The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Archive for August, 2009

Where Did All The Cigarettes Go?

Posted by BigWords on August 30, 2009

The main problem with being awake for so many hours in the day – okay, not the main problem, but a close second – is the temptation to keep smoking when any sane person would be considering how many cigarettes they go through. I spent about half an hour searching through my coat pockets, in drawers, beside my chair, looking through the kitchen… There was just a single pack left. Which is strange in and of itself, but I bought 100 on Friday afternoon. It’s the lack of sleep…

I don’t normally smoke so much, but with the agitation caused by spending the night looking for a game which wouldn’t annoy me, then having a day full of interruptions to my writing, it’s no wonder I smoke so much. It’s only when I have to run for the train in the morning that the full effects of my habit seems to show itself, but that is a subject for another post.

For a long time, maybe three years, I have managed to ration myself to one cigarette an hour, but the temptation to light up when I get even slightly irritated is growing.

They go so well with the consumption of endless cups of coffee, and y’know, the odd alcoholic beverage, so it is easy to lose count of how many I smoke in a day. But 80 since Friday? I’m sure I never smoked this much when I was in my twenties, when I had the capacity to deal with such intense abuse of my lungs. I still have the endless fucking walk each day, but it isn’t exactly the kind of exercise that is going to help in the long run.

Sometimes I think that the self-destruction gene, which ain’t so dormant in humanity at the best of times, is pushing forth on my being. “Go on,” it cries, “Light up, you fucker. Take a deep breath.” It’s the same voice that whispers in your ear when you’re on the balcony of an apartment, telling you to jump. Only it ain’t as blatant. It’s the tapping of fingers, the urge that grips in the gut, the need to fill your lungs with the inspiration-giving escence of nicotine.

And a few thousand words later I’m back where I started, looking at the screen and hankering for another smoke.

‘Scuse me, I gotta go. I’m sure I have a lighter around here somewhere…

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Don’t Annoy Me Today…

Posted by BigWords on August 30, 2009

I’ve spent the night switching to and fro from the X-box, the PS2, the 360 and the PC, trying to find something I could play without getting incredibly annoyed at minor and irrelevant annoyances. There is a whole list of reasons why my impatience is not merely dissatisfaction, so I’m not going to bore everyone with tales of years gone by play-testing. I expect finished games to be of a higher quality than the ones which I helped discover glitches in.

Finished games, and ones I have actually shelled out money for, should be above the bell curve of quality. Sometimes a rush job is needed, but I will accept no excuses when after-sale care comes into play. Patches are an essential part of computing, and it will never go away as long as technology rushes onwards and upwards. But there are some games, still on sale, which are so disappointing as to make me want to throw them out of the window.

Armed And Dangerous is “thinner” than I remember it being, with glitchy clipping issues, at one point letting me get stuck as I passed a building. There was even a moment when the graphics failed to load correctly after a cut-scene, leaving me wondering why I had kept this title hanging around. Epic Fail in so many ways that it is hard to define one reason I am handing this one off to a charity shop. Spider-Man: Friend Or Foe was essentially the same level replayed over and over again in similar but not quite identical layouts. Fail. Even the Venom level was abysmal.

Rogue Trooper, perhaps sensing my increasingly bad attitude, refused to load. Ha! The PS2 is smarter than I gave it credit for.

Slightly over twelve hours of constant play (and attempted play) has shown me that my quality threshold for games has been raised significantly by too many A+ games, and I’m aware of every little thing that isn’t quite ‘right’ in the software. Hell, I’m turning into a moaning old bastard that refuses to allow a game even the slightest problem. I even swore at the television when I got to a cutscene. Always a bad sign…

Tomb Raider: Underworld. Not epic or eye-bleedingly beautiful.
Wall*E. Words fail me as I try to describe how bad this is…
Braid. Didn’t I play this, like, twenty years ago? Donkey something…
MotoGP 08. The other bikes seem to be able to go much, much faster than me, making up half a lap in a few seconds. Bad coding, or a secret boost button I haven’t discovered yet?

