Monica’s 280 Day Challenge

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“Conception” – August 17, 2014

The idea is that I have given myself a deadline to complete a project – a goal, a dream – that I have had for many, many years. This strategy is to help myself realize the importance of this goal to my life, which is why I am treating it like a pregnancy of sorts. By the time of my “due date,” this child will not be all that it will become. This is a stage in its development, and it will grow and change after that date.These 9 months are a growth opportunity for me as well and I hope to capture some of my experience here through weekly posts to this blog site. I invite you to follow me on this journey and set a goal of your own if you have something about which you feel passionate enough to commit yourself to it for the next 280 days.

My project is to complete the first draft of the novel that I started more than 15 years ago.

The First “Trimester”

Find out what took place during the first 85 days of my 280 day challenge. The First “Trimester” of my novel was exciting and energizing, and I’m looking forward to the second. As my dear friend who has had children of her own pointed out, “No more nausea. It will be smooth sailing from here on out.” I hope so!

The Second “Trimester”

From November 9, 2014 to February 21, 2015, I drafted more of my novel. My “baby” really started to kick. I fell into patterns. I started to feel like the day wasn’t complete without some time spent writing. My goal was to have completed at least 400 pages, and I finished the second trimester with 520 pages written.  

The Third “Trimester”

  • Day 293 – June 4 – Wrote 9 pages (782 pages total) – The novel is finished! I just typed the last word of the draft. I may go back and rewrite one scene before printing a paper copy, but otherwise, the draft is complete. Editing phase, here I come! Woohoo!!!
  • Day 292 – June 3 – Wrote 2 pages (773 pages total)

Though his skin was pale, his cheeks were flushed from the exertion of standing. His strong carpenter’s hands hung from the armrests of the chair like dead birds after a hunt.

  • Day 291 – June 2 – Wrote 2 pages (771 pages total)

His feet hit the front steps almost at a run. His car was parked just around the corner and he’d be home in time for dinner if he hit green lights on his way out of town.

The phone rang as he popped the car trunk and dropped his bags inside.

  • Day 290 – June 1 – Wrote 2 pages (769 pages total)

Shame rode them both like they were pack mules plodding up a long, steep road. The meal was an arduous journey that left her drained.

  • Day 289 – May 31 – Wrote 1 page (767 pages total)
  • Day 288 – May 30 – Wrote 0 pages
  • Day 287 – May 29 – Wrote 2 pages (766 pages total)
  • Day 286 – May 28 – Wrote 1 page (764 pages total)
  • Day 285 – May 27 – Wrote 1 page (763 pages total)
  • Day 284 – May 26 – Wrote 2 pages (762 pages total)

If she wanted to ride along – if they’d let her – she’d have to hurry. Anna would too. Cec spun in a slow circle, searching. The older woman still sat where she had for the last couple of hours.

  • Day 283 – May 25 – Wrote 3 pages (760 pages total)
  • Day 282 – May 24 – Wrote 13 pages (757 pages total)

“Jack, don’t.” Her words were barely a breath, but he heard them. He lifted his eyes to her face, knowing she could see the shame buried there, knowing she could see how much he wanted the release of those pills, knowing he had all along.

  • Day 281 – May 23 – Wrote 8 pages (744 pages total)

“Yes, Mr. Riley. Yes, thank you for the update. If you don’t hear from me in the next five minutes, kill them.”

  • Day 280 – May 22 – Wrote 1 page (736 pages total) – My 280th day, the “deadline” for my novel to be complete. It’s not. Not yet. It will be though. This “baby” is just going to be a bit overdue. That’s all, and that’s okay!
  • Day 279 – May 21 – Wrote 1 page (735 pages total)
  • Day 278 – May 20 – Wrote 2 pages (734 pages total)

A clatter overhead. He flattened his shoulder blades against the wall and waited. Footsteps ran in the direction of the disruption, and several shadows shot through the faint light at the end of the hall.

  • Day 277 – May 19 – Wrote 4 pages (732 pages total)

Cec gave Rumsey her back again, making it clear she had no fear of him. Despite appearances, her jaw ached from clenching it to keep her teeth from chattering. Emmet had only brought them two thin blankets. She handed one each along with some granola bars and water to Tobin and Roger.

