God, Sound Bites And Slogans


CS Lewis quoteAuthors are encouraged to “brand” themselves so that readers identify their name with a type of story. James Patterson, well-known for his fast-pace thrillers, says “A brand is just a connection between something and a lot of people who use or try that product.”

Some writers go so far as to develop taglines to identify their writing. One memorable tagline is Brandilyn Collins’s “Don’t forget to breathe” Seatbelt Suspense.

Then there are quotable lines such as the one above or like this one:

Christianity isn’t about being good enough; it’s about being forgiven completely.

I don’t know about other writers, but I think having quotable lines, especially in fiction, would be fantastic—something like C. S. Lewis’s Aslan-isn’t-tame-but-he’s-good line. It cements a truth in our minds but also makes a story memorable.

I_Like_Ike_button,_1952All this seems to fit our contemporary culture. As far back as the nineteenth century, political campaigns used slogans. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” for example, was the much repeated slogan in the 1840 Presidential election that helped bring the Whig Party to the presidency for the first time. With the coming of radio, then TV, and now the Internet and Twitter, we have become a society formed by sound bites.

TV commercials have raised sloganeering to a fine art! “It’s the real thing,” “Just do it,” “You’re in good hands with Allstate,” “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands,” “Finger lickin’ good” evoke a product name in the minds of many long after the commercials have ceased to air.

Which, of course, is the point. We want people to remember. But here’s the question. Should thoughts about God be reduced to sound bites and slogans?

They are memorable, and people are apt to quote them. If they contain truth, then that seems like a good thing. Off the top of my head, I can think of two related to Christmas: Jesus is the reason for the season and Wisemen still seek Him (I even used the latter for a title of one of my Christmas bulletin boards when I was teaching).

But here’s the trap with sound bites in declaring something about God—inevitably they say far less than what is true, but people latch onto them as if the nugget said it all.

1976_campaign_button_cFor example, Jesus is the Answer is another one of these Christian slogans. Well, yes, Jesus is the answer. But does that mean people shouldn’t work to discover how He is the answer to their particular question? Hardly, but some folks seem to think no other questions are necessary since we have the Answer.

I think the slogan might actually rob us of discovering more about Jesus—His character and plan and work that make Him the answer for me as much as for a first century Jew, an eighteenth century English slave trader, a twentieth century Auca Indian or middle-aged Dutch watchmaker.

In short, it seems to me God is too big for sound bites and slogans. Perhaps rather than campaigning for Christ, or advertising Him as if He’s a buy-now option that we’re selling, we should look into Scripture to discover deeper, more meaningful truths. We won’t come up with catchy slogans like, “It’s a God thing,” that people will repeat, but when we mediate on His word day and night, our relationship with God will grow. That’s far better than a drive-by slogan.

This article, minus some minor changes and additions, first appeared here in December 2009.

Published in: on February 16, 2016 at 7:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Dread Champion


jeweled swordLots going on and not much time, but I wanted to pass on this very cool phrase. Novelist Brandilyn Collins first drew my attention to “dread champion”: a phrase used for God in the New American Standard version of the Bible.

It’s found in Jeremiah 20. The prophet was going through a period of time when he didn’t want to keep telling the people what God said. He tried to stay silent and couldn’t but as a result the people, even his friends, turned on him.

So here’s the context and here’s the verse:

Because for me the word of the LORD has resulted
In reproach and derision all day long.
But if I say, “I will not remember Him
Or speak anymore in His name,”
Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
And I am weary of holding it in,
And I cannot endure it.
For I have heard the whispering of many,
“Terror on every side!
Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!”
All my trusted friends,
Watching for my fall, say:
“Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him
And take our revenge on him.”
But the LORD is with me like a dread champion;
Therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed,
With an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten.(8b-11)

ESV uses the term “dread warrior” and the NIV says “mighty warrior.”

The implication is clear—Even when we are not faithful, God is. He fights for those who are His.

I like that picture of God. May we go in the strength of our Dread Champion, He who is the Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, who does not become weary or tired.