This was probably about the time I realized my blood pressure was rising instead of falling, so I hit upon the idea of playing something I knew would appease my increasing agitation. I break out ‘Old Faithful’ from the shelf, and pop the Turok disk in the 360.

There should be a limit to how much a person can bitch and moan, but I really am beyond salvation at the minute. My complaint about Turok isn’t pertaining to the gameplay, the graphics or even the selection of weapons. I took exception at the lead character almost as soon as my game had loaded, remembering how much fun I had reading the Gold Key comics, so the game didn’t stand a chance.

Maybe watching a DVD will relax me…

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Digital Doesn’t Mean Perfect

Posted by BigWords on August 28, 2009

I’ve gone through plenty of disks over the years. CDs, DVDs, games, multimedia… Recently I have noticed that some new ones aren’t quite up to the standard of previous years, and it might be that we are – as consumers – letting some companies get away with releasing inferior products. There’s going to come a time when digital downloads are fast enough to satisfy even the most die-hard film geek, but we aren’t quite there yet.

This post is getting to the point. Don’t worry.

The Xbox-360 disk of The Darkness, an excellent horror-suspense-action hybrid, was the first recent game to give me trouble. I bought the game in a now-defunct Woolworths store when it came out and immediately had problems with it. It would play fine for a while before freezing on one of the cutscenes. Taking it back for a different disk solved the problem for a few days before the same glitch appeared. Another trip back to the store.

Long story short, I eventually got another disk (a third one) online. It worked perfectly. For a few days. I don’t know how many people experienced this particular problem, but all three disks couldn’t have been random exceptions to the quality control. The cutscenes, which brought to mind Oz and The Sopranos, were fun, but they didn’t seem particularly hard to render. Maybe it was just the disks, but my machine has never crashed on any other game.

Flash forward to this week, and I eventually got around to buying The Spirit, Frank Miller’s re-imagining of the classic comic-strip character. I would tell you how much I liked or disliked the film, but it won’t play. Not in the R2 DVD player, the region-free one, the new laptop, the old Vaio laptop or even my rig. It is coming up either ‘wrong disk’ or ‘please insert a disk’ when I try to play it.

Irksome, and rather difficult to remedy as I bought it in a town I don’t normally visit. It was from a chain, so I am planning on popping into my nearest branch tomorrow to see if I can get another copy. Normally I wouldn’t be bothered by a faulty disk, but I really wanted to see the film.

Is technology being taken for granted? I remember getting my first CD (Leonard Cohen’s Greatest Hits) after years of listening to cassettes, and the excitement of a new format. Now when I buy CDs I normally treat them as just another disk to add to the collection. The magic has worn off. Same thing goes for games. Only, where games are concerned, the first ones on CD annoyed the hell out of me. Endless FMV sequences that weren’t skippable, and having to watch them over and over and over again…

Maybe the machines have good taste, and refuse to let me sully Will Eisner’s memory with a lesser adaptation. I wonder how they will feel about Supergirl

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Addendum To The Mystery Author Post

Posted by BigWords on August 27, 2009

Now I have a name to go with despicable behavior – Robert Stanek, you have been named and shamed – I’m going to spend a little time ripping the dumbass into little pieces. I’m highly amused that an author in this day and age would think, even for a moment, that trying to pull the wool over the heads of geeks who practically live on the fuckin’ internet would work. It’s short-sighted and almost comical. This is the era of instant communication worldwide, and hiding under assumed identities is not the way you attract readers to a book.

The World Of Robert Stanek, his website, claims he is best known for his Ruin Mist novels. Hmmm… I missed that ruinous mess. I’m guessing that a lot of people wouldn’t have heard of the books either, seeing as how I had to go hunting for information on the guy. David Louis Edelman’s excellent blog – has a great post with photographic evidence that Stanek is less than honorable in his marketing and relentless self-promotion. There is a reason Photoshop is considered an art, and missing legs out of a photograph is a dead giveaway.

