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Having covered probably the most common reader complaint I've heard over the years in the bookstore, I'm now going to move directly to one of the next most common.

I hate LKH for turning Anita Blake into such an oversexed solipsist. Doesn't she realize that she's losing all her fans?

This one, oddly enough, I have more problems with, for a variety of reasons. And this one follows more clearly amber_fool's question, which spawned the previous two posts indirectly.

The first problem would be: LKH regularly hits NYT #1 with her later books. She is clearly not losing all her fans. The argument made here isn't based on what I can see as objective fact, unlike the previous argument downstream; in the previous post the base fact is: Book 5 or book 3 do not exist, which is immutable.

In this case, however, it's clear to me that LKH's writing choices are not losing her all her fans. An author doesn't climb to #1 on the NYT bestseller list consistently without any fans.

When it comes down to brass tacks (and where does that phrase come from?), what's being said here is: I hate what she's done with the series I used to love. Hate it. Hate it.

And I have no problems with that. But that's not how it's worded (let me just add: I get a lot of the flat-out Hate it comments, and those don't push entitlement buttons for me because there's no point for discussion; the reader hates the book. I can't very well say "no you don't!" and not seem insane or inattentive).

Did I read the early books? Yes. And I enjoyed them. Do I like the direction she chose to go in? No. No, I don't. Did I stop reading them? Yes, because I didn't like what she was doing. Do I hate her? Well, no. Do I make dire predictions for her future career based on the fact that I didn't like where she was going? No. I can see that if I didn't care for the direction Anita was taking, a lot of other people did; she's selling. She has a lot of fans; some people clearly did enjoy where she took her characters, and they wanted to go along for that ride.

I got off the bus.

It's her right as an author to write what she feels compelled to write as long as she has a publisher who agrees that it's viable; hell, it's her right to do so even if she doesn't. It's my right as a reader to stop reading when I don't care for what she feels compelled to write.

What I don't understand are the readers who still read those books, while hating on them so ferociously. The hate-on isn't going to change what she chooses to write because if you read her blog, she's clearly dedicated to her vision. I admire the dedication; I don't admire the results.

So, bottom line for me here is: I don't like where this book is going, and I'm not willing to shed money to get it there.

This, however, is the bookseller and reader response. The author response is different. So I'm now going to talk a little about me-in-my-writer-hat response, because in this case, the author response is a little more visceral.

I write a series of novels, which I distinguish from a multi-volume single story in a variety of structural ways. I try to keep the books as self-contained as possible, while allowing the characters the room to grow or change. I haven't been entirely successful at self-contained writing--but I'm continuing to reach for that in the Cast novels. As I write, and continue to write them, the world does change as consequences of previous actions come to the fore; the characters change as they grow. And here's the thing about that: some of the changes will not be the ones that some of the readers are hoping for. Do I know which changes those are? No, actually, I don't. But I do know it will happen, because it seems almost inevitable.

Am I aware that I, like LKH, will lose readers for making choices that seem natural to me--and don't to some readers--within a series? Yes. Yes, I am.

Does this fill me with joy? Why, no, now that you ask, it really doesn't. No one wants to disappoint their readers. And not just for mercenary reasons, although those exist. It's hard, when you put the time and work into a book. to have it fall flat or fail with readers, especially with readers who liked and supported the previous volumes in a series. They feel angry, or even betrayed, because the characters they loved are wandering off in a direction they didn't anticipate when they started reading the series. And as a writer, I feel insecure and worried because I did somehow have their attention, and I failed to maintain it. I failed to write something that could sell the changes and the story I was telling to that segment of readership so that said changes naturally seemed the only possible outcome.

What I hope is that those readers don't then assume that I'm writing a book that disappoints and annoys them with the intent of doing either; I'm not.

But, like LKH, I have stories I want to tell, and on some base level, they're my stories. I want to write them well enough that they're clear to the readers who read them; I want to make them compelling enough that the story I'm trying to tell works for them.

That's the important phrase for me: the story I'm trying to tell. There are hundreds of ways to fail the story I'm trying to tell. When I see reviews which point some of these things out, it's clear to me that I did fail, and it's clear to me how. Not all of the choices that seem clear to me while I'm writing are as clear to readers who don't have my brain.

