Posts about writing and authorship, written by Kaleb Nation

Don’t Trust Anyone: The #SecretKalebBook

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And finally… I can speak!

For more than two years, I’ve had to keep quiet about my next novel, code-titled “the #SecretKalebBook“. If you’ve been around here a while, you probably know that

A) I’m terrible at keeping secrets and

B) I like doing lists of things in A) and B) even when they don’t need to be (example: see the video above, and right now).

Everything has been quietly coming together. I write stories and then desperately want to share them with you, but have to wait until they’re shiny and clean and for the best moment to release them into the world. This idea has been simmering in its own story-seasoning ever since an evening of May 29, 2010, when I blindly tweeted this…


… and then all the way until I tweeted this:


Two years is a long wait. However, gears have been turning behind-the-scenes and very soon all will be revealed for the #SecretKalebBook. That includes the title, which contrary to popular belief is not #SecretKalebBook, Callista, or Don’t Trust Anyone. I can’t say it yet, but soon. I can reveal one thing about the book, which was cleverly reported by PageToPremiere.com:


Meanwhile I think it’s time for something fresh and special to thank you for all the time you’ve waited and your dedication to my writing so far. There is a new website at www.SecretKalebBook.com. There’s not much on it yet for a reason. But if you’re one of the first 2,000 people who enters, your name will be in the acknowledgements of my next book (watch the video above for details).

It’s the best way I can thank all of you for your dedication and patience for this book. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Don't Trust Anyone

Taken in Arleta, CA, 2011


How Much Money Does An Author Make?

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Let’s talk about MONEY! Or rather, how much money does an author make?

One of the most common questions I get as an author is about my income. People don’t want to be rude, but if they dream of being a writer one day, it’s a very important question for their future career!

When it comes to an author’s income… the truth is, every author’s pay is different.

There are actually two ways that an author gets paid. When I finish writing a book, my agent takes it to publishers, and then the publishers offer what is called an advance.

An ADVANCE is a bit of money that the publisher is willing to pay up front to buy a book. The more copies the publishers think they can sell, the more money they’ll offer. For example, Stephenie Meyer got about $750,000 for the first three Twilight books. That was a little unusual. Most advances are smaller.

Her publishers knew those books would sell, so they knew they could offer a lot. But publishers don’t always predict correctly, because JK Rowling only got about $4000 for the first Harry Potter book.

Book deals can go anywhere from nothing into the millions of dollars. But that’s only the first way an author makes money.

If JK Rowling only got $4000 for Harry Potter, she’d ACTUALLY be writing on napkins by now, or so unfathomably depressed she’d have given up writing altogether. Which would leave us in a strange, sans-Potter world.

Authors also get paid what are called ROYALTIES, which means that for every book sold, a writer gets a little bit of money. It’s usually about 10% of the price, so if a book sells for $20, the author gets $2.

When you have something like Harry Potter, which has now sold over 450 million copies, that math comes out to… a little more than $4000.

The catch is that before an author gets a royalty check, they have to earn back their advance check. So before JK Rowling got paid any more, she had to earn back $4000 worth of book royalties, which probably didn’t take very long. But before Stephenie Meyer got paid any more, she had to earn back $750,000 worth of book royalties… which probably didn’t take that long either.

So really, the way an author makes money is by what you do. If you buy a book you like, and tell your friends about it, and then they go buy it, pretty soon thousands of people are buying the book… and we can pay the rent!

Book deals announced through Publishers Marketplace will sometimes tell which category the sale was in. They’re reported this way:

“nice deal” $1 – $49,000

“very nice deal” $50,000 – $99,000

“good deal” $100,000 – $250,000

“significant deal” $251,000 – $499,000

“major deal” $500,000 and up

That way people know how much a publisher paid for the book, without saying exactly how much money was offered in the advance!

If you enjoyed this post, check out my novel HARKEN! While we’re talking about authors making money… maybe you should buy it 😉

Misery, Pain, And Other Things A Writer Experiences When Leaving The Desk

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I type this blog post while in the most absolutely wretched and miserable pain imaginable, whining when I accidentally move my arm so my pinky can reach the BACKSPACE key, and moaning anytime airborne molecules brush against my skin.

