Posted by on Aug 22, 2016 in Podcast | 0 comments

Scott Pruden is the author of the satirical near-future science fiction novel Immaculate Deception and co-founder of the independent publishing house Codorus Press. He spent nearly 15 years as a newspaper reporter, editor, and newsroom manager before turning to full-time freelance writing. He’s now at work on his second novel.In this episode of The Indy Author Podcast, I talk with Scott about small press publishing, the importance of creating a community to support your writing and publishing endeavors.

Matty: Welcome to Episode 3 of the Indy Author Podcast. Today, my guest is Scott Pruden. Scott is the author of the satirical, near-future science fiction novel, Immaculate Deception, and co-founder of the independent publishing house, Codorus Press. He spent nearly 15 years as a newspaper reporter, editor, and newsroom manager before turning full-time to freelance writing, and he’s now working on his second novel. Welcome, Scott.

Scott Pruden: Thank you. Great to be here.

Matty: I first met Scott, when we did a joint presentation on independent publishing at the Brandywine Valley Writers Group and since then we’ve participated in several author meet and greets at local wineries and breweries. If we have time at the end, I want to talk a little bit about that. We’re going to be talking mainly about independent publishing but before we get started on that, I just wanted to give you a chance to give us a little bit of background on your novel.

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Scott: Immaculate Deception is set in an indeterminate number of years in the future, depending on when you’ve read it. When it came out in 2010, it was 25, 30 years in the future, sort of speculative time period. It is the story of a disgraced former investigative journalist who is now working for a PR firm that he hates.

Early in the novel, he dies by misadventure and is intercepted on the way to the afterlife by an elderly Rastafarian surfer who claims to be the supreme being, and he sent back to Earth, slightly disguised to try and discover the true identity of one of the lieutenants in a very fast growing and popular mega-church called The Church of the New Revelation, which is based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It owes its popularity to combining mainline Protestantism with sex and drugs in the liturgy. So naturally, they’ve become very successful. He is attempting to follow that quest.

There’s a parallel story line of a young American-Japanese heir to an aerospace fortune whose father dies in a car bombing and he spends the novel trying to find out who killed his dad, and eventually, those two plot lines connect, hopefully, in a very satisfying way.

Matty: One of the questions I’m going to have is did you turn at all to independent publishing because you had any trouble getting into traditional publishing with that very provocative topic?

Scott: It was tricky. The things I would send out to people, I had a couple of positive rejections and anybody who’s listening who’s submitted rejections knows the difference between a positive and a negative rejection. The negative rejection is the form letter. The positive rejection is a form letter that says, “Hey, we liked it but it just wasn’t for us,” so I got a couple of those.

Granted, I will admit that at the stage that I was sending it out to people, agents, and publishing houses, it was not in what I would eventually come to regard as a final state. There was still work to be done on it so what happened was, as I was going through this process, this was in the mid-90’s, when I was working at the York Daily Record which is a newspaper in York, Pennsylvania —

Matty: I know it well because I grew up in York.

Scott: There you go. Fine, fine town of York. [Laughter]

Scott: Several of my coworkers, we would get together after deadline, so late at night, and gather at one of our authors apartments–Tom Joyce—and we drink beer and talk about everything, and one of the things that came up was the fact that I had sent my manuscript out and was just not having a lot of luck. My friend and coworker, Wayne Lockwood, who has always been interested in rare manuscripts from the beat era of poets and writers, and has always sort of aspired to be a publisher, said something akin to, “Well, look around this room. We basically have a publishing house sitting around here drinking beer.”

Because we’re all editors, we’re all writers, we’re all designers to a certain extent, and we have all of the skill sets that come with running our own publishing house. He said, “We could do that. I could publish your book. That would be easy.”

So that got me thinking, as I went through further edits and changes to improve the novel based on readings from Tom and other people, Wayne and I started to talk about this more seriously, and we decided that we were going to do it this way. So in answering your question, it kind of did come from that. But at the same time, it was when we were weighing the pros and cons, it kind of came down to, well, I could spend the next five years of my life trying to hawk this novel to people who aren’t familiar with me or the book, or I could work with friends who I knew had read the manuscript and loved it, and liked me, and were going to work hard to help me out.