  • Day 276 – May 18 – Wrote 3 pages (728 pages total)

He didn’t have time to let his eyes adjust, and he couldn’t risk walking in blind. Stretching his toe out until it pressed against the edge of the door, he eased it open and prayed by each inch that it moved on smooth, silent hinges.

  • Day 275 – May 17 – Wrote 7 pages (725 pages total)

Jack took in the room, a space he had rarely occupied even as a small child. It had been deemed off-limits to him early on, and now appeared as unfamiliar to him as if he’d never been there before in his life. The king-size bed stood centered beneath a wide window. Stained glass hung from the window frame, the light from the neighbor’s back porch casting a dim impression of tulips across the solid ivory bedspread. Large paintings filled each of the walls with more tulips, painted in long sweeping strokes. Their size and brilliant color filled the room and made it appear expansive. The room was a sanctuary.

  • Day 274 – May 16 – Wrote 2 pages (718 pages total)

They rounded the corner and the evening’s last ray’s stretched golden bright across the sloped metal roof of the storage facility. A second team, only three officers total, waited on the sidewalk for Nelson and Ed. The teams were spread thin.

  • Day 273 – May 15 – Outlined the scenes all the way to the end of the novel. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s coming into clearer focus every day.
  • Day 272 – May 14 – Wrote 2 pages (716 pages total)

Jack had righted a chair and sat down. He held his head in one hand and stared at the floor. Tommy wanted to walk right over and throttle him.

“Where is he?” Tommy asked.

  • Day 271 – May 13 – Wrote 2 pages (714 pages total)

His friend shook his head. He stared hard at the blood stains, and when he finally looked up, his eyes were moist. “Don’t you do that. This,” Tommy pointed at the darkened circle on the rug, “belongs to none of ours.”

  • Day 270 – May 12 – Wrote 4 pages (712 pages total)

Tommy straightened and jogged around the corner, away from where the action would take place. He had been amped and ready to go, strapped into a Kevlar vest, weapon clean and loaded. His heart raced now. Where before he’d felt it’s strong, steady beat and he’d felt powerful, now it raced and he’d never felt weaker. His earpiece crackled with reports, but he didn’t hear them.

  • Day 269 – May 11 – Wrote 13 pages (708 pages total) – Marathon day went well!

His journal entries had grown more and more detailed over time until at age sixteen, he’d begun writing two to three pages at a crack. His subject matter swayed heavily between arguments at home and new – often questionable – experiences at the Jarred Rumsey home for wayward youth.

  • Day 268 – May 10 – Wrote 2 pages (695 pages total)

“What the hell’s that?” The other officer flinched and straightened as Dev came up behind them on the front porch.

Jack turned and held out his hand, the square of paper a stark white against the blue glove. “It’s how we know where they went next.”

  • Day 267 – May 9 – Wrote 3 pages (693 pages total)

“Check it out.” Jack – all nonchalance – gestured with his chin at Tommy who pried a paper packet from the hollow in the bottom of the rabbit. The packet matched the one that had been sent in the dragon to his parents’ house. To his relief, Dev turned his attention to Tommy as he turned the packet over and over in his hand.

  • Day 266 – May 8 – Wrote 3 pages (690 pages total)
  • Day 265 – May 7 – Wrote 1 page (687 pages total)
  • Day 264 – May 6 – Wrote 2 pages (686 pages total)

“Since you don’t listen and since you don’t take care of yourself. Two people who care about you had a conversation about how to keep you alive. What are you going to do about it?” Jack opened his mouth to respond, and Cec’s curls flexed and bounced with whip crack speed. “That was rhetorical, and I’m not done.”

  • Day 263 – May 5 – Wrote 1 page (684 pages total)
  • Day 262 – May 4 – Wrote 0 pages
  • Day 261 – May 3 – Wrote 4 pages (683 pages total)

Jack’s pupils – black centers to the clear deep brown – narrowed on the packet. His fingers closed around it, and slowly, he stretched his hand out. Turning his clenched fist over, he waited until Tommy’s palm opened beneath it before unfolding each knuckle. The packet dropped with a soft scuffle against his skin and a subtle click of pills sliding against one another.

  • Day 260 – May 2 – Wrote 4 pages (679 pages total)

Jack’s eyes fell to the baggie and he lifted it, holding its fragile contents up to the light.

“He’ll be back for this.”