But when readers don't care for the book because it's not the book they wanted, as opposed to not a well-executed book, it's trickier. When they are angry--as they are with LKH--about the fact that the books are not the books they wanted to read, it does push my buttons on the writer side, in a way that the reader/bookseller side fails entirely to notice.

I think it's ultimately a losing game to attempt to write novels--or TV shows--to a vocal subset of the readers a writer does have. Because while I understand what some readers want to see, I'm not at all convinced that a story that comes solely from a desire to placate readers, and not as a consequence of a writer's deep investment, is going to work for anyone.

I think a writer has a responsibility to their story.

I think a writer has a responsibility to write that story to the best of their ability.

I think a reader has the right to react to that story in whatever way they react: love it, hate it, fall asleep half-way through it. Throw it against the wall. Refuse to buy anything else by that author Ever Again. Tell people how much they hated the book, and why.

But. I don't think a reader has the right to expect or demand that the story be something entirely different; I don't think they have the right to demand that a writer's responsibility to them is much, much larger than it is to their story, because while a given reader may hate the story, not every reader will or does.

I can tell you what I hated about the LKH books. I can tell you exactly where I stopped. I can complain bitterly about what the books had become. But I don't hate LKH for not writing the books that I wanted to read. I don't, in my anger and disappointment, assume that because I didn't like the books, she should understand what she should have written instead, because it is not, in fact, all about me. I know that she feels strongly about the story she needs to tell. And it's clear to me that there are readers who want to read the story she feels she has to tell.


( 54 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 12th, 2010 05:17 am (UTC)
<3 and thank you for this.

In fact, you could substitute "online game" for "book" and "developer" for "author" and not change the meaning of this post at all. I wish more forum posters understood that about gaming development (not that I'm in the field or anything, mind you).

As for LKH's books, I never picked them up because even the initial ones didn't catch my interest, and when the hoopla started around what she was doing later in the series, I still wasn't interested. As you said, it's her right to write what she chooses and the publisher to put it out there. Writing a story with little fandom in-jokes and things the author knows the fans will get a kick out of is completely different than writing something only because you know that's what the fans want to read.

I personally don't think I'd want to read the second kind of book because pandering to readers just to keep sales (if that's the attempt) still doesn't mean it's going to be what I want to read. It's doubtful that what reader A wants is the same as what readers B, C, D want. If I wanted an author to write something just to please me, then several of my favorite series wouldn't be nearly as exciting as they actually are.
Oct. 12th, 2010 05:36 pm (UTC)
I think you could replace 'book' with a lot of things in this case. You see something like this in music when bands are accused of 'selling out', which has never made sense to me at all. Isn't making money a part of the whole idea in the first place? Don't you want to be happy for the people who made what made you happy now that they can do it /and/ make money? Pretty much anything that has passionate fans will get this sort of reaction, I've found.

While on one hand, I get it, people are passionate and they care and when a person worries about something they care about they can get a little (or a lot) worked up. I don't like when it gets negative and personal and as if there is some sort of right to have the as of yet unpublished/unproduced/uncreated works. Creating is hard work and it is rarely a smooth process.
Oct. 12th, 2010 05:33 am (UTC)
I do believe it was Gaiman that said something like "Authors aren't trained monkeys, meant to write at the reader's demands"

I probably butchered the quote, but that is my opinion too. If I don't like what a writer is writing I stop reading. I struggle enough to get through books I love with everything else going on in my life.

On a side note:

"GET DOWN TO BRASS TACKS" - According to the American Heritage Idiom Dictionary, it first showed up in the late 1800s, believed to refer to the brass tacks under fine upholstery, though other potential sources are that it is a Cockney rhyming slang for "hard facts." A third option "alludes to tacks hammered into a sales counter to indicate precise measuring points."
Oct. 12th, 2010 06:19 am (UTC)
re: Brass Tacks: Thank you :)
Oct. 12th, 2010 06:03 am (UTC)
I don't think a reader has the right to expect or demand that the story be something entirely different

I'm not sure if I completely agree with this. If several books in a series have already been published and the author has established a certain tone for the series, then I don't think it's unfair for a reader to expect that the later books will be similar in tone and feel, or at least close enough that they don't feel like a completely different series. This is especially true if the author didn't drop hints about the direction that the story would be going in. Not having read much of LKH's work, I can't say whether or not she hinted at the changes that would eventually take place or if it just came out of left field.

