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Archive for the ‘This Writing World’ Category

Watching a strong willed character slowly dig a big hole for themselves can take your mind off the everyday woes of the world. This, perhaps, is why Greek theatre has managed to retain a vibrancy and life after thousands of years. Let’s go watch that sucka burn.

Here’s a tip – give yourself a treat and dig into the Oedipus plays. You’ll amaze your friends and impress your mum. Dad might let you borrow the car.

Our cinema experiences tend to fall into flashy or emotional sprints, not a lot of time for intricate set plot set up and then sit back and see what happens. No, going to the movies, though I love it, ain’t gonna give me a real fix in the Deep and Meaningful department. (Shameless plug) 

For that we need to hit something a bit meaty and here is where I drag my old mate, Oedipus, onto centre stage.

Do you ever get that tingly feeling in a book when you can see what has to happen and you find yourself going “ooo….ooooo…” and wriggling a lot? Not because you need a comfort stop but because you just so want to watch the story unfold. Oedipus does that; there is a point in the story where we – the audience – get the inside dope on what has been going on before Oedipus does. And we all hold our breath as we watch the big guy work out that he has, in fact, killed his dad and married his mum. Oh, ewww!!!

Now that’s watching a train wreck.

This story is a great example of allowing a set of events to occur which drives the story forward with remorseless logic. No “it was all a dream” moments, no polar bears on the island, no sense that the author is making it up as they go.

Things happen in our lives, and some of the events we encounter are pretty grim. Like Oedipus we will all get news that sometimes rocks us to our foundations but they joy in the human condition lies in our ability to choose. To choose how we react.

We can’t help what happens to us but we can chose how we respond.

And it is this response that makes us human, and also makes us interesting. We want to see how the other person deals with the bad news, we watch as the accident happens and we see a little of ourselves in that response.

Which is what makes a story, doesn’t it? We have a protagonist, a situation and then we want to see what happens. So long as we have sympathy for the character and believe the situation then we will accept the story.

Go, Sophocles!

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 A friend of mine once said “The whole world’s mad except me and thee”; smug complacency from moi until I heard the rest of the statement, “And I’m not too sure about thee.”

This friend obviously had a slippery grasp on reality for it is my worldview which is the true and correct one and if everyone else would just understand that then we would all be in a better place – rainbows and unicorns on every street corner. World peace.

Which is a very nice deception we play upon ourselves, certainly there is some head nodding towards tolerance and empathy, but if we think that the other point of view is correct then we adopt it and hey presto! It’s now our point of view. No real issue with any of this, the world needs lots of variety and discussion, a healthy society demonstrates its robustness by allowing dissimilar views to happily coexist. We need a bit of friction – a rugby game between two teams where everyone supports Australia would be a bit depressing to the other side (New Zealand comes to mind). Put that gun down, sir! I am using an analogy, however close it may be to what the world should be, it is not reality. Yet.

The snag, of course, pops up when an author carries these sentiments into their work and does not understand that different people, different cultures, perceive the world through their own set of biases and prejudices (prejudicii?).

I know I’ve rambled on about this topic before but I am, at the heart of it, an insufferable bore. So I intend to bleat again. (Okay, no more NZ jokes).

 I am brought to this point by the novel I am currently wading through, I’m no quitter but it is danger of being flung against a wall. The protagonist is yet to encounter anyone who responds in a way which is surprising to him – the bad people are bad people but bad according to his rules; there are bullies and tyrants, misunderstood wise old men (put me down for one of them) and family units which all think exactly the same way. Unless there is a tormented teen and then of course he/she/it acts exactly like a tormented teen would predictably respond.

 Gak! Does the world really behave according to our own rules? Not the real world, one of the intriguing aspects of encountering another human being is the gobsmacking realization that they are, in fact, total nutbags.

As writers we have an obligation to take a deep breath and write like we are someone else, not just ourselves in another body at another age.

This current novel is a SF space opera, the big canvas. Yet I feel I am reading the adventures of Joe Average in Smalltown USA. The aliens behave remarkably like a bunch of good ol’ boys with the upper echelons resembling greedy capitalists complete with irritating laugh.