Published in: on August 20, 2014 at 6:40 pm  Comments Off on Dread Champion  
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Sound Bites and Slogans


Authors are encouraged to “brand” themselves. (No, not get a tattoo! 🙄 ) Some develop taglines to identify their writing. One of the most successful, in my opinion, is Brandilyn Collins with her “Don’t forget to breathe” Seatbelt Suspense.

Then there are quotable lines. I read one this morning that I think is quotable (maybe you’ll disagree):

Christianity isn’t about being good enough, it is about being forgiven completely.

I don’t know about other writers, but I think having quotable lines, especially in fiction, would be fantastic—something like C. S. Lewis’s Aslan-isn’t-tame-but-he’s-good line. It cements a truth in our minds but also makes a story memorable.

All this seems to fit our contemporary culture. Possibly with the popularization of political slogans such as “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” in the 1840 Presidential election, we have become a society formed by sound bites.

TV commercials have raised sloganeering to a fine art! “It’s the real thing,” “Just do it,” “Where’s the beef?” probably evoke a product name in the minds of many long after the commercials have ceased to air.

Which, of course, is the point. We want people to remember. But here’s the question. Should thoughts about God be reduced to sound bites and slogans?

They are memorable, and people are apt to quote them. If they contain truth, then that seems like a good thing. Off the top of my head, I can think of two related to Christmas: Jesus is the reason for the season and Wisemen still seek Him (I even used the latter for a title of one of my Christmas bulletin boards when I was teaching).

But here’s the trap with sound bites in declaring something about God—inevitably they say far less than what is true, but people latch onto them as if the nugget said it all.

For example, Jesus is the Answer is another one of these Christian slogans. Well, yes, Jesus is the answer. But does that mean people shouldn’t work to discover how He is the answer to their particular question? Hardly, but some folks seem to think no other questions are necessary since we have the Answer.

I think the slogan might actually rob us of discovering more about Jesus—His character and plan and work that make Him the answer for me as much as for a first century Jew, an eighteenth century English slave trader, a twentieth century Auca Indian or middle-aged Dutch watchmaker.

In short, it seems to me God is too big for sound bites and slogans. Perhaps rather than campaigning for Christ, or advertising Him as if He’s a buy-now option we’re selling, we should look into some ideas Scripture brings up. Things like mediating on His word day and night.

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 3:05 pm  Comments (4)  
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Listening to My Inner Editor


I’ve read over and over that writers are to turn off their inner editor. That advice comes from seasoned authors, novices, and instruction books. And I think it’s wrong.

Not entirely, mind you, but I think it’s a great advantage to develop an ear for what works, and I don’t think a writer does that by ignoring the nagging voice that says, This part isn’t right.

I’ll add another caveat: I don’t think an author should listen to any editor or critic when working on the rough draft of a story. An author must accept that a rough draft will be … rough. Plot points may not quite fit. Characters won’t always be adequately motivated, and their personalities probably need to be fleshed out more completely. Setting may need to be envisioned afresh.

And language! Repetition will need to be annihilated. Wordiness, cut. Weak verbs will need to be replaced, and so on.

But those are all things to do in the rewrite, not in the first draft.

When rewrite time comes, however, I think it’s important for an author to reach a point where he trusts his inner editor.

I remember when I first went to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference in Northern California and met some of the writers I’d first encountered on blogs and online writing communities. I remember asking one—Brandilyn Collins, I think, who co-taught the fiction track that year with Randy Ingermanson—if she was in a critique group.

No, she said. And I thought, How in the world does she do it? I had just found an online group that was changing my writing. I was learning so much and growing as a writer.

But the interesting thing I discovered later on is this: When I suspected something in my manuscript wasn’t quite right, those in my crit group who gave me feedback almost always overwhelmingly pointed out those spots as needing work.

In the end, I realized that when I thought something wasn’t right, it probably wasn’t right.

Perhaps that editing skill is something I acquired over years of grading papers. I know it developed exponentially as I critiqued others in my group and even more when I began editing professionally.

But in the back of my head I keep thinking, Writers are smart people, plus they are readers. They know what they like in the books they pick up, so why can’t we apply the same sense to our own work?

