What can fairy tales possibly teach us?

I didn’t get to go to Disneyland until I was a grown woman – and I was wholly unprepared for the rushing feelings that swept over me as I stood there and watched the real-life incarnations of some of my childhood fairy-tale iconic images come dancing down the road in the parade. I was practically in tears watching Sleeping Beauty wave from her float, preceded by those three ditzy fairy guardians in their little pointed hats and color-coordinated outfits.

But the Disney princesses were just the most obvious, most prevalent, most visible and recognizable avatars of stories which, for me, had far deeper roots.

When I was young, I read the actual fairy tales. The fearsome, bloody, no-holds-barred, emotional ones. In my childhood fairy tales, Cinderella’s stepsisters sliced off bits of their feet to fit into the glass slipper. In my childhood tales Sleeping Beauty wasn’t just wakened with a kiss, but something far more visceral than that.

And in my childhood I wept over the tale of the Little Mermaid – and perhaps it was this that crystallized it for me because to this day I can’t watch what Disney has done to it. Hans Christian Andersen’s original story is full of power and drama and pathos and poignancy – and I simply cannot bring myself to accept a singing lobster sidekick with a Caribbean accent.

I read Oscar Wilde’s wonderful dark fairy tales, when I was a little older, and there were things in there that pierced me to the heart, just like the rose thorn did his immortal nightingale.

I think that fairy tales are a deep and visceral influence, and they are handed out to young minds which they then help shape. A famous paraphrase of a G K Chesterton quote applies – Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. The lessons of fairy tales start with that – with courage. They also teach wisdom, and strength, and compassion, and an obstinate refusal to give up hope, because in fairy tales even the worst possible things that happen work out in the end. In some way.

Maybe not the obvious way – not in Hans Christian Andersen, at least – but in some way. It might sound overblown if fairy tales are credited with the formation of the inner moral creature of the human adult by shaping the still malleable stuff that is the child, but in some ways that is exactly what they do. That is what they are for.

It has become fashionable to shield and shelter the child from many things and this is where the Disney Princesses come from, a sanitized and often saccharinised version of a more rough-hewn and visceral original tale. But there are generations who grew up with those older and rawer stories and who didn’t end up damaged by them. Children have far more strength and intelligence than they are given credit for. In some ways it is a regression when they grow up through all the Disney fluff and fairy dust and end up faced with grittier life realities afterwards, anyway, inevitably, as we all are.

When I was growing up with fairy tales I was not shielded from the bitterness and pathos of “The Little Match Girl” because some adult did not wish me to know that it was possible for a child to die cold and hungry in the street.

The best fairy tales had a hint of a happy ending, not just a happily ever after slam where everything just ended on a nice high note and nobody ever questioned the ever-after. I learned young to question the “happy ending” as such – because I had an early suspicion that somebody had to lose for someone else to win absolutely everything. Yes, every story has an ending and you have to be able to close the book in a satisfying way when you are reading the tale to your child and say, yes, here we conclude and here this story is ended.

But fairy tales, the best fairy tales, are not just pieces of cake which exist separately and are delicately snacked on one at a time. They are a part of a greater fabric of Story, and they are formative, when they are encountered at a young age.

We learn how the world works from inside a fairy tale. We learn that the world isn’t always fair. We learn what we are supposed to want in order to make us happy – but we also learn that on the way to that handsome Prince, the Princess-in-waiting first has to have friends and allies, be they a fairy godmother, a bunch of dwarves, or animals who can communicate only with her. It’s okay to be offered help. It’s okay to accept it. There are a lot of smaller moments of happiness on the way to the happily-ever-after.

I wept at the Disney parade because it brought fairy tales – their own versions of it, which I don’t always agree with but still – to life, and breathed existence, actual existence, into characters which had hitherto lived only in the imagination. But it is in that imagination that the real power remains. Those stories read by flashlight under the covers when you were very young – or were read to you by people who loved you – remain with you. Always.

You carry the fairy tales of your childhood into the adult world with you. And they will always be your friends – even the dragons which they have shown you how to defeat – because a fairy tale is a fundamental building block of the world. With them, we build ourselves.

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Faerie Magazine cover

This article first appeared in Faerie Magazine, a quarterly print magazine celebrating enchantment.

It’s website is HERE

 

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20 Serial Killers?

