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Katherine Addison on Grimdark

April 24th, 2014

Over at The Booksmugglers, a guest post by Sarah Monette / Katherine Addison about THE GOBLIN EMPEROR and grimdark.

Sarah Monette likes way darker fantasy than me, but about her recent title, she says: “I wanted to write a story (reflecting my own ethical beliefs, which I get more fierce about as I grow older) in which compassion was a strength instead of a weakness. Grimdark is, in some ways, another iteration of Byronism, and it has the same potential flaw of becoming self-congratulatory about its darkness, pessimism, and cynicism.”

I would say, by the way, that her MELUSINE is not grimdark. Dark, yes. But, though Monette herself thinks the Doctrine of Labyrinths may count as grimdark, for me to count a work as grimdark, it must have at least one of the following characteristics:

a) Important characters, perhaps even the protagonists, who start off as decent people or who are striving to become decent people, but who become corrupted during the course of the book and wind up being worse human beings at the end than they were at the beginning.

b) The world is objectively worse off at the end of the book than it was at the beginning.

c) The bad guy wins, good guys either lose or die or become corrupted.

I am going to hate a book if it possesses any of these characteristics, even if it is not the self-parodying exaggerated how-much-awful-can-one-book-contain thing that some writers are apparently striving for today.

At least some of Joe Abercrombe’s books have all three characteristics. They are grimdark.

While Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths quadrilogy was awfully dark for me and I didn’t read past the first book, I will say that MELUSINE definitely did not suffer from these issues. At the end of MELUSINE, both protagonists had become better people than they were to start with — they had met and overcome huge obstacles, and were still engaged in striving to defeat the bad guys and make the world a better place. Dark, yes. Grimdark, no.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 24th, 2014
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2014 Hugo Finalists

April 22nd, 2014

I don’t have a voting membership this year, but in case you, like me, are interested in seeing what’s on the ballot, here is the complete list.

I am as always most interested in the novels, so here’s that list:

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross
Parasite, Mira Grant
Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles, Larry Correia
The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

To which my first response is: The Wheel of Time? Really? Now, I admit, I have never read any part of this work, but after reading this analysis by Marie Brennen, frankly, I am surprised to see it appear here. Especially since, hello, huge series? How is a full series even eligible? Is there a single book that came out last year that was also called The Wheel of Time? Because that is not what Amazon shows. Amazon shows a single volume with a specific title (A Memory of Light) that finishes the whole shebang.

But, whatever.

I do not ordinarily like Charles Stross much, he’s one of those writers where I can see why other people like him, but he’s not really my type. Mira Grant is a good writer, but I haven’t read this book. I had enough issues with believability in the plotting in the Feed trilogy that I would pick up Parasite with some trepidation. Warbound is the third book of a series and I am suspicious that it may not stand by itself, but I haven’t read it, either.

But! I was just kidding earlier about my first response. No, my FIRST response was: Yay! Ancillary Justice made the ballot! That one definitely deserved the nomination, no question, and I hope it wins, though of course I really shouldn’t say that when I haven’t read any of the others on the ballet. Even so. It has what I want in a nominee for a major award: scope, ambition, outside-the-box concepts, and good writing. Have you all read it? Because it’s excellent and unusual. It doesn’t exactly end on cliffhanger — not exactly – but I should add that it is definitely the first in a series.

Okay, [some of] the rest of the Hugo nominees:

Best Novella
The Butcher of Khardov, Dan Wells
The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen
“Equoid”, Charles Stross
Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente
“Wakulla Springs”, Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages

Best Novelette
“Opera Vita Aeterna”, Vox Day
“The Exchange Officers”, Brad Torgersen
“The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal
“The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang
“The Waiting Stars”, Aliette de Bodard

I’ve really liked some of Dan Wells’ novels, and of course there’s Cat Valente. I should track these down and read them. Vox Day, huh? Voting block, I gather, not that that is unknown for the Hugos. Ted Chiang is a really good writer, imo, which doesn’t mean I like all his stories, but I bet that one is well written. I’m interested in the Aliette de Bodard story — curious to see how it compares to last year’s nominee.

Other than that, I see The Book Smugglers were nominated for Best Fanzine. Good for them. I don’t read their blog as consistently as I used to (very large TBR pile already), but I always do like stopping by. Even better, I see Liz Bourke was nominated for Best Fan Writer. I hope she wins — granted, I am not that familiar with the other nominees, but you all know I particularly like Liz’s reviews. Here is her review of Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy. It’s a beautiful review — and spoiler-free, which I greatly appreciate.

