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Interview with Patricia Ketola, novelist, author of DIRTY PICTURES

April 27, 2017

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Patricia Ketola is interviewed by Petar Odak, editor and reviewer.

Late blooming in the world of literature is not that rare: Toni Morrison published her first novel when she was thirty-nine, P. D. James when she was forty-two, and Penelope Fitzgerald and Frank McCourt started in their sixties. Still, it is quite unusual for the debut novel to be published by a writer in her early seventies, especially as it deals with the questions of sexuality, incest, female power and political terrorism. Of course, it would be unfair to limit Patricia Ketola’s first novel Dirty Pictures just to this set of controversial topics. No, this hidden little gem is a powerful, if quirky, contemplation on love, life and death. Unable to find a publisher in the USA, this American writer found its home with the independent Dublin publisher Betimes Books. Intrigued by the novel, we decided to talk with Ketola about her writing and the way it relates to our current political and cultural situation.

Petar Odak: Your novel transcends genres; it is impossible to fit in one box. Was this your aim from the beginning, or did the novel develop its own logic through time, maybe even surprising you in the end?

Patricia Ketola: In Dirty Pictures I was writing about subjects that interest me and I didn’t have any particular genre in mind. My aim was to fill every page with lively, exciting material. As you suggest, the piece did develop its own logic over time.  I was not surprised by the end result, but I was surprised when some
readers thought DP was an unusual take on a Romance novel.

PO: Although Dirty Pictures is undoubtedly a fun and exciting novel, many key points of the story actually deal with death; it opens with the death of a protagonist’s mother, follows with a pretty rational and not-at-all desperate suicide of a friend and then finishes with the protagonist’s partner chopunch a osing to spend his last days surrounded by his loved ones instead of enduring the tortuous, exhausting and often hopeless procedure of chemotherapy. It seems thus that your novel suggests a different view on the natural cycle of life and the inevitability of death. What is your opinion on that?

PK: When I started writing DP, I was mourning the deaths of several significant people in my life.  I was writing out of a sense of loss and that is probably why death figures so prominently in the novel. At my age death is the next big adventure, and I believe one should approach it with grace and acceptance.  I don’t think people should suffer unnecessarily, or be coerced into needless treatment by the Medical/Pharmaceutical industry.  If this idea is outside the norm, so be it.

PO:  After the ‘Punch a Nazi’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCnPOEJDWIk) video went viral, there was a heated debate among the liberal left regarding the use of violence when dealing with fascists. Your protagonist, Martel, does not seem to have doubts about that, willingly helping her friend to murder Preston Greylander, CEO of a huge agri-business combine noted for “trying to gain the world’s food supply” and for participating in “genocide in Africa”. Yet when dealing with the attempted burglars at Madame Lillian’s house, Martel steps in to prevent further torture. What are your feelings about using violence against violence?

PK: I don’t approve of the video at all.  That kind of action seems stupid, callow, and cowardly. I don’t know anything about the debate among ‘leftists’, so I can’t comment on it.  As for Martel, she believes that people who commit genocide and attempt to control the world’s resources for profit are the enemy. Although she would not have initiated the action herself, she takes Terry’s point and agrees to help him.  If he had asked her to help torture Preston to death, she would not have participated.  I certainly draw a firm line between assassination and torture, as illustrated by Martel’s defence of the burglars.

As for violence against violence, who knows?  Not everyone one can be a Gandhi, or espouse the fine ideals of Tolstoy. Humans seem to have difficulty being peaceable and are not adept at developing their higher natures.  Maybe we are just a bunch of predators who like to fight and kill.

PO: Your novel is filled with anti–establishment and anti–capitalist political statements, even including some acts of left terrorism. There are some ironic remarks on the political situation in United States as well. What is your stance on Trump’s America?

PK: I was brought up in a tough neighbourhood by a working class family that had socialist views.  In fact, it was rumored that some of the relatives were actual Communists. This background, combined with my natural rebellious spirit, led quite naturally to social criticism. Unlike many of my acquaintances, I hold no particular hatred towards Donald Trump.  I doubt that he is any worse than what we had before.

PO: There is a lot of eroticism in your book including some explicit sex scenes. Martel is also a keen observer of the male body and often joyfully describes it to the reader. I must say, I found it refreshing to see the subverting of normal gender roles when it comes to sexuality in literature. Did you feel that there was a need for female characters to be more open about their enjoyment of sex?

Rembrandt, “The Jewish Bride”

PK: No, I didn’t feel the need for a female character to be more open about enjoyment of sex. I like writing about sex because it is so difficult.  Putting such emotions and feelings into words is damn near impossible and I’m quite proud of my efforts.

PO: Martel is a straight-talking, brash female character who, for many readers, is a rare find. Do you feel that we need more female characters like Martel in literature, TV, film etc. who are unapologetic about their lifestyle? Or do you fear that by doing so such characters will be overused and possibly become another female trope?

PK: Current feminism is not sympathetic to a character like Martel, so I doubt we need to be worried about overuse.

PO: Are you as passionate a lover of art as your novel suggests and as your characters undoubtedly are?

PK: Absolutely. I’ve lived my life in pursuit of art and beauty and the transcendent experience.  I tend to become slightly ecstatic when I view a great work of art. My appreciation is not limited to one period, school, or culture.  Personally, I would like to see a lot more public art.  Not everyone can visit a museum, gallery, or cathedral, but everyone deserves to get a glimpse of the beautiful and profound.

Art in the city: “Maternité” by Gérard Ramon (France)

PO: With your background in art, travel and cultural anthropology this novel must have been a labour of love to research. The detail you give to each characters’ clothing and musical and artistic preferences is extraordinary. Did this require extensive research or were you already very familiar with and happy to write about the various fashion labels and musicians?