So come on, my fellow scribblers, let’s exert the brain and stretch the boundaries of good taste. Let’s have out characters behave in ways we can’t even consider – oh, wait, that’s the problem, isn’t it? We can’t consider how these people behave because we can’t…well, so it goes.

What’s the solution?

Get a life. Go out and about and mix it up with folk of whom you know not. Not a Christian? Go to a full on evangelical service. Dislike noisy, rowdy people? Hit a public bar on Friday night. Avoid getting your intercultural hits from stereotypical movies (Why, yes, Mr. Miyagi is exactly like all Japanese/Chinese/Korean folk so I’ll base my character on him.)

And then write up a storm, write so that people don’t know what is going to happen next. Just like the real world, especially in SF.

I’ve got some characters I’m trying to work into my new yarn, and they are just so not me. Zombies; better yet – Nazi zombies. From another dimension. In outer space. Oh, yeah, brother, bring it on.

I could be wrong, though; maybe they are a little like me.

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I like to write and I think I do good work. My sainted wife enjoys reading my stuff and the dog loves it, can’t get of my scintillating prose. And there are a few critical readers who willingly (crazy people) cast their jaundiced eyes over the old magnus and feel confident to tell me that my stuff is doing okay.

Generally they fall about laughing and point out my glaring plot holes, typos and passing acquaintance with grammar BUT when I have fixed up the quivering mess they seem to think that’s not bad. On a good day. Going downhill, if you squint.

 So this is all well and good I hear you ask, but so what?

 The people I really want to impress don’t fall into any of the aforesaid categories – the ones I’m after are the literary gatekeepers, the agents and publishers. It’s their opinion which is the one that counts to a journeyman author like moi.

 Having your mum say she loves your work might give you a few warm fuzzies but her words won’t cut it on a Query Letter. Even the manuscript appraisal services (and, my, aren’t there a lot of them?) are not able to pass you through the hallowed door into the mysterious world of publishing. Well, it’s a mysterious world to me; you, dear reader, have undoubtedly kicked a few goals already and have entire bookshelves of your published works sitting nearby. Sigh.

 Which leads me to the BIG question, do we have gatekeepers for other aspects of our life? I suspect we do, and we give ‘em too much power.

 I get decidedly cheesed off when a young ‘un feels that they are a bit worthless because they have come up short in the looks/money/weight/charisma/job/you name it department. Poor little mites have let society dictate who the gatekeepers are going to be in their lives. And it’s always someone fitter, stronger, better looking, more successful than where they happen to be at the time.

 Makes me want to spit. And say bad words.

 I accept the artificiality of the literary gatekeeper, I enter into the agreement that they have the final say over what gets into print. It’s part of the deal for us scribblers.

 But what I cannot accept is how each one of us blithely surrenders the power to make ourselves feel good to an outside body. And it’s not just the youth who are the victims, although this is where it all starts – Us grown ups still allow the media (of all types) to dictate to us.

 So have a think who your gatekeepers are, sit down and give it a few moments. And then decide whether or not you want to continue to give up this power, the power to make you feel good about yourself.

 Take it back. Join me and the dog – we’ve come across to the light and left the dark side. He tells me I’m pretty special and I believe him.

 Good dog. You’re not so bad yourself.

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Some people like people. They enjoy hanging around in crowds, shooting the breeze, waffling on at length and sharing their sunny disposition with all and sundry. They’re out there and sometimes in yer face. Bless ‘em, the extroverts.

Then there are the curmudgeonly types who sit in caves and inhabit basement rooms owned by their mothers. Reclusive, inward gazing introverts.

We generally fall into one of those two categories, rarely at one end but somewhere along the spectrum with perhaps a bias towards outgoing or hermit. And thus we go through each day, content to wallow in our own desires, not bothered by encountering those from the other end of the range – we just step aside and walk around them. The world turns and we turn with it.

Except, dare I say, for the poor misbegotten fools who take up the pen and decide to pen the odd opus magnus. For them, dear reader, we hold a special circle of hell – I’m sure Dante had it in mind at about level 3 – a place where the introspective writer must leave the sheltered confines of his (or her) tiny garret and go out and about. Pressing the flesh and kissing babies. Yuk!

