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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » A Writer's Prime

   
Author Topic: A Writer's Prime
Denevius
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I recently read an interesting blog on the question of a writer's prime that I feel like the other thread we have going on touched upon.

Personally, I believe that every author has his/her peak, and everything they write after that is their artistic vision in decline. Stephen King has very fierce defenders, so I say this with some trepidation, but after reading three of his books, 'Cujo', 'Needful Things', and 'The Shining', I couldn't help but feel that a lot of his writing is recycled. Same type of characters, same type of setting, same type of tensions, same type of problems, and similar resolutions.

Stephen King is a prolific writer, but has he really had anything new to say in his body of work for a long, long time?

I question whether an author's vision can evolve when they themselves become settled in their real lives. We have this romantic fantasy of the artist constantly on the move seeking out new experiences to enrich their work, but it's just that, a fantasy. Either artists settle down, have families, and their spheres of experience become quite limited, so their narratives become redundant; or they die at an early age in a completely preventable way.

This is one of the worries about finally getting a book deal if I hit the literary lottery with my current novel. Genre publishers are all about the sequel. If you create a fascinating world, they want you to milk it for all its worth until everyone but your most diehard fans still get any kind of enjoyment from it. And it's strange to me that they do this, yet this seems to be the formula publishers and television exists by. It kills me what they did to "Dexter", one of my favorite shows in the last decade. And I made the mistake of reading all of the "Hyperion Cantos" by Dan Simmons after I really enjoyed "Hyperion".

I was recently reading about a writer who got a book deal with Tor, but it was a deal for three books. The writer was blogging about it, but he never answered an essential question: does he actually have another two books on this same material in him?

I don't have a sequel in mind for my current book, though there is another two previous novels that I wrote that I can merge into this same world. But it would be mostly all different characters, and the subject matter would be different. The bottom line, though, is that I feel like when it comes to fresh, innovative ideas, I've already thought of everything I'm going to think of. The settings have changed as I've moved about in space and time, but all these years later, I'm still writing about the vampire. I wrote my first vampire story when I was 15 or 16, and 20 years later, here I am just having finished another.

I have a fantasy novel that I started writing in my early 20s that I'd like to develop, but I still think it's too complicated.

I'm curious, am I alone in this? Do you all find yourselves writing new narratives that's completely removed from all of your previous interests?

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wetwilly
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So far, all of my stories/ideas are very different from each other. I think. I suspect this is the kind of question that one could more accurately answer about somebody else.
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genevive42
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I think it depends on the author. As for myself, sometimes I see repeated themes, but not to the point of repetitive plots. And when I see similarities, I can easily change that aspect if I want. In general, most of my stories are pretty different from each other.

But if you want an example of an author with a long running series that hasn't gotten stale, consider Lois McMaster Bujold. There are something around 16 Vorkosigan books and I guarantee you there's no sense of repetition or a peak and decline in that series. You may prefer one book over another but she never falters in quality and origniality. Of course, she's a genius, so there's that.

I think the trick is to not let yourself get stale. Always push yourself and stretch and you'll find new material. It's your choice. Stay true to your vision.

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Denevius
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I've always wanted to read one of Bujold's books, but with long series like that, I usually only want to read *one* of them. But then it's a catch 22. If I enjoy the first one, then I'm in a literary commitment with a narrative. I'll want to read the second one, and probably the third. Yet I have never gotten into a series of books as an adult that I've enjoyed throughout, so it's a dysfunctional relationship.

I don't know anything about the world she created, but I am a bit skeptical that Bujold isn't hitting a lot of the same themes, that her characters aren't developing in basically the same way, and that the problems/motivations aren't generally the same from novel to novel.

I could be wrong. I do think, though, that the foundation of the writer's personality is the inspiration for everything they eventually write, and the foundation doesn't change. Just the scenery. And I think that's why authors hit their peak. They've exhausted their foundation, they've said everything they had to say, and now they're recycling the same idea, usually throwing in spectacle to draw the reader's attention and distract from the lack of originality.

I think of some books that I absolutely loved that were ruined from going on beyond their prime. Douglas Adams comes to mind. "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe", and "Life, the Universe, and Everything" were all great romps through space and time. But "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish", and "Mostly Harmless"? Just the comedic vision in decline. Trying to say what's already been said in a new and exciting way.

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Pyre Dynasty
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Well don't close the patent office, just in case. It's funny you mention Cujo and The Stand because those are ones usually cited as being from King's prime. I'm partial to the Green Mile/Hearts in Atlantis mode of King.

Some people have projects that they just can't get away from, ideas they want to explore deeper and deeper. Tracy Hickman can't stop himself from writing about dragons. Even in stories where a dragon doesn't fit he has to add some bit of description that's dragony. They also want to dance with the one they took to the ball. When they deviate from their usual their fans complain so they decide to give them what they want.

I personally like to jump around, but perhaps that just means I haven't found my calling yet.

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Robert Nowall
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One can find, say, people who think Paul McCartney never really found his footing after the Beatles broke up and he's been in a steady decline since. (I find plenty of rewarding material in his later work, though it never replaces the earlier in my affections.)

Plenty of writers have good stuff early on and other stuff less so---often writing commercially demands greater speed and less care.

On the other hand, some guys do better work as they get older. Practice and experience. I was enheartened to learn H. Beam Piper didn't start having any real literary success until he was about the age I am now, more or less. (I was less enheartened by his eventual fate---it sure convinced me to stay on my real money-paying job a little longer.)

