What the tense?

 

I’m looking out my window right now and the sun is shining, the sky is blue, there are some puffy white clouds on the horizon…and it’s pouring down rain.  It’s such a strange sight.  Kind of magical.  I like to imagine that it’s somehow intentional.  That it’s nature’s way of tricking us into running outside without an umbrella and getting soaked.

This has nothing to do with my intended post, but I thought it was worth a mention.

On to the point…  As you probably know, if you’ve read any of my previous blog entries, I’m working on a mystery novel.  I’ve written the first small chapter and have since been outlining.  All that is going fine, except for my plot keeps running perpendicular to my tense.

For whatever reason, I chose to write this book in 1st person.  It’s something I’ve never done before.  I went through some of my old writing and I’ve never written in 1st person before.  I chose the perspective because it’s a very intimate story and I thought 1st person would match the tone I’m trying to achieve.  Part of me also wonders if it subconsciously has something to do with all the blogging I’ve been doing.  Who knows.

When I’m writing, everything goes swimmingly.  It’s a very comfortable tense to work in, much like telling a bedtime story to my two spawn; except a bit more graphic.  However, 1st person just so incredibly limiting.  While outlining, I’ll come up with a great idea that I will quickly realize is impossible to show in the 1st person.  Structurally, it’s a much more challenging tense to work in.  In fact, part of me has started resenting 3rd person; looking down on it for it’s sloth.  3rd person doesn’t have to think about how to fit tidbits of information in.  All you have to do is throw it in there.  Is something happening 437 miles away from your protagonist while he happens to chained and dangling over a pool of electric eels?  No problem, you just cut-away and let that plot-building, suspense-creating tidbit be known to the world.  But in 1st person, you’re stuck inside the hero’s head as he wonders how the hell he’s going to keep from being electrocuted eel bait… which is still very interesting, but not so revealing.

I recently finished Child 44 (which I enjoyed immensely) and it was an excellent example of how beneficial 3rd person can be in the mystery genre.  I don’t want to talk too much about it, in case you haven’t read it, but the back story, the secret life of the killer, the ‘surprise’ twist at the end – it would have been impossible to get to any of those places in 1st person.  It would have just been Ex-Agent Leo Demidov running around from clue to clue like a connect-the-dots puzzle.

I’m not about to run off and change tenses or anything – I still believe that 1st person best fits the tone of my story – but man, it’s presenting much more of a challenge than I thought it would.

Published in: on August 30, 2011 at 5:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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Thanks for the Vocabulary Lesson, Mr. Miéville.

Right now I am about 20% through with Perdido Street Station by China Miéville.  I’m not done with the book, so this isn’t going to be a review, exactly.  I’m definitely not going to alert you to any spoilers, so please feel free to read on without fear.

I was looking for something to read after finishing the worst Steinbeck novel of all time, and had a hankering for some Sci-Fi.  Other than Robert Heinlein, I don’t really have any favorite Sci-Fi authors, so I did what I always do when I don’t know what to read next; I Googled “best <insert genre here> novels” and then browsed what I found.

Perdido Street Station was on one of the lists I came across.  It has won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, The British Fantasy Society’s award, The Arthur C. Clarke Award and about 15 others, so I thought I’d give it a try.

It’s not the first time I came across China Miéville.  Ordered The Scar from Amazon about two years ago.  If I’m being honest, it was probably because I liked his name.  It conjured images of an exotic half-Asian, half-French female, both brilliant and beautiful.  The perfect candidate for a literary crush.

No, I didn’t bother to look-up a readily available image on the web.  Yes, I was secretly a bit put-off when the book arrived and the picture on the back was of a muscular, bald, gruff-looking man with a row of earrings in his left-ear and a scowl that I wouldn’t want to bump into in a dark alley.  No, I’m not going to admit that this triviality is why I didn’t read The Scar.  Let’s just say I never got around to it.

So, back to the point of this entry:  Vocabulary.

I have a pretty solid vocabulary.  My spelling is bad and my punctuation is embarrassing, but when I see a word (in English), 9.99 times out of 10 I know what it means.  But before I got to the 2% mark in Perdido Street Station I’d had to look up 15 words.  Here they are, below:

desultory, morbific, chitinous, cacophony (though, I thought I know this one and was right upon looking it up), salubrious, detumescing, outre, epigone, thaumaturge, nascent, carapace, susurrus, transmorgify, expostulate, dusultory.