In the end, the story is the author's, yes. But when a reader has come to expect a certain thing from a series brand, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect some level of tone continuity. I'm not saying that authors should keep writing something they're not passionate about just for sales purposes (which must be absolutely awful--I can't imagine writing a book I'm not intensely passionate about). But I do think that an author makes certain unspoken promises to the reader (to keep to a certain level of age-appropriateness, to keep a certain gritty feel, to answer a certain story question that stretches out over several books, or even to make sure that when the series ends two characters wind up together). I'm not sure we can blame the reader for expecting that those promises would be kept.

This certainly isn't the case every time a reader gives up on a series, though. For example, I know for me that Goodkind was more of a war of attrition. I kept on slogging through his books until I just couldn't slog anymore, but the things that bothered me about his books are things that were there right from the beginning. In that situation, I would have had no right to expect Goodkind to change his story just for me because, at least as far into the series that I got, he kept every promise he made in the beginning.
Oct. 12th, 2010 06:10 am (UTC)
I'm not sure if I completely agree with this. If several books in a series have already been published and the author has established a certain tone for the series, then I don't think it's unfair for a reader to expect that the later books will be similar in tone and feel, or at least close enough that they don't feel like a completely different series.

Tone is a difficult thing to judge, but I think in this case it's irrelevant. It seems clear to me that if the reader-base grows over time, which LKH's has done, there's no argument that can be made that her work is not working for readers, since no one is forcing hundreds of thousands of people to buy her book in hardcover.

The argument you can make is that you feel the tone of the work has radically changed -- but when she's consistently hitting the NYT list in a position that most authors can only dream of doing, it's clearly a matter of personal preference.

And in this case, a single reader's (or even a vocal minority's) personal preference doesn't trump hers, because hers is clearly working for a larger number of readers.

I don't like where she went. But honestly, when she was writing what I liked, she wasn't NYT #1. She's writing what she likes, and she is.

Edited at 2010-10-12 06:23 am (UTC)
(no subject) - shanrina - Oct. 13th, 2010 12:51 am (UTC) - Expand
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Oct. 12th, 2010 07:28 am (UTC)
Disclaimer: I read the first couple of Anita Blake novels (and as I recall, gave the very first one a reasonably favorable review, way back when), but let that series fall by the wayside a book or two before the point where -- according to most of Early LKH Fandom -- the series jumped the shark. I have since glanced into a few of the newer ones in the bookstore, and haven't been inspired to return. (I admit it, I keep looking for the hot sex scenes she's supposed to be writing nowadays...and not finding them. Evidently either I have really unlucky page-flipping skills, or LKH's idea of hot sex isn't mine. But we digress.)

Anyhow. From what I've read of the anti-LKH arguments (and seen in deconstructions of other literary and TV series), the case the anti-LKH faction makes is very, very similar to yours....

....except that where you describe an author's obligation to story, the opposing case argues an obligation to character -- and therefore argues that the paradigm-shift in the Anita Blake books arose because the author forced her heroine down a path that the character, as she'd previously been established, would never have taken.

From a reader's perspective, I think that's a defensible premise. As noted above, I haven't read enough of the right books to judge whether LKH forced Anita into OOC (out-of-character) action when that series switched gears, but I think the idea that inconsistent characterization is a violation of reader expectations is valid, and that it can be usefully discussed in relation to particular works.

An example: when Laurie R. King's second Sherlock Holmes pastiche (A Monstrous Regiment of Women) first appeared, opinions on a key event in the story were very sharply divided, with one camp arguing that King had adopted an extremely out-of-character portrayal of Holmes in order to arrive at the event in question. Myself, I thought the portrayal of Holmes was among the most effective and nuanced I've encountered -- but I could see where the complainers were coming from.

