Nothing is Genre Specific

To continue from where I left off last week – I’m sure that there are unbelievers out there. Especially those critics who never considered Science Fiction literature.  To me this is pure snobbishness. We all have our favorites, and as authors we had better be writing within the genres of our personal favorites. So what do I mean when I say, Nothing is Genre Specific? It is simply that prose, the story, those words written on the page are just that. And whether we are looking at The Death World Trilogy by Harry Harrison, or The Great Gatsby, we need to look at what the story is about, and not necessarily the genre it is written in.

First off, most are on the human condition, whether it is covering an individual, or a civilization, or anything and everything in-between. And as I stated in an earlier post, if we were to take any story out there, any one whether it is a tragedy or a comedy, or all that lie between, it comes down to one word that describes it. This one word can be the descriptor period, and no others are needed or necessary. And this word is Survival. Why this word? Because when you really look at any story the protagonist or even the antagonist is trying to survive – period.

Before I create an example of where I’m going with this opinion, suggestion or idea, I want to qualify this by stating that when an action scene is created it should be at least 3 pages long. With the page length averaging 320 words per page means that we are looking at a minimum of 1000 words. So this paragraph, which ties to no story that I’ve written, but has happened in many stories, belongs nowhere. And because it is a fragment in time and space it can only give part of what actually could be happening. No back story, no direction or future from here after the event described below. I use this example and will demonstrate changes in genres by simply changing the window dressing, or certain words. So, you critics out there take this to heart, leave your pride behind you, and do what you are supposed to do. Look at the story and leave it at that.

He had been trailing the party, well not party, since he was the most recent recruit, joining this rag-tag army. And as such had been ordered to remain in the rear. He’d been riding his (steed, scooter, cycle, air speeder) and had some trouble which had caused him to fall further behind. Maybe it was providence that such had happened. They were high in the (mountains, lunar hills, Martian mountains, steppes) when the overwhelming surprise attack came without warning – their (armor, shields, flak vests, combat environmental suits) was (were) inadequate. He watched from hiding as the attackers used their (laser pistols, swords, bows, throwing sticks, small arms) to immediately overwhelm the small patrol. There was nothing he could have done other than die like the rest, and in a panic headed back down the (mountain trails, dirt road, pavement) trying to get away from that scene of death and destruction. With fear riding high he had no idea where he was going, and with thoughts of his loved ones flashing through his mind he wondered if he would ever see them again.

Not bad for an early or first draft. But as any writer will tell you it needs work. But that’s not the point, or what this is all about. And as you look at the enclosed words, and I’m sure that there are other places within this short paragraph where others could be added, each different word actually changes the era of the story. Not only that but location, conditions that surround the protagonist, and what may have been used in the ambush. The point is, simply stated, we end up with a number of different genres by simply changing a few words. This would have worked as a historical novel, one that dealt with the underground during the major wars, would have worked in medieval times, and definitely would be a candidate for science fiction.

Again, what has been pointed out to me as a writer, is conflict – it is what drives a story, the characters, the world. It is the engine that makes the story move. And no it doesn’t necessarily have to be physical as in the above example, since conflict deals with those mental arguments that all of us have with ourselves. The genres are the window dressing that creates the backdrop to those actions. Drop or change that window dressing and we change the genre – not the story. The story remains the same, the actors may be wearing different clothes or costumes but that doesn’t change the conflict, the clashes, the dilemmas that are presented throughout the narrative. Only the way of looking at the overall presentation changes the feel, the world, the system within that world. Changing those few words will and does change the genre.

Each genre adds its special color, flavor, or as I have been calling it, the window dressing to the story to make it its own. The atmosphere, the societies, the movement, and even the way the story flows are the differences. Yet, if you boil it down to the bare elements it is the written word inside of that window dressing that sucks us in, makes us want to keep turning those pages. And since all of us are drawn to particular genres because of who we are, there will always be such, and there is nothing wrong with that. It shows the differences between all of us, and at the same time similarities. Because once the story is stripped of that window dressing, it becomes universal lying across all genres and one to all.

