Goodbye to Giants

What we remember

Only the middle of January and already two giants have chosen this year to wander off into the sunset.
Rickman BowieDavid Bowie and Alan Rickman: photo www.chicagotribune.com

When I first saw the David Bowie headline, I had a quick moment of, ‘Hoax. It MUST be. One of those spoof things that is going to get quickly denied with a hollow laugh and perhaps an apology.’ But no. The first headline was followed by the second, and the third, and the rest, confirming, not denying.

I am not a fanatical follower; if any devoted fans knew that he was sick and ailing, that cancer had him in its claws, I did not. And I, like all too many others, was living in the kind of world where our icons don’t die. They hang there in the sky like a starman smiling down at us. They exist, they have existed, and they will always exist – right until the world changes and they are gone, a last smile fading like a Cheshire Cat’s that is a lingering memory of that fact that we once shared an Earth together, an era, a slice of time and space, even though we never met.

I remember Bowie in many of his incarnations. As I said in my first reaction to his death, he was the guy that made it OKAY for my generation to be weird, made it cool to be weird. He was sexy, and powerful, and dangerous, and talented, and instantly recognizable — and he was ours, he belonged to all of us, collectively, individually.

I remember watching “Labyrinth” for the first time and wishing I could have been Sarah, I could have stepped into Jareth’s arms and have him swing me into that lush music, dance with me in that crowd as though there was nobody else there at all. As the world falls down. Hell yes, I was a romantic. And that was just one aspect of Bowie. But it neither began nor ended there – before and after that there was the Bowie of Major Tom, of Changes, of Under Pressure, of Fame, of Young Americans, of Ziggy Stardust, of Starman.

I wasn’t the kind of fan who hung posters in my teenage bedrooms. But if I had been, there would have been no question about whose it would have been. He left us something huge and priceless. I’m glad I was here to see some if it being made. I’m glad I was part of the generation that lived while he lived, even though I was one of the millions of people who never met him, never even saw him in the flesh. But I was one of the millions who looked upon him with admiration, and with respect.

Yes, I know there have already been those who have dissecting his errors and his sins. That’s not unexpected, in its own way, and I guess it was coming – nobody gets a free pass, or should. But I might have wished for those who wanted to do it to either do it while he was still alive and there to respond if he wanted to, or failing that to have waited at least a week after he was gone before they dragged it all up. There are times to speak, and times not to. He was not – nor ever claimed to be – a saint, and anyone who expected him to be one was sadly ill-informed about life in general. Few of us live our lives unblemished.

I’m sorry he left us so soon. I think he had more to give, and now we will never see or hear it. But there it is – the memory. And in my dreams I will always have that last dance with the Goblin King, holding me as the world falls down.

The second act

And then – barely a handful of days later – another headline. Another “Oh no, it’s gotta be a hoax” which was not one. Alan Rickman. The man of whom I have said that I would listen to a telephone directory if he was the one reading it.

When I was 15 years old and at my English boarding school, they took the entire O Level English class for a field trip to Stratford Upon Avon one time, to see “Antony and Cleopatra”.

What I remembered from that trip, up front, was Glenda Jackson as Cleopatra – the way she walked onto that stage dressed in a plain beige caftan, with pretty much zero make up or accessories – no black-haired wig with dramatic bangs a la Elizabeth Taylor, no jewels, no kohl, no nothing. And within five minutes you would have attacked bodily anyone who so much as hinted that Cleopatra had ever looked anything different than that ginger-haired Englishwoman with close-cropped hair clinging to the shape of her skull and her pale eyebrows and eyelashes fringing English eyes. But that was the star, and that was the memory I took home with me, along with a theatrical program which I had obtained at the time.

Many many years later when I was tidying stuff up I came across that program and realized that I had been given more treasures than I had known at the time. The cast list of that production featured Patrick Stewart… and Alan Rickman.

I had seen Alan Rickman on stage. And it actually HURTS that I have no memory of that at all. If I could kidnap a TARDIS and go back in time this might be one of the moments I would wish to go back to – go back into that auditorium and watch for Alan Rickman as he came on the stage, and remember it.

I really fell in love with the actor and his voice in “Truly, Madly, Deeply”. It was because of him that I went out and bought a volume of Pablo Neruda. He made me laugh and cry in “Galaxy Quest”. He stole the Robin Hood movie from Kevin Costner so spectacularly that it wasn’t even funny. He broke your heart as the nice but clueless husband in “Love, Actually”.  He made one hell of an angel in “Dogma”. And Snape… always. Always. More him than anyone else in that movie, actually. Do I need to go on?

Where’s that phone directory? I have a dire need of a magnficent voice to read it to me. So that I can cry a little, perhaps.