It really wasn’t much of a decision at that point. From that time, it was just trying to work out the logistics, really.

Matty: Yeah, I think that what’s really interesting about this is that everybody knows the big publishers, like Simon & Schuster and Macmillan and Random House, and I think, the solo indy publisher or indy author is becoming more well-known, which is more or less what I’m doing with William Kingsfield Publishers for my own book. But I think, what was really interesting about your scenario is this idea of bringing together a group of like-minded people to create a body that was sort of in between those two extremes.

Scott: We all knew that we had stuff in the pipeline. That was helpful. Tom Joyce who we’re getting ready to publish his second book, it’s a collection of short stories that he says had published elsewhere. We knew he had a box full of short stories. Wayne was a syndicated columnist for Knight Ridder newspapers when it was an existing chain. We knew he had lots of columns which were essential essays on growing up as a member of Generation X.We knew he had those in the can already. They had already been written and distributed and his column was very popular in the early 90’s. Sowe had those things and I had my manuscript so it was a matter of us just saying we were interested in publishing each other, and it was really sort of friends getting together and we just happen to be in the business of putting out 30to40 page publication every single day. So putting together a book was a child’s play at that point.

Matty: Did you really have all the skills necessary in that room to hit all the parts that you needed of publishing? Or did you end up having to expand your circle to accommodate other needs?

Scott: Wayne would probably agree with me on this, that the one pillar that we were missing in our pursuit of this was a business pillar. Actually, my wife, Kelly, has been the person to step in here and there and go, “Wow, I don’t believe you guys are doing that. That’s really dumb.” [Laughter]

Scott: It’s like questioning the business decisions that we’ve made and kind

Scott: Wayne would probably agree with me on this, that the one pillar that we were missing in our pursuit of this was a business pillar. Actually, my wife, Kelly, has been the person to step in here and there and go, “Wow, I don’t believe you guys are doing that. That’s really dumb.” [Laughter]

Scott: It’s like questioning the business decisions that we’ve made and kind of saying, “Well, are you guys sure you want to do it that way because maybe you should do it this way. It might have work out a little bit better and be a little bit more profitable.” So we’ve pulled other people into the fold. Almost all of them, former coworkers from York, a lot of them who serve as editors and beta readers and those sorts of things. As far as the foundational things with designing and the developmental editing, those are the things that we’ve brought in. It’s amazing, Tom has a previously untapped skill for developmental editing. He can tell you what is wrong with your book and suggest what needs to be fixed in a very gentle and respectful way. It’s super helpful. Of course, it also helps

Scott: Wayne would probably agree with me on this, that the one pillar that we were missing in our pursuit of this was a business pillar. Actually, my wife, Kelly, has been the person to step in here and there and go, “Wow, I don’t believe you guys are doing that. That’s really dumb.” [Laughter]

Scott: It’s like questioning the business decisions that we’ve made and kind of saying, “Well, are you guys sure you want to do it that way because maybe you should do it this way. It might have work out a little bit better and be a little bit more profitable.” So we’ve pulled other people into the fold. Almost all of them, former coworkers from York, a lot of them who serve as editors and beta readers and those sorts of things. As far as the foundational things with designing and the developmental editing, those are the things that we’ve brought in. It’s amazing, Tom has a previously untapped skill for developmental editing. He can tell you what is wrong with your book and suggest what needs tobe fixed in a very gentle and respectful way. It’s super helpful. Of course, it also helps that we’re all former journalists and you’re used to being critiqued every single day. I think, a lot of writers go into the process and, we joke around, the newbie writers saying, “Oh, but you can’t change anything. This is my soul.” You know, if you go into this process, you have to accept that stuff is going tobe changed and you’re going to have to change it. Other people might suggest changes that aren’t negotiable. So we knew that there was going to be that, butit was mostly pulling in help to cover the workload more than anything.

Matty: You talk about developmental editing. Can you just give a definition of what that is and what other kinds of editing you needed to accommodate in your business?