* * *

And this is my view, my thoughts, my opinion on this subject. If I’ve explained it well enough then you as the reader should be able to see it too. So as you read your favorite author, your favorite genre, and are deeply immersed in the story, take a moment and consider that it is that well written prose that draws you ever deeper in and not necessarily that favorite genre. We’ve all picked up books and stories that we have anticipated as a good read only to be disappointed. Is the genre at fault or the author? Again I leave you to decide, since the answer is personal anyway. Have a great week and I hope to see you here next Saturday. (fdbrant.com)

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Science Fiction, and Other Genres – What are They?

Personal thoughts and comparisons:

In reality they (genres) are the window dressing for a standard story you’ll find within any book. In a sense we could carry this further and say stories written are about the interactions of the characters in the story, and what and how it transpires determines the genre. Meaning that by changing this window dressing (genre) we can move any story to any genre at any time. So if we look at the mysteries or crimes that are solved in the Robot series by Asimov, it would easy to move these to the hard-hitting detective series written in the 40’s that were so popular, with R. Daneel becoming a different sidekick. Or if we were to look at the Honor Harrington series by Weber, we could change this to reflect the historical novels that dealt with war and intrigue of the times leading up to and into the great wars.

One of the things that makes many in “the know”, turn their noses up to the science fiction genre is the fact that they see it as a cop-out using tricks of an unknown future to solve issues within a story. But in truth this isn’t necessarily the case at all. While it is the circumstances that drives the story, it is the window dressing that places it in a particular genre. If we think about it, we today use our own technology and don’t think twice about it, or even think about how it works. Only that it does – well most of the time anyway. And so it is in any of the stories that we read. If one really thought about it, it would seem strange if a character, within the fictional world created by an author, should begin performing acts outside of the history or period that is that world.  Once this happens the immersion would fail as would the story. To continue from this point, make a change of direction, and explain what I mean, all we have to do is simply make a few minor changes to that story or any story to move it from the present genre to a different one.

In other words, we could take that warp drive as the space travelers move through space to explore, and change the mode of transportation to horses and wagons and there you have it. We now have a western. But wait there’s more! By changing it to automobiles and such we could be exploring the vast reaches of this world, and simply by making these changes, the speech used, and the environment of the world or worlds we have now simply and quite easily changed genres. Again, it’s that same basic story that’s been told across the centuries, and will continue to be told until we are no more.

Write a brief or short story devoid of the environment and then one could easily insert the window dressing at this point and the same story now spans across all the existing genres. But back to one of the original subjects for a moment – what makes science fiction, well science fiction? Supposedly it is based on projections of where science could be going – speculation for want of a better word. It doesn’t necessarily reflect what the future will hold but it is surprising how close many of the writers of science fiction have accurately predicted this future, which is our present.

While not all stories are of a positive nature, in a sense all science fiction is positive (and I’ve stated this in an earlier blog post). Since it reflects, even when we deal with the negative subjects that are presented in such books as, 1984, or A Brave New World, or the positive future that the Star Trek universe seems to reflect, it all comes down to the fact that we as a species survived our youth and have expanded outward. Even in stories where we have alien races that are far ahead of us technologically as in the Star Carrier series, we find ourselves triumphing and overcoming those impossible odds.

So if we want to look at this genre honestly, this particular window dressing, and realize that almost all of the stories written within this genre could be written in any, then it really comes down to a way to project a view of the future, depending on trends of today, and seeing how these particular trends and inventions might go well into that unknown future. Interestingly enough as one reads across the many authors of this genre one can find almost infinite views of what the future could hold. And in many cases the stories explain how we came to this point in our future. Infinite futures for sure, and that’s because at any point in time the future is unwritten, unknown, and while some ideas of what it might be does come forth, truthfully this or any future hasn’t arrived yet.

To be honest, it’s far easier to project well into the future because there’s really no way for any of us to live long enough to know if this or that particular view or future is really accurate. Yet some writers do and did take a chance of writing about the near future, and again it is surprising how close they came. They may have had the year wrong, but that is minor in the overall scheme of things.

And since science fiction deals with future events, what transpires doesn’t even require advanced technology to make it so. If it deals with the future, then this automatically makes it this genre. So if we are dealing with a post-apocalyptic world where mankind is starting over, not having any of the technology of today, let alone anything of what the future might give us, then it still qualifies (the Mad Max movies comes to mind).