Unless, of course, the subject of the picture really doesn’t have legs…

What I was most surprised about, when looking for this guy online, was the fact that there is a forum dedicated to his self-published pap. C’mon, admit it… It’s all your own identities ‘chatting’ to each other, ain’t it? There can’t really be that many (okay, so not that many) people enamoured of the novels. I find it impossible that anyone would be conned into believing his work ranks anywhere near the real masters of the genre.

While I was looking through Edelman’s post, I pondered the list he included of ‘rules’ for ethical self-promotion. This is the condensed version:

  1. Tell no lies.
  2. Make no patently misleading statements.
  3. Avoid glaring sins of omission.
  4. You have no obligation to point out the negative.
  5. Don’t impose an unnecessary burden.
  6. No means no.
  7. Respect the competition.
  8. Keep your promotional activities above board.
  9. When in doubt, abide by general community standards.
  10. Don’t pretend your book is all-important.

That is some very good advice right there, though I will take rules two-through-four head-on in a moment. Everything else is now – as far as I am concerned – the Rules For Authors To Live By. With, p’rhaps a bit of lee-way on #7. I’m not going to say that Dan Brown is a credible author even if everyone else suddenly decides he is, even if I don’t consider myself in any way, shape or form ‘competition’ to him. Just sayin’.

Now, about those troublesome rules 2-4. I’m partial to rubbishing my own work. I’ll say that some of my writing is the most awful shit you’ll ever read, and actually has the ability to make your brain explode in your skull. Some of it is so fucking atrocious it will make your eyes melt, your soul crack and… Well… You get the picture. It’s not to discourage you from reading, it’s simply to prevent expectations from rising too high.

Misleading? No. I’m sure somebody, somewhere, will find my description of the stories to be highly accurate, so I don’t see my self-doubt as misleading. As for sins of omission, I would rather use the bad reviews in full rather than trying to pass them off as ass-licking from strangers. There’s nothing worse than sycophantic praise from another author on a book, but sometimes (in a very few cases) it is warranted. Stevie-boy was right when he said that Clive Barker was the future of horror.

I’m gonna rail against rule 4 bit, because the assumption is that any hypothetical author of a book will want to ignore the negative. This is really surprising, because I would rather have a venomous, hate-filled review claiming I am a shitty hack from a mainstream reviewer than a glowing review from a guy nobody has heard of. That is, of course, just me. Did I derail my own post…? Damn.

Back to topic.

Stanek has, it turns out, written “How To…” books, and I’m sure that my opinion of those types of publications have become ingrained in readers of this blog by now. If you can do it, you do it. If you can’t, then you teach. Not a failsafe way of separating geniuses from morons, but the old adage works 85% of the time just fine.

Best Fantasy Books Blog has an interesting review, and if you pop over there for a look, remember that the review is not endorsed by one of Stanek’s sock-puppets. It’s a refreshingly honest piece of writing, and I’m glad I didn’t have to read one of the books so a real review could appear. I may buy one of the titles if I can find it cheap – in a 20p bucket of second hand books maybe. Then again, I would have to read the fucking thing, wouldn’t I?

In case you missed the link in dlanod’s answer to the previous post Ansible has covered lame attempts at self-publicizing by Stanek.
Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
News And Interviews From Fantasy Literature
Reddit has a thread about the guy, and there’s no denying Stanek LIED to potential readers on Amazon.

Right, that about covers this debacle. Now I’m waiting on lame legal threats from a Hotmail account… I’m waiting… Still waiting… My e-mail’s listed HERE if you need a clue…

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Guess The Mystery Author

Posted by BigWords on August 26, 2009

There is a rule over on the AW forum that states ‘respect your fellow author’ – which is a good thing considering how some threads can turn into extended ramblings and rants. That shit ain’t gonna fly here, ’cause what I have here is an entirely different kind of free speech. This is where I can let rip without any censure, and the current target is a mystery author who really ought to be uncovered. Lets play along.

In the current issue of SFX Dave Langford writes (in his regular column) about an author who has tried to abuse online reviews to publicise his own works. Interesting, no? Well, there are a few clues in the article. The mystery author (named “Direhack” in the column) is an American self-published author who “writes woefully inept fantasies”. Hmmm. Doesn’t narrow the possibilities any, so we’ll have to search further.

