Author Archives: Guy Bergstrom

About Guy Bergstrom

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a novel that was a finalist for some award.

Golden retriever destroys obedience course, wins Interwebs

This is funny, sure. But the Series of Tubes is packed with funny little things involving dogs, cats and kids with painted faces at county fairs who like turtles.

Let’s dissect this little piece of film to see what makes it work.

First, there are no words getting in the way of the images. This isn’t a PowerPoint slideshow. Nobody has to explain the joke, and it actually works better than English speakers like me have no idea what the announcer or anybody is saying, though it would not shock me if this is Scandanavian, if not Swedish, and make me have a sad for not speaking Swedish.

Second, there’s actually a structure to it, despite being so short. There are two setups before we get to the payoff, two different dogs doing the right thing, and ignoring all the food and chew toys, before the last dog decides obedience courses are a free buffet.

Third, the Benny Hill music makes it all work. Right when the setups are over and we get our payoff, the music puts you right there, and the golden retriever rewards us, not once or twice, but again and again, going after every treat in sight and ignoring all commands.

This snippet of moving pictures gives us the biggest possible gap between expectation (obedience) and result (chaos).

Well done, whoever edited this. Give us more.

More posts for your amusement and possible education:

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

1 Comment

by | November 21, 2014 · 12:56 pm

Do not look upon your #NaNoWriMo word count and despair, for there is hope

Say it’s your first time writing a novel, and you’re a smidge behind. On the 15th of November, you should’ve hit 25,000 words.

Do not despair.

Also: For those who’ve burned vacation time, dumped their significant others and sent the kids to boarding school, because you’re going to hit 50k if it kills you, I say this: dance not the dance of victory, because 50k isn’t actually a novel. It’s a novella. You want to hit 80k or 90k to be safe.

However: None of this really matters. At all.

Related post: Six easy ways to improve #NaNoWriMo

For your first draft, word counts mean nothing

I don’t care if you’ve gotten stuck at 12,000 words or you’re already finished with your 194,000 epic involving the king of the orcs and the vampire mermaid who loves him.

Anybody new to writing a novel, of whatever genre, should ignore the word count demons in this first draft.

Say it with me: It’s a first draft and the word count meants nothing.

The word count means nothing.

One more time: I’ve got 99 problems and a word count ain’t one.

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Thrillers and mysteries

Sam Smith makes a sweet short film out of I KNOW I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE

Well shot. Well acted. It’s an itty bitty movie, people.

Your typical music video about a man stepping out on his wife has the woman scorned (a) trashing that cheater’s Beemer after (b) she gives away all his Armani suits to Goodwill and (c) the ending has her slapping him while he (d) sadly spots the FOR SALE sign next to all his other worldly possession currently being burned in the front yard.

Sam the Smith avoids the Hollywood ending and gives us ambiguity. Will she stay or leave? How long will the masquerade last?

Now, there are little things to nitpick. Sam is a man with a great deep voice, and this is shot with the female actress being the one cheated on, so that does start out a little odd. Also, Sam’s rocking a haircut that’s very, I don’t know, British. HOWEVER: you can always scratch at itty bitty details.

Overall, this music video stands out for great cinematography, which most bands can’t even spell, with great acting and the guts to avoid a Hollywood ending, even if they hired all kinds of Hollywood talent to pull this off.

I tip my hat to Sam the Smith and pray to the music gods that he makes more like this, if only to counter the effects of new One Direction videos.

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

2 Comments

by | November 17, 2014 · 7:53 pm

Why TOO MANY COOKS blew up the interwebs

 

too many cooks

There is no shortage of funny or strange videos on the Series of Tubes, and it takes no great talent to find them.

HOWEVER: It takes some talent to make something as long, and interesting, as TOO MANY COOKS.

Before you watch it, listen: this thing starts out slow, and if you’ve never watched bad TV shows from the ’80s and ’90s, because you weren’t born yet, or have a rule about never watching the Glowing Tube, some of these parodies will fly over your head like a B-2 bomber.

I don’t believe there are any bad words or anything other than cartoonish violence and creepiness, but be warned that it does get weird, though I think in an interesting way. This really is something for people who grew up watching reruns of The Brady Brunch, TJ Hooker, Airwolf, Battlestar Galactica, Wonder Woman and about seventeen other shows. Funny stuff. Watch, then we’ll dissect it.

So: there’s no way to name every single genre and show that video just parodied. The list is ginormous.

