Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: C. J. Cherryh

Yet More Conversation about the “Rules of Writing” . . .


This Blog Conversation began on October 15th and continued on Oct. 17th, 19th, and 22nd… Rules of Writing

I’ll give you a huge thought from earlier in this discussion…

There are many declared “rules” of writing; yet, I’ve made a point to include in our past posts, and will share here, a maxim from author C. J. Cherryh:

No Rule Should Be Followed Off a Cliff.

I don’t know if you can agree with that; but, it rings loudly true to me…

Some of the past posts in this discussion have considered the idea that being “frightened” by various aspects of the writing process can lead many folks to embrace  certain “rules’ to bring them some potential “comfort”…

My all-time favorite fiction writer has her share of “rules”; but then, she’s the one who said, “No Rule Should Be Followed Off a Cliff“…

Once again, our gold-star commenter, an author and publisher from Germany, has the single comment that let this conversation continue:

“Showing something I have written to someone is absolutely frightening. I trust my husband to read the first ‘public’ version of my books. Even so… when he doesn’t say anything, or the pauses between readings are long, I want to steal the manuscript back and hide it.

“Yesterday, I wrote a blog post, scheduled for November 8th, about writing rules. The post was of course inspired by the conversation here on your blog. When I opened your post today, I found that you had chosen the same picture. Considering the conversations here I think this wasn’t a coincidence.”

First, to address the non-coincidence, which I would call an occurrence of synchronicity, I’m in a state of wonderment about my German friend’s “attunement” to my choice of image…

I’d also written the following in the post where she discovered that image—my comment based on her re-introducing the idea of potentially frightening ideas surfacing in the act of writing:

“My widest thought-path notes that where our German commenter used “subconscious”, I would choose “Personal Unconscious” and “Shadow”—Jungian terms; plus, those words suggest I supply a link to an essay I wrote about the levels of mind involved in the activities of writing or reading—What Are Words?

“If you’re not frightened when thinking about psychology and metaphysics, check out that essay…”

Synchronicity is a particularly Jungian term…

Without getting into the details of that essay of mine, I should mention that may people who “wish” they could write a book are actually “afraid” to write—fearing they may call up sequences of words that may “frighten” them or others—stir up ideas that lie just beyond their “safe” conscious barriers…

If such a person does acquire a bit of daring to attempt the tasks of writing, they might adopt other folks “rules” about what to write and how to write it—all the while ignoring the Truth of what’s boiling away deep inside their soul…

Perhaps our German commenter’s potential fright when exposing her writing is fearing some “judgement”; or, worse, receiving no response to her particular Truth…?

I hope she’ll add to her stellar record of sharing comments to respond to my wonderings…

Perhaps, you’d consider sharing your thoughts about “rules” helping writers overcome the “frightful” aspects of writing…?

Or, you may have other opinions about “rules for writing”…?

Or, you may have ideas for where to find “rules for writing”…?

Or, you may not understand why there should ever be any “rules for writing”…?

And, you might be the first reader to comment and allow this discussion to continue :-)
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If you don’t see a way to comment, try the link at the upper right of this post…
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Our Blog Conversations are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—the rest of the week, I share valuable posts from other blogs
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For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
OR >>> Send me a free Voice Message

Even More Conversation about the “Rules of Writing” . . .


Rules of Writing This Blog Conversation began on October 15th and continued on Oct. 17th & 19th

There have been a number of topics raised in this discussion; and, you may want to take those links to see what previous readers had to say…

So…

There are many declared “rules” of writing; yet, I’ve made a point to include in those past posts, and will share here, a maxim from author C. J. Cherryh:

No Rule Should Be Followed Off a Cliff.

I’m wondering if you can agree with that…?

You might consider sharing your opinion in the comments… :-)

A poet-friend of mine on Wattpad appended this comment to my announcement of this conversation over there:

“Very interesting! Writing can be frightening, to each individual; following the rules is a personal choice of comfort.”

If I define “writing” to include everything that a writer can do, then not only putting words on a page might be frightening; so might revising, sharing with beta readers, conversing with an editor, seeking an agent, dealing with a publisher, or even self-publishing…

But then, there are “rules” that can be found to pad the fright and, perhaps, induce a bit of comfort…

And, if you want an even stronger opinion about the fright-potential of writing, check out the reader comment in the post on the 19th…

Now, from a regular contributor, an author and publisher from Germany:

“I suppose writing can be frightening because it can reveal so much of the writers deepest and maybe darkest feelings. At some point, the subconscious takes over and we discover only afterwards what we have written. Confronting the words of this unknown part of the self can shake our picture of who and how we are. So better hide behind rules, keep them in mind when writing and never let go of the railing they provide…”

This quite provocative comment seduces my writer’s mind into many passages of thought…

My widest thought-path notes that where our German commenter used “subconscious”, I would choose “Personal Unconscious” and “Shadow”—Jungian terms; plus, those words suggest I supply a link to an essay I wrote about the levels of mind involved in the activities of writing or reading—What Are Words?

