How to Get Published in Literary Magazines: Interview with Glimmer Train Stories

by Joe Bunting | 45 comments

Linda Swanson-Davies Glimmer Train

[Editor's note: Glimmer Train has retired from the publishing world since this interview. You can still find their site here, but they are no longer accepting story submissions. Be sure to check out our list of literary magazines for other places to submit.]

Glimmer Train literary magazine is harder to get into than Harvard. In 2011, Harvard accepted 6.2 percent of applicants. Literary magazines like Glimmer Train often have acceptance rates of under one percent.

So when I asked Linda Swanson-Davies, who founded the journal with her sister in 1990, to chat with me about Glimmer Train and how to get published in literary magazines, I honestly wasn't expecting her to say yes.

But she did!

I'm so excited to share our conversation with you. I hope it challenges you to consider submitting your work to literary magazines like Glimmer Train, and I hope it provides something of a salve to the soul if your story isn't chosen. Mine certainly haven't been!

Enjoy the interview.

Glimmer Train

Hi Linda. Thanks so much for joining me today! Now, why should writers who are just starting out submit their stories to literary magazines? Why not just pop their stories up on Amazon and make a little money without the chance of rejection?

There's nothing inherently wrong with popping your stories up on Amazon or anywhere else. (It might be wise to read any fine print, make sure that you still hold the copyright and can, for instance, include the story in your own collection at a later date.)

It is tough to get a piece accepted for publication, and if a person is mostly concerned with a sense of completion and of having spoken one's piece (especially if you feel you have one important story you need to write) in a potentially public way, posting a story online may be exactly the way to go.

But there are also solid reasons to consider submitting your stories to literary magazines.

If you're a voracious reader (serious writers are) who's thrilled by the significant, moving, and artful things words can do, you will likely want to develop skills that enable you to best craft the stories you want to tell, and you will likely want to aim for publication that will reach a wider audience.

Although it's painful to get a rejection notice for a story you love, it's pretty thrilling to hear that an editor (who considers hundreds or thousands of stories a year) took some note of your story, and if a story is accepted for publication, it's an over-the-moon experience for a developing writer. A writer has to be tough enough to bear the inevitable rejections. It's the only way to have a chance of having your work presented by a well-regarded publication, and read by serious readers.

Agents look to literary magazines to find talented emerging writers. (Their plates are full, too. It's helpful to be able to read a collection of stories vetted by editors whose taste and opinions they respect.) After each issue of Glimmer Train comes out, we are contacted by agents who've read stories they loved and are interested in representing the authors.

If your goal is to publish a book, having first published fiction in literary magazines gives publishers more confidence in the merit and marketability of an author's work.

When some people hear literary fiction, they think boring fiction. Is literary fiction boring? And how can writers create beautifully written and engaging stories?

Literary fiction can be boring. We only publish writing that is finely written and engaging. We're all busy (if we're lucky!)—why waste time reading pretty words that hold no meaning, reveal nothing of significance? That's actually one of the reasons we started Glimmer Train; too much of the work being published felt finely crafted but completely lifeless. We wanted more.

Glimmer Train seems to be particularly fond of emerging writers? Why do you publish unpublished writers?

These are hard times for writers and publishers. (Are you reading?) Many publishers are playing it safe, opting to publish writers who've already been heavily published. Though you can hardly blame them, in some ways, it's a real loss for readers, and obviously also for writers! There are talented writers out there who have worked and continue to work to create the most gorgeous and meaningful stories they have to tell.

We are continually stunned by the depth, breadth, and beauty of the work new writers submit, and it thrills us to present the very best of them in a handsome physical publication that will persist in the real world.

What are three things an unpublished writer can do to get their first story published in a magazine?

#1 Write a story that moves you, in which something happens, that has characters who are complex enough to feel utterly real so we are pulled into their lives, and they become part of ours.

#2 Read aloud, and think about, every sentence and paragraph. Is it clearly written? Does it make sense? Do all the words serve the story? (Beware clever or unnecessary prose that doesn't advance the story.)

#3 Send the story out into the world to find its way. If it comes back to you, you can send it elsewhere, or you can revisit it. Is the right character telling the story or would another perspective give it more power? Have you gone far enough—is there something significant that remains hidden? Have faith in the story. Sometimes a piece just needs to brew a bit longer before it can draw breath.

