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PiedPiper

Reading Excuses - 11/2/20 - PiedPiper - Seashell Creatures - and Blue and Orange (placeholder title) - prologue

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Well, I think I've said all that will ever need to be said in the email, so I'll just repeat here: no content warnings. Except maybe Seashell Creatures will make you sad? Have at it!

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Overall

I liked the poem a lot! I think there are some extra words to be cut, and some rearrangement of some of the stanzas, but it has some powerful imagery.

The prologue is...very prologue. It doesn't appear to have an arc or to contribute to a greater story. I think the meat of it could be boiled down to maybe four sentences as an epigraph to chapter one and convey all the same information--but with much more power. As it stands it's the kind of prologue editors just cut--it appears to be more of a writing exercise (which it was, so excellent!) than relevant to the narrative. 

 

As I go

starting with Seashell Creatures

depending on how you hold it. <-- suggest removing 'on' as it throws off the rhythm

- for the next stanza I suggest instead:

My grandmother became a shell

When I was very young

She'd always seemed a strange creation

Lying around

As shells so often do

- the next stanza I think should be cut as it takes us in a very different direction and confuses the poem

- For this stanza, suggest instead:

I wasn’t there as she

withered in her shell,

becoming an eho board

with ricocheting memories.

- I think the ending lacks a certain punch. In many of these stanzas I like the information and tone but there are too many words for the rhythm, and it seems like the subject and object are often inverted

 

Blue and Orange

- In that first sentence I don't think we need the words after the comma. It's more powerful without them

- the first paragraph is too wordy. The sentences need to be trimmed down, and there's already a tendency to show then tell. If you just stick with showing, you can cut the telling and it'll be much tighter writing. For instance:

It howled and groaned and shrieked, and currents blew this way and that, trying to knock her off course and render her giant wings ineffective. At any moment, she could be sent spiraling to the ground. Nature did not want her to reach the peak of the mountain, but she would

You've already shown us that nature is against her. Both shown us and told us. So we don't need to be told again with the nature did not want her to...

- noting that, I think you'd have a stronger opening if the first paragraph got boiled into just one sentence: The wind groaned and batted at Z, rendering her giant wings ineffective.

- same with the second paragraph. I think it could be condensed into one pretty powerful sentence

- the ending is confusing.

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Hey, if I can submit songs to this group, you can submit poetry ;) It’s been a solid decade since I’ve critiqued anybody’s poetry, so take my comments with a grain of salt, but I’ll give it a go!

And, I wanted to ask since your email mentioned slam partners, is this intended to be slam poetry, specifically? This definitely does not read like what I would call slam poetry, which is a very auditory, performance-based form of poetry, so I’m not critiquing it as such. (But, maybe there’s a regional difference in what’s considered slam poetry?)

Onto the comments:

There’s something very powerful about the way this piece frames death and dementia as both a loss and a type of creation or becoming. I found some of the later stanzas, in particular, quite striking.

My biggest comment is around drawing a clearer connection between the idea in the opening (water rushing in a seashell) and the rest. It’s a very distinct image to open on and certainly a ready metaphor, but the rest of the poem doesn’t really come back to it, and it feels like a missed opportunity.

I wondered about the line “I wasn’t there.” It stuck out because it’s the only place in the poem that seems to be mourning the narrator’s absence from their grandmother’s life; the rest of the poem seems to be very much about bearing witness, so this feels somewhat contradictory.

In the second stanza on the second page, there’s a tense shift in the last two lines. It’s notable because it’s the only place in the piece (I think) that does that. I debated whether or not to note it because I’m not sure it’s detracting from anything, but by the same token it’s not adding anything either, at least in my experience of it.

The four-line stanza near the bottom of p2: “eho board” is probably “echo board.”

Finally: I wonder if there is room to play around with the line breaks at all. It’s a good way to play with emphasis and would also serve to break things up a bit – yes, the lengths of the lines are reasonably varied, but with a handful of exceptions, the lines are broken up pretty consistently by clause.

All that being said: I love the core idea here, and this reads like something very close to a finished piece.

