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Portland, OR

Jason Gurley is an author and designer from Portland, Oregon.

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Starring Steve Carell as...

Jason Gurley

A couple of weeks ago, I had a wisdom tooth extracted. There were two in need of removal, and my dentist was going to take both that day, but the first one proved such a painful and difficult experience that he decided to call it quits once it was finished. So when I visited earlier this week to have the last wisdom tooth removed, he made sure I was well-sedated and comfortable. The procedure went well, and afterward, my wife and daughter took me to Target to fill a painkiller prescription. Since we had to wait twenty minutes for the pharmacy to fill the order, we killed time shopping (which probably makes Target's shareholders very happy). 

Now, I don't recall most of what happened next. The drugs that the dentist had me on during the procedure are not only designed to make you loopy, they're designed to work as a mild amnesiac. The only reason that I know any of this happened at all is that I found a stack of brand new DVDs beside our television, and one of them was the Steve Carell/Tina Fey comedy Date Night

Which neither my wife nor I would buy in a million years, because... well, we just wouldn't do that to ourselves. 

It was very important to show you the bilingual version of the DVD cover here, for some reason. 

It was very important to show you the bilingual version of the DVD cover here, for some reason. 

But there it was. Date Night

I turned to my wife and said, "Why do we own Date Night?"

Felicia: Um, you made me buy that.

Me: What? When?

Felicia: At Target. When we went to get your prescription filled.

Me: I don't remember this. 

Felicia: You don't remember going to Target?

Me: I remember going to Target. But I don't remember buying this movie.

Felicia: You insisted we buy this movie. 

Also included in the stack of DVDs were Jaws, The Goonies, an Elmo/Sesame Street thing, Singin' in the RainThe Wolverine, and Moneyball

I should point out now that I once owned a metric shit-ton of DVDs. Before Felicia and I got married, it was my apartment's primary import. I had nine hundred or maybe a few dozen thousand of them. I didn't just buy movies I loved. I bought any movie I thought I would want to watch at some random point in the future. (And usually never got around to doing so.) Eventually, as we started watching more movies online, I decided it was time to get rid of the collection, and I sold most of the movies off. 

We just don't buy physical copies of movies anymore.

Yet there they were. Six new DVDs.

Me: What do you mean, I insisted?
Felicia: Squish and I found you wandering around in the movie section, holding DVDs. You had The Wolverine and Moneyball and that Elmo thing. I couldn't understand why you wanted to buy DVDs, since we usually just buy movies online if we want to watch them. 
Me: Right. 
Felicia: So I said maybe you could put them back and we would just buy them online if you wanted to see them badly enough. 
Me: I've seen Moneyball already. 
Felicia: I know! It doesn't seem like the kind of thing you necessarily need to own. I mean, would you watch it that often? 
Me: No. 
Felicia: So I suggested you put them back, and you did, but then you were kind of grumpy about it, like I was raining on your parade. I asked you if you really wanted them, and you said you were going to watch them upstairs.

At this point I should explain that I'd taken the day off of work to enjoy a blissful retreat in the dentist's chair, and I planned to spend the day on painkillers, asleep in our bed. So it didn't make sense that I would watch movies. We usually watch movies on our Xbox downstairs. 

Felicia: Which I didn't get, because you could just watch them downstairs. How were you going to watch them upstairs? But then you mumbled something about your DVD drive for your laptop, and I realized that you wanted to watch movies in bed while you were recovering. So I said you should just get them, then. 
Me: I really don't remember any of this.
Felicia: What's more is when we got back to the movie section to find those movies, I saw a bunch of movies for five bucks each, and there was a sign that said if you bought three five-dollar movies, you got the fourth one free. So I asked if you wanted any of those. But you said you didn't see anything that caught your eye. 
Me: Huh. 
Felicia: I said, look, here's Inception. Here's Road to Perdition. Here's The Town.
Me: I like those movies.
Felicia: I know! So we just got the original ones you picked up, and then we went to the pharmacy, but you were really out of it. You were walking really slowly. Squish kept calling, "Daddy, come on!" And I had to go really slowly because I was afraid we'd turn a corner and you would just wander off. But we had to hurry! Because the pharmacy people said they closed for lunch at 1:30, and it was 1:25, and you were walking sooooo sloooooowly

But we made it to the pharmacy counter. Never fear. I still didn't know how we ended up with goddamn Date Night, though. 