The mystery author uses hundreds of Amazon accounts to post reviews of his own book. The author’s page on Wikipedia has been culled (start hunting, puzzlers), and they have been known to threaten legal action. Narcissistic and petty could be a lot of people, so the list of possible authors isn’t exactly shrinking. Hell, I’m no closer than I was…

If big names such as Stephanie Meyer don’t know a fucking plot when they see it, then I dread to think how bad the mystery authors books are. Have I already mentioned in this blog how bad Dan Brown is? There are plenty of idiots wielding pens who ought to stop. Right now. This very instant. I’m guessing that Direhack is worse than those two penny dreadful scribblers put together. Which would make him Epic Fail multiplied to infinity.

C’mon peoples, we gotta find out who Direhack is so I can mock him.

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If You Are Pissed Off With The Scottish Government… Join The Club.

Posted by BigWords on August 25, 2009

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to hide the bodies of those people
…..I had to kill because they pissed me off!

There’s a lot of words being spoken and written at the moment about how the Scottish government has betrayed the principals of law and order, even justice itself. By allowing the convicted terrorist and mass-murderer Abdelbaset Ali Al Megrahi to “walk free” from incarceration, Parliament and Holyrood has managed to find themselves under some intense international scrutiny. I get the anger people are feeling. I can see why the world wants to vent.

Take my word for this: even the Scottish people are pissed off.

I’ve heard dozens of similarly-themed comments over the past couple of days, all relating to how we’ve been fucked by the people we chose to represent us. Tempers are flaring everywhere, but boycotting Scottish companies will just punish the ordinary people again, and isn’t having to listen to Alex Salmond punishment enough?

There is, apparently, a Boycott Scotland page on Facebook. I haven’t bothered to look at that particular social engineering networking site in quite some time, so I can’t confirm the existence of such a page. If it is there, and I don’t really care one way or another, then it is probably gonna get a lot of hits. Maybe not for the (lame) flaming that I was sure had run its course in internet history, but curiousity will drive people to the bullshit floating around the net.

If you want to voice your anger at the decision, then do something productive. Communicate your anger directly to those who have created the situation.

Alex Salmond
Office of the First Minister
St. Andrew’s House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG
email: FirstMinister@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

Constituency Office:
Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP
84 North Street
Inverurie
Aberdeenshire
AB51 4QX

Parliament:
Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP
The Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh
EH99 1SP

Wee Eck probably didn’t expect the shitstorm to erupt around him, but that doesn’t excuse his complicity in allowing a terrorist to walk free. If you want to communicate with a level of government that actually has some power and the ability to make laws, then you will be better served harassing No. 10:

No. 10 webpage

Gordon Brown
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

Tell them I sent you.
Smileys

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There’s Nothing Wrong With A Little Hard Work

Posted by BigWords on August 24, 2009

…But A Lot Of Hard Work Is Better.

I’m a glutton for punishment. It’s the only thing that comes to mind when you consider that – despite being as overworked as ever – I have signed up for NaNoWriMo. There’s enough time to start thinking of ideas, but I’m going to refrain from doing anything about them until November rolls around. There’s lots of folks doing it, and it sounds like it could be fun… In a write-until-your-fingers-bleed kinda way. Which is good. It’ll give me a concrete deadline for a quick little (50k is one word over novella length) story.

I’ve already sketched out what I will be doing for most of September, and there is a couple of shorts I really should get around to completing, but this is too good an opportunity to miss. It’s worth big bragging rights as well, but I wouldn’t bet on that saving my ass when I have to edit the malformed, crazy-ass shit into something resembling a narrative. It’ll be a break from my growing list of WIPs, and if I treat it like a holiday then I should be done with a first draft in the first couple of weeks of November. Hopefully.

So, excerpts from the nice “membership confirmation” e-mail:

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Really. You’ve read a lot of novels, so you’re completely up to the challenge of writing one. If you feel more comfortable outlining your story ahead of time, do so. Write every day, and a book-worthy story will appear, even if you’re not sure what that story might be right now.

