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The second novel in my Leah Mason suspense thriller series, A Girl Betrayed, is now live, and available on Amazon. It’s different than many of my other works, in the sense that they are action thrillers with an emphasis on cliffhanger chapter endings, car chases, shoot outs, and all the rest of the action-related tropes readers of the genre know and love. A Girl Betrayed, like its predecessor, A Girl Apart, is more cerebral, in the style of classic whodunnits where the joy is in the figuring out of the crime.

It’s a fun break from action and adventure, and I think it turned out well. Readers will be the judge, of course.

I’m now hard at work on the next JET, which will release Christmas day. JET – Renegade takes place in Africa, and pits our heroine against a diabolical group of baddies in a land where there are no rules.

For now, though, give A Girl Betrayed a look. It’s in the vein of Michael Connelly and Jeffrey Deaver, and has more twists than a silly straw.

Here’s the cover.

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December will mark six and a half years of being an author – of writing for my supper instead of dancing for it.

Along the way, there have been astounding years like 2013 and 2014, and decent ones like those thereafter, as the market has changed, and as Amazon has modified their algos to favor some titles over others. Especially telling has been the invisibility of free titles for about a year now – if you do a search, for example, for JET, you will find all the paid books listed, including the audiobook of the first title, but not the free book – you have to select the audiobook to then see it in six point script listed as free.

I’m not annoyed or surprised – I predicted that once Amazon had its way with the big 5, once indies had served their purpose as a stick with which to threaten trad pubs, it would go back to business as usual, where the lion’s share of sales went to trad pubs and Amazon imprints (a variation of trad pub), and indies had to generate far more content and work far harder for a much smaller slice of the pie.

Which is where we are today.

Oddly, I’ve never been more excited to be writing. I have several new series ideas I intend to launch next year, and am looking forward to another Ramsey’s and JET, as well as the conclusion of The Day After Never’s final arc.

This, after having penned about sixty novels since starting my career, and sold somewhere approaching three million books by now.

Anytime you can do what you love and get paid for it, you’re a lucky man.

I’ve never been luckier, even if it’s harder to make the same buck.

Nothing remains static in life, and especially not in the entertainment biz. You’re only as good as your last sale, and there’s no guarantee you ever have another one. Such is the nature of the beast. I find it keeps me on my toes, and pushes me to improve my craft and storytelling. Some find it depressing. Shrug. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, and this, while one of the hardest to succeed at, is by far the most rewarding at a self-actualization level, which offsets the peaks and valleys of income all artists must be prepared to endure.

My advice from six years ago for budding authors remains the same as it does today: write well, write a lot, and always keep your eye on the next one, not the last. Up your game every time you sit down to put pen to paper, and don’t waste your time with mediocre stories – write compelling accounts of interesting characters faced with impossible obstacles they somehow manage to overcome.

Because life’s too short for mediocrity, and there are no guarantees how many stories you are able to tell before your number’s up.

Most of all, recognize that the odds are against you, and don’t be delusional or resentful about it. Making a living from being an author is a long odds game. It is what it is. But the chances of doing so on a sustained basis have never been better, and my sense is that if you are delivering work that is exceptional for your genre, that readers can’t get from other authors, you will prosper, or at least will never starve.

In the end, that’s not a terrible deal.

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A friend suggested I post this entry from my FB page, written to attempt to answer the question of why I write. Everyone’s reasons are different, but this is as good as any I’ve come up with:

The gift, or perhaps compulsion, for writing, comes from a willingness to dig for harsh truths and record every element of them, and then regurgitate them in a way that may be uncomfortable, but is interesting, or even horrifying, whether in fiction, or non.

As an example, I sat in a gelato store yesterday evening, and an elderly gentleman with a bald pate but long angel’s wings of silver-white hair on either side of his head slowly walked to the counter as I ate my treat, and paid for a single scoop of gelato in a cone. I noted that his blue blazer, while old, was an obviously expensive cut from a bygone era, the lapels hand stitched, and his gray wool slacks well cared for. His leather shoes were at one time pricey, but were splitting at the seams, the heels worn down and toes scuffed, betraying the ravages of time. I watched as he shambled from the cashier to the counter, placed his order in an inaudible murmur, and then sat a few tables from me, obviously struggling to manage the spoon and the gelato, but also all dressed up to do so.

