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Well, I picked an interesting year to be a first-time attendee to WorldCon.

Since it’s quite likely that my (very small) readership has no idea what WorldCon is, it is a yearly convention dedicated to science fiction and fantasy. It is also responsible for awarding the Hugos, which (for now) are the largest awards given in the SFF field. The Hugos are fan-chosen by members of that year’s WordCon (this year it is Sasquan). They are also fan-nominated by members who elect to nominate.

The way that voting is supposed to work is that members nominate those works they deem worthy, on an individual basis, and those votes are tallied up and the works with the highest tally of votes (assuming the votes meet a minimum) make it to the shortlist. This year’s shortlist, however, is primarily dominated by two slates with a lot of crossover: Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. The situation warranted discussion in Entertainment Weekly and Slate. Read those for further background if so inclined. George R. R. Martin also has an excellent series of posts on the slates, beginning with “Puppygate.”

I bought my Sasquan membership back in February. It was probably after the Sad Puppies slate had been publicized, but I am not a follower of the blogs of either Brad Torgersen or Larry Correia, who formed the Sad Puppy Slate, and certainly do not follow the blog of Theodore Beale aka Vox Day, who put together the Rabid Puppy slate. (I am especially disinclined to read anything by the latter, considering in his eyes I would likely be considered a half-savage [because I am half-black] who shouldn’t have the right to vote [because I’m female].) So at the time I purchased my membership, I had no idea any of this was going on.

I’ve since seen the arguments that the purpose of the Sad Puppies is to bring the “fun” back to SFF and return the Hugos to recognizing adventurefuntime works instead of “literary” works that espouse various agendas. George R.R. Martin has neatly refuted those claims with “Where’s the Beef?” so I won’t spend much time discussing that, except to say: in his post, Martin quotes a hypothetical question, plus some rhetorical musing, posed by Correia: “if Robert Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers in 2014, could he get on the Hugo ballot now? Or would he be labeled a fascist with troubling ideas, and a product of the neo-colonial patriarchy? And before you dismiss that question, maybe you should read up on what the voting clique that shall not be named says about Heinlein now. Sadly, I suspect the only way Heinlein could get on the ballot today would be if my horde of uncouth barbarian outsiders got involved and put him on our suggested slate.”

Martin states that “I don’t think Heinlein would write STARSHIP TROOPERS in 2014. If you know Heinlein, you know that he was a man who changed with the times throughout his career. He was always trying new things, new techniques, new challenges… and his political views changed HUGELY over his lifetime.”

Which is a very good point. But also? I don’t think it’s a travesty to consider that works that were first published over fifty years ago would not be published today. Readers’ tastes change over time–even aside from political or ideological shifts. If Shakespeare were alive today and tried to get his plays produced on Broadway for the first time, I don’t know that there’d be anyone willing to take him on. “Dude, iambic pentameter? What century are you from?” Or Jane Austen: “Funny enough in places, but readers generally like much less convoluted sentence structure. Also, this seems a lot like Bridget Jones’s Diary.” So, Heinlein: “Reads a little too much like neo-colonialism.” Not impossible to envisage, and not worthy of pearl-clutching at the depths to which we have fallen. The reasons classics become classics is because they continue to be read despite seismic shifts in taste. I doubt people will stop reading Heinlein anytime soon, which is much more than the average writer will achieve.

Which is somewhat a segue to my point: I don’t understand what the Puppies hope to accomplish. If they are truly calling for more recognition of unknown/lesser-known works and writers, great! The normal way to go about that is to tell people about them. “These are the awesome books/stories/media I consumed in 2014! Please consume them also!” not this forced recognition via slate-voting the Puppies promote. As numerous others have pointed out, by their very nature, and when they work as intended, the Hugos show the direction in which readers’ taste runs–they are awarded by popular vote. Add to that the fact that readers’ tastes change, and it seems the Puppies have failed to grasp the basic concept that hey, maybe other people like different things than you do, and maybe the number of people who likes things you don’t is greater than the number of people who likes what you like. It is not the end of the world. I’m not a huge fan of Mexican food, but I know lots of people are. I’m probably in the minority on this count. Somehow, I have survived.