Scott: A developmental editor is someone who comes in and looks at the big picture. They look at the overall scope of the novel. They try and nail down themes. They try to identify story arcs, and if you are not hitting those themes or story arcs in the course of your narrative, they will let you know. They sort of note things about characters that are inconsistent or are problems with continuity. They’re the people that really, as I said, will look at the big picture and say, “Okay, here’s where I think you’re going with the book and here is where you stop going there, and if you want to keep going there, here are some things that I suggest.” They’re great people to have on board because if you hand it to your brother-in-law, he’s going to read it and unless he’s in the business, he’s going to be impressed that you just wrote 50,000 to 100,000 words to begin with. A developmental editor gets past that and goes into the depth of the story, figuring out what needs to change to make it better, what needs to happen to make it a better story. It’s a lot different from a line editor or a copyeditor whose focus is on minutiae—grammar, punctuation, sentence structures, and those sorts of things.

Matty: You had said that the business perspective was something that you were sort of lacking and you were getting informally through your wife. Have you thought about actually engaging a business partner to handle that on an ongoing basis?

Scott: We haven’t, yet, because we’re not that big. With the press officially started, my novel was the debut title. That was in 2010. We’ve been at this for about almost seven years at this point. We haven’t grown so much that we need to incorporate somebody from the outside to handle that. As we go forward, that might change because as it stands, we’re sort of a friends and family publisher. We like to publish each other. We’ve pulled in some folks from
outside the very tight circle, and they’ve become part of the family and a couple of them have gone onto really great things away from Codorus. But what we’re doing is really trying to pace ourselves as far as not getting too focused on the company profit angle of things, and trying to maximize profits more for the authors themselves.

Matty: How many books have you published from how many authors?

Scott: We have published, at this point… I’m going to try not to count all of it here on the air —

Matty: Go ahead, because you’ll be able to mention a lot of people’s book. [Laughter]

Scott: Right, sowe have mine. Mine was first, that was Immaculate Deception; Wayne Lockwood’s collection of columns, Acid Indigestion Eyes, was the second; Tom Joyce’s novel, The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report; Mike Argento’s novel Don’t Be Cruel; Alex Segura’s Silent City; and Gerry LaFemina’s novel, Clamor. Then, we have one book of poetry by Insley Smullen, Dirt Gods, and Tom’s forthcoming book of short stories, which is called The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take Requests.

Matty: The greatest book title ever.

Scott: Yes. [Laughter]

Scott: Tom’s stories range from occult to horror and science fiction, and are hilarious on a lot of levels so we needed something that conveyed the looming threat and the humor.

Matty: Do you guys have marketing expertise in your group? And how are you going about marketing your books?

Scott: We don’t have marketing expertise that we have brought in. All of our marketing expertise has been sort of from in-house. My joke with Wayne is that our marketing style is patterned after the George Clooney Ocean’s movies. [Laughter]

Matty: Expand on that.

Scott: It’s not quite a caper movie but we do a lot of things fly by wire, and we try to think of creative ways to do things that sort of circumvent the traditional publishing house sorts of things. But we try to vigorously market all of our titles. We find that marketing to the press per se is not something that we want to do because then people see it and people go, “Oh, I think, I’m going to submit something,” and then we have to tell them we’re not accepting outside submissions. But individual titles is what we focus on and we want to make sure that folks get to know these titles. The individual authors have their own styles. We obviously recommend that people do a certain number of things, to have an active social media presence, have a blog that they contribute to on a regular basis, so we’ve had some luck with that. But then, we also encourage writers to get out in person. From the beginning, we’ve done book festivals in places like Fredericksburg, Maryland; Frostburg, Maryland; a lot in the Washington DC area; a couple in New Jersey. Tom and I, because our genres is kind of overlap with science fiction and speculative fiction and horror, we’ve started doing a lot of regional science fiction conventions, and we’ve had a lot of luck with those. The other thing that we recommend is just getting out in front of people at events like the ones that you’ve helped prepare, the Wine & Words and Beer & Books. Also, book clubs and just opportunities to read. Brandywine Valley Writers Group, of which I’m a member, regularly has public readings for its members where you get to get up and do a five to ten minute excerpt to something that you’ve read or written. Then other places, the group itself will have the opportunity to speak, and then we get the chance to appear in front of people at other events here and there. We’ve done workshops at book conventions and book festivals. The Western Maryland Indie Lit Festival is the one that we attended in Frostburg. It’s great. We have roundtable sessions with other authors and you’ll get ten to fifteen people in each one of those roundtable sessions, and a lot of them are students. A lot of them are younger writers so it’s great to be able to talk to those folks and a lot of them come back to the table and buy something. Then other things, we have Mike Argento, who’s moved onto a different publisher but he’s in what I fondly call an old guy and so it’s like guys in their 50’s and 60’s who still play and his band is very busy and he always makes sure he has his novel on the merchandise table at his performances. So it’s like, “Hey, by the way, I’m not just a guitar player. I also wrote a book so pick it up back at the merch table.” And then we encourage people to do things that Alex Segura appears at a lots at Noir at the Bar events. He’s based in New York City so he’s very active in the mystery and suspense writer community up there, and we just like people to get involved and to put themselves out there. For a lot of writers, you know, you think of them as sort of introverted people but it’s really important to go out and make a connection with the readers because you don’t have that big publishing company behind you to do the six-month push where they’ve invested, either hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in getting your name out there. If it’s your first book, you really have to hustle so we encourage people to hustle.