  • Day 259 – May 1 – Wrote 2 pages (675 pages total)

When he reached the secluded employees-only area to which he’d been directed, he leaped the stairs two and a time, the hard soles of his shoes clunking against the painted cement steps and echoing in the barren stairwell.

  • Day 258 – April 30 – Wrote 2 pages (673 pages total)
  • Day 257 – April 29 – Wrote 1 page (671 pages total)
  • Day 256 – April 28 – Wrote 0 pages
  • Day 255 – April 27 – Wrote 3 pages (670 pages total)

The ringtone had run its course and started the song over again when Ed swiped his finger left to ignore the call. His stomach lurched so hard, he thought he might puke. Swallowing bile, he mouthed, “I’m sorry buddy,” at the phone and pointed to the sporting goods store sign up ahead. “There it is.”

  • Day 254 – April 26 – Wrote 2 pages (667 pages total)

“My whole life, there was this dark cloud over all of us. Like… it was this incredibly heavy thing and they spent all their time holding it off me, trying to keep it from crushing me the way it was crushing them, and they didn’t have any energy left to be parents to me.”

  • Day 253 – April 25 – Wrote 2 pages (665 pages total)

From Cec’s angle, the gilt edge of the notebook pages was roughened and rippled for the first half of the book. The second half lay smooth and flat, as if untouched.

  • Day 252 – April 24 – Wrote 1 page (663 pages total)
  • Day 251 – April 23 – Wrote 3 pages (662 pages total)

What the fuck did I do? That was the exact moment Anna had risen – silent as a cat – and retreated to the bedroom. A second later, the door leading to the back yard slammed open, then shut again. Heavy footfalls had creaked down the basement stairs shortly after that.

  • Day 250 – April 22 – Wrote 4 pages (659 pages total)

Roger lunged and swung. Jack dodged left. Roger lost his balance and caught himself against the cupboard. The coffee maker clattered against the splashboard.

This was what Jack needed. Someone more deserving to take his frustration out on. Someone who didn’t leave him plates of food even when he’d been a jerk. Someone who hadn’t stuck by his side through thick and thin for the last couple of rotten weeks.

  • Day 249 – April 21 – Wrote 3 pages (655 pages total)

Without waiting for a response, he turned and stalked to the kitchen. The whispered rasp of yarn stilled. The television muted. He shoved his way through the double-hung door.

  • Day 248 – April 20 – Wrote 4 pages (652 pages total)

Weathered wood boards, two stories, a front porch right out of a story book – the kind with gory endings. The house had a sort of battered charm though. Long-forgotten stories lingered in the rope that hung from the tree out front and the aerial television antenna attached to the side of the structure. Its more recent stories were the ones that interested Tommy today though.

  • Day 247 – April 19 – Wrote 6 pages (648 pages total)

Anna turned her shoulders and hips toward the window, as if she spoke to her birds. “Think about it. Women are lucky these days. Back when I was your age, women didn’t tell anyone. If a woman got hurt, it was her fault. She was expected to just move on with her life. How do you move on from that?”

  • Day 246 – April 18 – Wrote 2 pages (642 pages total)

He stood suddenly, arms edgy and stiff at his sides like wild things stuck in a cage. “Excuse me.” The kitchen door screeched and banged on his way through.

  • Day 245 – April 17 – Wrote 3 pages (640 pages total)

“What? In his shoes, you know you’d want to be there too.”

“Of course I would, and I wouldn’t go if I was in the kind of shape he is.” Dev chewed thoughtfully on the last two hash browns. “Listen, I know he’s your friend and all, but he could have gotten himself killed yesterday.”

  • Day 244 – April 16 – Wrote 2 pages (637 pages total)

Courtnay had to force herself to keep her eyes down. If she looked up, she’d give too much away. She already had.

  • Day 243 – April 15 – Wrote 7 pages (635 pages total)

He shouldn’t have taken his eyes off her. He would have seen her coming. Instead she blindsided him with a sharp jab to his good shoulder and a hissed, “Get back in bed.”

  • Day 242 – April 14 – Wrote 3 pages (628 pages total)

The two nodded to one another with more camaraderie than she’d seen from Jack all morning. With a huff, she pushed past his arm and headed straight to the front counter. His growl at her back sent a traitorous shiver down her spine, and despite herself, she slowed her gait the tiniest bit so he wouldn’t have to work too hard to catch up.