Look, I know all of us are born, and all of us must die – but really – stop, 2016. Just stop. Stop taking people like this before we’re ready to let them go. They were both 69 years old. That’s no age. They had a lifetime still that they should have had to shine in the dark for us. They had so much more to give the world, they had so much more love to receive from it.

My sympathies go first of all to the families who have lost not just an icon but someone they have loved, a part of their hearts. That, first, of course.

But beyond that the world has lost irreplaceable people. And it isn’t even two full weeks into 2016 yet.

Is this the sort of year we can expect, then…? Sorrow, sorrow, sorrow?…

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Shifting the reader’s perspective

Shifter cover‘Shifter, the third book in The Were Chronicles, is now out and at Galleywampus I take a reflective look back on the first series (but not the last, there are more stories to be told in this world.)

I might write fantasy but these books, as one perspicacious reviewer pointed out, are more about being HUMAN than they ever were about non-human “monsters”. In fact, in this book, a lot of the monsters ARE pure human, and the creatures we so love to think of as monstrous are just as fragile and vulnerable as we would be. The enemy is ALWAYS us.

What I write about are the concerns of the human mind, the human body, the human heart, the human soul.

I do not, never have, never will, aim for preaching my own gospel through the bully pulpit of my own fiction. All I do, as the writer, is choose an issue, a problem, an idea, and use the power of story to reveal it, to explain it, to disarm it, perhaps to conquer it through understanding. I always want my stories to have more depth to them than just the surface glitter of pretty sunlight on the surface of water. When I tell a story the underlying stories are always there. Not preachily, not dogmatically, but they’re there. They will always be there.

Read more HERE

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Quote of the Day

“It’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible? What’s a fantasy?

Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.” ~ Alan Ricknan on the importance of storytelling

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Alma Alexander       My books       Email me
 
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5 Gifts for a writer

Yes there are dozens of things you can throw at writers. They’ll always find a use for notebooks, they’ll love a fancy pen (even if many don’t write with one that often any more), and since writers are all readers, a gift card to a local bookstore would go down like a treat.

But there are… other things. Far more valuable, even though they are intangible and not something solid you can wrap and put underneath a tree. But greatly, greatly appreciated, every time. Ask any writer.

Five gifts for the writer you love this Christmas

1. Visibility

It’s been said that the worst enemy of a writer isn’t plagiarism, it’s oblivion. Do you love a book? Take a picture of it, post it on your social media. Have it in your hand on the subway. Ask for it in a bookstore. Keep the writer’s name in circulation. The more you do, the more people might hear, recognize, go, “Oh, that one. I might try that one…” Give the gift of RECOGNITION.

2. Reviews and recommendations

Follows on from above. Give a book you loved a review – on Amazon, on Goodreads, on Library Thing, on your own blog, or all of the above.

Talk about it to your friends. Tell the world. This is the fabled Word Of Mouth, and it is a treasure beyond price. Every writer is grateful for it because it is pure reader grace, and the genuine article is powerful, and impossible to ‘fake’. Sincere reader appreciation, spread out there for others to see and act upon, is something that is very special to every writer.

Trust me, hearing “I heard about you from a friend, (s)he raves about your work..” is a gift that will warm the cockles of any writer’s heart at ANY time of the year. But right
now, it’s Christmas. This is a gift you can give freely, and give often – and you will make a writer’s day, their week, their YEAR. Talk about books with your friends. Tell them about thei things you’ve read that you liked, ask about their favorites. Talk about a book that helped you in a difficult moment with someone who might be sharing that experience and might find the book special too.

Share. Share share share. Tell the world that you love reading, and what you’ve
recently read that lit up your world.

3. Something tangible – Kickstarters and Patreon.

If you still want something tangible, something that you can actually QUANTIFY, you can go and help a writer friend with something concrete, these days it’s easier than ever.

Support their Kickstarter campaign which is trying to raise money for a new work, a better cover, or a collaborative effort. Find out if your author has a Patreon page, and commit to $2-$5 a month – even if just for a year – to help them with a particular project, or a series they’re trying to get off the ground, or their research, or even just to help feed their feline
companions while the creator is creating. Trust me. It all helps.

4. Direct appreciation

Read a book and loved it? Send the author a note and tell her so.

Writer AloneWriting is a solitary occupation and it is sometimes a very lonely existence. Once our babies leave us and are out there in the wild we know nothing more about their travails. A note from a reader who found one of our books and loved it is a lift to our spirits. And it really helps to keep us writing.

If you’re an artist and feel inspired… well, when I’ve seen fan art of my work, it’s been a revelation and a joy. It’s AWESOME to see the images one’s words have created in someone else’s mind.