From a big picture, though, the secret seems to be how this is different from Saturday Night Live skits from the bad old days, where writers took one funny idea and beat that dead horse all the way to the glue factory.

TOO MANY COOKS is the opposite. Despite repeating the opening song again and again (though they twist it), they’re actually cramming five metric tons of funny ideas into one parody skit, constantly changing their target to different genres and specific Bad TV Shows We All Used to Love.

Love is a big part of this. You can’t film a video of this breadth and style without loving those shows, and knowing them incredibly well. I could write a pretty good fake Airwolf script, and completely skewer it, because as a pookie, I watched that show religiously and adored the thing. Jan Michael Vincent FTW! And yeah, that thing was terrible when you fire up an old episode on YouTube now. But we loved our TV trash, and part of us will always love it.

Here’s why: entertaining trash, however trashy, is still entertaining, while pretentious nonsense, however well done, is still pretentious.

Well done, crazy makers of this parody. Give us moar moar MOAR.

The Red Pen of Doom’s Greatest Hits Collection Vol. 5: Five Epic Posts, Because AP Style Is Confusing When It Comes to Using Numbers or Spelling Them Out

  1. Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?
  2. The Mother of All Query Letters
  3. Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller
  4. Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt
  5. Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

1 Comment

by | November 13, 2014 · 5:05 am

Six easy ways to improve NaNoWriMo

Writer peeps tell me they’re doing NaNoWriMo, which is Esperanto for “I’m trying to write a novel in a single month, and I’m 10k behind already, so I’ve quit my job and divorced my husband. I vaguely remember that we had some kids. Ready for a sprint?”

God bless all who sign up for this. I believe a novel is the toughest thing a writer can tackle, and the most rewarding.

It’s just that 30 days is a bit insane, and I say that as somebody who writes insanely fast. Related post: Why are all writers lazy bums?

If a friend of mine said they were doing NaNoWriMo, I’d want them to have a good experience and not pull their hair out because they missed two days of writing at that wedding and now they need to write 3,000 words a day and IT’S NOT HAPPENING.

It’s great that there’s a national month encouraging folks to write a novel. I just don’t want new writers to bang their head against the wall and feel like a failure if it doesn’t happen. You’re not a failure. The math is stacked against you for NaNoWriMo.

So here is what I would say to that friend wrestling with word counts and freaking out, or to anyone considering doing NaNoWriMo next year.

1) Spend all of October training for this literary marathon

For writers, a novel is like running a marathon. You don’t pop up off the couch on Nov. 1 and bust out 26.1 miles. You’ve got to train and build up to it.

Ignore the veteran pantsers and their crazy “I never outline” ways. Anybody writing a novel for the first time on Nov. 1 should spend October doing this:

  • Read SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder and STORY by Robert McKee
  • Figure out what primal story, per Blake the Snyder, you’re going to write—that’s your genre
  • Watch movies (hey, this homework stuff is tough) or read your favorite books in that genre, and see how those movies and books do setups and payoffs, reversals and revelations
  • Map out a three-act story, using Blake’s spiffy Beat Sheet, and if you want to get technical, he breaks Act 2 in half, so you’re really looking at four Acts
  • Figure out your story on that one-page Beat Sheet, and do whatever research you need for the Writing of Many Words

2) The goal is actually more than 50,000 words

You might say, “Hey, mister, fifty thousand words is a lot to write in a month. Don’t make this any harder.”

Sure, 50k is a lot. We’re talking about 1,667 words per day, every day. Except 50k is a novella, not a novel.

It’s more like half a novel.

Google it. Go on, I’ll wait.

Okay, not really. I’m over there, watching funny cat videos.

So: Literary agents, publishers and book peoples have all these standards for word counts when it comes to novels of different genres, and if you’re going to run a literary marathon, let’s make sure you hit 26.1 miles, not 14 miles and call it a marathon.

Chuck Sambuchino is an editor, author and expert on what agents and publishers want in different genres. Here’s a TL;DR version of his post about word counts for novels: “Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.”

Therefore: you’re really shooting for 80 to 90k. Which leads us to Number 3.

3) Make it NaNoDecemberO to stay sane and married

Trying to hit 50k in 30 days is hard. The math, it doesn’t add up.

I know full-time authors who write one book per year. Maybe two. If they wrote 50,000 words a month, they’d be cranking out six to ten books per year.

Which doesn’t happen.

