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The Art of Surprise

I think the word “suddenly” is one of the most overused words in the English language. The word has its uses, but it is not as useful a word as many think it is, in my own humble opinion. The word is an adverb, and if you adhere to Stephen King’s writing recommendations, this makes it inherently evil. While I don’t think adverbs are as terrible as Mr. King does, “suddenly” is an adverb that should immediately arouse suspicion.

Why? Because the word is counterproductive. The word “suddenly” is supposed to inform the reader that something is happening very quickly and is coming as a surprise or shock. But by informing the reader of the upcoming surprise, it spoils the surprise. For example: George lay down in his soft bed, lulled quickly into the depths of slumber by the constant chirps of the crickets outside. He dreamt of cake and cherry pie, and danced a merry jig with the lord of the ladybugs. Suddenly, the chirps stopped. George was awake in an instant. In that example, the word functions as a connector. It marks the transition from the soothing world of cricket chirps to the eerie world of silence. It makes the transition more obvious, less subtle, and most importantly for those who use the word, less awkward.

If you remove the “suddenly” from the example, it becomes: George lay down in his soft bed, lulled quickly into the depths of slumber by the constant chirps of the crickets outside. He dreamt of cake and cherry pie, and danced a merry jig with the lord of the ladybugs. The chirps stopped. George was awake in an instant. This doesn’t really work, as without the mark of the transition, we have no real sense of time or when the transition is taking place.

Yet, at the same time, the “suddenly” takes away from the surprise by warning you that you are going to be surprised. It is a red flag that tells the reader that something unexpected is going to happen. As a result, you expect the unexpected, and the impact of the surprise is lessened. So, the question becomes, how can you make the reader genuinely surprised and shocked, but also make the writing flow and make sense?

My own answer to this is the paragraph. Paragraphs mark divisions, but because they can mark a much wider range of divisions than the word “suddenly,” the reader doesn’t necessarily know that something unexpected will happen when they get to the next paragraph. As a result, we get:

George lay down in his soft bed, lulled quickly into the depths of slumber by the constant chirps of the crickets outside. He dreamt of cake and cherry pie, and danced a merry jig with the lord of the ladybugs.

The chirps stopped. George was awake in an instant.

For me, at least, this last example is the most powerful because of the abruptness of the switch. There isn’t a clear warning sign in the form of a connecting word; the surprise and suddenness of the event in question is conveyed by the abrupt writing and George’s reaction; the last example shows instead of tells. And, unlike the second example, the paragraph break allows the reader to differentiate between two flows of time; the status quo described in the first paragraph, and the disruption of that status quo in the second. To me, an abrupt breaking of the status quo, with no connecting words but a clear differentiation between two moments in time, is the best way to express surprise.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2014 in Writing

 

New Projects!

It’s been a little bit since I’ve posted here, but this time I’ve actually been getting some writing done! I’ve finished rough drafts of two new short stories, “Wings” and “Bedtime,” and I’ve been working on another called “The Passing.” “Wings” was the result of a prompt an apartment-mate at university gave me (“buffalo angel wings”), and turned into a very open-ended story about fallen angels, hungry giants, memory loss, and the malleability of reality. “Bedtime” is very short, about 500-word piece exploring what happens if there really is a monster under the bed. I’m currently editing and revising these pieces, and hopefully will be submitting them to be published in as-of-yet-to-be-determined places. The piece I’m currently working on, “The Passing,” was inspired by this scene from Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated, an SB incarnation I have very mixed feelings about. It involves an interdimensional being “passing” through someone’s home in the middle of the night, and interacting with the homeowner in a variety of unsettling ways that drive him to insanity.