I thought King, after his initial success, tended to produce work that would benefit from substantial cutting and editing, more than it seemed to be getting. Also I've found most enjoyment in his work that had horrific elements, but was not some kind of supernatural horror (with or without SF elements.) Say, "The Body."

(Also I've found his non-fiction displaying an arrogance I find uncomfortable to read. I've shied away from his more recent stuff.)

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Denevius
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quote:
It's funny you mention Cujo and The Stand because those are ones usually cited as being from King's prime.
Actually, "The Shining". I only saw the movie for "The Stand".

quote:
On the other hand, some guys do better work as they get older.
I don't think the first thing a writer publishes is necessarily their peak, mostly because I don't hold traditional publication as a barometer of a writing's strength. Too much crappy stuff on shelves (virtual and real) in bookstores around the world.

Just as I think that authors reach their prime and start to decline thereafter, do I think that before they reach their prime, they have to hit their stride. I do think that for most writers, the stuff where we're hitting our stride actually never gets published. The novel I just finished is my fourth. The other three were building up to this one, and as I said, there are aspects of those three novels that find their way into this one, from religious elements to vampirism to a female protagonist, etc.

quote:
I thought King, after his initial success, tended to produce work that would benefit from substantial cutting and editing, more than it seemed to be getting
I agree. Stephen King is one of the few authors where it's not uncommon for people to say that the movie was better than the book. Even in "Cujo", which I think was his first published novel, there was a lot of bloat. "Needful Things" could have easily been half its length, and nothing would have been lost.

quote:
often writing commercially demands greater speed and less care.
This is why I was curious about the guy blogging about his contract with Tor. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense that he wouldn't say in a public forum, "Yeah, that three book contract deal I signed probably means the next two will be rushed and not as good as the first one."

It took me two and a half years to finish the first draft of my novel, and that was after taking off two years from writing after completing my previous novel. I simply can't imagine producing the same level of material if I had to write two books in five years. If you just hit the literary lottery, this isn't the type of thing you tell publishers, but *everyone* in the room has to know that the time constraints on the sequel means that it will probably be subpar. There's actually a phrasing for this phenomena in the music world, if I remember correctly.

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Brooke18
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It seems that the books I've begun writing all have the strong, romantic young adult theme. It was only intentional with my first book. I don't care for love stories much but it would be extremely difficult to write a book people would want to read without a little drama or love in it.

I have started writing a book that has turned out to be more of a psychological science-fiction novel with many twists and turns. I don't normally write in this genre because I don't feel like it is my strong point, but just because that's what doesn't mean I'm not any good at it.

As far as new ideas go when writing any kind of piece, just about every idea has been done before in some way, shape, or form. Part of the challenge for us is to find ways of telling those ideas. An advantage for us, however, is that all those ideas have been done before. If we ever get discouraged about the level of interest in our ideas, we can read books that are similar. It an endless cycle of recycling, reorganizing, and reshaping the ideas from our minds and writing them down on paper.

This is all my personal opinion. It might not make sense but it does make sense in my head.

Oh, and just out of curiosity: Why are we called writers when we seldom write our works down? It's an old term for a new age. I personally write all my work down and then type it up, but that's because I've had issues with computers crashing on me in the past. [Smile]

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
I've always wanted to read one of Bujold's books, but with long series like that, I usually only want to read *one* of them. But then it's a catch 22. If I enjoy the first one, then I'm in a literary commitment with a narrative. I'll want to read the second one, and probably the third. Yet I have never gotten into a series of books as an adult that I've enjoyed throughout, so it's a dysfunctional relationship.

I don't know anything about the world she created, but I am a bit skeptical that Bujold isn't hitting a lot of the same themes, that her characters aren't developing in basically the same way, and that the problems/motivations aren't generally the same from novel to novel.


I started to write a longer post in response to this, but decided it was off topic.

Two things about the Vorkosigan Saga do seem to be on topic to me.

First, each book is a stand alone, complete story in its own right so you never [i]have to[i] read the next one just to find out what happens. (And sometimes she takes a break from the saga and writes a fantasy.)

Second, in terms of the original subject of this thread, I actually find the later books in the series to be the best. (Though, I will admit that they're richer and deeper for people who've read at least most of the earlier books.)

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Robert Nowall
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Carrie was King's first published novel, not Cujo. Carrie was considerably more concise than nearly everything else he's published.

As for movies---well, I've learned to stay away from any movie that calls itself "Stephen King's [insert title]." Two, maybe three movies, based on his works, were any good.

*****

Also, Bujold is one of those writers I've taken a pass on---time is short and all that stuff---but of the two (I think) Bujold novels I've read, neither made me a fan. I've heard mostly good things, though.

If Bujold is writing stand-alone books within a long series, rather than things that have to be picked up again and again to figure out what's going on, I approve of that.

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extrinsic
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I read writers' bodies of work. Sometimes I read in a rigid chronological order, sometimes random, mostly depends on how the local library shelves the books and the completeness of the collection.

One writer may reach a popular acclaim status early in her or his career. The die cut and cast early, the career spurred by early success. Critical acclaim, in any regard, takes time to build. Literary analysis takes time to develop a ground swell due to carefully thought-out responses and counter responses needing time to emerge.

Another writer may reach a peak later in her or his career. A slow-ascendence writer debuted with a reasonably appealing short work, continued short work struggles, perhaps published a short work collection, and eventually broke out in long works. Maybe the career journey started with long works. While the writer's skills grew, the audience grew.

