Need a new read for the New Year? Here’s Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World!

As if the headline doesn’t say enough, I’ll say it again: IT’S ALIVE! Here’s the link! The download is only .99!

Book 7 release

Thanks for your patience and thank goodness for Christmas vacations, giving me time to get this finished and published.

Book 8 is up on my laptop right now, and I have fantasies of getting it done sometime next summer. (Ahh, summer fantasies . . .)

In the meantime, I’m going to release a barbaric yawp in celebration and swagger around the house like this today because BOOK #7 IS OUT THERE!

(Now I need a nap. School starts again on Tuesday. Sigh.)

Book 7 Teaser: Why we’re so susceptible to fake news

Because we don’t want to think. That’s so like, boring. <insert eye-roll>

We don’t want to study, to research, to ponder, to analyze–we just want to be fed so that we can get back to playing and being entertained, as quickly as possible.

Give us easy information, sensational too, because we love to be entertained.

 

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And we’ll follow whoever makes life the easiest and most entertaining for us.

Which is why we’re running headlong into big trouble.

Anyone remember ancient Rome, the bread and circuses?

That’s what I was afraid of.

(By the way, that book 7 I keep promising? It’s so close I can taste it when I lick my laptop. Um, maybe you didn’t need to know that detail . . . sorry.)

The semester in which Mahrree Shin suddenly became my mentor

I haven’t been too active on my blog since September, as I’ve mentioned before, because I was offered to teach 10th grade English at a local high school when a teacher suddenly had to leave.

The strange thing is, I’d forgotten that I’d given up on the idea of teaching a couple of years ago. Burned out by grading and freshman college students’ attitudes, (“Wait, college is hard?! No one told me college would be hard!”) I had pursued a small business and my writing.

Then why was I suddenly agreeing to teach high school in a matter of days?!

I still don’t know why, except that, strangely, I really, really wanted to.

The adjustment has been immense—working full-time, learning how to teach high schoolers, reading their novels rapidly to be two days’ ahead of them. I’ve never worked harder in my entire life. I’ve never been so drained and depleted and exhausted.

And, shockingly, I’ve loved it.

Well, most of it.

Because there’s 2nd period.

Everyone at this school of 400 students and teachers knows about my 2nd period. A senior that I have in 4th period stopped by last week to turn in something, glanced at the back row of boys I teach, and exclaimed, “Whoa—you’ve got ALL of the rotten ones!”

Yes, yes I do. Out of 20 students, 17 are boys. One-fourth are retaking the class because last year’s teacher failed them (and yes, I’ve heard all about THAT injustice from them repeatedly). A couple are retaking English 10 for the third time. They’re juniors who are feeling a bit panicked.

As you might imagine they have attitudes. Disrespectful, bitter, bratty, insolent—yep, I’ve got the full gamut. This has always been my biggest nightmare: a classroom where half of the students are the school’s known bullies.

And, for the strangest of reasons, I love each one of them.

No, it’s not a strange reason, really; it’s an absolute gift. The first day I faced them—and I had been warned about them by the assistant head of school, the head of the English department, and their current substitute teacher—I gazed over their scowls and cynicism, and I was filled inexplicably, wholly, with love for them.

Realize, this is NOT my nature. I can be rather nasty and cynical myself, as anyone whose read my books can attest. But not right then, and not since then. I was filled with pure love.

It wasn’t my love, but God’s love for them. I felt at that moment such a profound sense of, These are my children, and they need someone to care for them. This is your task, and here’s how I feel about them.

Staggering. Absolutely staggering.

I never before realized how immensely God loves each of His children–even the rotten ones. So much so that He’ll send anyone He can find to help them.

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He’ll use anyone willing. Even me, as inadequate and unprepared as I am.

The head of the department had suggested that what these kids needed most was someone to “mom” them, and since I have nine kids she assumed I knew how to do that.