Not even Stephen King puts out six books a year, and he (a) writes faster than anybody, (b) has decades of experience writing fiction and (c) has the money to spend all day doing nothing else, if he wants.

People doing NaNoWriMo typically are not independently wealthy, retired or able to call on decades of fiction writing experience. I bet most folks have full-time jobs and kids and life. So asking them to write at least 1,667 words a day is asking a lot.

Especially when the real finish line is really 80,000 or 90,000 words.

  • 80k words in 30 days is 2,667 words per day
  • 90k in 30 is 3k a day
  • People expect three bullets, except I don’t have another set of numbers on this point, so here’s the start of an infinite set, just for you: 1 2 4 8 16 32 64 128 256 512 1024 2048

That’s crazy talk. Old school authors like Hemingway would count their words, words printed on these things called typewriters, doing it by hand with a pencil. And they’d call it a day when they hit 500 words, going off to drink bourbon and watch bullfights, because 500 words a day is roughly three books a year.

Let’s make it NaNoDecemberO and give you two months to write a full novel instead of a novella.

  • 80k words in 60 days is 1,334 words per day
  • If you go long at 90k, that’s still only 1,500 words a day, less of a workload than NaNoWriMo’s 1,667
  • That’s right: write fewer words per day and actually have a full novel instead of a novella, and really, this is a third bullet point where I didn’t have to think too hard to make it three, though if this turned into four, people would feel weird, so three is just the right number of bullets, always, even with a crazy run-on sentence like this with all kinds of commas and no period, none at all, even though I hate commas and have a long, long love affair with the period, but not the exclamation mark, which should be taken out behind the barn and shot

Therefore: go ahead and turn it into NaNoDecemberO.

It’s okay. The NaNoWriMo police won’t come to your door and take away your keyboard. You’ll get more sleep and your friends and family will thank you for doing something incredibly hard in 60 days instead of 30.

4) No matter what, don’t set a goal of more than 2k a day

You might think, “Hey, I’ve got a free Sunday coming up, and I’ll spend six hours writing, 2k an hour, so that’s 10 to 16k, easy.” Might happen. Probably not.

It doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do or whether you write an hour a day in the morning or all day as your job. Reporters, screenwriters and authors all seem to hit the wall at 2k a day.

Though you can edit all day. Hmm. Interesting. Write 2k, then edit like a madman. There may be something to that.

HOWEVER: Let’s say you can go all out and hit 3k a day, every day. You’re going to miss days. Weddings, anniversaries, holidays, soccer practice, late nights at work. It’ll happen. If you need 3k a day, and miss a day, now you have to make up for it with 6k tomorrow. Ugh. Even spreading that out over a week would be tough.

Don’t be a literary tough guy and set yourself up for painful falls. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 2k a day or less is smart.

5) Don’t do it alone

Writers are friendly and helpful. Ask. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

And find some people to trade chapters with and such. You don’t want vague happy nonsense like “it was great” or vague critical nonsense about how they hated chapter 2 and don’t know why.

Find a few fellow writers who need critique partners. Everybody needs beta readers.

Or omega readers. :)

Yes, that’s an inside joke. And a good one. I’d throw down a double-sized happy face, if I knew how.

6) Let’s turn January into NaNoEditMo

The secret to all writing is editing—and the longer a piece of writing is, the more editing love it needs.

Don’t bother with critique groups where people read chapters aloud. Are you really going to read 80,000 words to the group? Might take six days. Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.

There are all sorts of books, blogs, web sites and secret societies when it comes to editing fiction. Dive into it. Learn all about editing, and practice on things you steal from the Interwebs or pull down from your shelf.

Because you can’t edit yourself. Not at first. It takes experience bleeding on the pages of others before you can turn your own pages red.

The way to learn is from horrifically beautiful writing and amazingly bad prose. Mediocre stuff doesn’t teach you how to edit.

One thing will pop out fast: story and structure matter more, over the long term, than the quality of the writing. You’ll probably enjoy entertaining trash in the genre you’re writing far more than literary novels where every sentence is a poem, and this is true if the genre novels are insane stuff about a zombie pirate in love with a robot ninja from the future.

Also: Yes, somebody has probably written that exact book. Bonus points if anybody can point me to the cover of that novel. I’ll do a blog about this zombie-pirate/robot-ninja shebang.

Also-also: NaNoScriptMo would actually be fun and practical. A screenplay is about 15,000 words and that’s 500 words a day. Hemingway would approve. Then he’d drink a whiskey and watch a bullfight.