So maybe the Puppies really want a change in what gets published–which isn’t going to happen. Because again, readers’ tastes change, and publishers want to make money. So they will publish books they think will appeal to readers–the most readers–in order to make that money. The Hugos don’t dictate what gets published. They can help a writer’s career, but they don’t stop the thousands of non-nominated books from getting published.

And so, speaking as someone with no clout and no skin in the game (after all, I’m still unpublished, and even if I were to get published it’s statistically unlikely that I’d be nominated for a Hugo) yes, I can see how “Puppygate” might have destroyed or be in the process of destroying the Hugos–but like seismic shifts in readers’ tastes, like people liking and disliking different things, it would not be the end of the world.

I have heard that Theodore Beale/Vox Day threatened that if “No Award” is given to the Rapid Puppy slate this year, he’ll ensure that no award is given in that category again, ever. Which makes me think that he’s like a tick swelled up with blood, overinflated with his own sense of importance. Because what would he actually accomplish in the long run? Yes, the Hugos are venerable and important to the field. But they are not the field itself. It is so, so much vaster than that. On some level, I’d be sad if the Puppies have broken the Hugos beyond repair–but another award system might rise up in its place.

More importantly, I’d still have books to read, and they’d still be books like Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice or N.K. Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or Wes Chu’s Lives of Tao. There would still be books I like, books about which I’d say, “Hey, I read this awesome thing. Please read it too!”

No matter how large a tick gets, fandom is larger. And that’s not going to change.

 

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Hello, human! Clearly you are on the Internet, since you moseyed your way over to this blog post. Perhaps you are wondering how to human decently on the Internet. Following is a primer to help you, human, act like one while Internetting.

Basic Tips

To be a decent human on the Internet, there are a few key things you should always keep in mind.

Thing 1: You will encounter people who are different from you in terms of race, gender, age, ability, religion, sexual identity, body type, socioeconomic status, location, etc. These differences do not make the people you encounter non-people. Nor do these difference make these people stupid or evil.

Thing 2: The people you encounter who are different from you will also have different opinions from you. (And the people who are the same as you in terms of [repeat list above] will also have different opinions.) These differing opinions do not make the people you encounter non-people, and nor do these differing opinions make these people stupid or evil.

Thing 3: While on the Internet, you will often encounter people’s words instead of seeing or hearing them speak directly. This indirect communication doesn’t change the fact that you are interacting with another human.

Interacting with People Who Are Different from You

Fellow human, I have something shocking to tell you. It is entirely possible to get along with people who are different from you. It’s true! I’ve done it! There are steps you may follow to help you get along with others.

  1. Listen. Yes, you may disagree with another person. But you know what? You’re more likely to learn something new from someone who is unlike you. Cue ’80s tagline montage: The more you know; knowing is half the battle; knowledge is power. Listen, and maybe learn something that will make you an even more decent human. Listening means:
    • Not assuming your experiences are universal and therefore apply to your conversant.
    • Not assuming the experiences of someone you know/heard of who is somehow like the human with whom you are interacting are universal and therefore apply to your conversant.
    • Not shutting down your conversant if that person says something with which you disagree.
  2. Engage respectfully. Here, “engage” means written and/or audio communication, since the Internet is magic and makes both possible. Engaging respectfully generally means that you, human, keep in mind the Basic Tips, above. But specifics also follow below.
  3. Disengage as needed. There may come a time when you no longer wish to interact with another person. That is okay. The vast amount of time, I assume that no one is forcing you to interact with another person (work or school projects possibly being the exceptions), and so you get to decide when you want to quit. Specifics follow below.

Engaging Respectfully: Specifics

This is, of course, step 2 as noted above. But it’s a large topic to cover in one step. Allow me to break it out into more specifics.

When expressing disagreement, focus on the opinion, not the person. 

Now, you may wish to show your conversant the error of their thinking and sway them to your point of view. This is often a waste of time, because people are disinclined to listen to strangers on the Internet. But if you’re intent on attempting to change the mind of your conversant, remember the following:

  • Calling someone an idiot, stupid, or various epithets is not going to change their mind. It is unhelpful and will probably make your conversant even more resistant to change.
  • Use of phrases such as, “Huh. I did not think of that. That’s interesting. But did you consider X?” is helpful and is more likely to make your conversant amenable to change.