Unh… 20 Killer Series?

It’s satisfying to have a stand-alone book. When you are writing it, that’s the story, and when you’re done you’re done. You can go onto something else without a qualm of conscience.

But series are something else again. They don’t let you go. With the first book, they open the door just a crack. But when you come inside, you realise that there are more doors waiting for you, and it’s irresistible, you can’t NOT open them to see what happens next.

My first series was inadvertent – a 250,000-word novel was picked up by a publisher who demanded that it be split into two more manageable volumes. That became “The Hidden Queen” and “Changer of Days”.

After that, I wrote what was essentially two stand-alone novels which were set in the same world, but 400 years apart – “Secrets of Jin-shei” and “Embers of Heaven”.

And then I stepped into the series world.

The Worldweavers books were born in the aftermath of the Harry Potter mania, and happened when I heard Jane Yolen say that she wasn’t at all sure that she liked the way the Potter books treated girls. And I was off and running with Thea Winthrop and her adventures. That series was a trilogy for the longest time and then I wrote the fourth and final book in the Worldweavers canon. “Dawn of Magic” was published in 2015.

My latest series, also YA, is The Were Chronicles – “Random”, “Wolf”, “Shifter”. The genesis of these books was an anthology about the Were creatures for which I sat down to try and write a story… and discovered that my idea was far too big to fit into a short story mold. It wanted to be a novel. And then it wanted to be THREE novels. And it is possible that the ramifications of those three novels may mean that it eventually becomes SIX novels.

Series. They never let you go.

The Book Depository has come up with their list ofTop 20 SeriesIt rounds up the usual suspects: Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter…

What would you add, or subtract, from their list?

Best series ever? HERE

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Wolf Cover

 

WOLF, Book 2 in The Were Chronicles, is now available as an ebook on Amazon.

Other online vendors to follow.

 

 

 

Buy it at Amazon HERE

 

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My first book – the very very first book I sold – was a collection of new-minted fairy tales which were a cross between Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. The three stories eventually became “The Dolphin’s Daughter”, a book that went into NINE PRINTINGS and still gave me a trickle of royalties more than ten years after it was first published, which speaks volumes about the power of the fairy tale. So I do have a vested interest in the area.

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders offers
10 Books That Will Change How You Think About Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are everywhere these days, she says. They rival superheroes at the movies and TV, and novelists rush to create their own darker, more relevant versions. But how well do you really know fairy tales? Do you know this one?

e.g.
Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls by Jane Yolen
Jane YolenThe prolific Jane Yolen has been called America’s Hans Christian Andersen, and with this book she hunts down great folktales from around the world and presents them for young readers.

Read the whole story HERE

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25 Genre Novels That Should be Classics

At Flavor Wire, Emily Temple notes that there’s a stigma that keeps worthy works of genre fiction (mostly SF/fantasy, with a little historical, mystery and crime thrown in) from reaching classic status: being taught in high schools, appearing on all-time best-book lists, etc.

Some genre novels have already crossed the border into pure classic territory — Brave New World, Slaughterhouse-Five and 1984, for example. Here are 25 genre novels that should be considered classics.

e.g.
Solaris, Stanislaw Lem

Solaris

 

Lem’s weird, surrealist space novel is a classic of sorts for those in the know, but epidemically under-read.

The book vacillates between beautifully ruminative and action-packed exciting, as the inhabitants of a space station deal with the clones of their loved ones that the sentient planet they’re on continually sends their way. Also, best depiction of an alien sea that has ever been committed to print.

 

 

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS n THAT

Uhtceare: An Old English word meaning ‘lying awake before dawn and worrying.’

9 other Old English Words You Need to Be Using

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Literacy Falling From The Sky In Brazil!

In a part of the world where most adults don’t have books, it’s highly unlikely the kids will as well. Enter the “Stories In The Sky Project”. Brazilian writers donated stories and the stories were than printed on kites and handed out to kids. They would fly the kites and at some point, would cut the string and let the story kites fall to the ground where other kids could pick them up and enjoy the stories. Then those kids would start the process over again. What a brilliant way to give kids the opportunity to read!

See video HERE

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Quote of the DayQUOTE Nietzche~~~~~
Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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Your first book?

 

After my mother finished reading Heidi to me, I wanted her to start all over again. When she said no, I picked the book up and taught myself to read.