Thank you so much Linda!

One great way to increase your chances of getting published in literary magazines is by reading them. It's also a good way to support the writing community.

If you like literary fiction, I highly recommend subscribing to Glimmer Train. I think you'll like it.

Have you been published in a literary magazine? What do you recommend for writers trying to do the same? Have you been rejected? Share your war stories.


Today, spend some time fine tuning one of your stories, perhaps your practice from Monday's post, Love at First Sight.

Spend fifteen minutes re-reading and editing it. Ask yourself:

  • Does it move you?
  • Does something happen?
  • Are the characters complex enough?
  • Is it clearly written?
  • Do all the words serve the story?

Then, share your second draft here in the comments section. And if you share, please keep the community vibrant by commenting on a few pieces by other writers.

Good luck!

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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  1. JB Lacaden

    GlimmerTrain’s actually a very special site to me. It’s where I first tasted rejection (it was my first time submitting a story). It taught me lessons and it gave me more motivation. I’ll probably make it one of my goals: To get published in glimmertrain. 🙂

    • Marianne Vest

      Me too JB

  2. LarryBlumen

    Quite a coup, Mr. Bunting! The only thing more impressive than an interview with a Glimmer Sister would be one with both of them.

  3. Suzie Gallagher


    He sat at the bar, on the same stool he always sat on. One beer was following nicely on from the other, sweet nectar for the soul. This was his daytime; nights he worked as a bouncer in a stripping joint. Locals came in, chatting, shooting the breeze. Tourists popped in, to see some real local colour, taking pictures, asking questions, the same questions. He answered them, the locals, the tourists, he chatted to them all, affably chilled.

    She entered the bar because of a sudden downpour, sat next to him and ordered a beer. She hadn’t had a beer in years and it went down like water, she ordered another and started chatting to him. The weather, where she was from, what she was doing there – normal chitchat. All the time more beer was entering both their bodies.

    At some point the two beer fuelled bodies turned to each other and sparked. They kissed.

    The sun came out and she left, slightly buzzing from the interaction, shaking her head, clearing in the sunshine, she returned to the tour bus, she returned to her husband, she didn’t give him or the kiss another thought.

    He sat at the bar, on the same stool he always sat on. He drank his beer, he chatted, but something or someone was haunting him. A normal person, a woman with no agenda, with a good life, a pastor’s wife had kissed him. Him, a has been, never been, what was it about her that niggled. No longer chilled, wtf, it was just a kiss.

    But in his heart, in there it changed, he was changed, the beer tasted sour, the chat sounded flat. The locals, the tourists, he got up and left.

    Not sure how, not sure why, he just knew it was time to change…

    • Marianne Vest

      I can really see how the weather relates to both of your characters behavior. Those sudden unforeseen downpours that come so quickly and make everything dangerous and exciting followed by the bright gentle sun is used very well in this simple piece.

    • Suzie Gallagher

      Last night watched American pseudo-drama Hart of Dixie – they used the weather in the same way!

    • Heath Sims

      Your first sentence is weak–using the word ‘sat’ twice. It was enough to annoy me. Also 2nd sentence is weak: ‘One beer was following nicely on from the other.’ I recommend Stephen King’s – On Writing. It will change the way you view your work.

    • pootlesuzie

      Heath thank you for your bluntness, I need it. Well two years ago when I wrote this I did. Perhaps not so much now, although I do write in repetitions and rhythms only my mind can determine.
      Continue on, and if you get to the “words on wednesdays” go for it, blast me from the heavens. They are not posted under my by-line anymore but it is my writing – you’ll see the style

    • Shame OnYou

      Wow. Why so harsh, Heath? Who taught you to be so cruel?

    • kimberlydawn

      I like it! I don’t care about “perfect beginnings” or “using a word twice in one sentence.” The story engaged me! I wanted to keep reading. I could taste the “beery” kiss! Keep writing! To me, the biggest put-down anyone can attribute to a piece of writing, is that it is boring. P.S…….Your story is NOT boring!