Usually, I think the answer is, we’re too close to it. We were visualizing a scene, hearing dialogue in our head, and we think what we wrote is what we were seeing, hearing. But if we set the work aside for a time, then come back to it, we have a much better idea if the words on the page conjure up those same images, that same dialogue, as we first imagined.

Critique groups are great. First readers are great. Editors are great. But I’m beginning to think we authors, who ought to have the most invested in our work, should own a lot more of the rewriting and revising.

CFBA Blog Tour –Dark Pursuit by Brandilyn Collins


brandilyncollins5I suspect, if you do much blog hopping, you’ll come across other authors featuring Brandilyn Collins’s newest book, Dark Pursuit (Zondervan). In which case, you’ll probably see her author photo—the one on her Web site, blog, and books. Well, there’s considerably more to Brandilyn than that rather artsy, staid profile—as you can see in this photo taken this past March at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference autograph party. Or this one earlier in the week when I was preparing for the mentoring class in the lounge and found Brandilyn hard at work there, too.

brandilyn-collins6

All this to say, Brandilyn is one of the most gracious, fun, helpful, giving people I’ve met in this writing business. Not to mention that she is one talented lady. I respect her ability as a writer and have learned so much from her, at conferences and on her blog. She continues to be generous with her time despite an incredible writing schedule, made more incredible with the addition of several young adult novels she wrote in conjunction with her daughter this year on top of her regular adult suspense.

But none of this is about Dark Pursuit, and that’s what I’ve promised to write about as a member of CFBA.

For as long as I can remember, Brandilyn has referred to her novels as Seatbelt Suspense. As anyone who has hung around A Christian Worldview of Fiction for long knows, I’m not a big fan of suspense. But, as you might suspect, I am a big fan of Brandilyn Collins. Consequently, I broke down and read one of her books, then another, and another until I’d read all of her Kanner Lake series and several of her earlier novels. And none of them gave this Big Honkin’ Chicken any trouble. I could read them at night, alone, whatever, and never did I have a nightmare or any untoward emotions that made me question my decision to read another Collins. Until Dark Pursuit.

Here is a book filled with danger and suspense—the slasher-movie kind where you want to bonk the stupid girl yourself for walking out into the dark alone at night to investigate the strange sound she hears in the woods. Brandilyn’s characters were properly motivated, but time and again they took tacks that led them into the heart of danger, and frankly, I came to a point where I would not read the book at night any longer.

For those who love suspense, I’d call this a home run.

But I have two things against it.

The first has to do with “Spiritual Themes and Content.” I felt this book would have been much better if it had been called clean suspense rather than Christian suspense. The spiritual element felt painfully forced onto the story, for no apparent reason, and I didn’t find it particularly believable.

The protagonist supposedly had come to God as part of a twelve-step program after having spent jail time because of her drug addiction. Nevertheless, she got pregnant by her boyfriend, who turns out to be an abusive killer, and lies about having any family in the area because she’s in a grudge match with her grandfather.

Hmmm. Her Christianity doesn’t seem to have taught her forgiveness. Or given her any discernment, put her into a good circle of friends (does she go to church?), or influenced her moral decisions (she wants to keep the baby because she wants to give it love, not because of any idea of obeying God). In addition, she rarely (ever?) prays when she’s in desperate straits. I’m not sure I see a story reason why she is a Christian.

The second problematic area for me was the end. As I said, this story was incredibly suspenseful. I couldn’t help asking myself why I thought this one was so much more frightening than other Collins novels. I could be wrong, but what I came up with was that in Dark Pursuit I knew early on who to fear. In other stories, ones which were sort of suspense/mystery combinations and I didn’t know for sure who the perpetrator was, I didn’t feel fearful for the character when she was most in danger. In this story I did.

That’s not the problematic part. In her characteristic style, Brandilyn introduces several twists at the end, but I found those to be unnecessary, even implausible, and they didn’t add to the sense of danger.