Another writer may be a one-hit wonder, publishing only one acclaimed novel and for assorted reasons never again. Only had one novel to write, struck a nerve with the one and couldn't find another nerve to strike, struggled mightily and gave up because the effort was too much, whatever,

From reading, following, and studying many writers' journeys, several common conclusions arise as to reasons why any one peaks: early, late, median, once and done, or not at all--four principal areas: method, message, intent, meaning.

Method covers a gamut, including narrative point of view--omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent narrators were common prior to mid nineteenth century. Realism stepped away from patriarchal arbiters dictating moral value system codes, which is message also, but not away from a rigid value system. Modernism stepped away from rigid value systems. Postmodernism threw outdated value systems out with the bath water. Along with that progression, narratives closed into ever closer distance: narrative, aesthetic, emotional, and psychic distances. Narrator summary and explanation also gave ground to stronger reality imitation emphasis. Less direct reporting, more moving portrait show. Growing reader sophistication accompanied the tell-show proportion shift, not to mention overall literacy also increased.

Any given contemporary writer's development of writing craft regarding reality imitation and summary and explanation skill methods has an appreciable impact on her or his ascendance. Part of why a writer peaks, perhaps afterward declines, is because the writer reaches an ability plateau. She or he has learned all she or he needs for success, becomes complacent, and no longer struggles for higher heights. Many fall short of new horizons and their own ambitions and no clue why. They'd found a process that worked narrowly, that showed promise, though stalled on a plateau that no longer showed promise.

Readers accompany a cherished writer along the writer's journey, mature along with the writer, learn along with the writer. If the writer doesn't stay ahead, readers seek elsewhere.

Message develops as a writer comes to understand meaning making. Though early and youth writing messages invariably are underdeveloped, mostly daydreams, wish fulfillment, underlying, often subconscious or nonconscious messages and meaning making processes transcend their otherwise superficial daydreams. Real writer--I mean Booth and Chatman's actual writer--messages arise within their daydream narratives. These are struggles to find meaning from the writers' personal life, stresses, fears, hopes, passions. etc.

If those messages appeal to a sufficiently large audience, the writer is ascendent. Poetic justice scenarios most appeal to broad and numerous audiences. Messages that ironically challenge and question presupposed notions of propriety, Postmodernism--appeal most to narrow niche audiences, sophisticated literary narratives. Too many irony message layers, though, and alienation is likely. The point of the latter generally is to obfuscate preachy sarcasm so the sarcasm doesn't call undue attention to itself and trump the message. Some of the more acclaimed classics of the ancient era and contemporary times strike an artful balance between irony, sarcasm, message, and accessibility. Method is the navigator of those treacherous shoals.

Intent: one classic most illustrates intent gone awry. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle aimed for readers' minds and hit them in the viscera. Sinclair had a socialist message and intent, using Modernism's reality imitation conventions, though much summary and explanation lectures and castigation and correction lectures. Most of the socialist lectures in The Jungle can be skipped and at no great loss to the novel's meaning, misdirected message, and method.

Readers anymore want rigorous intimate excitements. Private reality imitation fits the bill, close psychic distance, in other words. This too is method. Meaning here comes from method, the subjective experiences of one agonist's struggles with life complications. Moral value struggles of the agonist, parallel to readers' moral value struggles, underlying the surface action contain the message. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five expresses a strong antiwar message. That novel was Vonnegut's zenith, both in popular and critical appeal and acclaim, as well as method, timely message, intent, and meaning. Vonnegut's next novel, Breakfast of Champions, less acclaimed by half, has too many irony layers and too inaccessible a message for many readers' sensibilities. No less important a message, only mispackaged. After that, Vonnegut's lecture preaching message emphasis alienated most of the audience that had followed his career.

Method innovation has always built appeal. The great shift from narrator tell to reflector show spanned centuries, from early eighteenth through mid twentieth century for full emergence. Worth note, the emergence of reality imitation preference followed technological bookmaking developments. The moveable type press did make books more accessible to readers, though not until industrialization made mass-consumer goods readily available to the masses did reality imitation fully emerge. What similar influence might digital technologies have on method? More access to narratives; ever more intimate reality imitation access in terms of distances narrative, aesthetic, emotional, and psychic.

Message innovation has had not quite as much appeal. The invariant, resistant to change human condition is at the root of message appeal. Strong moral value struggles that do not stray to far from a normative social expectation, not too pure, not too personally shaming, not too pointed at the congregation's naive, selfish wickednesses appeal. Poetic justice, though, must be appreciated, for at least satisfying outcomes.

Though a television situation comedy, purportedly about nothing, Seinfeld's irony layers, method, message, meaning, and intent chastise and castigate self-involved social behavior. The final episodes serve the central cast poetic justice for their self-absorbed behaviors. Not one other character in the saga is any less self-absorbed. The show about nothing is about something: universal human frailties. The gang does what they want, barely guided by a loose and shifting set of social rules, amoral rules. For example, breakups over the phone are usually not okay, unless . . . They then have to cope with and somewhat satisfy the fallout of whatever problems their self-absorbed wants cause.

Strong messages of everyone's flawed, self-absorption is a constant and unchanging flaw, we cause our own problems from our selfish pursuits, we satisfy problems ourselves, satisfy ourselves generally, and ironically, subtlest of all, at the least, cooperation benefits all, for a common good. When the self-absorbed characters the gang has harmed come together in the finale, they cooperate to serve the gang their due poetic justice. The series was wrapped up, to my satisfaction anyway.