My heart broke. Being a writer, I conjured up instant possibilities – is he an eccentric millionaire and this his guilty pleasure? Was that his last dollar and he is returning to his home he’s lived in for seventy years, his last joy a bite of gelato before he ends it all? Or does he live in a doorway, and this is his bid for humanity, if only slight. Is he a widower, and is this his window into the world of the living, for which formal attire is preferred? Or perhaps he’s one of the last living Nazi monsters, comfortably ensconced in Argentina, his cataract glazed eyes replaying his atrocities with every blink?

He dropped the cone with a plop on the floor about halfway through his one scoop, and looked around in embarrassment before scraping it up and tossing it into the garbage. Nobody else saw but me, out of the corner of my eye. He rose, brushed off his threadbare slacks, and left without a word. He didn’t glance at the cashier to perhaps buy another one. He recognized the finality of gravity’s work, and left as quietly as he had come.

I seriously considered going after him and buying him another cone, but didn’t. Why? There was a pride, a frail, birdlike poise to the way he squared his ancient shoulders, even in defeat, and left without attracting attention, as though he was making the best of what he had to work with. Who was I to intrude on his life, his drama, his experience, playing some sort of fat, privileged demi-god of gelato, thinking my overture would change anything other than to impose my existence into his life, and possibly remind him of his own failings, his own inability to buy as many gelatos as he wished, for those with whom he felt empathy? Or to make him uncomfortable because he perhaps could buy the whole town gelato, but carefully compartmentalized his ritual to only one scoop, one time, and the chips fall where they may. Worse, what if that was the last few dimes he had collected, and he’d saved them sedulously, only to watch their worth splat in a gelatinous glob on the floor? And I would then cheapen that by making it all as though it had never happened, with a “ha ha ha, think nothing of it, here are a few coins, mere trinkets hardly worth consideration?” I both desperately wanted to make his immediate reality better, to show him, hey, see, I got your gelato back, but feared the ramifications of even that smallest of kindnesses, for which I am the poorer for my inaction.

The problem with connectedness is you feel the joy, as well as the pain, and mostly the aimless futility, because it all seems so hollow and pointless much of the time, and it usually is, except for the doing, and even that is questionable. So your instinct is to want to soften that discomfort for others, and yet in doing so, you’re also reducing the authenticity of their experience, and injecting your perspective into their struggle, sometimes for good, sometimes with poor results. An easy way to frame it is trying to soften the blows for your kids, and yet robbing them of the pain that is life’s way of teaching them lessons they must learn to survive and prosper.

But what I do know is that my humanity, that kernel of sentience that’s resisted the caustic ravages of the world to this point, resonates with others at the oddest of times, be they dogs, cats, humans, bugs; and wishes that all of them could have just a brief sojourn from the norm, in a good way. Then back to spiders eating flies, and puppies being collected and gassed or tortured by street kids, and stoned punks roaming streets looking for easier duty than working. For my one divine moment, we would all be sitting with full cones of gelato, savoring that beat in time – puppies in our well groomed laps, their fur stroked by healing hands – with one collective, appreciative, sigh.

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It’s summer, so that must mean there’s a new JET hitting the shelves!

I’m happy to announce that JET – Rogue State, is now available wherever fine ebooks are sold.

This episode was a blast to write, and I tried to include some fun topical stuff along with all the usual explosions and chases. Hopefully it will surprise and delight you, or at least keep you from returning it for a refund and swearing to never buy another one. Either is good, although I’d obviously prefer the former.

I don’t want to give away the plot, so I’ll keep this announcement short. If you liked the last eleven installments, and the two prequels, you’ll be glad you picked this one up. If not, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll buy it, so I won’t worry about what you think – you are dead to me.

Below is the cover, and a purchase link to Amazon. Enjoy, but please don’t stay up all night reading, lose your job, and wind up living under a freeway overpass huffing paint with vagrants and sleeping with newspaper stuffed beneath your soiled clothing for warmth.

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It’s May, so it must be time for another novel!