To be fair, it’s entirely possible that I’m just an idiot and that everyone reading this post knows these words off the top of their heads.  But I’m going to assume I’m not alone here and move forward.

And to continue being fair, a few of these words are scientific in nature, and although I might have learned “chitinous” and “carapace” in high school biology, when we were going over arthropods, I’ve long forgotten them.

However, most of these words could be substituted for more commonly used vocabulary.  For example, “susurrus” means “whispering, murmuring or rustling”.  So, why not just use whispering, murmuring or rustling?  If I want to describe how two characters disagree about something, why not just show the disagreement without adding that they are “expostulating”?  Why say “desultory” when you can just say “erratic”?

Sure, if I want a succinct way to describe a man losing his erection, then “detumescing” is definitely the word for me, but is it really that succinct if the reader has to pause reading, get pulled from the world of the story, so they can look the word up?

So, basically, either Mr. Miéville just happens to have an outstanding vocabulary or his thesaurus is ever by his side and he wants you to think  he’s got an outstanding vocabulary .  Let’s assume the former, because the latter makes him kind of a douche.  Although it doesn’t sound it, I am enjoying the book and thus want to think well of the writer.

For the sake of argument, we’re going to assume that China Miéville won his 5th grade spelling bee and all of those definitions his overbearing dad made him memorize have stayed with him.  Should he, and writers like him, dumb down the vocabulary of a work so it is more accessible to a wider-variety of people? Surely, the folks down in the Marketing dept. would say yes.  But from an artistic viewpoint….

I’m split on the issue.  Part of me thinks that if he wants to throw out “salubrious” when he could use “healthy”, then he should do it.  It’s his book, after all.

And that same part of me is appreciative of of the lesson.  After all, I can now casually use “salubrious” in a sentence and impress my friends.  But should I use it in my writing?

The larger part of me thinks not.  For me, the point of my writing – my ultimate goal – is to draw the reader into the story so they become lost in it.  This is hard to do if the reader has to think “Wait…what does that mean?  I think I know, but I’d better look it up to make sure.”

Surely, there are always going to be obscure words you can use to make your descriptions more specific and clear and it is easy to assume that this would help crystalize the world you are trying to create…but a lot of that clarity is lost if your target audience doesn’t know what your talking about.

Recently, I was reading an old interview that Playboy did with Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut.  Playboy was asking them why they never really described the act of sex in their writing and Joseph Heller said, “…It’s like trying to describe the noise of a subway train. There are people who can do it. Young writers go in for that type of description. But when they’re finished, all they’ve done is described the noise of a subway train coming into a station or pulling out of a station. Is that the noblest objective of a work of fiction? To convince the reader that what you’re writing about is really happening? I don’t think so.”

I’m not saying that he’s right – and in fact I don’t think there is a right or wrong here – but I tend to agree.

I don’t want to take away from Mr. Miéville’s writing or make anyone think he’s a pompous ass.  Really, after I hit the 3% mark in the book, the instances where I had to look up a word subsided to almost nothing.  The guy is a talented writer and I’m quickly becoming a fan.  But, as much as I’m enjoying the book (and I really am enjoying it), for me the first bit of Perdido Street Station was a lesson in what not to do in my own writing.

On the other hand, this guy has published nine books, and that’s nine more than me, so what the hell do I know?

Published in: on August 26, 2011 at 5:27 am  Comments (6)  
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Keeping my fingers crossed

Tuesday morning, I got an email from my buddy letting me know that he’d sent my spec script into his agent.  I spent all that day filled with a nervous giddiness that I haven’t experienced…shit…I don’t want to say “since college” because that can’t really be true – that’s much too sad to be true – but I can’t think of a specific time since then.

Surely, there was the same level of expectation and wonder before the births of both of my daughters, but there was enough horror mixed in that you can’t really put the emotion in the same category.  Horror at knowing you have no idea what you’re doing as a parent.  Horror at knowing you’d be completely helpless if something went wrong.