I haven't had a chance to read the fiction piece yet, so I'll update with those comments once I have.

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Hello, nice to see more of your work!

The poem:

My only experience with poetry is fairly traditional and limited to basic composition. Same goes for the poetry I read for pleasure. 

I thought the concept was tragic and lovely.

I struggled to understand the form. I experimented with reading outloud, quickly and slowly, and couldn't find any rhythm to the syllable pattern. A few words in particular like "fossilization" read awkwardly to me when reading outloud. I counted the lines out, to see if my accent was the problem (we clip a lot of sounds in my area) but the syllables pattern and stanza lenght seems pretty random. The same for any rhyming or repeated sounds.

I may be missing the point though. I'm not, to my own detriment, familiar with modern poetry or its rules. 

I enjoyed the repeated line "I was very young..."

One typo I think on page 2: eho instead of echo

 

Prequel:

There is a nice tone and some great word pictures here. I liked the attention you put into the dragon POV's word choice. That was some nice world building. 

I agree with Kais that this feels like it could be embedded into the main story, maybe as a legend, story, or epic poem? I'm not a fantasy reader though, so take anything from me with a grain of salt :-)

Thanks for sharing!

 

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Similar thoughts to the others. I though the poem was good, but missed some connections between the beginning and the end. I think the first two paragraphs can be deleted or incorporated elsewhere.

The prologue...didn't really do anything for me. It had a lot of things happening, but I didn't know why or what the stakes were, or even who the people were. It could probably be cut easily to get to the inciting incident for the story.

 

Seashell:
"All the shell does is act as a wall"
--I think this sentence could be condensed for clarity, to something like, "A shell only acts as a wall."
--in fact, that whole paragraph (stanza? I'm not good at poems) seems like it doesn't convey much. Sometimes this thing happens. Sometimes it doesn't.

"I was very young
when my grandmother became a seashell"
--This seems like a much more effective opening to the poem.
--Yes, you repeat this sentiment at the end, so it should also be at the beginning.

"becoming little more than an eho board"
--echo?

I like the metaphor with the grandmother and Alzheimer's and the seashell. It's a good analogy. I think the first two stanzas can be deleted and some of the lines can be shortened just a little for word choice.

 

 

Blue and Orange:
Interesting first paragraph

"millenia-old logs"
--wondering what these are...

"They arrived and settled into their places in the circle"
--I assume she got where she was going then?

"She sat proudly at the head of the council circle."
--okay, so she's at the council now.

"let her claws slide out an inch"
--interesting. She has claws and wings?

"scrape the ice below"
--below what?

"tail-switching"
--and tails. Who/what are these people?

"the gift of breathing fire"
--are they...dragons?

So, the prologue is interesting, but it doesn't really tell us anything. I don't even know who these people are, or why they're meeting. We don't know how many people are at the council, or if they are all the same or not. So I have to say this doesn't really give us any information and doesn't draw me into whatever the book will be about.

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Okay, well, since I'm not double-posting any more, I'll just put my comments on the prologue in a new post:

I love the first sentence! That said, I feel like the second sentence actually takes away from that great first description. I think less is more here.

“until they were long righted. And they would be, soon” the past will soon be long righted? Minor stylistic thing, but it’s awkward phrasing even though the meaning is clear. I’d consider deleting “long.”

I felt let down when I got to the end and realized that that was it. In those couple of pages, I was engaged because I had just enough information to keep me reading… but then I didn’t get any sort of resolution, or to see any of the debate that there was apparently so much riding on. I don’t think that we need an explicit resolution to the question of whether Z gets what she wants, but I wanted to get closer to the moment of decision than the prologue ultimately brought us. As others have noted, at the end I didn't really have a sense of why this was important, other than Z thought it was.

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Poem:

I unfortunately read like...zero...poetry so I feel like I can't critique this well. My thoughts were, "This is a poem. It does poem things with words. A seashell is a metaphor for...getting old and maybe Alzheimer's? This is a poem, and like all poems, is going completely over my head." 

Plays and poems, man, are two things I'm just not good with :/ not you, definitely me. 

