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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #351

We Hit Sixty Degrees

Not terribly earth-shaking news, I know, but last week we actually hit the magical temperature of sixty degrees. Sure, it was just one day and sure, the rains and cooler temperatures are back now, but for one day, we in the Pacific Northwest were allowed to walk outside without wearing multiple layers and without bowing our heads into the rain.

For one day we had hope that one day, in the not-so-distant future, spring would arrive full-force. For one day, we were allowed to dream of gardening and sipping coffee on the porch, of mornings not dominated by building fires in woodstoves and drying out raingear.

For one day, we had a vision of what a brighter future would look like, which is a bit of a metaphor about the pandemic as the vaccines are produced and more and more citizens receive them, hope that one day, soon, we can find normalcy and go about a day without worrying about an invisible foe.


I hope this finds you all well. Let’s see what the Mailbag has for us this week.

The Mail Room!

The Mail Room!

Table of Contents

From Brenda: “I do have a question I'm hoping you can help me with. I recently submitted a book length version of my poetry to a no fee contest. I had to submit a table of contents inside the word document. I had loads of trouble figuring this one out. I must admit I just found a way to make it work, but it wasn't the correct way. Is there a simple way to do this? One that is not too complicated to understand. Thanks in advance if you can show me how to accomplish this one.”

Brenda, one of our group, Linda, sent me the answer to this before I even had time to look it up. Here’s what she said:

“Bill, Brenda asked about inserting a table of contents. Here's how it works in Microsoft Word:

“When you prepare your document use “Styles” (on the Home tab) to tag your headings, titles, and subtitles

“When done click on “References” tab

“Select “Table of Contents”

So there you go, Brenda, all thanks going to Linda on this one.

Reading Comments

From Pamela: “Reading all the articles and commenting can be time consuming. I try to comment on those people who have been supportive of me first. Do you go back and see what people have written about your comments?”

Pamela no, not as a general rule. I simply don’t have the time to do that. I wish I had the time. I really do, because I enjoy the interaction with my writer friends, but once I comment on a comment, I’m done with it.

Thoughts on Publishing

From Ann: “Great mailbag; it seems like everyone is publishing or working towards it. That encourages me too but I'm still reticent about taking that step. I've no idea how much it's going to cost me and I don't want to waste money on picking the wrong way to do it. I know I've asked you for advice on this already but I wanted to ask you what you think of 'The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook' as a publisher/self-publishing advisor. I know it has a different title in the US but I think you know what I mean. I didn't realise until last week that they covered all that angle, as well as listing publishers etc. It's changed quite a bit lately, but then maybe the British one is different. Does that make sense?”

Here in the U.S. we have “The Writer’s Market,” same thing basically, and I think it is invaluable as a resource for those looking to go the traditional publishing route rather than self-publishing. Of course, self-publishing wouldn’t cost you a penny (or whatever monetary unit you wish), but you might, and probably would, spend a little money on marketing. If you found a traditional publisher, well, it just depends about residual costs. But you asked about the publication, and I think it is a very handy resource well-worth purchasing.

I’ll stop there. If you have a follow-up question, let me know.

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All self-published through Amazon

All self-published through Amazon

Not a Normal Question

From Venkatachari M: “Now, I have a question for you. It is not related to writing, though. It relates to our present living norms. How many times do you wash your hands in a day? Do you wash whenever you touch a grocery pack, etc? It is a very odd question. Isn't it?”

Your question made me smile, Venkatachari M. Thank you for that smile.

I’m terrible about washing my hands. I suppose, if I worked a retail job, I would be much better, but I don’t and I am not. I play the odds regarding the virus. I wear a mask religiously. I keep six feet away from others at all times. But the odds of catching this virus by touching something are so remote, well, I play the odds.

So how many times do I wash my hands daily? Probably three on average, maybe five because I do dishes a couple times a day – let’s say five times each day and be done with it.

Odd question? Maybe, but I liked it.

Clues in a Mystery

From Jen: “What’s the secret to writing clues in a mystery? I know you do it with your Shadow series. Are there guidelines to doing it? Are there rules involved? How many clues are enough?”

Jen, I feel like this is a topic which deserves its own book.

There are three types of clues in a mystery novel: physical, verbal, and thematic. The first two should be obvious. Thematic clues are like the butler always does the bad deed, or people wearing black are always bad people, that sort of thing.

Clues can help guide the reader to the main discovery, or they can be misleading, a writer’s way of confusing the reader so the real identity of the bad guy isn’t discovered until late in the novel.