Felicia: When we got to the register they had a big display with more of the five-dollar movies, so I told you we should look. I said, here's Jaws, and you said okay.
Me: I love Jaws.
Felicia: And The Goonies, you wanted that. I asked about Groundhog Day, but you said you'd seen it too many times. And you got Singin' in the Rain
Me: I do like that movie. I haven't watched it in years. 
Felicia: So with the Elmo thing, that gave us four of the five-buck movies, so we got the one-free deal. But then you saw Date Night and picked it up, and I said, do you actually want to watch that? I don't want to watch that. It seemed really out of character for you, and I couldn't tell if it was really you or the drugs. But you said you really, really wanted to see it. So I asked if we should put one of the other movies back, and you said we should put The Goonies back. 
Me: What?
Felicia: Right? I like that movie, though, so I said no, and asked you again if you really wanted to own Date Night. Like, you could rent that one, right? Do you have to own it? And you were kind of emotional and insistent about it, so I said we would just buy it, that's fine, and that's what we did. 
Me: I can't remember any of this.
Felicia: Do you remember grocery shopping?
Me: When? 
Felicia: The same time. 
Me: No.
Felicia: I asked if there was any kind of food you wanted to eat while you were recovering. You were adamant. Chicken and stars soup. Nothing else, just that. Specifically chicken and stars. 
Me: Wow. You must have been laughing your ass off at me. 
Felicia: I didn't have time to! I was in a hurry, and it was like I had two toddlers with me instead of just one. 

So now we own Date Night

And in the end, we filled the prescription, bought the unnecessary movies, and came home. I apparently set up my laptop and the DVD drive on the beside me, and then Felicia peeked in and asked if I wanted any of the movies. I told her The Wolverine, and she went downstairs to get it. 

When she came back upstairs, I was completely passed out, and I slept for hours. I did eventually wake up and sort of watch The Wolverine, but I barely remember it. And the night that I discovered Date Night, I did give it a fair shake, but twenty minutes in, I'd had enough. 

So if you want a (very gently) used copy of Date Night, you know where to find one. 

Meanwhile, I'm extremely curious to know what kind of stories I could have written while on those drugs. I really want to know if they'd be any weirder than the first Limbs story, because I wrote that one completely clear-headed, and it is absolutely bizarre, man. 

(Oh, and a disclaimer: I probably got 95% of Felicia's words wrong in that rehashed conversation above. I mean, she said all those things, but probably in better words than I managed to dredge up from my tired brain and transcribe here.) 

(Also, this blog post is kind of weirdly formatted. I know. I'm sorry. But it's one a.m., and I'm going to bed now, so let's agree that it's okay that it's weirdly formatted, and we'll all get some sleep and it will look better in the morning.)


 
 
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The state of the Eleanor, and me, I guess

Jason Gurley

Eleanor has been out in the world now for just over a month, and to my surprise, she's been doing quite well on her own. For most of that time she's hovered in the 1,000-3,000 rank range on Amazon, which means the book has been my best-performing new release ever. But a book is never quite done even when it's done, and there's been a lot going on with Eleanor these past few weeks. 

To start with: Amazon surprised me with a huge gift today, wrapped up in a big glittering bow. Eleanor was selected as today's Kindle Daily Deal in the Science Fiction category. Kindle Daily Deals–KDDs–are fairly amazing promotional machines. Amazon pitches four or five or ten books a day at the wall. In this case, the wall is the entire Amazon reading audience, and the wall is made of velcro, and almost every book thrown at that wall sticks. So while Eleanor has done well on her own, today she got a bit of a rocket ride that is still going on.

At the moment, as I post this, the book is ranked #54 in the entire Amazon store. If you dig into some subcategories, it's the #6 book in the entire Science Fiction & Fantasy section, and the #1 Time Travel book. (Greatfall has been the Kindle Daily Deal twice before, but Eleanor has already outperformed it. It peaked at #58 in the entire store.)