Let me qualify that. The major twist seemed implausible. Another significant twist enhanced the description of the other main character, crusty grandfather Darell Brooke. In particular, I found him to be well drawn and extremely believable. In many ways, this is really his story. I can only wish it was more so. But helpless girls make better victims for suspense, I suppose.

I’m beginning to think that’s what I have against this genre.

For you suspense fans, be sure to pick up a copy of Dark Pursuit. This book will have you holding your breath.

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 12:40 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 8


I’m not sure how much more I’m going to do with this topic. As I may have mentioned once or twice, CSFF will hold the blog tour for Donita Paul’s DragonLight next week. After that, who knows which way the cyber-wind will blow. 🙂 But for one more day, at least, I want to discuss Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) by Andy Sernovitz.

By the way, I might mention that I am just twenty pages in and still in the first chapter. Hopefully that gives you an idea that this book has much to say. I certainly have much to think about especially as I consider how to implement the principles in the writing world.

As Brandilyn Collins reported on her blog Forensic and Faith when she was discussing WOMM, Sernovitz has identified five T’s of word of mouth marketing. The first of those is Talkers.

The question is, who will talk about you?

When I first got on the Internet, I didn’t know if I was supposed to come up with some kind of a cutesy fake name or what. I went on one sports forum (remember what a sports nut I am) and registered as B. Fan (for Broncos fan—ah, for the days of John Elway … 😉 ) Eventually I discovered the writer community, mostly through Faith in Fiction. Somewhere soon after, it dawned on me. Rather than protecting my anonymity, if I really wanted to be a writer, I needed to get my name out there into the public arena.

It was a departure from what I expected.

In real life, I was used to going places and running into people I knew—usually former students or parents of former students. At 60 new kiddos a year for 25 years, with the adults added in, that ups the chances of those chance encounters. Not so long ago I was pumping gas and a guy one island over looked at me, looked at me, then headed on over. And sure enough, this was the dad of one of my former students, from eight years ago.

But on the Internet? Put my real name on the web? My picture out there for the world to see? Well, why not, if some day I hope my name is on the front of a book and my picture on the inside flap. I mean, those books might go to who knows where. And isn’t that the point? If people are to talk, the conversation has to begin somewhere.

For the writer, it begins with the people we know who will be willing to talk about us. Family, friends, neighbors, business associates, … and cyber-friends. So who are the talkers in your world?

Published in: on July 18, 2008 at 3:22 pm  Comments Off on The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 8  
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The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 2


Word of Mouth. That would be the chief means of marketing, at least according to book people. And now it seems this is also the favorite tack of others in the business of selling, as evidenced by Andy Sernovitz‘s book Word of Mouth Marketing.

Just in case you’re unclear how this work, I’m actually demonstrating it by writing these posts. Author and one time marketer Brandilyn Collins blogged about WOMM, the book, and gave two copies away. The things she said convinced me this was a book I wanted, so I diligently left comments each day she posted about the topic, and wonder of wonders, I won a freebie. Now here I am, passing on to you some of what I’m learning. That’s word of mouth.

The organic kind—that which arises from happy consumers, not one, like a blog tour that is initiated by an organizer. In my way of thinking, the organized kind of word of mouth will generate the organic kind of word of mouth if the product (the book) earns it.

I ended yesterday saying that I believe this type of marketing is eminently consistent with the Christian life. Quotes from Andy say it best:

This is nominally a book about a specific marketing technique. But it’s really a new [old?] philosophy of business (and how to live it).

It’s about honesty and admiration. It’s about making people happy.

It’s a simple philosophy, a new golden rule:

Earn the respect and recommendation of your customers [readers], and they will do the rest.

  • Treat people well; they will do your marketing for you, for free.
  • Be interesting, or be invisible.
  • A new golden rule. Just like the one God set up in His word, about loving our neighbors as ourselves. Lo and behold, business people have discovered the pragmatic side of this equation, that customers, when treated with respect, become loyal to the point of talking about businesses they’re happy with.