Prologue:

Dragons?

Dragons??

Dragons???

I'm down for a book starring dragons. 

3 hours ago, Silk said:

I felt let down when I got to the end and realized that that was it. In those couple of pages, I was engaged because I had just enough information to keep me reading… but then I didn’t get any sort of resolution, or to see any of the debate that there was apparently so much riding on.

I legit looked for more pages.

My trouble with prologues is...they aren't the real story. Will Z matter at all? Will anything in the prologue matter? This didn't lay down the stakes to hold me captive, except hint that there are lost Sparks. I can't answer for you if this prologue holds information that will be mind-blowingly relevant in the future, since I don't know the rest of the story. Only you know if this is a prologue that must stay, or if it is just a tonal exercise like you talked about. 

 I once used a metaphor with someone else that a lot of prologues are like being handed brownies, then having that taken away before I can take a bite and given cake. Like, the cake might be good and all, and I might like it more in the end, but I really became invested in those brownies. I mean, now I want the rest of the story with Z, to find out where the tension is and what the stakes are, but prologue history tells me no more Z and now our true protagonist will appear. 

I don't know if any of this made sense. Sorry. I am zonked. 

But dragons as protagonists? I have a strong weakness for non-human characters and an even stronger one for dragons. 

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On 11/2/2020 at 6:07 PM, Silk said:

And, I wanted to ask since your email mentioned slam partners, is this intended to be slam poetry, specifically? This definitely does not read like what I would call slam poetry, which is a very auditory, performance-based form of poetry, so I’m not critiquing it as such. (But, maybe there’s a regional difference in what’s considered slam poetry?)

I am in a slam poetry club, but I'm no good at performance, so I do only written. But I help others with their poems and they help me with mine.

20 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

My thoughts were, "This is a poem. It does poem things with words.

Well, I'm glad it seems like a poem? If it didn't, I'd have a much bigger problem on my hands.

Thanks for pointing out the weird wordings, all. I'll continue smoothing the rhythms for Seashell Creatures.

As for the prologue: it seems that, if I do want to keep it, it should be simplified and moved to a different location? I'll keep that in mind as I plan. I do like the idea of it being an epic poem, although I don't know exactly how I'd incorporate that since this happens so far away from the book's main setting. Zahra isn't the PoV character in this story -- there are two, a dragon and a human, but she is a character about halfway through the book.

On 11/3/2020 at 6:47 AM, Sarah B said:

I struggled to understand the form. I experimented with reading outloud, quickly and slowly, and couldn't find any rhythm to the syllable pattern. A few words in particular like "fossilization" read awkwardly to me when reading outloud. I counted the lines out, to see if my accent was the problem (we clip a lot of sounds in my area) but the syllables pattern and stanza lenght seems pretty random. The same for any rhyming or repeated sounds.

As for your comment, Sarah -- yeah, this definitely isn't a classic poem. I follow more modern trends, and I tried playing with stanza length on purpose, but I think it comes down to personal preference here. I have been trying to figure out how to make it feel more rhythmic, though.

Edited by PiedPiper
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My two cents on this:

I really liked the poem. I don't have much to add other than what's already been said, but I found it a very sincere slice of emotion. 

As for the prologue, I generally agree with what's already been said. Reading it was pretty confusing, as it wasn't specifically revealed that they were a dragon. While I was clued in by the wings, I can also imagine thinking it was a griffin or something until the whole bit about losing the gift of fire-breathing. Of course, the slow reveal could be exactly what you were going for, but that's just what I experienced. (The fire thing actually seems like a very interesting concept, like humans losing their ability to write, or something like that. I want to see what happens with this) The ending was abrupt, and while the tone was good and dramatic, I didn't really have a sense of what was going on. And while its some good information about the ancestors and the dragons and such, I don't really see how this will lead into whatever happens next. (Of course, that's somewhat conceited as of course I don't know what happens next! This could be Very Important!) besides that, the sense of danger/importance is well established, so good job with that. 