PK: I don’t do much research. My personal experience is such that I have a lot of information stored in my brain. When working on a piece, I make a big collage of pictures relating to the subject matter and look at it for inspiration. Prior to writing I listen to music, in this case gypsy guitar and Chet Baker. 

PO: The world of art dealing plays a very important role in your novel.  Does Martel’s ambivalence – she enjoys working with art pieces, but at the same time despises her rich and often uneducated customers – reflect your own critical stance or at least some kind of reticence when it comes to the money-oriented art market?

PK: Western Art has always been about power, money, or religion.  Most of the old masters were working for dukes or kings or princes of the Church. Painters like Rembrandt were working for the rising bourgeoisie. The production of paintings and statuary only became art for art’s sake in the 19th century, and a lot of artists lost their sponsors because their work was considered too radical by the buyers and sellers. As a result, many ended up unrecognized and living in poverty. I  hate the fact that a brilliant artist like Modigliani died neglected and broke, and that in current times his works are praised to the skies and sold for millions. The realities of today’s art game are grotesque and scandalous, but it’s nothing new. The billionaires of today want to be like the big shots of yesteryear, and the dealers and auctioneers are only too happy to accommodate them.

PO: How did you go about researching the European places mentioned in the novel? You write of Amsterdam (and indeed other places in the Netherlands and in Europe) as if you were a local. Have you in fact lived there before or did you have to visit the city, its museums and galleries and go off the beaten track a little to experience the “real”?

PK: I’ve never actually lived in Europe, but I used to visit twice a year. I usually find a city I love and visit it year after year.  I try to make a spiritual connection with the place. Once I went to Barcelona to see the architecture, but I couldn’t make a connection and I’ve never been back. I find that odd, because I should have loved the place.

PO: This is perhaps a predictable question, but still I must ask it: how does a woman in her early seventies come to write a novel full of drugs, sex and violence? Would you even be surprised to read a novel which deals with these topics which was written by one of your peers? Or should people not be surprised by this at all? Is this actually part of a larger issue that society has with hearing older voices, particularly female, whereby we assume that they would never speak of such topics?

PK: I started writing this piece when I was seventy-one or seventy-two, and it has gone through many revisions.  People were quite astonished when I began writing.  I was told that creativity diminishes starting around age fifty and that I didn’t have a chance at producing anything worthwhile. Although several friends were supportive of my efforts, others were shocked by the topics I chose to explore.

I know that Jean Rhys published a novel when she was seventy-six and it was quite the hit. She explored madness and sexual exploitation. Anna Kavan wrote the brutal and visionary Ice, a novel I admire, when she was in her sixties. 

PO: Including detailed recipes in a work of fiction is unusual for authors to do. Yet, as mentioned previously, Dirty Pictures has a wonderful use of detail for characters, props, smells and sound. Why did you decide to give such description to how Martel cooked those dinners in Amsterdam? Are they your own recipes or are they inspired by others?

PK: The procurement, preparation, and sharing of food has always been one of my great pleasures.  For me, a carefully prepared meal shared with family and friends is an expression of fellowship and celebration. In the novel Martel’s humanistic approach to food is presented in direct opposition to the Greylander Corporation’s soulless attempts at food control.

The roast chicken was from Julia Child, but I didn’t bother to look up the recipe. The rest is just basic stuff that I am familiar with.

PO: Dirty Pictures is your first novel. Do you have any unpublished material written before this novel?

PK: Even though I didn’t start writing until late in life, I’ve got tons of unpublished stuff: novellas, short stories, another novel, even screenplays. I was writing fast and didn’t have any outside distractions.  My themes are basically the same as those in Dirty Pictures. I like to think some of my work is humorous, even farcical.

PO: What are you working on now?

PK: I have one hundred fifty pages of a novel called Surfers.  It’s about a group of drug dealers who work out of Southern California in the 1960s. At the moment my personal situation is such that I can’t give the novel my full attention, but I would like to add some bits about the entertainment industry and its early attempts at mind control.  

 

Craig McDonald about the challenge of writing a series

November 29, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

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 Not the end of something?

By Craig McDonald

In autumn 2007, HEAD GAMES was published by Ben Leroy and Bleak House books.

It went on to earn best first novel nominations for the Edgar Award, the Anthony, and the Sélection du prix polar Saint-Maur en Poche in France, among others.

It also launched a series of ten novels featuring protagonist Hector Lassiter, pulp magazine writer, crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter.

Signing ARCs at Book Expo America 2007

Signing ARCs at Book Expo America 2007

Betimes Books has just published the climactic novel in the series, THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH, set in Nashville about a year after HEAD GAMES, and bringing back several characters from that first novel.

CHORDS was always envisioned as a kind of HEAD GAMES sequel and definitive circle-closer.

I actually wrote the “last” Lassiter novel many, many years ago, much of it in situ in Nashville, Tennessee. I interviewed various songwriters and sat in on sound-checks to gather source material and atmosphere.

But mostly, I focused on putting a capstone on the Hector Lassiter saga.

Few are the mystery series in my experience that round out with the fulfillment of a charted character arc or larger story.

Most series simply trail off into oblivion because of soft sales, or the death of their author.

If the series is particularly popular, when the creator dies, some other writer is brought in to keep churning out inferior, never quite satisfying continuations, again toward no planned end.

There are very few exceptions to this rule of the never-ending series.

Most of those that occur still don’t typically deliver a unified story arc carried to a planned climax built toward across the span of the series.

More often, some poor author gets a dire diagnosis and so races the clock to close out their series before they too are “closed out.”

Others elect to do something mirroring Agatha Christie’s strategy of writing a series closer well ahead of time, then holding it in reserve for posthumous publication.

(Though in the Dame’s case, even killing off her character didn’t stop others from publishing further Poirot novels following the appearance of CURTAIN.)

I’ve long acknowledged James Sallis’ cycle of Lew Griffin novels as the inspiration for the Lassiter series.

