind of elite club. Like a country club membership, only with less golf and rich old white men, and more awesome books for me to read. Which sounds like a really good deal to me.

And it’s not one of those “you can’t golf here if you’re not a member” clubs. Because people who read are totally a part of the club, or else there wouldn’t BE a club, right? So the only people who aren’t allowed in the club are people who don’t like books.

And they can join the club if they find a book they DO like, and they read it.

So that’s what you should do today. Read a book. Maybe one of the ones I just mentioned above. Or mine. Either way, you’ll be having more fun than playing country club golf.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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Sweeping Out the Cobwebs

For the past few weeks, both my writing and my blogging have been somewhat sporadic. I’ve fallen into, at any given time, one of two traps: the staring at the screen trap or the getting distracted trap.

Staring at the screen, most writers will tell you, is a waste of time. You’re not getting anything accomplished. Oftentimes, it’s better to just start writing whatever random crap comes to mind (kind of like I’m doing right now), with the hopes that it will start flowing and something good will come out. Typing anything is better than nothing at all. And, if it turns out that whatever you wrote really does suck, you can always cut it out later and move on. But you can never get to that point if you don’t start.

Freewriting is a good tool to use for this. Some most okay, probably all of my blog posts are written this way. I rarely have anything more than a general idea of what to write about. Sometimes, like today, I start off writing about how I don’t have anything to write about. But it gets the ideas flowing, albeit not always as effectively as my Water Muse.

I pretty much start all of my novels this way too. I just finished up some early revisions on my Rowan University master’s thesis project, aka Arcana Revived Volume Six, and I ended up completely cutting the first two chapters (somewhere around 2600 words). This is because those chapters were mostly just me thinking out loud on the page, figuring out where I was going, but not really writing anything all that interesting. I decided that the best thing to do was start the story with what was originally chapter three, since that’s the chapter where Tock and Gabby almost kill each other and some major tension starts to build up.

Getting distracted is my other main issue. Twitter can be a problem in that regard, as can Netflix. Though I think more than anything, the problem comes down to discipline. When I have a concrete goal, like writing at least 2000 words a day during NaNoWriMo, I’m better able to sit down and force myself to do it. But once I got out of the routine, it became hard to stick to a new goal, such as revising one chapter per day on Contamination. Which I should go do. Like, right now.

Do you have problems getting started? What do you do to get past them?

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

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Distance and Objectivity

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently working on two different revision projects. One is Contamination, the sequel to Manifestation. I’m currently about 80% of the way through Draft 2 (and I need to update that progress bar on the right to show that). I’m mostly working on line edits, making sure everything reads well and is clear, adding descriptive details where needed, and looking for plot holes that need filling or scenes that need cutting.

The second project is my Rowan University Master’s in Writing Thesis Project, a.k.a. Arcana Revived Volume Six (currently untitled). I’m pretty much doing the same thing there that I am on Contamination: basic edits and cleaning up the prose. I’m not to the point yet where I can make major changes since I need more time analyzing what is already there. I already have a few ideas on chapters that need to be cut, but I’m not to the point yet of making those decisions.

Normally, I wouldn’t be working on both of these projects at once. After all, Contamination is book two, so why be working on book six? Well, because I need to for school. Book six obviously won’t be published for quite some time, and I’m only doing the amount of work on it now that I need to for it to be “complete” in terms of what the thesis project requires. Mostly this means focusing on polishing up the first 30,000 words, and leaving the rest for later.

However, I’m running into a slight issue on Book Six that I’m not running into on Contamination, and I think I’ve figured out why. I don’t have enough distance from the first draft yet.

See, I wrote the first draft of Contamination for NaNoWriMo 2013. I’ve had close to a year and a half to get some objectivity about what I’ve written, so I can look at it and decide what needs to be changed, what needs to be cut, what’s working, and what isn’t. It’s a lot easier to say “Okay this is crap, it needs to go” on a scene or chapter that I wrote so long ago. It’s not so easy to do that with Book Six, which I just wrote a few months ago, for NaNoWriMo 2014.

The result is that I feel like I’m slogging through each chapter on Book Six, but I have no trouble with Contamination. The revisions on Book Six feel too “big.” I’m having trouble looking at individual issues instead of seeing the whole novel as, from the point of view of my critical side, one big steaming pile of crap. I’m still too connected to the rush and joy I felt writing the first draft and all the fragile emotions that go along with it.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says that when you finish a draft, you should put it in a drawer for six weeks or more. This is so that you can come at it with a fresh perspective. I feel like I need a little more than six weeks. Maybe six months? Which means that if I didn’t have a deadline, I’d be shelving everything to do with Book Six for a long time, until I’m more ready to deal with it. Which is besides the fact that I’ve got four other novels to revise before I touch that one.

