Resurrecting the Author Career, Returning to Whisky and Words

Posted on by Caleb J. Ross in Marketing, SEO for Authors, Study (the world/the craft) | 2 Comments
Disclaimer: I am far from a career author. I’ve made enough money to buy a few fifths of whisky and some diapers for my baby, so needless to say I’ve got a long way to go. The following plan reflects this outsider (re: possibly ignorant) perspective.

The idealized author spends his time alone, churning out typewritten manuscripts to meet constant deadlines. He drinks. Probably smokes. He’s respected. He vacations in tropical seclusion, but still, even with the changed view, he writes. He has no day job. He is an author. Writing puts his kids through college.

There is a reason this image contains a typewriter. Much like the machine itself, the idealized author is all but extinct. I think a lot of writers would like to go back to this model. Is it possible to not just retain the author career, but to make it thrive?

Given the following set of assumptions, I believe it would be possible to bring back the author career:

  1. Content will continue to outweigh consumption
  2. The marketplace is spoilt by free content, and much of that content will continue to be free
  3. eBooks/eReaders will be a primary content medium within the next decade
  4. The cost to produce and distribute market-quality products will continue to fall

More authors are producing more content than ever, so it’s fair to say the larger onus is on the publishers to bring back the career. The problem is that publishers have no incentive right now to court authors in the way they once did. Publishers have the above items #1 and #2 going for them. A culture of expected free content coupled with an overflow of content, means authors have been trained to work for cheap or free.

But, authors have items #3 and #4 above as important pieces of leverage. If publishers don’t adapt to the changing market, and work with authors to do so, then the publishers will die. Because authors have the ability to create and distribute their own work, and because they have been trained to work for nothing, authors have little to lose by abandoning the publisher. Without authors, publishers die. Without publishers, authors continue.

What can be done?

  1. Consolidate the agent and publisher roles. Basically, this combined entity should act as a time and beaurocracy manager for authors. Today, authors have the ability to publish and distribute their own content without the help of agents and publishers. If this Pub/Agent composite can give authors time to write, then they will ultimately be given the sort of consistent product that the marketplace loves. Marketing thrives on trends. Giving authors time is the way to nurture trends.
  2. Increase author royalties. As media becomes electronic, the savings on overhead and distribution must be passed on. Court your talent, publishers. I’ve read the arguments against electronic media being cost-savers for publishers, and I just don’t believe them.
  3. Embrace the eBook paradigm shift. As a reader, I haven’t yet fallen in love with eBooks. As a writer, I am very excited by the possibilities. Instead of fighting to keep print alive, fight to make eBooks thrive. eBooks have the potential to increase the pool of readers, much as the iPod did for music enthusiasts.
  4. Brand yourselves as independent records labels do. Make fans out of your press, not just out of your authors. I won’t go into much depth here about this, but we do have an episode forthcoming at the Welcome to The Velvet podcast on this topic.

What can writers do?

  1. Provide consistent and brandable content. As Dan Holloway says in the comments at Jane Smith’s How Publishing Really Works blog, “If you are writing for the art, by all means try your hand at getting an agent, but don’t be upset if you don’t get one – and if the feedback is that you should be more commercial in order to get one, then make the decision – do you want to write for the pay packet, or do you REALLY want to do it for the art? And if it’s the latter, don’t expect to be picked up, or blame the publishers when you aren’t.”
  2. Prove that you can provide that content. As Jane Smith says in a response to the above comment, “I think that a big reason that most writers make such a paltry amount is that there are lots of people out there who call themselves writers but who only really dabble with writing: they sell an article every now and then, take several years to write just one book; sure, they’re writers–but not full-time, serious writers.”. A career author must write as though it is a career.

I want to sit alone and write fiction for a living. Help me do that. Make me believe.

Read more

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Results of 5,000 words for Father’s Day

Posted on by Caleb J. Ross in General News, Study (the world/the craft) | 4 Comments

As far as meeting this goal, I failed. I did not reach 5,000 print-quality words in one day. However, I did learn something very important. I am simply not meant to write all day. I am glad that I can no longer blame my non-productivity on time constraints. In fact, I actually work better given 2-3 hour windows. As you can see by the time-line below, the day started off quite well.