Those short stories aside, I have two other projects currently in development. The first is another free online serial novel, in the vein of the dead Astral Tide, but this time with just myself writing. It does, however, borrow heavily from many of the themes present in the earlier work. Beginning June 9th, every Monday I will post a 500-2000 word chapter in the story, which is what I call a “post-Lovecraftian” tale, mixing science fiction, horror, and fantasy in a post-apocalyptic setting in which Lovecraftian monsters have awoken on earth. The setting borrows heavily from the Cthulhu Mythos, and will feature characters and beasts from Lovecraft’s works very prominently. For those of you who are interested, I will direct you to The Eldritch Wastes, where you can read more about it and dive into the short preludes I have been putting up. I encourage you all to check it out!

The other project I’ve been working on is another new short novel-length piece. I got bitten by a really bad plot bunny a few days back, and I’ve been plotting like crazy. The current working title of the piece is Moons Over Sothenheim, and I am aiming for a 50-75 thousand word novel in which capitalism meets Lovecraft. It begins as a science fiction dystopian novel taking place about three hundred years in the future, and follows the troubles of a young woman trying to survive in a Darwinist universe, but over the course of the novel she winds up mining on one of the moons of the frontier planet Sothenheim, where something beyond human comprehension is being exploited by leaders of industry, threatening all human life. In order to ensure that I finish this project (hopefully by the end of this summer, fingers crossed), I will attempt to write the whole first draft in the month of June, in the form of my own Camp NaNoWriMo, complete with weekly updates. So, stay tuned for all of this, and I’ll be back soon!

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2014 in Writing

 

NaNoWriMo and Sundering Stars

Hello everyone! Sorry this post has been so long in coming, but as always, I have been super busy. However, I hold no illusions of that being an excuse. However, I’ve been writing, and this time I’ve been writing substantially! Why, do you ask? NaNoWriMo, that’s why! Yes, for the fifth year in a row, I will be attempting to write 50,000 words in one month! I have so far succeeded every preceding year, producing The Loneliness of Stars in 2009, The Libel of Blood in 2010, and the first parts of the first drafts of The Divine Madness of Kings and A Deadly Dance in 2011 and 2012, respectively. This year, I am continuing on my first major work (read: novel) not set in the Juxian Mythos: Sundering Stars. I already had a little over 4,000 words of it written before NaNoWriMo began on November 1, and I would be extremely surprised if the novel ended at 50,000 words. So, my goal is not to finish the novel, but add 50,000 words to it. So far, at the beginning of Day 10, I have written 15,526 words, putting me right on track (added to what I’ve already written, that puts the novel at 20,96 words).

So, you ask, what is Sundering Stars about? Well, it’s loosely based around the background for an online forum game I was once designing, to ease the hole in my heart when I resigned from my position at another online forum game I had created. The project didn’t get off the ground, but I didn’t want to abandon my ideas and work; and so, the novel began.

Sundering Stars is about many things, and will likely morph into at least a trilogy (currently am toying with the titles Sundering StarsDestroying Worlds, and Constructing Gods as possible titles). At its very core, the novel is about humanity’s first encounter with alien life-forms – the Draukan, who are extremely hostile, and nearly wipe humanity off the face of the universe. Despite the Draukan’s vast technological superiority and enormous resource collection potential due to their vast empire, humanity managed to hold them off and push them back. The novel begins after the end of the first Draukan war, with humanity dreading the Draukan’s return.

Thematically, the novel will deal with ideas of eugenics, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, genocide, transsexuality, dualism, gender roles, cultural barriers, revolution, social control, social cohesion, social and individual evolution, and godhood. In a way, I view a lot of the novel as being “hard social science fiction,” and will be drawing upon a lot of social theories I’m picking up in my training as a sociologist.

I am really excited about this project not just because all of these deep themes, but because of the characters I have created, who I am very fond of. There are multiple main characters, whose storylines converge over the course of the novel. There is a high-powered politician striving to ensure that the Republic of Man remains united, a decorated war hero who helped win the Draukan War, a perverted and genius professor of xenobiology, a poor, two unemployed people experiencing the cruelties of poverty and intolerance, an unnamed human enslaved by the Draukan and seeking a deeper meaning in his imprisonment, a sophisticated, rich businesswoman, and an astrophysicist with a dark secret.