I didn’t, but God does. And daily He’s tutored me in what to do when someone acts up; when a student etches poorly drawn male anatomy into the desk; when another student wanders the classroom in search of the garbage can to toss his breakfast sandwich into from fifteen feet away (the sandwiches tend to fall apart in flight, just fyi); when a frequent-failure, who is failing yet again, lays down on the floor and announces that he’s no longer writing but is listening, so keep talking and don’t mind him when he starts snoring; when another student, smelling strongly of marijuana that he claims is his parents’, looks at me with his bloodshot eyes and hazy expression and says, “What was the assignment again?”  

And I’ve been tutored as to how to handle the other half of the class which is frustrated with the ding-dongs on the back row and yell, “She told us eight friggin’ [at least, I think he shouted friggin’] times what we’re doing! I counted! Shut up and listen for once!”

And I’ve been channeling Mahrree Shin, when she was teaching the delinquents of Edge. When I first drafted books 3 and 4 and described Mahrree’s experiences with her troubled students, I borrowed examples from friends who taught, and also my limited experience in once teaching English composition to the auto shop students at a local community college. They, too, were insolent and boorish. The college had thought that teaching them a humanities class might instill in them some humanity. That’s material for another post, but I’m happy to report I did have some success with them.

But that was long ago, and these are very different boys. And nearly every day I’ve thought, “What would Mahrree do?”

I’ve been taking her advice, which is also the Creator’s advice:

I never yell, although many of my front half of the class have told me to shout at the back half. “Just let them have it!”

But I never felt that was right; Mahrree never lost her temper. She’d stand in front of the class, smiling sweetly (sanctimoniously?) while waiting for the noise-makers to lose some steam. She’d stare at the worst ones intently until they squirmed and blurted, “What?! What do you want?!”

“To begin class. Are you now ready for me to talk?”

“Yeah, talk already! You’re creeping me out!”

Mahrree would never lose her cool, even when a handful of boys, upon hearing they could throw away their homework, crumpled the pages into balls and started hucking them, a dozen at a time, toward the garbage can. No, Mahrree would critique their terrible shots, exclaim loudly that she’s glad none of them are on the basketball team (while knowing that two of them were) because they couldn’t make a shot to save their lives. Then she’d pick up the balls of paper and chuck them back at the boys, demonstrating how to properly hit a target.

Mahrree wouldn’t insist on absolute silence or obedience, knowing that these boys trapped in her classroom were counting down the minutes until they could break free and run home to their four-wheelers, or their lobster boats, or their shotguns which beckoned them all day long. She’d play games in the class with vocabulary words, knowing that the teachers on either side of her classroom were forgiving of their volume because, “It’s 2nd period,” and even their students know about Mrs. Mercer’s 2nd period.

Mahrree would bring in the occasional treats, feeding them pomegranate seeds when they discussed Persephone and Hades, giving them “bird poop” cereal mix when we discussed Poe’s “The Raven,” and tossing Smarties to the students who won the last round of vocabulary Bingo.

Mahrree would worry about the students’ need to be heard, to be engaged, to feel like their 80 minutes in the classroom wasn’t an exercise in frustration.

Mahrree wouldn’t care about her ego, or her students’ lack of respect, because she knows she’s there for them, not for herself. It’s about the kids; it’s never about her.

Mahrree, by the way, is NOT like me in the least bit.

But she’s been tutoring me; God has been teaching me–daily, hourly, and every minute–how to cope.

And I’ve never learned more about teaching, about myself, and about God’s love for every one of his children—EVERY last one of them.

Mahrree would, however, count down the days until the semester was over. That, we have in common.

Eight days. Eight.

And I suspect that right after I do my Happy Dance on January 12th, I’ll shed a few tears as well, because this mom will have lost a lot of her children who she learned to love.

Because God showed me how much He loves them.

(By the way, Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World? I’ve nearly finished proofing it. It’s coming, friends–it really is!)

Book 7 Cover is here! And “The Soldier in the Middle of the World” is nearly ready!