Matty: Yeah, I think that one of the things that I really liked about the model you guys have set up, because we’ve talked about it before, is that cross promotion. I was thinking about the fact that you can be much more agile in that than a huge publishing company can. I just went to ThrillerFest and there were some talks with people from the traditional publishing houses and the time frames they talked about were six months, a year, two years. It’s crazy. The shorter time frames is one of the things that attracted me to indy publishing. I was thinking about how people who are getting into the indy world can apply that if they don’t happen to have a group of writing friends like you do. The two things I thought about were, one, some of the things we’re doing with the author events – the Wine & Words, and Beer & Books, and just trying to get a network of local authors together who can cross promote like that. Because a lot of times, if you establish that kind of relationship, even if you can’t be everywhere representing your book, oftentimes, you can help other people like you’ve sold Tom’s books set at some of those events, even ones Tom wasn’t unable to attend. So I think that’s a great support network that people can start establishing for themselves, and I think that being a member at writers groups like the Brandywine Valley Writers Group. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime. I’ve gone to the ThrillerFest Conference, Mystery Writers of America. If you can get in with those groups, that’s a good way to start creating your own group like you’re describing. Maybe it doesn’t become a publishing company but you gain some of the benefits that you’re gaining from the group that you’ve pulled together.

Scott: Right, and I think it’s important to remember, too, that talking about those kind of events, they’re very narrow and they’re focus sometimes, and very location based. The Books & Beer event is a perfect example. You’re in one spot, and you’re waiting for the people to come to you but what happens is people trip over you, and they realize that even if they don’t buy your book on the spot, they might follow up and find out about it later. Sometimes they will buy your book on the spot, and they’ll tell their friends. You get that ripple effect and people either pass the book along or they buy other copies for their friends. If they really like it, people can be very evangelical about books which is great. The other thing is the benefit for the authors is that if you’re independently produced or if you’re self-produced or you’re self-published and you do an event like this, you may be at a table with an author from a major publisher.

Jon McGoran is a great example when we did our event at Levante brewery. I’d never met Jon before and I wasn’t really anticipating meeting him any time in the future because we didn’t really cross paths. It’s great to meet him. He’s an awesome guy, and we have a lot in common. Soit was one of those that you meet somebody who’s a little further along than you are on the path and you make that connection. And a lot of times, they’re willing to sort of offer a hand back and say, “If you need some advice or need a blurb or something like that, give me a shout.” He very kindly blurbed Tom’s book of short stories and because they had gotten to know each other through another group. It’s those kind of relationships that you build and it doesn’t matter what your platform is. I think, it matters that you are showing interest and devotion to the craft. Those people who are just sort of like, “Yeah, I’ve always had a book in me and I just haven’t really been able to sit down to write it,” and you want to kind of pat those people on the head and go, “Well, good for you.There are those of us who sit down at 5 AM. You know, a lot of mornings and crank out 800to 1000 words, if not every day, at least on a regular basis. We really try to work hard at this. We go through multiple revisions. We hand it off to people we respect and look for feedback and accept the feedback. I think, what happens to a lot of writers, or a lot of wannabe writers, is they never get to that putting words on paper stage, or putting words on a screen. You have to do that and that’s the first step, and that’s when you find out if you suck or not. If you look at it and you go, “Wow, I really sucked,” either you stop or you work to be better. So that’s a really great part. And there are people that you meet along the way who either help you get better or inspire you to be better which is nice.