Dublin reading, August 2016

Dublin reading, August 2016

Sallis wrote an interconnected and finite series of novels that together tell a larger story and build to a final revelation regarding his central protagonist.

With the Lassiter series, I wanted to do something similar: Construct a series toward a known end, allowing each book to stand alone, more or less, but in sum telling a much larger story regarding the character of Hector Lassiter and his eventual fate.

It was an audacious or perhaps even foolish goal to write a whole series ahead of any contract commitments. Certainly, given what I now know of the vagaries and failings of much of the publishing industry, it was a very naïve and hopeful thing for a baseline cynic like myself to undertake.

Yet I wrote first drafts of the novels in the series in the space of about three months per title, back-to-back, working toward the known conclusion of this last, Nashville-set series-closer.

The later entries in the series were mostly well into composition before the second novel, TOROS & TORSOS, was even contracted for publication by Bleak House Books.

Please let me run a highlighter over that point: Most of the series, including the last volume, was virtually written before the second book reached the galley stage some time in the summer of 2008.

There was never any guarantee the books would all see print. There was every chance the project might stall around book four or five and the rest of the novels would remain in limbo.

The first translation: French (La tête de Pancho Villa, Editions Belfond, 2009)

The first translation: French (“La tête de Pancho Villa”, Editions Belfond, 2009)

But the series has hung in there, collecting an international audience through translations in Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Korean and Mongolian, among others.

In English language form, the Lassiter series currently encompasses four different publishers.

HEAD GAMES was also quickly optioned for graphic novel adaptation by First Second Books, prior to its Bleak House publication. I wrote the script for that project over a weekend nearly ten years ago (the art came much more slowly).

Next October, nearly ten years to the day that HEAD GAMES the novel was released, HEAD GAMES the graphic novel will at last appear.

A short story collection will also follow next year from Betimes Books, which now prints uniform editions of the entire series.

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Paris, March 2011

The short story collection will feature a never-before-published Lassiter novella set in the 1920s that roughly approaches the word count found in HEAD GAMES.

So while THREE CHORDS does represent the climax of the Hector Lassiter series as originally set forth, the Lassiter saga still has some moves left.

Hector has opened remarkable doors for me and provided international travel opportunities for my family.

He is forever there somewhere in my head, sometimes whispering in my ear. When you write this much about a single character for so long, you actually begin to see the world through his eyes.

Telling this storyteller’s story has resulted in years of wonderful correspondence and conversation with readers of all ages, nationalities and interests who’ve followed his saga.

I very much look forward to hearing the reactions to this “last” Hector Lassiter novel.

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 Contact us for a free electronic review copy!

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Hadley Colt about her second novel for Betimes Books, a reinvention of the timeless legend of Sherlock Holmes

September 28, 2016

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From Hadley Colt‘s blog:

PUBLISH OR PERISH? (THE RED-HANDED LEAGUE DEBUTS)

“I am lost without my Boswell.”

—Sherlock Holmes

The Red-Handed League, my new thriller about Sherlock Holmes, debuts this week.

Hewing to a Doylean naming strategy, this little essay might be called, The Matter of the Murdered Biographer. It could also be titled, The Case of Fearful Symmetry.

Here’s what I mean:23

My first work published by Betimes Books was the literary thriller Permanent Fatal Error. It centers on a presumed-dead cult novelist ala J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon whose would-be biographers mysteriously die.

The Red-Handed League is a present-day prequel to Conan Doyle’s first-published Sherlock Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet.

My new book spins on inappropriate relationships between students and instructors at an upscale private school. It also re-imagines and melds aspects of several noted Holmes tales, including “The Red-Headed League” and “The Master Blackmailer.”

What goes around comes around, they say.

Or as Holmes might observe, “Everything comes in circles. The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again.”

There’s a creepy nexus between my first and second books for Betimes, you see.

While we were working on cover designs and last touches for The Red-Handed League, my publisher ran across an article about a man obsessed with writing the definitive biography of a famous author, only to die violently under the most mysterious of circumstances.

The excellent article by David Grann detailing this real-life mystery was published in The New Yorker in December 2004.

“That’s pretty far back in the rearview mirror, Ms. Colt,” you might point out.

And I’d respond, “Yes. Yes, it is.”

And yet?

There is fearful symmetry in this. Deliciously lingering mystery, too.

The Betimes Books publisher and her author were struck by the very strange overlap between the mysterious death of a deceased novelist’s would-be biographer (the set up for an elevator pitch for Permanent Fatal Error) and the fact our second novel together centers on Sherlock Holmes.

captureYou see, the real-life biographer who met his mysterious death in his home surrounded by Holmesian books and collectibles was a revered Sherlock scholar named Richard Lancelyn Green.

His intended biographical subject was (of course) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Apparent cause of death: (Clears throat) Self-garroting with a bit of string and a spoon.

Pray, go off now and read Mr. Grann’s superb piece on this mysterious affair. I’ll wait here, staring out the window, surely brooding, but sans pipe or violin.”

***

Hooked? Continue reading here

 

Craig McDonald’s reading in Dublin as if you were there

August 4, 2016

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Thanks to all who attended last night’s reading in Dublin!

For those who weren’t there, here is a recording of the event: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1ypKdPmjArRKW

If you want to read the excerpt that Craig read last night, the first chapter of Head Games, click here:

viewBook.at/HeadGames_McDonald

And here is Craig McDonald‘s speech and a few pictures of the venue and the event.

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“One character, ten novels.

Please allow me to introduce you to Hector Lassiter, author, screenwriter and adventurer.

# 2. HECTOR

He’s my primary protagonist and a guy who’s high-jacked an obscene amount of my personal head space.

At base, Hector’s a man always in pursuit of strong sensations and experiences he can lay down on the printed page.

IMAG2318For the purposes of tonight’s reading, I ask you to imagine it’s 1957. We’re sitting in a drinking establishment, not in Dublin, but rather in some dusty, sweltering cantina hard up against the Rio Grande as we call it in The States. 