How many clues should you have in a novel? I don’t think there is a rule regarding the number. Have fun with it. I love leaving clues throughout a novel, some are good clues, some are misleading. I think that’s one reason I enjoy writing mystery thrillers so much, I get to mess with the readers a little.

Anyway, I hope that helped you.

Clue can lead you down the right path, or the wrong path.

Clue can lead you down the right path, or the wrong path.


I was talking to a former student a few weeks ago. She is now forty-five years old, which makes me feel terribly old, and she is a single mother of two young ones. She’s had a tough time of it. Her “men chooser” is broken, she keeps finding men who abuse her, she’s down on herself something big time. She reached out to me because, well, she’s having trouble with her drinking, and she knows I have a history with alcoholism. So, I’ve been a lifeline for her lately, a text every night, a text every morning, meet her once a week, build up her self-esteem, that sort of thing, letting her know that she has value and self-worth, and letting her know someone gives a shit about her.

We all need hope and, sometimes, we need a hand-up, out of the muck, so that hope is visible.

It takes so very little effort to make a difference in someone’s life.

I will leave you with that thought.

Have a fabulous week, my friends. If you have a question for the Mailbag, drop it in the comments below, or email it to me at

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 14, 2021:

Thank you MG! Greatly appreciated!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 13, 2021:

Thank you so much, Denise. I think the deep thinking comes from being so shy and alone as a child. I spent a lot of time inside my head. :) Now I need to expel it into articles.

Blessings always


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 13, 2021:

I'm glad you found it helpful, Denise. Thank you, Linda, for doing my work for me. :) Blessings always, my friend.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on March 12, 2021:

Billy, You covered so many topics in an article and that shows your command. So readable and nice. I like the bit about self-publishing, yes you need to market.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on March 12, 2021:

Awesome words of wisdom! You are such a deep thinking person. I'm so proud to know you, and through you, your dad. I have been a deeply religious person. I know those are the prayers He listens to and answers because they are sincere. Thanks for sharing.



Denise McGill from Fresno CA on March 12, 2021:

I figured there was a simple way to make a Table of Contents in Microsoft Word but I didn't know where to find it. Very helpful! Great answers, as always. I love the hope you wove throughout. Have a great week.



Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 12, 2021:

Mel, I for one am done with winter. It's been nice, thanks for the visit, now get the hell out of Olympia!!!!

Thanks, buddy! Have a great weekend!

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 11, 2021:

It's been in the mid to high sixties here in Colorado for over a week, but it looks like you're sweeping your Pacific Northwest misery our way, and something big and bad is coming over the hump this weekend. Nonetheless, I don't hold you personally responsible, I put the blame squarely on mother nature and maybe the meteorologists. I always enjoy checking in on the mailbag, to see the issues other like-minds are dealing with.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 10, 2021:

I should probably do a better job of washing, Venkathachi M. I could learn from your example.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 10, 2021:

I'm happy to hear that, Devika! Thank you greatly!

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on March 09, 2021:

It is wonderful to know that you are done with simply washing your hands less than 5 times a day.

Here I am washing dozens of times a day. Whenever touching the door bolts, touching the milk packets, groceries brought from stores, or online supplies, and bottled waters, and whatnot.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2021:

You are without a doubt wiser than I am, Flourish! Here's hoping we both stay healthy for years to come.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2021:

MizB, I don't dare think about 70 degrees. I don't want to jinx the 60 we had. :) The deluge? I ignore most of it other than the ones from people who comment on mine. I'm getting picky in my old age. lol

Have a great week, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2021:

I hope the same thing, Bill, and thank you for the kind words. I'm sure you've had a similar impact on people you have met.

Happy Tuesday, my friend. Spring is fast-approaching.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2021:

60 in Chicago, Heidi? That's fantastic! Maybe the snow is done for the winter, eh? We can always hope, right? It doesn't cost anything to hope. :) Happy Tuesday my friend. Thanks for the info on the TOC function.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2021:

Thanks for stopping by, Alyssa! It's always a pleasure to see my Ohio friend. I think you are the only Ohio person I know on HP. Rather odd now that I think of it.

Anyway, Happy Tuesday to you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2021:

Mr. Happy yes, clues are like foreshadowing.

As for my photos, I have no idea why you can't see them, but then I have very little understanding about HP and the new sites and all that. I'm just an old man trying to cling to the past. lol

Take care, my friend! I'll catch you down the road.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 09, 2021:

Bill this is great about how you help writers and inform us in detail. Just useful, and always valuable information.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2021:

In that case, Dora, I am a satisfied writer. Thank you for your continued support. Be safe!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2021:

Blessings always, Misbah!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2021:

Manatita, thanks for your invaluable information on hand-washing. :) Street-cred...I like it. I would have had it for sure. You have to pay your dues for street cred, and it is well-earned.