For your reading enjoyment, I have attached part of the novel below, wherein the admiral and war hero is escorting a diplomatic envoy to treat with the Draukan. Enjoy!

***

“We cannot yet track their h-space movements, no,” Avos murmured. “Jumping out practically on top of the Illuminator was either a huge risk or a great testament of skill. On their part.”

“Or perhaps both,” Lori murmured. “The Draukan have opened up a comm channel. Non-psy. Breaking into it now… and broadcasting.”

The bridge was suddenly filled with a horrible, guttural, grating voice. It took the listeners a few moments to sort through the sounds and realize that it was speaking in English.

Speak your piece now.

After a moment’s pause, Arkanian replied. “Greetings, ambassador. This is our third attempt to initiate a meaningful dialogue with you. It does neither of our peoples any good to remain in a state of constant war. It drains resources and strains the psychology of both our peoples. Both of our empires could expand culturally and technologically if we formalize a ceasefire. There is no need for us to fight; the universe is enormous. We don’t need to be in each other’s way.”

War is eternal.” The reply was almost instant, and it sounded even more scornful than its first utterance.

“But it does not have to be,” Arkanian said. “Think of how much better things would be if we weren’t fighting!”

War is progress. Conflict is the future.

“All right then,” Arkanian said. “What if we lay out our borders then? Then our conflicts will have a clear context.”

Borders are meaningless. Conflict is its own context.

“And cooperation? What about cooperation?”

Cooperation furthers conflict.

Lori snorted. “What the hell is it talking about?”

“Cooperation to a Draukan is done merely in order to strengthen one’s own position vis-a-vis others. It facilitates conflict on a larger scale. For example, all Draukan cooperating with each other facilitates more efficient and larger conflict with mankind.”

“So without an external foe would the Draukan cooperate?”

Avos’ lip twitched. “Who knows.”

“What do your people gain from this constant war?” Arkanian continued, unable to hear Lori and Avos’ discussion.

Strength. Evolution.”

Avos nodded to himself. “They’re obsessed.”

“Hm?” Lori said.

“With evolution. Hyper-Darwinist.”

“But cooperation brings strength too!” Arkanian said. “What if mankind and Draukan were to combine forces? Think of the strength we would have! None could stand in our way!”

“Good argument,” Avos said. “But they won’t buy it.”

You could make us stronger, but you would hinder evolution. Mankind would become a crutch. We cannot cooperate.

“Fine. Then can we at least formalize something? Some set of rules for war? A line that cannot be crossed?”

All lines can be crossed.”

***

(c) 2013 Zachary Wilmot

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2013 in Writing

 

Universe, Plot, Characters, and Inspiration

As I embarked on my newest (new) project, Sundering Stars, I started to think a lot about what got me excited about writing and what inspired me to actually sit down and get things down. One does not need inspiration to write, but it certainly is more fun and often more rewarding when you are writing and feel inspired.

Recently, I haven’t been writing (see my previous post, Excuses, for a semi-coherent rambling on that subject). I have no one to blame but myself, as I kept making excuses for why I wasn’t writing because I never felt inspired to write. What has, of late, gotten me back into writing is actually being truly excited about a new project.

What makes this new project different from my old WIP’s (which I by no means will abandon) is that my source of excitement and inspiration is different. With all of my Juxian tales (save Tal’kan, which is a special case) including The Divine Madness of KIngsZigguratsBeneath, and A Deadly Dance, the inspiration and drive to write the novels was based on their shared universe, the Juxian mythos. My Juxian mythos is insanely detailed and I absolutely love it, but I realized over the past few weeks that I was trying to write these novels based on nothing more than the universe. No matter how detailed or well-thought out a universe is, it is never enough to base an entire novel on (a short story, perhaps). What these Juxian novels needed was something of substance; characters and plot. A universe is, in the end, often little more than the backdrop of the story.