More posts to make your brain implode:

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

13 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Thrillers and mysteries

The one where my wife gives WWU’s commencement speech and PEOPLE CRY

Here’s the thing: 20 years ago, my wife and I put on black robes and listened to speeches before getting our pigskins from Western Washington University–and exactly a week later, got married.

This summer, we went back so she could put on special black robes and a spiffy hat (seriously, check it out) to give the commencement speech at graduation. NOT TOO SHABBY.

For writerly types, the text of it is below.

I’m obviously biased, but she did a great job of avoiding the usual pitfalls for a commencement speech.

Interesting Thing No. 1: She spoke to the entire audience

Most graduation speeches ignore two thirds of the people there, the ones in the stands who aren’t getting a degree.

Parents, grandparents and loved ones all suffered and sacrificed to make this day possible. They helped pay those insanely high tuition bills, co-signed the loans, sent the care packages and emergency funds when Top Ramen supplies were dangerously low. And this day is almost like a wedding. It’s something every parent dreams about for their kids, so hey, don’t ignore those folks. Talk to them.

Maybe this is why the First Rule of Rhetoric is, “Know your audience.”

Interesting Thing No. 2: It was different

Half of graduation speeches are often full of hopeful phrases and words about how hard students worked, that it’s an honor and privilege to earn this degree and these fine graduates should use their brains and skills to give back and change the world. All good sentiments, just none of it is new or unexpected.

The other half of graduation speeches are often an opportunity for somebody to give a 15 minute speech about their personal story and pet issue, and yes, that issue may be incredibly important and topical. These speeches, though, are often highly political and tend to feel like a lecture, with the speaker telling the audience what to do, and they also tend to age badly. A hot issue this month could be forgotten five years from now.

This speech wasn’t a lecture about a specific issue. It was about the audience, and tried to give them something to chew on for years. Because nobody really has all the answers.

Interesting Thing No. 3: She took the time to connect

It’s quite easy to fall into the trap of speaking at the same rate, volume and emotion, especially when it’s a keynote speech. There’s so much text to get through, so they grip both sides of the podium, stand up straight and focus on reading the words without screwing up.

Maybe they look to the left, right and center in a pattern, since that’s common advice.

Yet when you churn though the text like that, there’s no connection to the audience.

Vini took the time to make that bond, making real eye contact, pausing, slowing down, speeding up, going quieter and louder. Not in a pre-programmed way. Adjusting with the audience, in real time, by making that connection.

You can tell in the first five seconds of a speech if it’s any good, by listening and watching the audience. People stop fiddling with their phones or having side conversations. They lock onto the speaker. And it gets completely quiet, even in a room full of hundreds, or thousands, of people. So when that happened, I was happy to be there for it.

Commencement speech by Vini Elizabeth Samuel

Western Washington University, Summer 2014

As written

 

Good morning … Do you remember the first day of school?

Not here at Western. The very first.

Your mom probably dressed you up that morning.
Your dad might have bought your first lunch box,
THOMAS THE TRAIN or DORA THE EXPLORER.
If you were lucky, BATMAN or WONDER WOMAN.
That first day of kindergarten was probably scary.

Parents tend to cry when they watch their child walk to the classroom for the first time.
Will you do okay? Will you get good grades?
Will you make friends, do well on tests, not eat the glue–or get into fist-fights on the playground?

Later, it’s a different question:
Will you graduate, move out of the house and get into a good college?

See, the thing is your entire life has built up to receive this piece of paper they’re about to hand you.
From the first day of kindergarten
to the last day of high school to this very moment,
you’ve done exactly what every mom and dad dreams about.
We dream about our sons and daughters being good students.

We dream about them getting into a great university like Western
and stay up at night worrying about how to pay for it.
Whether our kids will major in something silly,
or drop out after three years after piling up a mountain of student loans.

We dream about this day–parents and students alike.
It’s the end of the journey that society
–not just in America, but around the world–defines as success.

This is a great achievement you have accomplished.
It should be celebrated, and you should be congratulated.

Most of the kids you went to kindergarten with that first day aren’t standing where you are.
About half of all students who start college don’t finish their degree.
But here’s the thing: up to this moment, you’ve been following a road, difficult,
and something most people can’t accomplish, but well-known.
And here at the end of this road you get this college degree.

So what now?

It’s a cliche for a commencement speaker to say
that you all have incredible potential, to follow your dreams,  or change the world.
Those phrases sound okay on the surface. Yet they don’t really TELL you anything.