The book has sold kind of insanely well today: Over 2,000 copies sold in the last 18 hours, which brings Eleanor to nearly 3,000 books sold. Amazon readers in the Prime or Kindle Unlimited program can also borrow Eleanor, and they've done a lot of that. I still make money from borrowed books, so if you add those to the tally, Eleanor comes in somewhere around 4,000 books sold. 

Later this month, I'll be reading from Eleanor at an event with several other authors and their own books. A local bookstore, Jacobsen's Books, promotes the event by stocking the authors' titles they'll be reading from. As a result, Eleanor (and Deep Breath Hold Tight) are on their shelves now. I also managed to get a couple of copies into Powell's City of Books (the smaller Hawthorne location). If those sell, there's an outside chance Powell's will order more. 

It's been kind of a dream come true to see my book sitting on a shelf. Powell's was kind enough to shelve the book face-out, and to add a "shelf talker," a little card announcing the book's arrival, so I look even more at home among the other books. 

Squish saw it almost before I did, and said, "Daddy's book!" And then she said, "We have to go find the pony books."

Squish saw it almost before I did, and said, "Daddy's book!" And then she said, "We have to go find the pony books."

There's something else worth mentioning here, too. A while back, I talked with some agents about representing me, and helping me extend Eleanor's reach a little farther than I'm able to do on my own. When the first of them shot me down in a couple hours' time, I moped, and then I wrote a short story (one I consider my best so far). When the next one passed, I got pissed-off and wrote a fight-the-man! blog post about it. The clear deduction to be made here? I don't handle rejection as well as I'd like to think I do. 

Just before Eleanor was released, though, I heard from a third agent. This one represented a couple of friends of mine, but I wasn't banking on those connections having any real influence on the agent's interest. (After all, the first agent also repped a couple author friends, and he had zero interest in me or in Eleanor.) But this agent loved Eleanor, and when we talked about my desire to continue self-publishing while also looking at traditional publishing opportunities for some books, he said all the right things. (I think he also took my aforementioned pissy blog post as a challenge, or at least saw past my crabbiness to the sappy author inside.) So in late June, I signed with Seth Fishman at The Gernert Company, and we're going to see if we can turn Eleanor into something bigger than I'm able to alone. So there's that. Now I'm agented, so I can start turning my nose up and farting perfume. (Not that I didn't do either of those things already. Strawberry perfume, in case you were wondering.) 

I confess, though, I geeked out quite a bit when I found out that my agent also represents Ann Leckie and Django Wexler, and a smattering of my very favorite webcomics creators (Kate Beaton and Randall Monroe among them). I don't know any of these people, but now I have something in common with them, which is totally cool. Even cooler? My agent is an author himself. And frankly way cooler than me (though that isn't hard to pull off at all). 

Final note: In the amount of time it has taken me to write this post, Eleanor has jumped to #46 in the Amazon store. I wish I didn't dislike exclamation points so much, or I'd use about forty-six of them right here.


 
 
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Scenes from a work in progress

Jason Gurley

A few days ago, while ostensibly working on some edits to a larger project, I got distracted by a shiny object, and started working on what I thought would be a very short, very fast story. I figured four thousand words, maybe five, and then I'd be done. 

It's been six days now, and the story is twelve thousand words long, and showing no real signs of stopping yet. It's also a bit... weird. I honestly don't know what to call this story. It might be a horror story, but it might be something far bigger than that. 

Here's a short excerpt from the rough draft–emphasis on "rough"–for you:


“World’s upside down. Look, the roots are growing up into the sky.”

The seriousness with which Wade described the tree on the Fowler land stuck with me for years after. He was joking, of course, the way he tended to do, but in that laconic way that belonged to him alone among our tangle of friends. I hadn’t thought about him in years, or the tree that he’d been pointing at, the one that stood leafless and twisted in the middle of the otherwise carefully-kept lawn, isolated like a sculpture, looking like the petrified nervous system of some long-dead titan. He was right, of course, about the general weirdness of the tree. It was almost otherworldly, like something transported whole from Middle-earth. The things that tree must have seen, you might think when looking upon it. 

I remembered all of this, in a sudden cold rush when my father, tired and searching for anything to talk about on the phone, said, “Oh—you probably didn’t hear about the old Fowler place.”

Just those words conjured a memory so immediate, so precise, that I was almost there again, twelve years old and standing on the street-side of the white fence that framed the strange property. 

