Tag Archives: Isabella

Isabella and Tortuga Bay take home three awards at RPLA 2016!

Tortuga Bay takes home three awards in 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award competition.

Tortuga Bay takes home three awards in 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award competition.

Isabella, Jean-Michel, and Juan Carlos did well in Orlando at the Royal Palm Literary Awards dinner. Tortuga Bay took home three awards, including first place for Published Historical Fiction, second place for Published Mainstream/Literary fiction, and second place in Published Young Adult/New Adult categories. The novel made the finals in Published Women’s Fiction, but didn’t place among the top three books. The Tallahassee Democrat covered the wins in the newspaper (see here), and a complete list of winners can be found on the Florida Writers Association website here.

This competition confirmed something that I thought was true after listening to readers: the Pirate of Panther Bay series has cross genre appeal. Adults and teens enjoy the series and the characters. I am really looking forward to seeing the third book out (in late 2017 if the stars align).

Combined with the two first place/gold medals earned in the Florida Authors and Publishers Association competition, and reaching the finals in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards, this has been a stellar year for me and the series.

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Isabella sails into gold at the FAPA President’s Awards

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President's Awards

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President’s Awards

Tortuga Bay continues to generate enthusiasm and accolades as 2016 moves into its final months. Earlier, Isabella and her crew fought their way to recognition as a Category Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Tortuga Bay has also made it into the final rounds of the Royal Palm Literary Awards (final results will be released in October). Now, her crew earned gold medals in two categories of the President’s Award competition hosted by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Both awards came in Young Adult (YA) categories. This first category was Young Adult Fiction, a broad category that would have her compete among many other books and subgenres. The second category was in YA Romance, Coming of Age, and New Adult.

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Fiction

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Fiction

Tortuga Bay (and the Pirate of Panther Bay series) are showing a broad appeal. While all the results are not in, the story has made it into the RPLA finals under Published Fiction—Mainstream/Literary. That means the novel is competing against a wide range of novels, in and outside the young adult category. In addition, Tortuga Bay made it into the RPLA semi-finals in the categories of YA historical fiction, women’s fiction, and YA romance.

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult

FAPA’s awards have a lot of integrity. Unlike some other competitions, FAPA does not feel obligated to hand out awards to books based on the number of submissions in a category. Each book is judged and evaluated numerically based on a rubric. In order to become a finalist, the book has to meet a minimum numerical threshold from the judges. Specific thresholds are also necessary to qualify as bronze, silver or gold. Some categories, in fact, didn’t have any medalists. Other categories didn’t have any gold medals awarded, and others didn’t have bronze or silver medal awards. So, winners have confidence that their award was based on an absolute measure of quality (although scores are still subjective) that are compared equally across other submissions.

Thus, we are particularly proud to have earned these gold medals.

To buy Tortuga Bay, check out amazon.com or SYP Publishing.

For more on the series and how it can be used in the classroom, check out my website: http://www.srstaley.com/pirate-of-panther-bay.html

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Totuga Bay makes final round of FAPA President’s Awards!

TortugaBaywEHAFresh off her success in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards, where Tortuga Bay was a category Finalist, Isabella is sailing her ship into the final round of another award: The President’s Awards offered up by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association, or FAPA. This rollicking action adventure through the Caribbean into the Straights of Jaimaica and Port-au-Prince, Haiti qualified in Young Adult Fiction. This means Tortuga Bay will earn either a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal. We won’t know which one until the FAPA annual conference and awards ceremony on August 6, 2016 in Orlando.

Tortuga Bay and the Pirate of Panther Bay series is showing amazing crossover appear. Isabella and her crew are making their way through the Royal Palm Literary Awards, jumping into the semi-final round in two categories: Mainstream/Literary and Women’s fiction. We won’t know if she made it into the final rounds for a few more weeks. Last year, St. Nic, Inc. won 2nd place in the the category of published Mainstream/Literary fiction. The final awards for the RPLA are announced at the Florida Writers Association annual conference in Orlando, Florida from October 20-23, 2016.RPLA_16_SemiFinalist_Badge

Tortuga Bay is available in print and digital editions on amazon, bn.com and other on-line retailers as well as through Southern Yellow Pine Publishing.