The Mexican’s call the same body of water that divides our countries the Rio Bravo. You see, on my dark side of the Atlantic, even the rivers have aliases.

Tonight you’ll be riding shotgun in THE classic American car: a Fifty-Seven, Chevrolet convertible Bel Air. We’re on the road with Hector and his sidekick for this particular escapade that I’ll be reading from, a young and aspiring poet named Bud Fiske.

In his peculiar corner of pop culture, Hector’s also known as “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”

He’s the protagonist of a finite arc of the ten novels I referenced a moment ago. The last, Three Chords & The Truth, will appear this November courtesy of Dublin-based Betimes Books, who hosts our gathering this evening along this la frontera of the mind.

The novel to come this fall is a kind of sequel to Head Games, which is the first and mostly widely published Hector Lassiter novel, and one that will also appear as a graphic novel next fall. Head Games is the book I’ll be reading from tonight.

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With border tensions, Donald Trump and his hugebeautiful wallsuch a great wall—as well as all-too real, cross-border terrorism fears looming large back home, Head Games is arguably more timely than ever.

So here’s the thing: If any label best describes the Hector Lassiter series, it’s probably “Historical Thrillers.” My novels, or maybe Hector’s, always combine myth and history.

The Lassiter novels spin around secret histories and unexplored or underexplored aspects of real events. They’re set in real places. The also frequently incorporate real people.

As a career journalist—yes, I still toil in that uncertain trade, despite my swanky secret life as a published novelist—I’m often frustrated by the impossibility to definitively nail down people or events. 

Read five biographies of the same man, say, of Ernest Hemingway, or Orson Welles, and you’ll close each book feeling like you’ve read about five different people.

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So I’ve reluctantly concluded defining fact as it relates to history is like stroking smoke or tapping a bullet in flight.

History, it’s been said, is a lie agreed to.

But maybe in fiction we can find if not fact, something bordering on truth. With that possibility in mind, I explore what I can make of accepted history through the eyes of this man.

The “hero” of my series, your guide through my books, is Hector Mason Lassiter, a shades-of-grey man who’s a charmer, a rogue, a bit of a rake—a handsome rover, if you will—and, himself, a crime novelist.

Some others in the novels say he bears a strong resemblance to the actor William Holden. Hector smokes and drinks and eats red meat. He favors sports jackets, open collar shirts and Chevrolets. He lives his life on a large canvas. He’s wily, but often impulsive. He’s honorable, but mercurial.

He often doesn’t understand his own drives. That is to say, he’s a man. He’s a man’s man and a lady’s man. He’s a romantic, but mostly unlucky in love. Yet his life’s largely shaped by the women who pass through it.

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Hec was born in Galveston, Texas on January 1, 1900. He came in with the 20th Century, and it was my aim his arc of novels span that century—essentially, through each successive novel, giving us a kind of under-history or secret-history of the 20th Century.

Tall and wise beyond his years, as a boy Hector lied about his age and enlisted in the Army. He accompanied Black Jack Pershingand participated in the general’s abortive hunt down into Mexico to chase the Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa who attacked and murdered many American civilians in the town of Columbus, New Mexico.

Villa’s was the first and only successful terrorist assault on the United States homeland prior to the events of September 11, 2001.

Much of that part of Hector’s life figures into Head Games: You’ll catch some glimpses in the reading to follow.

Head Games originally was published in 2007.

Its follow-up in original publication sequence, Toros & Torsos, opens in 1935 and features Ernest Hemingway as a kind of sidekick. Subsequent books about Hector similarly hopscotched back-and-forth through the decades upon original publication.

The current Betimes Books releases of the Hector Lassiter series present the novels in roughly chronological order—at least in terms of when each story opens.

IMG_3573Call me audacious, or call me crazy: The Lassiter novels were written back-to-back and the series mostly shaped and in place before Head Games was officially published. Let me run a highlighter over that point: this series was largely written before the first novel was even contracted for publication.

It’s very unusual in that sense: a series of discrete novels tightly linked and that taken together stand as a single, larger story.

My approach as a writer has always been to try and describe the movie I’m seeing in my head.

Tonight’s film is a kind of mash-up of Sam Peckinpaugh, Quentin Tarantino, and if you believe several book reviewers, the Cohen Brothers.

So. Welcome to the world of Hector Lassiter.

IMG_2832It’s 1957, and we’re in a bottom-rung cantina in Ciudad Juarez—these days regarded as the murder capital of the world. We’re in this cantina with Hector and Bud. 

From somewhere, there’s a tune playing on piano or accordion. Some piece of Mexican music… Maybe it’s Volver, Volver, or maybe Cancion de Mixteca

A fight’s looming, and to coin a phrase, this is no personal brawl—anyone can join in.”

Craig McDonald, Dublin, Ireland, August 3rd, 2016

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P.S. WE STILL HAVE A FEW COPIES OF CRAIG McDONALD’S BOOKS SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR!

DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO PURCHASE ONE! CONTACT US

 

Literary suicides: excerpt from PRINT THE LEGEND by Craig McDonald

March 31, 2016

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8 PRINTx2700“Hector sat in a booth alone in the back of the Italian restaurant. The freezing rain was lashing the windows and the trees lining the streets of Georgetown looked like glass sculptures. He took another sip of red wine and pulled the letter from his pocket. He read it five times:

Poor dearest Pickle:

There is no surprise in this.

I’m awfully sorry for the mess.

The body’s been dying for some time (from the moment really, that second plane went down at Butiaba), and the rest has raced in pursuit these past months. It has all finally gone to pieces and I am beat to the wide beyond promise of recuperation or recovery.

Now it’s over and you can get on with your life.