What makes Sundering Stars different is that I was not inspired initially by the universe, as my Juxian stories all are. It was the characters which made me want to write, in particular the “female lead” Maria Holstead, who is in my outlines shaping up to be one of my most interesting characters ever. Following the characters came a vague concept of a plot, and (gasp) literary themes! The universe is something I’m borrowing from a forum game I started writing rules for but never got off the ground (which goes by the same title that the project currently does). Unlike my normal approach, the universe is secondary.

This is all revolutionary to me, and I have spent a while developing the world of Sundering Stars now, but for the first time I am motivated by characters and plot. This has gotten me out of my Juxian rut and started writing again. This leads me to the conclusion (that I am sure you other writers have long realized) that characters and plot are the driving force behind any good work, not the world. My Juxian novels were always about characters exploring the world I had created. Sundering Stars will be more about the world exploring the characters.

Now that I’ve had this epiphany, I hope I can keep up the momentum, and after Sundering Stars I hope to return to Tal’kan, which is a character and plot driven story only partially set against the Juxian mythos. It will take me a while to get used to this new character-focused mindset; I am much more comfortable with universe creation!

What aspect of writing drives your motivation? What aspect inspires you most? Character? Plot? Universe? Llamas?

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Writing

 

Excuses

Hello everyone; it’s been a long while. I’d like to say that there was a good reason for my (very) extended leave of absence, but there really isn’t. Over the past year, I’ve mostly had my head down in my undergraduate thesis, and once that finished in May, I spent the summer preparing for my upcoming doctoral program in sociology. I’ve always found it difficult to write when I am stressed or otherwise preoccupied by other things that need doing; it’s my greatest flaw.

So, while I’ve gotten some writing done, it hasn’t been nearly enough, and I began to doubt if I really want to be a writer. After a long period of soul-searching, I decided I still do want to be a writer, but also many other things. A writer is not an all-exclusive thing to be, and I’ve been in the mindset that it should be for a long time, which has been making it hard for me to get the motivation to actually write something. As I worried about and prepared for my doctoral program, I felt like I was betraying myself. Now, however, I have come to terms with my probably future as a writer and a sociologist, and I will do both.

So, I have no excuses for my lack of updates, or my lack of writing. I hope to fix both in the upcoming months, assuming my program will give me the time (and if not, I’ll do my best to make time). I will stop making excuses to not write (oh, I’m too stressed to write well! Oh, I don’t feel like it. Oh, I’m not a real writer so why bother?). I will just start writing again.

Part of my problem with regards to writing of late, other than the excuse-making and stress, has been a lack of inspiration. Inspiration is by no means necessary to start writing, but I’ve been less than inspired by my stories as of late. As such, until I can get fully involved with them again, I am starting a new project that I am very, very excited about. I am leaving the world of the Juxian Mythos – spending so much time in that universe I was beginning to find stifling and was hampering my creativity (though I still love it and will return to it many times) – to instead work on a science fiction novel (or maybe more than one depending on length) tentatively titled Sundering Stars.

The planned novel will deal with themes of genocide, humanity, auto-evolution, alien life, and godhood. It might be a bit ambitious for one such as myself, but I’m going to give it my best! Wish me luck, and I hope to soon be updating both this blog (and EsoTarot eventually) more often, starting with my thoughts on Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders and more about inspiration and Sundering Stars.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Personal, Writing

 

Back in Business!

Hello dear readers, did you think I had forgotten you? Have you spent the past few months escaping from the sorrow and misery that had descended upon you as a result of my absence? Fear not, for I have returned from my journeys!

The last semester at university was riddled with all sorts of stress and work and assorted problems, and as such I got very little writing done (though I did write some!) and haven’t had the time or energy to really put up an effective blog post. Now, however, I have graduated with a B.A. in History and Sociology, and I’m taking this summer largely off. I hope to use it to get seriously back into writing and to establish a schedule! Of course, come fall I will be beginning my doctoral program in Sociology at Brown University, so we’ll see how that affects my writing then. But for now, I have returned!