Now the King case is complicated by the fact that she didn't actually create Sherlock Holmes, so there are actually two authors in play: King herself, as immediate storyteller, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as source of the canonical Holmes. If one judges the King series solely by King's own portrayal, then there's little room for objection; the Holmes of the first book and the Holmes of the second are clearly the same character, portrayed consistently from one volume to the next. By contrast, if one seeks to discern whether King's Holmes is consistent with Doyle's, there's more room for discussion. (I think she fully justifies her extrapolation -- unlike most other authors who've tried to pull off that particular plot. But whichever way one comes down, the discussion is clearly a discussion of the texts, not the authors' intentions.)

A further point of contrast: the J.J. Abrams Star Trek film, now referred to by most as a "reboot" of the Trek franchise. Trek fans have several decades of emotional investment in Kirk, Spock, and the "classic" iterations of those characters. Abrams and his writers definitely see them through slightly different eyes -- but via clever writing, they presented the new story in a way that upheld the validity of the prior timeline (and its forty-odd years' worth of associated characterization). In so doing, they afforded viewers/readers a significant degree of respect -- something first-gen Anita Blake fans might argue that LKH failed to do when she paradigm-shifted that series.
Oct. 12th, 2010 08:11 am (UTC)
Totally agree with this.

Along with character, though, there is also theme. Though I see that betrayed more often in longer running series, especially manga. Naruto, for example, spent a great deal of time at the beginning building the theme of "hard work overcomes inborn ability/limitations" only to have that theme completely contradicted by the second half of the series.

While I've never seen the change in LKH's work as a character reversal (actually, I think Anitia makes a fine villain) but the early themes of "moral choice" and "the price of power" were completely scattered to the winds later on. Personally, I never enjoyed them very much to begin with, so I didn't get worked up about it, but I can see why some people do.
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Oct. 12th, 2010 07:40 am (UTC)
I loved the early Anita novels and stopped reading them around two books after I stopped enjoying them. It makes me sad to see the direction that LKH has taken the books because I don't think she's ever going to write a book/character I want to read again. I think there's some of that in the LKH anti-fans, like calling an ex in the middle of the night to tell them how much you don't love them.

I think it's also trying to make sense of where the books went wrong for us as readers. Anita and her world worked and worked for me and then, quite abruptly it seemed, they really, really didn't. It's hard not to poke the corpse to try and work it out.
Oct. 12th, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC)
I think there's some of that in the LKH anti-fans, like calling an ex in the middle of the night to tell them how much you don't love them.


I think it's also trying to make sense of where the books went wrong for us as readers. Anita and her world worked and worked for me and then, quite abruptly it seemed, they really, really didn't. It's hard not to poke the corpse to try and work it out.

I'm down with that, though. I can tell you exactly where and why the books went wrong for me, and where they lost me; I can tell you why they had me up to that point. l can even rant :D.

I have nothing at all against that. Dissecting is what readers often do when things don't work. Poke away; I do, especially when people ask in the store.

But there's a different between that poking (why I hate these books) and the spillover into Why I Hate LKH -- and it's the latter that I see as making hugely personal something that wasn't intended that way.
(no subject) - tammy_moore - Oct. 12th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Oct. 13th, 2010 04:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 12th, 2010 10:01 am (UTC)
What you said, absolutely.
I get a certain amount of flack in my non-fiction life over the issue of women in mediaeval Celtic cultures. The popular myth is that they were all equal, sword-swinging, self-empowered etc etc. The truth is precisely the opposite. There are no reliable early sources to support the popular image. There are no authentic 'pagan' sources that prove that the women were Free! until Christianity arrived. Rather the opposite, in fact. Celtic cultures were very masculine, very divided and no paradise for women, and the arrival of Christianity in fact improved female status somewhat. But people do not want to hear this: they are entitled to their Free Celtic Druidess Ancestors. I've lost track of the number of times I've been ranted at, accused of various sinister agenda, required to justify why I think I know anything (PhD and 20 years teaching and research experience is not enough for some people) and had it explained to me how I am wrong because the speaker's guardian spirits/coven/personal link to a god say otherwise. I understand their feelings, I really do, but they could be polite and refrain from forms of ethnic abuse at the very least.
Oct. 13th, 2010 12:58 am (UTC)
Idle question on the Celtic-women matter, unrelated to the rest of the thread: are you familiar with the "Sister Fidelma" historical mysteries written by "Peter Tremayne" (aka Celtic scholar Peter Berresford Ellis), and if so, how rightly or wrongly would you say he portrays 6th-7th century Ireland and its treatment of women in those books?
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Oct. 13th, 2010 10:37 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 12th, 2010 10:48 am (UTC)
The contract between writer and reader isn't "Write what I tell you to" or "I wrote it, you'd better read it", but "I write what I want (subject to editing, etc.) and you read what you want."