After sitting at my desk writing  for months, and preparing to move back to the beach-filled Los Angeles, California, I decided to start working out. This drive to get more non-caffeinated energy* turned into intense weight-lifting, push-upping and abdomen-crunching. It was all wonderfully adventurous. The next day I was reminded why I never do those things.

My Face, Present Time

Being able to feel my abdominal muscles in a way I’ve never experienced before has educated me on exactly how much those muscles are used daily. In order to keep myself from shrieking in pain, I must avoid:

– Sneezing

– Laughing

– Laying Down

– Sitting Up

– Eating

– Beating my belly like a drum

Which really ruins all my plans of having a spicy Hawaiian comedy cookout this weekend.

Luckily I can get a good deal of writing done whilst avoiding sniffles and lulz**. At the moment, I am finishing up the final draft of my next non-Bran-Hambric book. I realize a lot of you have been hearing me say that for a while now. I am also ready to punch this manuscript’s face, just as I punched the faces of its first, second, third, and fourth incarnations, until finally the resulting Frankenstein-of-punched-manuscript-faces leapt forth and declared itself my Fifth-And-Final-Draft-Or-Else. So at the moment I’m harnessing that beast down and turning it into something gentlemanly and proper for all of you to read.

He lives on my desk.

Still, being stuck at home gets to be no fun after a long time of it. Aside from a quick signing at Vidcon 2011, it’s been a long while since I’ve done any events for my books. So I’m very happy to announce that I will be attending and presenting at YAllFest 2011!

YAllFest is a huge YA book event happening in Charleston, South Carolina, USA, on November 11 – 12, 2011. As both of my book tours focused mostly on the west coast, I’m very excited to meet as many east-USA-area Nationeers as I can! This will likely be the last big book festival I attend before my Secret Project is finished.

Hope this helps


If you live anywhere near the east coast of the USA, you should try to make it there! The event is entirely free, and you’ll get to meet a lot of other people, like author superstars:

Gayle Forman

Kami Garcia

Margaret Stohl

David Levithan

Heather Brewer

Melissa de la Cruz

and lots more (they’re still announcing names). More info is at YAllfest2011.Tumblr.com***. Hope to see you there!


* If you rearrange the letters of the previous phrase, you will find it is code for “look like Taylor Lautner”

** I herebly proclaim all ownership rights to creating a clothing line called Sniffles And Lulz LTD.

***(am I allowed to talk about Tumblr on a blog post or will that get me e-bludgeoned??)

Classroom Revenge

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Today, I did a book signing at a school. One of the kids showed me a story he was working on.

Best. Opening. Ever.

Guard The Books [How I Became An Author]

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I’ve been writing stories since I was nine years old. My first dozen or so tales starred a particularly familiar character named King Kaleb, who had a penchant for explosions and was friendly to aliens. My parents would dutifully print these out, draft after draft, and let me pile them in my room.

But by the time I was ten, I was over the Microsoft Word double-sided printout booklets. Normal printer paper does not fold into the same width of an actual book book, and this wrecked the realism when I signed these booklet prints for my imaginary audience*. And besides, as anyone who’s tried this knows, it’s impossible to get the staple in the exact center of those pages.

Growing sick of this cruel sequestering of my obviously superior storytelling skills, I eventually decided it was time to be published, and let them deal with the folding and the stapling. I figured being twelve years old would give me some credit, because I was only one year away from being a teenager, and teenagers were practically adults.

So, I dug up the number of the senior editor of a giant publisher, and called her office.

I was prepared. I had a pitch ready for my amazing story about a town of elves being invaded by evil flying wizards, loosely based upon a city of Legos I had built (with photographic reproductions on hand in case my future publishers needed them / my little brother smashed my enormous buildings). The title: Enchanted Memories. If you can judge a book by its cover, this would be the cover:

The editor was not enchanted by any of my memories. Somehow, my call was immediately routed to the security guard downstairs.

This might seem like a rather depressing turn of events, but the guard ended up being instrumental to me. In the process of telling me I could not simply call the head editor’s office, he informed me that there was a process to publishing. For some reason, I had thought books were published simply by calling the biggest and most powerful name in the list of editors you could find, and convincing them you were awesome sauce. But here was something new: revising and querying and researching and never, ever phone-calling.