This time, it is book six in The Day After Never series, titled, Perdition. In it, the story arc set into motion in book five, Insurrection, is concluded, with all the usual action and adventure you’d expect.

I’m now hard at work on the next JET – Rogue State, which is progressing nicely, if slowly. I’ve been involved in a number of projects that have eaten into my schedule, so that one will likely release in July, with the next novel, probably one in the A Girl Apart or Ramsey’s series, in Sept or Oct.

If you haven’t checked out The Day After Never series, you should – some are calling it my best work to date. Here’s the cover and a link to Amazon, where it will remain exclusive for 90 days before going wide.

 

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What can be said about the fifth installment in The Day After Never series – Insurrection, without giving too much away? Well, most importantly, it begins a two book arc that involves the delivery of the vaccine to the Pacific Northwest – a seemingly simple task for the likes of Lucas that quickly turns deadly in unexpected ways.

Not that crossing half the country in a post-apocalyptic hell isn’t deadly, but Lucas and company are experienced enough to dodge most of the usual dangers: bandits, raiders, scavengers, bushwhackers of all shapes and sizes, landslides, predatory animals, etc.

Let’s just say that there was no way they could have prepared for what comes next. When things go from bad to worse, in the dystopian badlands, they tend to do so in a big way, entropy being the only dependable factor in the chaotic aftermath of the society’s collapse.

I think the book is one of my better efforts to date, but I always think that once done with one. Hopefully you’ll find it entertaining, and a worthy installment in the series. The next, book 6, appropriately titled “Perdition,” will release in May, so you don’t have long to learn how everything resolves – I considered waiting until June to release it, just to torture everyone, but decided that wasn’t particularly nice behavior, and so May it is.

Here’s the buy link at Amazon, where it is exclusive for the next 90 days. And of course, the cover.

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I am routinely asked by fellow authors how to get over “writer’s block.”

Here are my thoughts, as well as my technique.

First off, there is no writer’s block, at least as far as I can tell. There’s a lack of motivation to do the work, or there’s a problem with the story/pacing/plotting.

If there’s a lack of motivation to write, I’ve shared ideas in the past on how to overcome that. Ask yourself empowering questions, a la “how do I make this the most amazing chapter I’ve ever written, and have a blast doing so?” You’ll get a way different answer than if you ask yourself lousy questions, like “what’s the point?” or “how am I ever going to get this done?”

If there’s a story/pacing/plotting problem, and you’re procrastinating writing because you sense that, solve the problem. I use my outlining technique, where I can see if the arc is right, whether all the characters reconcile, and determine whether the beats and the denouement are suitably cathartic/exciting. Most often when I hear “I have writer’s block” or “I can’t seem to get through this” it’s from someone who claims they dislike outlining because it robs the story of spontaneity. That spontaneity can also result in hitting an impasse, or having a crap story that goes nowhere. I recommend outlining, obviously, because then even if you aren’t all that motivated due to external factors, at least you know where the story is going and what the next chapters should be.

I’m not going to debate pantsing vs. outlining, having written numerous blogs on the topic. Suffice it to say I’ve done my share of both, and have found outlining superior in terms of efficiency. If you wish to hear more of my thoughts on the topic, search this blog for outlining and pantsing and writing a page turner.

There’s my brief note on how to handle writer’s block. Force yourself to think through the story until it’s compelling and demands to be written, and you’ll solve any pacing/plotting issues. Ask yourself empowering questions and you’ll turn your attitude around if you’re feeling blase or unmotivated.

And finally, if all this fails, there’s always tequila. And buying my crap to provide inspiration. Let’s not forget that!

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I get asked a lot about my background, and how I arrived at my present circumstance – living in Baja for 15 years, being a full time author of some notoriety after having achieved a degree of financial independence that allowed me to pursue my passion with single-minded determination.

So here’s my story, in sanitized form: I worked for others from my early twenties to my early thirties, and wound up with about what I had when I started, saving little, working at things I was mostly ambivalent about to pay the bills. Along the way I pursued some interests like music, but as with most garage band hopefuls, nothing panned out with anything but chicks, beer, and hazy memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.