I promise, dear friends, that I have NOT been neglecting Book 7. In the spare minutes I can squeeze out here and there, I’ve been formatting for printing, and this glorious long Thanksgiving weekend I neglected my teaching job, forgot all about Black Friday shopping, and instead MADE A BOOK COVER!

(Again, I used family members because they know I won’t feed them unless they dress up. I forced the jacket on to another son whose reluctant and stiff stance wasn’t acting; it’s how he really felt to be cajoled into his mother’s obsessive hobby.)

This means Book 7 is close–VERY, VERY close! Once I get the proof back and fix last-minute errors, The Soldier in the Middle of the World will be published!

Before Christmas? Maybe, maybe . . . I don’t dare make any promises, but I would love to be able to deliver that gift to you. In the meantime, my entire series can be downloaded for less than $2. Now THAT’S a cheap awesome gift to give!

Book 7 FRONT cover

Book 7 back cover

(I didn’t realize making the back cover white would mean it looks HUGE on my website.)

 

Book 7 Teaser: The best beginning, the ones who change the future

There’s the notion of the family-changers, the cycle-breakers, the ones who look at a long line of behavior and/or abuses and decide, “This is not a legacy I will continue. My children’s lives will be markedly different than mine.”

It’s the realization that just because you were treated one way doesn’t mean you have to perpetuate that behavior. It doesn’t matter what your parents, siblings, or grandparents do; you can choose something better. You don’t have to resort to the feeble excuse of, “Well, that’s how my father/mother/sibling treated me!”

You can be something much more.

You can change the future for those who follow. 

Those are the most awe-inspiring people I’ve ever met, those who won’t allow the filth to continue one generation further.

And those are also some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.

“Versa,” Peto said, “you are like a filter. All the filth the Thornes possessed, you’ve cleaned from the water. Their influences can go no further than you. Your mother says you’re like the general, but you’re nothing like him. You’re strong and solid in ways he’ll never be but wishes he were. The destruction of the Thorne line ends with you and your sister Delia. Your mother ended the muck of the Snyd line herself. Your descendants will look to you as the best beginning, as the women who changed their futures.”

Versa scoffed. “Rector Shin, you Salemites are far too optimistic.”

“I grew up in the world, Versa,” he reminded her. “I still possess a great deal of its cynicism, but not about you. You belong in Salem.”

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017 (Or at least I’m doing the best I can to get it ready. Suddenly teaching school full-time and coming up with lessons nightly has taken all but a few minutes of every day. But this book is rumbling in the background, and I’m working on formatting it in random moments here and there as quickly as possible, because Book 7 is impatient, clawing to break free, and it’s beginning to hurt.)

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Book 7 teaser–Are you being forced or are you allowed to choose?

I’ve discovered the easiest way to decide what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”: by asking, “Am I being forced to accept this?”

If someone lays out the facts, then takes a step back to let me ponder and evaluate, then I’m much more inclined to accept their position.

But if someone tries to force their ideas on me, I dig in my heels and refuse to budge, because something is fundamentally wrong with the argument if it must be forced to be accepted.

And it doesn’t matter who or for what cause they’re forcing. I’ve known very religious people try to force their children/spouses to obey them. I’ve known agnostics and atheists do the same thing.

Force is always wrong, because it takes away a person’s agency: their God-given right to choose for themselves. And it IS God-given. That’s not a nicety, but a reality.

No ideology, political group, religious organization, government or family member has the right to force their opinion and will upon another. If someone is trying to control another, you can be sure they are acting devilish. That’s not an euphemism, but a fact: Satan is all about control, about force, about taking away freedoms. Lucifer is real, and his influence is very easy to spot. If someone’s trying to control you, there he is.

God, however, is not about control or force. Many religious groups and zealots, however, will hijack the notion of “god” and appropriate it as their own, pretending that their cause is god-driven and therefore you must follow. But the only god they’re following is the one they made up; they’re worshiping themselves and want you as a follower.

God, on the other hand, sent us to this earth as a testing ground. He wants us to choose right or wrong, good or evil, and He so values our freedom that, when we make mistakes, He’s even given us a way to fix them. He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins so we could come back to Him.