I’ve spent my mornings since the last war working at four books I can’t finish. And all of these last, unfruitful years spent rummaging through the remise of my memory for likely material has only stirred up old ghosts and guilts. Untenable regrets that all of the bottles of giant killer I am now denied and all of the last bits of love that you might still muster towards me cannot palliate.

A writer who can no longer write can no longer live.”

The letter continues in PRINT THE LEGEND, available here.

BetimesLOGO3 blue“A novelist who has a main character first use[d] The Hemingway Review as a doorstop and later set another issue on fire and fling it out a window probably isn’t holding his breath waiting for a favorable review of his book in that particular publication. But Craig McDonald’s Print the Legend (its title taken from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the 1962 Western directed by John Ford) deserves the attention of Hemingway aficionados… McDonald tosses off throw-away allusions and inside jokes with apparent effortlessness… McDonald is a writer’s writer, so the book is also, improbably but effectively, a meditation on the art of writing fiction.”    —THE HEMINGWAY REVIEW

“Through Hector’s musings and actions, we are treated to an intimate view of Hemingway’s writings as well as his life. And as Lassiter tries to protect the woman he loves while pursuing a personal enemy, he evolves into a credible romantic figure. This book will appeal to readers who read outside the crime genre.”    VERONIKA PELKA, HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY (Editor’s Choice Selection)

 

Donald Finnaeus Mayo about writing FRANCESCA

March 8, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

FRANCESCA: Genesis of an idea

FrancescaIt’s easy to forget just how different the world was back in the mid-1970s. No mobile phones, no internet, no Starbucks on every street corner. Easier, too, for dictators to keep a lid on their shenanigans. You could take out a town, empty a region of its population without any fear of pesky demonstrators posting evidence of your atrocities on YouTube for all to see.

So it’s hardly surprising the Indonesian invasion of East Timor passed me by, even though I was living in the region at the time, an expat teenager whose father worked in the oil business. The local media was strictly censored, whilst foreign correspondents who might have kicked up a fuss were for the most part unable to access the place. Besides, who was interested in what was going on in a backwater most people had never heard of?

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that I encountered East Timor again. Doing some volunteer work for Amnesty International in London, I kept coming across cases from the conflict. The more I looked into it, the more shocking it became. Worse, I realised I had been in Indonesia when this tiny country was gobbled up by its neighbour and large parts of its population annihilated.

War DiliSeveral hundred miles away our lives continued in their cocooned luxury, oblivious to what Suharto’s soldiers were doing. No one mentioned it, no one spoke out, no one did anything that might upset the cosy relationship between the Indonesian government and the western oil companies. Everyone was making money, and besides Indonesia was on our side, a bulwark against communism.

Discovering these parallel worlds inspired me to write Francesca. In particular, I was interested in people who straddled both, the ones with the fullest picture. As they created their own dramas, sorrows, joys, tragedies and triumphs, a novel was born.

— Donald Finnaeus Mayo, March 2016

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Readers’ praise

“A full-bodied tale of love and war set against the complex political and commercial landscape of Indonesia in the 70s. Its a moving and sensitively written story that draws you in from the start.”

“Francesca has all the ingredients of a great novel – a compelling and interesting story that engages you from the start, genuine characters with whom one can feel real sympathy and powerful descriptions that creates a real sense of atmosphere. If I have any criticism of the book it is that it could be longer – the character development is such that you’re left wanting to know what happened to them in more detail than there is in the book – but then maybe it’s always good to leave the reader wanting more. In any event, it’s a great story that will provide a powerful insight into a period of history that has only recently started to get the coverage it deserves.”

“The sense of location is sparkling. The tension is high. The author is an accomplished storyteller, with journalism experience, who captures the destruction of war in convincing detail. He demonstrates a beautiful way with language and a clever ear for dialogue.”

Timor jungle“Beautifully written, historically educational, sharp insights into human nature. Highly recommended as a Book Club read.”

 

“A fascinating story inter-weaving a cast of characters around one woman’s journey through life.”

 

An Interview with Craig McDonald: The Hector Lassiter Series

February 29, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

An exceptional, in-depth, interview with Craig McDonald by Steven Powell, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, UK.

Steven Powell is the editor of Conversations with James Ellroy (2012) and 100 American Crime Writers(2012). He has written several articles for the British Politics Review, blogs about crime fiction at VenetianVase.co.uk, and co-organized the “James Ellroy: Visions of Noir” conference at the University of Liverpool. His most recent work is James Ellroy: Demon Dog of Crime Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan 2016).

10 Three Chords“If you are not already initiated, I hope this interview will persuade you to start reading the Lassiter novels. They are compelling, thrilling and darkly humorous.

Lassiter is a brilliant creation…”

 

The Venetian Vase

Craig McDonald is an author and journalist. He has written fourteen novels, including, to date, nine books in the award-winning Hector Lassiter series. I have kept up a correspondence with Craig these past few years as we are both avid readers of James Ellroy. I’m also a massive fan of the Lassiter novels, and when Craig agreed to be interviewed by me, he also kindly supplied an advance copy of the final novel in the Lassiter series, the forthcoming Three Chords and the Truth. If you are not already initiated, I hope this interview will persuade you to start reading the Lassiter novels. They are compelling, thrilling and darkly humorous. Lassiter is a brilliant creation– a crime writer who learned his trade with Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Generation in Paris in the 1920s. He is also a man who seems dangerously prone to violent intrigue, doomed love affairs…

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Fionnuala Brennan: Writing about Goya

February 8, 2016

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Goya-A7I have long been fascinated by the charismatic artist Francisco de Goya. The seeds of my fascination with this Spanish painter were sown during my studies in History of Art in Trinity College, Dublin. The firework that sent me into orbit to write the novel, The Painter’s Women: Goya in Light and Shade, was a visit to an exhibition in New York some years ago of The Disasters of War. I was stunned at the depiction, in small intimate etchings, of the savagery of man’s inhumanity to man. No glorious victories, no medalled generals; instead bodies hanging from trees, soldiers castrating a helpless man. Later, I went to the British Library in London and handled prints of the Los Caprichos and visited the Prado to see the Black Paintings.