In fact my unreleased Discovery series (3 books at this time) deals with that very situation. If we were to look at their technology level (in this series) it would be somewhere between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Placing this at the end of the horse and buggy era, and heading towards the beginnings of the industrial revolution. In truth we have no idea or no way of knowing if our civilization has ever been destroyed, or if it had how many times we’ve had to start over. One thing is known for sure is that there is a great possibility that we would be much further along than we are presently if that great library of knowledge in Alexandra hadn’t been destroyed by fire.

One of the things we always hope is that with the advances in tech that our world will become better. There’s only one problem with these hopes and thoughts and it is us. If we were able to look back into all history how would we see ourselves? Or better yet, how did we act? I suspect that much that has existed within man’s heart, his motivations, his selfishness, his needs, the want of power and control, and such are still with us. And unfortunately little has changed since our beginnings. It may be dressed up, be a little more sophisticated, but wipe that away that sophistication and you find the same wants, desires, needs, and selfishness.

And this is what pushes the conflict in our stories universally across all the genres – every last one. And it has a universality that goes across all time. From deep into the past to our present, spanning all time including that unwritten future. Change the language to something modern and those old writings would seem fresh and new. Same themes, same weaknesses, same heroes and villains.

Personally, I write mostly in this genre – the genre of Science Fiction. And because I am only one of many, my view of the future is, well, my view. And in truth I will not live to see if my vision is accurate or not. But hey, it’s no fun unless one tries.

* * *

And while on this subject I’ll attempt next week to prove this to you. No I’m not going to present a book or a series of books. So if I’ve piqued your interest I’ll see you here next week. Have a great week – God Bless. (fdbrant.com)

Family Traditions

Other than blood and the fact that every family member must live, albeit imperfectly, with each other through the years of growing up, what is it that makes us wax nostalgically in the remembrances of our past within the family? One of the things, I would say, is family traditions. And some of these traditions are developed long after the children have gone their separate ways and to their own families.

It’s not that there aren’t any developed or observed during the time of growing up, because there are. Yet, because of the very fact that everything is up close and personal, and it is where you’ve always lived, one doesn’t necessarily consider how the family lives as different, or that something that we do is a tradition. It is only after the time where one is able to spend those nights at a friend’s home that we begin to realize that there are other ways of doing things, other ways of dealing with issues within a family, and different views and thoughts out there. And for the first time one is shown that the way that they have always did, observed, and thought about things are not necessarily the only way it can be done.

Our horizons are expanded, and from here they continue to expand. Out into the world we begin to explore beyond the narrowness that we always knew. It’s not that any of this early time is bad, in fact it is just the opposite. We all need a place where things are consistent, a place to test our position in the order of things, a place to begin to develop that confidence that allows us to tackle the world outside of home, a place that allows us to grow and become us. In other words, a place with boundaries, or borders that give us the limits that must be there for our personal growth. And, of course, during those early years of life, protection.

Yet, it isn’t the day-to-day things that we remember. It’s those family get-togethers, the holidays, the birthday parties, the trips to places we’ve never been. Even though we were bored to tears on those trips because there was very little to do while our parents drove to that special destination. The phrase, “Are we there yet?”, comes to mind immediately. And there has been many skits, cartoons, and such reflecting that very question and situation. And while the routes to these special places are the same for everyone, what transpires within those many vehicles while similar are unique to each family.

Even summer vacations can become a family tradition if they are performed each and every year until you are no longer a part of the immediate family. And many times we find that after becoming part of our own family that we have a tendency to carry on those same traditions that we were surrounded by in our youth. Again, is such a bad thing? No not at all. Many times one can look back and see that a particular tradition goes far back into the family history. Others were brought into the family from members who joined bringing their family traditions with them. And  when combining these traditions from the different families into a cohesive whole it makes them appear to have always been there.

In a sense this is what transpired with my family, and became a family tradition while originally not being such (At least on my side. I do not know if my siblings carry this one on or not.). And, in truth, what was brought in wasn’t part of my wife’s family traditions either. She saw something that triggered an idea. And that idea has become a tradition within this family. For you adults out there, can you remember when your parents turned 40? I know that 40 seemed to be quite old. Of course for me it was almost 25 years ago when I reached that milestone (Where did the time go?). I know that I was 16 at the time it happened to my parents.