I was four.

HeidiIn the beginning there was the family treasure that my great uncle had given my mother when she was a little girl herself and she then gave to me, ‘Through Desert and Jungle’, by Henryk Sienkiewicz.

I went on to the flawed adventures that were Karl May’s wild-west-that-never-was, my family’s sets of collected works of Pearl Buck and Howard Spring, and the children’s sets of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” books. I then went on to illustrated tomes of the myths and legends of the world, to large glorious collections of the ORIGINAL fairy tales by the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen, on to Wonderland, and Narnia, and Middle Earth, and Asimov and Zelazny and Frank Herbert and Ursula le Guin….

I began by falling in love with the wind whispering in the trees beyond the windows of the cottage that housed Heidi’s mountain dreams, and ended up by listening to the songs of the stars themselves. And Words were the vessel that took me there. Every time. All the way.

All this comes to mind because of an article in The Guardian headlined:

“‘Get your head out of that book!’ – the children’s stories that inspired writers

In my case, it was Heidi. In the case of other authors – Margaret Atwood, JG Ballard, Germaine Greer, Judith Kerr, Doris Lessing — it was everything from sinister water-babies to Chinese warlords, Norse gods to star‑crossed lovers.’

Read the whole story HERE

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Teens Readers Ted talkA Ted talk by Laura McClure offers us books for today’s teens

A science fiction and fantasy reading list for teen creativity

Creative writing is part of being a kid. Writing and reading goofy stories of lost kingdoms and Mars colonies helps the imagination grow strong. But a recent study uncovers an interesting, perhaps even dismaying trend: this generation of kids seems to prefer narrative realism when they write.

One example she offers is
Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds: Why you’d want to give this to a teen: In this futurist game of Diplomacy, Africa wins. A (mostly utopian) vision of Earth in the future.

See all her selections HERE

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Another book for today’s teens – and adultsWolf posterWOLF, Book 2 of The Were Chronicles, is on the way. 

You can pre-order it at Amazon HERE

Buy Random, Book 1 of The Were Chronicles, HERE

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All right. I’m a sucker. All of my cats have been rescues. I feel for every one of these poor tiny wounded souls. I hope there is an angel watching out for all of them.

20 Touching Before-And-After Photos Of Rescued Cats

Cats are mischievous creatures full of cuddles and purrs, an article at earth porm says, adopting one is a win-win, good for you and good for the cat. Here are before and after photos of rescued cats that show just how much a little love and care can change a cat forever.Rescued catSee all the cats HERE

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Speaking of cats…

19 Cats Who Are Having A Life Crisis Because You Won’t Let Them Inside

Your safety might be at risk if you don’t hurry up and let the cat in immediately, Matt Buco writes at Distractify.Cold cat“Seriously it’s getting a bit cold out here.”

Life crisis cats HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

For those of you who support worthwhile endeavors – here’s one. As a writer, and a scientist, and a huge Octavia Butler fan, this one hits all MY buttons…

“We use sci-fi to encourage Brooklyn girls to dream big”

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The Daily Word Counts of 39 Famous Authors:

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Quote of the DayQUOTE  Van Gogh~~~~~
Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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Which fairytales are best?

Well, my five candidates would be:
Little Mermaid 1Sulamith Wolfing, Hedgehog Studios

1) The Little Mermaid (Hans Christian Andersen) – the ORIGINAL version, thank you – the tragic one, no Caribbean singing lobsters anywhere near it, thank you so much

2) The Nightingale and the Rose (Oscar Wilde) – another tragic one (begin to see a pattern…?) and if this doesn’t make you fall in love with language itself nothing ever will.
Neverwhere3) Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman) why yes, we are doing modern and novel length by the rules of the original list – and this is a magnificent modern fairytale.
Match Girl4) Little Match Girl (Hans Christian Andersen) – oh, okay, another tragic one – this one always made me cry – I think it was the Grandmother that always slays me in the end because of the way I loved my own grandmother and I could FEEL THE LOVE.

5) The Once and Future King (T H White) – just to BREAK the pattern, here’s another (relatively) recent book – and it is SO a fairy tale – and it’s one of the few books which has ever made me laugh out loud.
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At The Guardian, Marina Warner discusses her top 10

When I first began working on fairytales,” she writes, “they weren’t really considered a proper subject of study, and I felt inhibited about my enjoyment of them: was I betraying my feminist loyalties? Was I letting down the cause of high art and serious literature?