I don’t mind people, can take ‘em or leave ‘em; but I hate with a passion the vapid gatherings of social intercourse known as ‘networking’. Gak! I’m a writer, I like my own company, will accept my sainted wife hanging around and perhaps –on a good day with a following wind – the dog may flop at my feet. But that’s it.

And now I discover that I must schmooze with the best of them, exchange pleasantries and meaningful comments. Make myself known to those with influence, chat up some significant players.

As a chat up merchant I have a history of gobsmacked females who stared at me as if encountering a vaguely hirsute plant. Generally followed by embarrassed silence and then a trail of loud guffaws as I slunk away. But it seems I must revisit this era of social dismay and become a winning personality with all and sundry if I am to succeed as a writer.

“Oh, death where is thy sting?” ain’t in it when it comes to social conventions. But I’ll have a crack at it so be warned – the next unkempt, bearded lout who sidles up to you and mutters a phrase into your lug hole may be yours truly.

 Have some Madeira, my dear.

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Self discipline is a truly great concept, and one of these days I intend to buy a whole barrelful. Maybe two. For with self discipline comes the luxury of knowing what you are doing, distractions are dealt with, side issues are ignored. That siren song of moving on to another, more fascinating project may be tuned out. Like Odysseus, the wax is well and truly in the ears. Ah, yes, self discipline – yet another character trait I watch passing me by.

I dribble on this way for I am coming up for air after an absence of some months from the ol’ keyboard. My day job – mild mannered yet fiendishly effective worker bee – has relaxed its relentless grip and given me a few hours off. Whoopee! I thinks to meself, I’ll write. But write what?

Well, surely, the project I abandoned all that time ago; poor little thing, sitting there and looking piteous. Surely this is the task to which I should return. Yeah, except, well, I’ve got a few projects unfinished.

Quite a few in fact; more than some.

After printing off all of my incomplete stories I sat and read them, thinking that one will light up the beacon of enthusiasm. Which is to be? The next Valentine story – a little ripper about my favourite guardsman and a few space zombies (high literature it ain’t, but a ton of fun)? Or perhaps the tale of a suburban dad who finds a space pistol in his letter box (Mowbray and Son, intergalactic political shenanigans)? Maybe the…..well, you get the idea.

I seem to have drifted off my story lines a bit. Curse this creative mind! Come on, Hornby, stick to one task!

Now I’m sure all of my readers – and boyoboy there are a heck of a lot of you out there, my stats are through the roof! – I’m sure all of you are thoughtful, disciplined people. Capable of forging on to the goal, resisting the sloth of indulgence and the lure of the next bright and shiny thing. That sound like you? Stop laughing, this is serious.

But I am becoming dangerously close to being a dilettante with the pen, for I am easily distracted. Very easily….what was I talking about?…oh, yes which story to continue, I’ve got it now.

Well, I have decided what to write. Last night I dumped a few thousand words (never mind the quality, feel the width) of a story onto my poor unsuspecting keyboard. Poor thing almost choked, unused as it has become to toil.

And yes, it’s a brand new story. But I will get back to the others, I just need to get this yarn out of my head.

Seems to be a bit of wax on the floor, but I’m hearing better. Coffee, anyone?

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Cory, Bob and Me

Cory Doctorow and I were talking and he said…….wait a minute, let me set the scene.

I have just come back from a few wonderful days at Aussiecon 4: the 68th WorldCon; this, dear readers, is the annual convention of all things Sci Fi & Fantasy. But of course you know that because you are all switched on people, switched on and tuned in. Oh, yeah!  In the groove, up to date, in the know…

Alright, I’m stopping now with this line of thought – too much Aussiecon coffee still surging through my slowly hardening arteries.

Worldcon has some truly great moments and concepts. For example, on page 18 of the Pocket program guide is the Worldcon’s weapons policy; now I think this is something the business world would do well to emulate, how about a few more weapons policies at other conferences and professional development sessions? The sales force from Used Car Yards could reflect on such things, AGMs for golf clubs, too. Come on, now, work with me on this. I’m sure a few teachers wouldn’t mind a well thought out weapons policy.