    • pootlesuzie

      Hi Kimberlydawn, thank you for your comment, it is three years since I wrote this piece, if you find the “Words on Wednesday” posts from that era you’ll find more of my writing. I haven’t given up but I have changed the way I write…

  4. Marina Sofia

    Ah, yes, let me join the club: I’ve been rejected by GlimmerTrain too. For good reason – it was a half-baked story, without a real plot, way too verbose, my first attempt at writing after years and years of silence… Anyway, I have a lot of respect for the quality of the writing that does get published there. I’ll just make sure that next time I submit something much better.

    • JB Lacaden

      Ditto. I’ve read the stories in glimmertrain and they’re really, really good.

  5. Katie Axelson

    I love the three tidbits at the end. Thanks, Linda!

    My first rejection was actually from a literary magazine where I thought my opportunity for publication was already sold. Turns out I was over-confident. I cried a little (ok, a lot), started a “rejection letters” folder (you never know when you’re going to need some good fire-starting material), and moved on (eventually). I submitted to the same journal for the next publication and a poem of mine was selected. I can call myself a published poet. (Which is super ironic because I loathe writing poetry, but that’s a different story).


    • JB Lacaden

      This is actually the same with my experience. I really thought I’d get published, turns out I was wrong. I felt sad (who wouldn’t?) but eventually there’s nothing left to do but pick yourself up and move on. 🙂

  6. Oonagh Morey

    It’s helpful and encouraging for writers all over the place to have a to be able to keep checking what’s going on in the rest of the writing world. We write alone but it’s great to know we are not really alone. GlimmerTrain Station!

  7. Laura

    This post was an inspiration. I’ve been considering submitting to a literary magazine for a long time, and now I think I am in the process of writing something worthy of being sent out into the world. I love the tips at the end. I’ve bookmarked this post and I’m sure I will come back to it again. Wonderful interview, Joe, and thanks so much Linda for agreeing to share your thoughts!

  8. Robert

    Hey Joe … great interview and thanks for the introduction to Glimmer Train …

  9. Marianne Vest

    Oh I love Glimmer Train!!!! I just saw this. Glimmer Train has a thing you can subscribe to called “Writers Ask”. It’s a bit pricey for the amount of words, pages you get, however it’s money well spent when you see the quality of what you get idea wise. I started reading them in 1991 and have let my subscription slip several times because it seems expensive but I always go back and am glad I did. They are top of the line!

  10. Marianne Vest

    After reading this I want to note that I’ve been rejected by them probably twenty or more times.

  11. Suzie Gallagher

    Came back today to read other people’s reread and edit – cos it said so –
    “And if you share, please keep the com­mu­nity vibrant by com­ment­ing on a few pieces by other writers.”

    Why no one else reworked??? Is there something going on that is way over my head (like most things)?

    Please advise, I mean I don’t mind practicing alone but it would be nice to have the odd person practicing too.

    • Marianne Vest

      Hey Suzie

      I think you did exactly what was asked of us. I know sometimes is gets slow on this board. I’ve been off this week because I twisted my back last weekend and can’t sit in my “typing chair” for long. Also we have the big Memorial Day weekend this weekend so a whole lot of people are vacationing. It’s one of the worst weekends for car accidents in the US. It honors the memory of those lost in war and then more people get killed in wrecks. I think it’s like second in accident prone holidays next to Thanksgiving. Go figure. I’m going to get back here in the next few days or go to the doctor one.

    • Suzie Gallagher

      Hey Marianne, sorry to hear about your back. Every weekend is a bad weekend for accidents on our roads.

      I have read everyone’s rejection slip stories. Never been rejected – but then I have never submitted anything. I have been getting the Glimmertrain email this year but still haven’t summoned up the courage to send anything in.

      You are all so talented and courageous!!!

    • Mhvest

      Thank you Suzie. It gets easier after a few rejections. I just send them in and forget it. I figure mine aren’t the worst thing they see.

  12. Flux Compression

    I recently got accepted to Glimmer Train, and before that was rejected from dozens of places, a half-dozen which rejected the same one Glimmer Train accepted. Never stop trying if you truly believe you’ve got something to add to the conversation.

    • Nora Lester Murad

      Wow! Congratulations!

    • Flux Compression

      Thank you! And I’m not really published anywhere else. Shows you it’s possible!

    • LarryBlumen

      Can you tell us what issue your story is/will be in? I’m sure we would all like to read it.