BUT–and this is a big BUT–only if we want to.

God is our Father, and like any good father He wants His children back home. But He will never force us back, never force His will. He sets out His terms, His promises, His hopes, then takes a step back and lets us choose for ourselves.

That is love.

Satan is not.

And every last argument in the world plays into either of these two courts: Are you being forced, or are you allowed to choose?

“You can’t force your will on someone,” Peto would say as he hauled the flailing teenager to the barn, “and demand they do what you want. That’s the Refuser’s way, not the Creator’s way. The Creator allows everyone to choose their way, even if it’s the stupid way. But the Refuser wants to control everyone’s lives. That’s not our way!” ~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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Book 7 Teaser–Does “the dogma live loudly within you”?

Last week Senator Diane Feinstein tried to shame a judicial nominee, Amy Barrett, law a professor at Notre Dame and a Catholic mother of seven children, for her religiosity. Feinstein said, “the dogma lives loudly within you.”

It was meant as an accusation for Barrett’s devotion to her religion.

But I can’t imagine great praise being leveled at anyone. To be so true to your convictions that others can witness you “living loudly”? Shouldn’t that be what we all hope can be said of our lives?

Catholics have marvelously embraced this phrase, employing the hashtag “dogmalivesloudly”. Others are saying it’s their new mantra, their goal in life, that everyone can see exactly how they live.

I’m not Catholic but a fellow Christian, and when I read about this yesterday (I missed it while following all the hurricane news), my arms tingled. I have no idea who this Professor Barrett is, but suddenly I really want to meet her.

Often I’ve heard that Christians should be recognized by how they live, that their examples should be obvious. The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” (Romans 1:16) and he definitely lived as he believed.

But such “living loudly” frightens some people, understandably. Remember how the Apostle Paul died, as a martyr? As did Peter, James, Stephen . . . well, just about all of the Savior’s apostles died because they “lived loudly.”

Not that I’m suggesting that holding firm to our Christian beliefs means that we can expect martyrdom, but to be honest, that has happened, and is happening, and will happen in the future.

The world doesn’t like Christianity, but that’s ok, because the approval of the world isn’t what we’re after. We’re here only temporarily. (Atheists, on the other hand, think this life is all there is, so getting everything they want right now turns them a bit dogmatic in their own ways.)

This earth life is merely a blip in our existence, a brief sneeze of time, but such a very important one. It’s an all-inclusive test, to see what we’ll believe, what we’ll pursue, and what our hearts really want.

What we do here tells God what we want to do next. And that “next” is going to be an eternity. That’s why we Christians are also so dogmatic about getting things right.

And why we shouldn’t be afraid to live loudly. Professor Barrett has inspired me, fortified me, helped me realize there are lots of us out there, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to live my Christianity loudly.

Peto grinned at his wife. “So last night made up for yesterday?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” Lilla said fervently. “The Creator made up for it in grand style.” She looked up at the sky. “THANK YOU!” she hollered.

Peto and Shem flinched in embarrassment as a few people in their fields looked around in confusion. They waved uncertainly at the four riders, not sure what the loud thanks was for, and Shem and Peto waved back, trying not to snort. 

Calla chuckled at her sister. “Why not? THANK YOU!” she called to the sky.

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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Book 7 teaser–Everyone prepared?

I had different posting for today, but seeing that southeastern Idaho has been plagued with earthquake swarms (116 as of today, Wednesday), and that there are literally hundreds of wildfires in Montana, Utah, California, Washington, Oregon  (let’s just say nearly the entire western United States can see smoke in the sky), and that there’s another major hurricane headed inland (Irma, like Harvey, will likely not be a popular baby name), I’m worried about you, wherever you may live.

Are you prepared?

Not just for the next disaster, but ALL THE TIME?

Doesn’t it make sense to ALWAYS have a week’s supply of water? (You can save your juice and soda bottles, wash them out, and store water in those.)