10:08a (1 word) first word (The), first cup of coffee (Soy Chai Latte with an extra shot – It’s like beer: start the night with something exotic so that when you are drunk later you don’t care what brand you are drinking).
11:08a (570 words) went to the bathroom, took in a chapter of Saramago’s The Stone Raft, and gave the dog a treat. She’s been really good about not killing me, considering I am not a daily occupier of this house.
11:22a The headphones already hurt. Time to try listening to Bohren und der Club of Gore through speakers. Less ear pain, but too much outside noise mucking up what is supposed to be a way of isolation by sound.
12:05p (958 words) 2nd cup of coffee, this time black. 1,000 words in 2 hours. Things are not looking good. At this rate, 5,000 words will take me 10 hours, which I simply don’t have. Boooooo to goals.
1:16p (1,496 words) I said I wouldn’t, but I’ve got to get out of the house. I may slowly be realizing that I am just not meant to “go under” when I write. Could I be a normal 2-3 hour max/session writer?
2:44p (1,496 words) Notice the word count has not moved in 1 ½ hours. I drove to get a sandwich, then decided to drive home to finish the day. My wife has taken our kid to a friend’s farm for naturey stuff. So, I should have a couple more hours to at least round the count to 2,000 words.
6:04p (1,731 words) I’ll call these last 3 ½ hours a break, even though the duration really constitutes forfeiture. During this time I ate a couple donuts, drank some coffee, bought two Jose Saramago books (and learned that he has two posthumous English language translations forthcoming this year, Little Memories, an autobiography which I assume will be prepared for publication even considering his recent death, and Elephant’s Journey), and also a few Moleskine notebooks (which I learned is pronounced mol-a-skeen’-a, and not mol-skin as I had been doing for years). But I did come back to writing, and I did manage to pound out a few more words.
7:19p (2,041 words) I’m getting a shower.

What to make of this? As much as I would like live the romanticized writer’s life, I simply do not have the constitution to do so. My apologies to anyone who gambled incorrectly on this outcome. My advice is that next time you wager money on someone’s likelihood to meet a goal, don’t use me if your choose the affirmative side.

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5,000 words for Father’s Day

Posted on by Caleb J. Ross in General News | 3 Comments
When my lovely wife asked what I wanted for Father’s Day, I replied quite simply: a day to myself. Fearing that the request may imply that my primary desire was to spend the day away from my family, I quickly explained that I wanted the day to write. I’ve been spoiled by the frantic life of parenthood, being able to blame my lack of productivity on the burdens of being a father. “Why haven’t you finished the first draft of your world-changing novel?” my non-existent editor asks. “Well you see, sir, I have this child…” But I know the days of those lies must end. I only hurt myself when I don’t get shit done.

My beautiful wife has allowed me the entire day. I’ll be spending the time at her parent’s house where I can be assured just enough discomfort to keep me isolated to the page (they are out of town; I’m not saying that they make me uncomfortable, just that being in their house alone will be a bit weird and that I won’t be tempted to explore the area for ways to derail any progress).

My goal is to cough up 5,000 words. But not just any words, truly good words. Even 5,000 draft-quality words would be a feat, so planning on just as many print-quality words means I’ll have to cut away many of my bad habits. I check my email too often. I refill my coffee cup too much. Basically, I’ll use any excuse to step away from the page. Not today. How? I’ll be taking on a few tips from my friend Axel Taiari:

Kill your internet connection, only bring Tom Waits albums, rock some caffeine/nicotine, have food/sandwiches/snacks prepared in advance, forget about showering, and for the love of god, if anyone disturbs you and breaks your flow, it should be legal to stab them right between the eyes.

Here’s the survival gear:

  • An old-fashioned notebook – This will hopefully keep me from my computer and by that, the internet.
  • My computer – yeah, sorta self-defeating considering the above item, but I’ll use it primarily for morale-boosting updates via twitter and similar ego-maniacal social mediums. Maybe I’ll wear the winner shirt I made (above) with my face on it to really tell the virtual world how awesome I am.
  • Headphones – I’ll likely replace Axel’s Tom Waits suggestion with Bohren und der Club of Gore, only because vocals can be distracting. Even a casual search on this site will show how much I love Tom Waits, so normally, he’d be my life’s soundtrack.
  • Prepared food – I don’t want even the need for nutrition to be an excuse to lift my fat ass off the chair.
  • Cigars – I think it will be too hot tomorrow to enjoy any smoke, but just in case, I’d like to have a couple think-sessions away from the paper, fueled by some delicious ACID cigarillos.
  • Coffee
  • A knife – for stabbing right between the eyes.