Also, just a note, "alps" is a word for snowy mountains, but it just makes me think of the ones in Europe. Which I assume is not where this takes place. 

 

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Okay, question for y'all: if I explain more about the situation that the dragons are in and how they got there/why they're there, would it make the prologue more useful? Because it still wouldn't detract from the plot of the novel, and I think the ending would make more sense. (I'd be careful about info-dumping, of course.)

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Ok. First off, this poem really hit me. I was raised by my grandmother and her health has been fading in recent years and I really felt this because of that. I like the metaphor with the seashell and i think you do a good job of making it work, but there are a couple lines (I think that's the word for it) that don't flow so well, the first two stanzas (I am almost positive that is the right word) in particular. Probably cutting them like @Mandamon mentions above or moving them around might help with this. 

I am not the biggest on poetry, but the content of this really did get my feelings moving, which pretty sure is the whole point of poetry, right? 

Now on to the prologue.

First two paragraphs are pretty great. I like that there are stakes and we are immediately made aware of them.

"As she let her feet rest..." Wouldn't this be claws? I guess I have not confirmed that Z is a dragon at this point, but feet, to me, implies a more humanoid creature than a dragon.

I'm really getting a feeling for the stubbornness of the dragons from this. Good job getting it across in such a subtle way. 

This has me hooked. I think there is a lot here for just two pages and I want more so badly. The idea that something took the dragon's fire is super cool and I can see a multitude of things you can do with this. I can't wait to read more. Sorry I can't do a more exhaustive critique, but, to be honest, I'm not sure I can say much more than what the others have said. 

 

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14 hours ago, sniperfrog said:

Ok. First off, this poem really hit me. I was raised by my grandmother and her health has been fading in recent years and I really felt this because of that. I like the metaphor with the seashell and i think you do a good job of making it work, but there are a couple lines (I think that's the word for it) that don't flow so well, the first two stanzas (I am almost positive that is the right word) in particular. Probably cutting them like @Mandamon mentions above or moving them around might help with this. 

I am not the biggest on poetry, but the content of this really did get my feelings moving, which pretty sure is the whole point of poetry, right? 

Now on to the prologue.

First two paragraphs are pretty great. I like that there are stakes and we are immediately made aware of them.

"As she let her feet rest..." Wouldn't this be claws? I guess I have not confirmed that Z is a dragon at this point, but feet, to me, implies a more humanoid creature than a dragon.

I'm really getting a feeling for the stubbornness of the dragons from this. Good job getting it across in such a subtle way. 

This has me hooked. I think there is a lot here for just two pages and I want more so badly. The idea that something took the dragon's fire is super cool and I can see a multitude of things you can do with this. I can't wait to read more. Sorry I can't do a more exhaustive critique, but, to be honest, I'm not sure I can say much more than what the others have said. 

Thank you! About Seashell Creatures: I'm worried that the metaphor falls flat without the first two stanzas because you won't understand what I'm talking about. I mention this not to try defending it, but to ask what you think -- as the author, my perspective isn't as helpful as your here. Would it be more confusing without the first two stanzas?

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19 hours ago, PiedPiper said:

Thank you! About Seashell Creatures: I'm worried that the metaphor falls flat without the first two stanzas because you won't understand what I'm talking about. I mention this not to try defending it, but to ask what you think -- as the author, my perspective isn't as helpful as your here. Would it be more confusing without the first two stanzas?

I'm not sure that the first two stanzas are necessary to get the metaphor across. When I read it without them, it still comes off fine and the meaning is still just as powerful for me.

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Apologies that it has taken me so long to get to your submission. I hope that these comments are helpful in some way.

Seashell Creatures

What a beautiful poem. My eyes misted up as I read it, and there is a serious lump in my throat. My mother is 95, has both vascular dementia and Alzheimer's and now lives in a care home (since March). This resonates with me. Even more so, as my mother is an artist, and watched her (albeit from a distance) lose her ability to paint, then draw, then even form the simplest shapes. I was helping her write a birthday card for my daughter, and I suggest she draw a smiling sun in it, and she could not imagine how to do that. Very, very sad. So, your open resonated strongly in me.