But this feeling…  remember that feeling when you were sixteen and you had your whole life ahead of you and you could do and be anything?  Yeah…that’s the one.

Please don’t think that I’ve strapped on a pair of rose-colored glasses.   Chances are that nothing will come of this.  I’ve sent scripts, short stories and novels out to agencies before and have gotten nothing but polite refusals.  This case is only slightly different because the script is being passed on directly to an agent by one of his clients, so there is better chance that he will actually read it instead of it getting tossed in the trash by some unpaid assistant that goes through 40 scripts a day.  But even if he reads it, the guy may hate it.  He may get to page 3 and think it’s not worth wasting his time on another page.  He may not read the thing at all.

And even if he does read the thing, and wants to read more, he may not sign me. AND even if he does sign me, 48% of all writer’s guild members are unemployed, so it could be the road to life long poverty.

But still, he might love it.  I could be perfect for a TV show that is just about to start production and will go on to be the most successful show in TV history.   And this agent, could go on to read all the other screenplays and novels that I’ve written and will write in the future and doors will open to me and success will be mine at last.

All day Tuesday I found myself swimming in a fantasy world that started with getting job as a staff writer and ended with me lounging in the cabin of my own leer jet, gazing up at my portable gold plated bookshelf filled with copies of all the novels I’d written and DVDs of all of the movies and TV shows I’d created.

Hope is a pretty amazing thing.  The feeling that maybe, just fucking maybe, your life will turn out the way you’d always dreamed it would…it’s a narcotic.  It’s what keeps me spending my extra hours working on novels that might never see the filtered light of bookstore window.  It’s what makes middle-aged actors bartend and wait tables when they could be in much more stable and high-paying jobs.  That incredible feeling of maybe.

I don’t know, but I imagine that in some ways the hope is almost better than the reality.  I’m sure G.R.R. Martin moans about having to do another reading.  Neil Gaiman probably bitches about taxes and his mortgage.  J.K. Rowling nags her daughter about finishing her homework and complains to her husband about that nasty case of athlete’s foot she just can’t seem to get rid of.

When the dream becomes reality, I’m quite certain that somewhere deep in your psyche you realize that you’re still just one single human, alive for a blink of an eye, living on a spec of dust floating through the infinity of space and that, in the grand scheme of things, your new situation is really no different than your old one.

But, like I said, having not yet achieved my dreams, I don’t know…and I would desperately love to find out.

Published in: on August 25, 2011 at 3:10 am  Comments (4)  
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Review time: The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo

SPOILER ALERT!!!!:

 I am probably going to spoil the shit out of this book, and every other book I ever review, so if you haven’t read that then don’t read this (unless your don’t plan to read that anyway and just love reading irrelevant info. ).

I have heard about The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson for years.  The thing has sold more than 15 million copies; I’d have to be dead to not have heard of it.  However, I’d always avoided it.  For some reason, anything set in Scandinavia brings to mind sparsely furnished apartments, Ingmar Bergman films, bleak month-long nights, thin blondes dressed in black, beatnik mock-turtlenecks reading the Swedish version of Sylvia Plath and eating Lutefisk.

Ok, I’ve never personally tried Lutefisk.  Who I am I to say that jellied fish is disgusting….

The ridiculous thing is that I’ve even BEEN to Scandinavia and know that it is not these things at all, but for whatever reason, when I find out a story takes place above the North Sea, there is a small hurdle that I need to get over before I’m willing to give it a chance: whether it’s Wallandar, Insomnia, or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, part of me walks in not wanting to like the story (and all of the works I mentioned, I like very much).  I know it is probably just some sort of deep seeded prejudice that’s swimming around in my psyche, and I just need to get over myself.  Who knows…maybe my mom  burned me with a hot peice of kladdkaka when I was a toddler and I’ve never gotten over it.

Anyway, I started reading the book last week.  I’m not going to get too much into the plot.  I’ll try to sum it up in a paragraph or so.

Two main characters.

Mikael Blomkvist: a 45 year old journalist who takes a leave of absence from his job as editor of a local magazine when he’s convicted of libel.  He is offered, what seems to be, a very cushy job working on a rich old man’s autobiography for a large amount of money and finds himself wrapped up in a web of murder and deceit that goes back more than 40 years.