Finales, yes, do challenge writers. Readers want satisfaction, though they also want continuation. Wrap-ups, though, need not terminate a franchise. This too is a matter of method, message, meaning, and intent. Finales are simply unequivocal, irrevocable outcomes of central dramatic complications, messages delivered, meaning fully realized, and intent satisfied.

The champions meet on the field of honor. One-on-one they contest the battle's outcome. Duelists, one more skilled with the lance, one a more skilled horseperson, one more skilled with sword, one better armored, one better mounted, one more eager, one more wary, one more offended, one must prevail or the full melee be joined and kingdoms lose their labor equity to the slaughter. Like a duel, satisfaction must be won. Dramatic complication is at the core of satisfaction. Ends that satisfy their complications satisfy readers, method, message, meaning, and intent.

Writers who hit the expectation mark and keep hitting it, ever accompanying their audience's growth along the way, ascend into and beyond an orbital zenith. What goes up must not fall. Glorious.

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Denevius
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quote:
Finales, yes, do challenge writers. Readers want satisfaction, though they also want continuation.
I hate to say I keep a Seinfeld "maxim" in my head, but I do. It's from the episode where George is wondering why he can't get ahead in the company. He feels like in every meeting there's a period where he's killing them with his witticisms, but then he always says *one* thing too much that totally leaves him looking like a douche. So Jerry tells him to do what comedians do: leave on a high note. Leave on your best joke when the audience is wanting more.

I wish a lot of my favorite authors had taken this advice. By the way, I hate Kurt Vonnegut. In undergraduate, my fellow students held him up as some kind of writer demigod, so finally I tried his "Slaughterhouse Five". I literally think I got four pages into the novel before I decided I'd prefer to take a long walk off a short cliff.

quote:
First, each book is a stand alone, complete story in its own right so you never [i]have to[i] read the next one just to find out what happens. (And sometimes she takes a break from the saga and writes a fantasy.)

Second, in terms of the original subject of this thread, I actually find the later books in the series to be the best. (Though, I will admit that they're richer and deeper for people who've read at least most of the earlier books.)

Well, like I said, I haven't read Bujold, so I can't comment on her writing beyond what I said my suspicions were. However, these two points *seem* like a contradiction. If each book stands alone, then the later books wouldn't seem richer and deeper for those who've read the earlier books. It sounds like the same themes are more fully or artfully explored later in the series.

But I haven't read any of her stuff, so who knows.

quote:
Part of why a writer peaks, perhaps afterward declines, is because the writer reaches an ability plateau.
I'm more inclined to think a personal plateau, but I guess that's a point we may diverge upon. No matter what, they hit a plateau. Personally, I would question whether it's the writing, the craft of wordsmith, that's the issue. Once you've gotten a style down, once you've secured your voice, once your sentence construction is sharp enough, once you sound like something (and that sound is original), I'm not sure why those writing skills you've honed would decline as you get older. If anything, the act of actually putting words down on the page becomes more steady with age, not less steady.

But your point with Vonnegut is key, in my opinion. Do you still have anything relevant to say? For an example of this, Bill Cosby comes to mind. I grew up on Cosby, and though it's an overused cliche now, I think Cosby did redefine the cultural landscape, of America at least. But the idea that he's still touring now, and when I see clips of his comedy on youtube, all I think is he's no longer relevant. He tries to stay current, but he's trying from a mindset fifty years in the past. There are other comedians saying what he wants to say *better*, more timely, and more artfully.

A novel that has always stuck with me is Damon Knight's "Why Do Birds". It's a maddeningly frustrating novel that's perfectly captured by the fragmented title that doesn't even end in a question mark. Is that a statement, or is it a question

The brilliance of that novel, though, is that it poses a question in the beginning of the narrative, the question is answered at the end, but there are other events in the novel that creates a lot of other questions that *never* get answered.

Only the first question is ever answered.

A lot of genre novels do this. They pose an initial question, that initial question is answered, but then the author goes about answering all the superfluous questions brought up that could be explored further, but generally, as we've seen, those answers simply aren't nearly as intriguing as we thought they would be.

I used to be a huge Seinfeld fan, but over the years, the more I've seen of him, the less I've liked him. But he did make a good point about why he wanted to end the show when he did despite the huge amount of money the network was offering him.

quote:
"I wanted to end the show on the same kind of peak we've been doing it on for years," Seinfeld said. "I wanted the end to be from a point of strength. I wanted the end to be graceful."
CNN

Authors of long series are rarely ending their work gracefully.

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Robert Nowall
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I enjoyed some, but not all, of what I read of Vonnegut. A lot of the extreme unpleasantness in his fiction, particularly Slaughterhouse Five, is autobiographical---to my knowledge, he didn't write a straight memoir about it and I regret that. (Not just his material specifically about the war---many times he'd have someone hide out in some underground lair, supposedly safe, but which would prove not safe at all.)

Also in my lifetime he was an ongoing writer---he would put works out on a semiregular basis---so it was never complete, there was always another coming along after awhile. So, after awhile, I didn't follow him.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
quote:


[QUOTE] First, each book is a stand alone, complete story in its own right so you never [i]have to[i] read the next one just to find out what happens. (And sometimes she takes a break from the saga and writes a fantasy.)

Second, in terms of the original subject of this thread, I actually find the later books in the series to be the best. (Though, I will admit that they're richer and deeper for people who've read at least most of the earlier books.)

Well, like I said, I haven't read Bujold, so I can't comment on her writing beyond what I said my suspicions were. However, these two points *seem* like a contradiction. If each book stands alone, then the later books wouldn't seem richer and deeper for those who've read the earlier books. It sounds like the same themes are more fully or artfully explored later in the series.