Good suggestion about buying that book every three years or so. I think I have four or five copies of different editions on my bookshelf.

The sun is with us, spirits are rising, and brighter days are ahead of us, my friend.

Blessings always!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 08, 2021:

I’m also on the other end of the hand washing spectrum, washing mine several dozen a day. I am not getting sick if I can help it.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on March 08, 2021:

Very interesting about the Table of Contents in Word. I'm not sure what I used for the TOC in the book I just published for cousin Jim, but I had Ole Bully Heck with it. The contents in KDP didn't automatically link with the chapter headings like it was supposed to. Then I tried the Word TOC and imported to KDP, and they sat on their haunches and refused to cooperate. I finally had to go through each one individually in KDP and manually link it. I'm still not sure that they all link up. Good luck!

I saw someone's comment about disabling notifications. I disabled mine because google was threatening to charge me for space. Now I forget that HP is here. I'm thinking about dumping that gmail address and getting a new one. How do you and other hubbers handle the deluge?

The temps hit mid-70s twice last week, and high 60s today. Oh, spring is just around the corner, and it can't come too soon! Have a good rest of the week, my friend.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on March 08, 2021:

Hi Bill. A taste of spring, excellent, even if it was fleeting. Great mailbag, but your last comments on a former student reaching out to you speaks volumes about you as a person. That a former student would reach out to you decades later is amazing and a tribute to the impact you had on your students. I hope everyone out there struggling with life has someone to reach out to. Well done.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on March 08, 2021:

Happy Mailbag Monday!

Re: Table of Contents. Kindle Create has a TOC function that is fantastic for both Kindle eBook and print. So if you're using KC, don't bother doing it in Word which is a pain.

Re: Washing Hands. I'm OCD on this. Plus, my dogs are always slobbering over me. Hence the hand washing.

Hey, we hit 60 today here in Chi-town. Have a great week!

Alyssa from Ohio on March 08, 2021:

Definitely news worth celebrating Bill! It's been getting warmer here, too, and I love it! 60's tomorrow and Thursday. I plan on taking full advantage of it.

Excellent mailbag! I appreciate Linda's help with table of contents in Word. I also have taken note on your thoughts concerning mystery writing. Thanks Bill! Have an awesome week!

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on March 08, 2021:

Is it just me who can't see your videos and/or photos? I see your photo with the chair and laptop and then, the one with your books. All the other squares are blank.

That question about washing hands had me laughing. So, did your answer: three times. So, that's like before You eat three times a day? Haha!!

I find it funny because I suppose I am your extreme opposite on that. I probably wash my hand at least a couple of dozen times a day. I cook a lot so, washing vegetables, meat, cooking utensils, etc. And if I touch the cat for example, back to washing hands. I can feel dirt on my hands almost immediately and I can't stay like that (unless I am gardening, or camping - those are the exceptions). This washing of hands also has to do with my Spiritual path. I use my hands as Spiritual tools. Thus, they cannot be dirty.

"people wearing black are always bad people" - Na-ah. I wear black ... was gonna say many times but I am wearing all black right now (I really mean ALL black) LOL Wearing black is great especially in the winter because it attracts sunlight and keeps You warm. : )

Not sure I am understanding this "clues" thing though. Obviously I don't - I have never read any mystery books but is this "clues" thing like foreshadowing?

Thank You for helping out that lady friend of yours, "din suflet". That last part means ... can't really translate "suflet". It's Spirit but it has a meaning of "breath" because in Romanian your Spirit is also your Breath. So "thank You from my Spirit/Breath" for that help. I greatly appreciate it.

Now, on the downer part (not really downer but some perceive it as such when I explain things out). Haha!! We can do without "hope" if we train ourselves because "hope" has no power. "Hope" is like keeping your fingers crossed behind your back. It's less than a prayer and much lesser than a wish. "Hope" is like a dead leaf falling from a tree. Whichever way the wind blows, it will go - it has no power.

Spiritual/religious people who talk about "hope" always intrigue me and I always ask: why do You need hope? Do You not have faith? Anyway, it takes a lot of sadhana/practice to let go of hope and learn to live with clear Intent.

Okay, enough of me. You have yourself a wonderful week - stay safe and stay sane lol Cheers!

MsDora on March 08, 2021:

Somedays the mailbag is all about what I'd like to know. This is one of those days, even with the handwashing question. Thanks.