I’m not really sure how to address this issue right now, since I need at least one revision of the first 30,000 words before March 1st. Which is totally doable for me in terms of the amount of work that I need to get done in that time frame, but less doable from an emotional point of view.

For the time being, my solution is to focus on Contamination. I’ve got a self-imposed deadline to finish that one by March 1st as well, and I’m more confident in my ability to do that. And maybe, by working on a different project for awhile, I’ll remove myself from Book Six a bit and be able to come back in during crunch time and get it done.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

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Schedules and Deadlines

I don’t do well at keeping myself motivated.

In my academic life, schedules and deadlines are an important part of keeping me on task. I’m handed down schedules from the professor in each class, and individual assignments have deadlines that are usually nonnegotiable. Most of my professors at Rowan tend to forgive if you are late with an assignment, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t strict about when things are due. I consider this a good thing, because as it turns out, I really need those deadlines to make sure I get things done.

Over winter break, I accomplished almost nothing useful. I had plans to finish the second draft of Contamination, but I had a hard time getting much work done because I didn’t have any kind of set routine. Sure, I can say to myself “This revision is going to be done by January 30th!” But that doesn’t mean I’ll do it. In a way, this is one of the downsides to going indie. I’m my own boss, I set my own deadlines, but I also have to be solely responsible for making sure those deadlines are met. There’s no one else who can hold me accountable (though sometimes my friends on Twitter will step up and give me a hard time until I buckle down and get to work).

Now that school is back up, I have some deadlines again. Not for Contamination, since that isn’t a school project. However, Arcana Revived Volume Six (currently untitled) IS a school project. I wrote it as my master’s thesis project. As such, I have deadlines imposed upon me to get a certain amount of revision done by certain dates, in order to keep up with the class schedule. Combined with the feedback and notes I got from the professor, I have a revision plan, a deadline, and a schedule worked out for how to get these revisions done before March 1st.

And while this doesn’t technically have anything to do with Contamination, I’m able to use this externally-imposed deadline as a way to reinforce my own self-imposed deadline. Which means that I’ll be revising both Contamination and Volume Six at the same time (one for school, one for publication). If things go according to plan, I’ll have the current draft of Contamination finished before March 1st, and ready to send out for critiques.

Feel free to nag me about it in order to keep me on task. Because like I said, I tend to need external motivation.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

New Year, Three Weeks Late

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed an extreme lack of blog posts lately. I blame a combination of depression, unemployment, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (not necessarily in that order).

Today is the first day of the new semester at Rowan University. The last semester before I get my master’s degree. After a month off, I really need to be back in school. I find I don’t do well without some sort of schedule or routine to keep me in check. The result is lots of lazing around, playing video games, and not doing any work on my revisions. Feel free to berate me about that last one in order to get me back on track.

It also leads to quite a few days where I say “I should write a blog post today,” then I end up not writing one. Mostly because it’s hard to find inspiration in a bag of Doritos and a Final Fantasy marathon. Those things are, however, chock full of calories and ennui.

On an up note, I’ve been talking to several people this past week who told me they finished Manifestation. Tock seems to be a fan favorite. I suppose that’s what happens when I take a cross between Kaylee and Agatha Heterodyne and give her flashy magic powers and a bad attitude. She’s quite neat.

I suppose that about covers what I’ve been up to. Hopefully today will be the real start of the new year for me. Though I do still have a princess to track down in FFIX, so I may be otherwise occupied.

Research: What Counts as a Source?

I’m enrolled in Rowan University’s Master’s in Writing graduate program. I’m currently working on my master’s thesis project, a project which represents the bulk of my final year’s work. The requirement of the thesis is a 30,000 word written work (or equivalent, as some students are pursuing research-heavy academic projects that will come in at lower word counts for the same amount of effort). The type of project is open-ended; some students are writing memoirs or nonfiction pieces, others are doing academic research, and others are writing novels. I’m using the thesis project to write the sixth book in the Arcana Revived series, following the stories of Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, who made their debut appearances in my first novel, Manifestation.

Part of the thesis project, in addition to writing the novel itself, is creating an annotated bibliography of the sources that informed or inspired my work. In the case of a creative work of fiction, such as mine, this can include the works of fiction that inspired me or where I drew some of my ideas from.

But what counts as a “source” in this context? Well, the professor is pretty open minded about that. Our sources can include, among other things, books, movies, news articles, poetry, and in my case, webcomics and video games.