  • Day 241 – April 13 – Wrote 3 pages (625 pages total)

Last night’s humiliation clung to her like a thicket of brambles. The more she tried to rid herself of the reminders of Jack’s gentle touch, his later rejection, the admissions he’d drawn from her, and ultimately the way she’d run from him, the more entangled she became.

  • Day 240 – April 12 – Wrote 3 pages (622 pages total)

 The shock of hair that fell over Toby’s brow curled nearly to his eyes. Tommy followed it down the slight swell and curve of a nose that he knew had been broken during a fight in Toby’s teenage years. He couldn’t look at those lips, and focused instead on the strong chin, the sharp jawline leading to his earlobes. Kissable ears, which brought Tommy back to that mouth with the lower lip that pouted with concern. Concern for him.

  • Day 239 – April 11 – Wrote 2 pages (619 pages total)

Whirling to his pack next to the desk, Ed ripped one last file from its depths. Flipping it open in the circle of lamp light, he peeled back page after page, scanning for the handwritten notation in the margin.

  • Day 238 – April 10 – Wrote 2 pages (617 pages total)

Jack tipped his mug until warm liquid flowed over his tongue. With it, he swallowed his normal reaction, the urge to defend himself. His therapist’s words from years back flooded his mind.

“Pick your battles Jack. How does it feel when you try to defend yourself and the other person doesn’t believe you?”

“Powerless.”

“Then, find your power. How can you take it back without trying to take theirs away?”

  • Day 237 – April 9 – Wrote 2 pages (615 pages total)

Jack stilled so fast that his heart stopped beating. What had they talked about today? His stomach rolled at the thought that in one day, they might know more about her than he had learned in three months. Roger sipped his milk.

  • Day 236 – April 8 – Wrote 3 pages (613 pages total)

Over pizza, with a beer blurring the hard lines of their family makeup, Jack had shared his hopes and fears, and his anxiety about girls. Roger, in turn had doled out fatherly advice and told stories about his own early teenage gawkiness, but he had shared no family secrets. He was an impermeable brick wall when it came to talking about the dynamic in their little family of three.

  • Day 235 – April 7 – Edited, trimmed, and worked out the bugs. Ready to work on the next scene tomorrow. (610 pages total)

“I would never… God damn it!” His hot breath steamed, defiant, against her lips. “Three months, I’ve been waiting for you to kiss me back, and you question my patience? I could have handled that, but I would never hit you, and you should damn well know it.”

  • Day 234 – April 6 – Working the kinks out of a key scene. I’m hopeful that after a little more work tomorrow I can move forward.
  • Day 233 – April 5 – Wrote 8 pages (616 pages total)

“All men say they’ll wait, that they’re patient. Then their patience runs out and they take what they want anyway.” She whispered it. Shame rode her hard, its claws digging into her back, bending her spine, keeping her eyes averted.

  • Day 232 – April 4 – Wrote 2 pages (607 pages total)
  • Day 231 – April 3 – Wrote 2 pages (605 pages total)

“Cec, you.…” His mind flooded with all the things he wanted to tell her. If he ever got his hands on the men who made her say something like that…. His stomach turned, and he gritted his teeth against the onslaught of curses that would have forced their way out. Instead, he whispered, “You have been dating entirely the wrong men.”

  • Day 230 – April 2 – Wrote 0 pages
  • Day 229 – April 1 – Wrote 1 page (603 pages total)

“Cec,” he began, tasting words against his tongue that he never wanted to have to say to her. “I’m sorry I scared you. I would never… ever….”

  • Day 228 – March 31 – Wrote 1 page (602 pages total)
  • Day 227 – March 30 – Sifted through some past attempts at this next scene (it’s an important one) for the gems so I can piece it together. Hopefully tomorrow!
  • Day 226 – March 29 – Did a bunch of prep work for the next scene, so I’ll be primed and ready to write tomorrow night
  • Day 225 – March 28 – Wrote 3 pages (601 pages total)

His typically warm skin was cool to her touch and she stroked her fingers lightly up his chest, lifting the fabric as she went. Muscles bunched under her hands, and she reveled in the sensation.