So, there I was kneeling at Bob’s feet – that’s Mr Robert Silverberg, first book published in 1955! – when a nearby camera took a photo of the two of us. I understood this, someone obviously wanted to capture the moment when a giant of the Biz (Bob) passed the baton on to the young turk (that’s me, you chowderheads). Ah, yes, quite a photo moment; glad I groveled at the assistant who obliged me by taking the shot.

I recommend Worldcon, I went to some great sessions – Kim Stanley Robinson is a speaker well worth a visit; educated, articulate and gently humorous. Sit before him whenever possible.

But the big news was the reunion of the Orbiteers; the gang of scribes who allow me to sit at their table as long as I don’t dribble too much and eat all the chips. We have another member being published (congratulations, Jo)! There shall be much gushing on this in later posts. Graham Storrs – of Timespalsh fame – has been signed up by a Danish publisher!

And, of course, we gathered with the wonderful Marianne De Pierres again, a lady who continues to grace us with her time and encouragement. MDP also writes some crime fiction under the ruse de guerre (have I got that right?) of Marianne Delacourt – do read the Tara Sharp novels, beginning with “Sharpshooter”. Ditmar Award, anyone?

The list of successes goes on and on, pity it stops before coming to me…Small pause for massive amount of self pity…okay, better now. Stiff upper lip, Hornby.

But I’m in the game, rubbing shoulders with the greats, schmoozing my way through the free dinners, plastering a vapid smile on the ol’ puss. Why, yes, that is me in the photograph with Bob Silverberg.

And Cory Doctorow? I sat in on one of his panel sessions (he’s a gentleman, by the way) and on the way out we exchanged a few words. As you do when writers meet, a bit of the old intellectual stimulation, a touch of wit and repartee.

As he was leaving I smiled and said “Thank you, Cory.”

Our eyes met briefly and he responded with “You’re welcome.”

Yep, me and Cory. Sorry, Bob, but I have to move on.

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A bit of cultural information; in Australia a new band can take the bit between their teeth and join what we call the pub circuit. Yes, I know, your country does the same thing, but I get paid by the word.

 Anyhoo, these various young ‘uns stiffen up the sinews, assume the aspect martial and hit the floor in front of a very demanding audience. Horatio at the bridge ain’t in it. If a band is below par they leave the stage either holding various damaged appendages or – what may be worse – they depart to the cacophonous sounds of silence. Because no one turned up.

 Except the owner of the bar who has just lost some serious drinking money due to the aforesaid band. Words have been known to be exchanged. Reflections made upon parentage, doubt cast over one’s mental capacity, sometimes (shudder) even irony is trotted out. Oh, the shame of it all, the inhumanity!

 Now it’s a long bow but I reckon that a blogger may be doing something similar. Sans the thrown beer bottles, the odour of unwashed flesh and dried bodily fluids. No, wait…I do know some bloggers who fit that profile. But that’s a personal hygiene choice, not the judgement of the masses.

 Okay, so the biggest risk we run (that’s a blogger) is to be ignored. Someone sticks their head into the room to see what the band’s like and quickly evaporates, never to return. People stop by to read the odd post, groan in boredom and forage into other electronic fields. Boy, can I get some metaphors going or what?

 Unfortunately we don’t have access to the same repertoire as a live performer. No volume control (let’s crank up the FONT SIZE AND GO ALL CAPS!), we can’t hit the electronic sound effects (switching from Arial to Courier doesn’t count) and we certainly can’t let off a bunch of explosions. Although the bloggers referred to previously do make sounds but they are more of a personal nature, more of a lounge act.

 Somehow changing the colour schemes of the blog and the images on the banner is not the same as a full on stage show.

 Sigh.

 But I have a solution, I want to bring a little rock and roll into the blogosphere, I want to start living on the edge. And this is how it happens….

 As I type, possibly even while you are still reading this, I want you to know that I am sitting here in fishnet stockings, paisley shirt, top hat and goth make up. A little bit of glitter for the ladies. I have already smashed two keyboards and the mouse is looking nervous, behind me is a large inflatable image of the dictionary, beside it is a thesaurus – both are dressed a little bit S&M (only a little because they scare me).

 The dog has contributed by being sick on the rug.