 

 

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A pirate, a ninja, and a gens de couleur walk into a bar in 1784 New Orleans….

Tortuga Bay, 2016 Eric Hoffer Award Finalist

Tortuga Bay, 2016 Eric Hoffer Award Finalist!

A pirate, a ninja, and a gens de couleur wak into a bar in 1784 New Orleans….

The punchline? I think this is my next action/adventure series, probably launching after the third book in The Pirate of Panther Bay series is published by SYPP in 2017. The new series will follow three sets of characters as they branch out on their own at the end of the third book: Isabella and Juan Carlos, Gabrielle and Louis, and the ninja (yet to be named). New Orleans provides a provocative blend of Spanish and French colonial cultures. Adding a Japanese to the mix has the potential to ramp up tension and conflict immeasurably!

At the end of Tortuga Bay, I had decided to take Isabella to the U.S., cruising up the west coast of Florida to St. Marks, then Pensacola, and ending her journey in New Orleans. (I have plans for Isabella and Juan Carlos, there.) I wanted to make the third book a little more fun, however. So, I was thinking about adding a ninja. A Ninja? you (a reasonable person) might ask?

Tortuga Bay

I already had a free black (gens de couleur) added to the cast up Isabella’s daring and desperate escape from Port-au-Prince and Dr. D’Poussant’s henchmen. Why another character? In part, each of my novels explores cultural conflict. The Pirate of Panther Bay series stretches challenges readers on a number of different fronts, both in terms of how colonial powers viewed slavery as well as pirates. Fundamental differences in the value of human life are explored in The Pirate of Panther Bay, as Isabella struggles with her place in the world as an escaped slave under the contradictory philosophy and social psychology in play in Catholic, colonial Spain. In Tortuga Bay, differences between and shifting alliances among France and Spain are central to the story.  So, I think the third book is ripe for a new take on cultural differences. Why not add an Asian influence?

The glory days of the Ninja, masters of ninjutsu, were in medieval Japan between 1500 and 1700. Japan was unified in 1700, and the role of the ninja declined precipitously as their services against warring clans where no longer needed. This actually sets up the back story for my ninja pretty well. Since the demand for their skills largely disappeared, a ninja would have little reason to stay in Japan (particularly if the government was trying to shut them down).  Yet, their skills would be particularly well suited for pirating, even in the Caribbean.

While the ninja were in decline after 1700, they didn’t disappear altogether. Indeed, their training forms the basis of To-Shin do, a self-defense oriented martial art created by Stephen K. Hayes. Hayes is a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame and is credited as one of the key figures leading the revival of ninjutsu and introducing it to the U.S. (Also, my black belt is in To-Shin Do, and this marital arts provide the foundation for my novels A Warrior’s Soul and Renegade.)

Shiraishi Island, Japan

Shiraishi Island, Japan. This old fishing village will be the boyhood home of the ninja in the third book in the Pirate of Panther Bay series.

The character really came together for me while visiting Shiraishi Island in the Seto Sea. The island would have been a tiny fishing village at the time, but my character will be discovered by a old ninja traveling through rural Japan. The old man will discover the talent of my character and bring him to a training facility in the mountains of the fabled Iga Provice of Japan. Then, he will make his way to the Caribbean. This is all backstory, but this background will be essential as his own series takes off from the Pirate of Panther Bay series.

I am very excited about this new series prospects!

 

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Tortuga Bay Finalist in Eric Hoffer Book Awards!

Eric-Hoffer-Finalist-Seal (1)Tortuga Bay, the second book in the Pirate of Panther Bay series published by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, is a category finalist in the 2016 Eric Hoffer Book Awards! While Isabella didn’t win her genre categories (in this case Young Adult or General Fiction), the accomplishment is very significant. The award notes that less than 10% of nominees become finalists. I estimate that at least 1,270 titles were entered into the competition. So, this is still an impressive showing for her and her crew.