Some of my sources are, naturally, fiction novels:
Jordon, R. (1990-2013). The Wheel of Time. New York, NY: Tor.
Anthony, P. (1977-2014). The Xanth Series. New York, NY: Del Rey, Tor.
Hickman, L., Hickman, T., & Weis, M. (1984-2014). Dragonlance. New York, NY: Random House.
Roberts, R. (2014). Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. Virginia: Curiosity Quills.
Boswell, H. (2012). Mythology. United States: Artemathene Books.

I listed the various novels that have influenced me in different ways. In some cases, they influenced the way I write about magic (The Wheel of Time, Xanth). In other cases, they influenced how I write about specific elements in my series such as steampunk-style inventions (Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain) or angels and demons (Mythology). Or even how I’m structuring the different novels and collections in my series (Dragonlance). I deliberately chose a wide variety of sources in order to show the various ways that my work has built off of what came before me.

Some books, naturally, aren’t going to be works of fiction:
Stein, S. (1995). Stein on Writing. London: St. Martin’s Press.

In this case, it’s a book on writing techniques that greatly informed the way my novel is written, from the character descriptions, to the dialogue, to the way the chapters are laid out. These variables are as big of an overall influence as any specific works of fiction that inspired me.

But what about a book that, well, isn’t exactly something you’d expect to see cited in a bibliography?:
Martin, J. & Rateliff, J. (Eds.). (2003). Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast.

That’s right. I’m citing the DMG, because it taught me a lot about world-building, from designing my cities to developing the politics and culture of my world. I also drew from concepts of the multiverse and various parallel dimensions, which are common D&D tropes. My characters explore some alternate dimensions where the laws of physics aren’t quite what you’d expect, and my designs of those dimensions were heavily influenced by the DMG.

And, of course, there’s another book that I drew heavily from:
God. (1400 B.C.). The Holy Bible. Moses (Ed.) Manuscripts written while children of Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years after the Exodus.

Yes, I’m serious and yes, that’s how I’m citing it in my bibliography. That’s correct APA format for citing a book edited by someone other than the author (Moses transcribing God’s words). And I’m quite serious about the importance of the bible in my writing. My main character, Gabby Palladino, is very religious. Over the course of the novels she’s struggled with falling prey to the seven deadly sins, she’s worried about the state of her immortal soul, and she’s sought guidance frequently through prayer. And from her own persona guardian angel.

But what about sources that aren’t actually books?:
Foglio, K. & Foglio, P. (2000-2014). Girl Genius. Retrieved from http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/

Girl Genius is a webcomic that heavily influenced my other main character, Tock Zipporah. Many of her personality traits as a mad scientist/inventor are based on Agatha Heterodyne, protagonist of the Girl Genius series. Without reading that series, Tock wouldn’t be who she is today.

Then, of course, there’s movies and TV shows:
Johnson, M., Steuer, P., & Adamson, A. (2005). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. United States: Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media.
Whedon, J., Greenwalt, D., Noxon, M., Kuzui, F., & Kuzui, K. (1997-2003). Buffy the Vampire Slayer [Television series]. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox.
Kring, T., Hammer, D., Arkush, A., & Beeman, G. (2006-2010). Heroes [Television series]. Philadelphia, New York: NBC Universal Television Distribution.
Todd, J., Todd, S., & Nolan, C. (2000). Memento [Motion picture]. United States: Summit Entertainment.

I drew different types of inspiration from these different shows and movies. Memento is a heavy inspiration for my newest major character, Jaden Farrell, who suffers from severe memory problems. The Chronicles of Narnia influenced Gabby Palladino, who, as you can see here, is modeled after Susan Pevensie, played by Anna Popplewell. And Buffy and Heroes influenced me as works with superheroes and supernatural forces fighting in grand struggles for the fate of the world.

One last source, of course, might be the one that stands out the most:
Sakaguchi, H., Kitase, Y. & Ito, H. (1994). Final Fantasy VI [Super Nintendo game]. United States: Square Enix.

Yes, I’m citing Final Fantasy in the bibliography for my master’s thesis project. I’ve mentioned the influence Final Fantasy has on my writing before, starting with the concept of magic returning to a world that had lost it. Some of the Final Fantasy summoned monsters, like Shiva, Leviathan, Quetzalcoatl, and Titan, also influenced the types of monsters that appear in my later books. In fact, this video game was probably the most important and influential source of all, more than any of the books I’m citing.

It just goes to show that inspiration can come in a variety of forms. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t draw on unorthodox sources in your research. What you find might just surprise you.

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