As the guard hung up, he encouragingly said he hoped he’d get the chance to guard my books one day.

After that first rejection, I didn’t want to be naive to the publishing world any more. I refused to let myself be forwarded to security again. So I read every single book I could find on the publishing business. I went to the library, searched for any books under the categories “Authorship” or “Publishing”, and then unloaded as much of the shelf as I could carry. My mom had an educator’s card that allowed up to 100 books checked out at once. We’d cart a van-full home each trip.

In fact, I was so eager to see my book in print that by the time I turned sixteen, I knew ALL of the major publishers, their head editors’ names, the names of their assistants, their mailing addresses, and the top selling frontlist titles at each house. I would go into a library and pick up books based on which publishing house’s logo was at the bottom of the spine, until I learned exactly what type of book each company seemed to like best. Years before my first novel was even completed, I had compiled a database of agents and a dossier of New York literary bigwigs to almost-creepy proportions (Liz Szabla: in 2001, you had an assistant named Jennifer, right? RIGHT?! Of course you did…**).

To some people, this might seem like a very desperate dream at that age. But it was a big dream, and I knew that if I wanted to reach it, I couldn’t put it off until I was older. I had to start aiming for it right then, before I was thrust into the world and lost myself in a job or college or the important things that the big scary adults did all day. I knew that if I skipped my chance then, it might be years before I could devote time to becoming an author.

I had my first book signing for my first novel on my 21st birthday: a grand birthday gift to myself for nearly half my life of hard work and big dreams. I’m certainly not a literary genius like John Green or JK Rowling. But, I wanted it, no matter how many years of improvement it would take me to get published. I didn’t want to settle with talking to the guard downstairs.

For anyone who wants to write, and anyone who dreams of becoming an author: reaching for the dream is the best first step you can take. If you want something enough to work for years with no promise of any concrete reward, you will find a way to make it happen. My first stories were abysmal. The first ten drafts of my first published novel were abysmal too. But when you want something so much that you’re willing to go after it despite the rejections, you’ll eventually get an editor who will call you on the phone instead.

There’s a happy ending: the publishing house who sent me to security is now one of my publishers. Guard the books well, Mr. security.


*I have been practicing my autograph since I was 9 in preparation for the time I knew I would become an author. This is why my signature now takes .045 seconds.
** Liz Szabla was once an editor at a giant publisher. This is an example of my creepy publishing spy work.

On NPR’s “All Things Considered” Tonight

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I’ll be on NPR’s “All Things Considered” this evening, talking about the awesome that is Gayle Forman. If you remember, I wrote an article for NPR.com back in October of 2010 about Gayle’s masterpiece novel “IF I STAY”. It went on to be the #1 article for multiple days, thanks to loyal upvotes by the Nationeer army.

Now months later, NPR will be broadcasting my recording of it tonight. It’ll be fun to hear myself back on the radio after 3 years of absence! You can hear it on All Things Considered or on their website after 7 PM EST.

The Search And Destroy List [Ideas On Revising A Book]

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Writing a book can cause an effect similar to self-hypnosis. After hours of clicking keys with my brain in another world and my mind blocking out all natural surroundings, I tend to fall into a type of trance. Suddenly, the words being typed aren’t even intelligently thought-out paragraphs, but just what spills out as my fingers move. In this state, though our appearances may vary slightly, little differentiates me in writing skill from a stupid monkey with a typewriter:

This works, though, because the words are flowing and the story is taking on its own life. But the phenomenon makes you lose track of time. It makes you forget lunch and then dinner and then the next day’s breakfast. It also makes you forget that you are typing the same words over and over and over.