If you’re not frightened when thinking about psychology and metaphysics, check out that essay…

And, since I quoted C. J. Cherryh up there; plus, my feeling that she must be the Bravest writer I’ve ever read, you might be interested in her Advice Page <— Do note the three additional links at the top of that page…

I wonder if some of you reading this feel like writing is frightening…?

Why should it be…?

Which part of it is frightening…?

Putting the first word on an empty page…?

Earlier…?

Coming up with a “good” idea to write about…?

Later…?

Revising and removing things you like because they just don’t “fit”…?

How about showing something you’ve written to someone else…?

Maybe, sitting in a group and having a discussion about your writing…?

There are folks who love all those activities…

There are folks who become genuinely frightened even considering some of them…

So…

I’ll leave you with all those questions, hoping they’ll encourage you to share a comment about the “Rules” of Writing ( it only takes one comment to keep our conversation going... ).
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If you don’t see a way to comment, try the link at the upper right of this post…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Blog Conversations are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—the rest of the week, I share valuable posts from other blogs
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
OR >>> Send me a free Voice Message

Still More Conversation about the “Rules of Writing” . . .


This Blog Conversation began on October 15th and continued on Oct. 17th… Rules of writing

I share those links in case you want to see what our readers have already said…

So…

There are many declared “rules” of writing; yet, I’ve made a point to include in those past posts, and will share here, a maxim from author C. J. Cherryh:

No Rule Should Be Followed Off a Cliff.

I’m wondering if you can agree with that…?

You might consider sharing your opinion in the comments…

But, I want to share our latest reader’s comment—from an author in Melbourne, Australia:

“Writing rules are rules invented for folks who want something regulated to hang on to because writing can be frightening, terribly frightening—as Hemingway is reported to have said, ‘It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.’

“But bleeding isn’t fun… So, just like being in the army it feels kinda safer to follow the rules… Except that writing isn’t a drill camp—it’s the wild jungle of your heart that is calling the shots here…

“Just look inside, that’s the secret :-) “

There’s much meaning in this comment…

I wonder if some of you reading this feel like writing is frightening…?

Why should it be…?

Which part of it is frightening…?

Putting the first word on an empty page…?

Earlier…?

Coming up with a “good” idea to write about…?

Later…?

Revising and removing things you like because they just don’t “fit”…?

How about showing something you’ve written to someone else…?

Maybe, sitting in a group and having a discussion about your writing…?

There are folks who love all those activities…

There are folks who become genuinely frightened even considering some of them…

But, how can sitting in front of your typewriter and bleeding be pleasurable…?

Though, I can imagine a few prolific writers trading in their computers for a typewriter; pounding on those keys for a week; and, at least potentially, getting a bloody finger or two :-)

Then, there’s our commenter’s statement about feeling “safer” by surrounding yourself with “rules”…

Does that really engender safety…?

Might it keep you from completely “honest” writing…?

So…

I’ll leave you with all those questions, hoping they’ll encourage your sharing a comment ( it only takes one comment to keep our conversation going... ).

Yet, I need to share my appreciation of our commenter’s statement that looking inside is the “secret”…

And, I’ll leave you with one other powerful statement from our Australian commenter—perhaps, you’ll share your ideas about it in the comments…?

“…it’s the wild jungle of your heart that is calling the shots here…”

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If you don’t see a way to comment, try the link at the upper right of this post…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Blog Conversations are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—the rest of the week, I share valuable posts from other blogs
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
OR >>> Send me a free Voice Message

 

More Conversation about the “Rules of Writing” . . .


This Blog Conversation began on October 15th… Rules of Writing

That first post had a set of “rules” that some would call “long” and others might see as “compact and practical”…

It was written by C. J. Cherryh, was called Writerisms and other Sins, and had a summation statement that said, No Rule Should Be Followed Off a Cliff.

Sage advice Cherryh offers; yet, there are accomplished writers who could disagree, stating particular “rules” they feel are essential to their work.