In my early thirties, I was between jobs – careers, actually, having dropped out of the computer business after burning out in sales and marketing products about which I knew little and cared less – when it occurred to me that I could well spend most of my life existing as I had rather than crafting a life I wanted. I became determined to break the patterns I’d been in, and researched until I came up with an idea that I thought could make for a nice lifestyle business. I risked everything with only a couple grand in the bank, hung out a shingle, and put the contacts and skills I’d developed to use, leveraging relationships until within a couple of years the business was turning a handsome profit, and I had three other people working for me.

Fast forward eight years, and I sold the company at forty and retired to Baja to engage in navel gazing (code for binge drinking on the beach). That got old after a couple of years, and I started a custom home design and build business in Mexico that still operates today, and which I’m extraordinarily proud of – I still love designing dream homes and seeing a patch of dirt become something that I imagined in my mind’s eye, and created from nothing. That’s key with what inspires me: I love to create new things, whatever they may be – businesses, designs, stories, whatever. It’s the act of creation that makes me feel alive.

During the period I was doing the design/build thing full time, I also started a wine company, and made vino in Argentina with one of the country’s largest producers. After a couple of seasons of commuting on ten hour flights and importing some to Mexico and the U.S., I decided I preferred drinking it to making it, and shelved that company.

When the 2008 financial crisis hit, the construction business softened in Baja around 2010, and I found myself looking for other ways to keep busy. A friend of mine had seen some articles about kindle sensations finding fame and fortune as self-pubbed authors, and having read some of my earlier scribblings, suggested I should give it a whirl – I was entrepreneurial, had a good imagination, didn’t mind working hard, and certainly had time to kill. June, 2011, I released my first book, and I never looked back.

I’ve started five businesses from scratch, and three have done well. Two didn’t, mainly because I was unwilling to put in the time necessary to make them hits. I learned my lesson – being engaged and involved in the business is the necessary ingredient for success. I’ve been an angel investor in another dozen companies over the years, and noted the same thing with the winners – the founders driving the company were hell bent on making them succeed at all costs. Some that failed also had the same type of management, but all that taught me is that you have to expect strikes if you want to hit home runs. Goes with the territory. And you need a leader with real passion for what they’re doing, or you’re screwed.

What does all this have to do with anything? As Jan. 1 approaches I was waxing nostalgic about years gone by, and I realized that the turning point in my life was when I was between jobs and decided I would create a future I wanted, that was compelling, instead of trying to deal with what life threw at me – that I was responsible if I didn’t like the ride I was on, not my parents, or circumstance, or the market, or a fickle universe. I got comfortable with the idea that it was better to fail at something I wanted to do than to never try it and go to my grave with regrets.

I’ve lived like that ever since. That decision to live unconventionally if it took me in a direction I felt interesting led me to expatriate to Mexico at a relatively tender age – I’ve now lived outside the U.S. for almost a third of my life, and I don’t regret a moment of it. I’ve taught myself architecture and building, wine making, writing and publishing, and am convinced I can do anything I set my mind to if I want it badly enough and I’m realistic about my abilities. That’s enormously freeing, but the first step comes from making the mental leap of refusing to lead a life of quiet desperation. I realized that in order to have a life I wanted I needed to imagine it first, and then figure out how to get it, not wait for it to come to me.

Along the way I’ve made countless mistakes, made and lost fortunes, had them stolen and frittered them away. I’ve realized there’s more to everything than money. But I learned lessons each time I won, or lost, so I view it as an expensive education rather than anything else – as the saying goes, I’ve never seen a U-Haul at a funeral, and those experiences resulted in who I am today. They inform my world view, and my writing, and I like to think they result in a certain veracity to the stories – there’s a lot of truth and hard won experience in them.

There are parts of my life I don’t discuss – my personal life, some of my pursuits when I was working for others. Let’s just say I got to travel a ton, and live in some really interesting places, if only for short periods. I’ve seen misery and boundless joy, and witnessed both incredible cruelty and the most tender of mercy, and been involved in matters I’m ashamed of, and others I’m proud of but will never mention. Guy’s got to have some secrets, after all, and I have more than a few.