    • Flux Compression

      I’m not sure which issue yet, sometime next year. The story’s called “Here for Life.”

    • LarryBlumen

      Flux Compression: I subscribe to “Glimmer Train” and I have not seen any story called “Here for Life” appear in those pages for the past year.

      Either I missed it, or the only thing more frustrating than being rejected by “Glimmer Train” is being accepted and waiting for it to be published.

    • gilfilar

      I only just saw this now. The story will be published in next month’s issue, #91. Took this long!

    • LarryBlumen

      Thanks for the reply—I’ll look for it.

    • Joe Bunting

      Nice! Congratulations. How exciting.

    • Mhvest

      That’s impressive. Congratulations

    • Mhvest

      I’ll be looking forward to it. Just out of curiosity. Did you enter a contest or just send a submission? I always wonder if I would have more of a chance of getting in if entered the contests, but there is an entry fee and I hate to pay it (I have but that was years ago and I can see why I didn’t get in). I can’t wait to read it.

    • Flux Compression

      It was a general submission.

  13. Nora Lester Murad

    I’ve been rejected by Glimmer Train twice, but I’m not sorry I submitted. It’s a great opportunity and Glimmer Train does a great service by encouraging new voices.

  14. DanielaDragas

    Oh finally! I am so very grateful to you for this post. My
    own writing journey has been difficult and fraught with many challenges, including
    exile to new and, at the time, unknown language and culture and search for
    identity. In 2009 I met and American author who told me about Glimmer Train. I
    adore this magazine ever since. I admit I submitted some of my short stories
    and they did not make it, but that is fine. Very recently I mustered the courage
    to start blogging which lead me to research other blogs on topics of writings …
    I was left bewildered and worried. So much is out there on topic of literature,
    writing, and all things related (hard sell marketing comes to mind) that I soon
    started to think that the fine literature has died under the avalanche of “build
    a platform, attract audience, make $$$” mantra! This post is my beacon of hope
    for literature as it meant to be; an art form to which you give your life and
    yourself freely and without an agenda. However long it takes.

    Thank you,


  15. LarryBlumen


    “Glimmer Train literary magazine is harder to get into than Harvard.”

    I can testify to the truth of this statement. I was once accepted into Harvard, but I’ve never gotten a glimmer from the Glimmer Sisters.

    I have, however, obtained a measure of satisfaction at their expense in my short piece called “Faking It” which appears in this month’s issue (#57) of The Red Fez:


  16. menear

    Laura called me again last
    night upset with her soon to be ex-husband. This will be her third divorce. I
    blame myself for these failures. When Laura came home to our apartment all
    those years ago, what she saw was me standing in the middle of the living room,
    in the middle of the day, with my pants down around my ankles, and my wang deep
    in Maria’s mouth. Our eyes lock. I am instantly frozen
    like a squirrel that sees that a dog in the park sees them. If I don’t move, I don’t exist.
    I won’t get hurt. Maria, still on her knees, looked
    up and over at Laura with idiotic ambivalence. Still holding my dick in her
    hand like it’s a microphone at a karaoke
    bar. I pushed her away, and pulled up my pants. Buckling up, I look over to see
    that Laura’s face is now like a waning
    candle seeming to melt and fold in upon itself, twisting sadly in shock and
    hurt and horror. The little flickering flame drowns in its own small pool of
    wax. A serpent’s hiss, and then the ragged
    line of oily black smoke rises and falls. I follow after her, at what I hope,
    is a safe distance of a few paces, as she slowly robot-walks to our bedroom.
    Standing in the doorframe, I can only watch numbed-speechless, dumb with my
    shame and disgrace. She opens the window wide, allowing in stale acrid air, and
    the funk and hum, of a downtown Toronto summer.

    The pillows bounced a couple
    of times on the sidewalk, and then came to rest against a parked car. Our
    sheets fluttered sluggishly down like the flags of conquered lands to spread
    out crumpled and defeated over the asphalt and cement. She struggled hard with
    the mattress. I took a step towards her to help, but I am fiercely glared back.
    Groaning against the awkward weight, she pushes and pulls it along the wall
    down the short hall to the top of the steep stairs. I felt a sudden clutching
    sadness, seeing the abstract art of the love-stains we had created secretly together
    about to be revealed to future generations to decipher and wonder at out in the
    shaming sun. Laura stopped and rested her head against the mattress to catch
    her breath and gather strength. She put a shoulder to the heavy beast, heaved
    and launched it down the stairs, and out the front door onto Shuter Street. I
    soon followed, with an unfortunate bounce in my step, springing across the
    mattress to the curb.