One excellent one, that many of them cite, is “Read a lot.”…

Yet Cherryh’s rule would still apply (in my mind); plus, many a writer can end up reading so much they hardly ever write…

I happen to agree with that reading-rule but must admit that a certain type of writer could, conceivably, avoid reading altogether ( though, obviously, they must have learned to read or they wouldn’t be able to write... :-)

So…

Let’s move on to the comment that allowed this discussion continue, from an author and publisher from Germany:

“My rule for writers who write in languages other than English: When you read a book on writing that was translated from English, check every rule on grammar and style to see if it applies to your language. Most rules do apply, at least to German, but not all. German texts that sound like bad translations from English (but are not translated!) make me first scream and then cry. (I cry a lot lately ;-) ) “

I’m extremely grateful for that comment.

I can write only in English; and, this blog has most of its readers coming from countries that have a predominance of English-speakers (though, I’m always grateful for a smaller yet steady readership from many other countries...); and, I can only wonder if that translation widget, at the top of the left sidebar, actually conveys the meanings of the posts here to folks who know no English…

I believe there will be a day when humanity’s governments decide on a “World Language”, taught in all schools, with most people being bilingual…

So…

Our German commenter makes two mind-widening points—check translations for fidelity to your native language and spurn poorly written books of rules; yet, Cherryh’s rule-of-rules still seems to apply…

But, perhaps you don’t see it applying…?

And, perhaps, you might consider sharing your thoughts in the comments…?

Or, you may have other opinions about “rules for writing”…?

Or, you may have ideas for where to find “rules for writing”…?

Or, you may not understand why there should ever be any “rules for writing”…?

And, you might be the first reader to comment and allow this discussion to continue :-)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you don’t see a way to comment, try the link at the upper right of this post…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Blog Conversations are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—the rest of the week, I share valuable posts from other blogs
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
OR >>> Send me a free Voice Message

Blog Conversation about The “Rules of Writing” . . .


Rules of Writing Our last Conversation here—about Reading Print books or Ebooks—ended on October 12th, due to no reader comment; but, it had a decent run of six posts…

So…

Here I go, launching another conversation; this time about what You think about the “Rules of Writing”…

I’ve seen, basically, five different groups of folks…

Those who believe:

  • There are no rules.
  • There’s this one particular book that has the rules.
  • There are these X number of books that contain all the rules.
  • The rules are always changing.
  • Every book, essay, poem, or short story has its own set of rules.

There may be other groups; but, hey, that’s why I have comments activated on this blog :-)

And, to render my opinion, I’ll offer 10 “rules” from my all-time favorite fiction writer…

She’s had more than eighty books published, has won the Hugo Award, the Campbell Award, the Locus Award, and many more ——> C. J. Cherryh.

I’ll creatively cheat and give you the final thing she says on her rules list:

CHERRYH’S LAW: NO RULE SHOULD BE FOLLOWED OFF A CLIFF.

And, here’s the whole thing (which, though being a rabid fan of Cherryh, I don’t know if I follow to the letter; yet, since I’ve read her extensively, I may be following most of...):

Writerisms and other Sins:

A Writer’s shortcut to stronger writing.

(c) 1995 by C.J. Cherryh

Writerisms: overused and misused language. In more direct words: find ’em, root ’em out, and look at your prose without the underbrush. You may be surprised by how much better it looks.

1) am, is, are, was, were, being, be, been….combined with ‘by’ or with an actor implied but not stated. [The window was broken by a stray ball. The window got broke. The window was broken that afternoon.] Such structures are passives. In general, limit passive verb use to one or two per book. The word ‘by’ followed by a person is an easy flag for passives. [Active is the alternative to passive [let’s not talk about Sanskrit and Middle Voice here!] The sentence about the window would read: A stray ball broke the window.] Common reason for using a passive? To avoid saying who or what did it. Don’t trust people who use a lot of passives. Alternative reason: to focus attention on the window rather than the ball, the result rather than the action. There’s artistic reason for passives, but they’re baroque, convolute, and rob the sentence of factual information. Limit your use of them…ration them!]

2) am, is, are, was, were, being, be, been….combined with an adjective. ‘He was sad as he walked about the apartment.’> ‘He moped about the apartment.’ A single colorful verb is stronger than any was + adjective; but don’t slide to the polar opposite and overuse colorful verbs. There are writers that vastly overuse the ‘be’ verb; if you are one, fix it. If you aren’t one—don’t, because *over*fixing it will commit the next error.

3) florid verbs. ‘The car grumbled its way to the curb’ is on the verge of being so colorful it’s distracting. {Florid fr. Lat. floreo, to flower.}

If a manuscript looks as if it’s sprouted leaves and branches, if every verb is ‘unusual’, if the vocabulary is more interesting than the story…fix it by going to more ordinary verbs. There are vocabulary-addicts who will praise your prose for its usage of uncommon verbs but there won’t be many readers who can admire your verbs as verbs and simultaneously follow your story, especially if your story has intellectual content. The car is probably not a main actor and not one you necessarily need to make into a character. If its action should be more ordinary and transparent, don’t use an odd expression. This is prose, not epic verse.