My first order of business was to make myself promise to stop starting new projects. I will finish all of my WIP’s first! There is quite a lengthy list of WIP’s, but in order of priority (at the moment) they are:

Ziggurats (Juxian Mythos academic expedition gone very wrong)

Beneath (Juxian Mythos induction ceremony gone very wrong)

Tal’kan (Juxian Mythos Techno-space druids!)

The Divine Madness of Kings (Juxian Mythos direct sequel to the Jakken Trilogy)

People of the Storm

…and then everything else. I have largely decided to ignore what I wrote for A Deadly Dance, as I really don’t like how it came out. Similarly, The Divine Madness of Kings will be seriously reworked and expanded upon. I will also continue to work on short stories in between these larger WIP’s; right now I’ve been working on one called “Wings,” based on a prompt a friend gave to me.

I will not go away this time, and will return to EsoTarot soon as well! Ta-ta for now!

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2013 in Writing

 

Me, Checking In

Hello! It’s been a while since I’ve written here in my own voice. It’s been a busy month, but NaNoWriMo 2012 is finally over, and I managed to pull off a victory after writing 9,000 words in the last 24 hours (one stretch of 5,000 in three hours and then 4,000 in two). A lot of the writing in that particular work, A Deadly Dance, is not up to my desired standard, and it will undergo very extensive revision! I like how it’s shaping up, however, even if it might end up turning into another trilogy. We’ll see what happens!

In other news, I am discontinuing my writing of Goodman’s Diary, because I have lost all will to write it and it became a chore, not to mention I don’t think many people were reading it. Sorry about that!

So then, my plans for the future, you ask? First, I am going to survive this semester. Second, I am devoting a fair bit of time to developing two games: a Lovecraftian board game called Eldritch, and a spaceship tabletop battlegame (that I am working on with an apartment-mate) that currently has no name. On top of that, I’m going to keep working on A Deadly Dance and get back to working on Beneath as well. Finishing those two Works in Progress are my top priority right now.

And after that? More works in progress to finish! I will probably turn back to finishing my Tal’kan duology next, and after that go back to The Divine Madness of Kings. In the extremely likely chance that by next NaNoWriMo I haven’t finished these, I will work on them instead of a new novel.

So, here’s to writing!

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Writing

 

Slave to My Muse

Before I got into the headlong flight of NaNo, I wanted to share my thoughts about my muse. I am currently not on speaking terms with her (or him; I don’t know which it is) at the moment, as when I most needed to catch up on schoolwork, my muse decided to, after having been absent for two months, come back with a vengeance, and force me not only to delay my catch-up work, but to force me to work on a completely new project unrelated to the things I wanted to do! I was forced to sit back and watch, in an almost out of body experience, as my muse grabbed my limbs and force me to create, of all things, a board game based on H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, in which you play as a semi-Lovecraftian protagonist seeking to summon the Great Old Ones to rule the world!

The good news is, the first playtest went well, and was addictive and loads of fun. When I have a more final version, I might put it up here for download!

The point of my mini-rant, though, is that muses can be fickle. Mine is. I also am a slave to it; I cannot direct it. It goes where it wants and does what it wants, and I have no choice to follow, no matter my circumstances. It can be rather annoying.

That is all for now. Onward and forward!

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Philosophical Musings, Writing

 

National Novel Writing Month 2012!

Hello everyone! I’ve been remarkably silent on this blog recently (even with my Goodman’s Diary entries), and for that I apologize. I served on a 3-day jury case and got sick, so fell very behind on my university coursework and thesis. I am mostly caught up now, though, and as a reward I get to plunge into a month of writing 1,667 words a day: or a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, or the month of November. This is the world of NaNoWriMo!

I was originally going to work on a WIP that was shelved for a long time – People of the Storm – but at the last second (about an hour before November 1, when the event begins), I decided to change my novel to A Deadly Dance, a story about conflicting empires, the futility of war, capitalism and communism, individualism and collectivism, and an insane madman who, in The Libel of Blood, is known as Roland van der Tyke. The villain from my third novel’s backstory is the main subject of this novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how he turned into the monster he did!