What’s the takeaway? Cliche, I know, but you have to take responsibility for your life, and your future, and work to craft one that’s compelling, that is uniquely yours, and that makes you happy regardless of what others think. You need to find your muse at whatever pursuit you’ve decided upon, and follow it fearlessly. That doesn’t mean foolhardily or delusionally. It means you have to accept the fact that failure is an integral part of success, and find a way to sing on the way to the fields each day to toil at whatever you’ve decided gives your life meaning.

If I know anything, that’s the lesson. Your time on the earth is an adventure, and how you spend it is up to you. Sure, everyone has different challenges and abilities, but ultimately you need to become the captain of your vessel, or accept whatever the tide brings you, which is often flotsam. Even if nothing changes but your attitude, that’s a start – the most important one, I’d argue. So when considering resolutions for the new year, you might want to try that one on, and pursue a passion that makes you feel alive every day, whether it pays, or not. I knew the odds were a million to one when I launched into publishing, but I did it anyway, because I believed my stories were decent, and more importantly, I would have never forgiven myself if I hadn’t. I hold myself accountable for my own happiness, and I’d rather have spent a couple years trying and failing at something that was really important to me, than never doing it at all.

The other thing I’ve realized is that it’s lonely at the top if you don’t help others get there (not that I’m there, but I can sort of make out the pinnacle through the clouds now, which is progress), which is why I still offer advice to other authors, and chime in with opinions, informed or otherwise. Being gracious and compassionate costs nothing, and nobody ever went broke giving someone else a hand when they needed it.

So that’s my deal, and pretty much all I have for you as thoughts at year end. Have a safe and prosperous New Year. I’m going walkabout and will be gone for a week or two, and then will be back at the grindstone, doing what I love.

As always, thanks for the continued support. Maybe tell a friend. Never hurts…

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14 Dec 2016, by

5 1/2 Years

I just typed The End on my 51st book written since mid-2011, titled A Girl Apart. Very different from my prior work. I rather like it. We’ll see what the world thinks soon enough.

As I close out the year, outlining and starting my 52nd book, it occurs to me that I haven’t blogged a whole lot over the last couple of months, so I’ll make up for lost time and share a few things I’ve learned during my little publishing journey, although there is much I don’t know.

My thoughts and advice to aspiring authors follow in no particular order:

  1. Determine who you are and why you’re doing whatever you’re doing, and do it with purpose and passion. Ensure your identity pervades your work, and don’t flinch from who you are or attempt to second guess its imprint on your writing. Maybe it will make it unsellable, or result in genius, or somewhere in between, but at least it will be a true reflection of you in your work, and that’s what will set it apart. Readers don’t buy books, they buy stories by voices that resonate with them. The more distinct your voice, the more likely your signal stands out from the rest of the noise.
  2. Every time you sit down to write, find the passion in why you’re doing so, and imbue your words with that fire. If you can’t find passion today, fake it.
  3. Much of the time you might not have much, or any, enthusiasm – things might seem indistinct, or pointless, or meandering. Trust that you will find your story’s compass on rewrite. Don’t use the lack of it as an excuse not to write, if writing is what you want to do. Write through the phase, and believe that you will get it right in the end. You don’t have to rain brilliance upon the page on first draft. Consider it laying foundations upon which  you’ll build your temple later, and free yourself to suck ass on first draft. Most of us do. It’s part of the process. Like a sculptor staring at the stone, your job is to find the statue within it – but your first try at trying to get the rough shape right is unlikely to wow anyone.
  4. Write stories you would want to read, not stories you think some random hypothetical audience might want to.
  5. Be true to yourself, but be willing to compromise when qualified criticism is offered. It’s possible you’re wrong. Listen to sage counsel, but in the end, it’s your work, and you have to take responsibility for making it as good as you can.
  6. You’re on the planet for a finite amount of time. Anyone who’s known someone diagnosed with a fatal illness will tell you that it changes them – the idea that they have unlimited runway collapses, and they’re left with their mortality being a known quantity rather than an abstract. Don’t wait until you are diagnosed. Recognized we all have the same disease – a limited life expectancy – and make your time count as though you’ll never get any more of it, because you won’t. So if you’re going to write, or sing, or dance, or pound nails with a hammer, or any of a million other possible things, do it for real, because going through life phoning it in is a lousy way to go about it.
  7. Discover the joy in testing your boundaries, like a toddler discovering the world for the first time. In that sense of wonder and exploration lies magic.
  8. You are not automatically interesting or relevant. That too will take a lot of work. It’s up to you to convince the world. Better put on another pot of coffee.
  9. Belief that you are capable of absolutely anything you commit 110% to achieving is paramount. If you are unwilling or unable to commit that much, find something to which you can and pursue that instead.
  10. Push yourself. Set out to prove something to yourself every day. Clock’s ticking, and this is your big chance for a personal best.
  11. Don’t pursue sales. Court readers. Be the author who delivers what nobody else can, or otherwise, what’s the point? To try to make a few bucks at a longshot endeavor at which the odds say you’ll fail? Why bother if that’s the motivation? Money and acclaim may or may not come, but in the meantime, there’s only the now. Make your now awesome, even if it takes everyone else forever to catch on to how awesome your now is. Throw your life’s party, don’t be a spectator at everyone else’s.
  12. Don’t kid yourself that you’re better than you are. You might be decent, or even pretty good, and you will probably get better with time if you try. But it won’t happen because you feel like it should. You will pay for every improvement with sweat and tears. That’s part of the job. Think of it as cutting onions if you like. Although I hate cutting onions, so I eat out a lot.
  13. Nothing is easy except mediocrity, and even that can be kind of tough. So don’t expect or settle for easy. Easy happens occasionally, but mostly it’s hard work that wins races. And even a marathon is a race.
  14. Work to live, don’t live to work. Your worth isn’t what you do, it’s how you do it and how you view yourself, the experiences you collect and the impact you have on those whose lives you touch. Nobody remembers who the richest man was 200 years ago, or who the most famous author was, or the name of most popular musician, unless they’re planning to compete on Jeopardy. We all think we live in an exceptional time, and this is the big show, and all else was preamble. Wrong. This is only our show, and we are tomorrow’s preamble, so lighten up and have fun with whatever you’re doing, and if nothing else, try to be nice, unless you’re a dick, in which case be honest about it.
  15. Master your craft, or at least try. You likely never will. That’s part of the challenge. Revel in it, don’t hate that the goalposts always seem to move just a little farther away. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
  16. When you think your story is as good as it can possibly be, sit down, take a deep breath, and demand that it be better. Ask yourself how, tear it apart, and force greatness from anything that is even slightly questionable. Your job isn’t to fill up space with words. It’s to choose words that compel your readers to stay up all night to read. Best of luck with that.

I’m not sure how much of this ramble will help anyone aspiring to be a working author, but after a few million books sold and some amazing windfalls, some astounding paydays and some whipsaw changes in the biz which continue unabated, what I can offer is that being an author is a fantastic career if you can handle the giddy highs and crushing lows, and power through it all, with near constant adversity making you stronger. Write stuff you can be proud of, and enjoy doing so, and then type The End, and go on to the next one.

The rest is up to the universe, luck, and retail marketing/promotions. And Amazon’s algos, of course.

Happy holidays, and make 2017 your breakthrough year. Make it, don’t hope for it.

How you do that is up to you.

And as always, go buy my crap.

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JET – Forsaken has gone live wherever fine, or even not so fine, ebooks are sold. In this installment our heroine is forced to make an impossible choice that puts her directly in harm’s way, in order to spare her family more trauma.

This is a fun one that has current events mixed in with the plot. The European refugee crisis, political back room scheming, regime change machinations, you name it. One might say I took reality and tamed it down to make it more believable for chunks of the book.

As with all JET novels, this one barrels along like a runaway train until we reach a conclusion that’s as unexpected as an upset election win (see what I did there? Topical. I know. Genius.). It was a hoot to write, and I hope you enjoy reading it – a fitting new chapter in what has become my bestselling series.

If you haven’t already ordered it, nobody’s getting any younger, so go click or swipe or whatever and do so now. Papa needs a new pair of flip flops.

 

jet-forsaken-revised7-high res

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