  • Day 224 – March 27 – Wrote 2 pages (598 pages total)

She needed to be a puzzle, a mystery, impenetrable. She clung to her secrets, terrified of those times when the strange desire came over her to spill her confidences at his feet and leave him to pick up the shattered pieces. See if he could assemble them in a way that made sense. Maybe he would give them back to her whole, the way she knew only he could.

  • Day 223 – March 26 – Wrote 2 pages (596 pages total)

“I understand. Something brought you here though.” The doctor waited, meeting Cec’s gaze in an eerily non-confrontational way that had Cec’s body poised to run even as it yearned to collapse into the chair that brushed the backs of her knees.

  • Day 222 – March 25 – Wrote 1 page (594 pages total)

“Yeah we talked,” he reassured. Then, thinking better of misleading her, he shook his head. “Not the way you wanted us to. They’re not ready to hear what I have to tell them, Cec, and they’ve never had much to say to me.”

  • Day 221 – March 24 – Wrote 3 pages (593 pages total)

“I’m great!” she shrilled, far too brightly for the red rims under her eyes. She flicked a hand toward the book, shoving it beneath the covers. “Damn book. I just got to a sad part.”

  • Day 220 – March 23 – Wrote 2 pages (590 pages total)

Inhaling the scent of clean soap, just tinged with the fryer grease odor that could not be washed from Tobin’s hair, Tommy closed his eyes. The smell was one hundred percent Tobin, and these days, it smelled like home.

  • Day 219 – March 22 – Wrote 2 pages (588 pages total)

He pictured Bea, in a hospital bed, a thousand miles away. She had lost so much weight in the last few months. She baked cookies every week, without eating any herself. Her appetite had waned with the treatments, a bitter tradeoff since they hadn’t worked anyway.

  • Day 218 – March 21 – Wrote 0 pages
  • Day 217 – March 20 – Wrote 3 pages (586 pages total)

So he sat. He relished the sharp stab of the wicker weave against his bandages. He soaked up the nip of the cold night air against the flush of his skin. He drank in the faint scent of sugar cookies that Cec had left behind.

  • Day 216 – March 19 – Wrote 2 pages (583 pages total)

Slowly, slowly, the warmth of her mother’s belly seeped into her back. The cushion of breasts and thighs pillowed Courtnay’s body. Her arm crossed Courtnay’s tummy in a cage that was not a cage.

  • Day 215 – March 18 – Wrote 4 pages (581 pages total)

The shadow of Bea’s voice reached Cec’s ears. Her scolding tone told Jack in no uncertain terms that the choice was hers. When her voice dropped again, Cec lost the thread of the conversation, but Jack gave a strained chuckle. Then he grew very still.

  • Day 214 – March 17 – Wrote 4 pages (577 pages total)

He reached the front door and with a twist of the lock, wrenched it open, casting a glance back at Cec. Her forehead creased and concern filled those hazel eyes. He turned, stepped into the cold and closed himself off.

  • Day 213 – March 16 – Wrote 2 pages (573 pages total)

His father’s fist slammed down on the table to his right, and to his left, a spoon clattered in a dish. Jack slowly lowered the gravy ladle back into its bowl.

  • Day 212 – March 15 – Wrote 1 page and edited some sections that needed it (571 pages total)
  • Day 211 – March 14 – Wrote 2 pages (570 pages total)

It was on the tip of Tommy’s tongue to tell him not to worry, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead, he waited. Spencer’s reflection showed his beefy forearms exposed by rolled-up sleeves. His brow was furrowed in an expression Tommy had seen many times before, though he’d never figured out how to read it.

  • Day 210 – March 13 – Wrote 7 pages (568 pages total)

He smirked and reached for her hand. The curve of his mouth made her breath catch. To hide it, she focused on the dampened cloth that swept across his skin. She ran it gently down each of his arms, back up, over his brow again, down each side of his five o’clock shadow, behind his head and across his neck. Finally, she held it there, cradling his head.

  • Day 209 – March 12 – Wrote 1 page (561 pages total)

Ed reached over the ledge of the sales counter and pulled it from her grasp. In block letters, the scrawled message read, “STOP FOLLOWING US!! THEY’LL HURT CECELIA.”