I would sure have a lot of reading to do if I were voting. The ONLY nominee I’ve read is Ancillary Justice.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 22nd, 2014
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Update

April 21st, 2014

I trust you all had a beautiful Easter! Lovely weather here, so I planted onions and peas and beets — didn’t get to the petunias, always more to do, but no rush, the plants are still small, just like I prefer for transplanting.

Plus, I took Junior the farmer’s market and then to the vet — he was just along for the ride at the vet, but the other two dogs with me were in for vaccinations / yearly exams. I ran all six of my girls through in two days, which was a bit much, but now we are all done for the year, provided no one steps on another horrible splinter or whatever.

Junior puppy at the vet:

Naptime (Medium)

As you can see, he was tired out from the farmer’s market and not the least bit disturbed to be at the vet’s office. He hangs out with the staff behind the counter because he’s special.

Okay, update: I revised chapter 14 last night — then realized events need to happen in a different order now that the timing of certain things has been speeded up. So now that is chapter 15 and I am revising the new chapter 14, which used to be later in the book. I’m still hovering around 550 pages total, but this is an illusion: I’ve added about 40 pages in the last week, but cut about 40 pages too.

I have been dropping hints about the endgame, so if I’m wrong about how I’m going to handle that, all those hints will have to be changed, too. I hope I remember what they are if it comes to it. I am good at that, but not as good as some copy editors I have worked with.

I hope I have only about 80 pages to revise lightly, then cut a LOT, then the endgame and the finale. I’m still hoping to bring this in by the end of the month. I think it’s possible. It will help if we get a sudden burst of horrible rainy weather so that I can’t be pulled outside by Compelling Spring Gardening Chores. Alas (?), looks like beautiful weather for the next few days.

In May, I should have a lot more time for gardening and reading and yes blog posts.

In the meantime, I trust you will enjoy beautiful weather wherever you are — though I expect it’s not spring for you all.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 21st, 2014
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Getting in the mood for Easter . . .

April 19th, 2014

I’m sure you’ve already seen the Washington Post’s peep show, right?

If not, click through. I will say, painting peeps in shades of gray to create a black-and-white effect is a bit strange. I definitely think of peeps as brightly colored. So I like some of the semi-finalists better. There is a stupid ad before you can view the semi-finalists, I’m going to try to include a direct link that will let you skip the ad: here, but no guarantees.

I like the bobsled one, but lots of them are impressive. To me, this sort of thing seems like a much better use for peeps than eating them, but then pure sugar is not really my thing.

Writing update: in case you’re interested, I re-wrote Ch. 11 almost from scratch today. Twice. However, I think after a bit of revision to smooth out a transition, I will have a nearly straight shot for the next 100 pages. Mild cutting and revision, but basically I’m keeping a whole lot of that part. Then I think I will wind up cutting a lot of the next 100 pages after that and re-working the bits that are left. If I did chapter 11 right, I’ve set up stuff appropriately for the new endgame. There may be a volcano. Or maybe not, not sure. You must admit, a volcano will seriously cramp the style of many bad guys who think they’re tough.

Update two: Typing while wearing this new thumb brace is awkward but luckily possible. I right click on things at random moments, but it’s pretty do-able. I’m told the problem may be a mild and atypical case of De Quervain’s tendinosis. I’m also told not-typing would be better than nonstop-typing. I told my chiropractor that taking a break from typing is right out for the rest of April, so we compromised on different kinds of braces, one for daytime and typing, one for sleeping. But I’m hoping to take part of May to not-type and let this thumb issue resolve. Swooshing through the next 100 pages would be a good start on getting to the take-a-break part.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 19th, 2014
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Recent wishlisting –

April 16th, 2014

Okay, first, this post, at Persephone Reads, about a narrative nonfiction book, WASHINGTON’S SPIES, about . . . get this . . . Washington’s spies. As in, the Washington, and the men he set up to spy on the British during the Revolutionary War.

Who knew?

washingtons-spies

Chelle says, “Talking with my father about reading this book, I was prompted to admit to being overtaken by one of those slow-blink moments of realization: George Washington was a living, breathing person. That sounds strange. Here’s the thing: In my imagination, Washington was never more than that silent stoic and mostly static figure seated on a horse in EPCOT’s American Adventure. He was, I don’t know…like plastic….”

This book evidently succeeds in bringing Washington to life. And his spies. I think I am going to have to read this. I love a story that really shows me a period of history, makes it seem alive and real. Thanks to Chelle for the tip.

Second, over at Books Without Any Pictures, a review of STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle Jensen.