Lisbeth Salander: 24 year old, tattoo and piercing laden, socially inept computer hacking and investigatory genius who gets hired to help with Blomkvist’s research (After a bunch of other stuff happens that I’m not going to bother going into).

They snoop.  They get chased.  They do some chasing.  She gets raped.  She does some raping.  He has affairs with his boss.  He has an affair with a potential suspect.  They have an affair with each other.  He gets shot at.  He gets captured.  She saves him.  They catch the bad people.  He likes her.  She falls in love with him.  She decides to tell him.  She sees him with his boss-lover and leaves without telling him shit.  The end.

There it is.   Now you don’t have to bother reading it if you haven’t already

The book starts slowly.  Not trudging through mud slow, but it’s a nice leisurely pace that feels like a stroll in the park.  You’re not too invested yet but it’s still nice and pleasant.   Even the crime that’s being investigated is 40 years old, and nobody in the book really cares about it but this one, lonely old rich man.

Instead of there being a big shocker (like a body in the Louvre with one hand pointing to the Mona Lisa and the other around his tool so he can jerk off all over the reader’s intelligence), the pace in this book just slowly increases.  So, slowly you hardly notice it.  At Mid-afternoon, you’re giving it a casual read and can really take it or leave it.  Around dinner time, you suggest that the kids be allowed to watch a movie while they eat dinner so you can keep reading.  By midnight, you’re beyond caring how late you will be up or how tired you will be the next day because you have to know how this thing ends.

All in all, I give it a 8.1 on the mystery novel scale.  I had guessed who dunnit long before the end, although the way they got there was unexpected.  All in all, it was one of the best structured and most enjoyable mystery novels I’ve read in awhile…and I’ve read quite a few since the book I’m working on now is a mystery of sorts.

Now, a bit about the writer.  I read up on him a bit and was saddened to learn that he dropped dead before this thing ever got published.

Steigg Larsson was an journalist and an activist; and I don’t mean the kind of activist that throws fundraisers and holds a picket sign every now and again.  I mean the kind that goes to Eritrea and helps train a bunch of guerrillas how to use grenade launchers.  He spent a career as a journalist fighting racism and intolerance in his home country and he was a woman’s rights advocate.  He apparently also had a hard time holding down a steady job and stuck mostly to freelance work.  I doubt he had too much scratch stuffed away under his mattress.

There are 3 books in the Millennium series and so far they’ve sold 27 million copies worldwide and the guy dropped dead of a heart attack at 50, after climbing 7 flights of stairs and before seeing the first book published.

I think it sucks that a even a crazy like Van Gogh didn’t get to enjoy some of the fruits of his labor.  The fact that this seemingly stand-up guy didn’t get to take daily money baths in all of dough his books have made is a travesty.  And the fact that the woman he lived with for 30 years (but never married) gets nothing while the guy’s brother and father, whom he barely spoke to, are at home giving each other kroner massages, is almost as sad.  It seems that good people always get the dick.  Thank god I’m a jerk….

In writing news:

There isn’t any.  I did nothing last night but read.  I read 62% of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and 16% of The Girl Who Played with Fire.  I went to bed after 2:00am.  I’m tired.

Tonight I will probably not be writing either.  I have gotten notes back on my spec script from that friend of mine.  Very good notes: Thanks Harwellicus.  So, I will be retooling my Hollywood machine tonight instead of pounding out any towering literary achievements.

P.S.  I guess that negative reference to The DaVinci Code was a bit harsh.  I read it and think it’s an ok book…except for the prose.

Published in: on August 3, 2011 at 8:52 am  Comments (3)  
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Parleying for Some Privacy

I don’t know about any of you other writers out there, but I have to be completely alone when I’m writing.  I don’t mind if there’s noise.  I’m usually listening to music anyway.  I also consider myself “alone” if I’m in a crowded coffeeshop.  As long as there’s no one there that I actually know, I’m all good.