Shouldn’t we ALWAYS have a FEW WEEKS worth of easy-to-open-and-eat canned and packaged food? (Yes, you can live on cold baked beans and canned peaches for a few days, especially if you can’t get to a store, or the store is emptied.)

Shouldn’t we ALWAYS have an escape route planned? (Where would you go, how would you get there if you had an hour to evacuate?)

Shouldn’t we ALWAYS know where our important documents are? (Stick your birth certificates, insurance papers, vehicle titles, etc. in a waterproof tote today.)

I had a friend who said she didn’t like preparing for a disaster because then she felt she was “bringing it on,” and that made her nervous.

But here’s something I’ve discovered long ago: If you’re prepared, you no longer fear. 

Yes, prayers are good, but preparation is better.

Get ready, friends. For anything and everything, because it looks like it’s coming.

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“Salem is fantastically ready, Guide Zenos! You and Rector Shin have done all that is humanly possible to prepare. We have reserves, we have plans, we have a place of escape—everyone is ready.”

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017 (unless I’m wiped out by a tsunami).

 

Book 7 teaser–He still had a foundation, and something new could be built for him

I go walking a few times each week, and yesterday went exploring a quiet, tracked lane by myself. It’s not hard to lure me into the woods, and I was surprised to soon find myself on a peninsula with untouched fields of wild blueberries and black berries.

And I also found boulders!

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I felt like I had stumbled into Edge!

But what I found at the end of the peninsula surprised me most of all: ruins.

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I know this area has been inhabited by colonists since the late 1600s, by Native Americans for far longer than that (they’re the ones who dined on blueberries and lobsters hundreds, if not thousands, of years before anyone).

But these stones took my breath away. My first thought was, “This foundation’s still standing!”

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With a little weeding (ok, getting those trees out might take a little longer) and some reshifting of stone, another house could feasibly be built there. Carefully fitted, these stones had remained solid for who knows how long.

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Today I told my archaeologist daughter about what I found yesterday, and in ten seconds she sent me a link: I had “discovered” the remnants of Fort Foster, built in 1776 during the Revolutionary War to keep East Machias, Maine, safe from the British.

A forest, boulders, AND a fort?! I HAVE found Edge!

As for these stones, I don’t know how long they’ve been there; because the fort was mostly berms, these stones were likely part of some settlement structure before or after.

But they gave me goosebumps. Through years, through storms, through prosperity and poverty, this sure foundation has remained. 

I thought about the horrific flooding in Texas, and I have no doubt that when the waters finally recede, and the devastation is fully realized, there will be something that remains: solid foundations. Marking where homes and lives used to be, and perhaps inviting lives to rebuild again.

In fact, in every devastation I’ve seen people face, as long as they have a solid foundation–a rock upon which they’ve based their lives–they can continue.

I was so struck with these images that I ran home and added new lines to Book 7 which I thought was finished. But, like everything, there’s always room to keep building and growing:

So often he’d found it hard to see himself, as if he were looking deep into his soul and was terrified by what he’d find, but tonight he wanted to see what was there. And what he saw someone a little lost but finally on the right track. He also saw his grandfather looking back at him.

He suddenly remembered the ruins of their burned house outside of the fort. Despite all that had happened to it, the foundation was still there and strong, and something new could be built upon it.

Then he understood. He still had a foundation, and something new could be built for him. ~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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Book 7 Teaser: Tell God what you want!

“Your problem is that you haven’t told God that you need a miracle. Tell him! Demand a miracle!” That was the advice my friend gave me when, seventeen years ago, we were drowning.

I was pregnant with my 6th, my husband had lost his job and the part-time job he had in the meantime wasn’t paying, and my adjunct contract wasn’t going to be renewed because of budget cuts. We were falling behind in our mortgage payments and our savings were gone. Very soon we’d be in very dire circumstances.

“Tell God exactly what you need and get that miracle!” my friend insisted.

So I prayed—earnestly and daily—telling God what I wanted: a good-paying job for my husband so that we could meet our financial obligations, and the ability to keep the house we’d built so our family could be raised in a great neighborhood.