Wish me luck. But don’t bother me A-holes!

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Jose Saramago, my latest literary love, has died at age 87

Posted on by Caleb J. Ross in General News | 1 Comment
Jose Saramago, who quickly became one of my favorite authors after I read Blindness just last year, has died. But damn, he had a fine run, producing some of the most amazing novels I’ve ever read. There truly is no writing like Saramago writing.

I am lucky enough, however, to still have a robust back catalog of his work to dive into. In fact, just yesterday, I started The Stone Raft, and already, just 10 pages in, I’m hooked.

Even stranger is that I began work on a novella a few weeks ago, that contains some Saramago-inspired passages. Now, I suppose, I’ll be giving even more time to these sections to ensure they are worthy of their heritage.

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Best-selling doesn’t mean best writing

Posted on by Caleb J. Ross in Study (the world/the craft) | 2 Comments
(this is more of a rant than a cohesive post. Also not a cohesive post: an ionic neutral road sign…oh, I went there, sirs and mams)

When I say that best-selling doesn’t mean best writing I understand the hipster ditch I dig. It sounds whiny and pretentious, all the more so when one realizes that nothing of mine is even close to best-selling. I’m not sure the word “best” could be put in front of any word and used to describe my work. Best tinder, maybe. Best use of paper bound by a cover bearing the name Caleb J Ross, perhaps. But someone could write my name on a phone book and it would be more “best” than my work. This ditch, though, it’s easy to dig, yet difficult to fill. But I will try.

When I say that best-selling doesn’t mean best writing, I’m really attacking the concept that commercial success defines artistic success. The Hitler example here would be Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code (“Hitler example” is a term I use to connote the extreme example; when someone wants to conceptualize something bad, Hitler is the go-to reference. Instead of explaining all of this, I should have just used a different term, maybe).

Many writers commonly denounce Dan Brown. While this may come off as petty jealously (we all want his money and readership), envy shouldn’t diminish the fact that his books are not well-written. Yes, they are great stories (those that I’ve read, I can vouch for), but they are not great writing. This is the divide between commercial and artistic success. Craig Clevenger, in an article for the Santa Barbara Independent (reproduced here at The Velvet) has much to say on Brown’s quality, even making the point that his prose is nearly indistinguishable from that of erotica, a genre accepted even by many of its authors as one meant for quantity over quality.

My point being, I suppose (see, even I don’t know if this thing has a point. I warned you), that it’s okay to voice your hate for a commercially successful book on terms of art. I think the key is to be able to back that opinion with a wide frame of reference. I would guess that the people who regularly and primarily read blockbuster novels (those by James Patterson, Stephenie Meyer, and Dan Brown for example) don’t often read other types, or many other, books. Therefore, they do not have a large enough frame of reference for measuring the quality of a book. So, those that may cite jealously as the source of any Brown-bashing, may be doing so without ever having experienced a truly well-written book.

Transformers might make tons at the box office, but film geeks know that The Machinist is a much better movie of humans vs. machine.

KC Masterpiece barbeque sauce sells truckloads around the county, but fat guys know that Cowtown is way better.

Or, shit, maybe people don’t care about writing and instead just want a story. That’s cool. As long as people are reading, I guess. Read more

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Cigars and Writing

Posted on by Caleb J. Ross in Study (the world/the craft) | 4 Comments
I’ve been asked a few times lately about my infatuation with cigars, specifically regarding my pairing them with reading and writing. Though I will likely be forced to continue defending my obsession, I feel laying it out in a blog post may curb the questions. Or it may rouse a group of like-minded gourmets, in which case, Welcome, Friends!