Matty: Yeah, I’m seeing a whole other episode down the road of guerrilla marketing tactics –[Laughter]

Matty: — that can be is by the indy author and publisher. I know another thing that I’m just pursuing now is with Sherry Knowlton who writes books that are based near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I can’t even remember where Sherry and I first met up but I think it was because I had gotten an article published in alumni magazine, which was the Dickinson College magazine. Sherry it turned out was also an alum from Dickinson and I think we got in touch that way, and then, she attended some of the Beer & Books and Wine & Words events, and we’re just starting a campaign that we’re billing as the Keystone State tour saying, “Here are two Pennsylvania based suspense writers who are basing their books in Pennsylvania and we’re going to start doing a mailing to Pennsylvania independent bookstores to try to get some readings and signings lined up that way,” so I think that these are all good examples of how
people can take the benefits that you’re describing with a group of people that you’re working with, and start creating that for themselves.

Scott: Sure. I’ve been very forthcoming about my second novel. You know, sometimes, you’ll hear interviews with performers, musicians, and the interviewer will say, “Well, this seems like a sort of a blatant effort to be more commercial,” and sometimes the artist will say, “Why, yes. Yes it is.” What I’m doing with the second novel is this was an idea that was in my head all along, but I thought, “Okay, well, there will be a way to parlay this into hopefully more exposure.” The town in my book is called Carlton, South Carolina. It is a thinly-veiled version of my hometown of Camden, South Carolina. Having read, John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which is set in Savannah, Georgia, my goal was with this book to make it sort of like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil meets the X-Files meets Ghostbusters meets all these different things. For the Midnight in the Garden element of it to result in people realizing that, “Oh, his fictional town is just his actual hometown recast a little bit,” and wouldn’t it be great to have Mystery White Boy tour—which is the second novel’s title—in Camden, South Carolina? So if you’re listening, Camden, when the book comes out, that’s what you need to do.

Matty: Yeah, we need to flag a lot of people and companies and places in this —

Scott: Yes, indeed.

Matty: — So, they’ll say, “Hey, look, Scott Pruden was talking about me in an interview.” I’m trying to do the same with Bar Harbor in Mount Desert Island in Maine because my second book is based there and I’m doing a talk at a library there in October and so on. I think that the other thing that people can use as a takeaway from this, which I’m starting to do now, is that when I first started the whole indy publishing thing, I was trying to do it all myself. I was taking the Facebook marketing courses and the how to put together an email list, and when I started doing the podcast, I thought, “Oh, I’ll learn the audio editing software,” and I finally realized that there’s really only one part of this business that I can do myself and that’s the writing. If I can get somebody else to do most of the rest of it, it’s going to let me produce books a lot faster and probably with higher quality. So I’ve become a huge proponent of outsourcing, whenever I can. For the Podcast, I went to a site called Upwork, which I’ve been very impressed with and was able to find a sound engineer, a transcriptionist, someone to actually set the podcast up technically on my website, someone to set my website up for me. It’s sort of eats into the profits but if you’re in it for the long term, and you know you’re going to be wanting to put out multiple books, and you know that eventually, you want to be making your living off it, which I’m definitely not at that point yet, but would like to be some day, then consider what you can ask other people to do. You’d be surprised how economically you can do that through sites like Upwork. It’s definitely something to look into.

Scott: Yeah, if you’re on the hiring side of those sites, you can definitely get some bargains, which is nice. A lot of times, there are skilled people who are just trying to build a portfolio to do more independent work themselves. But that’s a great time to get people because they have the skills, they have the motivation, and you can get it at a pretty good price. Like you said, it certainly does help and takes the stress off, too, because if you’re stressed, it’s hard to write. A great writing professor of mine at the University of South Carolina, William Price Fox, that was one of his sage pieces of advice. He’s like, “You can’t write stressed. You got to relax.” Have a beer, smoke something, do yoga. Do what you’ve got to do, but you’ve got to be relaxed,” and that’s the one thing. For my 5 AM writing sessions, I’m basically still asleep. The only thing I have in my hand is a cup of coffee and then the laptop, and you just sit down, you type and type and type and type and type and then, my kid gets up to get ready for school, then, you say, “Okay, I’m done for today,” and then, you look back and you go, “Wow, I don’t even remember writing that, and it was really good.So you have to find those moments where you can kind of kick your consciousness next door a little bit and get out of your own head.