Never, ever, ever, ever threaten someone or their loved ones, pets, etc.

This is serious. It is Not Okay to threaten a fellow human on the Internet, or their family, friends, or pets, with murder, rape, dismemberment, violence, etc. Period.

But Amanda, you might be thinking, I wouldn’t actually DO any of those things. I am just trying to express my severe disagreement with my conversant! I don’t care. Threats are still not okay. Your fellow human on the Internet doesn’t know if you’re joking (and “ha ha just kidding!” doesn’t make it better, either). Because the fact is, there are people out there who do murder, rape, and dismember. Your conversant on the Internet may have encountered such people, such such threats are not abstract to them; the threats are real.

It sounds trite, but really: if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say/write it on the Internet.

But Amanda, you might be thinking, they did it first, to someone I care about and/or someone I think is awesome! 

Okay, that’s harder. I have seen those comment threads that make me wish I could reach through my screen and throttle a d-bag. But I still say threats are not okay. Take the high road. Other decent humans will back you because you are being decent in the face of douchebaggery, and decent humans tend to have one another’s backs.

Don’t dox. For all the same reasons as previous.

Disengaging: Specifics

When you encounter indecent humans on the Internet, it is a valid response to disengage. While disengaging, you should again remember the Basic Tips. But remembering the Basic Tips doesn’t mean that you have to do a “soft stop.” Especially if dealing with an indecent human, it is often most effective to employ a hard stop, where you cease all communication immediately without explanation. This may cause the indecent human to claim you were “too [weak, stupid, etc.] to continue the conversation,” but you know what? Forget them. You have better things to do with your time, decent human.

If it is an option, you might also try various blocking methods on social media to mute the indecent human. That way, the indecent human can blahblahdouchebag all they want, and you simply don’t have to hear or read it. Again, there might be cries that you’re “too [weak, stupid, etc.] to respond,” but I think we’ve established, decent human, that you STILL have better things to do with your time. That’s why you muted the indecent human, amirite?

Another option for disengaging is what one might call the “last word” disengagement, where your last response to the indecent human is an explanation of your cessation of communication, a link back to a salient point/rejoinder, or other attempt to leave “on top.” I think, however, that this is less effective. Indecent humans will often view it as a challenge and attempt to reengage you in the argument. It is annoying and exhausting. Don’t attempt it unless you truly don’t have better things to do with your time.

Closing

There you have it, human! A simple primer to behaving like a decent human on the Internet.

If you’re thinking the majority of these were things you were taught in elementary school and/or picked up simply by living among humans, yes, you’re right.

And if you’re thinking that the average comment thread implies a distressingly large percentage of humans on the Internet behave worse than the average grade-schooler, well, unfortunately you’re right there, too.

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The hat of realism

I try to limit my posts about writing, since I have my doubts about their widespread appeal versus, say, amusing fictionalizations featuring my dog, or perhaps zombies and brownies recipes. (Which probably also have limited appeal, but whatevs.)

However, the issue of realistic expectations has been on my mind recently, and because I think my brain periodically needs to have its thoughts dumped out to make room for new ones (especially critical as I move into revision mode) I thought I’d go ahead and blog on it.

So: On various writing boards and forums, one inevitably comes across posts by writers despairing over ever having their work accepted. This usually seems to be in conjunction with finding an agent. And the standard reply to these ubiquitous gloomposts is something to the effect of, “Cheer up! It only takes one yes!”

Well, if we’re thinking long-term, as in truly developing a career as a writer, that aphorism is false. It takes several yeses. A veritable string of yeses. A short list of “yeses” required if one wants to develop a career as a traditionally published writer:

  • Yes from the agent (let’s assume for now that the agent is legitimate and competent)
  • Yes from the editor at the publishing house
  • Yes from the editorial board at the publishing house
  • Yeses from readers

And even then, there are no guarantees. Just because an agent loves a book doesn’t mean an editor will love it. Just because an editor loves it doesn’t mean the editorial board will approve it. Just because the editorial board approves it and has it published doesn’t mean readers will love it.