Wish me luck, in I goooooooo!

*splash*

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Writing

 

The Next Big Thing

I have emerged from the university library, where I have spent my days and nights toiling over an undergraduate honors thesis on medieval Iranian ideology, for a brief period of time in response to one Thomas James Brown, a great horror and speculative author and amazing person, who was kind enough to tag me in a post, asking me to spend some time discussing my current work in progress. I highly recommend checking out his post on his own WIP, Lynnwood.

Of course, I ran into a problem as soon as I decided to make my own post: I have multiple WIPs. I have part one of scifi/fantasy fusion duology (Tal’kan), a story about the rise of a king in the distant future (The Divine Madness of Kings), and one about an investigator-turned-ambassador-turned-illegal investigator on an alien planet (Beneath). So my first problem was choosing which WIP to write about. In the end, I chose my most active WIP, Beneath.

1. What is the working title of your book?

Beneath. It will likely be the final title, too, as the entire novel revolves around secrets hidden beneath a glossy surface: the depravity behind a great culture, the knowledge behind a mystic order, and the evil beneath a planet’s surface. The main character’s goals in the novel (though he might not know it yet!) are to rip away the shiny exterior and reveal what lies beneath it.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

This book is part of my larger universe, the “Juxian Mythos;” it’main character is also a secondary character in The Divine Madness of Kings. I have created a detailed timeline of the history of this universe, and there was one specific entry in said timeline that just briefly touches on a powerful figure destroying an ancient evil. As I was browsing through said timeline, I came across that brief entry and wondered at what cost was that ancient evil defeated? Could the debt to whatever power allowed that evil to be defeated ever be paid back? From those questions, the idea for Beneath was born. It takes place long, long after this evil was defeated, but will deal with an outsider slowly discovering exactly what it cost a certain civilization to drive out the evil, and how it still plays a role in that society, just beneath the surface.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Horror in a science fiction universe. The plot is Lovecraftian in the extreme, but the setting is a very detailed space opera. There are elements of high fantasy in the work as well, as embodied in the conflict between an ancient evil and a cosmic good, but the lines between the two have blurred over time, and the focus of the novel is on the horror of the past and the disturbing price of victory.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t know many actors, but were I to choose one for the main character, Russell Hicks, I would have to go with Ben Browder or Peter Jurasik; they have both played characters similar to the intriguing Mr. Hicks, who is really a combination of John Crichton from Farscape and Londo Mollari from Babylon 5, with a bit of Sherlock Holmes thrown in there. Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee would probably find their way into it as Elfviyat (the alien civilization in question) as well.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Ex-private investigator, now an ambassador for the Kingdom of Man, is sent on a routine diplomatic mission to the heart of the ancient Elfviyat Empire, but once his old investigative instincts kick in, he realizes that the grandeur of the Elfviyat is not all that it seems…

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published! I am a huge fan of self-publishing, and at this point have little interest in traditional publishing; I enjoy having full control over all aspects of my work.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

What first draft? I’m still working on it! It’s been about eight months so far, though.

 8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

H. P. Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness or Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos. The first has the same atmosphere of horror, and the second has the same themes of secrets hiding beneath the surface.

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I’m not sure. I was choosing between three possible new projects, put a poll up on my website, and this idea sounded the most intriguing to the respondents! That’s the best answer I have.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The universe and background is extraordinarily detailed, and like all Juxian Mythos novels, it will have an extensive appendix! The clash of cultures on this book would be of interest to anyone with a remote interest in anthropology or sociology, and the structure of different alien cultures might also prove interesting to a reader. Anyone who loves Lovecraftian monsters would also not be disappointed with this book; Lovecraft’s hand is very easily seen. Other than that, an atmosphere of dread and, of course, a mystery plot also might intrigue a reader!

 

I would nominate others for this, but I have never been really comfortable doing so, so everyone who reads this is nominated! Hopefully I can find more time to be active in the future!

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in Writing