Most writers are easy to contact these days via their website or blog. If not, a more traditional note (and man, these days getting a Real Letter in the mail is a treat and a half!) sent through their agent or publisher will reach them. Some of them might even write back to you.

5. Inspiration

Most intangible and ephemeral of all but believe me – it matters. Be out there, be awesome, be readers. Let the writers see that there are people out there who are eager and waiting for new stories. Speak out about how much you love reading. Talk about how a particular book has inspired you, or helped you understand or cope or transcend a difficult time. Inspire everyone who writes to be more, to be better, to rise to meeting the needs and expectations you put out there. Tell us what you’ve found, tell us what you’re seeking, tell us about the things YOU think are important. Tell us about the things you want to see stories being told about. And then watch those stories get born.

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He only wanted to help; instead, he started a war.

‘Shifter’, the stunning conclusion to The Were Chronicles, is here.

Shifter coverSaladin van Schalkwyk, better known as Chalky, was a chimera, both in name and deep into his DNA. He was created but he did not know for what purpose, and the secrets that surrounded his past were too well guarded for him to break through.

So when his friend Mal offered to take the chance of becoming a Lycan in order to infiltrate their ranks and find out the truth for him, he agreed to help. They both learned far more than they had bargained for. And one thing was clear.

Everything he thought he knew about himself was wrong.

Buy it at Amazon HERE

 

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The 24 Best Science Fiction Books Of 2015

Abducticon coverMy first foray into science fiction, AbductiCon, didn’t make it to Buzzfeed’s list but I’m rather pleased with the initial reaction to it.

After all, Hugo winner Robert Sawyer called it “a hilarious and affectionate look at science-fiction conventions, a wondrous mashup of Galaxy Quest and Bimbos of the Death Sun, a fast-paced and laugh-out-loud funny treat for SF fans everywhere.”

And Lenora Rain-Lee Good said “”This is truly one of the funniest SF books I’ve read in years.”

Besides, it was a great deal of fun to write.

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As far as Buzzfeed’s list goes, there is one book in particular, from Catherynne Valente, that I’ve been wanting to get to. Maybe I’ll hint it would be a good Christmas gift.

Radiance coverValente
Radiance is dreamy and strange in the best possible way. The whole universe of the book feels like sci-fi “B movies” of the early to mid 20th century, filled with imagery that will remind the reader of early Méliès films. This book is a departure from the other epic space opera fare you’ll find on the rest of this list, but it’s a refreshing change of pace.

See all the books HERE

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Quote of the DayThe Deal Breaker Quote

My fellow said “Books and Me.” So I married him.

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Alma Alexander      My books       Email me

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Telling off the author

I’m off to New Hampshire to be a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Workshop to give a class on building characters.

I’d like to bring along some of my own characters, but no matter how real they are to me, they don’t appear at my command — only when they I tick them off.

Like the night Chalky turned up in my dream.

Chalky is the protagonist of Shifter, the third book in The Were Chronicles. He’s nineteen years old, pushing twenty, just a kid. He’s had a helluva twisted childjust hood (of course he did, he’s one of my characters) and he’s never been a ‘kid’, not really. He’s cocky, and he’s vulnerable, and he’s a wretched little know-it-all, and there he was, sitting on the side of my bed, kicking his heels on the bed frame. *Lounging*. Smirking.

“You’re doing it wrong,” he said.

“Oh, what now?”

“That scene, The new material. You’re *rushing* it.”

“Am not rushing it. I need to…”

But dammit, he’s right.

“I have to know certain things,” he points out. “You haven’t given me time to learn them.”

I’m areadly unpacking the scene in my head. It’s a frigging SYNOPSIS. there’s four pages’ worth of material behind each paragraph.

I’m growling.

“What if you…”

“Shut UP,” I snap. “Did I ask you for advice?”

He shrugs, “Just thought I’d point it out. And another thing.”

“What?”

“You need to figure it out.”

“Figure WHAT out?”

“What I want. What my motivation is.”

“Now you go all Galaxy Quest on me?”

“But I”m not a rock,” he points out. Helpfully.

I seem to be doing a lot of growling. But I”m still kind of asleep. At this point stuff happens (cat sticks nose in my ear) and I come awake, and he’s gone, of course, with just that smarmy voice left in my head. You’re doing it wrong…

That voice stays in my head like a gnat. I barely choke down breakfast. Then I take a cup of coffee down to the computer thinking that maybe it might help me clarify things.

He’s RIGHT the little sod. The scene IS rushed. I had to have him visit me in my dream to tell me I’m screwing up the book??? That’s just *rude*.