With the help of my parents, who whole heartily joined in, thusly starting the tradition, they set out to create a surprise party celebrating reaching the ripe old age of 40. Only it wasn’t along the lines of “congratulations you made it”, but more towards the “over the hill”, direction. It consisted of black balloons, and everything aimed towards the grave. Including an open grave placed on the cake. They had buzzards all around and each member of the family had cardboard buzzard beaks that they wore as they read from a series of statements aimed at roasting the individual who happened to reach this milestone. Included in this was an album of funny and insulting birthday cards just to rub it in.

As stated, it was all done in fun, and we all did have a great time. And with such a success for the first one (yes, I’m the oldest child in my family), the rest knew that it would continue. Now came a problem. How could one successfully pull such a surprise off, once again, when it was known that it would happen? And in many ways this problem made it fun. The game became not only the celebration of reaching 40, but the sneaky factor of successfully pulling it off so it would remain a surprise to the roastee.  And I have to admit that overall the family was successful.

These were so much fun that we decided to continue them in our own family. And on the weekend of the 23rd in August we pulled off the first. Our oldest daughter and her husband both turns 40 this year and we could honestly say, “gotcha”. And all of us enjoyed the day together. I do have to say that it was easier to pull off because of another family tradition. And that tradition is of family coming together once a year to celebrate all the birthdays – and this one does go back to my family. Here we celebrated, twice a year, combined birthdays instead of individual ones. And while I could honestly say we weren’t the largest family out there, we were large enough that these celebrations made more sense to us.

Now we have 4 years in which to surprise the next in line to reach 40. 4 Years of planning, and figuring out ways to make it a surprise. And, I have to admit, this is something that I’ve always been good at – figuring out ways to keep vital information away from the children. And what I mean by this isn’t the important or critical stuff, but the fun stuff. Like trips to Disneyland, or Knots Berry Farm when they were growing up. Most of the time, if we had such planned, I could do it in such a way that they wouldn’t figure out what was happening until we were pulling into those parking lots. Creating an atmosphere of surprise, anticipation, and fun, and giving the whole family fun time together as a family, and creating those special memories that we all cherish.

And I guess I can say that in a way, that even doing this became a family tradition. The game of trying to stay ahead of the children when we had planned a trip that was more for them than us. So I am left asking, what are yours, your family traditions? Have some died along the way, or are they going strong? Anyway that you look at them, they are part of what made you, well, you. And finally, Here’s to those family traditions, part of what binds us together, part of that joyful, and happy nostalgia when we look back.

* * *

The end of another week and here we are looking at Saturday, the first day of those very short weekends. I know personally that for many years I worked those weekends and envied my friends who had them off. So whether you must work, or have the weekend, I hope to see you back here next week. And as always have a good week and God Bless. (fdbrant.com)

 

Dust – Part 4

As we move towards the conclusion of this short story, the protagonist is still unable to answer the most basic of questions – why is it that he seems to be the only one around? It makes no sense, and from his personal knowledge knows that something very important must be going on. But what that might be he doesn’t have a clue. Still, while puzzled, he remains positive that the outcome and the questions will both be good and be answered. (And I guess I should ask as this question to you: Have you, as the reader, figured out what is happening with the main character – having found the answer before reading part 4?) Parts 1 thru 3 are under August 2014 for those who have missed the early parts of this story.

In a sense it reminds me of an incident in my own life many years ago. Not what is discovered at the end of this story but where everything seemed normal – but what I anticipated, and expected did not manifest itself. This was before the time of cell phones (There was such a time?), which in this case would have given the answers to the growing alarm and questions that I had. My wife, with our children, had gone to visit her family while I worked on some needed home projects. She called when she was leaving, and then did not show up in the expected time. Calling back to her parent’s home they had stated that she had left shortly after she had called me – now what?

It’s surprising what goes through your head when something happens beyond the comfort zone that you and your mate has established over the years. Worry, obviously, and the concern for her safety was prevalent, and as the time continued to move and there was no contact or no arrival at home these worries and questions increased. And with no idea where she was or who to contact made it worse. Eventually she did get home safely and related to me that she had broken down within her own old neighborhood and had eventually gotten things corrected and returned home.

As in life, and here in this short story, the disquiet continues to plague, and he feels the uncertainty and burden of what is transpiring around him. And with this introduction here is the conclusion of, Dust.