But I haven't read any of her stuff, so who knows.


No. I don't mean that. It's just that some things happen that relate back.

For example, MEMORY is one of my favorites of this series. Partly because it marks a complete change, almost a new life, for Miles.

But, if you don't understand the relationship between Miles and his boss, Simon, built up from THE VOR GAME forward, you won't understand how he reacts to Simon's sudden illnes even though Simon's the one who just ended the career that meant everything to Miles.

You may understand the part his cousin Ivan plays, but if you never read BROTHERS IN ARMS, you won't know how Duv Galeni fits into the circle of Miles's friends--or frenemies.

If you never read "Mountains of Mourning", you won't know why he decides to go up into the Dendari Mountains as part of trying to find a path forward for himself.

And you won't have a clue about why Emperor Gregor deals with Miles if you haven't read some of the earlier books, particularly THE VOR GAME, but also BARRAYAR.

It's not that the stories don't stand on their own, or that the themes and stories are similar (except for Miles's hyperactive genius in dealing with the problems thrown at him). It's more that there's a large, interconnected cast and some seminal events, like the one in "Mountains of Mourning", that add significantly to the stories.

The books range from heists (BARRAYAR, THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE, THE VOR GAME), mysteries ("Mountains of Mourning", CETAGANDA, CRYOBURN), thrillers (MEMORY, KOMARR, DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY), romance (SHARDS OF HONOR, A CIVIL CAMPAIGN), military science fiction (BORDERS OF INIFINITY), and I'm not even sure how to classify BROTHERS IN ARMS or MIRROR DANCE. Maybe that's what keeps the series fresh.

Anyway, this is all off topic.

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extrinsic
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Writers I've read who fall from grace become complacent about style, craft, voice, or appeal, or some of or all the former. Vonnegut turned message heavy and lapsed on appeal and craft. A few currently living and still writing writers I follow have become complacent too. One started writing mostly telling lectures. Another took stream-of-consciousness language to an extreme that eclipsed all else in the narrative. The novels became entire thought discourses. Jane Austen's Emma is in that voice, but the formal syntax is not as hard to follow: style, craft, voice, and appeal are not buried under the rhetoric.

Most of all, are writers who have made their mark and no longer bother to consider the audience. They are the lairds of their dominion and no one can rein in their wild and indifferent flights, both newly debuted and long accomplished writers: plots suffer, voice suffers, style suffers. Never mind appeal. They revert to how they believed writing should be done when they first started writing for publication. No revision, no planning, no direction, no meaning.

Perhaps more tragic to a writer's careers, for being not of their choosing, is writing that intuitively finds a mark, and for some unknown and unfathomable reason no longer appeals. This is often because a writer has struck a chord, exhausted the vein, and prospects for a new motherlode that few readers care for. Not so much theme, maybe subject matter, maybe topic, more so fresh innovations of old standards and conventions, insightful moral values, new contrasts and comparisons, fresh approaches to a subject, and how the rhetorics of irony are managed.

A war film that rambunctiously glorifies war, for example, is today unfashionable. If the war film on its surface does that, but also expresses ironic commentary about war's evils, is that not artful and potentially appealing? How about another irony layer as well, one that expresses war is a necessary evil. Might another irony innovation be more appealing yet? At least one war film era post Vietanam expresses all the former and also expresses ironic commentary about the protests and indifference and forgetfulness of citizenry toward the noble self-sacrfices of military personnel.

Deeper irony yet, ancient war practices of pillage and rape celebrated officers enriched by their war loot. At least a few contemporary films celebrate pillage in modern wars. I can't think of one not related to Nazi looting that disparages war looting. One Gulf Storm-related film almost went there, but turned into a different premise of nobility for humanity and nonetheless successful looting.

Would that be too many irony layers? Or could the whole kit be rolled up into a singular irony? Yes. Defense against monsters harming the common good leads to a secret alliance between greedy interests and the monsters that causes citizenry escalating harms. Citizen protests draw fire. Apathy develops due to costs of treating wounded combatants and citizenry survivors. That premise is not especially innovative, though.

[ May 04, 2014, 10:25 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
Perhaps more tragic to a writer's careers, for being not of their choosing, is writing that intuitively finds a mark, and for some unknown and unfathomable reason no longer appeals. This is often because a writer has struck a chord, exhausted the vein, and prospects for a new motherlode that few readers care for. Not so much theme, maybe subject matter, maybe topic, more so fresh innovations of old standards and conventions, insightful moral values, new contrasts and comparisons, fresh approaches to a subject, and how the rhetorics of irony are managed.
This is an interesting scenario, and it is sad for an artist. But I don't know what's more tragic: to have crafted a narrative that, for a moment, captured the voice of the generation; or to have crafted a narrative that, for a moment, captured the voice of a generation, but then to no longer be able to create another compelling narrative, and instead of simply calling it quits, to keep going on and on into a sad oblivion where the memory of your really good stuff will be forever tainted by the influence of your more numerous mediocre stuff.

I've read that the greatest artists have something similar to asperger's syndrome.

quote:
Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger disorder (AD) or simply Asperger's, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development.
The idea being that the type of single-mindedness needed to become great at art borders on some sort of cognitive imbalance. The act of getting good at writing is the act of repetition. It's writing over and over and over, honing your craft to a point where the average person gives up. People will scoff at aspiring writers and question if they're doing anything at all, but trying filling a blank page with words. Now imagine doing that for three hundred pages all the time realizing that it will probably never be read. And to top it off, do that for several novels until you finally produce something that someone wants to buy.