Yeah, but that would mean I know what I want to write about already. Hmmm… Maybe a WWII story through the eyes of an immortal and insane vampire. Or an SF story that looks at how hard getting laid could be when there aren’t any humanoid species around. A romantic comedy perhaps… between a robot and a vacuum cleaner?

Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November.

That’s what I’m doing. Right here, and right now.

This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month.

I don’t care what people think. Which is the reason I wear comic-book t-shirts in public. In a non-ironic way.

The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

Uh, gotta tell everyone that personal humiliation can be helpful. You wouldn’t believe the horribly embarrassing things I’ve done… Then written about. Firstly because I have no shame, and secondly because people need a good laugh every now an again. If you weren’t laughing at my misadventures, then you would be laughing at some other poor bastard. If there is one thing I have learned, it is the importance of being an idiot once in a while.

Two months until the shit hits the fan.

Start the countdown to the fun and games…

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End Of The Week Update

Posted by BigWords on August 23, 2009

I’ve noticed that there are quite a few authors posting weekly updates on what they have managed to get done during the week. I like to be different, so here is a weekly roundup of a different sort entirely.

Burnout 3: Takedown

Game Complete: 91%

Playing Time: 65 hrs, 23 mins

Burnout Points: 1,390,600
Crash Damage: $200,855,071
Takedowns: 1,637
Slam: 1,699

Race Event: 339
Crash Event: 520
Events Unlocked: 169
Events Completed: 166/173
Gold Medals (Special Events): 3/10

Longest Oncoming: 3,912ft
Longest Drift: 890ft
Car Count: 58/67
Signature Takedown Count: 13/20
Headline Count: 10/10
Takedown Target Count: 14/20

I’m in a nostalgic gaming mood, so I dusted this off. Not a bad game, but the annoyance of overly-aggresive game-controlled vehicles becomes tiresome after a while.

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Five Ponderables

Posted by BigWords on August 23, 2009

#1 Does Every Writer Secretly Want To Be An Actor?

I’ve just watched the episode of Veronica Mars with Joss Whedon as a car rental guy, and I’m wondering just how many writers have the need to spread their time into other areas. Quentin Tarantino’s acting talents aren’t exactly exemplary, though Joss managed to deliver his lines perfectly well. Kevin Smith, another geek-favorite, has managed to carve out a nice sideline in acting jobs, though if you were to base any opinion of his talents on Die Hard 4.0 or Silent Bob appearances then he doesn’t seem so cool.

Is this normal? Gee, I must be a freakish mutant, ’cause I have no intention of wasting a day to deliver a couple of lines. That isn’t lowering the importance of television or film, it’s just a fact that both media take so long to set up scenes that it doesn’t seem worth the hassle. I’ve never had the urge to get involved in front of the camera, but scriptwriting isn’t too bad. The most fun is probably to be had in writing series-bibles or coming up with new formats for old ideas.

Stephen King, who really doesn’t need to do anything but sit on his ass and watch the money accumulate in his bank account, regularly appeared in movies based on his novels. I never thought about this much, but now it seems a strange way to stamp authorial importance in the audience’s minds, exactly the same as the cameos Stan Lee gets in every Marvel feature film. I’m slightly less impresses with Lee, mostly because of the way he claims credit for every good idea to come out of Marvel since he kick-started their Silver Age output.

What is the appeal? Is writing unfulfilling for some people?

#2 Red Faction

Playing Red Faction: Guerrilla reminded me of the original, which was better than Half Life in many, many ways, but there was one aspect of the game I never really understood. In the extras there was a enclosed cave / cavern thing which had a giant greenhouse sitting in the centre of the map, but it was never explained what was meant to occur there. I blasted tunnels in the walls, using infinite ammo cheats to get as far as I could go, but there was a limit to the length of tunnel that could be created.

I tried exposing all of the supporting beams under the greenhouse, to get the building to collapse, but this – again – was impossible. So I gave up trying to work out why the map was there… until the second game was released. I wasn’t partial to Red Faction II because of the shallow gameplay and annoying menu interface. Still no clues as to the reason for the damn thing. Then Guerrilla came along, and I’m still no clearer as the the purpose of that glass building from the original game.