StolenSongbird

I’ve seen brief mentions of this one on Twitter, plus one or two reviews, but Grace’s review is the one that made me add the book to my wishlist. It’s a recent debut so I will probably go ahead and pick it up in the next couple of days. Always nice to support a debut author if you can.

This is a troll story, very similar in basic outline to Dunkle’s THE HOLLOW KINGDOM. I really enjoyed that one, but had significant issues with the forced-marriage trope, which did not seem to me to be presented as a truly problematic plot element. I’m thinking I might like this one better.

Grace says, “And then there’s the fact that the entire prophecy/destiny thing doesn’t go according to plan. It’s almost a trope in a lot of fantasy novels that you have a character with a special destiny who has a mission to change the world. Here, you have two characters with an obvious destiny, and they’re forced together in the early chapters of the book to break a curse and it doesn’t work.”

It doesn’t work? Really? I think that’s rather fabulous. You know my post the other day about things I’d like to include in a future book? Another is: a prophecy that doesn’t come true.

Also: pretty cover. I’m a bit tired of the cut-off face closeup and I’m not a fan of the ballgown girl covers, yet this one really works for me. I haven’t priced this and might get it as a Kindle book, but if I get the paper edition, it’s one I would turn face-out on the shelf.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 16th, 2014
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Three tropes I would like to include in a book eventually –

April 15th, 2014

First of all, an older woman protagonist.

I greatly appreciate it when someone else puts an older woman front and center in a book, such as in PALADIN OF SOULS by Bujold or THE WHEEL OF THE INFINITE by Martha Wells or, um, yeah, I’m sure there must be more older female protagonists, but right now I’m drawing a blank. The Mrs Pollifax books, if you step outside SFF and into the cozy spy novel subgenre.

I should do that.

But, not in the current WIP. The protagonist, Kehera, is your rather standard young woman. I’ve upped her age to twenty because hey, self publishing, don’t need to hit the standard YA parameters OR hit the definitely-adult button. I can go right in between if I want to. Which, for various reasons, I do. So: not an older woman. Of the other two mss I plan to complete this year — yeah, no older female protagonist in those, either. The books I have on my five-year plan? Not one has an older woman protagonist.

Sigh. Maybe someday.

And moving along, how about important friendships between unrelated girls! Friendships that don’t take a back seat when the Love Interest appears, or at least recover during the course of the story. Bonus points if one of the girls is a tomboy and the other is a girly-girl, because I don’t like either sort of girl being presented as intrinsically less okay. I like girl friendships, when I see them in a story. I understand this kind of female friendship is definitely a Thing in Elizabeth Wein’s recent historical novels, CODE NAME VERITY and / or ROSE UNDER FIRE. (Sorry, still waiting for a chance to read those, I know they’re great, maybe in May.) Also, THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, a fantastic contemporary YA by Nelson, includes a good example. Oh, and back to fantasy, MONSTROUS REGIMENT by Pratchett, of course, though that’s kind of cheating! Or for something completely different, DUN LADY’S JESS by Duranna Durgin. I’m sure there are others, but seriously, girl friendships are not that common in fiction.

Yep, not really expecting to see that in any of the books I definitely plan to write. Oh, wait, yes, there is that one! Heck, I even plan to write that one this very year. So that’s something. I hope the plot doesn’t become unwieldy in ways that make me reduce that aspect.

Okay, how about an important nonsexual friendship between a man and a woman? You know, there is actually this kind of friendship in the Mrs Pollifax series, come to think of it — between Mrs Pollifax and Farrell. Is it possible to have a real friendship between a man and a woman who are closer in age? In real life, I know it is. In fiction, I think you really don’t see it except between a woman and a gay man, and that’s all very well but not only is it becoming something of a cliché, use of this trope implies that it’s impossible for straight men to be friends with women, which I know is not universally true. Tana French started to include an important male-female friendship in her IN THE WOODS, but of course she completely ruined that friendship as the book progressed. You may recall how I felt about that.

Though actually, you do see important friendships between Cassandra and other women, and Cassandra and male characters, in Andrea K Host’s TOUCHSTONE trilogy. Two thumbs up on that one. And you also see this in the INDA series by Sherwood Smith, so there’s another example.

I will say, yes, okay, I do have an important male-female friendship in one story. But generally if you are going to include romance and then dwell on that relationship, unless you’re writing a trilogy (you will notice the examples above are all series), you may have trouble including everything else you would like to. The story where I have this is also a duology. Or trilogy, depending on how it eventually breaks up.

So, that’s three. Anybody got suggestions for books that hit these tropes?