  • Day 208 – March 11 – Wrote 1 page (560 pages total)

At the broad hardwood counter of a small cozy bookstore, he held the Jackson’s photo up to a middle-aged clerk wearing a matronly skirt and sweater combo. Despite the nip in the air outside, the sun streamed in through ceiling high windows and warmed the shop to a balmy heat.

  • Day 207 – March 10 – Wrote 5 pages (559 pages total)

Cec snatched his coat away and moved to the coat rack on the wall. She inhaled deeply, stealing his scent from the canvas collar before hanging it on a hook. The woodsy smell soothed the edges she had only just realized were frayed.

  • Day 206 – March 9 – Wrote 4 pages (554 pages total)

Both men wore hats, glasses, and lightweight coats. Riley and Turner had swiveled their stools and sat facing Jim and Linda in the café’s corner. All four sat perfectly still for several ticks of the wall clock, as if Etta had paused the image.

  • Day 205 – March 8 – Wrote 1 page (550 pages total)
  • Day 204 – March 7 – Wrote 1 page (549 pages total) – went back and reworked a section from a different perspective… better!
  • Day 203 – March 6 – Write 2 pages (548 pages total)
  • Day 202 – March 5 – Wrote 0 pages – long day at work
  • Day 201 – March 4 – Wrote 5 pages (546 pages total)

“He came in and told you never to question him again. Everything was messed up. Your own smell choked you, and he only cared that you disobeyed him. He left you there, Bridge, in your own mess. All alone. You believed you were going to die. And he. Left. You. There. Do you really want to give your loyalty to someone like that?”

  • Day 200 – March 3 – Wrote 2 pages (541 pages total)

Dev bared his teeth as he stretched his arm around behind his back near his beltline. Jack’s heartbeat kicked up a notch, a fleeting thought that he might need to protect himself. “You thought it was a big enough deal to want this.” Dev let the small-caliber weapon encased in leather thump against the heavy wood of the table.

  • Day 199 – March 2 – Wrote 4 pages (539 pages total)

A litany of questions and nearly an hour passed. They were no closer. Occasionally a flicker of some emotion would cross the boy’s face, but no helpful answer crossed his lips.

  • Day 198 – March 1 – Wrote 2 pages (535 pages total)

“No. It was a busy morning crowd and she didn’t notice when the change happened. One minute, they were having a leisurely breakfast. The next, there was cash on the table with a hefty tip and they were gone.”

  • Day 197 – February 28 – Wrote 3 pages (533 pages total)

Anna nodded and sipped her tea. A tear slid down her cheek behind the mug. “I wonder how the girl is now.”

The steam rising over Cec’s mug wafted the scent of orange and cinnamon across her nose and she focused on its sweet spiciness. “I wonder that sometimes too.”

  • Day 196 – February 27 – Wrote 2 pages (530 pages total)

The two shook hands, an act with which Dev was mercifully gentle. After murmuring half-hearted greetings, they turned their shoulders to one another. Though Tommy believed they might come to like each other one day, he conceded that today was not that day.

  • Day 195 – February 26 – Wrote 2 pages (528 pages total)

Tommy dragged the kid up by his wrists and shoulder. Most of his scalp was buzzed with a longer, dark lock of straight hair falling across his forehead. He had big ears, skinny shoulders and a long, lanky shape that barely kept his pants up. The kid dug deep and hocked once. Tommy dodged to the side to avoid the sloppy projectile, which hit the wall and slid.

  • Day 194 – February 25 – Wrote 3 pages (526 pages total)

Jack turned and had just begun to raise his weapon when the narrow closet door burst open right beside him. A lean body slammed into him, careening from the cramped space and shooting down the hallway.

  • Day 193 – February 24 – Wrote 2 pages (523 pages total)

Tossing his cane into the scraggly bushes that lined the front porch, he drew his weapon. The safety clicked on Tommy’s weapon as well.

  • Day 192 – February 23 – Wrote 0 pages – Visiting with family
  • Day 191 – February 22 – Wrote 1 page (521 pages total)

Courtnay snatched the shirt and made sure her mother was watching before she flattened it into the crisp, furiously meticulous folds she’d been taught years ago. They were the folds she learned during the divorce when she took over duties like laundry and dishes and vacuuming and dusting while her mother lay, crumpled as this sweatshirt on the couch.

February 22, 2015 – Second Checkpoint

“Due Date”

May 10, 2015 – Goal is to have draft of novel completed.
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