#3 Mystery Disks

America has long been used to double-sided disks, but I’m beginning to get rather fed up with the use of them I have the bad habit of not returning DVDs straight back to their boxes, and I’m finding that the double-sided disks are beginning to gather into a large stack beside the television. The ones which have the tiny little writing near the center are bad enough, but there are some which have no writing whatsoever to identify the film on the disk.

Who decided that it was a good idea to release a product that was impossible to identify unless the consumer wastes five minutes putting it in their machine and checking the content? It isn’t rocket science, and even a schoolkid could tell them that there would be trouble in store if some kind of identification isn’t provided on the actual disk. Am I alone in this? Whenever I think about buying R1 DVDs I always check on various websites to see what the specs are now, just so I am not landed with another mystery disk.

#4 Paper Wastage

There’s so many film guides that it can be hard to choose between them, but I’ve been thinking that the days of giant tomes may be over. With imdb.com and the hit-and-miss Wiki pages devoted to films, what are the purpose of film guides these days? Are there still people buying these books, and – if so – what are they getting from the books that they can’t find online from equally reliable sources?

I’m not counting the hilarious histories (there is an account of Cannon which is a terrifying read for any accountant) or the biographies which scrape away myth and PR bullshit, but the alphabetical listing of films, with their release date, cast, crew and a brief plot.

A million years ago I thought of writing a film guide which would cover all of the films which hadn’t been mentioned in print for five years, which would have been the most obscure text on film ever written, but with the advent of so many sites covering obscure films it no longer seems remotely possible. Every dirty little corner of film history seems to have been picked to death by expert and amateur hands alike. I’m not impressed with most blunt little reviews anyway, which often miss some great moments.

#5 The Odyssey

Remind me – was Telemachus the annoying kid or the silly red robot?

####

Even though I tried to ignore them, I have the awful feeling I have created another meme. Ugh. Whatever – if you have five ponderables to get off your chest, then go ahead. Just make sure you give credit where credit’s due.

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If You’re A Good Writer Nothing Should Be Beneath You

Posted by BigWords on August 23, 2009

This is probably gonna enrage a fair few folks, but it is something I have been meaning to bring up but never quite got around to. It cuts straight to the heart of what people consider to be “worthwhile” writing, and I guess it is something that most people never even think twice about. So, the big idea, and the one which will either be accepted or denounced by the masses:

Everything is equally important.

There, I’ve said it. Or, rather, I’ve typed it. I consider everything in the NY Times top 10, comic books, pulp magazines, your ‘Great American Novel’ (or whatever you may be writing), the words on the back of a cereal box, and the stuff on the back of an action figure blister pack equal. All writing is comparable and of worth. Yup, even the stuff on the back of a cereal box. I’m laying this idea out there because of a minority of writers who would look down on writing such commercial material.

It’s probably not a good idea to make this view public, but it is important for people to realize that any words carry weight. Hell, more people will be reading the back of the cereal box than they will your book (fact), so get over yourselves and accept any work that comes your way. Seriously, I’ve heard enough bullshit about how “I could never write something that was below me.” Really? And your magnum opus is different from commercial work how exactly?

This idea crept up on me while I was considering the fate of most manuscripts, and it dawned on me that I read much more instruction manuals, information leaflets and those slips that come in boxes of medicine, than I do fiction. Those are probably among the most successful writing in the world because nearly everyone reads them. Think about the times you have looked at the instruction manual to discern some arcane function of your laptop or freeview box.

And yet those are not considered literature… Riiight. So I guess the stuff written on the back of chocolates isn’t literature either? Newsflash for the world: More people read that than will ever read your book, simply because of the number of people who purchase confectionery. Who said math was never going to come in handy?

If you’re a good writer NOTHING should be beneath you.

I’m in a combative mood, so feel free to tell me why you think you should be elevated above copywriters, and why you’re so fucking special… Go on, I’m waiting…

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