It was pushing 1:30 when he pulled off the freeway towards the gas station to fill up the truck and himself. He found that he was starving, since he had forgotten to eat anything that morning back at the camp. He was hoping, since where this stop was located was on the outskirts of a small rural community, that there would be others doing the same thing. So he expected to find the usual crowd that hung out here and at the coffee shop – many from that rural community. In fact it would be a relief to actually see some familiar strangers instead of nobody. So dropping from the speeds of the freeway to that of a rural road he felt like he was crawling. Taking a deep breath he pulled into the gas station, and other that a flock of birds that he flushed, the station gave the appearance of being just as vacant as the camp and the roads.

He pulled up to a pump, sat there quietly while the truck idled and put his head on the steering wheel, closing his eyes, and feeling the weariness in his mind and body. This stop was something that they all looked forward to. It represented the end to an enjoyable weekend, and the last chance before returning to reality – but not this time. Instead of an anticipation of friendship and togetherness, he felt dread. How else should he feel? And where is everybody?

Finally he got out and stretched. The winds were whipping and held some heat, which was no surprise, since this town sat on the edge of the mountains overlooking the desert. Looking around he could see the scrub brush that covered the hillsides moving with the wind, and smell of the hot sage as those same winds brought the scents to him. He could feel the heat coming up from the pavement and it was hot enough that the bottoms of his shoes were letting his feet know that he had better move. He smiled at all the senses and feelings coming back to him. At least he felt that he was alive, and not crazy. Well, he hoped not anyway. Still with the silence and nothing moving, other than the winds, and what they were blowing around, he couldn’t be sure.

Walking inside he found the station unattended, and with the rest of the day it was almost expected. At least he could self-serve. He returned and pumped the gas, at least enough to get him home. Gas was a bit expensive here, but there was little that one could do since its location was such that it was a necessary stop. He took the receipt from the pump, got back into the truck and wrote down the mileage, started the truck and drove over to the vacant parking lot of the coffee shop. Getting out he went to the door to enter and to his disappointment found the doors were locked. Putting his face to the glass doors he looked inside the shadowed space and nothing was moving at all, and no lights were on. It might as well have been an abandoned town and a dead world.

Walking back over to the gas station, at least he could get something there to eat as they had refrigerated cases that included sandwiches and such for those in a hurry. Again, in a quandary, he picked up some food, filled a fountain drink, went to the empty counter, and really had no idea what to do at this point. He couldn’t very well pay for what he had in his hands. So after thinking about it he decided that he would leave a note explaining what he took, and that he would settle with them later. It took a while to locate something to write on, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to leave it where anybody could find it. Finally after looking around a bit he settled on a place behind the counter where other papers seemed to be stored, headed back outside, walked back to his truck, opening both doors, sat there and ate his lunch hoping someone, anybody would show up. But no one did – only the silence, the heat and the blowing winds. Still, he wondered how that fresh food got there in the cases. It didn’t just magically appear. But he had no answers for this inconsistency.

* * *

It took a couple of hours to get home and it was pushing between 4:00 and 5:00 PM when he arrived. He backed the truck in the driveway, and noticed that his wife and children hadn’t returned yet. At least it would give him time to get everything back to where it belonged, and probably be able to take a shower before the chaos began. It was always that way; a silent quiet house until the children arrived and then chaos, noise, and energy. Well, he had to admit that for now the quiet was welcome. Shower time, time to get all that dirt off, and let the hot water refresh him so he could face his family’s arrival. He suspected that they would be bringing home pizza so he didn’t start anything for dinner, and decided to wait until after the shower before calling Sue to let her know that all was well with him. That stopped him for a moment, was it well with him? He thought so, but this day had been much too weird for his taste. And while he didn’t look about too much once he got home he suspected that there was no one around the neighborhood either – but again that didn’t make any sense.

Once out of the shower he called Sue on her cell phone, but there was no answer. Well, she could be on the road, and if so wouldn’t answer. So he decided to call Sue’s mom and dad, but the results were the same – no answer and just the answering machine asking him to leave a message. Worried now, he didn’t know what to do. Sue’s family wasn’t close so he couldn’t just jump in his truck and drive there. He went outside, even though he knew it was too early for her to be back, and watched the road in the direction she would be approaching – nothing. Nothing but worry that is.