I am particular excited about this performance in a national book competition for professional and personal reasons. First, the Hoffer Awards are an international competition that has become one of the largest book award programs in the nation, focusing on small and independent presses as well as self-published authors.

Second, on a personal note, Eric Hoffer was one of my late father’s favorite authors and philosophers. Eric Hoffer was a mid-20th century writer and philosopher, often referred to as “The Longshoreman Philosopher,” because he wrote most of his books and other writings while working the San Francisco docks as a longshoreman from the late 1940s until 1967. He wrote several books, but his most widely read one is The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (a book that I think is highly relevant even today). I own several copies, including my father’s marked-up copy.

The Hoffer Book Award was founded “to honor freethinking writers and independent book publishers of exceptional merit.” Indeed, Isabella is free thinking and Tortuga Bay grapples with some of life and society’s most pressing issues of freedom. This is quite appropriate coming from an influential social philosopher with no academic background who wrote his first books (a novel) and articles while living on Los Angeles’s skid row. These experiences gave him “a respect for America’s underclass” according to the wikepedia entry on his life, quoting him as saying it was “lumpy with talent.” He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.

Tortuga-Bay-RGB-96-01More information on Tortuga Bay can be found at the following locations:

 

 

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Tris Prior is more than just a buff, kick-butt character

divergent-poster-full I know that books typically have more depth than films, but YA fiction has tended toward the simplistic and straightforward rather than the complex and layered. Thus, I’ve written the last two posts on the Divergent film series, thinking that the books were not that much more complex than the books (see here and here). I was wrong. Or at least I am revising my thoughts based on the first of Veronica Roth’s novels in the series.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the book version of Divergent had a lot more going on than than a kick-butt heroine finding herself among the rubble of post-apocalyptic Chicago. Actually, the character of Tris Prior had a lot more going on. I have already written about how Tris is a much stronger heroine than Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games series. My belief if more firmly entrenched now that I’ve read Divergent.

Veronica Roth has given Tris a grand character arc that establishes her female protagonist as a deep thinker motivated by ideas. She just doesn’t want to be brave, she aspires to the nobility implied in selflessness for a higher cause. Hence, she carries the tattoos of both Dauntless, her chosen faction, and Abnegation, her family’s faction (which she never completely leaves emotionally). Indeed, her discovery and reconciliation of these “divergent” aspirations via her romantic relationship with fellow Dauntless faction member Four becomes a primary element of her identity as she leads the rebellion against Erudite. This is a far more subtle and meaningful transformation than that Katniss undergoes in the more survivalist focused Hunger Games.

Seeing Tris on this journey via Roth’s words was an unexpected pleasure, and elevates her to one of my favorite heroines in fiction.

Tortuga-Bay-RGB-96-01Other heroines worth reading in fiction? Try

 

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Where do good female characters come from?

TrisAllegiantposterWhile recently researching blog posts about the Divergent film series, I ran across a 2011 blog post from Veronica Roth, the author of the novels, that also discussed the origin of Tris Prior, her kick-butt female protogonist.  Many readers might think that Tris was always the center of the story, but not so! Here’s what Ms. Roth writes:

“…Divergent really happened when a bunch of these pieces of inspiration suddenly coalesced in my mind as I was writing, and I got about thirty pages of a story from Four’s perspective down, and then set it aside because it wasn’t so good. It was only when I discovered Beatrice that I was able to write the full book, four years later.”

The observation that caught my attention was that she had started writing Four’s (Tobias Eaton’s) story, not Tris’s. But it was boring so she stopped, and didn’t get back to it until four years later!

Pirate-of-Panther-Bay-RGB96Her experience is strikingly similar to mine when I was crafting The Pirate of Panther Bay back in 2000. At the time, I was writing a young-adult romance about pirates because I thought it would be exciting and different. The protogonist started out as a male. But after about 50 pages (I got further than Ms. Roth), I put the manuscript down because it was boring! My story was just another pirate trolling through the Caribbean for loot. Ugh.