 I am signing off now, I clutch a frozen chicken in one hand and will be biting its head off. Somehow.

 Rock and Roll, baby….

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This afternoon I was having one of my regular discussions with the dog over the matter of ethics, we have these from time to time in a seemingly futile endeavor to broaden his mind. It generally revolves around the concept of property ownership, the dog being more of a socialist consequently resents the notion of private property; unless, of course he deems himself the owner. He’s been reading far too much Lenin.

 The dog believes that the neighbours should seek permission from him before entering their own back yard, he thinks he’s using a lot of subtle arguments but basically he just barks. My rebuttal follows swiftly.

 Unfortunately he caught me this afternoon trying to scratch a few more words into my new novel (23, 000 words so far) and hence did not benefit from my legendary patience. I was struggling with the writing and feel embarrassed to talk about it.

 I will, of course, because I’m a loudmouth. But I’d ask you to keep it to yourself (I’m sure there’s some sort of blogger/reader confidentiality protocol.)

 Writing’s a bit of a grind at the moment. There, I’ve said it.

 I know writers should be all windswept and interesting, full of high ideals and thinking thoughts on a lofty plan. The words should flow from the muse, artistically arranged on the page by someone of scintillating talent. Fingers flying over keyboards, ideas jostling for space, that sort of thing. Possibly the odd faraway look out a nearby window to gaze over the scene idyllic, bluebirds in trees and the gentle lowing of cattle. Could be a sunset in there somewhere.

 But I’m letting the side down. At the moment the old novel feels like a grind, I have lovely little spurts for a few sentences, even a scene or two, but then I have to write some links, or a piece of description that’s been in my head a while – and I feel like I’m forcing the words out.

 Pretty sad, isn’t it? I mean, time at the keyboard is precious – it’s downright scarce. So when I get there I want to fly off to worlds unknown, not be confronted with my own turgid prose or struggle over every line.

 I’m not full of verve and energy, gushing over all things authorial (dibs on that word). At the moment I’m just a hack, bashing away.

 This is novel number three, and I’ve been here before on each of them. The first was good enough to get me into the winners circle with the Orbiteers (a dead clever bunch of writers) and the second was shortlisted for a state award. So I know that I’ll get there.

 But at the moment it’s the dog who is making the more cogent arguments about life. And he may be on to something, too.

 I’m off to bark at the neighbours.

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Want some money? Sure, go to the ATM, never a chance of encountering another human being. Petrol? Gimme that pump, laddie, I’ll be doin’ my own pumpin’. Anyone been to corner store lately and stood at the counter to ask for something? A packet of breakfast cereal, some mixed lollies? No, many of us have become attuned to the supermarket and a serve yourself lifestyle.

And there’s really nothing wrong with that but I began to mull over the implications of e-books. I have an e-reader (okay, I admit it, it’s an iphone) and I have noticed how my reading habits are getting a bit of a nudge. The particular app I use allows me to buy current titles or download a huge backlog of books free. I mean HUGE.

A quick skim shows the classics such as the Odyssey and the Iliad standing shoulder to shoulder with Greek plays, a bit of Newton and so on and so on. Feeling insufferably smug I downloaded a few weighty tomes and bashed away at them. Damned things haunt me now, every time I look at my electronic bookshelf they’re sitting there. Just waiting for me to open them up…as I promised to do. J’accuse!

And I can’t delete them! Heavens, that would mean that I don’t want to read whatever it is and really that’s just not on. I’m an intellectual and I have the bumper sticker to prove it.

So there’s one downside to e-readers – chose your texts with care, young ‘uns, else they will silently mock thy pretensions. I happen to like pretensions, collect them in fact, so I’m pretty bulletproof. You don’t live with a saint of a woman, a lazy dog, two huge sons and the mortgage from hell without acquiring a certain carelessness regarding much of life. Red wine helps.

Back to e-books. I love them. Balancing out my selection of significant texts was a free book donated by a kind author (one of those wealthy, compassionate people – you probably know dozens of them). It was a great read, part one of a series. I read the entire book on the phone over a few days. Finished it one night and found myself at a loss. I wanted to read more of the series! In the bad old days I would have put off my yearnings – as young men are trained to do from puberty – had a cold shower and waited until the paycheck and a week-end. The crimson flame of my ardour may well have chilled in the cold light of day (young men stuff again). I may have even decided that I did not want to read the next in the series, it was all too, too silly.