If I had a 'critical' observation, it is on the last stanza. Through the poem, it seems to me that the child is distant from the grandmother, as indicated (I think) by the line about the child not knowing the grandmother was anything more than a strange creature lying around. (This actually echoes my relationship with my own grandmother, who I never really new as a person, as she was so old, and almost bedridden when I was young). In the last stanza, the line about the child not being ready seemed a little out of context for that reason. Not that it wouldn't be the case of course, I'm just not sure how clearly we saw the transition from the child being distant to the child 'not being ready' for the grandmother to die. 

Then, the last two lines. I wasn't particular reading the poem as being about death, but the loss of identity. So, the last line in particular, seemed to me not to be about the main thread of the poem. I was expecting the end to be about the grandmother being 'lost', irrevocably, echoing Line 17, which does talk about death, but also about the loss of self. That loss of self, I think, is the aspect that is arguably not present at the end of the poem, but maybe should be?

I don't know. Poetry is a very personal thing.

In fact, I think maybe you've inspired me to submit a poem or two of my own.

Thank you for submitting this. I really enjoyed reading and thinking about your poem :) 

Blue and Orange 

Do you know what? Placeholder or not, this title is intriguing, refreshing. There are so many possibilities to it, before the reader starts reading. Okay, if it were a book, the cover blurb, and the cover itself would convey exactly what kind of story the reader was going to get (or should do), but here, maybe as a prologue title, it's ripe with possibility, which I love.

(page 1)

- Wow. Absolutely nailed the first line, and the first paragraph, for me anyway. I'm completely engaged in finding out what's at the top of the mountain, and who Z is. Nicely done. The prose is very smooth, flows and weaves. Im very hopeful for the rest now.

- "wind current" - I feel that wind is an air current, so, wind current--to me-sounds like tautology.

- "watching the ground get closer and closer" - Nothing 'wrong' with this line, but it sounds to me like the first part of falling, when the ground is very distant. This line could be freighted with my tension, like 'the ground rushing up to meet her', for example. Something that conveys more the energy of falling, the terror of impending death.

- "As she let her feet rest on the mountaintop" - (a) This happens quite suddenly. It seems we go from the fear (and therefore the possibility) of failure, to suddenly being their (and safe, to some degree). (b) This phrasing is very passive, BUT, I guess coming in to land is about controlling decent, speed, angle, etc, and I suppose letting the feet touch down. I guess on closer analysis maybe it's natural, but it still reads as passive, I think, compared to how likely it would feel in practice.

- "Even as chief" - repetition of 'even' clanged slightly with me as I read this.

Whole first page, lovely prose. I'd very happily read this and not critique it, but that's not my remit at this point!

(page 2)

- "that were so cruel a reflection of the warm peaks from their once-home" - (a) grammar here tripped me up. I don't think the meaning is quite clear in this phrasing. I had to read it three times to get the sense of it. I think 'that were such a cruel reflection of', or something like that, would be much clearer. (b) I feel 'of their once home'. 'from' sounds like the peaks of home move around. 'Here are the peaks from our once home'. Sounds odd to me.

- Who is the master? Is it Z? I'm not completely clear on that.

- "the continued refusal of..." - The phrase starting here, it's quite complicated and not all that clear, I feel, particularly at the end.

- "they had barely enough of the ancient wood" - I think this phrase could be stronger, ramp up the stakes. It's the last chance to return to the glory days, once gone, they'll be cast down in darkness for eternity, etc. (I dunno). I just want the stakes (excuse the pun. You know, wood, stakes...I'll see myself out) to be higher here, at the end of the prologue.

- "if the spirits of their ancestors" this, I think, is part of the reason for my confusion before about the punishment and entreaties, because I didn't understand who they were entreating, and who was doing the punishment.