I am not sure how Ms. Roth “found” Beatrice, but Isabella’s “birth” was actually quite analytical. Since I was writing fiction, and story turns on conflict, I asked myself what would happen if I made the pirate captain female? The story became much more interesting, because virtually any plot putting a woman at the center in a leadership position in the 1780s was going to create conflict and tension. This was particularly true on pirate ships where crews were superstitious and almost always banned women on their vessels. For Isabella to get on the boat in the first place, she would have to overcome significant hurdles. She would also have to be strong–she couldn’t be a stowaway or consort, or start out in a typical role. The path to the captaincy of a pirate ship simply couldn’t take that route.

More importantly, the conflicts created a fascinating story line that allowed me to really flesh out Isabella’s character as well as the major male protagonists. Each of the major characters had a dramatic arc and singular journey that would feed of each other. The results have been great, particularly in the most recent installment, Tortuga Bay.

I hope Veronica Roth talks more about the literary beginnings of Beatrice Prior. I found her character to be very similar to Isabella in terms of personality and temperament.

Now, if I can just get The Pirate of Panther Bay made into a major motion picture….

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Is Katniss Everdeen a strong female character?

I have now seen all four Hunger Games movies and read all three books, and I am now doubting whether Katniss Everdeen’s character is worthy of ascending into the pantheon of strong female characters. Well, that might be too strong of an indictment, but I don’t think she makes into my top ten. This is a reluctant conclusion, but as a novelist who features young adults and women in ensemble stories, I think “strong characters” should have at least five characteristics:Mockingjaypart2

  1. Strong characters should have strong identities. Identities evolve, and characters don’t need to start out strong, but they need to end strong. They have to develop a sense of their own place in the world and how they relate to it. Moreover, this identity has to be recognized by their peers.
  2. Strong characters should relate to peers as a peer.  Self-doubt, even self-loathing, can be powerful tools for the novelist, and often provides tension that propels story. But at some point strong characters need to break out of their narcissism and begin relating to other characters, either as a leader or as a full-blown member of the team. Characters can be first among equals, but they still must operate on the same plane as those they interact with on a regular basis in the story.  
  3. Strong characters should make important choices. Making choices is what defines identity and character. The kinds of choices they make determine the character’s integrity and their honor. The choices do not necessarily have to be the right ones, but the character needs to make them, and they make choices only they can make. These choices propel the character arc and the story.
  4. Strong characters should take personal responsibility. Once these choices are made, the character has to accept the consequences, good or bad, of those choices. These consequences also serve as ways to propel the story, but a key test of a character’s integrity is how they handle the consequences. In most cases, the character has to restore balance, or re-establish some sense of fairness, in the world in which they operate.
  5. Strong characters should exhibit courage. Strong characters are self sacrificing in order to achieve something bigger than themselves. This is again one of the most powerful tools of a character. They can’t lay in hiding throughout the story. Without a doubt, a character can begin weak or cowardly, but they must evolve to a point where their self-sacrifice becomes a defining part of their story. Sometimes, the exhibition can be very small in the context of the story, but it has to be big in the context of the character.

How do I rate Katniss Everdeen along these five characteristics? She never quite achieves a state of self-fulfillment or identity. In fact, she retreats from the world and refuses to engage in it once her tasks are completed. The Hunger Games is very much a plot and setting driven book so the story is very existentialist; the characters are driven to act because of circumstances beyond their control. Thus, the characters are reacting and relating to their environment; they are not manipulating their environment.

Beyond this story-telling constraint, which appears to be intentional by author Suzanne Collins, Everdeen’s character is never in control. Even when it appears to the reader (and viewer) she is in control, she really is not. We never really get the sense that Katniss is her own woman–independent, strong willed, courageous, yes, but she’s not in control of her destiny. Not surprisingly, she plays defense, not offense. Even in a world in which defense is the only option, defensive strategies can be used offensively, but Katniss Everdeen is never that strategic. She leaves it to others to make these choices and take on the risks. In short, her choices do not drive the plot or the broader story. The exception might be in Mockingjay where she decides to go on her own to kill Snow, but even this is a weak form of decisionmaking and commitment. Her quest to kill Snow becomes driven by an existential drive for revenge and retribution, not a reflective choice about outcomes.