Definitely not an easy task.

Successful artists often say that they couldn't imagine doing anything else besides their art. The problem, though, is that after they hit their prime and they start on the long road to decline, they still can't seem to imagine doing anything else.

I'm of the mind that after I publish several books, I'll retire. I simply don't think I have enough to say until I'm in the grave, which is what many published authors do. They write until they die. And usually, besides their perennial work, much of everything else they produce exists in obscurity.

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extrinsic
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Writers, art creators generally experience some type and degree of dissociative affect condition. Rarely caused by physiological injury or disease, directly, affect conditions are most often caused by existential crisis, identity crisis. One common factor among many is a sense of social isolation crisis that drives creativity or, if unrequited and severe, results in madness.

Asperger's and autism, emotional specturm disorders, and such, are convenient and sexy diagnoses for the benefits of recordkeeping and standards which to apply for dividing the walking wounded from true fatalities. Less than ten percent of dissociative conditions are diagnosed, considered disordered, many misdiagnosed and mistreated, that a far larger number suffer to various degrees cyclically at times, and with no symptom presentations at other times. They are what's labeled high function, otherwise mostly able to manage their activities of daily living and their lives.

Complusions and obsessions are sometimes symptoms of dissociative conditions. Bipolar symptoms sometimes. Schizophrenia symptoms sometimes. As well as a symptoms spectrum broader than autism spectrum's comparably narrow presentations.

Dissociative affect condition generally inspires creators to strive to reintegrate identity socially using creative if socially detached expression methods, like creative writing, sculpture, fine art painting, photography, music composition, grafitti, even quilting, knitting, baking, and science and math pursuits.

Social reintegration, the reattachment cycle, seeks otherwise normative, meaningful social interaction. Tragically, common social interaction causes dissociatives to experience identity fractures, emotional wounds that cause detachment cycling, the second of the three general dissociation affect condition presentations. Abreactive cycling, the third of three dissociation affect corners, splits between nonnormative and normative reattachment strategies. Nonnormative strategies split between diruptive attention-seeking behaviors, inapproriate social attachments, creative expression that attracts and fosters normative if superficial social attachments, and healthy or unhealthy tolerance coping with normative social attachments.

I don't know what normative social attachment is. I'm a dissociative affective, high functioning. Some social idealists believe normative social attachment is group bonding, esoteric group mutual, shared, or reciprocal bonding rituals that centripetally reinforce identity matrices held in common: family, gender, age, ethnicity, belief system, lifestyle, financial and social standing, etc. However, idealists also overlook the very real antisocial motivations and consequences of such beliefs.

One of a recent crop of realizations about my wrtiting leaves me disenheartened. I don't know enough about what normative social behavior is to appeal generally to readers.

[ May 05, 2014, 01:08 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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Another thought...sometimes it's dependent on the reader, not the writer, to take an interest in things---and circumstances sometimes conspire to prevent that interest.

For example...I gather J. K. Rowling has published two books since the conclusion of the Harry Potter series. Anybody read them? Are they any good? Will they (and subsequent works) gather the reputation that Harry Potter did? Is Rowling past prime?

Too...I know of at least three writers who published one much-praised book and then nothing else, plus a couple who come close. Did they pass their prime and realize it?

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:

For example...I gather J. K. Rowling has published two books since the conclusion of the Harry Potter series. Anybody read them? Are they any good? Will they (and subsequent works) gather the reputation that Harry Potter did? Is Rowling past prime?

I'm not sure that's a good example. She wrote two books under a pen name and intentionally not for the same audience as the books that made her famous.

Also, I personally believe that parts of the last Harry Potter book (the metaphysical train station, for example and the extended revelations about Dumbledore's past for another) are proof that her Harry Potter readers would lap up anything she wrote in that world as fast as her publisher could put it out.

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Denevius
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That's a good question.

I've only read the first Potter book, so like for the Bujold books, what I say on the series is only speculation based on anecdotal evidence. But I have heard that much of the rest of the Potter series actually isn't as good as "The Philosopher's Stone".

I think for the Potter canon, it's going to take time, maybe a decade or so, when people who stood in line for weeks and read the book in hours the day they came out, to go back and re-read them and see how they stand up now that the craze has exhausted itself. Personally, I thought the first book was ok. I think she burrowed heavily from other books. I remember reading in the first scenes how the letter followed Harry from address to address, and I immediately realized she'd ripped that idea from a notable but less read novel, "Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder. The way Rowling wrote it was almost identical to how Gaarder wrote it in his book.

That's what I thought throughout the first Potter book. It all felt familiar, so I never wanted to read more. But I do think that "The Philosopher's Stone" actually was the best of the collection, and everything after that was in steady decline. So it makes sense that the two books she released since the conclusion have been ignored. I think she also wrote a mystery series under a pseudonym. That revelation came out a year or so ago, but those books also went largely unnoticed by the public.

quote:
Too...I know of at least three writers who published one much-praised book and then nothing else, plus a couple who come close. Did they pass their prime and realize it?
I think so, and I think that's honorable of them. Probably if they had something else to say, they would have. Knock it out of the park with one book, and even if you write something mediocre, I'm betting there's at least one traditional publisher who'll take a chance on it. I think an author who writes one and decides not to write another has made a conscious decision not to produce something mediocre in comparison to what was great.
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extrinsic
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Stephenie Meyer has also begun a new serial saga. The initial novel of the series, The Host, 2008, adult science fiction, Little, Brown, has had comparatively marginal sales. A film adaptation of the novel released to generally negative reviews.