    Of course, there is that all important ingredient—giving readers a product they’ll be happy with. That, above all else, is necessary with books. Andy explains:

    Word of mouth marketing only works if you have good products and services [books]. It only works if peole like you and trust you … If your product or service [stinks], no PR campaign, clever TV ad, or announcement on your website will make consumers believe that it doesn’t. Not anymore. And the speed of word of mouth on the internet spreads the truth almost instantly.

    The sum and substance of this first point is this: be buzz worthy. For a book to accomplish this, it takes more than a great cover or a scintillating premise. Those are ingredients that could initiate buzz, but the story and writing have to be there if it’s really going to catch fire.

    And speaking of buzz worthy, we are now twelve days away from Donita K. Paul’s DragonLight blog tour. This is one you won’t want to miss.

    The Chief Means of Marketing


    Marketing fascinates me. Once upon a time I would have disowned such a statement. I could never foresee being interested in such a “commercial enterprise.” The thing about the book business however, is that sales represent number of readers. Not perfectly, but it’s the closest thing an author has to understanding the scope of his audience.

    Speakers can look out over those in attendance and know at once if they have a full house or not. But writers? It’s a lot of guess work, but sales open a window on the size of an author’s readership.

    How is it that readers find one author and not another? In one group I’m in, an individual asked for recommendations of science fiction or speculative titles to present to a book club. Many suggestions came in. But some names and titles were left off. Why? A lack of awareness? A thumbs-down response to the book?

    Shifting gears for a moment, I just started reading Word of Mouth Marketing by Andy Sernovitz, a book I won in a contest Brandilyn Collins held on her blog Forensics and Faith. The first point Sernovitz makes is that word of mouth marketing (WOMM) is effective because it isn’t generated by paid professionals.

    Why am I discussing marketing, you might wonder, since I don’t have a book to sell or a readership to tabulate. For one thing, I hope to have a book one day. But more immediately, I refer to the CSFF Blog Tour as a word-of-mouth organization. Consequently, I want to understand how WOMM really works.

    An ironic story. While I was writing this post, an email came in announcing an opportunity to put an ad in a certain organization’s program, and I considered it! 😮 Why is that ironic? Because I had just read the following from WOMM:

    And please, I beg you, stop for a minute before you buy more advertising. Think about how much money you are about to spend. Think about how fast you, and everyone else in the world, flip past hundreds of ads without even noticing them.

    The lure of “getting your name out there” is powerful. And the truth is, if an author’s books are to sell, his name does need to get out there. For Christians this is often an uncomfortable line of discussion, seemingly in conflict with the life of humility and neighbor-focus we understand God wants us to live.

    Surprise, surprise. Most of what I’ve read so far about WOMM actually lines up squarely with the life a Christian should lead. It’s quite exciting. Hopefully this discussion over the next few days will answer the question why some books get talked about and others forgotten.

    In the meantime, I encourage you to join the discussion about Donita K. Paul’s latest release, DragonLight (WaterBrook). Only thirteen days until her official CSFF Blog Tour. 😀

    Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 10:58 am  Comments Off on The Chief Means of Marketing  
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    Does Writer’s Block Exist?


    I read an interesting post yesterday by Brandilyn Collins. In it she decried writers who deny the existence of writer’s blog. She has it, she says, but it’s not the usual “I just can’t make myself get started” kind of thing. In fact she has tweaked the term a bit, calling it “plotter’s block” instead.

    What she said reminded me so much of posts Karen Hancock has written about the same thing.

    I can relate to what they say. In essence it is the problem of trying to write when you don’t have a real idea about what should be happening in your story. Brandilyn calls herself a planner. Karen says she simply writes scenes that she envisions, not in a sequential order.

    In my own writing, I plan generally but must plan specifically before I can write. When I get stalled, I’ve learned this is a sign I don’t really have a grip on what’s to happen next.

    For me the answer is to figure out what is to happen. I’ve learned to ask question which I start to answer in an open ended way—in other words, with as many answers as I can dream up. Eventually I choose one. But I’ve had instances, in the book I’m working on, for instance, in which I locked onto an answer, wrote the scenes, then on rewrite realized I’d gone in the wrong direction.