But fairytales had grown up in the 70s: Anne Sexton’s savage poems and Angela Carter’s celebrated revisionings took them out of the nursery. Since then, they have been growing ever darker and more disturbing, especially as the Grimm brothers’ violent, deadpan ways of telling now dominate definitions of the genre. Parents are rightly puzzled as to whether they should be reading them to their children, though children relish the gore and vengeance.

The most lingering and powerful tales don’t always have an original written text, but shapeshift through time, bobbing about on the streams of story. I’ve tried to choose 10 of the most inspiring, and include some of the great collectors; but as in any exercise of this kind, there are so many that I have had to leave out.

Read the article

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Why we need fairytales

Oscar Wilde’s magical stories for children have often been dismissed as lesser works, Jeanette Winterson writes at The Guardian, but as examples of how important imagination is to us all – young and old alike – they are a delight.
selfish giant oscar wildeLove transfigured by imagination … ‘The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. Illustration: Grahame Baker-Smith

Reason and logic are tools for understanding the world. We need a means of understanding ourselves, too. That is what imagination allows. When a child reads of a Nightingale who bleeds her song into a rose for love’s sake, or of a Selfish Giant who puts a wall round life, or of a Fisherman who wants to be rid of his Soul, or of a statue who feels the suffering of the world more keenly than the Mathematics Master who scoffs at his pupils for dreaming about Angels, the child knows at once both the mystery and truth of such stories. We have all at some point in our lives been the overlooked idiot who finds a way to kill the dragon, win the treasure, marry the princess.

As explanations of the world, fairy stories tell us what science and philosophy cannot and need not. There are different ways of knowing.

Read the article

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The top 10 stories of mothers and daughters

From the Book of Ruth to Pride and Prejudice, here is Meike Ziervogel’s pick of literary mother-daughter relationships

I write to understand myself better. Each story is an exploration, a journey, a search for something I cannot express in any other way. Mother-daughter relationships have been my preoccupation over the past 20 years. Here are some of the books that have inspired me.
Anne SextonPoet Anne Sexton – Photograph: Virago

Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton by Linda Gray Sexton

Anne Sexton wrote brilliant poetry. But she was also bipolar and incapable of fulfilling her role as mother. Linda Gray Sexton’s intelligent, harrowing account of her childhood made me realise that women artists and writers who descend into a dark space for their art have a duty towards their children to climb back into the light on a daily basis.

Read the article

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Chin Up: 5 Utopian Sci-Fi Books Perfect for Adaptation

One of the most recent bizarre trends in contemporary cinema, Lisa Rosman writes in Word & Film, is the rise of the dystopian sci-fi flick. Do we really need a new movie every week to remind us of how dour our future may be? Frankly, it’s high time Hollywood made utopian sci-fi tales, instead. We could use some positive models for a change, and we know just the books that would make great adaptations.

Woman on the Edge of TimeWoman on the Edge of Time: Written in 1976, Marge Piercy’s feminist utopia is astonishingly prescient. It follows a woman subjected to experimental brain surgery, She develops the ability to time travel, and she visits a 2137 in which all people can biologically nurse their children; gender, race, and corporations no longer exist; human reproduction now takes place in labs; and everyone thrives in small, Quaker-like communities. To date, this is one of the most radical sci-fis ever conceived; its rejection of biological determinism (and gendered pronouns!) dovetails nicely with today’s transgender movement.

Read the article

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THIS ‘n THAT

25 Songs That Reference Books

Artist/Song: Led Zeppelin – Ramble On (from 1969’s Led Zeppelin II)
Book: Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings
Lyric: “‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair/But Gollum, and the evil one crept up/And slipped away with her.”

Songs and books
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Words you think you know
Unabashed by these 10 Difficult-to-Remember words

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Quote of the Day

Gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.” ~ Oscar Wilde

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Alma Alexander
My books

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When the magic is free

Weight of Worlds, my collection of 11 tales of magic, cruelty, and sacrifice, is free in ebook form until Feb. 5.

Weight of Worlds
But, for the moment, only on the Kindle, I’m afraid.