Whatever. I go back to the beginning of the problem. Then I discover that isn’t the beginning of the problem, and go furher back. Then something else falls down in a heap and mocks me. I take a large swallow of coffee, crack my knuckles over the keyboard, and hit “delete”. This scene needs to die.

I start again from the beginning. A different beginning.

This time there’s… something. There’s a note of truth in it (yes this is a story about Were-creatures. Yes, every word of it is ‘true’. Why do you ask?)

I keep typing, scowling at the scene. The dialogue comes down the riverbed of story like somebody just blew up a dam upstream. Yeah, Chalky, I saw the fuse string dangling from your pocket.

But this water is clean. it is clear. it is deep.

I keep scowling. If there’s something I always resent it’s when my characters refuse to cooperate with me until I finally agree to cooperating with them, and withhold their participation in my story until this is accomplished.

I mean, I can write scenes for them. I can write dialogue for them. They’ll say it because I said they must say it. But they will say it without inflexion, without passion, without any kind of feeling, and they’ll sound like robots until such time as I grit my teeth and let them say what they want how they want. And then all of a sudden they’re frigging Shakespeare and everything they say sings. I hate it when my characters are better writers than I am.

I really hate it.

Particularly when they haunt my sleep to tell me so.

I lift my hands from the keyboard. The coffee’s long gone and the light is different outside. And he’s sitting there on the edge of my desk, kicking his heels against the side, smirking for all he is worth.

It’s a beautiful scene.

“Didn’t I tell you so?” he says.

“I want to SLEEP tonight,” I snarl.

He grins. “You did well. I might let you.”
~~~

See my Odyssey interview HERE

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At EpicStream, Jake Vyper shows us

17 Things You Learn From Growing Up on Books

“It is an addiction that comes to children at an early age. And it creates an insatiable craving for more… These are some of the things you learn to cope with when you are a book-addict. (It’s better than crack!)”Curled up by fireplace“I fantasize about this scene. I will know that I have made it in this world – made it to the pinnacle of existence – when I have a very nice glass of Riesling in one hand and a favorite epic fantasy novel in the other (selected from a vast personal library) while the snow falls down outside and I am next to the fireplace curled up in a very comfy, very expensive armchair. That is my goal in life.”

Read the whole story HERE

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The moral, so to speak, of this story by Elizabeth A. De Wolfe in Downeast is that if you leave home unmarried, you end up a streetwalker in New York City without friend or succour. Young women, sit down, shut up, and remain nicely invisible – or else LOOK, just LOOK, what fates await you…

50 Shades of Chambray

Being a thrilling account of how the Saco-Biddeford cotton empire gave rise to a trashy 19th-century literary craze full of torrid affairs, horrendous murders, and ruined females.ruined femaleAnother “ruined female” ends up in a watery grave in an illustration from The Life of George Hamilton. Image courtesy of the author.

Read the whole story HERE

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Flying used to be an adventure as and of itself – but in today’s climate of fear and loathing, where everyone is a suspect before they are a potential friend, the art of travel has been reduced to having to endure the journey so that you can get to the place where you are going. But it used to be that the journey was part of the voyage, not just the destination. So many things get LOST along the way as the world grows cynical and old.

Still. There is always the option of sitting back in a comfortable armchair with a cup of coffee at your side and your own sweet purring cat on your lap… and a book about faraway places in your hand. Traveling in the mind has the advantages of being cheap (no fares, no tchotchke souvenirs which weigh down your luggage and which you really can’t understand the reason for wanting by the time you get them home – you just had to BE there to get it…) and positively sybaritic compared to the travel hell of today. Just sit back, relax, let your mind off the leash… and journey into the world of a good book…Wanderlust(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Wanderlust is notoriously difficult to manage, Suzy Strutner writes in The Huffington Post.   Once you’ve tasted the adrenaline rush of travel, it can feel unbearable to sit at home, knowing that adventure is out there waiting to be had.

But if you can’t always get out and explore, then it’s best to let a book do it for you. The wanderlust-quenching adventures below aren’t the same titles you’ll find on run-of-the-mill lists of “beach reads.” Instead, they’re a collection of tales — both quippy and dense — that’ll take you from the beach to a mountaintop to the outback to Paris, all in a matter of pages. Read up!

Read the whole story HERE

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Speaking of travel… How this place holds my imagination. At Masable, Tim Chester offers us

34 photos that will make you want to grab a map and travel Britain

Romney Marsh
Romney MarshImage: Russell Dawson

See all the photos HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

Mysterious tiny doors open Zephyrhills eyesTiny doorsMia Wead, 18, discovered this tiny door on Main Street Zephyrhills. (gary s. hatrick)

What does it mean?

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Spain formally buries Cervantes, 400 years later

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Quote of the day

QUOTE Great book~~~~~
Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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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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