“What’s that?” I asked him. 

“Damn thing went and burned down all itself. Old wood, I reckon. Squatters, maybe.”

He pronounced it squarters, the way my mother said warshing machine.

“Nobody was hurt?” I said, but only because that was the proper thing to ask.

“Not that they found. Damn near took out an acre of woods next to Mrs. Rushland’s rent trailer, though.”

I said, “I’m glad nobody was hurt,” and the rest of his words blurred into static, because those words—the old Fowler place—didn’t just trigger an old memory of Wade and weird, twisted trees. 

They brought back a memory that had spent the last thirty years at the bottom of a brackish swamp, where memories weren’t supposed to come back from, ever. 

•     •     •

“World’s upside down. Look, the roots are growing up into the sky.”

Nobody paid any attention to Wade, but I shot him a sideways glance. 

“So—what?” I said. “The sky’s really the dirt?”

Wade shrugged one shoulder. “Maybe there’s two skies. Maybe the dirt”—he stomped one dirty tennis shoe on the gravel shoulder of the road beneath us—“isn’t all that deep. Maybe it’s like a belt, and there’s sky underneath just like there’s sky above. Except maybe we’re on the beneath side.”

“You’re fucking weird, Wade,” Dustin said.

Wade shrugged again. I didn’t come to his defense. He was, to be fair, fucking weird.

“I’m going over,” I said. 

“I don’t think you should,” Wade said. 

I hitched up my jeans and got ready to vault over the white fence rail, but Dustin agreed with Wade. “Man, the landscape guy’s just over by the shed. He’ll see you for sure.”

“What do I care?” I argued. “And he’s not a goddamn landscape guy. He’s just a shithead with a lawnmower. Besides, I want to go swimming. It’s too shitting hot.” I turned and pointed a finger at Wade. “And don’t tell me your mama thinks I swear too much.”

“I wasn’t saying nothing.”

“He was about to,” Dustin said. “But he’s right, we should come back when the lawn guy’s gone.” 

I was adamant, though. “When he’s gone, it’ll be seven, maybe eight. It’ll start cooling down. I want to swim now. It’s like ninety-ninety-nine fucking degrees.”

Dustin sighed, then turned to Wade. “It’s hot, man,” he said.

Wade turned and looked up the street, then down it. The only cars were far away, milling along Woodburn Boulevard. Not more than a few came down Brentland Street during the day, just in the morning and again at night, when everybody’s parents went off to work and left their no-good kids home all day to fuck with the neighbors’ swimming pools. Or fuck in them, if you happened to know someone who hadn’t tried it and gotten chlorine burns on their crotch parts. Everybody learned it sooner or later. Except the three of us. We were twelve. Horny as owls, talked a good game, even Wade, who sometimes surprised the shit out of us, but at the end of the day we all went home and beat off to torn-out pages of a Playboy we’d found in damp old backpack in the gully. 

“Fine,” Wade said. “But not here. Be smart about it, at least.”

He pointed, and we followed his finger to the overgrown woods on the house’s west and north sides. The fence ran in a nice, straight line along the property’s perimeter, but as it came into contact with the woods, it got drunk and began to weave and buckle into the trees. Eventually, it succumbed, and vanished into a growth of fir trees that sprawled onto the back half of the property like sand from a torn ballast bag. 

Dustin clapped Wade on his skinny shoulder. “That’s why we bring you along, man.”

I grinned. “Let’s go swimming, yeah?”

“Yeah, okay,” Wade said.

•     •     •

The old Fowler house was legend in our neighborhood in Channelton, but nobody could tell you quite why. There were countless stories about the old place: it was haunted; the old man who lived there was a pedophile; a whole family had been killed there years ago. It didn’t matter which one you believed, or if you believed any of them. They all seemed plausible when you saw the property, and the old Colonial house that rested heavily in the middle of it. 

Bill Fowler had built the place in the ‘60s, was the general consensus, back when nobody knew what he was up to. Built the whole place in the woods, and then when he was done, buzzed the trees off of the land and put up the fence. My father liked to tell the story of how the whole town thought Fowler was stupid for not cutting the trees down first. That was the punchline of the story, when you got right down to it. Locals just got a kick out of mocking someone who did something for their own reasons, especially if those reasons were obscure. And Bill Fowler, as the stories all go, was nothing if not obscure. 