- "The ancient logs arranged in a wreath..." - (a) Starting with the noun (the logs), is pretty passive. In this case, I think it makes it hard to parse the meaning from the first part of the sentence. Primacy and Recency is theory (rule?) that says the reader better remember, and gets more impact from, the beginning and end of a sentence or paragraph, and therefore that is where the more important words and sentences should go. Ergo, here, I think starting with the verb would have more impact, as in 'Arranging the logs in a wreath, Z lit...' (b) Logs are big, chunky things, a wreath is a small thing I hang on my door at Christmas, or maybe gets laid on a coffin. These two things don't go together for me. The wreath must be HUGE.

- "The logs finally caught the spark" - I think this deserves to be a new paragraph. This is the moment of impact, the ceremony instigated, the moment of truth, and I think it would have the impact it deserves if it were a new paragraph.

- It's a good ending, leaving the reader hanging on the outcome. I like that. I feel the tension in her, and the weight of history. It's good. BUT, I do have an issue here. Her thought process is all about whether the other council members will back her, is it not? And yet, there is no vote, no decision process. She does not even have any interaction with them. That is really the only thing about this prologue that leaves me confused. However, it seems to me that it's the central aspect of the whole thing, and it feels like the only inconsistency. I think that needs to be addressed, for clarity.

Overall reaction 

I enjoyed this a good deal. I think it does what a prologue should do: sets up my expectations, engages me in the style, and the possibilities of the story. Even though details are very sparse, I feel I have very much been given promises about lost power regained, the impact of that power on the (unsuspecting?) world, and things like that. I don't for a minute think that Z will appear in the story proper. I'd be kind of surprised if she did, in any major way.

I love your prose. I feel it is very high quality, generally uncluttered; easy and pleasurable to read. It does have a poetic flavour, I think, that speaks of epic fantasy, which is very much what I'm expecting now.

Good job. Might we see some more of this? :) 

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On 05/11/2020 at 3:39 AM, PiedPiper said:

Okay, question for y'all: if I explain more about the situation that the dragons are in and how they got there/why they're there, would it make the prologue more useful? Because it still wouldn't detract from the plot of the novel, and I think the ending would make more sense. (I'd be careful about info-dumping, of course.)

Maybe I'm bucking the trend, but I would not add any detail. I think the prologue can be tidied up, but I don't think it's about understanding the hard facts of the prologue, I think it is setting up a tone, and themes for the overall novel. I've read plenty of prologues that don't make immediate sense, but still have an effect in breaking the reader into a story.

I would urge you to remember that there is more than one of writing a book. Really, I don't think the prologue can be judged in isolation, not properly. I think we need to see it in context with the first chapter, at least.

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@Robinski thank you for your critiques and your compliments -- and I don't mind at all that you're a little late. It seems I've gotten a lot of feedback about inconsistent themes in Seashell Creatures, so I've done a couple new drafts focusing on just one of the emotions, and I think they work better. This is actually about my own grandma and my experiences with her, because my family cut off contact with her (for reasons not related to the dimentia) when I was 7, so I hadn't talked to her in around 8 years when we started calling each other and video chatting again.

The title of Blue and Orange actually came from my original desire to explore blue and orange morality with this book... and then I realized that, by its nature, morality is no longer blue and orange once explored. The title is the last vestige of the original concept. And yes, parts of the world will be unsuspecting of the return. Parts will not be.

Thanks for your line edits. You're right, it makes the prose more purposeful, more active.

And you will see more of it, but right now I'm working on a short story set in the world of the novel. It has nothing to do with the novel's plot or characters, it just helps me explore things in a different way. The story is a little confused right now (not confusing; it's confused. That isn't a typo.) because I keep trying to make it into an adventure when it isn't one, and I don't know where I went wrong but the tone has made this abrupt shift. It's with my alpha reader right now (my dad), so he'll tell me if it feels weird or if it's just my imagination. I'll still submit it when it's ready.

I can't wait to read one of your novels someday, and I hope to read your poetry in the very near future. The way you critique, I have a feeling it'll be great.

Why do I get the sense I need a formal signature after this? Signed,

 - PiedPiper

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1 hour ago, PiedPiper said:

The way you critique, I have a feeling it'll be great.

Gaaah! No pressure then :blink:

(He said, eruditely.)

Edited by Robinski
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