I want to be real, and say what somebody should have told me when I sat where you’re sitting back in 1994.
The quick, easy answers aren’t any help.
I don’t have a magic bullet.
I do know some wrong answers and dead ends.

Nobody wants to move back home to their parents’ basement.
Nobody wants to keep working at their college job, waiting tables or pouring lattes or delivering pizzas.
But the answer to what’s next is more than a mansion on a hill.

On my first day of kindergarten, my dream was clear: become a lawyer.
I stole my father’s black socks, cut holes in them and made my Barbie doll into a judge.
Ken was the defendant.
He got convicted and sentenced to prison quite a lot.

A week after graduating from Western,
I married my college sweetheart.
I went to law school, passed the bar exam and now have my own law firm.
We own our home, two cars, a dog, cat and are raising a 12-year-old son
who says Western is the best university ever.
If there’s a checklist, I can mark those big things off.

A good career–a job with health benefits, and retirement–those are perfectly good goals.
But they are not a true PURPOSE.
Saving up and buying a home is also a great goal, especially if you want kids of your own and a back yard for Fluffy.
A career, a home, family–those can be cornerstones of your life.
Yet they aren’t clear destinations or real answers to “what’s next”

For your entire academic life, there’s been clear lines in the road, quarter after quarter, quiz after quiz, test after test.
From here on out, there is no finish line. And there never will be.

Up until today, the world was required to pay attention to you.
Teachers and professor had to read and grade what you wrote, no matter how brilliant or awful it was.
Out in the world, you’re one of six billion people fighting for attention and resources.
Nobody is required to read whatever your write.
Nobody has to tell you how to improve.
Quality and talent don’t automatically win the day anymore.
Exhibit A: Snooki.
Exhibit B: the Kardashians.

Out in the world, there’s no structure, no safety net, no system.

Money and career will consume you for a while, which is natural.

Where will you live? How will you pay rent? Will you get a Joe Job or a real job,
and when will you ever pay off Sallie Mae?

Eventually, though, all those things you own may wind up owning you.
You have to pay for them, protect them and maintain them, forever and ever.
Right now everything you own can probably fit in the back of mom’s Subaru,
and it seems pitiful, but it’s actually good place to know.
It is an opportunity to anchor you.

In ten years, you’ll need to rent a storage unit for all the boxes in your garage
that you haven’t touched in five years and you’ll start to worry
about TV producers from HOARDERS knocking on your door.

So what’s next?

This is what I’ve learned: after college, all those destinations you’ve obsessed about don’t really matter.
What’s next is the wrong question.

The journey – and how you do it – is the fun and interesting part.
It is the best part.

Your greatest joys won’t come from amazing achievements, winning awards or having a great career.
They’ll come from relationships and memories.
From watching your own son on that first day of kindergarten.
From sitting in those stands as your daughter walks onto this stage, shakes the hand of the university president and gets her degree.

So don’t put off all the fun things until after you retire.
See less of the office and more of the world.
Treasure people instead of deadlines.

Ayn Rand got it backwards: the most selfish thing you can do is to be unselfish.
To serve others – your kids and grandparents, your community, your country.

I hope you get the opportunity to see the world,
and to show some of the best parts to your kids and grandkids.
I hope you never stop being curious, reading books, drinking coffee
and asking deep questions about the meaning of life.

And I hope in 20 years, you stand where I am standing.

When the day comes and you reach the summit of whatever mountain you’ve chosen to climb,
and you get to rest, I hope that you have taken not the road less traveled, but a road no one has traveled before.

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It is an honor, and a privilege, to celebrate this moment with you. Congratulations and Godspeed.

A few good posts: 

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

3 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Speechwriting

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

That’s when fighting stopped during the Great War, the War to End All Wars.

And it’s why we celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, whatever day that falls on the calendar.

I grew up on Air Force bases in New York, Washington, Germany, the Netherlands, so I know a bit about the sacrifices vets and their families make. You don’t sign up for the military for the money, or the hours. You do it for unselfish reasons. To serve.

So for all the veterans out there, including my dad (Vietnam), grandfather (bomber pilot, World War II), uncles and friends who served with honor and distinction, we salute you, even though most of us would probably do it wrong.

And we thank you. Always.

Also: Kudos to the students at Issaquah High School who made this video. You clearly put a lot of time and energy into it, and that emotion comes through.

A few good posts: 

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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