To my mind, Goya is one of the most enigmatic and influential painters in the history of art. As Court Painter, he was well-in with the Spanish royal family and the nobility, of whom he painted many portraits, yet he lambasted what he saw as the cruelty, superstition and hypocrisy in Spanish society, as we can see in his scathingly satirical series of eighty etchings, Los Caprichos (1799). He saw nothing glorious either in war and depicted it in all its horror and brutality in a series of etchings The Disasters of War (1810-1815) and in his large painting, The Third of May, 1808. Goya painted sunny pastoral scenes, church frescoes, courting couples. The same artist also covered the walls of his country house at Quinto del Sordo with grotesque images of monsters and devils―the famous Black Paintings now in the Prado, Madrid.

So who was this Francisco de Goya? In the novel I wanted to explore behind the scenes, to discover something more of the man and of his work. What better perspective to obtain than that of the women who were closest to him in his life? As they lived with Goya at different stages of his long and turbulent career, they have lot to say about the private character of the great artist as well as being able to tell us the background to some of his most famous art works.

Painting portrait of Leocadia Weiss by Goya

Painting portrait of Leocadia Weiss by Goya

Thus, to get a closer view of Francisco de Goya, I chose to create, to listen to, the voices of six women who knew him very well. Four of the six women whose voices we hear in my novel lived in Spain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They are Josefa, Goya’s wife of forty years, the mother of his six children, of whom only one son, Javier, survived infancy; Leocadia, his much younger mistress who lived with him for the last sixteen years of his life until his death in 1828; Rosario, his unacknowledged young daughter who had ambitions to follow in her father’s artistic footsteps, and Gumersinda, his acerbic, grasping daughter-in law. History tells us very little beyond the names of these four women. I wanted to give them a voice, to bring them out of the shade into the light and in doing so to hopefully illuminate Goya.

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The fifth voice in The Painter’s Women is that of the totally fictitious Dolores, a young peasant girl who ends up, in the novel, as one of the most legendary nudes in the history of art. The sixth woman is the famous Duchess of Alba, feisty, flighty and fabulously wealthy. She appears more than any other woman in Goya’s art. There was much juicy gossip and speculation as to the nature of their relationship. This gossip finds a possible source in Goya’s portraits of the Duchess; especially the portrait of 1797 in which the Duchess is painted in the black costume of a maja. She is standing on a sandy shore, her right hand points to an inscription in the sand, Solo Goya. On her fingers are two rings, a diamond ring bearing the name Alba and the other a gold ring inscribed Goya. Maybe there is some truth in the rumours, or maybe not. Very little in Goya’s life was transparent.

I will leave the last word to the artist himself, talking to his daughter Rosario.

“This world is a masquerade: face, clothing, voice ―everything is meant to deceive. Everyone wants to appear what he is not, each deluding the other and not even knowing himself.”

 Fionnuala Brennan

 

 

“DEATH IN THE FACE is my love letter to that strange sad man Ian Fleming”

November 8, 2015

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Craig McDonald about his new novel:

DEATH IN THE FACE: THE YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE FACTOR

(Caution: Mild spoilers ahead for the James Bond novel and film, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.)

In 1962, a gravely ill Ian Fleming went to Japan to research what would result in his penultimate James Bond novel, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.

Typical of Fleming, he planned for himself a macabre itinerary he hoped would showcase the stranger sides of Japan that might in turn inform his novel. He went in the company of two journalists with Asian expertise (more on them later).

The resulting book is one of the darker, more doom-laden of the James Bond novels, almost gothic in atmosphere, and a world away from the resulting 1967 film adaptation which became the first Bond film to jettison the majority of its Fleming inspiration’s plot.”

Continue reading here

Death in the Face

Review of Craig McDonald’s DEATH IN THE FACE by Les Edgerton

October 23, 2015

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Death in the FaceThis latest in Craig McDonald’s Hector Lassiter series—Death in the Face–is perhaps his finest. It’s my fervent hope that this isn’t the last in this wonderful series!

 

Like all the previous books in this series, McDonald sheds light on some of the most important literary figures of the past near-century on a personal level via the Hector Lassiter character and his adventures and that alone is worth the price of admission. For instance, I’ve never been a fan of Ian Fleming’s writing, but after experiencing this version, I confess I’m reevaluating my opinion of him. But, more important and irrespective of my opinion of Fleming’s literary acumen, this is a wonderful look at the writer from albeit a fictionalized account, and, like all the other literary figures who grace the pages of the Lassiter novels, delivers to the reader a delightful perspective on their lives not to be found elsewhere.

 

That McDonald is able to affect my own bias against Fleming is a telling thing and attests to the level of writing he is able to command. A remarkable read, a remarkable author and a remarkable portrait of an interesting literary figure. Highly recommended.

Les Edgerton

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DEATH IN THE FACE is available here

 

 

DEATH IN THE FACE: THE STRANGE LIFE & DEATH OF YUKIO MISHIMA

October 21, 2015

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Craig McDonald about Yukio Mishima, one of the characters in his latest Hector Lassiter novel, Death in the Face:

“Yukio Mishima (born Kimitake Hiraoka) was a gifted novelist and one of Japan’s great literary figures. He was a true renaissance man who composed nearly three dozen novels, nearly as many books of essays, more than two dozen short story collections, plays, screenplays and who dabbled in acting.

He was considered a likely contender for the Nobel Prize for literature.

Mishima was increasingly appalled by Japan’s post-war Westernization and turned further and further toward martial arts studies and an embracement of Samurai codes of life and personal conduct. He practiced body-building and kendo, and, in 1968, he formed is own private militia.