But, as soon as someone I know is there, I can’t stop thinking about them being there.  Obviously, knocks on the door, followed by a “Hey, how’s it going?” drive me batshit crazy.  And the hand on the shoulder and quick look at the screen from behind makes me want to strangle someone.  Even if the person is in the same vicinity as me, doing their own thing and not giving one single shit about me or my writing, its still impossible for me to keep going until they leave.

I realize that this isn’t completely reasonable on my part, but I don’t see it changing any time soon.  My wife focuses so completely on her projects that the entire world shuts down around her.  The house would be on fire and she wouldn’t notice until her hair was ablaze.  This also annoys me sometimes (like when I am trying to talk to her and I know I don’t exist in whatever world she is in) but I wish I had some of that quality.

Now, the rules regarding Hinesy’s writing time were established years ago with Wife, and now she doesn’t even knock on the door if she knows I’m writing… god, that makes me sound like an asshole… but now I have two Spawn that a: don’t like closed doors (which, by the way is also annoying when your trying to either go to the bathroom or get it on) and b: don’t like my attention to be on anything other than them.

So, what can be done in this situation?  I don’t want to yell at my kids to get out.  I don’t want to be somewhere else so I can write.  You never really know when you’re absolutely needed.  Waiting until they’re both asleep isn’t really an option because I’m pretty tired by then too.  For the past two weeks, it’s been a problem because I just don’t have the strength to tell them to get the fuck out and leave me alone (but in a nicer way).   I don’t even want to have that kind of strength.

So, last Thursday I tried something that might have worked.  I sat down with Spawn #1 and we had a talk about books.  She loves books.  I love books.  Let’s take a look about how many pages there are in this book here.

“It’s a lot,” she said.

“Yeah, a lot.  How long do you think it took for someone to write that?”

“I don’t know.”

“What, like a day?”

“No, like a hundred days. A hundred hundred.”

“Probably…  So, did you know that Daddy wants to write books too?”

“No.”

“I do.  Like you want to be in the FBI.”

“I want to draw pictured now.”

“You don’t want to be in the FBI anymore?”

“I want to do both.”

“Ok, you can probably do that.  But, I want to write books.  But if I want to do that for a job, then I have to do it for free first.”

“Why?”

“That’s just the way it works.  Usually the very best jobs, you have to do them for free for a long time before people will pay you for them.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know…I wish you didn’t, but that’s just the way it is….  So, when that door is shut, do you think you could let daddy work?”

It totally didn’t work.  She couldn’t give a damn about my hopes and dreams.  All she knew is that she didn’t get to see her daddy all day long, and then I come home and tell her to leave me alone while I shut myself up in a room and ignore her?  She didn’t actually say “Fuck that,” but I could tell she thought it and I don’t really blame her.

However, one thing she hates more than me wanting to spend time at home writing is me going to work every day.  So, I thought I’d try, “Hey, sweety, you know how you don’t like me having to work?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, one great thing about writing is that you can do it from home.  In fact, you can do it from ANYWHERE.  So, if I am lucky and can become a real writer, I can be home all the time.  And we can live anywhere, like back in America, or back in Taiwan.”

“Near Grandma?”

“Yeah, near Grandma.”

And that was it.  She was out of the room ten seconds later, with the door shut behind her.  And the only sound I heard for the rest of the night was Spawn#2 knocking, followed quickly by Spawn #1 coming over and telling her that she had to stay away from the door.

So…the key to some privacy at home?  The hope of moving near Grandma….  I don’t know how I feel about that exactly, and I doubt it will last long, but I’ll take it for now.

In reading news, according to my Kindle, I’m 29% though with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I’ll give a full review when I’m at 100%, but the preview of my review: I’m liking it.

Published in: on August 1, 2011 at 10:32 am  Comments (2)  
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Hating the player, not the game.

I tried to write this post a couple months ago.  In fact, I DID write it, but as I clicked “publish”, iWeb froze and I lost the whole post.  It was the final straw that made me switch over to WordPress.  I thought I would give it another whirl.

I have a problem separating a work of literature from its writer.  Not so much if the writer has been dead for a sufficient amount of time, but for contemporary  writers, if I don’t like the writer, it effects my view of the work itself.