I could sure list more than three tropes and types of characters I’d like to include someday, that I just don’t see happening in the near future. Important secondary animal characters! Thieves! Assassins! I could list a dozen more, but, gosh, look at the time, gotta go work on the current WIP.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 15th, 2014
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Spring! And updates –

April 14th, 2014

Cleverly flowering between last week’s freeze and tonight’s freeze, my baby Magnolia ‘Butterflies.’ This is one of the best modern yellows. I believe it’s a selection off the normal saucer magnolia, so my guess is it will be a small tree rather than a shrub. Mine is just a baby, about five feet tall.

Butterfly2 (Medium)

I must say, in my more totalitarian moments, I would like to establish a plant list for every town and refuse to let more than, say, ten trees of any one kind be planted within the city limits, because there are WAY too many Bradford pears and WAY too few yellowthorns (say), so it would be nice to prod homeowners away from the former and toward the latter. BUT, I would give everybody a free magnolia. Nothing is more beautiful in the spring than a town where people went nuts with magnolias about 40 years ago. Champaign/Urbana in IL is like that, btw. Magnolias for spring and red maples for fall, that town will knock your socks off twice a year when the weather cooperates. Someone sure deserves a lot of credit for that town’s landscaping, don’t know who, but good job whoever you were.

Okay, and I think this is a fritillaria of some kind.

Frittalaria (Medium)

I planted it about ten years ago, just one bulb because it was expensive, and every year it comes up, looks fine, fails to flower, and dies back. Now that I have forgotten exactly what it is, it has finally decided to flower. Black flowers! How cool is that?

Tonight it is supposed to freeze. Or maybe tomorrow night. This might zap the apricot / plum / peach flowers, but on the other hand, maybe not. We are up high enough that we sometimes manage to stay above the line even when there is a sharp frost in town. Lots of finger-crossing around town, I’m sure.

On the other hand, nasty weather will let me stay inside and get some (non-gardening) work done!

On Saturday I didn’t really have time to do much, what with gardening etc, but I managed to cut 50 pages, yay! Progress! Now the WIP is merely much too long rather than INSANELY too long. It’s down to about 550 pp in case you are curious. It started as nearly 750 pp. I want to cut another 100 pages or so, but in fact it is okay with me if this particular WIP winds up on the long side, so I won’t insist on getting it down below 480 pp or so.

Yesterday I added a short scene to complete Ch. 6, but I cut several pages so that was all right. Then I strung several scenes together and corrected the flow for Ch. 7. Then I wrote a new beginning for Ch. 8. Today, I will revise Ch. 8 — an extensive job, but hopefully I will finish that tonight. Or, yeah, maybe tomorrow. I believe a lot of Ch 9 can remain essentially unchanged, though! And I will be saving large chunks of Ch 10. After that I’m not sure, probably a lot more hacking it up and stitching it back together.

Meanwhile, puppy cuteness continues to be mildly distracting.

A typical view of the puppy:

PuppyBlur (Medium)

The small blurry puppy is Bug. The large blurry puppy is Honey, who has recently turned one, btw, so she will be showing in the Graduate Puppy class in May. Thank heaven her foot is much, much better. Advice to puppies: do not drive half-inch splinters into your toes where they won’t be found for three days. Very ow. But her toe looks back to normal at last.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 14th, 2014
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Loglines

April 11th, 2014

A logline is an elevator pitch. Huh. I didn’t know that. Have I heard the term before and it went wooosh over my head, or have I just mostly heard people say “elevator pitch”?

If you aren’t familiar with either term, then basically an elevator pitch is a one-sentence hook for your novel that kind of goes Protagonist Needs Something But Can She Overcome Obstacle?

A while back, Nathan Bransford had a good post about writing one-sentence pitches. He basically summarizes the elevator pitch as “When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER(s), they have OVERCOME CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST.”

Here is Chuck Wendig’s cool recent post on loglines, which I just spotted.

The interestingness of this particular post comes in the comments, where writers present sample loglines — I’m thinking I prefer the term elevator pitch — and other commenters critique or comment.

I have tried writing elevator pitches for my books as an exercise and it is hard but interesting, plus people sure do ask you what your new book is about and believe me, that is IMPOSSIBLE to answer without boring them to tears if you try to actually describe your book. Never do that. Instead, it’s nice to have a prepared and memorized elevator pitch you can trot out for the occasion.

And you know what else? It’s a great logline that you need if you are mentioning your book or someone else’s book on Twitter. Because really, people, if you follow authors / bloggers / readers you see a whole lot of the YOU MUST BUY THIS GREAT BOOK I LOVED IT types of tweets, and first they all blur together and then they all get tuned out, unless a personal friend is tweeting about their own book or there’s some other special reason a particular comment catches your eye.