Misbah Sheikh from — This Existence Is Only an Illusion on March 08, 2021:

It was a pleasure Mr. Bill and I seriously felt that way.

I was glad to get a positive response from your side too.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Eric my friend, it's good to hear from you. I sure hope you're doing good, buddy.

Beach? What beach? lol Olympia don't know no beach with surfing.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

We take what we can get, Brenda, and we rejoice when it arrives. God I love Spring!

Hand sanitizer? I should but I don't.

Same weather here this week. It is going to be heavenly!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Good morning Miebakagh! I hope this finds you well. Stay safe, my friend, and stay healthy.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Thank you Misbah, and thank you again for that lovely note you sent me this morning. You made me smile with that act of kindness.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

It is my pleasure, Ann! Anytime!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

You and me both, Mary! I would be very happy with weather warm enough to sit on the front porch in the evening without wearing three layers of clothes. lol

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Thanks John! As a matter of fact, we have no rain in the forecast all this week. What a lovely bonus that is for those of us with tons of outdoor chores to do.

Have a great week yourself, John!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Liz, I really have to adopt your technique of shutting off notifications, at least on weekends. They are too much of a distraction, and I have things to do now that the weather is turning so nice.

Thank you for your comment. I really do appreciate the time you take to leave such meaningful and detailed comments.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Thank you so much, Linda! I hope Dad is proud. I'll see him soon enough and then I can ask him in person. I've been waiting fifty years to ask him that question. :) Enjoy the beautiful weather forecast, my friend, and thank you for being my friend.

manatita44 from london on March 08, 2021:

Bill, this time it was Venkatachari Ji that made me laugh with his superb piece of questioning! Ha-ha. Your answer is 'cool', but will probably make Mrs Lum cringe. Lol.

We are so alike in many ways! Ok, perhaps I'm a bit better than you with hand-washing, but not very much. I think we both use our logical - not educated - brains. So I would have been happy with you in the no-go areas of Jamaica, Queens in the late seventies and early 80's, as we would both know how to be 'street- cred.'

Social distancing I find important, masks in super-markets and around humans make sense to me, (Include buses and trains) but if I'm going for a walk in the evenings, it is much easier to remove the mask. I still carry it, so if I see someone from a distance, I put it on! Same logic applies with shopping and hand-sanitising, I feel.

You sanitise when you touch things outside, sanitise when you get home, wash all edible things and a few more, but keep your distance. By the way, hand-washing is truly the best, but alcohol/chlorhexide is also very effective. Common sense is the key.

Ann's idea of the Amazon book is excellent! I used it for my first book and it covers a lot about agents, Publishers and how the traditional world works. I also recommend that she buys one every 3 years or so. They are updated yearly.

Glad you seen the sun and the spring flowers are already out. Peace.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Thank you for the kind words, Peggy! I try to be a kind soul. I still have some work to do on that, however. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Rosina, good for you. One person each day is a noble goal. I applaud you, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Thank you Pamela. Time crunch for sure. I never have enough time to do the things I want to do, despite the semi-retired state I am in. lol Maybe I should cut back on my expectations?

Enjoy your week, my friend!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 08, 2021:

This was awesome. We laughed at people at the beach yesterday with down jackets on while others were surfing. I liked the odd question and answer. Clues are cool. I like trying to beat the author on false ones.

Always a pleasure of hope Bill, thanks.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on March 08, 2021:


Thank you so much for posting Linda's answer for me.

I have saved it and will be trying it out later.

If this works, I will be super happy.

Thank you so much Linda!!

I found the answer to publishing question intriguing also for I do plan on trying to publish my own work.

As soon as I finish setting up laptop & get this table of contents thing down.

As for hand washing...well let's just say I keep hand sanitizer in my car.

I hate going to the grocery. the way, thank you for sending that weather my way.

We will be in the 50's later today & 60's on Tuesday & Wednesday.

It may only be a glimmer of hope, but I will take it.

Misbah Sheikh from — This Existence Is Only an Illusion on March 08, 2021:

Happy Monday Mr.Bill

I enjoyed reading today's mailbag

You answered all the questions very well but what I liked most is: how many times you wash your hands? :)


Ann Carr from SW England on March 08, 2021:

Thanks, bill, and thank you for your email.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 08, 2021:

Happy Monday, Bill. And happy mail bag is not it? I am much interested in the covid-related question of washing hands. I think average five is okay as I kept asking myself the same question. But I make sure I appear at least once a week in a public place. Thanks.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Thank you Chitrangada Sharan! I hope your week is filled with blessings and wonder.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Those are wonderful wishes, Gyanendra Mocktan. Thank you for the lovely thoughts.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 08, 2021:

Good morning Ann!