After a few hours had passed, he could feel the weariness dragging at him. And still no answers from anybody he had called and no sounds in the neighborhood at all. He thought about calling the police, but what could he tell them? Nobody had committed a crime, and there had been no accidents, everything was quiet, so for now he resisted the urge. He suddenly realized that deep in his subconscious there had been a slight and steady beep happening – one so subtle that it had taken him until now to realize that it was there – could it be the alarm? Could all of this really be a dream? Finally giving up he went to bed worried sick over what was transpiring, but with nothing to show him that there really was something going on, other than with him, he was stymied, and was at a loss at what he could do personally to change any of this. Maybe it was a dream and what he was hearing was the alarm, but it really hadn’t penetrated yet.

Exhaustion took him and he awoke slowly that next morning with the sun in his eyes. It took him back to his youth as he could see the dust dancing in the rays of sunlight. He remembered making stories of that floating dust, and that brought a smile to him. Taking a deep breath, he moved over slightly, rolled over, and with that beeping getting stronger in his mind, but still barely heard, he drifted off to sleep once more.

Suddenly that beeping became important, critical really, and he didn’t know why. Yet, once again, it could be that alarm that was always unwelcome. But he felt a weariness that made it almost impossible to reach out and shut that darn thing off. He expected Sue to climb over him and hit it for him since he was so slow, but it didn’t happen. But then again, she hadn’t been there last night. Was the nightmare going to continue? He took a deep breath as he began to really wake up. He slowly opened his eyes, and found that instead of his own bed he was in a hospital bed. Looking up and then to his right he saw Sue sitting next to his bed looking out the window with a worried tired expression on her face. What had happened? And why am I here? And why is Sue looking so worried? No answers came to him so he shifted to reach out and touch her only to see her react to his movement and look him right in the eyes followed by a big smile, saying, “You had us worried that you wouldn’t make it.” She took a deep and tired breath. “You have been in here hovering close to death for at least a week, and nobody, not the doctors, or nurses, knew whether you’d pull through or not. Do you remember anything at all? And I am so glad to see you finally awake – so, so glad.” Here she was silent as he could see the emotions playing across her face, and tears of joy forming in her eyes.

Remember anything? A week had gone by? What was she talking about, and why am I here? All of this ran through his mind, but not for long as a heavy weariness lay upon him and he found himself drifting back into a deep sleep. It was two weeks later when he was well on the way to recovery that he learned what had happened. They were heading down the grade that Friday night, heading towards the desert. They were following one of those big rigs and he was directly behind it. They knew that once they reached the desert floor that all of them could pass it and get on with the weekend – but it was not to be.

A rare occurrence occurred, where the big rig blew 2 tires, which threw it out of control, taking another tire with it. One of the blown tires had disintegrated followed by one of the large chunks crashing into his truck, coming over the hood and shattering the windshield. This caused him to lose control and crash into the careening big rig, which jackknifed and turned over, crushing part of his truck and pinning him inside. It was hours later that they were able to extract him and life-flight him to hospital where he had barely clung to life, with the prognosis of death, and the anticipated weekend never happened. The riding, the dust, the camaraderie with his friends, was all in his mind.  So all of what he had experienced, in a way, was a dream. But, in the end, he never did figure out who that stranger was who had been in his truck that day as he headed home, and probably never would.  And if he thought too hard about it, he might have considered it the turning point, choosing life over death. And maybe, in the scheme of things, with life ahead of him, it wasn’t really important at all.

* * *

I hope that you have enjoyed this story, and I will be presenting others in the future. In a sense it reminds me of a Twilight Zone, where a woman is driving home, has a flat tire, and then continues on only to meet a stranger all along her route. If you haven’t seen it I won’t spoil it by giving away the end. If you happen to get a chance, watch it and enjoy a good story. If one thinks about it, Twilight Zone was a great place for actors to get known. The casts were usually small, and that required the actors to carry the scenes by themselves, to make what was happening believable, to show off their strength in acting. And again we’ve all faced our own twilight zone type incident somewhere in our lives.

So, until next Saturday, once again may it be a good week, even though for many the past week was a short week. On well, back to reality. Funny thing – for me I always found these short weeks to feel longer than the standard work week. Good luck with whatever your endeavor may be. (fdbrant.com)

Published in: on September 6, 2014 at 7:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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