    • kimberlydawn

      I am confused about the sudden bounce in the step. Is he happy to be rid of Laura now, does that explain it? Great imagery, I must say!

    • menear

      If you’ve ever walked across a mattress you’d find it rather bouncy.

  17. Prem Rao

    Thanks for sharing. This has inspired me to submit a few short stories to literary magazines. I might even get published in the Glimmer Train some day!

  18. Tyler Lewke

    great idea: Here’s my rework:

    Recovering my recovery… 20 + years
    & still on the brink of relapse.

    It’s 5pm. I’m standing in another airport having not slept
    really in days and they are re-scanning my menacing body for the 3rd time
    because clearly I’m a terrorist.

    I wonder if the bruises from weeks
    of travel will show up on the scan and make them curious about what the hell
    happened to me. The TSA clearance I have and drove 2 hours each way to
    get and waited months for approval on means nothing, obviously.

    This airport is the second to last
    in a long string of airports and delayed flights and basement conference room
    meetings and taxi’s and dragging bags up and down and business casual meals and
    complete abandonment of the comfortable routine’s that assist in my peace and

    My face hurts from smiling and greeting
    new people and being up and nice and engaging when I’m really tired and crabby
    and desperate to be alone.

    My mind is exhausted from chatter
    and ideas and work and what to-dos and what not to-dos and where to start and
    what to achieve.

    More, bigger, faster, better, Go!

    I sprint to the gate, my fancy ass
    shoes killing my feet that were engineered for Birkenstocks.

    The plane is delayed 3 hours.
    Rushed meetings and 4 hours of marathon crazy to arrive here to be in no hurry
    at all. Perfect. It’s not like I need to get home, the dog already bit
    someone and they took him to the pound and the kid watching the dog is now in
    the hospital so what’s the hurry?

    I walk the terminal searching for

    I pass a bar-ish restaurant and am
    so deeply tired I want to go in and just sit down but I keep walking… not from
    willpower of a sense of sanity towards any recovery I’ve achieved but out of
    habit. I’ve made the right choice now longer than I made the wrong ones
    so the default behavior just kicked in and kept my addictions at bay one more

    I go to restaurant after
    restaurant. Vegans are not welcome in the airport.. or people with crazy
    ridiculous food addictions whose bodies turn sugar and carbs into the
    equivalent of a trailer full of meth. I cared about what I ate before
    but I didn’t care today, in fact I couldn’t come up with one reason on the
    planet why I ever cared. Who cares if even one wrong bite turns my entire
    thinking haywire for a solid week or that one drink could lead to a dozen years
    worth of crazy. I wondered if I had any painkillers left over in my
    backpack, that would take the edge off. Who cares that only a month prior
    I sat on the edge of my bed every night for a week warding off insane desire
    for those little pills after just taking one without realizing it.

    I stood in line and told myself I
    had to just get whatever I could find. I needed fuel, any fuel. I
    needed to not feel.

    I searched for what to order— I
    can’t order like normal people. I searched for what to drink.. I can’t
    drink like normal people either.

    It totally sucks to not be normal.

    I searched for how to think, what
    to act like, how to even function. I was at a total loss. Complete engine

    Before the line advanced, I
    surrendered. I couldn’t even binge I was so defeated… even feeding an
    addiction takes energy. I walked back down the terminal and my thinking
    spun out of control. I made it back to the bar that first caught my eye.
    They had a special on pizza and beer and burgers and all the things I
    needed. They had a dark booth in the back corner and I took it. I
    consciously told myself that this was no big deal… that I was in the present
    moment; I was tired and needed to just take care of myself and get thru this
    day.. that everything would be fine tomorrow.. one night won’t hurt anything.
    I sold myself some fancy feel good quotes about insignificance and being
    in the present moment and just living for today…to not take things so
    seriously, to not be attached, just be easy.

    The parts of me that reason, that
    guide me to be aware and awake and live with any semblance of integrity and
    health had evaporated.