Moreover, Katniss’s ultimate goal is to return to her home with her family. When she returns to District 12 without her family, she is essentially forced to cope with the loss, but doesn’t exhibit any of the courage associated with overcoming the scars and wounds of the violence she has experienced. She is depressed, and she has nightmares, but these define her new reality. She never engages in the healing that is necessary to seize control of her life, and she is not challenged after the rebellion finally takes control. We are left with some hope at the end, but we don’t have a real sense she has come to grips with the ugly realities she was forced to confront. We don’t get a sense that her character is stronger or more complete than when she stepped into the Hunger Games for the first time.

So, while Everdeen certainly has several characteristics of a strong female character, she doesn’t exhibit the character or the arc in the story that elevates her to the level of a strong female character or, for that matter, a character that should be emulated or become a role model. Here’s a brief summary of my scoring of Katniss Everdeen as a heroine along these criteria:  

Strong Protagonist Check List
Characteristic

Katniss Everdeen

Strong identity

weak

Relate to peers as a peer

weak

Make important choices

medium

Take personal responsibility

strong

Exhibit courage

strong

Just for fun, and because this is a blog that highlights my professional journey as a writer, I thought I would rate my four principal heroines (I have others) along the same criteria. I’ve taken a look at Nicole Klaas, the CEO of NP Enterprises in St. Nic, Inc., Isabella the escaped slave turned pirate captain in The Pirate of Panther Bay and Tortuga Bay, middle-school bully Maria from Renegade, and the strong-willed Lucy who tries to save her friend Luke from bullies in their school in A Warrior’s Soul. Here are the results: 

Nicole Klaas

Isabella

Maria

Lucy

Characteristic

St. Nic, Inc,

(2014

Panther Bay/

Tortuga Bay

(2014/2015)

Renegade

(2011)

A Warrior’s Soul

(2010)

Strong identity

strong

medium/strong strong

strong

Relate to peers as a peer

strong

medium/strong strong

strong

Make important choices

strong

strong/strong strong

strong

Take personal responsibility

strong

strong/strong strong

medium

Exhibit courage

strong

strong/strong strong

medium

Interestingly, my strongest characters are Nicole Klaas and Maria. Both of these novels won literary prizes. Renegade won second place in the children’s chapter book division of the Seven Hills Literary Competition. St. Nic, Inc. won second place in the Published Mainstream/Literary Category in the Royal Palm Literary Awards. I have taken my own advice to heart, however, and Isabella has evolved into quite a heroine as she takes her crew into the maelstrom of a nascent slave revolt in Port-au-Prince in Tortuga Bay (published in 2015).

While I am disappointed that Katniss Everdeen doesn’t score higher along these criteria, The Hunger Games books remain very engaging reads. I recommend them for their quick pace, anti-violence, anti-war message even though Katniss Everdeen’s character arc is shallow. She is definitely brave and skilled, but she falls short of the leadership qualities and understanding of her own identity that would take her to the top of my list.

Now for shameless self-promotion: get free shipping & handling if you buy any of my books from Southern Yellow Pine Publishing through December 30, 2015! Use the coupon code STNIC.

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Tortuga Bay Launches Isabella into Voodoo and Revolution

The official release date is set for Tortuga Bay, the sequel to The Pirate of Panther Bay: September 5, 2015. We will be launching the book at the Decatur Book Festival (@DBookFestival) in Decatur, Georgia, September 5-6th. We will have a launch event in Tallahassee, as well, but the venue and date have not been confirmed yet. Take advantage of pre-release savings by pre-ordering Tortuga Bay and/or The Pirate of Panther Bay for $3 off the cover price! (Use coupon code READNOW.)