I have never been a cigarette smoker. In fact, growing up, I routinely took a dramatic exit when my mother lit up in the living room (she doesn’t smoke anymore, hasn’t for years). I fanned barely noticeable smoke from my face when entering bars. I vehemently stomped on butts left to smolder on sidewalks and curbs. In short, I was a snobby little punk.

The impetus of my cigar habit is a mystery; the staying power, however, is quite explainable. I love the smell. I love watching the large plumes of smoke. I love that a cigar, due mostly to its size and smoke duration, forces one to relax. You can’t clean the kitchen when holding a lit cigar. You can’t run a marathon with smoke in your face (being a fat lazy guy surely has nothing to do with my marathon avoidance).

My wife calls me a hippy when I talk about watching the smoke. I admit, there isn’t any tangible, measurable benefit to watching smoke, which could place it into the get-a-goddamn-haircut-you-freak category of leisure. But watching smoke, like the very act of smoking, forces relaxation. This numbed mindset pairs well with reading and writing, both of which require a freedom of distraction.

So, hippy though I may be, a beautiful cigar—the look, the smell, the taste—is a Pavlovian trigger to push me into reading and writing in ways that other writerly clichés (coffee, alcohol, vampires) simply cannot.

Here are a few of my current favs. These, with the exception of the Leon Jimenes Cafe Dom. Corona are way to expensive for ritual savoring, so I reserve them for perfect weather only.

Drew Estate Natural Ltd. Irish Hops Drew Estate ACID Kuba Kuba
Drew Estate ACID 5 Leon Jimenes Cafe Dom. Corona

What are your writerly/readerly vices? The more cliché, the better.

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“The human race is on the brink of extinction. Bunny fights for them”: an interview with Alan Kelly

Posted on by Caleb J. Ross in General News, Stranger Will | Leave a comment
(This interview is cross-posted at Outsider Writers Collective)

Full disclosure: I’m writing this intro after having imbibed a few pints of Guinness at a downtown KC Irish pub called O’Dowds, which, as a nod to authenticity, has been given my grandmother-in-law’s seal of approval, all the way from Ballyshannon, Ireland. The inebriation is all the more fitting, considering Alan Kelly’s Dublin area connections.

Alan first contacted me, years ago, by the invitation in one of my first publication author bios: “He welcomes conversation via email.” I intended the trailing line to garner no more than a grin from the few who read it. But Alan’s willingness to contact a stranger should have clued me in early on to what a true individual he is.

We have been communicating online and following each others work since. When I first heard about his novella, Let Me Die a Woman, I was quite excited. As the title and cover art suggest, this book is unabashedly pulp. Having developed a sense of Kelly’s style, via his many reviews, interviews, and essays on the topic of b-reel pulp, I knew that this man is someone who takes great pride in his material. Though I wasn’t familiar with the nuances of this genre before reading Let Me Die a Woman, I knew that I was in very capable hands.

Caleb J Ross: It’s damn obvious that you love and respect the genre in which Let Me Die a Woman exits. It seems every one of your interviews and every essay you’ve written touches on, and pays homage to, the heroines that have come before yours. Angel Dare from Christina Faust’s Money Shot and Choke Hold, Bella from Helen Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend, Ariel Manto from Scarlett ThomasThe End of Mr Y, Eloise Murphy from Danny Hogan’s Killer Tease, and Diana Kemp from Cathi Unsworth’s The Not Knowing all are referenced in a single question from your Five For interview at 3AM Magazine. How does Let Me Die a Woman’s Bunny Flask fit within this family of heroines?

Alan Kelly: I’ve always wanted to write a heroine (or anti-heroine) though Bunny is as much a homage to real-life horror icons such as Heidi Martinuzzi (editor of Pretty Scary) Shannon Lark (founder of The Chainsaw Mafia) my “Monster Kid” Alice Fiend has similar red hair to Rue Morgue’s former editor Jovanka Vuckovic and of course the lovely filmmaker, Gorezone columnist & Scream Queen Suzi Lorraine. Both Heidi and Jovanka are both in The Top 15 most influential women in horror and they are both brilliant at what they do, No, not brilliant, they are spectacular. Of course I’m not saying Heidi has ever cut anybody in two with a double-barrelled shotgun or Shannon is a murderous, chainsaw wielding vixen or that Jovanka is a vicious Alien queen with a pet monster who carves people up.