And even that assumes the process goes as it it should–for instance, that the editor doesn’t leave the publishing house and orphan the book; that the author and editor agree on changes to the book; that the publishing house itself is stable and doesn’t go under.

So every time I see “It only takes one yes!” I’m tempted to reply, “Um, no. It takes quite a lot.” But I don’t, because I’m a writer, and I get the Pit of Despair moments. I get that sometimes you need to hear “It only takes one yes,” because the only thing you can do in the moment is look at the next step and ignore how there’s still a whole mountain to climb.

I get that we writers are cobbled together from extreme hubris and paralyzing self-doubt. It’s an exhausting pendulum to ride–which is why I try to keep on my realism hat. It is the hat that reminds me that it is a bad idea to overanalyze statistics from The Submission Grinder (“Hmm most other people had their stories rejected at days 12-16 and I am on day 17 with no rejection OMG does that mean my story is going to be accepted?!?! MUST WATCH CONSTANTLY TO FEED THE FIRE OF HOPE! *clickrefreshclickrefreshclickrefresh*”). It is the hat that reminds me I shouldn’t expect to be more exceptional than the exceptions–that Stephen King had his railroad spike chocked full of rejections; that J.K. Rowling was on welfare and had Harry Potter rejected from 12 publishing houses before it was accepted for a small advance; that I am statistically unlikely to have a career approaching either one.

It is also the hat that reminds me that the one way to guarantee failure is not to write and not to submit my work.

So, does it take more than one yes? Of course. Does that mean we should stop trying? Never.

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A semi-fictional conversation with my dog*

(*Because it sounds slightly better than “conversation with myself,” whether semi-fictional or all fictional or with no adjective whatsoever. Also, hiiii! Let’s pretend I haven’t been absent for like three months, m’kay?)

Me: Why do we talk about “media consumption”?

Cassia: [head tilt]

Me: Think about it. Media consumption, like we’re eating it.

Cassia: [maintains head tilt]

Me: But the food-consumption comparison doesn’t work, because once you eat food, it’s not like anyone else can use it.

Cassia: Bark!

Me: Okay, no. That’s gross. People don’t do that. And you shouldn’t either. Anyway, my point is, under normal circumstances, you eat food, and it’s gone. But with media, it’s not like only one person can watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s not like once someone has read American Gods, no one else can. Media can be, and is meant to be, enjoyed and used by multiple people. So why the “consumption” thing? Makes us sound like ravening beasts, you know? MOAR MEDIA! [Godzilla-like stomps]

Cassia: [whine]

Me: Sorry. But yeah, media consumption. Weird, right?

Cassia: [whine]

Me: Oh. That’s your “feed me” whine, isn’t it? You don’t care about what I’m saying.

Cassia: [head tilt]

Me: [Sigh] Okay. Dinner. But this means you own me a discussion on why that Labor Day movie with Kate Winslet is so very, very problematic in terms of, you know, actual logical human behavior.

Cassia: [whinnnne]

Me: Fine. Here’s your food. Consume it just like you would media.

Cassia: [happymunchmunchcrunch]

Me: [sigh of the long-suffering]

 

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Semi-coherent thoughts, post-VP18

I’ve returned from the Viable Paradise workshop, and now that I am somewhat less sleep-deprived, I have thoughts.

General

  • Viable Paradise is awesome. Those who are working to break into the SFF field should apply.
  • It is intense. Eat a cookie if you need to. (Mac will ensure there is a cookie or other treat suitable for anyone with dietary restrictions. Mac is awesome.)
  • It is intense. Sleep if you need to.
  • It is intense. Ask one of the staffers for a hug if you need to.
  • Writing is subjective. Most people probably know this before attending any sort of workshop, but the subjectivity is reiterated when two instructors have opposite reactions to your work. Both reactions are valid.
    • Unenthusiastic reactions can point out where the work needs improvement.*
    • Enthusiastic reactions can show you what not to “fix” and of course strengthens the happyshiny “this doesn’t suck! I can write stuff that people like!” validation.
  • Your fellow students are all talented writers whose work will likely incite feelings of impostor syndrome in you. This is normal, and is probably happening to them, as well.
  • The instructors’ lectures and colloquiums are knowledge-bombs of goodness. If you cannot adhere to the Aristotelian ideal of memorizing everything, prepare for your hand to cramp up from scribbling notes.