This statement also goes for unusual descriptions and odd adjectives, nouns, and adverbs.” The sun bloomed on the verge of the planetary surface’ is pretty awful: ‘dawned’ gets the job done.

4) odd connectives. Some writers overuse ‘as’ and ‘then’ in an attempt to avoid ‘and’ or ‘but’, which themselves can become a tic. But ‘as’ is only for truly simultaneous action. The common deck of conjunctions available is:

when (temporal)

if (conditional)

since (ambiguous between temporal and causal)

although (concessive)

because (causal)

and (connective)

but (contrasting)

as (contemporaneous action *or* sub for ‘because’) while (roughly equal to ‘as’)

These are the ones I can think of. If you use some too much and others practically never, be more even-handed. Then, BTW, is originally more of an adverb than a proper conjunction, although it seems to be drifting toward use as a conjunction. However is really a peculiar conjunction, demanding in most finicky usage to be placed *after* the subject of the clause.

Don’t forget the correlatives, either…or, neither…nor, and ‘not only…but also.’

And ‘so that’, ‘in order that’, and the far shorter and occasionally merciful infinitive: ‘to..{verb}something.’

5) Descriptive writerisms. Things that have become ‘conventions of prose’ that personally stop me cold in text.

‘framed by’ followed by hair, tresses, curls, or most anything cute.

“swelling bosom’

‘heart-shaped face’

‘set off by’: see ‘framed by’

‘revealed’ or ‘revealed by’: see ‘framed by’. Too precious for words when followed by a fashion statement.

mirrors….avoid mirrors, as a basic rule of your life. You get to use them once during your writing career. Save them for more experience. But it doesn’t count if they don’t reflect…by which I mean see the list above. If you haven’t read enough unpublished fiction to have met the infamous mirror scenes in which Our Hero admires his steely blue eyes and manly chin, you can scarcely imagine how bad they can get.

limpid pools and farm ponds: I don’t care what it is, if it reflects your hero and occasions a description of his manly dimple, it’s a mirror.

As a general rule…your viewpoint characters should have less, rather than more, description than anyone else: a reader of different skin or hair color ought to be able to sink into this persona without being continually jolted by contrary information.

Stick to what your observer can observe. One’s own blushes can be felt, but not seen, unless one is facing….a mirror. See above.

‘as he turned, then stepped aside from the descending blow…’ First of all, it takes longer to read than to happen: pacing fault. Second, the ‘then’ places action #2 sequentially after #1, which makes the whole evasion sequence a 1-2 which won’t work. This guy is dead or the opponent was telegraphing his moves in a panel-by-panel comic book style which won’t do for regular prose. Clunky. Slow. Fatally slow.

‘Again’ or worse ‘once again.’ Established writers don’t tend to overuse this one: it seems like a neo fault, possibly a mental writerly stammer—lacking a next thing to do, our hero does it ‘again’ or ‘once again’ or ‘even yet.’ Toss ‘still’ and ‘yet’ onto the pile and use them sparingly.

6) Dead verbs. Colorless verbs.

walked

turned

crossed

run, ran

go, went, gone

leave, left

have, had

get, got

You can add your own often used colorless verbs: these are verbs that convey an action but don’t add any other information. A verb you’ve had to modify (change) with an adverb is likely inadequate to the job you assigned it to do.

Colorless: verb with inadequate adverb: ‘He walked slowly across the room.’ More informative verb with no adverb.> ‘He trudged across the room’, ‘He paced across the room’, ‘He stalked across the room,’ each one a different meaning, different situation. But please see problem 3, above, and don’t go overboard.

7) Themely English

With apologies to hard-working English teachers, school English is not fiction English.

Understand that the meticulous English style you labored over in school, including the use of complete sentences and the structure of classic theme-sentence paragraphs, was directed toward the production of non-fiction reports, resumes, and other non-fiction applications.

The first thing you have to do to write fiction? Suspect all the English style you learned in school and violate rules at need. Many of those rules will turn out to apply; many won’t.

{Be ready to defend your choices. If you are lucky, you will be copyedited. Occasionally the copyeditor will be technically right but fictionally wrong and you will have to tell your editor why you want that particular expression left alone.}

8) Scaffolding and spaghetti. Words the sole function of which is to hold up other words. For application only if you are floundering in too many ‘which’ clauses. Do not carry this or any other advice to extremes.