At present, Meyer peaked in 2008, her highest revenue season for the Twilight saga. Earning $50 million that year. Her writing earnings to date exceed $100 million. Reviews of the Twilight saga avoid generally comments about writing caliber and focus approvingly on the marketplace phenomenon of the franchise overall, and touch on bafflement why, which is no mystery to me. Audience target bulls-eye.

Has Meyer passed her prime? I feel she has. Mostly, her writing caliber, craft mostly, was a degree inspired in terms of her appeal to a niche audience she's either lost touch with due to her fame, celebrity, and fortune or inability to insightfully speak to the audience that followed Twilight, mature along with the writer. I don't believe she realized the message and moral codes of Twilight that attracted her audience in the first place.

If she did realize message and controversial if responsible moral code values, moving forward, I think Meyer could be ascendant again. Although her audience sensibilities have become more sophisticated--her craft could also do with upping her game.

I also believe that of Rowling: Peaked, afterward, underrealized message and moral code values, and wanting stronger craft development.

Bujold is on my list of writers to read, study, analyze, etc. I've read a novel of two and short stories by Bujold. I can't say I found them memorable. Maybe a closer read will reveal greater depths I've overlooked.

I think C.J. Cherryh peaked with Cuckoo's Egg, one novel often cited as in the top hundred or top ten science fiction novels of all time. I found that novel one of the more memorable I've read.

John Steakley's Armour is also one of the more memorable novels I've read. Steakley passed into grace before finishing Armour 2. A raw draft sample of the work in progress is available at the Steakley official unofficial website. Steakley is one writer who was less than prolific. The only novel I've read that invaded my dreams, nightmares, actually, the novel has a strange resonance for me, the message and moral code values, not its superficial similarities to Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

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Robert Nowall
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Of the one-praised-book writers I had in mind, one got run over by a drunken driver a dozen years after the book came out, another eventually killed himself...and the third is, I believe, still alive, some fifty or sixty years after publication. None were SF or fantasy, far as I can tell.

If I recall right, one of Rowling's books came out under her own name, and the other was "outed" shortly before publication. Perhaps she's put out others and gotten away with it, though, I also gather, a return to the Harry Potter universe is promised sometime soon. (King tried printing under pseudonyms, but I think his was more of a case of "dumping older /lesser oft-rejected works" rather than any indication of "peaked / declined.)

*****

As for a few writers who peaked and declined, as long as we're doing a few...

Asimov reached a peak in his SF writing in the 1950s, then abandoned the field for many years for non-fiction: some of his later novels were fun, but somewhat lesser than what he'd done before.

Heinlein climbed to a high level in the 1950s, peaked with the substantially longer Stranger in a Strange Land in the early 1960s (written over the previous decade), then declined with his 1960s work (you can't turn out works like Stranger quickly, I think.) There were plenty of good things in his much later stuff, but for his reputation, was unnecessary.

Clarke's work peaked in the 1970s, after 2001, where he was able to turn out works that put the science in along with interesting characters and situations---a problem common to a lot of SF writers---but as time wore on, strange and almost unpleasant things came into his work, and by the end (with collaborators) he wasn't turning out anything of value. (By the end, I've been told, he couldn't write at all.)

Sturgeon turned out his best work in the 1950s, as he codified and developed his themes and preoccupations; his well-publicised bouts with writer's block doomed the bulk of his later writings.

One should add "I think" to all those comments. No matter how one thinks something somebody's done is bad and losy, you can always find somebody who loves it and thinks it's wondeful. Me included. (Fan polls usually pick The Beatles's "Mr. Moonlight" as their worst song: it's a favorite of mine, and I think the worst thing they put out (while still together) was "Revolution #9.")

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Denevius
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quote:
No matter how one thinks something somebody's done is bad and losy, you can always find somebody who loves it and thinks it's wondeful. Me included
Of course. I'm a huge fan of Jorge Louis Borges, Franz Kafka, and Herman Hesse. I've been wanting to reread stuff by them lately, but none of it is digital yet.

Definitely, though, Hesse's "Narcissus and Goldman", "Steppenwolfe", and "Siddharta", were all the same book. I mean, almost exactly the same. Borges and Kafka hit a lot of the same themes in all of their writing also. I argue that that's inevitable. We may mature as writers and individuals, but the foundation of our vision I simply don't think changes after its settled.

Does it sound irrational to say that every writer has only *one* book they're supposed to write, and everything else, whether they publish it or not, is simply variations of that one book?

I think that's why there's the romantic fantasy of the tragic artist who is never settled, always moving from place to place and experience to experience trying to refresh their vision and, as a result, having a shorter lifespan but living more full than the average person. Because I also think what accelerates the decline is the writer "making it", and then becoming settled in life. Having the same cast of friends in ones every day life, the same conversations, being more conservative in what you'll allow yourself to experience, etc.

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Robert Nowall
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There's a lot of stuff floating around out there---print-on-demand and files and postings on the dubious and questionable notion that the works are in public domain. But sometimes it's the only way you can get something you want at a price that won't break you. It all plays into the notion that copyright often keeps one's work away from one's potential readers. (I'm contemplating a print-on-demand edition of Pangborn's Wilderness of Spring---trying to read it through my Nook Color doesn't thrill me; it's a hard squint, and I've only gotten through a couple of chapters.)

Borges and Kafka and Hesse are available in Kindle editions on Amazon-dot-com---the legitimacy of which I can't vouch for. (The abovementioned Pangborn book is available through them, too.) But Kafka must be in public domain by now, just from his date of death.