*Assuming, of course, that the suggested feedback makes sense to the writer and can help refine the work closer to the writer’s vision rather than change it entirely. At VP, feedback tends to be of the former variety.

Specific to me

  • I can write a short story in less than three days. It won’t be perfect, but it will have a beginning, middle, and end, and it will provide a
  • Sleep deprivation can apparently make me funnier in writing, but it also comes close to eliminating my ability to form coherent sentences out loud.
  • When venturing to the East Coast, I need to use much more hair gel than I do in Colorado. Duly noted.
  • If I had a wayback machine, VP is one of the first places I’d return to. I’m sad it’s over.

 

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Leaving on a jet plane

But I do know when I’ll be back again. October 18.

In any case, by the time this post goes live, I will have gotten up at an ungodly hour (ungodly even for me, ridiculer of people who consider merely 6:00am early), boarded a shuttle, and will be on my way to Denver International Airport to attend my 10-year college reunion. There will be parades and fireworks!* And reunioning with people I like! So, yay!

From thence I will be headed to Martha’s Vineyard for Viable Paradise XVIII! I don’t think there will be parades or fireworks, but there will be writing and critiquing of writing and singalongs (based on experiences of VP alumni) and also apparently the horror that is Thursday. (Or Wednesday. There were mixed opinions among the alumni.)

All this means that I have a decent excuse for missing next week’s post (too busy for posting!), but then a very poor excuse for missing the one after that (should probably put together coherent thoughts about VP!). And all that means, watch this space on Oct. 22nd.

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The Insomniac’s Lament

The Insomniac’s Lament

O slumber, elude me no longer!

Why must you monger

Tiredness and grief?

Long have I sought you

(Little have I fought you)

I wish I had caught you

Six hours ago!

But I stare at the ceiling

Devoid of all feeling

Except for frustration at you.

TO SLEEP!

TO LIE WITHOUT A PEEP!

(Sound, not the marshmallow.)

Minor it may seem,

But this is my dream–

To be

Insensate.

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10 Books that have stayed with me

I was invited to do this on Facebook, of course, but seeing as I’ve failed to blog for *mumble3ishweeksmumble* I’m answering the meme here.

In no particular order (except for “YES! I should mention that book!”), herewith 10 books that have stayed with me.

1. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

I read this in college, and it is a book that can break you down and (eventually) build you up again. Beautifully written.

2. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

One of my childhood-ish books and one that I reread regularly (especially if I’ve had a run of bad books and need to cleanse my booky palate). I didn’t pick up on it then, but McKinley was writing the Strong Female Character before there was widespread notice of “Yanno, women in fantasy/sff often don’t do much, and maybe we should fix that.”

3. The Baby Unicorn by Jean Marzollo

I admit I had to look up the author’s name on Amazon. This is definitely a childhood book. I don’t remember how old I was when I was finally able to read this on my own. I do remember the following: **spoiler alert** Dragons, in this book, were evil, and to protect the baby unicorn from the dragons, the baby unicorn’s mother turned into a doorless house and kept the baby unicorn locked inside. I worried about what happened to the mother when the baby unicorn, chafing at being stuck inside wanting to go find its missing father, crashed through the house-mother (mother-house?) horn-first. Would she ever transform back? Would she be healed if she did, or have a baby-unicorn-shaped hole in her stomach?* (The book came out in ’87, so I can’t say if Marzollo had been watching a little too much Alien when he wrote this.)

Weirdness aside, I think my love of the fantasy genre is pretty much traced back to this book.

4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Awesome use and re-imagining of myth. I reread the book recently and thought that the main character, Shadow, didn’t have much in the way of character agency, but you know what? A lot of the heroes in myths didn’t, when you think about it. They were the playthings of fate and the gods. If I were still in college I might write a paper on that. But yay! I don’t have to.

5. On Writing by Stephen King
I’ve read other books by King, but this is the one I reread most. Fabulous blend of memoir and writing tips/inspiration.