‘What it was upon close examination was a mass the center of which was suffused with a glow which appeared rubescent to the observers who were amazed and confounded by this untoward manifestation.’ Flowery and overstructured. ‘What they found was a mass, the center of which glowed faintly red. They’d never seen anything like it.’ The second isn’t great lit, but it gets the job done: the first drowns in ‘which’ and ‘who’ clauses.

In other words—be suspicious any time you have to support one needed word (rubescent) with a creaking framework of ‘which’ and ‘what’ and ‘who’. Dump the ‘which-what-who’ and take the single descriptive word. Plant it as an adjective in the main sentence.

9) A short cut to ‘who’ and ‘whom,’ ‘may’ and ‘might.’

Nominative: who

Possessive: whose

Objective: whom

The rule: 1) treat the ‘who-clause’ as a mini-sentence. If you could substitute ‘he’ for the who-whom, it’s a ‘who.’ If you could substitute ‘him’ for the who-whom it’s a ‘whom’.

The trick is where ellipsis has occurred…or where parentheticals have been inserted…and the number of people in important and memorable places who get it wrong. ‘Who…do I see?’ Wrong: I see he? No. I see ‘him’. Whom do I see?

2) Who never changes case to match an antecedent. (word to which it refers)

I blame them who made the unjust law. CORRECT.

It is she whom they blame. CORRECT: The who-clause is WHOM THEY BLAME. > They blame HER=him, =whom.

I am the one WHO is at fault. CORRECT.

I am the one WHOM they blame. CORRECT.

They took him WHOM they blamed. CORRECT—but not because WHOM matches HIM: that doesn’t matter: correct because ‘they’ is the subject of ‘blamed’ and ‘whom’ is the object.

I am he WHOM THEY BLAME. CORRECT. Whom is the ‘object’ of ‘they blame.’ Back to rule one: ‘who’ clauses are completely independent in case from the rest of the sentence. The case of ‘who’ in its clause changes by the internal logic of the clause and by NO influence outside the clause. Repeat to yourself: there is no connection, there is no connection 3 x and you will never mistake for whom the bell tolls.

The examples above probably grate over your nerves. That’s why ‘that’ is gaining in popularity in the vernacular and why a lot of copyeditors will correct you incorrectly on this point. I beginning to believe that nine tenths of the English-speaking universe can’t handle these little clauses.

Use ‘may’ in a present tense or future tense sentence. Use ‘might’ in any past tense sentence. You may also use ‘might’ in a present tense sentence, but you must never, ever, ever use ‘may’ in a past tense sentence. HE SAYS HE MAY GO. HE SAID HE MIGHT GO. HE SAYS HE MIGHT GO (remote possibility). All the previous are correct. HE SAID HE MAY GO is wrong, wrong, wrong, no matter how often you may hear it on the nightly news. It’s my belief there must be a grammar correction software out there that has it wrong, because American English works are suddenly rife with this error. I know for a fact there is one professional copyeditor on the loose that tries to ‘correct’ manuscripts to this incorrect usage. The finesses of this may-might business are considerable. Train yourself to wince when someone violates what’s technically called the ‘sequence of tenses’ rule.

10. -ing.

‘Shouldering his pack and setting forth, he crossed the river…’ No, he didn’t. Not unless his pack was in the river. Implies simultaneity. The participles are just like any other verbal form. They aren’t a substitute legal everywhere, or a quick fix for a complex sequence of motions. Write them on the fly if you like, but once imbedded in text they’re hard to search out when you want to get rid of their repetitive cadence, because -ing is part of so many fully constructed verbs {am going, etc.}

-ness

A substitute for thinking of the right word. ‘Darkness’, ‘unhappiness’, and such come of tacking -ness (or occasionally – ion) onto words. There’s often a better answer. Use it as needed.

As a general rule, use a major or stand-out vocabulary word only once a paragraph, maybe twice a page, and if truly outre, only once per book. Parallels are clear and proper exceptions to this, and don’t vary your word choice to the point of silliness: see error 3.

CHERRYH’S LAW: NO RULE SHOULD BE FOLLOWED OFF A CLIFF.

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So…

If you’ve actually read this far, it takes just one reader comment to make this conversation continue—doesn’t have to be about Cherryh—just something you’d like to say about “rules of writing”—otherwise, I get to start a different conversation :-)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you don’t see a way to comment, try the link at the upper right of this post…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Blog Conversations are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—the rest of the week, I share valuable posts from other blogs
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
OR >>> Send me a free Voice Message