    My addiction was now in total

    As I sat rationalizing, not even
    considering my 20+ years on a rigorous path of recovery, I looked across the
    hallway to a chapel room set up for people to go pray.

    The bars and restaurants were
    packed, the chapel empty.

    Before the server came I had
    already found my way over to the chapel and peaked inside. Empty.
    I’m not sure how I got there, the default behavior having navigated me to
    safety yet again.

    I sat down and just looked around
    in a daze. I sat a while listening to the silence.

    It might have been a moment or a
    minute but not much more than that before the parts of me that I’ve worked so
    hard to heal emerged. My practice kicked in and I caught my breath and
    realized what was happening. I assumed the familiar position of complete
    surrender to whatever it is that keeps me sane and healthy and let it fill me
    back up.

    I walked out and found a crappy
    chalk flavored protein bar and an apple and a water and made my way to the
    gate. What had looked like hell moments before looked sparkly and fresh.
    I saw happy people everywhere and moved with ease and peace— experiencing
    exactly what I had been searching for in the first place.

    I called a friend and told them
    what happened, keeping my commitment to reach out. They made some
    ridiculous comment about how I was so lucky, how I was saved from the brink.
    I gently explained what total bullshit that was. I know exactly
    what saved me and if I had relied on luck, I’d be totally screwed.

    What saved was a hell-bent rigorous
    practice of working my program, of showing up even when I don’t want to.

    What saved me was the 487million
    times I drove thru the dark to find a meeting or a meditation even when it was
    the last damn thing I wanted to do.

    What saved me was going to the gym
    and the temple every morning for the last decade and learning to figuring out what
    makes my head clear.

    What saved me was learning to get
    honest with myself and others, to admit my faults and being willing to clean
    shit up constantly.

    What saved me was doing what was
    right and healthy for me so many times that it’s literally become my default—
    the behavior my body resorts to even when my head gets crazy.

    This is why I work this spiritual
    practice… after hundreds or even thousands of times of feeling like it’s all
    worthless and useless and meaningless it swoops in and rescues me in a way
    nothing else can.

    “Keep coming back, it works when
    you work it.”

  19. olanrewaju

    A Rose For The Night
    Oyedele Hammed.B

    SUNDAY, OCTOBER 3RD—7:25am
    At the hotel, The Onion’s Amethyst, Paris. RM 102.
    “I want it warm and cozy.”
    “I also want the shades out and lights off.”
    “You could leave the light against the wall painted nude.”
    “Leave it dim.”
    “I do not want the bed positioned at the window side.”
    “Thanks, that’s all.”
    “Oh wait! The weather man had said its going to rain at night.”
    “So it’s going to be chilly.”
    “Yes… but lit the wood in the grate from the fireplace.”
    “And also, can I get a cream-coloured wallpaper covered with big red roses?”
    “I’m sorry Mr. Payne, am a bit picky. It’s my wedding night.”
    “Which of these duvets will be a killer material? Mr. Payne,” Elaine Raines, the to-be bride questions.”
    “Obviously the crimson red,” said he.
    “Obviously the sheer red,” Mademoiselle Rosalita Pena, a lady from Marseille, also present in the room counters.”
    “How so are the two colours different?” Elaine asked.
    “Crimson red is more adorable.”
    “Well, sheer red is more romantic.”
    “I see, both will look great on the bed, but crimson red is more adorable and sheer red will look more romantic,” said Elaine softly.
    She stroke her hand over her ponytail hair, as she concluded with not much effort to spread the bed with the romantic sheer red duvet.

    Back at the hotel, RM 102, 8:23 pm.
    After the wedding ceremony,
    Elaine Raines, now Anders, laughing as she was wrapped in her husband’s arm, Vince Anders.
    Elaine still in his arms,
    “Wow!” She exclaimed as Vince slams the door locked with a kick.
    Romantically, they both flopped into the bed and then it became cozy.
    After a few minutes,
    He made for the refrigerator. Drink in hand. Vince smiled as he noticed the room had received so much effort, no wonder it looks perfect for the night, he taught.
    Vince seems to be taking much time to get back into action, with an amazing celerity, Elaine began sending across a coquettish smile. Lights out. Bang Bang!



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