The cover story tells of several worlds and their millions of souls lost in a game of chance. In other stories we encounter the soul of a sinner locked in a gargoyle serving out his time in purgatory, an angel offering a new life to a deeply troubled woman but at a bitter price, and many others.

All of my stories owe a debt to the dark and twisted fairy tales of Oscar Wilde and the passion and poignant drama of the stories of Hans Christian Andersen.

If you pick up the book, please consider writing a quick review on Amazon.

Weight of Worlds

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‘Year of reading women’ declared for 2014

The bias in favor of male writers is fueling a drive to switch attention to female authors, Alison Flood reports in the Guardian.

From a small American literary journal’s vow to dedicate a year’s coverage to women writers and writers of color to author and artist Joanna Walsh’s burgeoning  #readwomen2014 project, readers – and publishers – around the world are starting to take their own small steps to address male writers’ dominance in the literary universe.

Persephone BooksFresh perspective … Persephone Books in London, a publisher and bookseller focused on women writers. Photograph: Anna Gordon

Figures last year from Vida show the huge imbalance in how male and female writers – and reviewers – are treated: at the New York Review of Books, for example, in 2012 16% of reviewers were women, with 22% of the books reviewed written by women.

Joanna Walsh points to authors and readers who have all undertaken projects to read only women writers. Her own project, #readwomen2014, started as “nothing but a few Christmas cards” which dubbed 2014 “the year of reading women”, listing 250-odd names from Angela Carter to Zadie Smith and encouraging recipients to “if not vow to read women exclusively, look up some of the writers I’ve drawn on the front or listed on the back”. But she was inundated with requests for the cards, and with suggestions on Twitter for other women authors to include.

Read women

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12 Historic Bars Every Book Nerd Needs To Visit

Channel your inner literary lush, Arianna Rebolini of BuzzFeed says, by drinking where the greats drank. The White Horse Tavern in New York, for example:

White HorseFlickr: katie_cat / Creative Commons

Notable Patrons: Dylan Thomas, James Baldwin, Anais Nin, Norman Mailer

The White Horse Tavern opened in 1880 and was known for being a longshoreman’s hangout until the 1950s, when Welsh poet Dylan Thomas started coming around. It is most famously (and morbidly) known as the place of Thomas’ last drink; in November of 1953, after downing eighteen shots of whiskey, he collapsed on the sidewalk and later died at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Still, the West Village tavern remained a favorite spot for the literary set, attracting writers and poets to this day.

ArticoFlickr: ladyous / Creative Commons

Antico Caffe Greco, Rome

Notable Patrons: John Keats, Charles Dickens, Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Maria Zambrano

Having opened in 1760, this historic landmark is Rome’s oldest bar (and Italy’s second oldest). Its reputation as a haven for writers and artists was built largely by Shelley and her contemporaries, who worked on manuscripts and swapped ideas while enjoying a cappuccino at the Caffe’s marble tables. It continues to draw some of Rome’s most influential minds today.

‘Drinking’ with the greats

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Romance writers, Jennifer Weiner, and the future of publishing

The New York literary industry stands at the front door and frets over the guest list, while everyone else is sneaking out the back, Jesse Barron writes in Harper’s. There are many better parties…You can feel, in literary corners of the city, the depreciation of old-style New York–centered prestige.

RomanceIllustration by Thomas Allen

Good romance writers, in particular, can earn a living without anyone in New York publishing knowing their names, because they publish and promote their work themselves.

Future publishing

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21 Photographers Share The Most Amazing Shot They Ever Captured

They speak for themselves

Driving through the desertGuy Nesher – “My best photo to date, taken during a trip to the Bolivian salt desert.”

Winter castleLuiz Pires“I was living in Munich a couple of years ago and had my mother and sister visiting me for a few days. We decided to brave the winter conditions and icy roads to drive to Neuschwanstein castle a couple of hours away. When we got there, the weather had completely cleared and we were rewarded with amazing ‘winter wonderland’ scenes.”

Amazing photos

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Wearable’ book allows reader to feel emotions of characters

Students have created a “wearable” book that enables you to feel the characters’ feelings as you read the story”

Wearable books
Feel the emotions

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Fatal literary passion

Russian Man Stabbed to Death in Poetry-Over-Prose Dispute

Literary passion

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Quote of the Day

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first ~ Mark Twain

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Alma Alexander

Check out my books

Email me

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