*****

Ray Bradbury once wrote a short story about a writer who published just one book...and the gist of the story is [SPOILER WARNING!] that the writer wrote more that was less-good, then burned it and went out and lived his long and full life, which had nothing to do with writing. Some of the one-book writers may just have done that.

*****

To pull another way of looking at it from other fields...when would you say a writer, any writer, "jumped the shark?"

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JohnMac
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I believe comparing longevity of a title is better for determining a writer's prime than using their sales figures. Sales figures are often short term, especially in today's mass-market, mass-push, zero-sum for dollars race. My question would be who still has books on the shelves in the stores and which ones? I realize my point of view is not along the same vein of thought as this thread, but to my odd mind it seems to fit into the conversation.

Also, to avoid not having enough proper material which belongs in a universe when publishing a book take the Piers Anthony approach...write seven books THEN get the contract. You can take your time writing more (and what you feel is quality for your work) while you send in each finished manuscript at the required due date.

Here's another thought on books that didn't seem thought out from the start...Frank Herbert's sequels to Dune. Each one seemed a bit more of a stretching of his story fabric than the last to me as I read them.

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extrinsic
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Library holdings and circulation are other "prime" metrics worth consideration. During the popularity seasons of the Potter novels, many libraries carried multiple copies of each title that rapidly wore out. Now, many libraries only circulate copies that survived the onslaught, or replaced their broken-binding, torn, stained, and foxed page copies with reorders. Shakespeare's works are the number one worldwide library holdings, according to WorldCat.org. Charles Dickens' works lead a distant-second pilaton.
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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:Also, Bujold is one of those writers I've taken a pass on---time is short and all that stuff---but of the two (I think) Bujold novels I've read, neither made me a fan.
If I'd started with Falling Free, Ethan of Athos, and possibly the last three in the Miles sequence (Diplomatic Immunity, Cryoburn, and maybe whatever Ivan's book was called) I might not have read any more, or paid at most casual attention, as they are much lighter-toned and I'm just not much for light-toned SF, at least not for a whole book. However the vast majority of her work causes rabid drooling and pacing outside the bookstore as I lust to get my claws on it (and I may not bother looking inside the book before seizing it and hauling it off), and most are eminently re-readable. The only two authors I find consistently more satisfying are CJ Cherryh (except for the Foreigner books, which I'm kinda Meh on) and my singular fave, Jack Vance.

But if we all liked the same stuff, there'd be only one book.

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Robert Nowall
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I take note of "consistently most satisfying." That's true enough for me. A lot of later Heinlein, and also some early stuff, left me cold. Asimov's later novels weren't as good. Percentagewise, it's a lower number.

Most of H. Beam Piper and Thomas Burnett Swann pleased me greatly---and, it would seem, the early termination of their careers by death could possibly mean they didn't have a chance to produce stuff I wouldn't have liked.

Tolkien's main body of work was great---but it's been greatly expanded by posthumous releases, and, until I learned to treat that as a resource-to-be-explored and not on a par with his later work, I was unhappy with most of it.

A similar pattern extends into music. The artist with the greatest pleasing-me ratio is Jim Croce---a career ended by his death. The Beatles come a close second, with Buddy Holly pulling up right behind. Same reasons. (If you add in the solo work by the Beatles, the ratio drops to much lower levels.)

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aspirit
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quote:
I'm curious, am I alone in this? Do you all find yourselves writing new narratives that's completely removed from all of your previous interests?
Denevius, your questions inspired quite a bit of writing and rewriting on my end. I had a rather emotional reaction. I think your POV on the writing world is sad. I also think it's a symptom of fears you have about your future as a writer. You don't want to be looked down upon by readers, and you don't want to be a one-hit wonder, right?

That's my guess, because I'm fairly certain I went through a period in which I thought the same way. Then, I realized I was holding myself back. I was giving into fear. I'd stopped enjoying what I read and what I wrote.

The thing is, the public is going to look down upon every author at some point in time. There's no point in worrying about that. As for only have enough ideas for one good novel...well, if it's a really good novel that you don't have to continue working on, then will you be satisfied when you're done with it? You need to know what your needs are.

One of my primary needs is to keep story ideas from interfering with my life. I get too many story ideas, and they quickly become complicated. Even though the same themes pop up over and over again (because my core interests don't change much!), I enjoy creating unique characters and playing with story lines. My problem is that my ideas surpass my writing abilities. That's why I don't finish my novels. Each is too f****** hard, and the number of narratives grows every year.

If you ever need ideas, please let me know. I'd like to give some away to good homes.

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Denevius
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Thanks for the offer! I'll keep it in mind.
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Robert Nowall
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quote:
Do you all find yourselves writing new narratives that's completely removed from all of your previous interests?
Seeing that sentence again in isolation hit me between the eyes---making me realize that I'd taken one of my "old favorite" plot conceits and rewritten it into my latest story. Why this idea fascinates me so, I can't say. Ah, well...it's a theme, not where the plot goes...
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extrinsic
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I believe writers' writing, consciously, subconsiously, or otherwise, generally dwells upon circumstances from which they wish, struggle to make meaning, to meditate on and bring an understanding and meaning to their life's routines and complications.

Once a writer unravels the crisis cartharsis on point, the writer can move on to other puzzles, mysteries, crises, life complications, no matter the genre, though, oftentimes, more than one complication overlaps and reverberates asymptomatically with others.

[ May 20, 2014, 04:09 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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