Tortuga-Bay-RGB-96-01I am very excited about Tortuga Bay. Isabella goes into very different and a very dark place as she grapples with voodoo and a nascent slave revolt on Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti). Lots of swashbuckling action takes place, but I enjoyed working some bigger issues into the plot and character arcs in this version.

It helps that I’m getting great early reviews! Here’s a sampling:

  • “Isabella sizzles in this swashbuckling sequel to The Pirate of Panther Bay.  Her sword slices through oppressors from the first page to the last in an adventure that puts her daring and decisive stand against slavery at the center of a story that shimmers like its Caribbean setting. Unputdownable!” Donna Meredith, award-winning author of Wet Work, The Color of Lies, and The Glass Madonna
  • “In SR Staley’s sequel to The Pirate of Panther Bay, Isabella once again shows she is made of as much grit as any male pirate captain.  The action starts on page one and never lets up.  Through exhilarating battles at sea and the start of a slave revolution on land, Isabella fights for the success of her ship, safety of her crew, and survival of her lover, who happens to be a captain in the Spanish Navy — a sworn enemy.  At the same time, she is searching for the meaning of the Prophecy given to her long ago by her now dead mother.  Staley’s familiarity with ships of war and the history of the region helps readers feel they are part of the action. “ M.R. Street, award-winning author of The Werewolfe’s Daughter, Hunter’s Moon, and Blue Rock Rescue.
  • “If you pick up Tortuga Bay you better strap on your seat belt because you will be transported back in time to an era of pirates and ships chased by the soldiers and sailors of Spain’s Most Royal Catholic Majesty. Isabella, continuing her role as The Pirate of Panther Bay from the previous book, is an intriguing character. By casting this young woman as a pirate captain Staley launches a frontal assault on all the female stereotypes so prevalent in literature, media and the entertainment world. He has done a remarkable job of mixing pirates, Royal political intrigue and Haitian voodoo into an entertaining tale.” Col. Michael Whitehead (ret.), author of The Lion of Babylon and Messages from Babylon.

Stay tuned for updates as we get closer to the release!

Also, keep track of my comings and goings on my website: http://www.srstaley.com

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Why I believe in magic and fairytales at age 21

By Claire W. Staley

When one turns 21, as I did recently, one is expected to indulge in the “adult” practices of alcohol, practicality, and business meetings. After all, I am no longer a teenager (which brought on a brief existential crisis at 20), and I am far beyond the time when I believed fairies existed under each flower petal and mermaids swam in the oceans (although I’m still not prepared to give up the latter). I am a fully functioning college student beginning to understand financial aid, cooking, and her own bedtime…sort of. The fact is, Santa Claus isn’t real, my pet dragon is actually imaginary, and true love’s kiss won’t break any spell.

What confuses me most is that I barely noticed these changes as birthdays passed. I can’t pinpoint the moment when my dolls became plastic instead of people, when I stopped looking for faerie circles in the woods, and when creating my own elven language lost it’s thrill. They just faded away, and I miss the sense of adventure they brought to my life. I miss the way it made anything exciting and created a world that only I could see. Something I could understand.

And now I have term papers and tests and loud dorm mates that make me question my belief in not killing people. My willpower against the latter prevails.

However, as I was rereading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time, I realized something. Perhaps my way to find magic had just changed. There was certainly magic in these books, because the magic was happening inside my head and I was living it. And that is real. It is a tangible thing to be captivated by a book, to be so entrenched in the story and the characters that you cry and laugh and mourn them, to feel the real and powerful sadness that comes with a certain character dying, to love Isabella in The Pirate of Panther Bay like a sister, and to feel as in love with Augustus Waters as Hazel Grace is (in The Fault in Our Stars).

Perhaps, as an adult, magic has just changed. And who knows, really, if there are fairies underneath flower petals. They wouldn’t let us see them anyway, so does it matter? Perhaps I should just remember that not everything in the world needs or wants an answer. And perhaps I am quite happy with filling that space with this particular kind of magic.

It’s way more fun for the world to have magic in it anyway. So who cares if there is or there isn’t any. I’m happy just believing that I can be flown on a dragon to a pirate ship in another world.

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