Now, I believe that an author should feel obliged to remain consistent to the ground rules within a series, but it's not something that an author required to do. Just as how I feel that once a story went off the rails, I'm no longer obligated to read it. I don't hate the writer for that, but I am disappointed.

One thing I do wonder at is whether writers enjoy having their work critiqued in the same fashion that the classic works are picked at in a school/university setting. I imagine that it doesn't come up in the discussion very much, but I recall doing a term paper on the Foundation Trilogy back in high school (Foundation's Edge had just come out, so I didn't count it).
Oct. 12th, 2010 01:09 pm (UTC)
I can see people reading series that they once loved after they go in a different direction in the hope that the author will bring back the thing the reader loved about it. But... this is why I read book reviews. If I liked books A-C of an author and hated D and on, then I'll stop buying the series. And maybe keep an eye out every time the author writes something new.

There are also series for which I only buy in paperback, because they are a balance between 'I like this' and 'this annoys me', so I never know what the balance will be.

Granted, there is a fun element to ranting, but I try to keep it to the book, not the author. Mostly the fun is in figuring out why I am having such a strong emotional reaction, working out ways I could do it in a way that pleases me more, and generalizing to other writing.
Oct. 12th, 2010 03:32 pm (UTC)
I'm with you on LKH -- enjoyed the first few books, then stopped reading. I'm glad others enjoy the direction she took the series and there are plenty of other books out there that are just what I want.
Oct. 12th, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC)
"What I don't understand are the readers who still read those books, while hating on them so ferociously."

Yeah, I'm baffled by that one. If I have liked several of an author's books but then try one I don't like, I'll often (though not always) give them another chance... but after I've tried TWO books and not liked them, I stop reading that author. TWO books is one book too many for me to keep thinking of this as an author whose work I STILL like, even if I used to like it or liked his/her earlier work.

I gather from their own comments that some readers continue reading a writer when they no longer like his/her work because they're longing to repeat the reading experience they had with the author's earlier work; and each time they AGAIN don't get it and find they STILL don't like the author's newer work, they get upset. This attitude represents a tragically flat learning curve. ESPECIALLY in cases where the reader has had this experience with more than one author. Indeed, it exemplifies the popular definition of INSANITY, i.e. doing the same thing over and over and yet expecting a different result.

Another common reason is that readers get attached to characters and, in a series, want to know how the characters will end up, and/or want answers to still-unresolved questions/mysteries/conundrums introduced early in the series, back when they were still enjoying the books, and which have YET to be anwered. I'm much more sympathetic to this reason for continuing to read a writer whose work keeps disappointing in more-recent volumes, since "wanting to know the end" even after no longer liking the authors work makes some sense to me--especially after a reader has read 700,000 or 1,500,000 words about the characters and their world. (OTOH, frankly, having pushed all the way through to the end of Diana Gabaldon's ECHO IN THE BONE... I now regret the effort, regard it as two weeks of my reading life that I'll never get back, and find I DON'T CARE what happens to the characters or the gazillion dangling story threads; so I'm certainly done with -that- author's never-ending tale.)
Oct. 12th, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC)
I'm with you on this one - if an author I'm reading takes what I see as an unpleasant change partway into a series, I may stop reading the series and possibly the author (depending on a lot of factors), but I don't see a reason to rant and rail about the author just because I dislke their choice of story.
Oct. 12th, 2010 08:46 pm (UTC)
I liked the early books, but got off the bus too when the plot took a turn into boring for me. If I wanted to read lots of sex I can find that in that subset of Romance with all the sex, which I don't read either. IMHO, she turned it into a sexy romance series, which is fine, but not what it was at the beginning.