But one way to have a single book recommendation stand out from the crowd is to have exactly the right kind of logline.

I’m a sucker for superhero stories, so I like this one: “A couple of supervillains fall in love while fighting to reluctantly free a city from the tyranny of superheroes.” Nonperfect, but catchy.

Here’s one that’s very short but also catchy: “A black ops assassin atones for his brutal past by helping an alien abductee escape her fate.” I would take a second look if someone described a book to me that way.

If you have a minute, click over to Chuck’s post and let me know which potential logline, if any, would most make you take a second look at a book.

Also, this post reminds me of the long-running website QueryShark, only of course at QueryShark, Janet Reid focuses on queries. If you’ve never clicked over to that site, it can be fun to read through and interesting to see how one agent responds to specific elements of queries.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 11th, 2014
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Whew –

April 11th, 2014

Here’s the first review of The Islands of Chaldea that I’ve seen posted by someone I follow. And it’s positive. Good to know. It would be so disappointing if DWJ’s last unfinished book was weak.

Brandy says, “While not as wonderful as my favorite DWJ books, it is still very good. And a not as a good as the best DWJ is still far superior to almost everything else.”

As I said, whew! The book will be hitting shelves on April 22nd. I feel no special need to pick it up immediately, but I’m glad to know it’s waiting for when I have time.

On a completely different note, and more disappointingly, the performance classes at this weekend’s CKCSC show were canceled because too few people entered. That means I get to keep the trophies for another year, but I fully intended to win them back fair and square, so I’m disappointed I won’t have the chance. I wasn’t dead sure Honey could have won the High in Novice Class trophy, but unless I did something stupid like walk past a sign (not without precedent), Pippa was all but a sure thing for the High in Rally Trial trophy. Phooey.

In the breed ring, I was only going to show Pippa one day in Veterans, and it’s not worth going just for that, so I’m staying home. The weather looks like it will be nice, at least, so that’s gardening / hiking / farmer’s market / whatever.

I do expect to show Kenya and Honey in the AKC breed ring in upcoming shows, though. I’ve decided I really do want to finish championships on them both. It would be very nice to just hurry up and finish at least one of them in May. I’m entering at least seven shows (three weekends). Honey needs six singles to finish, Kenya needs five. I would prefer small entries since the girls only need singles. I’m having to remind myself that even if the entry is small, it doesn’t NECESSARILY mean one of my girls will win. Even so, after Honey’s picking up three majors from the puppy classes last year, it’s hard to believe she won’t be able to pick up some points at these shows, too.

It’s pretty traditional to have to really work to get that one last point, though.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 11th, 2014
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A geologic history of Westeros –

April 10th, 2014

No, really.

Start with a supercontinent and off you go:

Geologic events occurring XX million years ago (Mya) on Westeros:
(today) The size of the Game of Thrones planet
(25 Mya) The Earth split Westeros from Essos
(30-40 Mya) When Dorne boiled
(40 Mya) Land of ice
(60-80 Mya) The rise of the Black Mountains
(80-100 Mya) As the Moon rose, so did the Lannisters
(300 Mya) Diving the tropical reefs of Winterfell
(450 Mya) The sand ran red
(500 Mya) The first mountains

I quit reading GAME OF THRONES several books ago and I’m not very interested in Westeros as such. I may never read the rest of the series, though I would appreciate a full summary when it’s finally finished so I can see if I’m right about my predictions about what’s going to happen.

But this geological extrapolation is pretty keen.

“Knowing that the Black Mountains are 60-80 million years old, we therefore surmise that the Mountains of the Moon are 80-100 million years old, comparable to the Canadian Rocky Mountains in North America. The Moon Orogeny is more complex than the Black Orogeny, and we propose that the Mountains of the Moon formed in two stages: 1) early subduction of the microplate beneath southern Westeros, and 2) later continental collision between northern and southern Westeros.”

See? Isn’t that keen?

It reminds me of this, uh, study, of the vampire ecology in Buffy.

“Now that we have a model, we can start trying out some assumptions (or, if we’re lucky, actual measurements) for the various parameters. To start with, we know from the sign in “Lover’s Walk” that the human population of Sunnydale is 38,500. We also know that the town of Berkeley, CA has a population of about 100,000. Since Berkeley is also a town with a UC campus, and is furthermore a town that has been more or less completely urbanized (the population has been stable or dropping slightly for about 25 years), we will take 100,000 as the carrying capacity for a California university town.”

Fun with science! Enjoy.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 10th, 2014
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