Thus, to my horror,when I go back over first drafts, I find paragraph gems similar to this:

The magnificence of this mansion, every piece of magnificent furniture it housed: I would have eagerly thrown it all away for the magnificent device before me now. My eyes had glanced over the Bentley Coupe, the Rolls-Royce, and even the Ferrari – locking on the single piece of flaming red glory behind them. A Shelby GT500. The most magnificent car that earth had ever been graced with; the car no road deserved to feel trample its gravel. The wheels were the blackest of black, the windows tinted, the sweepingly magnificent angles of the hood and side and door like a carefully crafted ship. The silver cobra on its front seemed to whisper seductively at my heart. If I had had my camera, I probably could have photographed its two front lights, and likely would have been able to read nothing but magnificently magnificent bliss behind their magnificent pupils.

Isn’t this paragraph magnificently magnificent?

It is a very good thing to be able to write a first draft without thinking of what the words sound like or what you are repeating, because the first draft is intrinsically just getting the story out there. But when you’ve finished telling the bones of a story, it can’t stop there, or you end up with paragraphs like the above — with a kind soul and good heart but eighteen ugly arms growing out of its back. The manuscript has to be rewritten, revised, and a Search And Destroy list has to be made.

With every book I’ve written, I’ve gotten hung up on a list of words that somehow get repeated dozens of times in my drafts. My brain simply passes over the 15 times I said a character ‘hissed’ on page 211, or the 15 uses of the phrase “demonically possessed since birth” when describing any goats. But when I go back, with the help of friends, I am able to form a list of my most commonly overused words, to search them out and destroy them. For example, in my current Secret Project, this is part of my Search-And-Destroy List:






“face lit up”


“All at once…”

“…only stared”




“Any mentions to someone spreading their arms because what on earth does the even mean”

The list goes on. Before anyone gets to see this book, I will have successfully found every time these words were overused in my manuscript, and VANQUISHED THEM.

Rewrites like this are a huge part of writing. My first book went through so many rewrites, I began labeling my drafts with decimals. Deep in my OLD STUFF subfolder of the BRAN HAMBRIC subfolder of the KALEB’S NOVELS folder on my computer, there are many documents labeled things like BHTFC-Draft9.7.doc, BRAN-HAMBRIC-FINAL.doc, BH-REALLY-FINAL.doc, FINAL-FINAL-VERSION-BH.doc, etc.

Even after I sent the FINAL-BH-SEND-TO-EDITOR.doc version off, there were still so many changes that now my original document only slightly resembles what has been printed. My plans of making my own pirated version of my book that search-and-replaced Bran Hambric with Uncle Pennybags are ruined.

In a few hours it will be January 2011. I recently finished the rewrite of my Secret Project, so I can start the New Year entirely fresh. Writers who ventured into their stories during NaNoWriMo will also have a chance to go back to their manuscripts with a fresh eye in a fresh year. You’ll have to become acquainted with my friend Revisions. R. and I know when the time has come for us to have lunch together, or fifteen lunches together, or when we have no choice but to stay up until 3 AM sharpening our Backspace Swords and our Delete-Key Javelins together.

As you re-read your first draft, you may be horrified by the things you placed on the page. But don’t worry. I learned quickly how to use the FIND key in my word processor, and how to remove the 823 times my antagonist feels chagrined.

Comments: what words do you find yourself repeating in your early drafts?

Covers Of Awful

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Almost eight years ago, I had the idea that would eventually become my first published book. I wrote the first draft in six months. Time to publish! thought I. Little did I know that five years of rewriting lay ahead.

All writers take this road. You’re left for a long time with your goal dangling just out of reach, your publishing legs growing longer with each day but your logical side wondering if you’ll ever be tall enough. You live on dreams and hopes. For this reason, to keep me going as I rewrote my story, I dreamed ahead by making my own book covers.

The first cover of my first book was made in 2003/2004, and featured Lord Of The Rings concept art and the original title of the book. Also, my old pen name, and a very, very audacious bit of labeling at the top. I call this BRAN HAMBRIC AND HIS BRIGHT RED WORDART TEXT:

In 2005 I went dramatic. I tossed the moon necklace into a floating orb of energy and made BRAN HAMBRIC, VAMPYRE KNIGHT MASTER:

Later in 2005, I was informed my book was not dark enough to merit neon blue text. Also, I decided to drop the second part of the title altogether. So I cartooned it up a bit with some blue and gold, to make BRAN HAMBRIC IN HAPPYFUNVILLE WITH TWO CURVED GRADIENTS:

Even later in 2005 (I was on a design craze) I propped up a pair of jeans with paint sticks and made my most contemporary cover in ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, JUST AN ORDINARY BOY BRAN HAMBRIC:

In 2007, I finally learned some basic design essentials. My parents relented and let me use my full name. I brought back the rest of the title. I tossed in some gnomes, misty clouds, and boom! BRAN HAMBRIC AND CASPER THE GHOSTLY TEXT:

Later in 2007, I got the latest Photoshop, and really went at it. I designed a logo from scratch, turned the inner glow WAY DOWN, and went for a simpler, more mysterious cover. Also, mist. Which makes this BRAN HAMBRIC YOU BETTER WATCH OUT FOR THAT BLACK HOLE:

As you can see, my design skills improved somewhat as I went on. The logo in the last book eventually became the logo used on all the Bran Hambric covers. So sometimes, procrastinating around in Photoshop between drafts actually does pay off.

Things I Have Learned As An Author

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I remember very distinctly how it felt to be unpublished and wonder what it’d be like when I got to the other side. Since I started writing when I was very young, I approached the publishing machine with an even more child-like awe than most other, older writers around me, staring upwards from far below and hoping that one day I’d be tall enough to reach the buttons.

Me, In The Style Of The Oatmeal

I think I revered authors as some type of alter-species, superior in every way. Surely, I imagined, published authors would live atop gigantic buildings in New York, and type and type and type book after book, with a growling publicist coming over daily about interviews, and golf with their agents on Saturdays.

Now I am here. I’m twenty-two years old, with two of my published books beside me. I am at the same desk I’ve had since I was fourteen, surrounded by no less than eight empty water bottles, notebooks and scribbled-on papers strewn in piles everywhere, an empty tin of Eclipse mints I’ve nervously chewed my way through in a week, a tangle of headphones in knots beside me, eyes bloodshot from staring at this abysmal computer monitor past 3 AM last night, and sitting in my pajamas. If I wrote my stories on cardboard, you could easily mistake me for a hobo.

This is how writers write. I learned as soon as I moved out and became a full time writer that to really do something in writing, you’ve got to throw everything in to writing. You’ve got to be so immersed in a story that you forget to shower, you forget to eat, you forget that it’s 4 AM, you forget that you haven’t paid your internet bill and that’s why Pandora suddenly won’t load the next song on your writing playlist. You stay up writing. You go to bed writing. You get up again and brush your hair back with your fingers because you want to get back to writing and don’t have time for a brush. You do have time for a brush, but taking two minutes to get it would seem like eternity. This is why your clothes sit in the dryer for a week — why put them away when you can just pull them out when you need them, and have five more minutes to write?

I’m hardly one of those people who can be considered an established author yet. But after a year of living like this, I’ve picked up on a certain amount of things, including:

– Do not wear a suit coat to a book signing, and never ever wear a hoodie over a button up,

– Do not wear dress shoes to BEA if you value being able to stand up,

– Carry two copies of each of your books in your luggage for when you find yourself on a plane beside the producer of The Spiderwick Chronicles,

– Sign your name in Sharpie because ball point pens make your signature look weak,

– Make a code system for when you autograph things: blue ink is first book tour, green is second, a dot means you met them in person, etc,

– Make sure your thumb is not covering your book title when taking photographs for magazines,

– Do not say you know another, more famous author if you don’t want the entire interview turning into trivia about said author, and the only quote used in the interview to be “Why yes, I am good friends with…” so that you sound like a name dropping toad,

– When on tour, make sure you arrive at your hotel before your publicist leaves the office, because inevitably your reservation will have been eaten by glitch maggots,

– Learn the art of the Secret Book.

When you are a writer with no publishing contract, no agent, and no possibility of something you tweet being retweeted endless times and somehow reaching your publisher and causing them to ask ‘A new book? Can we take a look at it next week? You haven’t finished? Alright, two weeks?” then there is no fear of talking about your novel on blogs or online. You do not need the Secret Book. Anyone with a good DNS search will know that I launched BranHambric.com in 2005 — four years before I was even published. I was so immersed in this story that I couldn’t resist sharing it with anyone I could.