    I rewrote the section that was off, this time with a much better answer, but it means there are things to change from here on. I’d forgotten just how many. Some days I’m not so excited about plowing ahead, trying to right the listing ship. That borders on the old notion of writer’s block. I’m basically saying, It’s too hard, not fun, not quick.

    Well, yeah! Writing does fall into the work category, so there are times it’s hard. I pretty much have to accept that. But then there are days like Saturday when the words seemed to flow and when I stopped for lunch, I thought, I just love to write!

    Maybe it was because the alternative was to do the laundry. 😀

    You writers, what are your experiences? Do you deal with writer’s block, or have you learned some way of heading it off?

    Published in: on June 4, 2008 at 11:25 am  Comments (8)  
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    Scene vs. Narrative


    Brandilyn Collins, as gracious as she is talented, left a comment to yesterday’s post in which she remarked about the change in her style of writing since she was first published:

    I like the books I write today, but they are different from Eyes of Elisha and Dread Champion. Those books were each about 120,000 words. Way too long for today’s standards and for what my publisher wants. The longer word count allows for multiple storylines and subplots. Can’t do that in the current word count.

    However, if you’re referring to “leaner” as a style of writing, that’s a different thing. My style IS leaner today. That is, every word counts, whereas in EOE and DC I had longer paragraphs and was more wordy in general.

    The thing is Eyes of Elisha came out in 2001, with Dread Champion following in 2002, so this change we’re talking about happened over the last six or so years.

    By the way, this span of time has been the height of the Harry Potter craze, with books five through seven weighing in at 500 pages or more.

    Is it genre then, that has created a distinct style?

    I know people often talk about writing for the MTV generations, implying that these readers need things with graphics, written in sound bites, including sidebars, without depth. Thus, shorter books.

    Of course, part of the “shorter book” concept might just be the economics of it. I mean, it’s what the candy company and the canned soup people did. Don’t raise the price; shrink the product.

    Could publishers be taking that route? With the exception of those who have a blockbuster hit on their hands. Those books can come in at 600, 700 pages and the publisher will still clear a tidy profit. (Is that understated sufficiently, do you think? 😉 )

    So, what does this have to do with “scene vs. narrative”? I suggest scene is leaner. Narrative tends to be wordy.

    Here’s an example from the book I’m currently reading, Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (Bantam Books, 1995):

    That afternoon I was back with Hod, practicing until I was sure my stave had mysteriously doubled its weight. Then food, and bed, and up again in the morning and back to Burrich’s tutelage. My learning filled my days, and any spare time I found was swallowed up with the chores associated with my learning, whether it was tack care for Burrich, or sweeping the armory and putting it back in order for Hod. In due time I found not one, or even two, but three entire sets of clothing, including stockings, set out one afternoon on my bed. Two were of fairly ordinary stuff, in a familiar brown that most of the children my age seemed to wear, but one was of thin blue cloth, and on the breast was a buck’s head, done in silver thread. Burrich and the other men-at-arms wore a leaping buck as their emblem. I had only seen the buck’s head on the jerkins of Regal and Verity. So I looked at it and wondered, but wondered, too, at the slash of red stitching that cut it diagonally, marching right over the design.

    So ends one paragraph from pp. 68-69, followed by a scene (and I wonder how many of you managed to read the entire paragraph. 😮 Is blog reading affecting the way we want our fiction?). I opened the book at random to find that section of narrative, which, by the way, was preceded by several similar pages, and I feel confident I could find an example nearly every time I randomly selected a page.

    The question I’m pondering is this: Rather than balancing scene and narrative, does the contemporary style of fiction shun narrative as a necessary evil to be avoided whenever possible? And the correlaries: Is fiction mirroring television, and should it? Are only certain genres, like suspense, pulled into a faster-paced style?

    OR, is an overbalance of scene a result of “rules” enforced because new writers have a propensity to tell too much and tell poorly? In other words, are we Browne-and-King-ing narrative right out of our stories? Is this a tendency in Christian fiction alone, or are writers in the general market also writing less narrative?

    Your thoughts on any of these questions?

    Published in: on April 10, 2008 at 11:40 am  Comments (13)  
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