But now, on that night, I merely did a quick search and found the next two books in the series available for download. Which I did. And kept reading until the wee, wee hours.

Now I hasten to add that I took pains to ensure that I was not duping some poor soul out of a buck. These books were free. I have downloaded several other books for a fee, all horribly cheap when compared to a hard copy edition. Don’t shoot me, I’m just the piano player.

But, and this is my point, it was so easy just to keep reading, to get the next book in the series. No cool down time. As a teenager once said “I want it all, I want it now, and I want you to get it for me.”

e-books allow our literary desires to become as that teenager. And while that is a mildly revolting thought it does raise some interesting hopes for us scribblers.

Perhaps e-books will assist the promotion and reading of our work in a way never possible with hard copy editions.

It’s all so easy. Fast food for the mind; I can feel my brain fattening.

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Some time ago a bunch of writers came together for a short residential workshop to develop our Spec Fiction manuscripts; we were the first winners of a national award run by Orbit Publishing and the Queensland Writers Centre.

 And we were pretty terrified.

 The residential was in a quite lovely facility on Bribie Island, a beach nearby, lots of quiet all around. Fully catered, even with its own wet bar; we didn’t have to do anything except write and meet publishers, agents and each other.  Marianne De Pierres, author of the Parrish Plessis novels, the Sentients of Orion series plus the Tara Sharp yarns also stayed with us. That’s right, she didn’t just jet in for a quick hello darlings, she stayed in the trenches with us and was always available for a chat, some counseling or even just a glass of red. Or two. I am a big fan of this lady, not only for her writing but for her generosity of spirit.

 We met that first afternoon around a big table after catching glimpses of each other as we all arrived. Now I want you all to get a sense of what we were feeling here that afternoon; none of us had had a book published bar one; we were all a bit nervous.

 Personally, I felt that everyone else had earned their place by being a brilliant writer but I was just a schmuck. At each point in the registration process (getting the key to the room, confirming with the convenor that we had, in fact arrived, etc etc) I was sure that the mistake would be revealed. What mistake? The mistake that said I was invited into this group. Heck, these we REAL writers.

 Yep, I was sure that, at any moment, someone official would step forward and say, “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Hornby, but there’s been a mistake. You shouldn’t be here because you’re writing wasn’t good enough.” And then there would be that long, lonely walk back to the car while everyone watched.

 Just like being back at school, really.

 That afternoon we all discovered that none of us could embark on a life of crime, or be a spy, or work undercover. It turned out that we all felt the same way. By the end of the week we had shared a lot; our stories, our hopes and fears (writers have a lot of them) and our friendship. We now call ourselves the Orbiteers.

 One of our group, Luke Keioskie, had been published once before and so we held him in high esteem, especially after he schmoozed the chef into getting the bar to stay open late on that first night. Luke has had his manuscript published since that week – check out Dead America for a truly wondrous yarn about zombies.

 But the reason for this post is another Orbiteer – Graham Storrs. Graham will have his first novel published NEXT MONTH and has agreed to stop by this blog and do a guest spot. He has his own blog which is redolent with intelligence, thought provoking insights and current news in the world of writing. None of which you will find in my blathering.  I was lucky enough to read a draft of his novel, “Timesplash” and I have to say he is one of those rare SF authors who can plot out a detailed storyline with depth and elegance. I’ll just embarrass him totally now – he reminds me of Arthur C Clarke in his ability to make things real. Real people and real events.

 So next month you will have a treat. Graham will do his best to elevate the level of discussion normally inhabiting this blog; he will ignore the cheap laugh, he will forswear the insipid jibe, he may even attempt some good grammar. Stranger things have happened.

 I, however, will throttle each of his intellectual sallies; any of his insights shall probably be lost in my vapid mumblings and I urge discerning readers to look elsewhere for accuracy in current news reporting. The poor man will undoubtedly require some form of therapy after guesting here. As we speak I am preparing fart jokes.

 Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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