I reckon Bunny would love Diana and Angel and see them as wiser older sisters. Bella is a cold, calculated psychopath and I’m sure Bunny would appreciate her sense of humour. She’d never beat Eloise in a fight and would probably think Ariel was too academic and snooty. So Bunny, Alice and Kiffany are sort of an amalgamation of real and imagined heroines. I return to all these fictional characters now and again and am really excited about Choke Hold and Cathi’s forthcoming book. The world needs Angel Dare.

CJR: We both come from small towns, though I won’t be brash enough to compare our upbringing with any depth, as I’ve only been to Dublin once, and during that trip, though I stayed in a few small towns (hello to my family in Co. Sligo!) the trip wasn’t long enough to give me the ability to truly assess the areas. However, I’m sure we can both relate on the idea of returning home, after having been gone. Do you return to your village ever? What sort of reception do you get, considering the themes of your writing?

AK: I moved back home last year full-time. I was sick of the city and a family member was having health problems so I came home to stay with them. The village I live in is two miles from Wicklow Town (which is The Garden of Ireland) – oh it’s been insane since LMDAW was published! People have been lovely and very supportive. There are a lot of misconceptions about people who live in rural areas, a lot! In a way coming from a small village is sort of like having a lot of relatives – I realise how corny that sounds – I’ve lived in London and Dublin and to be honest I’ve become isolated and depressed in both cities which has led to me becoming really quite self-destructive. But moving on – In primary school every time my class was assigned an essay, I’d write fan-fiction and gleefully kill off all my classmates! The teachers used to be horrified and I was sent home several times but my classmates loved them! I even talked one of my teachers into letting the class watch Alien 3! Well I didn’t actually say it was that film! He switched it off almost immediately! I switched the cover with another film – The Neverending Story I think it might have been. Fun times. I would never show anyone my poetry, not family or friends and certainly nobody from my village – it’s something which is very personal, often brutal, something belonging to me and is none of anybody else’s business.

CJR: True, corny. But so be it. I understand the feeling of family. And like a true family, I assume there is always that urge, whether embraced or not, to somehow make those hometown neighbors proud. Even the bullies and town jerks, somewhere there is a kinship there that warrants at least the striving for respect. Do you feel like you have this respect now that you have returned?

AK: I think there is a common decency which exists in small-places that is absent in any city. But of course, small places are not without the scum element. My family are a fairly close bunch and I mostly keep to myself. I have very few friends having lived away for many years. I like the country, I like walking down to The Monkey Pole on the beach in Wicklow Town or going to the lakes and looking out over the estuary or sitting in my local supping cider. Of course there are so many drawbacks to living somewhere so remote. No cinema, no culture, hard to meet new people, though there is a great little bookshop called Bridge Street Books. The bullies I couldn’t give a flying fuck about, I never did when I was growing up and I sure don’t now. I do go to the city quite a bit – mostly for books and to hook up with people I haven’t seen in a while. For now, I’m ok where I am, For now.

CJR: In your 3AM conversation with label-mate Danny Hogan, you briefly mention your current project: “The book I’m writing now is very different from Let Me Die A Woman: weird, visceral and inspired by an investigative piece I wrote while studying on missing migrant children in Ireland – 300 missing children in five years and its low profile. I was horrified by it and completely disgusted nobody seemed to give a fuck.” How did you get involved with the investigative piece that led to this project? Can you tell me more about this project?

AK: I was in my first year of journalism at BCFE and read an article in one of the broadsheets on missing migrant children. At first I didn’t really believe what I was reading so I phoned the journalist who had wrote the piece and contacted The Irish Refugee Centre. Still not entirely sure what I was hearing, I went further to the Irish Office of Migration and spoke to a man there. When I asked why this was so low profile and wondered why the media weren’t all over it he told me “it’s a matter of resources…”

Recently a 17 year old boy called Daniel McAnapsie was brutally murdered when he was supposed to be in the care of the HSE. His parents died when he was a child. He’d been in and out of care for most of his life. How can such precious life be so easily lost? Why don’t people try harder? This is appalling. Here is a piece about the migrant children. It is reported that 200 died while in care.

My next book will be an act of vengeance and retribution for children like this.