But he was a perfectly ordinary man. He didn’t keep to himself. He worked in the county recorder’s office, took his wife dancing at the veterans’ hall, bought beers for the guys at the bar after work on Fridays. Kept one pair of boots for Sunday church, wore out the others working in the yard on Saturdays. For awhile he’d kept horses on the property, though Dad said they spooked easy, and more than once he’d come home from the refinery to see Mr. Fowler’s mare trotting down the asphalt street, shins bloodied up from busting down the stall gate again. He’d lead the horse home, then help Mr. Fowler fix the gate up. 

For me, the stories started with my father. After those evenings, or any other evening when he had cause to visit Bill, my father would come home sweating a little more than usual. Mom would tell him he looked a little peaked, and get him an iced tea and park him in the porch swing, and Dad would struggle to catch his breath a little, like he’d been out for a long run, and then he’d drink his tea down and say almost nothing about what was on his mind. I’d hear him mutter about it to Mom later, though, in the quiet of our little brick house. “I just always get the heebies out there,” he would say. I don’t remember what Mom ever said back. “Heebies” was a very amusing word to me, but when I heard my father say it, it felt different. 

Bill Fowler died the same year I was born, 1977, and the old place went up for sale soon after. The sign grew moss and fell over a few times before someone moved in. One day, my father told me later, the sign was just gone, and there was a charcoal-colored Ford Cortina parked amongst the weeds of the gravel driveway.

•     •     •

We could see the car from the shadows of the woods. It never seemed to move, from what any of us could tell. Maybe it never had since 1977. But the gravel driveway was kept orderly and neat, the weeds cleared and the packed-down rocks perfectly parallel to the fenceline, and the car never seemed to radiate that familiar, stale glow of abandonment that we were all used to noticing when a car sat too long on a neighbor’s front lawn. 

“I don’t see anybody now,” Dustin said. 

“The groundskeeper is over there,” Wade said, pointing again. “Tending the azaleas.”

“He’s just a guy with a lawnmower,” I repeated, but halfheartedly this time. 

The lawn guy was good, I had to concede. The property had the greenest grass on the block, and even in the places where ivy gathered densely around the grounds, it seemed almost intentional, like the guy meant for it to do exactly what it was doing. The only curiosity was the dead tree, ringed at the base with thorny brambles and shiny black rocks. It didn’t match the trellis on the side of the house, with its creeping vines and yellow, fat blossoms. It didn’t match the hedges on the east lawn, the ones that flanked the old barn. 

“I don’t see the swimming pool,” I said. 

“It’s back there,” Dustin said. “My brother said he and Gina snuck back there last month and did it in the shallow end. He said it was the best pool in the neighborhood.”

“Maybe your brother’s full of shit.”

“Maybe you’re full of shit,” Dustin retorted. 

“Guys,” Wade said. 

The groundskeeper had packed up his tools and was carrying them towards his pickup truck, parked just behind the gray Ford Cortina. 

“I think he’s finished,” Wade said.

“I just want to get in the water,” I complained. “It’s still hot, even in here.”

And it was. The woods were dense and dark, the strongest trees blotting out the light so that the weaker ones dried up and fell against each other and crumbled into rotten piles of dust. The floor of the forest was orange with dead pine needles, and I could barely see the sky through the thicket of branches above. 

“It’s fucking creepy in here,” I added. “Almost as creepy as that fucking house.”

“The car is what creeps me out,” Dustin said. “You know that car doesn’t even come from here?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, Ford doesn’t even make that car,” Dustin said. “It’s like a phantom car. It’s not supposed to even exist. Think about it. You ever seen a Ford like that in the school parking lot? At the grocery store? Nobody else drives it because it’s not real. That’s got to be why it never moves, man.”

“It’s a Ford Cortina,” Wade interrupted. “They make it for England, man. It’s a Ford, it’s just not an American car.”

“The fuck are you talking about?” I asked. “Ford is American.”

“They have overseas markets, too,” Wade said. 

Dustin looked at me. “Fucking weirdo.”

I nodded. “Wade, you talk like you aren’t made for here.”