Createspace was taken over by Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. I do not know their territories, but you can find it on their website. I'm almost positive they include the UK. I would be shocked if they did not.

A Merry Monday indeed. No rain all week. I am one very merry person.


Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 08, 2021:

I enjoy reading the mailbag as it keeps reminding me to be more caring to others or give hope to those who are down. Today is the grey zone for us, so that some stores will open with limited capacity, but restaurants are still closed. I am so looking forward to Spring.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on March 08, 2021:

A wonderful mailbag to start the week. Linda’s advice and the videos are very helpful for creating a table of contents.

Love your take on clues in mystery novels. The more you can throw the reader off the scent the better lol.

Glad to hear you got a glimpse of the better weather just around the corner. Have a great week.

Liz Westwood from UK on March 08, 2021:

We too have had glimpses of better weather in the UK. I hope brighter days are ahead for us all. Your mailbags are a treasure trove of information. If you can't answer a question, the chances are that you know someone who can. If I ever need a table of contents I know where to come.

Reading comments is a thorny topic for me. I used to leave notifications switched on, but found myself distracted on days off, as I tried to keep up with writing comments. Recently I have taken to switching notifications off on my husband's days off. It makes for a less pressurised existence, but apologies to those whose articles I have missed out commenting on as a result.

It's great that you can use your experience of publishing to help other writers.

As regards hand washing, at least you won't develop an OCD about it, as I am sure some of us are in danger of.

Interesting tips about clues in mysteries. I shall read with more awareness in future.

It sounds like you have provided valuable support to your former student. A text or a chat can be so important. I hope you have a good week, Bill and stay safe.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on March 08, 2021:

Bill, what a wonderful way to begin the week. The "clues in a mystery" made me chuckle. I'll never write one, so probably don't need to remember your advice, but it's fun thinking of others pursuing that creative process.

Most of all, thank you for being there, helping others the way you do. I know your Dad is so proud of you, and I'm so happy to be able to call you "friend." I hope your pups have a great week in this wonderful weather.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 08, 2021:

You are a kind soul, ready and willing to help people. You do it with the mailbag, and you do it in person to those who need it, like that young woman you mentioned. 45 is young, given my perspective these days. I wish her well, and with your help, I hope she succeeds.

Rosina S Khan on March 08, 2021:

I love this mailbag, as always. I found the topic questions particularly interesting while the answers educated me.

Your statement, "It takes so very little effort to make a difference in someone’s life." had me thinking. Yes, it's very true. I usually take the efforts to make at least one person happy every day.

Thank you, Bill. Happy Monday to you.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 08, 2021:

One day of sixty degrees is better than none, and spring is right around the corner. This was another interesting mailbag, Bill. I enjoyed reading about using clues in a mystery as i never heard it explained that well.

I am glad you are helping your former student. I think you always get back more than you give when you help others,

I'm glad I was actually able to comment early on your mailbag today as I am off for a cat scan. LOL. There is always a time crunch, even when you retire. I stay busy!

I always like the variety of questions in the mailbag. I hope you see some better weather soon.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 08, 2021:

Hello Bill!

Thank you for sharing another useful and informative mailbag. I watched all the videos, and found them quite helpful.

Hope you are doing well. Have a good week, and thanks for sharing these helpful answers, to specific questions.

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on March 08, 2021:

I hope soon your former student will get onto the train of life soon leaving behind the garbages behind.

She will have to believe in herself first. Then her mentor (Guru) like you. Then her two young ones.

I hope some day her children will glorify her as a wonderful mother.

Thank you

Ann Carr from SW England on March 08, 2021:

You do such a great job with all our questions and your humour binds it all together. Thanks for answering mine. I was surprised at you saying self-publishing doesn't cost anything. I can't seem to find a site here that doesn't charge something - does CreateSpace, for example, cover the whole world? I know I'm really naïve about all this, but it's like stepping through a mine field for me. I'll keep researching and look at them all carefully. Thanks, bill.

I like your gentle reminders to help others and keep an eye out for those who need it but might not ask. In these times when we shouldn't go near strangers, it's hard to walk past without offering a helping hand. However, I did offer to help someone with a wheeled contraption who was having difficulty getting out of a shop. He said he was ok, but thanked me profusely for bothering! That kind of made me feel sad..

Have a merry Monday and enjoy the rest of your week, bill!


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