One excellent example is Jonathan Franzen.  I have been told by three people, whose opinions on books I trust implicitly, that The Corrections is the best thing since sushi but I happen to have seen Franzen in a couple of interviews before picking up his book and now I can’t get more than a couple of pages into the Corrections before setting it aside because I can’t get the guy’s pretentious, better-than-thou, douchey voice out of my head.  I am sure it is as good as I keep hearing, but I’ve started the thing three times now and I just can’t do it; and remember, I’m not a guy who sets books aside once I start them.  The only book, besides The Corrections, that I can remember not finishing is “Ulysses” and I don’t personally know anyone who can get through that one.

The strange thing is, I don’t have the same reaction to artists that use other mediums.  The fact that Axel Rose is an incredible ass doesn’t stop me from listening to Sweet Child of Mine.  From what I’ve read about him, Dali wasn’t really someone I’d want to buddy-up with but it doesn’t stop me from admiring and enjoying his work.  In fact, visual artists, musicians and performing artists, I somewhat expect to be on the crazy, self-absorbed asshole side of life and it won’t stop me from buying their stuff.

Recently I read Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane.  I am a fan of Lehane.  I read and enjoyed all of his Kenzie/Gennaro books, along with two or three of his stand-alone novels.  I’d say he’s one of my favorite crime writers, because his books are an excellent combination of really good prose and a well-structured mystery.  A lot of times you might get one or the other, but to have both is rare.

About two years ago, I was discussing Lehane with a good friend of mine, and he pointed out an article in Entertainment Weekly entitled Done Baby Done.  You can give the article a read if you want, but basically it talks about how shitty his Kenzie/Gennaro books were at how he’d never write another.  In fact he said,  ”I was never comfortable with them anyway. I’d be writing these friggin’ whodunits,” he laughs, getting excited, ”and I could care less. I wanna tell everybody on page 2, he killed so-and-so, he done it! If you look at my books in that regard — and I’ll be 100 percent honest about my flaws — you can see how I was whipping out the kitchen sink just to obscure s—, like the identity of the serial killer or whatever, and that’s why the books got so labyrinthian in the last 100 pages.”

So…I have a bit of a problem with this because it someone belittles the opinion of all of the people that went out and bought those books.  The very people that put him where he is today and made him a very rich man.  But hey, there’s nothing to say that someone can’t go back and look at something they did in the past and judge it to be a giant steaming turd.  I can respect that.  Every artist wants to grow, and in fact he goes on to say, “My publishers, they’ve been clear if I ever wrote one, they’d back a truckful of money onto my driveway, but I don’t want to be the guy who goes back to the well just so I could buy another house.”

So, ok.  No more Kenzie / Gennaro novels.  He’s on to bigger and better things.  But then a few weeks ago I was looking for something to read and came across Moonlight Mile, which just happens to be a new Kenzie / Gennaro novel by Mr. Lehane.  I guess that truckful of money was more attractive than he first thought.  OK.  I can still get over it.  He’s a sell-out.  That’s ok.  Everyone needs a new boat every now and again.  Maybe his wife hit up Neiman Marcus a few times too many and he was in a pinch.  Maybe his kid needed an operation.  Fine.  Everyone needs to get paid.

Now comes the spoilers, so if you have any desire to read this book, then stop reading this blog.

BUT BUT BUT, then the guy turns Patrick Kenzie into spineless tool.  One of the appeals of the character is that he is smart, practical, street savy and a total badass when he needs to be.  But in the end of this book, he finds he just has no stomach for the private eye life anymore and he turns down a lucrative job at a big security firm to go back to school and become a friggin’ jr. high teacher.

Lehane completely emasculated the character of Patrick Kenzie.  It was almost like Lehane hated this character that he created and wanted his readers to feel the same way.  It’s a little like how Doyle turned Sherlock Holmes into a drug addled deviant so his readers to stop wanting to read him.

The thing is, if you don’t like a character, then stop writing him.  But to do it just for the money, when you already have loads, and then to do the character and your readers a disservice by  turning the character into a spineless idiot is a fairly shitty thing to do.  It’s flipping your nose at all the people who made you the success that you are.

I keep hearing that The Given Day is a great read, but now I can’t bring myself to buy it.

Published in: on July 31, 2011 at 9:02 am  Comments (4)  
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