His death came almost immediately upon completion of his novel, THE DECAY OF THE ANGEL, the final volume of his SEA OF FERTILITY tetralogy that many regard as Mishima’s masterwork.

Yukio Mishima shares a lunch with my fictional novelist, Hector Lassiter, in DEATH IN THE FACE, the next-to-last novel in the Lassiter series.

Lassiter is in Japan, dogging the steps of his fellow thriller writer Ian Fleming, who has come to gather materials for his James Bond novel YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.”

Continue reading here: http://craigmcdonaldbooks.blogspot.fr/2015/10/death-in-face-strange-life-death-of.html

How I Came to Write “ROLL THE CREDITS” (aka Hector Lassiter & WWII)

May 25, 2015

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Craig McDonald about his inspiration for Roll the Credits. Fascinating!

Roll the Credits is, in short form, the Second World War and liberation of Paris seen through the eyes of author/screenwriter Hector Lassiter. But it’s also a special novel in the Lassiter canon for me. Long before RTC, there was the Lassiter entry Head Games. That novel was dedicated to the memory of my maternal grandfather, William Charles Sipe, Sr.”

Continue reading here: http://craigmcdonaldbooks.blogspot.ie/2014/09/how-i-came-to-write-roll-credits-aka.html

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“Print the Legend” & the dark seduction of the writing life

May 20, 2015

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The following essay by Craig McDonald is a re-presentation of a blog post originally written for Lesa Holstine’s sight in March, 2010 upon release of his novel PRINT THE LEGEND in hardcover.

The novel is now available for the first time in paperback, as well as eBook and audio formats: http://viewBook.at/Print_the_Legend
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“Print the Legend” & the dark seduction of the writing life

Print the Legend explores the death of Hemingway in Ketchum, Idaho, in the summer of 1961, and raises questions regarding the possibility that Hem’s death was something other than an act of suicide.

The novel also explores J. Edgar Hoover’s obsessive and often destructive surveillance of key American writers, including not just Hemingway, but Carl Sandburg, Pearl S. Buck, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, Rex Stout, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Dorothy Parker, among many others.

Because Hector is a novelist and screenwriter by trade, writing and the creative arts are running themes through the series. Print the Legend however, is the Lassiter novel in which I wanted to focus squarely on the act of writing. To that end, I peppered Print with several very different kinds of authors.

The Lassiter series is also intended as a secret history of the 20th Century. As this novel is set largely in the 1960s — a decade of change, if there ever was one — in Print I wanted to position Hector against two very different and formidable kinds of women.

In addition to Hemingway and Hector, we have Mary Welsh Hemingway — Papa’s fourth and final wife. Mary was a war correspondent whom Hem began courting while still married to journalist/novelist Martha Gellhorn. Hem and Mary’s marriage, while more enduring, was no happier than Hem’s life with Martha.

When Hemingway died, Mary became Hem’s unlikely literary executrix — actually editing (and substantially altering) Hem’s manuscripts for A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream… designing dust jackets and selecting titles for both books. (Note: A Moveable Feast has in fact just been reissued in a “restored” version by Hem’s grandson, purporting to present the memoir as left by Hemingway, and enumerating the many changes and alterations introduced by Mary.)

Mary Hemingway’s still controversial “editing” of Feast is a key plot element of Print the Legend.

Print also introduces us to Hannah Paulson, a promising young fiction writer who is very pregnant and increasingly troubled by the behavior of her husband, Richard, a Hemingway scholar with a growing drinking problem and this notion Mary murdered her famous husband. Richard has agreed to write Mary’s biography as a means of building his case against Mary as Papa’s killer.

As Hannah finds herself questioning “the way of the writer” as represented by Mary, Richard and an Idaho-town full of Hemingway scholars, she is increasingly drawn to Hector Lassiter — a working novelist who seemingly lives on his own terms…a man who embodies the writing life with a kind of seductive panache.

Print the Legend, in a sense, is Hannah’s book even more than it is Hector’s. Through Hannah, we explore the strange and tragic arc of Hemingway’s rise and fall as the premier stylist of his generation. Hannah provides harrowing glimpses into the creative process and the destructive shadow play that can result when authors and scholars become too cozy.

It is Hannah, also, who is forced by circumstances to display that quality of “grace under pressure,” Hem so fretted over. This comes in a scene I wrote as a kind of homage to Hemingway’s wrenching birth scenes in the short story Indian Camp, and Hemingway’s second novel, A Farewell to Arms.

The other key writer in this cast of authors is an FBI agent/thriller writer named Donovan Creedy. Inspired by novelist/spy/Watergate plumber E. Howard Hunt, Creedy stands in for a tiny army of FBI agents who actually followed, spied on and haunted Hemingway through his final decades.

Those around Hemingway — those who stood close witness to his steep physical and mental decline — were convinced Hem’s obsession with FBI surveillance was another symptom of his growing mental instability…straight-up paranoia.

Indeed, that very attitude was a factor in Mary Hemingway’s approval of the electroshock treatments that arguably hastened Hem’s destruction.

Following Hemingway’s death, requests made under the Freedom of Information Act opened up countless FBI documents (many still heavily redacted) that proved conclusively the FBI was tracking Hemingway and followed him right into the Mayo Clinic…reportedly perhaps even consulting directly with Hem’s doctors.

Hoover, too, left behind countless memos regarding Hemingway, revealing Hem was a kind of obsession of Hoover’s, particularly moving forward from the late 1930s.

This is the terrain of Print the Legend, a literary thriller that aims to underscore Hem’s own cautions about the risk of getting too close to a fiction writer, as well as the seductive dangers of leading “the writing life.”