The groundskeeper finished loading up the truck, and we all turned our attention back to the driveway at the sound of his rusted door slamming shut. The man had just tossed something into the passenger seat, and walked around the pickup as if he was about to climb in and drive off. Then we heard another slam, a fainter one. 

“Oh, shit,” Dustin said. “The old man.”


 
 
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The Movement Omnibus

Jason Gurley

While I haven't yet written The Travelers, the third and final book in my Movement series, I have started imagining what an omnibus edition of the entire series might look like. I haven't settled on a name – The Runaways almost surely will not be it – but I'm considering this cover for the omnibus, which I made last night before going to bed. (It would be more impressive had I made it after going to bed.)

As lovely as the title The Runaways looks there, I'm probably going to change it to something that doesn't preserve the pattern established by the three individual novels, which are called The Settlers, The Colonists, and The Travelers. There's just no single good word that sums up everything about the people who populate this world: I've considered refugees, emigrants, migrants, deserters, fugitives, nomads... and fifty other similar words. None quite works for me. So this edition may end up with a title that breaks the standard the individual books created. I think that's okay. The individual book titles will represent 'acts' in the omnibus edition. 

There's one more change I may make when the entire series is complete. I wrote the books absent any quotation marks around dialogue. It was a creative decision, one that I personally like very much, and that many readers enjoyed, too. But it's also been the greatest point of contention for a wide audience of readers. So for the omnibus edition, I may be reversing my prior creative decision. 

We'll see. First I have to write the final book!


 
 
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On the nature of instruction: Remembering Manual

Jason Gurley

Here's a major throwback:. In 2002, I was invited to join sixteen other bloggers and authors in an anthology project called MANUAL, as in RTFM, as in Read the Fucking Manual. The book was a collection of stories built around the simplest theme: 'how to' lessons. There was a story called "How to Keep Your Distance," another called "How to Show Your Work," another called "How to Unsuccessfully Woo Your Roommate's Future Husband". These were short stories, or nonfiction pieces, or poems. My favorite was a short little piece called "How to Take the Train." Even then, I preferred melancholy to almost anything else. 

My contribution is an embarrassing little humor piece that, I think, bears little resemblance to any of my current work. It's called "How to Start a Dialogue with a Complete Stranger." I was running a little blog experiment called The Dialogue Project at the time, which was a series of blog posts written entirely as conversations between unidentified strangers. These were hilarious to me, and probably completely unintelligible to readers. "How to Start a Dialogue" is not much different from those strange pieces, and its crude humor reflects some of my reading and movie consumption habits of the time. If you read it, try not to imagine that I was already one year into the writing of Eleanor. You will not be able to resolve the two versions of myself that these two writings will present to you.

In any case, MANUAL has been kept online for the last twelve years by Josh Allen, who runs the web curiosity Fireland. The anthology was downloaded some 40,000 times in its first week of availability, which I think very few of us expected, and none of us had any idea how to monetize, so we gave it away for free. There was a brief mention of the project in Wired, but that was about it. 

In the years since, plenty of things have changed for the authors involved in this project. Many still write. Kevin Guilfoile has published a few very good novels. Rosecrans Baldwin reviews books on NPR, and writes his own novels and memoirs, and edits The Morning News as well. Heather Armstrong's Dooce blew up and became a very high-profile blog. Paul Ford also writes books, and does too many other things to name. Josh, he of the generous twelve years of web archival, wrote a fascinating novel himself, every chapter written, in a sense, in public, and catalogued online. I've lost track of most of these people; most I knew only lightly, as connections of other connections of mine. I read most of their web sites for years, and now I still read one or two, though many of them have long since vanished. Sadly, one terrific writer in the collection passed away a few years after MANUAL was published. I'm still connected to, I think, two of them, via social media tools that didn't exist for us back then. 

Once, a few years ago, I got in touch with as many of my fellow contributors as possible and raised the possibility of a second volume of stories. Only a couple, as I recall, were interested in the prospect; the rest were busy, or no longer interested, or hadn't had as idyllic an experience as my own. A second volume never materialized, and these days, I wouldn't propose it again. I am, however, enormously pleased to see that this little artifact of the past is still there, still as prettily designed as ever, still as moving and funny and sharply-written as I remember.

MANUAL is still available, and free to read, at Fireland


 
 
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