But more importantly, when you’re unpublished, you have the freedom to just write. You can let the ideas simmer in a pot of word stew, changing the title hundreds of times, changing the main character from Freddy to Sue, splicing chapters 3 and 4 and eliminating that awful part about the zombie leeches altogether. You have freedom to revise and change without confusing anyone, and when you suddenly realize that the whole thing needs a rewrite and it’s going to take you six more months, you CAN do that because there is NOBODY waiting on you.

After you become published, however, things immediately change. You have a publisher who wants a new book every once in a while. You have readers who, in their awesomeness, send you daily emails asking for updates on when the next novel will be out. When you accidentally tell readers that you’ve had an awesome idea and you’re calling it “Sammy Squid’s Riotous Undersea Adventures With Abraham Lincoln” and then later decide that a Hoovervillian is far more interesting than a Gettysburg Gun, suddenly everyone implodes into a cloud of confusion.

Therein lies the art of the Secret Book.

Anyone who follows a multitude of authors on Twitter knows of this. Authors hashtag their projects with things like #FantasyIdea or #damnhistoricalnovel or #SecretVampireRomanceProjectSetInWashington. They tweet about finishing chapter twelve, or beg Twitter for a good British male flight attendant’s name, or about how they’ve fallen asleep at their desk and dreamt of throwing phosphorus on people because they’re just that exhausted.

But never, ever, ever do they say the Title. Or the Plot. Or the Main Character’s Name. To say such would violate the code of the Secret Book. To reveal those while still writing would immediately tie the writer down to keeping these things inside the story, and what a writer needs least when writing is anything tying them down to something in the first drafts. How many Harry Potter fans waited for years to see ‘scar’ as the last word? I wonder how many hours it took Rowling to get the strength to change that one tiny part, and how many versions of sentences did she go through trying to keep ‘scar’ as the last word just because she had already told people it would end that way.

Because even though writers know readers will understand if we have to change something, there will still be that nagging voice — what IF someone is most looking forward to seeing Abraham Lincoln under the sea? What IF I’m insane and this is awful and it never gets published, and all of my readers think that I am an absolute miserable failure of a writer who will never amount to anything? You have the freedom to toy with an idea when nobody is watching, until you’ve got it perfect.

But those of us not protected by publicists whose job it is to keep our mouths shut — we can’t keep it all inside. Writers want everyone to hear their idea. We’re too excited by it, to entranced by this world and the prospect of other people enjoying it too. That’s why we search out ways to secretly spill out bits of it. Where will my words be most untraceable? Least recordable? Least getting-me-into-trouble-able? Will anyone know if I just call it my #SecretProject? Because, most of all, like anyone who writes, we want people to read it. We want them to fall in love with it in the same way we have.

Inside, I am still the same as I was before I was published. Outside, I act as professional as I can in my pajamas.

A Visit To Arleta

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Recently, I was struck by a new story idea which takes place in Southern California. I’m not exactly sure if this idea will go anywhere, but writing it has given me a thrill that only comes about when I have delved into something fresh and waiting to be explored.

The story takes place in a small town called Arleta, CA. I chose this place because it is in the San Fernando Valley, near the hills, and happened to be the only town in the Valley that had a name that seemed to fit. I was visiting California over Thanksgiving and decided to take a short road trip down to where the story takes place. What followed were hours of me driving in circles, creeping houses with my camera, being followed by unsavory-looking characters, losing said characters near some train tracks, discovering that Arleta has an airport (something I hadn’t known in my mental image of the place) and ignoring the endless scolding from my GPS system. It is a rare thing for a writer to visit the town where an idea is set, and then to find that it is almost exactly as I imagined it.

I took an endless folder of photos but these seem to tell the story of Arleta from the outside — quiet, unimposing, ready to hold some secrets behind its name. After visiting, I took a short trip down to Los Angeles and the beach in Santa Monica, as this is in the story also. Then, I ventured up a dangerously winding road to the top of the canyon so I could get a glimpse of what my character sees from there. It’s odd, but a part of me could almost feel the characters there, as I wandered this place amongst a story that as of now, only I know.