You make a good point that LKH should take her story where she wants to. I just wish she would have started another series with the qualities Anita used to have. For me, her struggle to keep her humanity against the supernaturals' onslaught was what was so great about the early books.
Oct. 12th, 2010 09:57 pm (UTC)
For me, her struggle to keep her humanity against the supernaturals' onslaught was what was so great about the early books.

This is exactly what I liked about the earlier books, and the reason that the last one I read was Narcisuss in Chains. I knew at the end of that book that she was no longer concerned with that struggle; that she was concerned, rather, with people who would love and accept her unconditionally as she was.

And that feels real, to me -- but not what I was interested in.
Oct. 12th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC)
As an author you have the right to follow whatever muse moves you. However, as a reader I expect to purchase a book that has been proofread/edited, dare I say it, polished. While I didn't like the direction LKH took her characters in, what really burned me was how poorly crafted her books became. Really, you're on the best seller list but I find instances where you use the incorrect form of the possessive, fail to conjugate verbs correctly or you repeatedly use the same adjective in multiple adjacent sentences. Not cool. And I hate to say it, I sort of feel like the best seller list is the kiss of death to some authors - I don't know if they become divas and refuse to have thier books edited or what, but the quality often drops off pretty noticeably once they are on the list.
Oct. 12th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
While I didn't like the direction LKH took her characters in, what really burned me was how poorly crafted her books became.

This isn't so much a problem with the author in most cases, though; in theory the publisher has proof-readers, line-editors and copy-editors to catch things like this before the book sees print.

I would love to say that I'm enormously careful and never make those mistakes when I submit a book - but I wouldn't be able to say it with a straight face. I always miss something.
Oct. 13th, 2010 04:17 am (UTC)
I have to say that as a reader and an aspiring writer, I think a writer should be aware that certain actions will likely lose the trust of their audience.

If a writer is writing a trilogy, stopping after book two and then spending a decade going, OK, am going to write it now, right after this next project, if you could all please remind me of the canon for my series. No, really, this time. No, really this time. There is an author whose other 2 series I've read and loved who did this and I will not be buying another trilogy of hers until it is finished, because I have no trust. Follow-through, helpful.

A writer should not switch genres in the middle of the series. If one is writing a hardboiled urban fantasy detectivish series, one should not be making an abrupt shift into paranormal erotica. Especially if one is bad at the erotica part. Consistency, helpful.

A writer should not FORGET THEIR OWN CANON. Characters should changer neither names nor sexuality between books. Consistency, helpful.

A writer should do their research. If one is going to write about abuse centered cultures of violence, reading up on the psychology of the abuser, victim, and survivor might help. (I might have made it at least one book past Incubus Dreams had LKH bothered to research. I'm a professional counselor and her abuse and violence responses in Narcissus through Incubus DROVE ME UP THE WALL they were so off, and I have a really good suspension of disbelief most of the time.) Research, helpful.

A writer should not tell irritated readers that they are only irritated because they are too stupid and "mundane" to understand the wonderful dark plotiness of their new direction. Professional behavior, usually helpful.

It is also helpful if the writer has a friend who tells them when there is excessive self exposure happening. Now it might just be the psychology training talking, but if every hero in your (extensive) series looks basically the same, acts basically the same and has the exact same favorite sexual position (this isn't necessarily LKH although she resembles some of this), your fantasy life may be showing a leetle too much. (mostly I find this amusing, but it does break the 4th wall for me).
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 13th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
I don't think that readers ought to take it personally when an author does something they don't like (unless the author actually comes out and says, "I did this to piss off my readers," in which case it is a bit more personal), but on the flip side, I don't think the author is entitled to positive response, either.

I don't think an author (any author) is entitled to positive response either. I'd say my response in the case of the later LKH books was an unmitigated negative one. But in your example, you're focusing on the fact that you disliked the book that she wrote; you're discommending it. That pushes none of my buttons; as a writer, you've got to accept that your work is not going to be beloved, and might even be hated.

But when I hate a book, I don't hate an author, and it seems to me that with LKH in particular (and a little with GRRM), that's not the case.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Oct. 13th, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
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