6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I never saw the movie; the book relies the use of literary language too much for me to think the movie could ever do it justice. Another heartbreaking and heart-building book.

7. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
OK, so technically I should’ve picked one book. But I can’t. It’s the whole narrative arc of HP that has stuck with me, and you have to admire a series that has inspired a whole generation of children to read.

8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Look, I’m not one of those Darcy swooners, but I love the dialogue. And it’s impressive that Austen’s books in general and P&P in particular have inspired a whole genre. I don’t mean just Regency romance; I mean the genre of books that are about Jane Austen fansBridget Jones’s Diary being one of the most prominent (though yes, Bridget is more familiar with the BBC Colin Firth miniseries than the book), but also The Jane Austen Book Club and Austenland (which I have to admit I know of only due to the movie).

9. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I did see the movie, and it most definitely does not do the book justice. It’s another one where the prose is so much a part of the book the experience can’t be replicated on the screen.

10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Sooo much good stuff in here. Eggers balances humor with the eponymous heartbreaking bits. Dave’s love for his younger brother, Toph, comes through despite (or because of?) the standard big brother/young 20’s jerkiness. The structure of it and randomness of it (“Here is a drawing of a stapler”) shouldn’t work, but they do. (Side note, however: I read Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Velocity! and it put me off of his fiction. Did not enjoy. But the memoir/creative nonfiction? Love.)

*I think I had this reaction many times, despite the fact that after the baby unicorn breaks out of her house-mother, on the very next page the mother is magically (yes, literally magically) safely back in her unicorn form.

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Keep stretching toward the light

I’d been working on a response to the Hachette-Amazon thing, but that doesn’t seem appropriate now. So I will say:

If you’re struggling with depression, talk to someone. Go to an animal shelter and hug puppies and kittens. Talk to someone. Sit in the sunshine. Talk to someone. Read a  favorite book or watch a favorite movie. Read The Bloggess and Hyperbole and a Half. Talk to someone. Keep stretching toward the light. It’s there.

If you know someone who’s struggling with depression, don’t tell them to just cheer up; it’s not nearly so easy as that. Instead, listen. Sit with them in the darkness if need be. And help them keep stretching toward the light, because it’s there.

RIP, Robin Williams.

 

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Those of you whose preteen and teen years were in the ’90s, like mine were, may remember this:

(source: http://gargoyles.wikia.com/wiki/Gargoyles_(TV_series) )

No? Well, how about this:

(source: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/memorable-tv/images/36844291/title/gargoyles-photo)

Yes! It is Gargoyles, which aired from 1994 through 1997, and of which I was a devoted watcher. This, of course, was in the dark days of no DVR, and so I plunked myself down in front of the TV whenever the show was on and groused long and loudly, I am sure, if some hellish after-school activity prevented me from watching it.
The first season of the show aired nearly twenty years ago (sob I’m old sob) and so it seems fitting to present 3 things I learned because of or from Gargoyles.

  1. The name Desdemona means “ill-fated one.” (And yes, the character was Demona, not Desdemona, but I used that cool new-to-me thing called the Internet to research names and came across Desdemona and thought just HOW ACCURATE and TRUE that name was for poor, poor Demona, so incredibly loyal to the gargoyle race and unable to understand Goliath’s fondness for puny, cruel humans. So I decided that her name was Desdemona and she used “Demona” as a nickname, ’cause she was all like, “I’d rather be a demon than ill-fated, yo.” [And yes, Desdemona seems to originate with Othello but I was 12 and not yet up on my Shakespeare, OK?])
  2. Trans-species romances make for Romeo-and-Juliet-esque melodrama that preteen and young teenage girls will eat up! Goliath and Elisa 4EVA!*
  3. Mixing umpteen billion different mythologies into a single story-world is not in the least confusing for young adults on account of their shorter attention spans.†

*I am only now in hindsight realizing that this concept may help account for Twilight‘s popularity. One could certainly delve deeply into the trans-species romance narrative, including Beauty and the Beast.

†Seriously, this bothered me not at all with Gargoyles, but put me off of the later Hercules and Xena storylines, and I cannot. stand. it. in Once Upon a Time. I suppose I have become a story-curmudgeon.

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