–Craig McDonald

“A Blooming Good Read”: Jackie Mallon about reading

May 12, 2015

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“I should mention I have no method to my reading. If I had, I would waste less time on unworthy books (ah yes, The Goldfinch…)

Currently I’ve chosen well. I am revisiting the illicit charms of Lady Chatterley’s Lover which I read in my early teens probably concealed behind a copy of Smash Hits magazine.  The language is flowery and a little archaic. Tittering must surely be encouraged when DH Laurence repeatedly describes the Lady orgasming as having “reached her crisis.” As Constance advances in her sexual awakening, all the flowers are in bloom in the woodland where she trysts with the groundsman in his hut.”

Continue reading here: A Blooming Good Read.

Jackie Mallon is the author of SILK FOR THE FEED DOGS

Reading when I write? by Colin O’Sullivan

April 29, 2015

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“When something of literary merit affects you, then a sliver is naturally going to rub off on your prose.”

Read the full text here: Reading when I write?

 

Colin O'Sullivan is the author of Killarney BLues

Richard Kalich: How I Write

April 28, 2015

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I don’t have a method but… and it’s a big ‘but’… I can speak of a pattern that has repeated itself with all four of my novels. And the same will be true with my next. I see my novels metaphorically. By that I mean an image comes to me… and that image, that poetic metaphoric image, contains all I need to know about the fiction to follow. The image is always (to me) more than just an image. Not only does it give me the beginning, middle and end of the narrative, but it also suggests a fundamental elemental universal of our world. I don’t mean to suggest the demonic/divine illumination of the 18th or 19th century novelists, nor do I want to glorify or romanticize the artistic process, but this is what I’ve experienced as a Writer.

If pressed, I would say this metaphoric image is a gift; some poets have it, I’m told.  Where it comes from… who knows? I call it… the fecundity of the unconscious.

My particular unconscious showing me the way: Before words or thought or deliberation or calculation that which lies deepest inside me articulates itself with this image. Once it appears I allow it – or it allows me – to form, shape, edit and refine itself over a gestation period that can last two to twenty years. The image never leaves me.  And though as a Writer and person I evolve and change, recreate myself and the forms I might make use of as a novelist, the first image, the central image… stays the same. I’ll give you an example. The day I finished my novel The Nihilesthete an image came to me of a man hovering over a surveillance camera while hiding in his closet, spying on a boy and girl. It only took me twenty-plus years to find the courage to write that novel now titled Penthouse F.

Richard Kalich is the author of CENTRAL PARK WEST TRILOGY, including The Nihilesthete, Charlie P, and Penthouse F.

Sam Hawken about LA FRONTERA: “The most controversial novel I’ve ever written”.

April 27, 2015

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And the border is still

“As I look forward to the release of The Night Charter, I can’t help but cast a look back over the past few years and the books I wrote to get where I am now. I’ve written plenty about The Borderland Trilogy from Serpent’s Tail, but I’ve written less about La Frontera.

There are a lot of things in common between my crime novels — Mexico’s rampant violence, the tragedy of the innocent lives lost — but La Frontera is something different. I’d venture to say that it’s the most literary of the books I’ve had published, which makes it unusual all by itself. If you asked me whether I write literary fiction I would say, no, I don’t. But at the same time, something like La Frontera is a departure from the cops-and-killers world of my Mexico books while still taking place in that reality. If that makes sense to you.”

Continue reading here: http://www.samhawken.com/?p=11555
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Craig McDonald: “Why I write: One true sentence.”

April 10, 2015

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Why I Write

A while back, the wonderful Jen Forbus was collecting six-word memoirs from various crime and thriller writers.

The exercise was inspired, she wrote, by the line attributed to Ernest Hemingway (a frequent supporting character in my Hector Lassiter novels) that resulted from a challenge to craft an über short story. The result, legend has it, was pitched as a kind of classified ad by Hem: “For sale, one pair of baby shoes, never used.”

In my Lassiter novels, Hemingway and fellow novelist Hector play a game called “One True Sentence.” One of the authors starts a sentence, and the other tries to finish it in the most pithy way possible.

So, in the spirit of One True Sentence, and of the six-word memoir, this is the answer I gave Ms. Forbus about why I write, and, in the end, who I am:

Born to write; writing to live.

Craig McDonald is the author of the Hector Lassiter series and more: www.craigmcdonaldbooks.com

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Why do I write? by David Hogan

April 9, 2015

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Why do I write?

I write because I am a prisoner.

I write because there exists, beyond the walls of my preconceptions and just outside the barriers of my inventiveness, another story.

It’s not wholly personal or cultural or factual. It’s not religious or utopian. Nor is it political. It’s all of these things, or some, or none of them. It’s unknown, untold; it’s novel.

I write to discover that new story – the one that will set me free.

David Hogan is the author of The Last Island

The Last Island

“From the menial, I’ll build meaning.”

April 7, 2015

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Why I Write

by Jackie Mallon

The sound is like a low growl. You mightn’t hear it but even when I look at peace, I’m making it. Then I itch and scrape. Is my stomach empty? Do I need a walk? A nap? A blanket? Kibble? Tranquilizing?

Reading, yes, that calms me. For a while. Until there is something in the book that reminds me of my story. Oh, so I think I could do better than the writer? Well, let’s see it then, come on!

I go out, see friends instead.

I’m among people, reducing them to characters. Scrutinizing them as they speak, I wonder how I would best describe their features, their expressions, the sound of their voices, the texture of their hair, their energy, their teeth, their smell, their size, their ideas, their accents. I’m exhausted. I go home determined to get up early, get a real run at it.

A hearty breakfast. Back on the chain gang. Stacking the words one next to the other. Back breaking work bent over that one track as morning becomes afternoon, the sentence shifting, extending, shortening.

From the menial, I’ll build meaning.

Is my stomach empty? Something sweet? Check mail? Weather? How’s Mum?

A fashion agent calls, wants to put me forward for a design job. Good God, no! I hang up and write all the way through till night. I will do this till I finish. Then I will do it all over again. I know I will be doing it years from now. I can’t help it.

That means something.

Jackie Mallon is the author of SILK FOR THE FEED DOGS

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