CJR: In Cathi Unsworth’s interview with you at Bookmunch, she says Let Me Die a Womanis possessed of such audacious wit and originality that it seems the author has created a whole new trans-genre of his own.” Do you agree with this?

AK: I think she was very kind with that review, and she is an extraordinarily generous and supportive person and friend. I like that LMDAW doesn’t fit into any boxes and I do borrow from horror, noir, grindhouse and sci/fi quite a bit with it. At first I wasn’t even aware I was doing this, it sort of happened organically. I suppose you could describe is as “trans-genre” almost. It’s a mash-up of a lot of things. Quite chaotic and less ordered than what I am writing now.

CJR: Have you any experience with the Bizarro genre? As of the last few years, there have been many books released as part of this new(ish) genre, which you may find interesting. Basically, it is an anything goes category, where it is not uncommon to find men dressed in suits made of cockroaches, houses built with human bricks, and haunted vaginas. I’m not comparing your work to this (as I feel yours takes itself more seriously), but I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on this genre.

AK: I’ve read quite a bit of Bizarro and recently interviewed Jeremy Shipp (Cursed) and D. Harlan Wilson. I agree that it is an anything goes category and is sometimes slipstream, sometimes noir, sometimes comedy, sometimes horror. There are infinite permutations within this ‘genre’ and I think that is why I find it quite appealing. I can understand why others wouldn’t. But I like it. There is a literary website called Sein und Werden which publishes quite a lot of excellent, twisted, experimental fiction which you should definitely check out if you find the time. You could perhaps describe some of the content as the dark older sister of Bizarro. Other writers of Bizarro I like are Jordan Krall, Gina Ranelli and Tom Bradley. All fantastic.

CJR: I, being comparatively unschooled on the ladies of noir, found your roundtable discussion at Bookslut extremely informative. You seem intent on promoting hardboiled fiction, as almost every other word from you is in honor of writers who have come before you. Why such interest in pushing this genre? Why is it so important that other people read it?

AK: Thank you. Hardboiled/noir/horror and outsider fiction are all areas I feel quite affectionate towards. They offer us glimpses into the gritty, the gory, the depraved and introduce us to characters we’d never meet in real life. I suppose a part of me is very much drawn to the dangerous element that exists in these fictions. As to pushing interest in the genre – I think for the most part it’s an area of literature which can be sometimes overlooked. They speak to and for the outsider, those who exist on the margins, the sort of characters you won’t see on The New York Times Bestseller lists. I would say my love affair with the weird and the brutal and the smart began with Poppy Z Brite and continued from there. Her writing led me to others – and being gay and liking aggressive writing I was like a moth to a flame picking up Matthew Stokoe and Dennis Cooper and Christa Faust. All writers who write about transgressive sexuality in a way that is intoxicating, intelligent and sometimes slightly insane. I ADORE Hard Case Crime and have nearly read all of their titles. Charles Ardai is just brilliant and I hope he continues to publish hardboiled fiction.

CJR: Bunny Flask’s situation is unique in that, without giving too much away, she is fighting against a force that is intent on ridding the world of all males. However, given the argument by many transgendered people that gender is inborn, Bunny, who is physically male but inherently female, could be either spared or slain by this force, depending on the above argument. Do you fear any backlash from the transgender community considering that Bunny’s willingness to destroy this force implies that gender may not be inborn?

AK: For Bunny, its personal and by the time the credits roll she is pretty much left with no choice but to stop Psyche and The Sisters. There are many variations of gender, I am inclined to agree with Kate Bornstein (101 Alternatives to Suicide, Gender Workbook) that the male/female binary does not exist and there are not two but several genders and that gender is linked to identity which is constantly changing and throughout our lives evolution of character is always happening, that change is an on-going process and that nothing is written in stone. The human race is on the brink of extinction. Bunny fights for them. Psyche is as much a threat to women as it is to men. Her fighting for the survival of men has got nothing to do with gender. It’s for the survival of humanity. I also think Bunny is a gender queer who identifies as female and that a lot of what happened to her in the past formed who she became.

Alan Kelly (the author)
Pulp Press (the publisher)


The Outsider Writers Collective review of Let Me Die a Woman

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