Matty: I would love to hear about what you’re doing with your second book, where that stands, and maybe use that as an illustration of what are your fellow Codorus Press cohorts doing to help you along that path.

Scott: The second book is, as I said, the working title isMystery White Boy and it is about a young newspaper reporter who’s just out of college. His job prospects are slim so he ends up working at his hometown newspaper which is a small town in the midlands of South Carolina. Before he starts the job, he’s broken up with his long-time girlfriend so he’s a bit at sea and he’s living in his great aunt’s upstairs garage apartment because that’s the only thing he can afford because it’s free. So he starts that job and one of his first stories is he’s assigned to cover these two ladies in town who started a ghost tour business. When he goes to interview them, he finds out that they are claiming to have really seen ghosts and the ghosts have told them about various illegal shenanigans being planned in the cemetery. The ghosts themselves, they’re a number of characters. One is a repentant Confederate general who was killed by the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War. The other one is a 16-year old slave girl who was killed by her master. There is
a young Scottish woman who traveled over the Atlantic during the Revolutionary War to follow her lover who had signed up with the British regulars, and there was a Basset Hound from Hell. [Laughter]

Matty: It was sounding so serious there for a few minutes.

Scott: That’s right. That’s right. We’ve got to–

Matty: — Basset Hound from Hell.

Scott: The Basset Hound from Hell. The Hell Hound of something place is his official ghost story name. He appears when tragic events are afoot. So whenever something bad is about to happen, people see the Hell Hound. As this is my theme apparently, there’s a parallel story line of the local drug dealer. Heis trying to get out of the business to allow him and his daughter to live unencumbered in some foreign country. She’s attending a Swiss private school, and he’s trying to set himself up financially where you can leave the drug business, not get killed by his colleagues and associates, and the two of them can live a happy life together.

Matty: So are you at a point where your buddy at Codorus Press are starting tow eigh in on helping you with the book?

Scott: I’ve handed over some pages and like Tom’s heard me read the first chapter so I’ve gotten some feedback that way but I really like to be able to hand people a complete manuscript because there are so many things that I work through in my head along the way. It’s like I don’t really want them to see how the sausage is being made, rather present it in its full cased, enwrapped form. So when that point comes, we’ll be ready. Tom, like I said, always stands by to do developmental editing. Then, we have some great copy editors who are just that’s all they want to do, and we always say, “Hey, if you guys have books, let us know. If you have a manuscript, please share it,” and they’ve told us, “No, we just want to help you out by providing our editing skills,” and it’s great because they’re all fantastic at what they do. They were fantastic when we worked with them and now they’re fantastic when they work with Codorus Press. That’s a huge help. Like Wayne and I, we’ve already kicked around cover ideas just sort of off the cuff. We’ve talked about marketing, obviously. I have a friend from when I lived in South Carolina who is now both a state representative and owns a bookstore so we won’t be availing her of her political connections quite so much but we will be looking to work with her as far as her bookstore goes and arranging events and those sorts of things down there.

It’s really hard being a writer who focuses on the south, like settings in the south when you live in Southeastern Pennsylvania because travel is tricky and it’s hard to get down and be present. But thankfully, I have lots of friends still in South Carolina and all of them have been great supporters of my writing. I think, they got sick of hearing, “Oh, yeah, I’m writing a book,” for twenty years over the course of time, while I was at school and living there, and then to finally see that book in print, they were like, “Oh, well, he wasn’t messing around with us. That’s nice.

Matty: “Look, it’s a real book.”

Scott: Right, exactly. “He wasn’t just jerking us around.”

Matty: That’s great. Well, I appreciate your insights into that model of publishing and where can people go if they want to find out more about you or about Codorus Press?

Scott: They can goto CodorusPress.com. Then, my website is ScottPruden.com, and those are the places, and then you can also find me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is ScottBPruden. Also, I’m on Facebook, under ScottBPrudenAuthor.

Matty: Great! Thank you very much.

Scott: Thank you for having me.

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