Not much—just what all of our other friends and family had. Not a fancy car, not a dream vacation, not a huge house—just the bare necessities.

Others also prayed in our behalf—intently and constantly—until finally the miracle came: my husband got a job.

But the not-so-miraculous part was that it was 2,000 miles away from that great neighborhood and my family.

And it wasn’t going to pay enough.

And we’d have to leave our house.

But maybe, just maybe—it’d be ok?

With enormous reluctance and huge tears, we moved our family cross county, put our house up for sale, and waited for the next miracles.

But they didn’t come as I demanded. Where we’d moved was outrageously expensive, and my husband’s education-based income would never cover rent, so he found yet another job, this one a couple hundred miles away, leaving me and our six children to mooch off of his family for several months.

The sale of our house fell through—four times—and because we couldn’t get caught up on the payments during those eight months, it was going into foreclosure with letters sent to us almost daily from lawyers and banks.

I was so humiliated and depressed, alone and still drowning. Did we not have enough faith to make those miracles happen? What more was I supposed to do to get my prayers answered? What did I still lack? Why wouldn’t God give me what I needed and what our family deserved?

I began to realize something: demanding miracles from God wasn’t how it was supposed to work. God is not, as Harry Emerson Fosdick once quipped, “a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button and get things done.”

Maybe I wasn’t praying for the right things. Maybe I didn’t even know what those “right things” were?

So I stopped telling God what I wanted and needed, and started asking Him to help me understand. I asked Him to change my heart to be submissive, to meekly take whatever was thrown at us. I was so low anyway, I didn’t have anything else to lose. I was hopeless, in heart and spirit.

I was broken. That’s what God was waiting for.

That’s when miracles began.

Miracle #1–We found a house to rent across the street from my husband’s new job. It was condemned and would be torn down in six months, had mice and skunks (in the cellar) and roaches, but we could live there for $350/month and be a family again for a while. The fact that I was grateful for such accommodations after living apart for eight months? Miraculous. (I’ve written about this house before here.)

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And when it rained, water poured in on all the edges where the walls met the ceiling. But that was ok, because the vines growing in the house needed to be watered.

Miracle #2–We finally found a buyer for our old house, and the day before it was to be sold at auction we closed on it and were able to negotiate payments for the second mortgage, which wasn’t covered, down to a reasonable rate. We paid it off five years later.

Miracle #3–Astonishingly, the mortgage company hadn’t reported our delinquency properly, and on our credit report was only that we’d missed one monthly payment. Our credit rating fell a bit, but three months later we were in a position to buy a brand new house at $600/month.

A full year after I TOLD God what I wanted, I realized I was in a completely different situation than I’d ever imagined but . . . I liked it!

Our new life was giving us experiences that we never could have had any other way. Our kids were flourishing, our new house was adorable, my husband loved his job, and I had work as well.

And I was very glad that God did NOT listen to my demands.

A couple years ago we drove through our old neighborhood to see the dream house we had left and lost in 2000. I was so grateful that we did NOT raise our kids there. Not that there was anything wrong with the neighborhood, but I realized how limited and narrow our lives would have been had we never left, instead of the wealth of experiences God gave us instead by forcing us away.

He knew what we really wanted, rather than what we thought we should have.

The real problem, it turned out, wasn’t that I needed to demand a miracle and insist on my ways, but that I needed to ask God what His ways were for us. And His ways have always been far, far better.

     With growing despair, he sat back on his heels. It was time to send the general a message.

    “It’s the right thing to do, right, Puggah?” he whispered.

     It’s an intriguing idea, Young Pere. But is it the right idea?

     “Well, you did it! At least, you were trying to do it, then did it in another way—”

      Young Pere, think about that—I tried to do it but failed. It wasn’t meant to be. It isn’t meant to be with you, either. 

     He scoffed. “But you just said it was intriguing!”

     Yes it is. But just because it’s an intriguing idea doesn’t mean it’s the right idea. Especially when the Creator has something much better in mind. 

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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